Minolta and Auto Minolta

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The Minolta (ミノルタ) and Auto Minolta are strut-folding cameras taking 6.5×9cm plates or film sheets, made by Molta and later Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō (predecessors of Minolta).


The Minolta and Auto Minolta were much inspired by the Plaubel Makina, but have a reversed configuration, with the viewfinder on the photographer's left.

The rectangular front plate is mounted on scissor struts. The spring-loaded main struts, at the top and bottom, are attached to a shaft on the right. They are complemented by smaller struts on the left-hand side. The camera is opened by a small button placed on the left-hand side of the body. There is a leather handle on the photographer's right, a metal handle on the left, and two tripod threads (at the bottom and on the left).

The viewfinder consists of a glass element at the front, retractable in a small spring-loaded casing attached to the front plate, and an eyepiece hinged to the main body, at the rear. It does not provide parallax correction, unlike that of the Makina.

The camera is focused by turning a small knob at the right end of the front plate, which controls the angle of the main struts. The distance is indicated by an index rotating inside a circular scale, under the viewfinder casing. There is a button placed between the lens and the focusing wheel, unlocking the scissor struts to close the camera.

The name Minolta and the body serial number are engraved on the viewfinder's front casing, and the round MTS logo of the Molta company is embossed at the top of the front plate, above the opening button.

Original Minolta

The original Minolta[1] (ミノルタ) has no rangefinder. It was initially released with a Lidex shutter, made by the Molta company itself, later substituted by a Crown; at least one example is also known with a rim-set Compur. The early examples have an Actiplan Anastigmat München 105mm f/4.5 lens, perhaps supplied by Steinheil, which was selling Heliostar lenses to Molta for the Sirius and Arcadia around the same time. The late examples perhaps have an Actiplan Anastigmat Nippon 105mm f/4.5, said to have been supplied by Asahi Kōgaku (predecessor of Pentax), but this is unconfirmed.[2]

Release date and original documents

This model was certainly the first camera to use the name "Minolta".[3] The release date is given as 1933 in early historical accounts by the Minolta company or its predecessors, including a chronology published in 1958 and the fifty-year history book (1978) — the latter specifies June.[4] This release year is repeated in many later sources, but some say 1934 instead.[5] The year 1933 is made plausible by the date of registration of the "Minolta" trademark, which was applied for on Jan. 18, 1933, published on June 1st and finally registered on Sep. 20.[6]

The original Minolta appears as the "Minolta Camera" (ミノルタ・カメラ) in an early leaflet by Asanuma Shōkai.[7] The price is given as ¥97, including a cap covering the lens and shutter, six plate holders, a film pack holder and a soft release. A special bag for the Minolta camera is offered for extra ¥4. The pictured camera has no visible serial number, certainly because the picture was retouched. Its viewfinder eyepiece has a rounded top, and its shutter is an everset Lidex (T, B, 1–200). The shutter plate has the words Patents(J.N.)–Pending at the top. The document mentions a shutter lock, and a button is indeed visible on the shutter casing below the release lever. The lens marking is faintly legible as Actiplan Anastigmat München, with no.7770x.

A later leaflet, dating c.1935, offers the Minolta at the same price of ¥97 with an Actiplan f/4.5 lens, a Crown shutter (1–200), six plate holders and one pack holder.[8] One of the pictures of the previous leaflet was re-used after further retouch, replacing the Lidex shutter marking by a non-standard Crown marking. This retouched picture was reproduced in many later sources, sometimes in a cropped form omitting the metal handle.[9]

Presumably later documents, including an advertisement dated July 1935, show a rectangular viewfinder eyepiece.[10] A leaflet dating c.1936 still lists the viewfinder Minolta along with the rangefinder version, but does not provide a picture.[11]

Actual examples

Very few actual examples of the original Minolta camera are known. At least two have the rounded viewfinder eyepiece and Lidex shutter (T, B, 1–200).[12] One of them is confirmed to have an Actiplan Anastigmat München 105mm f/4.5 lens in the 7xxxx range.[13] Its shutter plate has Patents(J.N.)–Pending at the top, and its body number has four digits and the prefix .

One example is pictured in Minolta's 70th anniversary poster, and was perhaps in the company's own collection.[14] It has the same Actiplan Anastigmat München 105mm f/4.5 lens and a rim-set Compur shutter (T, B, 1–250); it is not known if this shutter option was commercially offered at some time or not. The details of the eyepiece are unknown. The body number is 8979; the numbering sequence might continue the Nifca sequence used on the Nifcarette or Nifca-Dox.

At least two cameras are known with the Crown shutter (T, B, 1–200). Both have a rectangular eyepiece, and their exact lens name is unknown. The shutter plate has Patents(J.N.)–Pending on one example and Patents–Nippon on the other; the latter has a body number in the 10xxx range.[15]

Auto Minolta

The Autofocus Minolta (オートフォーカス・ミノルタ), later Auto Minolta (オート・ミノルタ), has a coupled rangefinder. It was released in 1935, and was the first Japanese camera equipped with such device.[16]

The rangefinder is contained in a casing placed above the camera, on the right of the viewfinder, with two round windows at the front. The base length is 7cm.[17] The eyepiece is at the left end, close to the viewfinder eyepiece. Four versions of this rangefinder casing are known.

