I must confess, and I’m prepared for any well-deserved mockery that results from this coming statement, I traded my dear Nikon FE (as well as a handful of lenses) for a diminutive point-and-shoot. This was not an easy decision, but I had to follow my own rules, and ever since my Minolta XD came home to roost my treasured Nikon had been gathering dust. To justify a new toy I needed to part with an old one. Of course, such things are rarely done spur of the moment. Every time I passed by my local lab for months beforehand, a small silver box sat open with a very square, very 1980s Minolta AF-C inside calling my name.
I had long scoffed at the idea of a point-and-shoot. After all, had I not gotten into analog photography for the labor of love? The endless minutia of operating outdated equipment? Focus, frame, meter, shoot, advance, repeat! How could any camera that did not at least allow for total manual override possibly be adequate. I laughed at those who spent their hard-earned money on Olympus MJUs and XAs, on Contax T2s and Nikon 28TIs. Such baubles were not for the likes of me.
And yet, somehow the black brick wormed its way into my thoughts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a camera that slipped into a coat pocket? A camera which would take minimal place in my hiking pack, in a carry-on? And how could I ignore the stunning pictures that invaded my Instagram feed on the daily, reputedly shot on the very cameras I laughed at. As my Nikon, capable and mighty as it was, sat idle, a simple truth formed in my mind: point-and-shoots take excellent pictures because they are always there with you, ready and asking nothing more than for you to press the shutter button.
Many of you are probably reading this impatiently. I realize this preamble is likely uninteresting for those of you who already knew this truth, but it is part of my apology to what has become my daily driver, my quiet companion, and frankly, my favorite camera I own.
On to the nitty-gritty.
Released originally in 1983, the Minolta AF-C is a compact plastic brick of electronic and mechanical wizardry. To my knowledge, two versions were released with the only significant difference being the newer version was offered in a silver finish with a maximum possible ISO rating of 1000, as opposed to the original ISO which topped out at 400. The small wheel on the front which sets the ISO is the only manual control on the camera, and allows for thirds of stops between ISO 25 and 400/1000. That’s it. The AF-C takes care of the rest.
Tucked under a sliding face plate which also operates as the camera’s “ON” switch are the sharp little 35mm f/2.8 lens, the CdS metering cell which handles exposure, and the infrared auto-focus assembly. Sliding this guard requires a gentle but continuous force, and the camera will only turn on and unlock the shutter button when fully open, a nice feature considering mine lives in my back pocket. I have never once been concerned about accidental exposures or scuffing any of the glass surfaces.
On the front face we also find a small switch with a paired LED which operates a self-timer. Activating this switch (which I’ve only done twice and by accident each time) causes the light to signal a 10-second timer, during which the camera purrs contentedly before triggering its shutter. The smooth plastic top plate is as sparsely and efficiently populated as the rest of the camera, adorned with the rewind knob (which produces an excellently metallic noise when pulled to open the back), the shutter button, and the small film counter which includes a “safe-load indicator”. Bellow, on the bottom plate is a small door for the battery compartment, a tripod socket, and the rewind button.
- Camera type: Compact point-and-shoot
- Image Area: 24x36mm (full frame)
- Lens: Minolta 35mm f/2.8, 6 elements in 6 groups
- Focusing: Infrared autofocus, 3ft to infinity. Focus hold.
- Exposure: CdS metering cell, front facing.
- Aperture-shutter: between lens electronic automatic.
- Viewfinder: 0.47X, -1D with frame lines, autofocus zone marks, and LED indicators for focus and low-light.
- Film winding/re-winding: Grooved thumb wheel advance. Release button and manual rewind.
- Frame counter: Frame counter window with safe-load indicator.
- Self-timer: 10-second timer with LED indicator.
- Metering range: 1/8th at f/2.8 (EV 6) to 1/430 sec at F/17 (EV17).
- Film Speed: ISO 25 to 400/1000 set manually.
- Flash: Dedicated EF-C accessory unit. X-sync at 1/40th, automatic. 3-6ft at ISO25, 3-16ft at ISO200 and over. Flash-fill in daylight 6-10ft recycle time, approximately 2-4 seconds.
- Battery: 4 LR44 1.5v or 2 CR1/3N equivalent 3v. Flash unit uses 2 AA.
