Vintage camera collection – Minolta Uniomat II 35mm rangefinder camera

This is a 35mm rangefinder camera which was made by Minolta between about 1961 and 1963.

It is a simple, light cell driven, match-needle exposure camera with a rangefinder focus system and flash synchronisation. In size and weight it is similar to the yashica MG-1 which was made a few years later, but with a simpler, battery-less operation.

I think the most unique feature of this camera is the fact that there is no aperture or shutter speed markings of any sort. The exposure system is calibrated in EV markings and, apart from one exception, the photographer has no control over the individual elements at all. The exception is that there is a B setting at the bottom of the EV range which will hold the shutter open for as long as the release button is held. In this situation the camera selects the widest aperture the lens offers, which is f/2.8.

To set the camera for the correct exposure, there is a match needle system set into the top plate of the camera. A small red needle responds to the light in a scene, and a larger green marker is moved using the exposure ring on the lens to match the position of the red needle. The exposure setting the camera has chosen can then be read from the exposure ring if desired. The last 3 EV settings (6,7,8) and B are marked in red which presumably is a warning to use a tripod because the shutter speed will be quite low. The same exposure ring is used to set the film speed by pulling it towards the front of the camera and rotating it until a dot on the ring lines up with the required ASA or DIN speed (there are two scales, one for each film speed system).

Focusing the picture is achieved with a standard rangefinder square in the middle of the viewfinder and in this camera seems to be quite accurate and simple to use, although the focusing ring itself is quite stiff.

There are some confusing aspects of this camera which made me wonder if it has been taken apart at some point and re-assembled slightly incorrectly. For example, there are 5 markings (A,B,C,D,E) on the body which are used to select the type of flash bulb to use based on the distance the subject is from the camera, at least that is what they seem to be to me because there is a table on the back of the camera which points to this. In order for this to work there would need to be some registration between the focus scale and these 5 markings, but I can’t see what it is, although there are various coloured bands around the scale (see below). Also, the self timer lever is in a very awkward place and I find more times than not I move it as I focus the camera. One final clue is that the focus scale can’t be read from the top of the camera looking down and neither can the EV scale. For either of these the camera has to be rotated to read the values.

However, despite my thoughts that these oddities may have been caused by an aborted repair attempt, I discovered the handbook for the Ansco Anscoset II on line (at the brilliant site run by Mike Butkus) which is a re-badged version of the same camera, and found that the pictures in the handbook exactly matched the layout of my camera, so it is as designed. By referring to the handbook I was also able to find out how to use the flash lookup table on the back of the camera. First you focus the camera and read the distance from the marker the focus scale lines up against. You then use this distance to set the EV value correctly by lining the distance up with the flash type (A,B,C,D or E) you are using.

The condition of my example is quite good with only a very small indentation in the top plate near the rewind crank which show any sort of misuse over the 50 odd years since it was made. The light meter still seems to respond well and also seems to register changes in the ASA setting correctly. The light seals inside the camera have virtually dissolved but that is to be expected.

So all in all a simple rangefinder camera with a few oddities.

  • Minolta Uniomat II 35mm rangefinder camera
  • Exposure range EV 6 to 18
  • Match needle metering
  • Minolta Rokkor 45mm f/2.8 lens
  • Rangefinder focusing
  • Shutter speed 1/8 to 1/1000th + B
  • Quiet leaf shutter
  • 10 sec approx self timer
  • Aperture range f/2.8 to f/16
  • Switch selectable X & M flash sync
  • Flash distance to exposure lookup scale
  • ‘Cold’ accessory shoe
  • Ser No: 316245
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