First version

The first version has a black leather-covered casing, with the name Minolta and the MTS logo of Molta inscribed on a small nameplate between the two rangefinder windows.

Early leaflets dating c.1935 have the name "Autofocus Minolta" instead of "Auto Minolta", but this name does not appear anywhere on the camera itself.[18] The pictures show the Crown shutter and Actiplan Anastigmat Nippon 105mm f/4.5 lens. The body number is 9192, retouched as 9392 in some pictures, and the lens number is 84915. The shutter has the Patents(J.N.)–Pending marking. The camera is offered for ¥135 with six plate holders, one pack holder, a lens cap and a cable release. The earliest dated advertisement is found in Asahi Camera April 1935; other advertisements dated June and July 1935 are similar, showing the same price of ¥135.[19] The advertisement in Ars Camera January 1936 uses the name "Auto Minolta", but still displays the first version.[20]

Surviving examples of the first version are known with serial numbers in the 9xxx and 10xxx range. Most have the Actiplan Anastigmat Nippon 105mm f/4.5 lens in a Crown shutter (T, B, 1–200), inscribed Patents–Nippon. One isolated example is known with the same Actiplan lens in a rim-set Compur shutter (T, B, 1–250).

Second version

The second version is very similar to the previous one but has the name Auto Minolta engraved on the nameplate and has no logo. This version appeared in winter or spring 1936, and is pictured in an advertisement dated July 1936.[21] A leaflet dating about the same offers the camera at the unchanged price of ¥135, along with the original Minolta at ¥97 and the ever-ready case at ¥4.[22]

The advertisement in Asahi Camera December 1936 uses the name "Autofocus Minolta" again, and offers three lens and shutter options:[23]

The August 1937 advertisement in the same magazine shows the first and third options at an unchanged price; the Crown shutter is called "Crown A" and the Compur-Rapid is called "Compur RS" (presumably for Rapid Shutter). The January 1938 advertisement in Asahi Camera has the first option for ¥155 and the Tessar and Compur option for ¥295. (The sudden price rise might be related to new taxes levied after the outbreak of war with China.)[24] The price of the new versions with Tessar lens is very high, making them the most expensive Japanese cameras of the time (but for the Olympus Standard announced in 1937 at ¥275 but never produced in quantity).

Third and fourth versions

The third version has a larger leather-covered rangefinder casing, with a slanted metal plate at the front, engraved Auto Minolta and including the holes for the rangefinder windows. The fourth version is similar but the casing has an all-metal finish; it is known from a single example only (see below).


The original cap for the Minolta and Auto Minolta is black with the MTS logo of Molta. It covers the whole shutter casing, has a protrusion in the middle to accommodate the lens and an indent on the side to leave space for the release lever.

The original ever-ready case closely matches the camera's shape, and has a rectangular protrusion at the front for the lens and shutter unit. The ground glass hood has a Minolta embossing. It is identical to that of the Auto Press Minolta, except that the latch is nickel-plated instead of chrome-plated on the later model.


