Minolta Manual Focus Collection
I got into film photography in a whim. I was at a electronics swap meet and saw a Minolta camera that looked like it was in pretty good condition at the table of real junk dealers. These are the guys at swap meets that bring broken bicycles and hot-air popcorn poppers to a swap meet where everyone else has computers and oscilloscopes.
I knew nothing about film cameras. I'd used an old manual camera of my dad's exactly once when I was a kid. I'd welded a fully automatic camera on a family trip to England when I was a young teenager. So the X-700 I was looking at was completely unfamilar to me. It had some knobs on the top, a few rings that turned on the lens, and when you looked through the viewfinder, you could focus on things by turning a ring. No clicks or anything happened no matter what button or knob I turned.
Luckily I had a good friend there who had used a fully manual Canon camera when he was in highschool as part of a photography class. I considered him an expert because he had won an award for one of his pictures. I handed the camera to him and asked what he thought. He couldn't make it work either, but thought it was in pretty good shape: no dings, dents, or scratches.
So I bought it for $25. When I got home I looked it up on the Internet and discovered it was very well respected and useful camera. I found out that all it probably needed was new batteries to make the electronically controlled shutter fire.
I bought some real black and white film, because I knew that made every picture look more important. I took pictures of walls and roofs and fences and my friends. I bought some color film too, and took more pictures. When the film came back from the photo store, I was hooked.
I started looking for more lenses, because I learned about depth of focus. I started looking for wider-angle lenses because I wanted to take street photography. I found out that the ancient manual camera my dad had used the same lenses as my camera and borrowed his lenses. Soon I was digging through auction sites, buying up the unwanted film-only lenses left in the dust of everyone converting to digital cameras.
A very nice camera for someone just getting started in film manual focus cameras. It has all the features you'd want including full manual exposure, depth of focus preview, aperture priority, Through-The-Lens (TTL) flash metering, and even a full automatic mode if you have the right lens. I got mine for $25.
The X-570 is better than the X-700 in at least one way. It supports TTL flash metering but also displays the current manual settings, allowing you to do a little more advanced flash work. I bought this from an online auction as a backup body when I started to worry that my X-700 wasn't working.
This one isn't mine, but it is the one my dad let me use years ago. I include it here because i've used it a little since then. This camera is fully mechanical, except for the meter. As such, you have to be a bit more intelligent when using it, but you don't have to have batteries to make it work.
Minolta 35-70mm F/3.5 Macro
The original lens on my X-700. It worked great, but lately it no longer focuses to infinity.
Minolta 50mm F1.7 Prime
I got this for $10 off an online auction. I got a reversal ring for it and use it for macro now.
Minolta 50mm F1.4 Prime
When I decided I wanted a fast lens, I bought this for $40 from an online auction. I use this quite often. When I'm going out, this is the lens I bring.
Kamero 135mm Portrait
This is being indefinitely borrowed from my dad. I like the image from this lens, but it has a minimum focus distance of nearly 8 feet! I find it impossible to use anywhere except in studio-like conditions.
With a macro extension, it only focuses between 2 and 6 feet, making it an interesting lens for semi-macro use. If you wanted to take pictures of just the eyes of someone, this is great.
Vivitar 28mm Wide Angle
Another lens on indefinite lease from my father. This is a great lens when out in crowds or on the street. It is pretty sharp even all the way open. It took a little detective work to find out who made it. Evidently it is available for other camera mount systems, and I would recommend it if you can find it for yours.
Vivitar 17-28mm Ultra Wide Zoom
This lens has cost me the most of any lens: $80 on an online auction. Of course I had trouble with it from day one. It took me about a week or two after it arrived to realize that it must have been dropped.
The focusing ring wasn't turning evenly, with a obvious tilt to one side. The distance scale wasn't even close to what appeared to be the actual focus. Finally, either because it was broken or because it had such a narrow final lens, the split prism in my focus screen didn't work.
I have since taken the focus ring portion of the lens apart and realigned the focus scale. It can be very soft on the edges at the widest aperture (F/4). Stopped down, there isn't any problem. I like using this lens, but you have to be careful to avoid making a wide picture with nothing in it. I recommend Ken Rockwell's advice on using Ultra Wide lenses.
This lens is another that was made for many different camera mounts. If you find this lens in reasonable condition in your budget, pick it up. It is a useful lens, even if its a bit broken like mine! I used to have a link to a very good comparison of this lens (for a Canon FD mount) but I have since lost the link! The conclusion, which I have confirmed, is that this is an excellent lens stopped down to F8 or smaller apertures.
