Minolta 7SII Rangefinder
Shooting vintage - with a Minolta 7sII
Finding, buying, owning and using vintage cameras is certainly not for everyone being at various times, frustrating, disappointing and expensive. That's the downside and if you are prepared for and expect these aspects of the vintage camera world then the upside is unlimited. I never buy vintage cameras for display, only to use, therefore my purchase criteria is particularly strict. If you are fortunate enough to spot a 7SII in a camera store and can handle the camera then you can check the lens for clarity. Set the shutter speed to B and the aperture to f1.7, open the back, cock and fire the shutter. The shutter remains open allowing a good check of the lens. A little dust is not usually a problem, however scratches and fungus are not acceptable in a camera you wish to use. These little beauties have become sought after in recent years with prices rising considerably to an average now between US$250 - $420, for a working example in good condition.
I am not talking here about the earliest cameras, but in particular good quality Japanese fixed lens rangefinders made from the mid 1970s that are usable today and can produce images way ahead of many expensive DSLRs. As you know final image quality is most leveraged off 2 vital inputs; 1) photographic skill and 2) quality of the glass. 1, is what it is and can be improved with practice but 2 is fixed absolutely. If a poorer quality lens is used then the image will always be compromised in terms of 'ultimate' quality. The image may be OK, perfectly usable and fit for its purpose but it will never be the best record of that 'moment in time'. The Minolta 7SII first appeared in 1977 and is one of the more affordable and well made mass produced Japanese rangefinders. It's biggest claim to fame is the 40mm f1.7 lens. Minolta has an enviable reputation for manufacturing high quality lenses and this Rokkor is no exception - sharp and fast, achieving excellent contrast with an ideal focal length for general photography. The large f1.7 aperture gives the 7SII the sought after low light abilities. The bright lens combined with a reasonably fast film enables sharp handheld shots in light challenged situations. It is also small, at only 115mm long, therefore easily and discretely carried about. But what are the downsides to this camera. Except for substitute batteries there are actually none if you have managed to obtain a working example in good condition. The 7SII was originally powered by a mercury 1.3v cell - no longer available due to the mercury content. The best replacement is the Wein zinc-air 1.35v; code:MRB675. If the commonly available 1.5v alkaline is used the meter will operate but will not be accurate. The correct Wein cell provides stable voltage and does not require any meter adjustment. If not activated a shelf life of up to 10 years is possible, but once loaded into the camera, keep the lens cap on when not in use, as the 7SII has no dedicated 'off' switch which means when the lens cap is off the cds light cell is always drawing current, slowly draining the battery. No light falling on the cell effectively turns the camera off. When loading film, carefully check that the film leader is well engaged on the takeup spool as there is no film wind indicator beyond the rotation of the film holder spool and that this is not rotating can go unnoticed for a few shots. The frame counter moves on 1 frame every time the shutter is cocked regardless of whether film is actually winding or not. Set to A (auto) with shutter at 125, street shooting is quick and easy. The rangefinder focus system can be a bit fiddly if you are going to refocus each and every shot. It is better to have the focus preset to a usual distance for street photography - say 15' and estimate your distance from the subject rather than fiddle around with the focus. When your subject changes from street to landscape then adjust the focus to infinity. Finally don't forget to set the film speed for the film loaded 25 - 800 ASA.