Those Minolta Colors

I’ve found myself shooting more and more with a camera I picked up on a whim this summer, the Minolta X-700.

Information is plentiful online about this camera. It was introduced in 1981, and could be bought new still in 1999. In essence, it was produced from a time when you could still buy all-metal all-manual SLRs new until the digital era began.

Minolta’s Rokkor SR-mount lenses have a reputation for being mostly excellent, and can be had cheaply these days, mostly because no digital camera will natively support them. The only way to use them on a digital camera is with an adapter, and the only camera so far that will accept them and also take full-frame pictures is the recently released Sony A7/A7R.

The X-700 is certainly no high-tech whiz-bang DSLR-type wonder of microchiped technology these days, but it also doesn’t feel ancient when you use it. Its claim to fame in the early 1980s was its P-Mode, which selects aperture and shutter speed automatically, leaving only focusing to the photographer. Yes, that’s not a big thing now. It was a big thing then.

Certainly, the emphasis here was on simplicity, and the X-700 delivers. It’s the kind of camera you can hand off to a complete photography newbie, and as long as they get the focus right, usable pictures will result.

But the X-700 also lets you take control and experiment.

X-700The only major quibble I have with the camera so far is that it doesn’t like the cold. At all. It frequently needs coercing to work in temperatures even slightly above freezing, though I recently purchased some lithium batteries that might help in that regard.

Despite being marketed as a professional camera initially, the X-700 never seems to have grabbed much of that market. It does have all the necessary accoutrements, however, including a massive motor drive. The motor drive is really something you’ll want for this camera. It simply feels good in your hand, and is a lot of fun to use.

Without it, the X-700 is nicely small and portable, especially with the 45/f2 lens that often comes attached to it. If walk-around type street photography is the name of your game, the X-700 – small, black, and with some really great and cheap fast primes – will deliver. Yes, the shutter is not completely silent. But neither is that of a modern DSLR.

With the drive and a portrait or zoom lens attached (the cheap and excellent MD 35-70/f3.5, a version of which was also sold as a Leica lens, is a favorite), the camera becomes a different beast. It will do a respectable-for-film 3.5 frames per second, and with the dedicated flash unit attached, it wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a news photographer. Well, if there were any of those left. More likely, you’ll want to use that configuration for travel photography, if you don’t mind being that tourist with the big camera around their neck. The motor drive also has a dedicated shutter button for vertical pictures, so portraiture is another thing the X-700 excels at, especially with a matching through-the-lens flash such as the 360 PX that was once sold as an accessory.

The more I learn about analog photography, and about what styles of camera and photo-taking I prefer, the more I keep picking up the X-700. Once I weed out the camera collection I have, kind of accidentally, amassed over the past few months, I will likely get rid of many impulse buys and once seemingly good investments. Along with the Rollei 35, the Minolta X-700, however, is likely to stick around. The 35-70/f3.5 lens especially has proven wonderfully versatile. Provided I want to keep taking pictures with that one, the only real upgrade path from an X-700 (or any of the Minoltas) would be a Leica R camera. But that would mean switching to yet another obsolete camera system, and giving up one thing that adds to the X-700’s draw: it’s cheap, and so many were made that you’ll never worry about losing and replacing it. In fact, I already ended up with another X-700, and also its somewhat less capable sister, the XGM.

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