Monday, May 11, 2020

Spotlight: Minolta Autocord

The Minolta Autocord is a 6x6 medium format twin lens reflex camera from 1955. I bought mine off Craigslist from a nice dude named Alan. Though similar in looks and operation to Rolleiflex cameras of the era, the Autocord has a few unique features that help it stand out and remain desirable even to this day.

Firstly, this thing is small, yet sturdy. The Autocord is light and a joy to carry around with me on long walks, yet the build-quality is robust enough to make me think this thing could survive a small nuclear explosion. I don't think there's a shred of plastic on this sleek metal monster. The Automat is strictly mechanical, as you'd expect out of a camera from the 50's. No light meter here. Shutter speeds range from 1 second through 1/400th (later models could go to 1/500th), and the fixed 75mm f/3.5 lens can stop down to f/22. Like on a Rolleiflex, shutter speeds and apertures are adjusted via two little levers on either side of the taking lens, and there are little windows above the viewing lens to show you the camera's currents settings.

From a camera nerd's perspective, the most exciting and distinct aspect of the Automat is its focusing lever. Almost every other TLR ever made focuses via a knob on the left side of the camera. The Autocord, however, focuses with a lever that sits directly beneath the taking lens. It feels... different. The instruction manual claims that thanks to this "exclusive" feature, you can hold the camera and focus with your left hand, while the right hand is free to hold a flash gun, or eat snacks. I think one-handed operation is a bold claim, but I will say that the Autocord's lever can move through the focus range faster than a traditional knob. The minimum focusing distance is 3.3 feet, which can be a bit limiting (though pretty much standard for fixed lens TLR's of the time). I'm sure there were close-up filters available, but those are a damn hassle and everyone knows it. While still on the subject of focusing, I have to say that the focusing screen is a tad dark for my liking, and there are no focusing or compositional aids to speak of. While there is a flip-down magnifier inside the hood, the Automat's plain matte screen can make photographing anything moving towards or away from you a near impossibility.

Film loading is super easy, but a little different than on other TLR's that I've used. New film is loaded into the top, and then fed to a reel on the bottom. Weird. Once properly loaded, the Autocord automatically stops at each frame when wound. No little red window here, people. This camera's a professional. Multiple exposures are possible! To do it, after you make your first exposure, hold down the little metal tab next to the crank, and turn the crank backwards to cock the shutter without advancing the film. Do this as many times as necessary. This feature makes the Autocord a better choice for me versus the Rolleiflex, as I'm pretty sure Rollei cameras of the time didn't let you do multiples, for whatever reason.

Overall, I really like the Minolta Autocord, and enjoyed making pictures with it on a walk through the Glenview forest preserve. Below are a few photos from my roll. I used Kodak TMax 400 film.