- Dimensions: 42 x 67.5 x 105mm (1-5/8 x 2-11/16 x 4-⅛ in.)
- Weight: 215g (7-9/16 oz.) plus batteries
My AF-C was sold alongside its matching accessory flash. Equally as diminutive as the camera, the flash screws firmly into the left side with a small front facing thumb wheel. The unit requires two AA batteries, which probably weigh about as much as the whole camera when attached and loaded. As such, I have not used it often, but the times I have it has given me good exposures. I’m sure that if you follow the maximum recommended distances printed on the rear of the flash unit, it will serve you well.
Let’s wind our way back for a second and talk about that lens. Lenses are the whole reason we faithful buy Minoltas, right? Some of the best glass of their era, all for bargain prices! In this way the Minolta AF-C does not disappoint. Equipped with a humble little 35mm 6 element/6 group lens with a whisper quiet Seikosha shutter tucked in there, my AF-C consistently produces sharp, punchy results. While slightly prone to flares, I have found this lens to have excellent contrast and color, as well as great sharpness across the frame. Clearly Minolta took care to ensure that their reputation for lens quality would be upheld by this little automatic jewel.
While entirely plastic, the camera feels far from cheap. Every surface is sturdy, and the leatherette that wraps around the mid-body is pleasantly textured. Every moving part of this camera feel well engineered, producing just the right amount of tactile feedback and some sort of satisfying sound. Is it strange that I am obsessed with the little noises this camera makes? Sliding the face plate makes produces a definitive thunk-click. Advancing the film a pleasant tick-tick-tick. Firing the shutter blesses us with an adorable pssst-kachunk as the auto-focus motors move the lens into place at the last second. Truly a delight, and very discreet.
On that point, the Minolta AF-C’s discretion is one of its best characteristics. Small, quiet, and compact, this camera lends itself to being carried at all times, ready to snap the kinds of shots that only present themselves to the prepared. Shooting with the AF-C is remarkably fast and simple. A bright viewfinder and clear frame lines make composing easy and quick. In the center of the viewfinder is a second set of lines, this time a vertically-aligned rectangle, which delineates the camera’s autofocus zone. The AF-C has a focus lock feature when the shutter button is half pressed, so be sure to keep this in mind and for moving subjects to only shoot at the last moment. Two small LEDs in the finder will inform you of either: correct focus (green without red), correct focus, but inadequate speed for hand held shooting (green and red), or impossible to focus and inadequate light (red without green). As the camera measures focus from the center of the image, you will frequently find yourself using the focus hold feature to focus, compose and then shoot. Since the AF-C’s motors only move the lens into place at the moment the shutter fires there is no audible or visual indication of correct focus, you have to trust the camera, but I promise it will not let you down.
Even with its attendant electroflash unit, the Minolta AF-C will fit into an average coat pocket or can be tucked away in any small bag, making this a great choice for travel and street photography. Load some high speed film to ensure a narrow aperture, and you can trust that the camera will handle the rest deftly and quietly.
Now back to the reason I decided I needed to write all this up. The other day, while bicycling far from home, I swerved to dodge an oncoming family and my dear AF-C, hanging loyally from my belt, was savagely smacked by a bollard. Gripped with panic, I immediately pulled over to inspect the damage, fully expecting this to be the end of the camera. I would like to reassure the reader that my Minolta survived its mistreatment without issue, and continues to function with its usual excellence. What I realized in that instant, however, was that I really, truly love that little camera. I love to shoot with it and to carry it around. Having it with me and knowing that at anytime I can snap a shot I would be happy with means a great deal. I’ve learned to trust its circuits, and to allow them to do the mundane work of focusing and exposure.
And so I apologize. To not only my Minolta AF-C, but to all point-and-shoots. To all the daft little electronic cameras that will someday wear out and no longer function. To all the plastic bricks with their average lenses and sometimes mediocre construction. To all the battery sucking, borderline disposable light-tight boxes. To all the over-hyped and over valued compact film cameras of the world, I salute you. You have shown me the truth, that the best camera in the world is the one I have with me. That the greatest lens in the world is useless when tucked away safe in a backpack or at home on a shelf. That electronic wizardry can be good, and that letting go of control can help perfect one’s craft by removing the minute tasks that we already do well enough.
All of this to say, I love my Minolta AF-C, and so should you.
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