Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Minolta Autocord versus Rolleicord Vb. First Impressions


For current users of 120 film, the Minolta Autocord has an almost cult following that rivals that of the Rolleiflex and Rolleicord. The lens is argued to be the equal of and sometimes better than the Zeiss Tessar in the latter cameras.

Having read the stories, I was keen to compare the two cameras. It is, of course, not fair to compare the performance of two cameras, both 50 years old, picked at random from those on sale. Conditions of storage, amount of wear and servicing could all be different and affect the original design and construction differently. Unfair, yes, but I will do it anyway.

I bought the Autocord from a UK seller on eBay. As soon as it arrived I realised it was in excellent condition and identified it as the RG 3rd version of 1963. That same day, I checked the shutter speeds electronically and found they were consistently about ½ stop slow and not worth applying a correction when using films like FP4+.

Please bear in mind that the Minolta Autocord was very different in price from the Rolleicord. In Amateur Photographer of 15 February 1961 I found one advertisement for the Autocord at £53-9-6d. In another advertisement on 14 February 1962, the Autocord was £50-7-10. Rolleicords at that time were about £85.

Please also bear in mind that Japanese cameras were very slow to gain acceptance in Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were regarded as cheap, unreliable and inferior imitations of German products. The trade was still locked into the British agents of German manufacturers. As one camera shop owner said to me in the late 1950s while looking down his nose at a Japanese TLR, ‘I have to sell these because of the price but I hate having to do so. Real photographers will always use German cameras.’ I do not recall ever seeing an Autocord in a camera shop; Yashica, especially the 4x4 yes, Minolta no.

So, without having used it yet, these are my first impressions.

The Autocord is heavier than the Rolleicord Vb (930 vs 1000 g). In general, the construction of the Autocord is crude compared with the Rolleicord. For example: screw heads are on show (anathema to premier German manufacturers); the opening mechanism is very crude and closure of the back relies on felt seals in places. The hood is non-removable and the sports finder release mechanism somewhat unreliable.

In terms of focusing, I prefer the side wheel of the Rolleicord to the front lever of the Autocord. I also prefer the split-image centre of the Rolleicord screen to the plain ground glass centre of the Autocord. I can see no difference in brightness.

The depth-of-field scale is around the focusing knob of the Rolleicord which makes it easier to use than the one on the Autocord. In the latter it is around the winding crank and the focused distance has to be read off the front scale and then applied to the depth-of-field scale. The Autocord but not the Rolleicord has an infra-red focusing mark.

Setting the shutter speed and aperture I find easier on the Autocord. I hated the exposure value system when it was introduced and I hate it now. Having to unlock a lever to change shutter speed and aperture was, and is, infuriating.

A major difference between the two cameras is the winding crank of the Autocord, thus making it comparable with a Rolleiflex like the T model.  For the type of photography I do with TLR cameras, I actually prefer the winding knob of the Rolleicord but I can see that, in its day, a rapid wind lever would have been an attraction.

The next job is to load a film and try the Autocord in action.