Vivitar 85-205mm Telephoto Zoom
I bought this for $10 from an online auction. It is big, long, and heavy. This makes it a pain to carry around, but I've used it quite a lot. I've taken some great pictures of ducks and other wildlife with this lens. Sometimes I use a 2x teleconverter tube to turn it into a 410mm telephoto to get even closer to the animals.
Starblitz 24mm Macro
I got this in a junk lens bucket at the local camera shop for $5 and I've gotten a fair amount of use with it. It'll focus from inifinity to a few inches so its really versatile. It has a scratch on the front lens element, but it hasn't shown up in any prints.
Lately when I'm going out, but know I will be outdoors most of the time, I take this. It'll stop down to F22, where the DOF is from infinity to 2 feet. You can't get much better than that! You really have a lot of choice with this lens. I'd recommend it to anyone getting started in manual photography.
I bought this just so I'd have at least one flash that supported my cameras' TTL flash metering. It doesn't seem to work as I'd hoped, and I don't do much flash photography. In the future I plan to use it more.
Minolta Auto 28
This was the flash my father let me borrow. It has the ability to tilt the flash bulb in various tilts up and down.
Sunpak Auto 133 Thyristor
This only takes 2xAA batteries and is quite small overall. Sometimes I grab this when I want something that doesn't take up much room. Unfortunately, it only points straight forwards.
JC Penny Compact Zoom Automatic Strobe
This flash not only tilts but allows you to adjust the spread of the flash. I've used it a few times. In the pictures it is sporting a Chinon SE-520 slave flash trigger. It works, but I've not used it. My small digicam's flash will trigger it, but doesn't allow me to slow the shutter speed down to allow for both flashes to show up.
I bought a Canon Rebel XT and converted it to MC/MD mount using this replacement mount. I wasn't very impressed, honestly. The build quality was middling: screw holes on the new mount didn't have the correct countersink to fit the screws. I had to modify the mount with a drill press so that the screws that held the mount wouldn't interfere with the MC/MD lens being mounted. I had to remove the entire front of the camera and the internal metal tripod mount bracing in order to remove the electrical contacts. The maker fails to make this very clear in the instructions.
Also, you have to unsolder the contacts from the camera's mainboard! I didn't have trouble doing this, but do not think that you can install this mount replacement in a reversable way without getting pretty involved with your brand new Canon. I've read some people have just torn the cables to the electrical contacts, but obviously this means the camera body is irreversably damaged.
I would also say that you must get a split focus screen. Also expect a dim view through the viewfinder compared to your trusty Minolta X-700.
After using my modified Canon for a few months, I picked up my Minolta and took a few shots. I immediately throught to myself "Now this is a great camera!" So if you are like me, and started photography with a world class camera such as the X-700, save up for a full frame, high end digital camera.
Installation aside, when I could get the camera in focus, I was very happy with the image results. The Canon sensor picks up plenty of detail, and has good color reproduction. Despite dire warnings from gear snobs, the Minolta lenses performed admirably. The camera's menus are easy to learn and I've had good luck with flash portrait photography, my original intent for the camera.
But the poor integration between the manual lenses and the digial body led to a frustrating user experience. I ended up with something worse than a full manual camera, with stop down metering not working well on the digital. The lenses rotated freely in the mount due to lack of any lock mechanism. I finally gave up and put the original mount back on. I was lucky that I went to the trouble of documenting carefully the unsoldered connections so I was able to reconstruct the camera. The poor fit and finish of the MC/MD mount meant that I destroyed one of the screws, which is regretable.
I found a cheap Canon EOS Rebel film camera from the early 1990s at a garage sale for $5. I use this lens with my external flash units and have had a great experience learning about flash photography. I plan to buy a 35mm Canon prime, which will approximate a normal 50mm lens after the 1.6x crop factor of the Rebel XT's sensor.
My Minolta gear still works great, and nothing replaces the image feel and charm of using real film. The size and quality of Minolta X-700 still brings me back for an enjoyable camera experience. I find myself carrying both cameras. The Canon excels at action shots and flash photography, while the Minolta is preferable for portraits, scenery and difficultly lit scenes.
Probably the best site out there about Minolta gear is The Rokkor Files.
For any advice on darkroom techniques, I turn the the venerable photo.net.