Minolta Hi-matic 7sII – 35mm Film Rangefinder Camera Review

Minolta Hi-matic 7sII – 35mm Film Rangefinder Camera Review

2000 1125 Dustin Vaughn-Luma

Beginning in the late 1970s, camera manufacturers began to turn away from fun and discrete rangefinders to bulky, and often boring, SLRs. But before totally abandoning the once-popular rangefinder, each of the major Japanese makers seemed to honor their recent pasts by producing one last serious fixed-lens rangefinder. In Minolta’s case, 1977 saw their final effort in the form of the extremely compact, lightweight, and optically wonderful Minolta Hi-Matic 7SII.

It wasn’t a feature-rich camera by any means, it only sought to offer the minimum that a photographer needs in a camera, and it certainly wasn’t a best-in-class endeavor, that title was more fitting to Canon’s Canonet. But the 7sII does possess certain rare characteristics that make it a special camera, even four decades later.

But lest you think we’re getting carried away, let me be frank. There’s nothing particularly exciting or revolutionary about this little camera. It’s about as average a camera as one can imagine. As the rangefinder market dwindled, the competition was showcasing new features to entice buyers to their swan song rangefinders. Minolta, on the other hand, decided to keep it basic. The result is a camera that doesn’t surprise, and simply works. If you’re one who enjoys the beauty of basic machines, then you just might feel right at home with the 7sII.

The Basics

At the heart of this diminutive rangefinder is a nearly silent Copal leaf shutter capable of speeds from 1/8th of a second to 1/500th of a second, plus bulb for long exposures. And though very few shooters today will appreciate the fact, this leaf shutter allows flash sync at all shutter speeds (a standard hotshoe provides the only circuitry for flash shooters). Shutter speeds are controlled manually or automatically. More advanced shooters will find comfort in using the 7sii’s full manual override (sans metering unfortunately), and a metered, shutter-priority auto-exposure mode make this camera a breeze for photo enthusiasts who are just starting out. Simply set the desired shutter speed via the ring at the front of the lens barrel and the camera selects the aperture that will result in a perfectly exposed photo. An ASA/ISO range of 25 – 800 means we can shoot in all light, and the mechanical shutter means we can keep shooting even if the batteries die mid-roll.

Film advance is lovely and quick. The plastic tipped advance lever is small but angled effectively enough to catch the thumb when needed. Pushing it through its throw (130 degrees) yields a smooth, well-damped motion, though it does sound a bit toy-like on account of its lightweight, metal internals. The frame counter is easy to read and shutter release is of the standard threaded type, with no ability to lock.

The film bay, take up spool, and rewind crank are about as vanilla as it gets. No Canon QuickLoad technology here, but things are easy enough. When loading film, just pull up on the crank and the door pops open. The take up spool grabs the film leader with authority and pulls it around and into place without the hint of a missed load. Unlike its predecessor the 7s, the 7sII does not have a film load indicator; another minor but delightful feature found on other machines of the era.

The 7sII boasts an always-on CDS metering cell capable of EV 4.5 to EV 17 inside of its 49mm filter ring (which means mounted filters are considered when metering. Conserving battery power can be achieved by covering the lens with the lens cap, or simply turning the aperture dial away from auto. The aperture dial sits flush against the camera body, but is easily manipulated via a small metal protrusion at the bottom of the ring. Achieving half stop increments can be a challenge, as the stop detents are very tightly spaced. A non-indented ring may have been a better choice here; those looking to achieve more precise exposures will need delicate hands.

There’s no shutter lock for over- or under-exposure during auto-exposure calculation. In other words, the camera will fire even when there’s too much or not enough available light. This is can be a great help or a great annoyance, depending. Sometimes these exposure locks are a wonderful baked-in forcing function, as in the case with a camera like the Canonet QL17 GIII, and other times the flexibility to shoot no matter what the camera thinks is a necessity. It really depends on when and where the camera’s being used, and ultimately comes down to personal preference. Additionally quirksome is the focus ring. Equipped with a large tab and very short throw, it displays metric and standard distance scales on opposite ends of the ring. Those who only use one scale may find the lack of clutter quite nice, but others may yearn for traditional, vertically stacked scales. This is a quirky design choice, though largely irrelevant since there’s no focus scale for pre-focus.


