Minolta TC-1

Classic Fixed Lens Rangefinders:

Minolta TC-1

by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

The Minolta TC-1 is a titanium-bodied auto-focus compact 35mm camera with aperture-priority auto-exposure. Although it looks like a point-and-shoot (it's actually the smallest 35mm compact camera on the market), the lens quality and auto-exposure performance are superb and the little camera easily rivals most SLRs. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

The TC-1 came out in the late nineties, during the golden days of classic high-quality compact cameras. At the time, there was an arms race between the various manufacturers to produce a flagship compact camera with sterling optics, with no regard to price: the Contax TVS, the Ricoh GR1s, and the Minolta TC-1. All are now classics with correspondingly high resale values.

Released in 1996, the TC-1 has a very sharp G-Rokkor 28mm f/3.5 lens (5 elements in 5 groups, with two aspheric elements). Minolta claims that each unit was handmade by technicians and that the entire optical assembly is made entirely of glass and metal, with no plastic parts in the optical block. The MTF diagram to the right illustrates the exceedingly high resolution and contrast that the lens achieves. The TC-1 originally retailed for ¥148,000 or about $1000, which gives some indication to its market placement. It was awarded the Camera Grand Prix award in 1996.

I am guessing that the TC in the TC-1 stands for Titanium Clad, referring to its titanium shell.



Lens and Shutter Design

The G-Rokkor 28mm f/3.5 is ranks among the best lens ever put into a fixed lens camera. The multi-coated all-glass design is a classic 5-elements in 5-groups, with two aspheric elements (3 surfaces aspheric). Careful attention was made to reduce internal reflections, increasing overall contrast in the images. This lens design was so highly regarded that it was later reissued by Minolta in the Leica L-mount for Leica rangefinders and sold in a limited batch of 2000 units.

Perhaps the most unique feature is the circular aperture (diaphragm). You can manually select four apertures (f/3.5, f/5.6, f/8, f/16), each of which is a perfectly circle. This gives wonderful out-of-focus highlights ("bokeh" in Japanese). The downside is that intermediate apertures cannot be selected and the camera is aperture-priority auto-exposure only, since the camera body cannot vary the aperture selection itself. The diagram below shows the four circular aperture selections:


Interesting quirks

The camera uses a single CR-123A lithium-ion cell which should last for 13 rolls of 24-frame film, according to the manufacturer.




Technical Details

Camera Name Minolta TC-1 Ricoh GR-1s
Manufacturer Minolta Ricoh
Place of Manufacture

Body: Japan
Lens: Japan

Body: Japan?
Lens: Japan?

Date of Manufacture 1996-2005 19xx
Focusing System

Passive external rangefinder auto-focus
0.45mm - infinity in 455 steps
Assist LED in low light (0.45m - 2.8m)

Internal distance indicator (swing needle)

Manual focus possible


Passive external rangefinder auto-focus
Assist LED in low light

Internal distance indicator (4 zone)

Fixed Lens

28mm, f/3.5, G-Rokkor (5 elements in 5 groups)
2 aspherical elements (3 surfaces)
xx mm filter mount

Minimum focusing distance = 0.45 meters

28mm, f/2.8 GR (7 elements in 4 groups)
xx mm filter mount

Minimum focusing distance = 0.35 meters


8 sec ~ 1/750 sec.
1/350 and above available only @ f/3.5 or f/5.6

2 sec ~ 1/500 sec. (Program AE)
2 sec ~ 1/250 sec. (Aperture priority AE)

Metering System

2-element external Silicon cell (SPC)
Aperture priority automatic electronic exposure
Spot and center-weighted modes

Lights on top of camera / rangefinder warn of under/over exposure conditions

EV 1.5 - 17(at ISO 100) center weighted
EV 2.5 - 17(at ISO 100) spot

TTL average weighting (SPD)
Program automatic electronic exposure

Lights on top of camera / rangefinder warn of under/over exposure conditions

EV 0.9- 17(at ISO 100)


f/3.5, f/5.6, f/8, f/16 circular aperture

f/2.8 - f/22 in 1/2 steps


Internal flash (GN7)

Internal flash (GN7)

Film type / speeds

Type 135 film (35mm standard)

ASA 25 to 3200 auto DX
ASA 6 to 6400 manual

Type 135 film (35mm standard)

ASA 25 to 3200 auto DX

Battery type

1x CR123A lithium cell (w/battery check feature)
approximately 13 rolls of 24-frame film (50% flash)

3 minute auto-poweroff

1 x CR2 lithium cell (w/battery check feature)
approximately 300 shots (50% flash)

5 minute auto-poweroff

Dimensions and weight 99 x 59 x 29.5 mm ; 185 grams 117 x 61 x 26.5mm ; 178 grams
GR1s DATE is 180g
Retail price ¥148,000 (1996) ¥ (1996)
Note: Copyright © 2006 by Karen Nakamura / Photoethnography.com Using the text or images on this site in an ebay auction without permission is a violation of your ebay Terms of Service. I will report you to ebay if I discover such a violation taking place.




About Minolta

Minolta began making cameras in 1928 as the "Nichi-doku Shashinki Shokai" (Japanese-German Camera Factory) and in 1937 was renamed Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko Kabushiki Kaisha or Chiyoko for short. One man was the heart of the company, Kazuo Tashima. He ran the company from 1928 to 1972. Before the war, Chiyoko made medium and large format cameras and began making 35mm cameras after the war. They started using the Minolta brand in 1937. In the post-War period, they made a series of Leica clones, the Minolta 35 rangefinder.

In 1962, Chiyoko changed its name to Minolta. They are famous for the first SLR with fully coupled metering, the SR-7 and the first model with built-in motor drive (SR-M). They also produced the first camera with integral autofocus, the Minolta Maxxum 7000 (aka Alpha 7000) in 1985. I remember when in 1986, my dad brought home his shiny new Minolta 7000 and handed me down his old Pentax Spotmatic SPII (which still have). Ironically, the Pentax still sees more use than the Alpha because of its ability to run fully manually.

In any case, Minolta continues to make great 35mm SLRs as well as an increasing array of interesting digital cameras. In 2003, Minolta announced a merger with Konica, Japan's oldest camera manufacturer. Hopefully the merged company (Konolta? Monica?) will have enough financial resources to continue to produce high-end film-based SLRs and rangefinders.


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