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What I learned Shooting #006: Minoltina AL-S

What I learned shooting #006: Minoltina AL-s

I probably haven’t shot quite enough to be a truly definitive authority on the Minoltina (Minolta?) AL-s, but on the other hand, I feel like it doesn’t take super long to figure out a camera, as opposed to a film, because the mechanisms are largely the same across cameras. So I think i’m qualified to write a loose report on it, or at least what I learned shooting the thing. If you want to see the images/examples just jump down to the bottom of the page for the gallery.

So anyway, here’s the stats on the Minoltina Al-s/Minolta Al-s :

It’s a small, compact rangefinder camera (128x74x60mm), and weighs a little more than a pound including it’s 40mm 1.8 lens with a leaf shutter that runs from B, 1-500, and a solar powered meter, with an iso range of 25 to 800. It’s got a self timer (I never used mine). -- Stats taken from this overall review.

I bought mine on Ebay for around 40 bucks, all in. The cameras are definitely climbing in value (likely due to the exorbitant prices now commanded by Canonets, and other compact rangefinders, like the Minolta Hi-Matic 7), so I’d definitely encourage you to buy yours now, before they really spike in value. They might not, but given how everything film is getting kinda expensive, you’ve been warned.

So what’d I learn shooting the camera?

It’s nice to have a compact camera -- It’s the first time I’ve seriously considered picking up an actual halfway decent point and shoot based on how nice/convenient it is to have a small camera with a decent-ish lens, and be able to carry/use it as a serious camera without it being forced to have a full on camera-guy camera, etc.

40mm is a pretty ideal focal length, it’s wide (like 20% wider than a 50mm) (not really) but not so wide or broad that it ever feels “wide angle,” like 35mm lenses tend to. The Rokkor 40mm on the Minoltina al-s even has a really nice rendition (see below for examples).

Rangefinders are pretty ideal for documentation and street photography, because of the area around the actual capture area, and ability to read what’s going to be in your frame and around before it actually hits the frame -- I finally “get” the rangefinder cult that seems to pop up around those genres. I still stand by an earlier statement (here?) that I probably wouldn’t use a rangefinder setup for formal portraiture, or anything else needing a lot of setup, or where you don’t wanna deal with any possible.

Anyone saying you can take a decent exposure with 1/30 and steady hands, on a rangefinder or leaf shutter, is a liar. Or I just have super fucked up, shaky, hands. Could be both. Either way, I found most of my “reach exposures” were unusable due to motion blur/hand shake.

With a little practice, sunny 16 (and a taking quick incidental light reading every once in a while), can be as reliable or more accurate in a bunch of cases than the internal meter in a bunch of SLR’s, because of backlighting, etc. Also you start to get a better “feel” for lighting over time. That said, I have difficulty thinking you’ll ever really beat a well operated incidental meter/spot meter.

Leaf shutters are really cool. I like that they only really make a small “click” when fired. It was fun to pretend to do street photography and get right up to people without them noticing. Not really my deal, art wise, but it was interesting to see how that worked. Also, because I’m lazy and don’t have a super common flash, I didn’t get to try out the flash sync -- the camera doesn’t have a hot-shoe, so you need a separate sync cable, and apparently it’s hard to find one for my Minolta x-series flash.

Zone focus is also really interesting. The Al-s actually does have something like a lens-tab, like you’d see on a Leica, but maybe quite as obtrusive or really ergonomic -- that said, if you get a loose feel for the camera’s focus/focus range (2.6ft-infinity), and use a suitably small aperture, you can make zone focus work somewhat reliably. It’s not intended for that, and I wouldn’t go hard on a zone focus only project with it, but if you need to be inconspicuous, it can probably get you by.

Would I shoot it again?:

Maybe.

It’s not a bad camera by any means, in fact it’s a really really great camera, especially given the bang for the buck. That said, it can feel a little janky, and the rangefinder isn’t the greatest. It works, but it’s not the greatest. That being said, if you were looking for say, a Canonet or even the Minolta Hi-Matic-7, I’d heartily recommend it, over either of those cameras on price alone. The other reason -- and it’s a dumb one -- is that the camera doesn’t take straps easily, or like the loops for straps are really small, and mine didn’t come with said strap -- and here in LA coat/sweatshirt season is definitely over, so it makes it kinda difficult to carry around.