The camera’s biggest failing is without question its viewfinder. Why Minolta chose to put such a tiny and dim finder on this camera is a universal mystery, but there’s little question that this miserable finder is the reason the 7sII finds little time in my bag when shooting the streets. Instead, I find myself only using it in situations where speed isn’t a factor. Why’s it so bad? To start, the AE selected F-stops run vertically along the right side of the parallax corrected window, and while the upper stops are relatively easy to see, the lower stops (F/2.8 and F/1.7) are imprudently occluded by the lens. If a lens hood is attached, we’re essentially obscuring half of the aperture range (eclipsing just above the F/5.6 mark). The finder is set inward about 3/4″ off of the left side of the body in order to get the field of view as close to the lens as possible (similar to comparable models), but given the diminished size of the viewfinder, it doesn’t allow for the experience of other rangefinders and their big, bright viewfinders.

Further frustrating things, it’s quite common to find 7sII’s suffering from hazy viewfinders. While cleaning them isn’t difficult, it’s unfortunate that the cause of the haze is the very design of the viewfinder glass itself. Minolta opted for a design with two plates sandwiched together, and though this isn’t uncommon, the 7sII seems especially prone to the defect. A defect that’s impossible to restore without tedious disassembly of the viewfinder cluster.

If opting to shoot in Auto mode, reliance on the meter may be a bit of a challenge. While originally accurate with the intended 1.35v mercury cell, more environmentally friendly alternatives may produce unintended results. In fact, it’s quite common to hear 7sII owners complain about working meters over-exposing by two or three stops even with the proper voltage. My copy seems to over-expose anywhere from one half stop to one stop with a 1.4 volt zinc air hearing aid battery. I can live with that, but these meters do become inconsistent with age. Additionally, battery adapters of the MR-9 type do not fit into the battery cell bay, leaving owners with three options when it comes to supplying meter power. Either use a higher voltage zinc air battery, a Wein cell, or rewire the cell to accept a modern silver oxide battery.

I would also caution against ever using the self timer on this camera (or any other fixed-lens rangefinder for that matter). They are, as many people call them, death timers. They will eventually break. Mine has. Please do yourself a favor and don’t use them. Ever.

So why buy one?

Great question, and the first answer is the lens. Sure, it’s a standard issue 40mm F/1.7 (capable of focusing as close as thirty-six inches), but there’s just something ineffable about Minolta glass. Comprised of six elements in four groups, this lens is not only sharp but produces just the right amount of contrast. And sure, the best in this genre possess similarly exceptional optics, but none match the unique rendering characteristics of the Minolta lens. Described in a single word, it’s “dreamy”. It reminds me of my single coat Minolta Rokkor 40mm F/2. In fact, there are rumors that this F/1.7 Rokkor uses the same optical formula as the M-mount F/2 Rokkor; and while I can’t say that’s true, it makes for great folklore.

Sure, the lens is soft wide open, but it tightens up nicely by F/4 and reaches corner-to-corner sharpness by F/8. Out-of-focus areas (bokeh) are nicely rendered wide open and highlight bokeh becomes geometric when stopped down. These observations should be unsurprising to experienced photo geeks. These fixed-lens 40mm cameras tend to be somewhat samey in their clinical test parameters. But the Rokkor simply renders in a different way. If a little window light is present, or even a bit of flare, it can create some very interesting results given its single coated optics.

Finally, to my taste the 7sII is the best looking compact, fixed-lens rangefinder of its generation. The finish of the camera is gorgeous, and if you’re fortunate enough to find a black copy (which may prove challenging), you may quickly agree that the enamel was made to withstand a great deal of abuse. It’s the only black paint camera I’ve ever owned that doesn’t show wear when I use my non-bumpered spring clip strap with it. Furthermore, the original leather case also shares the same durable quality that the camera does. Most of the cases that have come with my cameras have long since fallen apart or disintegrated, however the Minolta leather case for the 7sII still looks brand new.

