My Experience: A Minolta X-700 Review
I’m a sucker for Garage sales. My wife thinks it’s just a bunch of other peoples junk, and for the most part that’s true. For me though, it’s treasure. Just because someone doesn’t want it anymore and is trying to sell it out of their garage, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be something amazing.
Majority of people think their old film cameras aren’t worth anything. They think they’re only nice for sitting on a shelf or worse… turned into a lamp. So I have had a ton of luck finding cameras at garage sales. That’s where I found him. It was a very small garage sale in an unassuming shed, and looked pretty disappointing to tell the truth. Little did I know that as I pulled up, that I’d be driving away with the best sidekick I’ve ever had; my Minolta X-700.
The Minolta X-700 is about as good as it gets for an SLR. It has everything I could want in a camera, and doesn’t have any of the stuff I don’t care about. It’s a lever advance, manual focus camera, with three shooting modes. It was released in 1981, produced through to about 2001 as one of the last manual focus cameras Minolta would make. That’s 20 years of production, and it’s arguably one of the most classic, iconic cameras the company ever made (equal maybe with their rangefinders). The X-700 was an excellent piece of engineering, and is still a perfectly competent camera that will give any film SLR a run for it’s money.
The ergonomics of this camera are great. When you hold it, it’s ready to go and at your service. It’s extremely comfortable and everything is easy to use, thanks to the texture grip on the front and the back. The advance lever is butter, and the shutter is satisfying. It’s all black design is no-nonsense and beautiful. There’s no doubt that this camera is a tool. However, there is a negative to it’s build.
It’s plastic. While it is a very robust plastic and doesn’t feel cheap in the least, it’s still plastic. I can’t imagine it would handle a drop very well. It isn’t as tough as something like a Nikon would be, so don’t expect this to be stopping any bullets (we’re looking at you Mr. McCullin).
Plastic has its positives though, one being that it’s light. Like I said before too, it’s not a cheap plastic. It’s solid and feels really nice in your hand. With the 50mm Rokkor lens, it’s balanced very nice. So it’s a great camera to take with you on a hike or a long walk. Just remember to bring a strap.
Something else that should be known about the X-700, is that it’s completely electronic. The shutter is controlled electronically, which can be a problem when the battery dies.
Being electronically controlled can be both good and bad. The good being that it’s very quick and precise. This is most noticable when shooting in program mode. The bad could be that when the battery dies, you can’t use the camera. The shutter as well won’t fire unless it has the battery. Also, when electronics burnout they can be very expensive to fix. In my experience Minolta’s electronics do seem quite robust and reliable, but there’s still that cost if they do. I think it’s safe to say that by the sheer number of these cameras still out there, they are pretty sturdy. They haven’t earned a reputation for being a camera that you never know when it will die on you *cough Contax cough*.
This is one of the things that made this camera so popular. The X-700 has three shooting modes: Manual, Aperture Priority and Program (4 if you count bulb). Program mode is what made it sing above other cameras. The MPS (Minolta Program System) is really awesome, and is probably it’s crowning jewel. I prefer to shoot this camera in Manual as this gives me the most control. But the fact that it can do program when I want it to, AND have an aperture priority as well, is so appealing to me. When preparing for this review, I realized I had never shot the camera in program before. So I loaded it up with some Ilford HP5, and shot it in different lighting conditions. I was really impressed with the results.
The biggest downside to program mode, is not knowing what aperture is being selected. For program mode to work, you set the aperture ring to 16 (or the green number on whatever lens you may be using). The other issue, is that it doesn’t lock into place. It’s easy to accidentally bump the aperture ring, taking the camera out of program mode. When this happens, the camera will still fire the shutter, so be careful.
The viewfinder in this camera is amazing. Its so bright and clear, making it a breeze to focus. There is a small window at the bottom showing the selected aperture, and a scale on the right hand side showing the suggested shutterspeed (Or the ‘selected’ shutterspeed when using Aperture Priority or Program). At the top of the shutterspeed scale, it shows you whether you’re in A (Aperture Priority), P (Program) and M (Manual). At the bottom of the shutterspeed scale is an Exposure Compensation indicator, showing that your Exposure Compensation dial is set to either (+/- ). The viewfinder is one of the things that’s really made me fall in love with this camera. It makes it so easy to see and focus, especially in low light.
There are a few different styles of focusing screens. The design makes it easy to change out yourself. This really came in handy after a catastrophic attempt to clean a bunch of dust from the prism and focusing screen. Thankfully I was able to find a seller on ebay that carried brand new split prism focusing screens, and popped the new one in. Easy peasy. My veiwfinder was once again bright as day.
My one complaint about the viewfinder is the shutterspeed scale. While in daylight it’s extremely legible; in low light it becomes very hard to see due to the fact the numbers are transparent cutouts. This is a rare issue, but still worth mentioning.
I have found the TTL metering works quite well. It meters across the whole veiwfinder, which can be a bit annoying when shooting a highly backlit subject. I would probably prefer a more centered metering system, but to be honest, I can’t really complain too much. It’s fast, easy to read and for the most part, I trust it. The meter is activated when your finger simply touches the the shutter button, not requiring a half press which may accidentally fire the shutter. This is great for preserving battery life, especially when you’ve accidentally left the camera on. It’s performed beautifully in low lighting. If you’re ever in a really tricky lighting situation, just use an external light meter.
Minolta was one of the very few companies who made they’re own glass, and boy was it good. Any company that Leica dubs worthy to collaborate with on lenses must be pretty good. The lens is one of my favorite things about this camera. The 50mm 1.4 is great for almost anything. Its sharp, has great contrast, and rivals any lens in its class. Being a 1.4 it has a wonderfully shallow depth of feild. The bokeh is quite nice.
Most often you will find the X-700 with a 1.7 lens. It was very fortunate for me that my camera came with the 1.4. Having that little extra stop helps, and I’ve shot in conditions where I used every bit of it, and was thankful I had it. In low light, this lens really is a great tool.
While I usually find myself loading black and white into this camera, I love shooting color through it. You really start to see that contrast of the lens, and it renders color beautifully.
Take This Camera Anywhere
As I said before, this camera is good for almost anything. Its not big and bulky, so it’s perfect for taking on walks, and exploring the city. This camera will be a constant staple. While I haven’t really used many other cameras, it’s hard to imagine another one being what my X-700 has been for me. I highly recommend this camera for anyone, amateur or pro. It will be around for quite a while, and it won’t let you down.