A nicer (and cheaper) alternative to a Canon Canonet QL17 GIII?

Minolta Hi-Matic F from 1972 seems like a perfect consumer level rangefinder camera. It has much resemblance with the ever so popular Canon Canonet QL17 GIII, which somewhat overshadows this underrated cutie-pie. 

Hi-Matic F’s aren’t expensive cameras. I found mine from a thrift store with a price tag of 13€ and I simply couldn’t resist it. Comparing to the current prices of Canonets, you’d be easily paying an additional hundred euros. 

As it happens, I’ve previously owned three Canonets and even though I really wanted to like them, there were always something quite off-putting about them. I still love the idea of having one, but no matter which copy I end up picking up, some part always comes off flying across the room… or then I just remember just how silly usability features they have. Ever since I sold my latest Canonet last summer, I’ve been secretly in a market for a similar, but nicer camera. Hi-Matic F just might be the answer. From what I’ve been experienced so far, it seems much less quirky.

Minolta Hi-Matic F with a leather neck strap.

Small and cute

Minolta Hi-Matic F is a really simplified, well-made and small little rangefinder. It is extremely cute and nice looking. It is such a nice thing to carry around as an accessory, even if you don’t have plans of shooting anything. It is also very very light (360g), which makes is a perfect every day carry. 

In the past, I’ve had a bunch of these consumer rangefinders, but never quite settled with any of them. I remember sort of liking Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, but for some reason I found that to be too heavy and bulky for what it was. In terms of build and technical specks, it was a better camera, but just way uglier and less cool than Hi-Matic F.

I’ve also had some Yashica Electros and what have you, but they weren’t either able to spark the love. I would have never guessed that I’d fall in love with something like Hi-Matic F, but when I saw it all alone in the shelve, I immediately wanted to take it home with me. 

I’d imagine that this is pretty similar camera to Olympus Trip 35, but unfortunately I don’t yet have any experience of them.

For a size comparison, Hi-Matic F next to a Leica M6.

Full automatic exposure metering

At least for me, it has to be either full manual or full automatic. Shutter or aperture priority programs suck, because they really don’t solve anything; you (kind of) don’t have to think about metering, but then again, you (kind of) do. If automation is required, it might as well be full auto. If I, on the other hand, have to dial in any exposure settings manually, I might just as well dial in two settings instead of just the other. In this regard, I haven’t got along with Canonets or any semi-automatic cameras.

Minolta Hi-Matic F doesn’t have any control over shutter speed or aperture. This is a completely dummy-proof camera. That being said, an AE-lock and/or exposure compensation dial would perhaps be a nice addition, but this is a really simplified model, with no bells or whistles. Bearing in mind, that this is supposed to be a camera for fun and games, and not a professional workhorse, the lack of these features really doesn’t matter. Just remember not to shoot backlit subjects and keep the sun behind your back and everything is going to be aaalright. 

The viewfinder

The viewfinder basically shows you only the 38mm framelines and the focusing patch. There’s no light meter indication. You won’t be knowing which shutter speed or aperture settings the camera is going to use. The only indication you’ll get, is a warning light for slow shutter speeds. 

The viewfinder is about as bright as a Canonet. Quite far from a Leica, but definitely not bad. 

Technical capabilities

Hi-Matic F features a rather fast and sharp 38mm f2.7 lens. It’s a bit slower than a Canonet, but it’s plenty fast for most situations. The top shutter speed is 1/724 sec. 

The ISO range can be set manually anywhere between 25—500. 

Battery

Minolta Hi-Matic F is a battery dependent camera. Back in the day, it ate those dreaded mercury batteries, but according to my research, couple of LR44’s will suffice. They’ll provide slightly higher voltage than intended, but you can do any number of the typical hacks, such as compensating with the ISO setting. 

The camera will need battery for the shutter operation. Without a battery, the camera will appear to fire, but the shutter will not actually work.  

There’s no on/off switch, but the camera won’t be metering all the time. It’ll only require power when taking the picture of half-pressing the shutter. In other words, it won’t drain out the battery, if you don’t put the lens cap back on after shooting. This is another awesome feature and an advantage over Canonets, which will drain out over time, if you forget to set the aperture back to manual (A setting will keep metering and eating the battery).

Build quality

Hi-Matic F feels surprisingly well made. It is still an inexpensive camera, but for what it is, it feels really solid and well-made. Comparing again to Canonets, it feels one step better. Maybe it’s just me, but almost any old Canon always seems to have annoyingly much of body flex — you can twist them like a wet rag. Now that I think about it, I don’t know whether Canons has changed too much over time. Remembering my old Canon EOS M3, which could perhaps be considered as an equivalent model of the current decade… on a blind test, I couldn’t tell whether I was holding a camera or a sponge. Anyways, Hi-Matic definitely feels a bit more solid, like a small brick.

The fit and finish looks really nice otherwise as well. The mechanics seems like precision work, at least for a 13€ camera. The focusing ring is a bit loose and maybe the film advance isn’t as nice as a professional camera, but all in all, none of the moving parts doesn’t feel like they’ve came out from an easter egg. 

There’s very little of gaping seams and even the leatherette has been cut down to a perfect fit.  

Summary

Minolta Hi-Matic F is a really cheap and cheerful little camera. I’d recommend it any day for your every day casual shooting. This is exactly the kind of camera I’d like to take on a summery road trip or a nice day on the beach. I don’t think the pictures do enough justice just how cute the camera is in real life. I’d buy one just for the looks. It seems amazing that you’re able to get such a nice product these days for such a small amount of money. 13€ was practically free if you think about what the camera can actually do for you. For the price of one Canonet QL17 GIII, you could get ten of these things. Or with a price of just one Leica M6 and a reasonably priced lens, you could get 200 of these. Just think about the value.