2016 was a horrible year for me personally. I was diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition that required major surgery to address, and me and the family had to move precipitously from Shanghai to Hong-Kong following unanticipated job issues. When we arrived in Hong Kong after the summer break (and the operation) I was convalescing and couldn’t do much more than walk. So I walked a lot. And I took with me a little film camera that my dad had found in his attic, a Minox 35 ML. It was brand new, a gift from a work relation in the 90s that he had never even opened.
The Minox 35 is a lovely little package. It fits easily in a pocket, it’s a breeze to load, it shoots in P mode (no other options) so it’s the perfect companion for walking the streets. Sure, there’s no rangefinder, so you have to focus by approximating the distance to your subject or going hyperfocal.
I shot about 6 or 8 rolls before finding a lab in Hong Kong that would process them. And when they came back I realised that half the rolls were unexposed, partially exposed or bizarrely mangled. I loved the shots that made it through, but the camera just wasn’t reliable enough. In the intervening years, I shot a lot of digital and other film cameras, but in the last year, I’ve been back to nearly exclusively film. I also became a regular with another lab, Camera Film Photo, that actually cares about the quality of their processing and scanning (that first, early lab clearly did not). Recently I took my Minox into CFP to see if it could be fixed. They took it in and I got it back a couple of weeks later.
I loaded it with a roll of Kodak T-MAX 400 which I pushed 1 stop to get a bit more latitude when shooting street, and this is the result: a bunch of crisp, nicely contrasted shots that just smell of Hong Kong at the time of Corona.
Over the years, I’ve tried a few fixed lens film cameras, including a Ricoh GR1 but I never liked the pictures as much as I like these. Like all good quests, it has brought me back to my starting point: the best 35mm fixed lens pocketable camera was the one I already owned.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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