Photo geeks who love compact rangefinders and have yet to hold a 7sII should seek to get their hands on one. It’s a fun little camera. But if you’re looking for a discrete, powerful, and quick tool for the street, there are better choices out there. In the right hands (not mine) I’m sure the viewfinder is a non-issue, but for me, a large, bright viewfinder can make all the difference between loving a camera, and simply getting along with one.

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Dustin Vaughn-Luma

An experience designer, freelance photographer, and competitive cyclist living in San Jose, California with his wife, three sons, and neurotic bernese mountain dog. The majority of his personal work is shot on 35mm and 120 film, and is developed and scanned at home.

All stories by:Dustin Vaughn-Luma
  • Great review! The fixed lens rangefinders and zone focusers made between the late 60’s and late 70’s have been an obsession of mine and I own many, including the Hi-Matic 7sii. In my opinion, many of the shortcomings you’ve described above are common to most of the other cameras in those categories. Camera manufacturers were trying to cut costs, so things like a good viewfinder, manual controls, and a wider range of shutter speeds often had to be sacrificed. The best of these cameras have good lenses, which hopefully make up for the lack of features. I don’t think any of these cameras have really good viewfinders. The ones on the Canonet, Yashica Electro 35 GX, and Olympus 35 RD are a little better than the Minolta, but still not great. My favorite fixed lens rangefinder, the Yashica Electro 35 CC, has a viewfinder that might be worse!

    After using these types of cameras constantly for the last 3 years, I may be slowly drifting back to the SLRs. Still, they’ll always have a special place in my heart.

    • Thanks for the comment, Neilson. I agree with you; however, I do personally think the Canonet stands a cut above the rest in terms of design, quality, and engineering. The copies I own do have varying degrees of rangefinder patch brightness, but I have one (in outstanding condition) that remains brighter than the rest.

      I also ran across this trick, but have never tried it: https://www.flickr.com/groups/67898123@N00/discuss/72157629425713381/

      I’ve never shot a 35CC… now I need to get my hands on one! 😉


      • Definitely check out the CC. I should warn you though, it’s a pretty quirky little machine. The whole metering display is very strange and with a max shutter speed of 1/250 and smallest F stop of 16, you can’t shoot 400 ASA film in very bright light, at least not without a neutral density filter. If you’re interested I wrote a blog post about the CC.


      • If your finding it hard on the bank balance to purchase a 7SMk2. Don’t forget that there are a 3 cheaper alternatives that share the same lens and virtually identical styling.
        I’m talking about the Vivitar 35ES. Prinz 35ER & Revue 400s. All 3 share the same lens.
        I have a 7smk2, a 35ES & the 35ER. The lenses behave the same on all cameras.

        • Yep I’ve got two copies of the Revue 400SE that I got for a bargain. I was sceptical about the theory that they were copies of the Minolta at first, but they really are almost identical … and well first roll from my Revue just blew me away. I’ve gotten some of my favourite images ever from them.

  • I forgot to mention, my biggest problem with fixed lens rangefinders has been dim rangefinder patches. I don’t really use my Canonet any more because of this.

  • Very nice review and photos.

  • I’m not sure I’ve seen one of these before. I own a Hi-Matic 7, and I’ve seen a 7S, and they’re both giant. This looks compact. Makes me wonder why they called it the 7SII, as it’s not really the same.

    • The 7sii is certainly smaller and more delicate than it’s predecessor. That 7s (with its Seiko-LA shutter) was built for battle!

      Regardless, two different cameras with amazing glass.


  • Really interesting review.I don’t know well about this 7sⅡbecause I seldom see this in Japan,but your review has made me become so interested in this little beast!!

  • Nice review! I’m w/ you, the VF is one of the most important elements to wanting to use the camera. Small and dim is a deal killer for me. But it/you sure takes nice pics. What film did you use?
    p.s. the CLE – also made by Minolta and raved about on this site – shows how great a VF can be in a tiny RF camera. Of course it costs quite a bit more than the Hi-Matic

    • Thanks for the comment, Huss. These samples were shot on HP5 pushed one stop.

      And yes, the CLE viewfinder is amazing! I love mine!


