Cameras I own: Konica Hexar AF

Part four in a series. Read parts three, two and one.

Somewhere in Western Australia, 2006

Now here is a camera that is truly close to my heart. When I’m asked the inevitable question (as a visitor looks up at my collection on top of our bookshelf) “which is your favourite?”, my answer is always “the Hexar”. I first became aware of the existence of the Hexar while taking photos at the Meredith music festival with my Canonet—I noticed another photographer with a few vintage cameras, and around his neck was an amazing looking one: like a Leica, but sleeker, more modern, with a neat little LCD showing the shot count on the top. I didn’t manage to speak to him, but my quest had begun.

I found my Hexar my first time in Japan, partly because I knew that I wanted to buy a camera in Japan, and partly because my good friend Pete (who was living there at the time) convinced me (after some single-malt scotch) that this was the one. He was right of course.

Akihabara, Tokyo, 2004

The Konica Hexar is a truly special 35mm rangefinder: it sports an incredibly sharp fixed 35mm f2.0 lens, aperture priority and program settings (or fully manual if you desire), fast and precise autofocus, solid construction. I have heard it called “the perfect street camera” because of it’s fast wide angle and extremely quite operation. Plus it just looks awesome with its sleek lines, sci-fi looking reflective autofocus array and LCD screen.

ACCA, Melbourne, 2006

I bought the later (1997) model “Silver” edition, which (apparently) comes minus the Hexar’s most lauded feature: Silent Mode. Silent Mode slows down the motorised film advance and autofocus to whisper quiet, and combined with the very quiet leaf shutter turns the Hexar into one of the quietest motorised film cameras around. Now, I said “apparently” because of a fact that was pointed out to me by Pete: the missing feature is just a software setting—it is actually possible to override it and restore Silent Mode to the camera by performing a complex sequence of button presses (which I managed to do, after a few aborted attempts). Pete explained this fact to a salesman at Map Camera, and it was listening to this conversation that I first learned about the existence of “Japanese” words that are strangely warped English words: “Onnu-offu” (on-off switch), “cunningu” (cheat, as in “cunning”).

Kyoto, 2004

But I digress. I continued to use this camera right up until I bought my Lumix GF-1, as none of my other digital cameras could do quite what the Hexar did (and the Lumix is still louder than the Hexar). There was something about the combination of size, speed and lens quality (I still think it has the best lens of any camera that I own) that made it, for me, perfect. The Hexar is retired now (the cost of film is sadly not worth it anymore), and I have managed to damage the hotshoe (now held in place with gaffer tape).

I took some of my favourite film shots with this camera over the years, and I am still a little sorry that it just sits gathering dust now. A note to all digital camera manufacturers: I’m still looking for a true digital replacement for the Hexar, so when you release one, I’ll happily be your first customer.