Friday, April 4, 2014

Long Term Ownership: Konica Autoreflex TC

       I find long term ownership of things to be very interesting.   A device, vehicle, article of clothing or whatever it may be, being in constant use for a long period of time is bound to gather both patina and stories.  An exploration of an object of this sort is the focus of this post.  Get it?  Focus?

     The Konica Autoreflex TC was an entry level Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera made by Konica from 1976 to 1982.  The trend in SLR's at the time was miniaturization, as is evident by a perusal of contemporary catalogs.  Nikon's excellent FM series of the same time period would be an example.  These smaller SLR's would appeal to someone wanting to perhaps move away from a compact rangefinder camera to an SLR but retaining the fast handling and easy portability of the rangefinder.  For the most part, these diminutive SLR's used the same lens mount of the larger cameras, allowing the clever photographer to tote a smaller camera with interchange capabilities across the catalog.

                                           Size comparison of the Konica with a full size SLR, in this case a Nikon F2.

     This particular Konica was purchased by my father, in as best as he can remember, 1977.  My father was, is and as long as he continues to draw breath, a thrifty man.  After much reading of reviews and ratings the camera body was purchased via mail order.  Certainly he read of better cameras.  The upper tier bodies of the time were essentially a hub to which all sorts of specialty film backs, lenses, prisms and an array of lenses to suit the needs of astronomers to journalists.  My father also remains to this day entirely unmoved by emotion in the process of making a purchase any larger than a newspaper.  Knowing him the process went like this Super Cheap = Crap.  Super Expensive = Waste.  The rest is sorting out what falls between.  I would guess the Konica was on sale.
     The TC does not run with the fast crowd who interchange their prisms or don a 250 exposure film magazine.  Nor does it contain many of the exotic materials in its construction as those upper echelon bodies.  Konica was going for a price point and hit it.  They had a modest selection of Hexanon lenses which were well respected in their day.  Some like the 50mm 1.7 and the 40mm 1.8 remain in high esteem to this day.  As for materials, the TC makes liberal use of plastic in its construction.  This leads to much consternation to some.  I once had someone describe the TC as "consumer grade" as though he were talking about how he had just stepped on a fresh dog turd.  Most visibly, the entire top plate is plastic.

                               The offending top plate made of, gasp, plastic.  The dust aids in concealing this fact.

     I am sure no sense of longing passed through Dad's mind as he un-boxed his new camera when it arrived in the mail.  What he wanted was a no-nonsense camera for his rather conventional photographic needs.  The needs were being capable of photographing his young family doing the typical things of the era.  Vacations, photographic evidence of 70's bowl haircuts done on his kids by our Mom,  school programs and other opportunities deemed worthy of a few frames.

      The camera offered a degree of sophistication in that it could be set to Automatic Mode, in effect a shutter priority mode where the shutter speed would be set on the top deck dial and the camera would choose the aperture, within the limits of the lens.  Adjustment of the shutter speed would directly correlate to aperture changing as well.  According to my father, the majority of his shots were taken in this mode.  No doubt this made photographing children who were incapable of remaining still by removing that part of the equation from shooting.  All he had to do was throw us the look that said- SIT STILL, adjust the manual focus lens and press the shutter release.

     Where thrift interfered was in the lens choice.  Konica Hexanon lenses, as mentioned earlier, were sharp and wonderful.  But zooms were also the trend of the times and Dad's selection of a third party budget price one was where it started to fall apart.  While adequate, it suffered from a lack of sharpness that was common amongst its type and price point.  The second nail in the coffin of image quality was with where film and processing were obtained.  At the time, slides were a very popular.  No doubt due to slide film (Kodachrome!!!) being about as good as it got for producing an image of high quality and excellent color.  Along with this you also got the Slide Show.  Many times in my youth our family get togethers included setting up the screen and projector and showing images from the latest vacation, wedding or event of any sort.
Awesome sample image.  You don't need a sharp lens when the plaid is that big.

