5 Frames… Of medium format on a budget (Kodak Portra 160 / 120 Format / EI 160 / Minolta Autocord RG1) – by Finlay Dalziel

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I, like many of you here, suffer chronic GAS. It remains true that a great picture comes from the photographer, not the camera, but there is something uniquely satisfying about using a camera that looks and feels good. Although my student budget places heavy limitations upon my Leica-laden aspirations, bargains can be found, which may produce images just as good as the pricey alternatives.

To set the scene, it was a drizzly day in Newcastle, and I had just visited my favourite camera shop. My experiences with medium format up until this point had been very disappointing –- I once borrowed my old school’s dusty Bronica ETRS, which evidently had many mechanical issues, for pictures came out covered in light leaks and inconsistencies.


The film was also much faffier to load than the easy 35mm cassettes. Nevertheless, my desire for large negatives and the characteristic medium format sharpness coupled with razor-thin depth of field led me to buy a very reasonably priced Minolta Autocord (which I would afterwards find to be the later RG-1 model). I may have dreamt of owning a Rolleiflex 3.5F, but this would have to do.

My Minolta Autocord RG1, Finlay Dalziel
My Minolta Autocord RG1, Finlay Dalziel

With a roll of Kodak Portra 160, my second-favourite colour film stock (Ektar 100 being first, not that you asked), I set about testing it. Despite not paying much at all, it appeared that the previous owner had serviced it recently, so the seals were not deteriorated and the focus smooth, something certainty unusual for second-hand film cameras. Although the mirrored focus screen was initially difficult for someone used to the ease of SLR cameras, it was certainly a lot of fun. For those not familiar, the Autocord uses a somewhat novel lever bellow the lens to focus, rather than a dial on the side, which feels great to pull from left to right.

Each photograph is a portrait taken within the North East of England, and I tried to capture my subjects amidst the greens and oranges of autumn. Despite my previous disdain for medium format, I fell in love with the ease and beauty of this TLR. It may not have been a fabled Rollei, but that soon became unimportant, because I quickly realised there was little the German wonder could do better.

This lens is almost painfully sharp, and colour rendition is spectacular. None of these photographs have been edited, bar a crop or rotate when necessary. I now join the legions of forum-dwelling individuals who see this camera as equal to, if not better than, the Rolleiflex I previously yearned for.

Photography on a budget is not only possible, but can yield amazing results.

~ Finlay


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9 thoughts on “5 Frames… Of medium format on a budget (Kodak Portra 160 / 120 Format / EI 160 / Minolta Autocord RG1) – by Finlay Dalziel”

  1. I am fortunate enough to own both a Rollei 3.5f and an Autocord. I bought the Autocord because I was photographing a project near the sea and I didn’t want the Rollei to get damaged. The Autocord is so good I use it all the time and the Rollei sits at home being precious. (Reminds me of a cat I once knew!)
    Good piece. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. One other observation: unlike the Yashica 124, the Autocord has a film pressure plate, ensuring that the lens will transmit the image onto an absolutely flat surface.

    Reply
    • Just be careful with the focusing lever and it will be fine. The most common reason they break off is that somebody opens the loading door too far and presses it against the lever.

      Another fun fact about the Autocord: Minolta designed it specifically to improve on the Rolleiflex, and it has significant improvements over the more prestigious German brand. The focusing lever is one: the Rolleiflex requires you to hold the camera with your right hand while focusing with your left, then pass it to your left hand so you can release the shutter and advance the film with your right. With the Minolta, you never need to switch hands. Another: Minolta reversed the film direction for better film flatness. With a Rolleiflex, the full spool goes on the bottom, so the film has to go through a right-angle turn before it gets to the gate. If the film sits in the camera for some time, this right-angle bend puts a kink in it, leading to a less-sharp stripe across the frame. Minolta’s design puts the full spool at the top, so the film comes straight off the film into the gate and doesn’t have to make the right-angle turn until after it has been exposed.

      Reply
      • Some Rolleiflex f models comes with a plate glass attachment which removes any question about film curl. Also, you use two hands with a Rollei one for focus and the other for shutter release it also smarter to hold the cameta steady with two hands.

        Reply
  3. Great portraits. Finlay, You definitly made me curious about the Minolta Autocord. THanks for sharing You expierence.

    Reply

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