  1. This model is sometimes called "Minolta I", for example in Francesch, p.75. This name does not appear in the original documents and was certainly crafted by collectors for easier identification.
  2. Supplied by Asahi Kōgaku: Lewis, p.182. The mention of a Coronar in McKeown, p.673, is a mistake.
  3. Some sources say that the Semi Minolta was released earlier but they are mistaken. See Semi Minolta.
  4. Chronology: "Hensen kamera ichiran-pyō", p.295 of Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (September 1958), also reproduced in Tanimura, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.116. Fifty-year history: Minolta 50-nen no ayumi, pp.5 and 65. In the latter, the release month was perhaps inferred from the date of publication of the "Minolta" trademark (see below).
  5. 1933: Francesch, pp.21 and 75, Scheibel, p.17, McKeown, p.673, Eimukku 735 Minolta, pp.131–2. 1934: Awano, p.15 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  6. Trademark publication (商標広告) no.S08-004434 for the name "MINOLTA" (ミノルタ) available in the IPDL trademark database.
  7. Leaflet Minoruta kamera izu, observed in an online auction.
  8. Leaflet Asanuma Shōkai hatsubai no kokusan kamera Minoruta Happī, reproduced in this page.
  9. Complete picture: Taniguchi, p.276 of Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (article also reproduced in Tanimura, p.8 of Camera Collectors' News no.116), Lewis, p.48. Cropped picture: Francesch, p.75, Scheibel, p.16, McKeown, p.673.
  10. Leaflet cover reproduced in Francesch, p.21, and in Scheibel, p.17; advertisement in Toki no Nagare July 1935, a publication of Asanuma Shōkai, reproduced in Tanimura, p.19 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  11. Leaflet Danzen kesshutsu shita kokusan kamera.
  12. Example pictured in Eimukku 735 Minolta, pp.131–2, and example pictured in Awano, p.15 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  13. Example pictured in Awano, p.15 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  14. Example pictured in the 70th anniversary Minolta poster, reproduced in this page at Photoclub Alpha. (The same picture is also copied in other websites.)
  15. Patents(J.N.)–Pending: example pictured in this page of the Center of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology. Patents–Nippon: example pictured in Awano, p.15 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  16. The date first appears in Taniguchi, p.277 of Shashin Kōgyō no.77, and in "Hensen kamera ichiran-pyō", p.295 of the same magazine (documents also reproduced in Tanimura, pp.7–8 of Camera Collectors' News no.116). The fifty-year history Minolta 50-nen no ayumi says August 1935 on pp.5 and 65 but an advertisement in Asahi Camera April 1935 is reproduced in Tanimura, p.11 of Camera Collectors' News no.118. The year 1935 repeated in Awano, p.15 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12, Francesch, pp.22 and 78, Scheibel, p.21, Lewis, pp.52–3, Eimukku 735 Minolta, pp.131 and 133. For the first version, Sugiyama, items 1195, says 1933–4, and McKeown, p.673, says 1933, but these are probable mistakes.
  17. Leaflet Asanuma Shōkai hatsubai no kokusan kamera Minoruta Happī.
  18. Leaflets Ōto-fōkasu Minoruta kamera and Asanuma Shōkai hatsubai no kokusan kamera Minoruta Happī.
  19. Advertisement in Asahi Camera April 1935 reproduced in Tanimura, p.11 of Camera Collectors' News no.118. Advertisement in Toki no Nagare July 1935 reproduced in Tanimura, p.19 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12. Advertisement on the second cover of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin June 1st, 1935, reproduced on p.18 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku.
  20. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96.
  21. Advertisement in Shashin Shinpō July 1936 reproduced in Hagiya, p.9 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  22. Leaflet Danzen kesshutsu shita kokusan kamera.
  23. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96.
  24. See the 1937 section of the page on Japanese prices.


Original documents

  • Asanuma Shōkai. Leaflet for the Auto Minolta, dating c.1935. Ōto-fōkasu Minoruta kamera (オートフォカスミノルタカメラ, Auto-focus Minolta camera). Document owned by A. Apra and reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • Leaflet for the Minolta, dating c.1934. Minoruta kamera izu (ミノルタ・カメラ出づ, The Minolta camera is released). Pictures observed in an online auction.
  • Leaflet for the Minolta and Happy range, dating c.1935. Asanuma Shōkai hatsubai no kokusan kamera Minoruta Happī (浅沼商会発売の国産カメラミノルタ・ハッピー, Japan-made Minolta and Happy cameras distributed by Asanuma Shōkai). Document owned by A. Apra and reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • Leaflet for the Minolta and Happy range, dating c.1936. Danzen kesshutsu shita kokusan kamera (断然傑出した国産カメラ, Definitely excellent Japan-made cameras). Document owned by A. Apra and reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin (日本写真興業通信). Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku (百号ごと十回の記録, Ten records, every hundred issues). Tokyo: Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin Sha (日本写真興業通信社), 1967. No ISBN number. Advertisement on p.18, corresponding to the second cover of the June 1st, 1935 issue.
  • Trademark publication for the name "MINOLTA" (ミノルタ). The trademark was applied for (商標出現) on 18 January 1933 (no.S08-000723), published (商標広告) on 1 June 1933 (no.S08-004434) and registered (商標登録) on 20 September 1933 (no.0246579). Available in the IPDL trademark database.

Older historical accounts

  • Minolta Camera. Minolta 50-nen no ayumi (Minolta・50年のあゆみ, Minolta 50-year history). November 1978. Pp.5 and 65.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (September 1958). "Hensen kamera ichiran-pyō" (変遷カメラ一らん表, Table of camera evolution.) P.295. (This is a chronology of Minolta cameras from the Nifcarette onwards. This document is also reproduced in Tanimura, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.116.)
  • Taniguchi Masao (谷口匡男), from the commercial department (営業部) of Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō. "Minoruta kamera no sakujitsu, konnichi" (ミノルタ・カメラの昨日、今日, Minolta cameras, yesterday and today). In Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (September 1958). Pp.275–9. (The two first pages of this document, on pre-1937 cameras, are also reproduced in Tanimura, p.8 of Camera Collectors' News no.116.)

Collectors' sources


In English:

In Japanese:

Nifca, Molta and Chiyoda prewar and wartime cameras (edit)
folding plate cameras
Nifcaklapp | Nifcasport | Sirius | Arcadia | Lomax | Eaton | Happy
folding rollfilm cameras telescopic bakelite cameras
Nifcarette | Sirius Bebe | Semi Minolta | Auto Semi Minolta Minolta Vest | Baby Minolta | Minolta Six
strut-folding cameras TLR cameras
Nifca-Dox | Minolta | Auto Minolta | Auto Press Minolta Minoltaflex | Minoltaflex Automat | Minoltaflex military prototype