I've always loved the compact rangefinders from the 1970s and 1980s with fixed, fast lenses in the 35-45mm range. Cameras like the Olympus 35 SP, Olympus 35 RD, Minolta 7SII, Canon QL17 and Yashica 35GSN. But until recently I hadn't really investigated the preceding generation of compact rangefinders from the 1950s and 1960s. The Minolta AL from 1961 is my first such camera, and I have to say I'm pretty excited by it!
This one isn't in perfect condition, but just look at it… such a handsome camera! It has some really nice details, like the unusual design of the rewind crank. It also has some odd little quirks, like the frame counter on the bottom of the camera!
This camera has several features that mark it out as a fairly high-end, luxury camera: it has a fast f/2.0 45mm lens, a sophisticated viewfinder with a parallax-corrected frame-line, and a 1/1000th second top shutter speed… the vast majority of other compact rangefinders with leaf shutters are limited to 1/500th second. That faster shutter speed makes it a little easier to use wide apertures in bright daylight.
Unlike the compact rangefinders from the 70s and 80s that I am used to, this camera is all manual. It has a built in light-meter with a readout window on the top plate. You just adjust the shutter speed or aperture dial until the green needle is over the yellow mark and your exposure is all set. The light-meter is a battery free selenium cell… yay…! No problems finding replacements for old-fashioned mercury batteries.
Selenium cell light meters have a reputation for dying long before the cameras they are attached to. But this one, despite being over 50 years old, still seems to be pretty accurate… amazing!
One strange thing about this camera is that circle between the shutter button and the light-meter windows on the top plate: it twists off as if it was the lid of a battery compartment, but the compartment it reveals is empty. There do seem to be some screws inside so perhaps you can use them to adjust the rangefinder or light meter… if you know any more please let me know!
Photographs taken with the Minolta AL
Below are some photographs shot on my Minolta AL. The 1st group of 4 were all shot in Berlin, and the 2nd group of 4 were all shot in Edinburgh.