  • Great review! I have a black copy and it really looks gorgeous, specially with black tape hiding the big letters on the front. Unfortunatelly, it’s still on the reparation bench because it came to me with mild fungus and I’m struggilng with the glued front group and figuring how to remove the back group without passing through the front where the Copal shutter is. Anyway, I picked the Hi-matic 7sii because the two and a half extra stops of EV that it can handle in front of the wonderful and dependable Olympus 35RC (1/8 and f1.7 versus 1/15 and f2.8).

  • Hello I am missing the spring at the bottom of my battery compartment for this camera Minolta Hi-Matic 7S-ii , I can’t quite see what is inside from your pictures. Could you send me a clear shot of what the battery compartment looks like empty.


  • Nice honest review. I’m the proud owner of this camera as well as the Konica Auto S3, known as the C35FD in Japan (which is by all accounts the same shutter priority camera minus the manual mode). I much prefer the Konica units, the lens is a 38mm 1.8 (it appears to be sharper wide open). Also, the viewfinder is larger and brighter.

    I used to own a Minolta CLE with the 40mm Rokkor, and this little camera isn’t far away from it in it’s usability – in fact it has one thing the CLE doesn’t… (AE lock).

    • KevinEyewanders June 3, 2022 at 3:10 pm

      The C35FD/AutoS3 is indeed the camera that the Hi-Matic wishes it were. Much of the Minolta design appears tooled from similar common parts or reversed engineered to a lesser quality. (I don’t subscribed to the “Cosina probably built them all theory” – that’s a load of speculative b.s.). I don’t think it’s an accident that the AutoS3 was discontinued the time the Minoltas were introduced.

      The Konica created this form factor and function and executed it better in every way.

  • Hi! I am having trouble opening the battery compartment. Not sure if I am doing something wrong?

  • great review! this review convinced me to by a minolta sister, the prinz 35 es. Next year i wanna try the one lens one camera one year project and i’m waiting the test roll i shoot with prinz and I will decide whether to use this camera or roll it 35 yourself. Both have incredible lenses, the rollei is more pocketable but the minolta after this review and this rendering in the photos impressed me a lot.

  • I got one. I always enjoyed it. My meter seems to be more or less accurate. I’ll actually check with a Sekonic to make sure.

    Why buy one now? A small, fully mechanical compact rangefinder with a sharp, high quality normal focal length and a leaf shutter allowing flash sync speeds at 1/500s. If you ever fancy getting into flash photography, maybe with street photography in mind, this is the kind of camera to get. Leica will only give 1/50s sync speed on their M bodies.

  • Late to the party here. I tend to alternate between the 7SII and an Olympus 35RC. As I go through my IG feed, time and again my favorite images are often the 7SII. That lens is magic.
    But yeah, while I’m shooting, I often find myself cussing the overall UI of this camera. The 35RC has a much more robust form factor. But then I get my scans back, and the 7SII always seems to come out on top.

  • I got a chrome 7sii a year ago and have gotten some marvelous shots with it. Love the form factor and the 49mm thread which shares filters with my Pentax SLR lenses, and I get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the Rokkor 1.7 lens which reminds me of my first real camera: an SRT-102 with 1.4 Rokkor-X lens.

    However as you mentioned the somewhat-hazy viewfinder experience is poor. Any links/clues on how to clean the viewfinder internals?

  • Thank you for your wonderful review sir. It was well written with a lot of useful observations. I have never used the camera but I have been thinking of it for years. I use – or used to used to be honest – the Olympus 35rd, which worked to my full satisfaction until the shutter broke. I loved the camera indeed not only for it overall qualities but especially for its excellent lens. Now I am considering to buy a new one, although one can hardly step into the same river. Yet, nevertheless, this hobby conveys a sort of dreamy inconsciousness that doesn’t harm anyone, but pleases one’s heart thoroughly.

  • Hello and thank you for the informative review. I just received a 7SII and I find that there are no indents on the shutter speed dial other than having to override to get to B. Is that the way it’s built or abnormal? Thanks.

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Dustin Vaughn-Luma

An experience designer, freelance photographer, and competitive cyclist living in San Jose, California with his wife, three sons, and neurotic bernese mountain dog. The majority of his personal work is shot on 35mm and 120 film, and is developed and scanned at home.

All stories by:Dustin Vaughn-Luma