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Minolta Hi-Matic - 1962
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• Early automatic 35mm rangefinder

• $90 with f2.8 lens; price is for Ansco version in 1962 ($650 in 2010 dollars)

The Minolta Hi-Matic is better known in the US as the Ansco Autoset; the two are nearly identical, as shown in the first two photos below.

When set to Auto, exposure is completely automatic, and there's no way to choose a shutter speed or aperture. You can also set the aperture manually (f2.8 to f16), but then the shutter speed is fixed at 1/30 sec.

With the Hi-Matic, you set the exposure manually when using flash. (Dividing the subject distance into the guide number gives you the aperture.) But the Autoset has guide numbers marked on the aperture ring, so all you have to do is line up the guide number with a mark on the focusing ring, after you've focused; it does the calculation for you.

The Hi-Matic/Autoset's shutter is unusual in that it's also the diaphragm. It opens only to the diaphragm-opening's size, so smaller apertures also mean faster shutter speeds. That is, f2.8 gives a shutter speed of 1/60 sec. (EV 9), f5.6 gives a speed of 1/125 (EV 12), f11 gives 1/250 (EV 15), and so on. This provides a rigid, but effective, form of programming, completely controlled from the meter reading. You're not told what the shutter speed or aperture are, however.

For manual operation, there's a separate conventional diaphragm behind the shutter/diaphragm combo.

My Hi-Matic seems to work just fine, as indicated by the two photos below. My Autoset was DOA, however; I bought it only so I could photograph it.

Using the Hi-Matic is pretty enjoyable. The viewfinder is very large, the rangefinder works well, and there's nothing else to set, or even know about, other than composing.

The Autoset had its 15 min. of fame (4 hrs., 55 min., actually): It was used by John Glenn on his Mercury mission. He bought an Autoset in a drugstore; then NASA adapted it for one-handed operation with thick gloves and a helmet. It was used only for astronomical ultraviolet photography; the other, better-known photos that we associate with Glenn's flight were taken with a modified Leica. (See article and photos below.)

Minolta Hi-MaticAnsco AutosetMinolta Hi-MaticAd from Popular Photography, Nov. 1961
Review from Popular Photography, Oct. 1960Review from Popular Photography, Dec. 1963Review from Popular Photography, Dec. 1963Article from National Air and Space Museum, May 2011
Article from National Air and Space Museum, May 2011Article from National Air and Space Museum, May 2011Article from National Air and Space Museum, May 2011
John Glenn carried out the first human-operated, astronomical experiment in space during his pioneering mission on February 20, 1962. On his first orbit, in darkness over the Pacific, Glenn took six ultraviolet spectrographic photos of stars in the constellation Orion with this camera. Equipped with a quartz lens and prism to form the star images into spectra, the camera imaged ultraviolet light that is blocked from view on Earth by the atmosphere. For ease of use by Glenn, NASA technicians attached a pistol grip handle and trigger to this commercial 35-mm camera, which is upside down from its normal orientation. Because he could not, with his spacesuit visor down, put the regular viewfinder to his eye, technicians also affixed a reticle on the bottom (now the top) of the camera so that he could line it up on the stars. NASA transferred this camera to the Smithsonian in 1963.

[Caption from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum]Boulder, Colorado, on east Pearl Street (taken with Minolta Hi-Matic)Boulder, Colorado, on east Pearl Street (taken with Minolta Hi-Matic)

©2011-14 Marc Rochkind. All rights reserved.