A secret gem of a compact camera


by Bellamy /

2 min read

The Minolta TC-1, the greatest compact camera that nobody knows
When it comes to compact film cameras, there are a few cameras that all camera geeks and collectors know about…the Ricoh GR1 and GR21, the Contax T2 and T3, the Nikon 35Ti and 28Ti etc. But there is one that barely anyone talks about, which is a shame, because it could quite possibly be the best of all of them.

The Minolta TC-1 came out in the mid nineties, when compact film cameras were reaching their peak in terms of quality. In fact you could say that there was a bit of a race going on, with many of the manufacturers trying to outdo one another in terms of quality. Minolta noticed what was going on and decided to jump into the fray, a little bit late (in typical Minolta fashion). Still, despite this they managed to produce a camera that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and could comfortably stand its ground next to some of the SLR cameras of the day.

The stunning G-Rokkor 28mm 3.5

The TC-1 was supposedly hand assembled by Minolta technicians, with no plastic parts in the lens assembly. Coupled with the outstanding Rokkor glass this made for a super sharp lens which displays beautiful bokeh characteristics. So good was the lens (and the camera itself) that it won the Camera Grand Prix in Japan in 1996 (the year of its release).

One of the really cool things about this camera is the fact that it has two, yes two aspherical elements in the lens, which beats most moderns cameras and makes them look a bit silly. The balance and contrast of this lens are so good that Minolta later released an M mount version of the lens in a limited batch of 2000, good luck getting your hands on one of those.

Perhaps the coolest thing of all about this remarkable camera is the aperture ring selector dial. Minolta managed to make the aperture ring a perfect circle and they put a selector on the front of the camera, giving you the option to select four different aperture settings. This is also a slight drawback, as the camera is basically an aperture priority only camera. But then, Minolta always do manage to make things a bit differently from everyone else.
The circular ring adds to the delightful bokeh effect and is what really sets this camera apart.

So, despite its quirks, this camera is still regarded by people in the know (lens collectors) as the greatest lens ever put into a compact camera. It is a joy to use and looks pretty fantastic too.

This camera is for sale on my ebay site or through me directly. Get in touch for more details.


7 comments on “A secret gem of a compact camera”

    efix July 26, 2011 at 9:52 pm / Reply

    On the topic of neglected cameras I’d like to add the Contax T, which stands a bit in the shadow of the T2 and T3. Featuring the same great 38mm f/2.8 Zeiss Sonnar lens as the T2, the T is a true rangefinder camera in a boy not much thicker and higher than a roll of 35mm film. It has a built-in meter and electronic auto-exposure, but aperture and focusing are both manual.

    I recently acquired one and have to say that — right after the Leica M — this is THE most enjoyable camera. The lens is superb (as you would expect from a Carl Zeiss lens), the metering and exposure are both very accurate. The rangefinder is small and dim compared to a Leica M, but large and bright enough to work accurately even in bad lighting conditions.

    In my opinion, this is one of the finest rangefinder cameras as well as compact 35mm cameras ever made.

    Alfie Goodrich August 1, 2011 at 1:32 pm / Reply

    There are three Contax T’s in my local shop. Two, I recall, have the additional flash unit. Very nice.

    Peter November 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm / Reply

    I know this is an old post but I wanted to comment.

    The Minolta TC-1 is the finest point and shoot (in terms of build quality) that I’ve ever owned. It is literally like a Swiss watch. The lens was terrific too, excellent color and contrast. Unfortunately 28mm was too wide for me and I sold it. I regret selling it because it was such a beautiful camera.

    I just purchased a T3, and although it is a beautiful camera in its own way (black version), the general build quality and “feel” can’t match the TC-1. Even the TC-1 mode dial is made of titanium! Perhaps when finances permit I will own one once again. Preferably in black :)

    Short story: If you like 28mm lenses and Swiss watches, then buy this camera.

    john October 7, 2015 at 5:29 am / Reply

    Great articles!!!

    jobt November 27, 2015 at 7:35 pm / Reply

    I’ve just bought one! I have a T2 (which is brilliant) and a GR1 which is very good but lacks a bit of the magical image quality of the T2 for me. I am hoping that the TC1 has the perfect combination of beautiful pictures and a small size…..

    eric May 29, 2017 at 1:04 pm / Reply

    Totally agree with you

    Contax T is a true gem as good a Leica M.
    I ve now
    a A7 R2
    a Leica M3 black
    2 Contax T
    a Nikon 28 Ti
    a Minolta 7sii
    a Konica 35 FD

    Voigt. M 15
    Nikkor 20 ais 2’8
    Nikkor 28 ais 2’8
    Voigt M 40
    Summicron 40
    Canon Ltm 50 1’4
    Nikkor 55 micro ais 2’8
    Tele elmarit 90 2’8
    Nikkor 105 ais micro 2’8
    Nikkor 200 ai 4’5
    Enlarger Nikon 2x

    The Contax T is the camera I love to take great images very very very light, it s a marvelous camera

    The Nikon 28 TI for difficult light in low light conditions with a high iso film.

    The leica M3 for pleasure and results

    The Sony A7 r2 for high definition landscapes and macro work.

    Louis Berk September 19, 2017 at 12:19 am / Reply

    Great article. You convinced me to try one – even though I already have an Olympus XA for 28mm work. I loved my Minolta lenses back in the day when I first shot film and even my first digital was a Minolta with the silly ‘submarine’ periscope lens. Be interesting to see if I really like it as much as you do.

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