    Instead of one of the several well respected brands, Dad went for a discounted film stock that had a proprietary processing which could only be done by the company that sold you the film.  Thus you bought the film, shot it and then mailed it off to Seattle where substandard processing took its vig out of final image quality.  Also, the archival qualities of the film would be best described, without resorting to saying F**K a few times, dismal  Meanwhile in Rochester, Kodak was up late at night looking for the final .002% improvement in film and processing that would make their images actually become living beings.  Fortunately he also shot a fair amount of standard print film.

    This camera remained my parents go-to photographic tool up until a mid 2000's purchase of a digital camera.  (The digital is awesome in it's own way as something is wrong with the color balance and results in everything having a yellowish green cast, as though we had all been poisoned.)  Thus the Konica was present through the remembered portion of my life.  My Mom, handier with a sewing machine than haircuts, used a pattern for a diaper bag to construct a camera bag that looked suspiciously like a diaper bag out of sturdy cotton in a medium blue.  The camera was kept in the camera/diaper bag on the top shelf of their closet, safe from the curious and clumsy hands of their children.

     It was made abundantly clear that we were not to touch it under any circumstances.  No doubt we would drop it, hit each other with it or smear ice cream across the lens.  This was a serious purchase made by people, who while not being poor, equated mishandling of such a relatively expensive item to be similar to the time my brother and I were caught lighting each other on fire with a Bic we had found.  It was very telling that when I was given the camera a few years ago it was on the top shelf of the closet, in its bag.

     When it was finally given to me the first thing I did was seek out a 40mm 1.8 Hexanon lens.  This took all of about an hour and set me back 40 bucks.  These lenses are plentiful, inexpensive and sharp enough to shave with.  The meter is run by a PX series mercury battery that is no longer sold in the US.  When a replacement type was procured the meter was completely random in its appraisal of light conditions.  Fortunately the other functions of the camera are mechanical so a handheld meter or educated guess at exposure usually land you in quality image territory.

         The body itself shows the wear of regular, yet careful use over the last 38 years.  The baseplate shows significant brassing where the black enamel has worn away.  The leatherette covering the front and back of the camera has shrunk significantly.   It also shows portions of its texturing to be worn smooth from a tight grip preventing it falling on the ground or into the cotton candy covered paws of children.The dreaded plastic top plate shows only minimal scratches and retains its correct shape with zero warpage. A quick estimate of 10 rolls of film with 36 exposures each, per year, over 38 years equals over 13,000 shutter releases with zero maintenance. The film advance is smooth, the shutter speed dial clicks positively into each notch and the shutter speeds seem to correlate to the one indicated on the dial.  The flash hot shoe, PC sync and timer for the auto release all function as they should.

     The image quality given is quite acceptable.  The 40mm lens, while new to the body, does just what it should.  Crisp images with a view slightly wider than a 50mm but by no means a wide angle.  It is a particularly satisfying setup and still sees several rolls of film a year.  I shoot film exclusively, except for blog posts and have a modest stash of other cameras to shoot as well so this is no longer an everyday use camera.  They are worth very little on the current market.  A setup like this would usually set you back less than 100 dollars.  Probably quite a bit less.  Of course it is worth more than that to me but I have to be honest that had it not been historically significant to me I probably would have never given it a thought.   This only makes me wonder what else I may have missed by failing to pay attention to other mid priced jewels like this.  Current images below.

Here is a little addition to the great halls of photographic genius that I have  poignantly titled "Chair On My Porch." 
I thought I should follow that one with "Bike in Front of  Cheap Lanterns From Pier One"


  1. Hey I got my hands on this tell me price range on all of it would you

    1. I even have receipts marked from 01 but what to know what others would say

    2. I even have receipts marked from 01 but what to know what others would say

  2. Hey I got my hands on this tell me price range on all of it would you