Enter the Minolta Gang

Enter the Minolta Gang
Minolta α-807si (1997) with VC-700 Battery Grip

Recently I travelled to Tokyo, Japan for photography, looting around camera store junk bins and making myself a good excuses not to buy second-hand lenses.

So, what led into this? There are few camera gear related hotspots in Tokyo, namely area near to Shin-Yokohama station in Yokohama, Nakano, Ginza, and then Nishi-Shinjuku. I had in mind to get the 24mm f/1.4 GM for my trusty A7C as the price with then currency rates (Feb 2024) set me back only for 600 euromonies (103 000 JPY).

Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM on my A7C and RS3 Mini

But I didn't have any desire to head deeper into the rabbit hole then. The little I knew.

Discovery Phase

Before flying into Tokyo for the nth time, I still needed to do research on availability of various articles. I had previously exposed somewhat to analog photography recently via my late grandfather and his photography passion.

I had an old Kodak box camera (Kodak Six-20 Brownie E) and a Konica Pop-10 point-and-shoot camera as an inheritance. Bought few rolls of film for them, other takes 620 film (120 is ok with modifications) and Konica 35mm. They had been lying around but hadn't had yet the proper inspiration yet to do anything with them.

Usually I do research via Japanese online stores, which are either atrociously bad or difficult to search/filter articles, but they've gotten better since COVID hit. Since I can manage with basic Japanese, read it somewhat - I usually don't need the translation apps for browsing through the wares. I use the availability and the number of interesting articles as the basis to point out where to go and plot them on Google Maps and create a memo for the trip.

As there is somewhat good turnaround on the used market, having them available does not guarantee that they'd be around any longer once you get there.

Shortlist for Tokyo

Information provided is based what was available at February 2024.

Initially I was picking out spots to purchase E-mount lenses, but these spots cater for all needs, esp. Lemon and Fujiya.

  • Map Camera (Shinjuku)
    • Map Camera serves will on all things related to major Japanese manufacturers and there's a Leica showroom on the first floor
    • Excellent location, prices are a bit premium but excellent service, helpful staff, good selection
    • As long as you get out of the complex Shinjuku station on west side (Central West Exit or 中央西出口), you are all good. The famous Yodobashi Camera store with neon signs and all is near by as well.
  • Lemon (Ginza, Shinjuku, Akihabara)
    • Lemon is clearly more specialized towards older, premium camera gear. Think of Leica, Hasselblad, Contax et al.
    • Ginza location is somewhat hidden in the eight floor but situated conveniently near major Tokyo Metro lines (Hibiya, Marunochi, Ginza line) and Yurakucho JR station (Yamanote line)
  • Fujiya Camera (Nakano)
    • You'll read more about Fujiya further in this post
    • To reach Fujiya, you'd need to get on Chuo line (either from Shinjuku, Kanda or Tokyo station, as they are on Yamanote line) and hop off on Nakano JR Station
  • Kitamura Camera
    • A big chain like Bic Camera, serving several locations, premium prices, premium models together with cheap Fujifilm instax cameras and disposables
    • Shinjuku has two locations, one that is more boutique and clean flagship store and then the real deal near to Yodobashi and Map Camera in West Shinjuku

There’s also the option to use Buyee to pick out domestic Yahoo Auctions listings, but where’s the joy of discovery there? That's a subject for another post.

Hitting the shops

I went to Nakano Shotengai (a shopping street mall concept found across Japan) and found myself at Fujiya Camera. Fujiya Camera has three different locations in Nakano side alleys, located fairly close to each others. Primary location sells cameras, accessories and lenses in two floors, second location specializes in cinematography and professional video equipment, and third one is "junk store" or scavenging hut, as I'd call it.

Camera Otakus queueing before store opening

Junk (ジャンク, lit. janku) in this Japanese context means cheap secondhand goods, and shops don't specifically ensure operation, quality or cosmetic appearance. Thus it resembles more or less your typical thrift or pawn shop. As the saying goes, one man's trash is another's treasure – but usually they are not in rubbish condition.

Junk store selection on lenses and cameras at Nakano

Stores usually have various rankings, of which, are completely randomly set by the store itself and not being regulated or calibrated in any way possible. It is only whether the store has a reputable image or history, it might have an indication of some sort.

Example from Fujiya Online Store

These ranks (or ランク, lit. ranku) might start from S and then alphabetically going down to A, B, C, D, E, or even F - is completely arbitrary and items ranked as B could be totally usable at times and shoddy on another.

Narrow Nakano alleyways, Fujiya junk store on the left.

Anyways, I went to the junk store and found Minolta SLR, an α 807si (EU: Dynax 800si / US: Maxxum 800si) for mere 1000 JPY (6.1 EUR / 6.8 USD) in the junk bin. Camera looked fine, no large cracks in the grip, mirror and viewfinder had some dust on it. There was also few Minolta AF / Sony A-mount lenses in nearby basket filled with random lenses as well and tried them on.

Other one was Minolta 70-210mm f/4 telephoto lens (aka the Beercan) for 4000 JPY and another was Minolta's 100mm f/2.8 macro lens for 7000 JPY. Needless to say, I bought them both after I tested the body to work with a 2CR5 battery.

And speaking of batteries, in another bin on floor level were several battery grips lying around, one of which being Minolta VC-700 that was compatible with 807si. For 100 JPY. No kidding.

So, I browsed through some Minolta AF and Sony A-mount caps for pennies as well and a cheap Minolta strap for DiMAGE camera.

My first Minolta

807si with the 100mm f2.8 Macro in Tokyo

807si is a top of the line camera from AF era before Alpha 9 and Alpha 7 stole its thunder and partly due to that, the 807si has been mostly forgotten by time. It features a long list of features, like saving up to 9 rolls of exposure data, or powerful integrated flash, mid-roll rewinds, bracketing, double exposures, and whatnots. I haven't even touched the surface yet.

Viewfinder with shutter speeds, aperture, metering, and AF focus indicators.

It is a blast to go around and just shoot away, primarily the AF and metering will hit the mark. It is not fool-proof but does the job remarkably well.

I bought two rolls of Fujifilm's Superia 400 at Kitamura Camera store that was pretty much next to Fujiya's location. Two days later I had snapped through them and dropped them off at Nishi-Shinjuku's Kitamura Camera to get developed, scanned, and printed.

Expensive af, but this was for science.

Development was 950 JPY per roll, followed by standard scan fee of 800 JPY, high resolution was +1100 JPY on top of that and prints were 2700 JPY. In total of 69 euromonies or 75 USD. Turn around was in two hours or so, of which, I spent in nearby stores and eating a tasty ramen bowl.

Also to bridge the past and the future, I also bought Sony's LA-EA4 and LA-EA5 adapters to have the Minolta lenses to be usable with my Sony E-mount gear with full autofocus enabled. EA4 has more limited AF but is compatible with my A7C, EA5 is a future bet (as it does not work fully with A7C, but with future models like A7IV or A7CR).

LA-EA5 (left), LA-EA4 (right)

Later I went back to Nakano get a nifty-fifty for Minolta. Fujiya had couple of Minoltas around for the double the price compared to Sony's rebadged one - literally it is the same lens, with more finicky housing material but better lens coatings. This was for 11000 JPY or 69 euromonies or 75 USD.

Sony 50mm f1.4 (SAL50F14)

The 50mm 1.4 sits well balanced on the body and is fun to shoot with, I'll post some scans later when I develop some rolls. I also bought a working Minolta 5600D HS flash from Finnish second-hand online site for 50 euros, so there's a full setup in place.

Glad to be on board the Minolta gang, let's see how deep this thing goes.