The camera also feels just a bit flimsy -- not bad by any means, and it is a solid camera (it’s all metal) but some of the parts have more give and shake than I’d like. However, that may also be a maintenance issue than anything else and the construction/joinery might be a lot more stable in a different copy of the camera.

The built in solar (photo voltaic?) meter is pretty good, probably a stop off  -- but if you’re like me and you typically rate your film at half box speed anyway, it’s sort of a non issue. I probably wouldn’t attempt to shoot slide film using that meter/metering combo though, or like, I don’t think it’s worth risking slide film on something that janky, or potentially just old/burnt out.

If I were good with my hands or had disposable income for doing really dumb stuff with, I might actually consider lopping the lens off to stick on a digital camera or slap on an m-mount. But that’s kind of a stupid/pointless endeavor. I just happen to really like the Minolta rendering, and 40mm is slowly becoming a favorite focal length.

All that considered, I still default to my Minolta XD-11/ Rokkor 50mm MC-PG combo for daily shooting, etc — partially out of familiarity, but also because it seems to work for me a bit more.

If you’ve enjoyed this content buy a zine in the shop, or come visit me at the Independent Art Book Fair in LA, on April 12-14th.

What I learned shooting... #4: Agfapan APX100 (35mm)

A thorough review and overview of one of the last batch of Agfapan APX100 in 35mm. Tested primarily with the Minolta XD-11, and Rokkor MC-PG 50mm 1.4 lens, and to a lesser extent the Minoltina AL-s. Primary Developers used were Kodak Xtol, and Rodinal.

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Feature #5: Mourning (Homecoming)

Feature #5: Mourning (Homecoming)

A trip home to Maine under the most dire of circumstances.

Two days of shooting, and three completely separate contexts: Eastern Prom of Portland, Maine, the Royal River, and a bridge over it, in Falmouth, Maine. A hiking path to Morse Mountain, and then Popham Beach State Park in Popham, Maine. Three different landscapes, and three different experiences.

Shot on a mixture of Portra 160, 400, on medium format film on a Pentax 6x7.

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What I learned shooting #01: Fuji Pro160s (35mm)

What I learned shooting (#01):

Most film reviews are unhelpful at best, they tend to gloss over how the tester shot what they shot and what their own biases and predilections are. I often learn more about photography and a specific emulsion from shooting large batches of the same film over and over and reviewing it, rather than rapidly changing between different emulsions.

For these reviews, I’ll shoot no less than 25 rolls of a given emulsion.

Today’s Review:  Fujifilm Pro 160s (35mm)

Technical considerations:

The film was indeed expired when purchased, but well stored. I mostly processed in large batches of 6+ rolls at a time by either D+J digital imaging or (primarily) Fulltone Photo.

Everything was shot on a Minolta XD11 and the Rokkor 50mm 1.4 MC PG, 24mm MD 2.8, and 85mm MD 2.0. I shot everything handheld, and at higher shutter speeds to compensate for hand-shake.

I shot 2 100ft rolls bulk-loaded of the emulsion (+/- 35 rolls), and exposed all of it at EI 100 to compensate for the expiration date, and to slightly overexpose.

Initial Bias:

I like slow film, cool tonality, and relatively even or muted colors. Fuji Pro 160s should, by most guesses be a slam dunk for me. I shoot mostly landscape, travel, and street/diary type stuff on 35mm. I’ve also shot the same or similar emulsion in 120 and really really liked it. I absolutely love fuji pro400h and fujifilm provia as well.

What I learned:

For day to day shooting, it was fine, but I found that in many situations, storage dependent, the cool-tone reproduction was actually more of a curse than a blessing. If film is stored correctly from the beginning of its life, it tends to hold up much better post-expiration, and in bad conditions when shot.

Unless you’re sending a bulk roll to a dip and dunk facility, your lab may have to cut your roll (this happened multiple times) if it’s too long. You may also end up damaging a machine or causing an accident if your roll is improperly bulk loaded. Also the metal snap-top canisters, while theoretically more durable have a tendency to fall open.

Cool tone films are hit or miss at rendering bright sunlit days, and you need subjects or scenery with enough tonal warmth in them inherently to show any kind of brightness, as light alone won’t show through.  The nature/landscape of the west coast generally doesn’t render super well on this film, because of that cool tone reproduction.

Would I seek out more of it?

Not actively. It’s a nice film, but not so nice that I’d pay a premium or spend extra time seeking it out. If it happened to fall into my lap at the right price again, I’d snatch it right up.