Konica Big Mini: Experiencing Closeness From A Distance
The image above is my Konica in its current condition: minimal and sleek. There are marks on its silver-coated backside and it’s held together by some tape. Itʻs abused, but shows no signs of faltering. In the past two years, the camera has been my primary camera for gigs, candid, travel photography and, most importantly, portraiture.
When the Olympus Stylus, Yashica T-series, and Contax T and G series were the go-to analogue cameras, I couldn’t afford it. I simply wanted a camera that’s portable, sharp, adequate, affordable, flexible and, did I say affordable?
The Konica Big Mini 300 (BM 300 for short)ʻs sleek, compact body has features that are simple to understand. The body is small enough to fit one’s pocket. I only need my index finger and thumb to hold and operate the camera. On top of the Konica are the shutter and power buttons. In front of the camera is its built-in flash and 35mm lens with an aperture range of f/3.5 to f/16 and shutter speed range of 1/360 to 7.5 seconds. On the back is the viewfinder: a very simple framing mask and a small circle dot in the middle for the auto focus. There are two small LEDs on each side. The green LED is turned on when the camera finds focus while the red LED indicates if light is too low and needs flash.
Below the viewfinder are three buttons: mode/EV or exposure value, timer and focus, and film rewind. The exposure value can only be set to -1.5ev, zero, and +1.5ev and only available when the flash is off. The EV button takes the Konica Big Mini through modes as follows: auto flash, flash on, flash off, flash off +1.5ev and flash off -1.5ev. I rarely use the last two modes due to time cycling through modes; the buttons on the back make it a task to operate. Sometimes I would use a pin or a needle to press the buttons, like a caveman. A very awkward thing to do as a street photographer next to “chimping”. I personally believe Konica-Minolta made the camera especially for people with tiny hands and not hands like mine that can palm a basketball.
I ventured around Baltimore and shot two rolls of film: Kodak ColorPlus film (color) and Kodak TMAX (black and white). Looking at the shots I took with the TMAX, I thought the shots were good examples to showcase Big Miniʻs ability as a compact camera given its limitations. The Konica has a focal range of 35mm, a camera that requires you to be up close to your subject (daunting for some), which is what I primarily use the Konica for, “close observations,” which in times like these can be confused as espionage. If used correctly, it can hold its own.
When I met Ebony, I was a few feet away from her, looking for people to photograph. She was just leaving her house to run an errand. It took me a second or so to approach her but once nearby, I held out my hand as if to say “stop,” and waved my camera in a way for her to see. I asked for her photograph, and she smiled and began to pose. I snapped away. The exchange was short and very sweet.
I only shot Ebony from a few inches away, and the Konica was able to produce a highly detailed photo of her braids, earrings, necklace, piercings, and tattoos against the rowhouses in the background — an analysis of the woman and Baltimoreʻs aging architecture are married to create the striking capture of blackness in predominately black cities.
When a camera such as the Konica compels me to move in close, the experience becomes intimate and intense. I’m aware of the psychological encounter. By compressing the viewing distance, the viewer does not have explicit access to the restricted space, but that same space yields a lot of information. In the book “Scopophilia: The Love Of Looking”, contemporary photographer Marsha Burns said, “not knowing the circumstances beyond the edges of the picture creates an anticipation satisfied only by the viewer’s imagination”. What you see is not always what you get. Viewers will supply the missing information of what the subject is, could be, and possibly meant to them — and to the photographer.
This was done at a carnival filled with many people to photograph. While talking to some friends, I caught the subject walking past me, from one attraction to another. I then stopped him for a photograph, and took the photo merely inches away from his chest.
What are we to make of the straight-on focus? The man was burly, trotting around wearing a Michael Cromer München (MCM) designer fanny pack as a cross body bag. MCMʻs ostentatious design against the manʻs plaid shirt and necklace resting above his chest hairs; he exuded privilege, yet looked casual. But his outfit doesnʻt match. To throw a designer bag over an outfit like that meant the bag was what he valued most. This is stereotypical American fashion, at best. However, this can also show an inequality: the worth of his outfit versus his own worth. Is he actually rich, or did he find it in a thrift store?
Close-ups grant the audience brief access to a subject’s life behind their display; their core is expressed.
The close-up shot above intensifies feelings that the woman is experiencing and allows us to feel sympathy for, and establish a connection with, the subject in question. At such close proximity, we are able to see the subject’s principles tattooed on her throat: PEACE, LOVE, UNITY, and RESPECT. Her core set of principles, her “message” to the audience, emphasizes the dramatic importance of the shot, making it stand out as a whole.
The Konica Big Mini is a great bargain compact camera. This camera doesn’t come cheap; Big Minis canʻt be found for low prices anymore, but its image quality alone is worth the purchase.
The Konica Big Mini doesn’t have the popularity like the Yashica T4 or the practicality of a SLR, but it can reveal the subject’s identity in detail. The Big Mini’s lens can pick up faults and purity by forcing the photographer to be close to the subject, rather than afar. As a result, both photographer and audience can peer into the closed space and at times, see ourselves reflected back into the subject.
NOTE: I’ve owned a Olympus Stylus/Muji (and sold it many times), and for what it’s “worth” it’s an overrated, over-hyped yet solid point-and-shoot you can find at any thrift stores for a measly two dollars (and sell to enthusiasts for absurd amounts). As for the other cameras I’ve mentioned, I’ve yet to own them. But then again, there are more used film cameras than there are technicians. A Contax G2 (used or in “EXC++++” condition according to Japanese eBay merchants) price ranges from $1,050–$4,860. If the Contax malfunctions, which is very possible, to get it serviced is very expensive; otherwise, itʻll turn into a brick once its electronic components go out. Is it worth it?