Minox 35 ML [1986]

I don't know what is wrong with me; I actually bought a camera that works without me having to replace any parts or having to disassemble the shutter or iris to wash away decades of oil from moving parts to get it working again. No, I just dusted it off, cleaned old fingerprints off the glass and put a new battery and film in it and I was off and running. I know what you're thinking; 'Martin has bought a film camera that takes a battery - what's up with that?'

It is true that most of my recent purchases have been minimal, to nonexistent in the convenient electronics department. In my defense I never even set out to own a Minox 35 but when I saw one offered on CraigsList for $35 including the original flash and filter/hood I couldn't resist. Minox does have the cache of being owned by Leica but the 35s also have an appalling reputation for reliability especially in their shutter/exposure/electronics features so I wasn't expecting much. I thought I might be able to cajole it into life but, even if I couldn't, it would look cool sitting on the shelf next to my XA and XA2. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I picked up a new battery from Radio Shack and the camera seemed to work perfectly.

The Minox 35's went through a lot of changes and variations during their life. Mine is the 35 ML model and was made in 1986 but is still considered one of the modern Minox 35s. The ML seems to be well regarded and has relatively advanced electronics compared to the older models. This includes LED's in the viewfinder to report the exposure (older models have a more typical and delicate swing needle) and an exposure lock.

So why bother with the Minox especially as it's not even a Rangefinder? That's true but its 35mm, f2.8 Minotar lens does have a fantastic reputation for sharpness and contrast. The camera also claims to be the smallest 35mm ever made; a claim that earns it a place in my little collection at least. Compared to the Olympus XA (and how can you talk about the Minox 35 without mentioning the XA) it is indeed smaller in it's closed position. However, when opened up its claim to be the most diminutive 35mm camera ever is harder to support. Where Olympus did something amazing with their optics design to put a great lens into such a small package, Minox used mechanics. Opening the Minox to shoot involves pulling down on the door that covers all the optics. The door is mechanically attached to the lens. When the door is closed the lens sits inside the camera body; when opened the lens moves out of the camera body into taking position. It's reminiscent of the early Leica's with their collapsible lenses. The door is also reminiscent of the old folding brownies except without a bellows.

In the open position the door might seem a little awkward at first but it does have a couple of useful applications. The first is the the Minox engineers thoughtfully made the door extend a little more than 90 degrees so that it provides a sort of makeshift, stable shooting platform. It won't replace a decent pocket tripod but it does allow you to put the camera down on an available table or wall to shoot at slow shutter speeds. The door can also be used as a makeshift lens hood. My example camera with a slip on daylight filter and hood that fits on the Minox lens but only in the open position. There's no room for these accessories on this camera in the closed position which makes them less than useful. Who wants to fit the hood every time you open the camera to shoot? And yet every photog knows that a lens hood improves lens performance dramatically. Here's where that big door comes in. Who says that you have to shoot with the door facing the floor? Turn the camera upside down and the huge barn door may totally eliminate flare depending upon the relative position of your light source.

So, how does it measure up to the XA? To me the XA feels more solid. There's more metal in its construction and it rattles less in your shirt pocket than the Minox 35. To be fare, I think most of the Minox rattle is the film cassette moving around. The lack of a true rangefinder on the Minox was less of a disadvantage than I first thought. The XA feels like more of a real camera when you focus through the viewfinder rather guesstimating the distance to your subject, however, the results are comparable and, with a little practice you can actually read the focusing distance on the Minox lens through its viewfinder.

The XA's shutter release is much lauded but it is a little too sensitive for my clumsy nature. The Minox's more mechanical shutter release is more predictable in my hands. The Minox 35 ML also allows the use of a standard cable release which can be useful in those low light situations again.

The Minox's film advance with it's two stroke thumb advance feels less "disposable camera" than the XA's thumb wheel and I do prefer the standard hot shoe on the Minox rather the puny dedicated XA units. Minox has the Bond and Andy Warhol glamour; Olympus has Lord Litchfield and David Baily. I still don't know which I prefer. I think I'll have to call it a draw for the moment until I've had more experience with the Minox or it dies on me.

Tips

Without a health battery my Minox 35 ML behaves in a way that fools you into thinking that it may be broken. The old battery that came in my camera had enough juice to power the self timer LED. It flashed with vigor and the shutter made a clicking noise but never opened. Pressing the battery test resulted in no activity in the viewfinder. I was worried until I fitted a new battery. With plenty of power from a new battery the shutter and exposure system worked as advertised.

Luckily the 35 ML uses a relatively readily available, modern battery for it's power source. Users of 35's prior to the ML model have to battle with adaptors or Jerry-rigging stacks of cells to power their cameras. If you want to use a Minox 35 it may be worth hunting down a ML or later for this reason alone.

