The One that Got Away
About five years ago I purchased a Rolleicord Va from eBay. I’d heard the cheaper brother of the Rolleiflex recommended more times than I could count, as it gave a lot of bang for your buck. A fairly cheap TLR that is lightweight, well built and produced great results with it’s superbly sharp lens. Unfortunately for me, the model that I’d obtained from eBay arrived missing it’s focus screen and even the mirror inside, so was essentially useless. The seller had inherited this camera and didn’t know anything about it, so it was an honest mistake and they agreed to take the camera back. Since then, the Rollei has been the camera that got away. I’ve been toying on and off with the idea of getting another (complete) one, but I’ve never put any serious effort into finding one. I’d always just figured that if I came across one at a good price, I would probably jump on it.
Frome Camera Fair
April brings many things. The last frost, April Fools day, and Easter (ok, it’s usually in April). A lesser known event in April is Frome Camera Fair at the Cheese and Grain in Frome, Somerset. It’s held twice a year and is essentially just a large hall area filled with tables, with various retailers selling used gear. The reason I go to this fair and not others, is that the Frome Camera Show is mostly vintage film cameras and a lot of unusual items that you’re unlikely to find anywhere apart from the deepest corners of the internet. I’d decided in the preceding weeks, that If came across a Rolleicord V (or IV, Va or Vb), that I’d probably take it home with me, but there were no Rolleicords to be found on the day. I did find one seller, SE Cameras, that had a Minolta Autocord for sale though, which was in great condition for its 56 year age. I had a think about it for a little while and eventually went back to the stall and haggled down to a good price.
The Minolta Autocord
Minolta manufactured at least a dozen different versions of the Autocord in their eleven year production run that began in 1955. Each with different shutter mechanisms and varying maximum shutter speeds. Some accepted 220 film as well as 120, and a few even came with built in selenium cell, or later, CdS light meters. My model of Autocord is the RG V3 from 1963, so has a Citizen MVL shutter with a top speed of 1/500th of a second. It cannot accept 220 film (which doesn’t matter, I don’t think 220 is even being produced now), and does not have any form of light meter
Having put a few rolls though the Autocord now, I can definitely say that the biggest difference between this camera and other TLR’s that I’ve used, is the method of focusing. Most TLR’s use a knob on the side of the camera (either side, left or right), but the Autocord uses a metal lever that moves in an arc underneath the taking lens. It’s quite strange to use to start with, but you get used to it very quickly. I actually love this method, as you can focus much quicker because you already know roughly where the camera is focused by where the lever is when you’re touching it. Another bonus, is that you can focus with your left finger and thumb whilst supporting the camera with your left hand, which means your right hand is free to advance the film and press the shutter.
Speaking of advancing the film, this is another area where the Autocord is different. Instead of winding on with a knob, the Autocord requires the user to turn the handle by approx 1/2 a turn clockwise to advance the film, and then move it back counter clockwise to it’s home position to cock the shutter. This makes it super quick and easy to use. Additionally, if you want to shoot a double exposure, there is a small lever behind the handle that when pressed, allows you to rotate the handle counter clockwise by an entire turn, which cocks the shutter without advancing the film. Clever, eh? There is a depth of field scale surrounding the film advance handle, and it’s very clear and easy to read.
The screen is about average in terms of brightness. It won’t wow you, but it’s bright and clear enough to be fairly easy to use, but like all waist level finders it can “grey out” if direct sunlight hits it. There are no focusing aids like a split prism, so the pop up magnifier is a welcome addition and is much the same as any magnifier on a WLF I’ve used.
Lots of good points, but are there any bad? Yes, of course, there always are. But they’re not that bad really. The locking ring around the shutter button allows you to lock the shutter so that it can’t inadvertently be pressed. However, there is no positive stop positions in either the locked or unlocked position, so you have to engage it by lining two dots up, and its quite easy to turn by mistake. This has resulted in me not being able to take a couple of shots because the ring has turned and locked itself. No biggie really, as you just have to turn it again and take the shot, but it is a bit irritating. The other small niggle is that the shutter speed dial does not have any positions to click into for each aperture, so it’s really easy to move accidentally, and you have to try and position it with the number in the middle of the viewfinder (this could just be a fault with my model though, as it’s 25 years older than me!)
So far I was very impressed with the camera, especially in terms of build quality and ease of use. The real test for any camera, though, is how it works in the field and what images it produces. We were off to London the next weekend to see the School of Rock musical (which, by the way, is mind blowing), so I thought it would be a great opportunity to try the camera out.
Kodak Tri-X 400
These images were taken mainly around the Covent Garden area because that’s where we were staying.The apertures used were quite small as the sun was out and I was also zone focusing for street shots. There are a couple of marks on the negatives which I’ve yet to get to the bottom of, but I’m pleased with the results. Click on the images to view larger.
Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in Kodak HC-110 dilution B.
Fuji Pro 400H
Whilst we were in the big city, I wanted to photograph the Extinction Rebellion protests that were happening all across the capital. Because XR use a lot of brightly coloured banners and logos, I wanted to use some colour film. I loaded a roll of Fuji Pro 400H and headed to Parliament Square. As with the Tri-X shots above, I was mainly shooting at small apertures due to using a 400 speed film in bright conditions. I did try and use a larger aperture when possible.
Fuji Pro 400H developed and scanned by Filmdev.
Kodak Tri-X 400
The week after we visited London, I then spent an evening in Bristol trying to capture some images for a couple of photography competitions. We walked around the harbour railway area and then ventured into the city for some night shots.
Kodak Tri-x 400 developed in Kodak HC-110 dilution B.
I don’t want to recommend a camera based totally on the results I get from it, because I think the person behind the camera plays a much bigger role and the sharpness of a lens. What I think is important is usability, reliability and form, because there is no point in having a camera that gives you good images if it’s a pain in the ass to use, weighs a ton and jams constantly. The Autocord is brilliant in my opinion; it’s about as compact and light as you can expect from a medium format TLR, it feels very well built, and it’s easy to use. It might cost slightly more than a Rolleicord, but compared to other medium format cameras (or even modern digital cameras) it’s very good value for money, so yes I would definitely recommend this camera.
In the last week, since buying and using my Autocord, a friend has kindly lent me their Rolleicord Va to use too. I’ll use these two cameras side by side over the coming weeks, and then do a post comparing the two cameras (which look very similar!)
Do you have an Autocord or have you used one? If so I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.