Now a look at the second of the three vintage cameras I was given – a Yashica Minister II. It is a lovely little fixed lens rangefinder camera, with a 40mm f/2.8 Yashinon lens and unlike the Agifold the rangefinder is coupled to the lens focus, which makes it a lot quicker to operate. There’s a built in selenium meter on the top but all the exposure controls are on the lens. Shutter speed and aperture are linked to an Exposure Value ring on the lens so that when you read the EV number from the meter, you set that value on the ring. then as you adjust either shutter speed or aperture the other value also moves accordingly to keep the same EV. It’s quite neat, but on this camera a little sticky with age so maybe not as quick to use as it once was.
The lens has a central Copal shutter and here’s where the main problem lay – when I got the camera it was stuck fast. The mechanism seemed to be working as there was a faint click when the shutter release was depressed, and the film advance sounded like it was cocking something, but the shutter blades weren’t opening. After some frustrated looking around with the back off the camera, I discovered that the front of the lens unscrewed and allowed access to the blades of the shutter.
Close inspection confirmed that they were basically covered in dried up lubricant which was gumming up the blades. So I reached for a bottle of solvent and some cotton buds and spent a few hours swabbing the shutter, gently prising the blades open and helping them closed, and wiping off as much grime as possible. Eventually I got it to the point where it seemed to be firing reliably enough to load a film, so I wound about 24 frames of HP5 into a cassette, loaded it up and took it with me on a wander around Mogshade Hill and Highland Water in the New Forest.
Overall I liked using it, although I found the rangefinder a little tricky to use in gloomy conditions – the double image patch needs quite a high contrast to get things lined up well. However even with the narrow depth of field offered with the lens wide open it seems to do a good enough job, and from the photograph of the beech leaves it’s clear that unlike the Agifold rangefinder it is not in need of adjustment.
Wide open it’s got quite a pleasant bokeh, but still sharp where focused, even toward the corners. There’s a gentle flattening of out of focus circles, but not enough to give a swirling effect like the Agifold. Stopped down it’s very sharp indeed – at least, more than sharp enough for a grainy 35mm film like HP5.
It is a really nice camera to use, as it is extremely light, and the viewfinder is fairly bright so in most circumstances it makes a great walkaround camera. I like the 40mm focal length as it gives just a little bit extra in the frame compared to the classical 50mm but without straying too far into wide angle territory. It’s just about small enough to fit into a large pocket.
My only problem with it really is that shutter. There’s still plenty of gunk in there, and when it sits unused for a while it sticks again. I can clean it myself for now, but I guess if I find I want to use it a lot I’ll need to think about getting it professionally cleaned.