Hand-me-down Heroes : No. 2
We love cameras. We love geeking out about their wiz bang specs, elaborate craftsmanship and proudly share/boast about our technical and ergonomic marvels. This series however, will open the aperture on perhaps an oft overlooked aspect of our gear: sentimentality.
Hand-me-down Heroes is a new series aiming to share the stories of the machines that started us down this rabbit hole. Bequeathed by a family member or close friend, these are the cupid cameras that pierced us with the arrow of photographic obsession. Though they may no longer be our daily workhorses, lack some luxurious features, or missing that brand image, the memories they’ve witnessed and the valuable lessons learned have no price tag.
After the success of Michael sharing his Hand-me-down Hero (if you have’t read it you can by clicking here) in the first of the series, I thought it would be a good chance to tell you a little bit more about my Hand-me-down Hero. This is my camera, ‘given’ to me be my father and this is its story.
My fathers camera: The Minolta XG-1
The Minolta XG-1 was released in 1979, so just a couple of years after my birth. It was released by Minolta as a budget solution for their consumer SLR line of cameras. With a simple readout and functions, it was aimed at the enthusiast market who wanted Auto-exposure whilst still having the ability to use manual exposure. And it was a very popular camera. It seems like a lot of peoples fathers had Minoltas, so well done Minolta for a very successful campaign.
My father was dapper, a charmer and liked to have fancy things, but would often try to live beyond his means, which is an unfortunate trait that he has passed down to me (minus the dapper or charmer bit). Fortunately he was tempered by my mothers more sensible spending habits and the XG-1 was the camera he was allowed to buy. Which realistically was probably the most sensible option, as whenever he would buy something expensive he would inevitably end up selling it because he hadn’t accounted for the cost of ownership (the useless boat went, the silly Rover V8 went, the money pit Saab Turbo went). Thankfully the XG wasn’t a terribly expensive camera to buy or use and as such it stood the test of time.
My father was a very talented artist and calligrapher, but photography for him was a fleeting phase. Which turned out to be a bonus for me as I struggled with drawing, I could never do it as naturally as my father. But photography was something that I was instantly attracted to, as it gave me the ability to show what I was feeling with a greater deal of accuracy than drawing.
As a teenager living in the Oxfordshire countryside there were not many friends to hang out with locally, so I would often find myself out either fishing, or cycling around looking for new fishing spots. I knew where to find the biggest pike and perch in the area. At home my father had a great deal of books, photography books, survival books and all manner in between. I would read everything and one day whilst looking under the stairs (most likely for more ‘artistic’ books) I found the Minolta. It was in a bag with a couple of lenses and some film. The batteries were working so it had probably not been there that long. At once I took it and it became my companion for years of absolutely terrible angling photography which thankfully I have long lost the negatives of.
When I was 17 I found myself at the local art college as I had no interest in taking my A-levels. I took an arts Btec so I could go to university, which included a photography course and darkroom lessons. I shot the Minolta a lot, but I was an impressionable teenager and had my fathers genes. The Minolta took a back seat at this point as I found myself lusting after a Nikon. But I was also broke, so I could only afford a secondhand F-801 for £50. This camera became my companion for many years whilst I travelled the world until it finally gave up the ghost. I stopped taking pictures for a period until the Minolta came back into my life under less auspicious circumstances.
My father passed away when I had been in Japan for less than a year. Upon his passing I had to go back to the U.K. to handle his affairs, which were chaotic to say the least. My father was a kind and thoughtful man, but overly generous and utterly disorganised, so finding any of his possessions that he actually owned was a miracle. Fortunately by now my brother had the Minolta, although it was no longer working. The film rewind was broken and the meter too. But I figured I might be able to have it repaired, so I took it with me when I returned to Japan.
And then the Minolta stayed in the dark, in a bag waiting, until I started JCH. I reached out to a contact to ask them if they would be able to repair the Minolta, and they said “Well, no. But, maybe yes”. So I sent it off to them. I was told that the meter cannot be repaired but they can repair the rewind lever. So I told them to get it done, no matter the cost, which I am sure added to the bill. But I didn’t care, the camera was sort of working again and that was the main thing.
The Minolta XG-1 now
The camera rests luxuriously in a humidity controlled cabinet, amongst its friends. It gets to go out on nice days every few months or so and enjoys fine film and tender handling. I have also shot some of my favourite images on it over the years. It has had a few different lenses come and go, but the 50mm f2 has always been there and now never comes off. The original strap is still there, and it has never been washed either, so there.
I have been told that once it stops working there is nothing that can be done. Though I like to live in hope that there is someone out there that will be able to rescue it. But for now the camera still works and takes great pictures. You just need to carry a meter with you and make sure you treat it with a bit of respect.
WHAT’S YOUR HAND-ME-DOWN HERO?
The Minolta XG-1 is my Hand-me-down Hero. Yes, I have my other cameras, my Leica and Nikon cameras. In fact I have had all the cameras of my dreams. I am very fortunate to be able to use and possibly own just about any camera. But I would trade them all for this Minolta. This is far more valuable to me than any other camera.
The shutter sound I must have heard thousands of times, yet I still feel a sense of joy every time I hear it. My father used this camera, I use this camera and I hope that in time my son will also use this camera. It feels special to me that this camera bridges a connection between my father and the grandson he never got to meet.
We made a video about this camera and it was rather emotional for me, I hope you enjoy it.
Do you want to be a part of Hand-me-down Heroes? If you’d like to share with us on Japancamerahunter.com, send us a short story of what/ how you acquired your Hand-me-down Hero and relevant photos, optimally sized 1500px across.
Oh and don’t forget your contact details (Insta, website, flickr et al). Send your Hand-me-down Heroes here. And please make sure the shot is of good quality, you are a photographer after all.
What a wonderful & thoughtful piece Bellamy. Your dad certainly looked as you described. Always enjoy seeing family photos!
Minolta is such a wonderful brand.