Minolta Auto Wide
Using a wide-angle lens makes perfect sense when having interchangeable or zoom lenses. Having a wide-angle camera dedicated to only that is iffy. Other than shooting landscapes or the whole class in close quarters, such a camera would not be the first choice. It only makes sense if it is a second camera hanging off your neck, which makes little sense unless you are a die-in-the-wool enthusiast.
Nevertheless, it seemed fashionable in the 1950s, where between 1950 and 1960, six camera makers, Ilford, Mamiya, Olympus, Ricoh, Walz and Minolta, made such models. The only reason I could think of is to have one-upmanship over the other makers, kind of ‘see what we can do”.
The Mamiya Auto Wide on my desk is a fine piece of design and manufacturing, a pleasure to look at and a delight to hold. Mike Eckman mentioned it looks much like the Mamiya Elca, which closely preceded it. Both share a prominent meter lens and a well-styled body, but here similarities end. The design here is a true Minolta.
Minolta did not have many viewfinder cameras. The only model that comes to mind is the Repo, a short-lived half-frame camera line that seems to be inspired by the Olympus Pen. Compact rangefinders by Minolta were plenty, from the A series, through the AL and Minoltina, to the ever-popular, endless Hi-Matic line.
Unlike other compact cameras of the era, the Auto Wide has a stand-out personality and presence with a solid and imposing body. Heavy, but sits perfectly in the hand. I wonder why Minolta did not follow this style to other cameras.
Apparently, there are two versions of this camera differ by the settings dials; I couldn’t find an image showing the difference.
The top is almost void of any mechanical parts. At the right, a generous and clear window containing the film speed setting and the light meter needle. To set the film speed turn a tiny, fingernail size serrated arm around the dial. You’ll need a good hunter’s eyes to see the ASA / DIN values, as the letterings are tiny. Next is the remote trigger port and then a smaller lens showing shutter speed and aperture stop. More about it is below. The frame counter lens is on the far left side.
Front right mounted is a mighty meter lens with an embedded, odd shape trigger button. It cannot be missed and is well knurled so the finger will not slip. When new, in the box, there was an accessory covering the lens when the object is overly lit; I would suspect none have survived. At the left is a large and clear viewer window with parallax marks, as clear.
Focusing is by estimate, two options either by using top markings, (P)erson, (G)roup, or (S)cene. Alternatively, distance markings are on the lens barrel’s right side.
The odd self-timer control, a dial, is at the front 7 o’clock, with the synch settings at the bottom, below the lens mount.
The wind and rewind levers are at the bottom, where the rewind arm is held in place with a strong catch; beware not to lose a fingernail.
Setting the shutter and aperture is different from the run of the ill camera models. I have seen similar controls in subminiature cameras but not in a full-size body. At the back, there are two concentric dials that control the shutter speed and the aperture. The inner sets the aperture value, and the outer sets the shutter speed.
- To select the shutter speed, hold the inner dial with the left thumb and turn the exterior with the right index finger. All that while matching the meter needle in the meter window.To set the aperture, turn the inner dial.
- Once the combined setting is reached, turning the outer dial will offer a different combination while keeping a similar EV.
- No battery is needed, so you are good to go with a working selenium meter.
To sum it up, this is a camera like no other. For the collector, it is not a prized possession yet an inexpensive, fascinating, under-estimated camera. For me, it is a keeper.
Other wide compact rangefinder / viewfinder models:
|Manual, meter guided
|710 gr, Body with lens
|Class average weight
|440 gr, Body with lens
|Lever, at bottom
|Bright with parallax frame
|Service / repair links