5.29.2017

Minolta's Metropolitan: The A5 Rangefinder

"Wow, but you're handsome."  That was my very first thought. 

As someone who owns rangefinder cameras made from the 1940's through the 1970's, I tend to be a bit dismayed to see how the outward appearance of this genre of cameras gradually grew to be a bit less attractive as the years went onward. The svelte design of a flagship camera like the 1948 Konica I had become less endearing by the time the Auto S2 was released less than two decades later. Both are excellent cameras in their own way, but the earlier camera possesses a sleek design that had been jettisoned as the camera took on a faster lens and improved functionality in the form of exposure metering. 

Looking at some of my other rangefinders of the 1960's, I'm not particularly smitten by the overall look of the Ricoh 520M CDS, Taron Marquis, or Yashica M-II.  But then I happen to acquire a little gem of a camera from the 1960's that really impresses me with its outward appearance...

Simple and elegant, the Minolta A5 puts forth an attractive and clean look. 

I call it my "Metropolitan" as the gorgeously raised "M" logo, looking more like an upside down "W," strongly reminds me of the solitary "M" logo associated with New York's Transit system during the later part of the same decade.  It's clean, simple, and even a bit elegant. It seems right at home in the decade in which it originated.  It's specifications are more or less identical to most decent Japanese rangefinders of the era, sporting an f/2.8 lens and a capable shutter that shot as fast as 1/500 of a second.  Another spare item generously granted to me for trial by Mike Eckman, the A5 impresses me with its clean look.  


The A5, interestingly, lacks one feature that was to be a main selling point of cameras of the era, a meter.  The nice offset to this is that the camera has a size comparatively smaller than most cameras of the era with either selenium or CDS meters.  The lack of meter read-outs also makes for a clean and not terribly complicated looking camera model.    



Top deck of the A5 retains a clean no-nonsense look.  Note the offset of the settings on the lens barrel.  The clean look carries over to the rangefinder, which presents bright lines and a a simple but effective rangefinder patch.


Just as with its appearance, usage of the A5 is also not terribly complicated for the most part.  It's a simple matter to set exposure settings and look through the nicely sized rangefinder, and confirm focus using the decently sized rangefinder patch.  Brightlines assist in framing on the Rokkor 45mm f/2.8 lens.  An LV scale is seen on the opposite side of the shutter speed dial, but I elected to pass on even learning how it was used, electing to simply stick to setting speeds based on Sunny-16 rules and inference.

The one thing that was a bit challenging to adjust to with the A5 was the non-standard dual offset to which the settings are aligned.  Neither the distance nor the shutter/aperture combination lines up to the top center of the lens barrel, as often occurs on other models.  Instead a notch on the right side of the lens barrel points out the shutter and aperture combination, while rather indistinct points on either side of the base of the barrel point out the distances in both feet and meters.  

What has thrown me off a couple of times is a "V" marking on the left side of the barrel, which, at the wrong angle, looks as if it is pointing to the speed and aperture.  I thought I had the camera set at f/2.8 at 1/500 of a second, but I was actually set for f/22 at 1/8 of a second.  



If you don't take your time with the A5, it is possible in the right setting to get confused about what your settings are. 

This one minor hiccup aside, operation of the Minolta A5 was essentially flawless. The quiet shutter seemed to perform just as expected, and fired off snappily.  The camera doesn't feel overbearing at all, but similarly doesn't feel like it isn't up to the challenges it may face.  It's just a nicely polished machine that manages to combine elegance with just enough capability to make a great take-along with one's favorite film.

I wouldn't call Ilford FP4 my "favorite" film, but it is among my go-to films to get good slow speed results with good tonality and contrast.  It seemed a perfect fit for me to try with the A5 for some late March images with the Minolta. 

Bokeh from the Rokkor lens wasn't always great, but provided decent enough soft rendering of distant objects.  Contrast was a bit low when shot wide open.

A little bit of ghosting was evident from the lens, but generally, it performed quite satisfactorily.  I noticed that the rangefinder was spot on in its alignment with the lens. 


FP4 film tends to work well with monument type settings, and shooting the A5 made composing and shooting quickly fairly easy given its easy layout. 


Guesswork of exposure settings combined with a personal interest in minimizing depth of field on some subjects led me to over expose some shots, but the tonal curve of FP4 at least made them salvageable.  One of the nicer examples of bokeh from the Rokkor lens. 

Stopped down a bit, the Rokkor was quite sharp, even when shooting in less than optimal lighting.  



A pair of shots of the main gate of Lorraine Cemetery show shots taken at near and distant focus settings.  Both came out quite well. 



A stop at a church in Baltimore on a foggy morning provided me a few good photographic subjects to spotlight some of the best of the A5, though this is not the best example. 


Bokeh on this shot isn't soft enough, but the sharpness of the birdbath is very well done. 


The Minolta worked well with the tonality capabilities of the FP4 to produce some nice photos, such as this, whose focal point was the "1922" date near the door. 

Just an excellent rendering of a very dreary scene by the A5 on the Ilford film.  I'd hoped this shot would come out well, and was quite pleased with the result. 


Lettering, when properly focused portrays with excellent sharpness on this fairly modestly sized camera. 

One of very few shots that I seemed to underexpose a bit.  Still, the results are good. 

I do tend to find that the bokeh rendering leaves a bit to be desired with this camera, but this is largely made up by the excellent sharpness. 

Another very dreamy shot taken on a foggy morning. 

The Washington Monument near the Appalachian Trail provided a subject for a couple of shots from the A5.  I really stunk at getting proper horizon perspective. 

The distant details become a bit indistinct, but yet again, the foreground part of the image upon which I focused rendered with some great sharpness. 


A country road a few weeks prior to the advent of leaf season.  It was a bit of a grab shot but I like it a lot. 

Another mountain side scene that shows some photographic interest to me. 

An overall scene of Myersville that I realize I shot a tad too quickly.  The satellite dish that I didn't notice at the time becomes too prominent in this composition. 

The Minolta A5 does nothing that no other camera can do.  It lacks the security of a meter, and doesn't have a particularly fast lens. But it works, and it works well.  It couples together a healthy complement of features, and packages them into a clean and well designed body that is fairly compact in comparison to other rangefinders of the era.  My "Metropolitan" won't always be the first camera I think of when I go out shooting, but it will be a contender when I want a dependable, compact, and fairly easy to use rangefinder for some time of enjoyable film shooting!