This brings me to the reported failures people experience with this camera. This camera clicks even when the shutter isn't working. Many users report thinking that they're exposing film only to find the roll totally unexposed when returned from the lab. Don't rely on a click to indicate that all is well with your camera. Do use a healthy battery and check the shutter is actually working between rolls. It's easy to do; with the back off, hold the camera up to a light source and press the shutter. You should see the shutter blink open.

With no rangefinder to set the focus, focusing the 35 may be a little hit and miss. The depth of field scale on the lens is useful to ensure what you want to be in focus really is going to be sharp. Use the lens wide open, therefore, with care.

Afterward

One of the most viewed pages on my site was a rant against the Lomo LC-A I made while supposedly reviewing the Olympus XA. In it I suggested buying the Kiev 35A as an alternative to the Lomo LCA as it gave that FSU camera, Lomo-like experience at a much lower cost. I'll stand by that statement but just remember that the FSU camera experience can involve cameras that do not work properly even fresh from the factory or cameras that die after only a roll or two. In this vein I've heard bad things about the Kiev 35A. Buy it as an alternative to a $150 LCA but don't buy it expecting it to be a Minox. In typically polarized web reviews owners claim the Kiev 35A to be as reliable and as sharp as a Minox 35. Film cameras are currently selling for record low prices thanks to the digital revolution. For not much more or for even the same money as a 'new' Kiev 35A you can find a working Minox 35 on eBay. I can't afford a Leica so I have a FSU Leica-like copy but if I could have bought the real thing for the same money I know which I would have bought.

I just noticed that the store at lomography.com is currently selling new Minox GT-S sets (includes flash) for $575 (shipping not included). Excuse me a second but OMG! If you spend $575 on a Minox 35 you get what you deserve.

Links


Comments

Hi there,
you have a good page - well done!
Here comes a small tip I got by some minox friends
here in Germany. If there is a problem to get a new battery (the v27 px) minox is offering two adapters for using 2x CR1/3 or 4 cells insted. Minox Germany has it on it's homepage. www.minox.de
Not very cheap but a good tool ;-)
Greetings
HS

Posted by: HS at January 3, 2006 6:54 PM

Great reading, keep up the great posts.
Peace, JiggaDigga

Posted by: JiggaDigga at April 7, 2006 9:47 AM

Very interesting, I have just dug out my Minox ML from a draw and used it once, then the back cover fastening clip broke, I contacted Minox UK and they did the job for 15! I have three digital cameras including a Ricoh digital GR, but the results from the ML are first class and it will not be put back in a drawer or sold, it will be used, regarding focusing, ever since I got the camera I used hyperfocal distance, great for street photography.
Thanks
Barrie

Posted by: Barrie Marshall at May 31, 2006 10:16 AM

I would like to change the battery in my Minox 35ML but can't get the battery holder to open. Does anyone have a suggestion?
with thanks,
Rosemary

Posted by: rosemary at September 23, 2006 10:25 PM

In your tips you spoke about the shutter problem. With my ML 35 it's the case that this happens only in manual-aperture-modus - it clicks but the shutter doesn't open. As soon as I use P-Mode it works perfectly. Do you know any help?
Funny thing: it even works, when I wind the film in P-Mode, then I can switch to any manual apperture and the shutter opens. As soon as I wind on in manual-modus, it will fail to open.
Cheers!

Posted by: logico at December 24, 2006 6:55 AM

In your tips you spoke about the shutter problem. With my ML 35 it's the case that this happens only in manual-aperture-modus - it clicks but the shutter doesn't open. As soon as I use P-Mode it works perfectly. Do you know any help?
Funny thing: it even works, when I wind the film in P-Mode, then I can switch to any manual apperture and the shutter opens. As soon as I wind on in manual-modus, it will fail to open.
Cheers!

Posted by: logico at December 24, 2006 6:55 AM

I have a Minox 35 ML in excellent working condition, refurbished by Minox UK about 5 years ago, used for holiday photos once or twice a year mostly, with eveready leather case and a customised polarising filter (attached to a cut-down push-on Minox lens hood) and a new battery. I've had it from new and looked after it very carefully. The case of course shows signs of use but is not worn.
Anyone interested in making an offer?

Posted by: David Howes at February 21, 2007 9:29 AM

Thanks for an interesting page. Yes, I enjoy my XA but have always wondered 'What if I'd bought a minox instead'.

If you are able to forward this to David Howes, and if he still has his Minox, perhaps I'll be able to find out!
Thanks,
Mike

Posted by: Michael at January 31, 2008 6:59 PM
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