Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Minolta 7000 Autofocus marvel

I have a long standing love of Minolta cameras, dating back to the X700 that I owned and used in my mid twenties. It was a great camera, and I would love to own another one day.

Around the time that everybody was 'going digital' (about ten years ago), my last film kit before selling up and joining the herd was a Minolta 600si Classic - another lovely (and dare I say 'Classic') camera. Unfortunately, this was also the time that Minolta as a camera company was going through tough times - merging initially with Konica, only to then end up being brought out by electronics giant Sony. There was a lot of uncertainty around the future of Minolta cameras during those few years, so I (and a good many others) didn't invest in them when looking at a digital system.

With the sale to Sony, history has proven that the Minolta system (and more importantly the 'A' mount for lenses) did, in fact, have staying power - and that perhaps my reticence was a little hasty? But Canon and Nikon were aggressive competitors, and I wasn't the only one tempted over to the dark side :-)

But now, with my renewed interest in film, and a stock of Minolta lenses on hand from a pro photographer friend who did stick with them, I get to once again re-visit my love affair with Minolta. And I intend to do just that - beginning with the Minolta 7000.

The Minolta Maxxum 7000 was a truly revolutionary camera when it first appeared in 1985. Just by looking at it you can tell it is a child of the 80s. If I was being harsh, I would say that it looks like it was designed out of lego blocks - all square edges and geometric shapes. But to give the designers their due, it speaks loudly of the 'computer' age, where old-fashioned knobs and dials were replaced by modern switches and buttons. This design aesthetic was also evident in camera's like the Canon T70 and Nikon F801 - also children of the 80s.

It was also revolutionary in that it was the first Minolta to adopt the new 'A' mount -  and the first camera to facilitate a body-integrated auto focus design. Yes folks, auto-focus came of age with the Minolta 7000. The camera was a huge success, and catapulted Minolta back into the top echelons of the  Big 5 camera manufacturers. In fact it was so successful, it had other manufacturers (like Canon and Nikon) scrambling back to their engineering departments to re-think their own camera lines. If not for the Minolta 7000, Canon's own EOS line of cameras may have taken a lot longer with their development.

A design aesthetic straight out of Robocop
But don't let all those slim metallic buttons and switches fool you - in reality this is a simple and  intuitive camera to use (despite the anorexic thinness of those top buttons). Film speed is set automatically (for DX coded films), it has all the expected modes (P,A,S,M), can shoot at 2 frames per second, a flash synch speed of 1/100th and a top shutter speed of 1/2000th sec.

This is the beginnings of auto focus that we know and love today, so don't expect stellar focus performance. The screw-driven motor sounds like an electric drill set to high, and its single focus detection point takes time locking on. But lock on it does, and Minolta deserved all the kudos it received by bringing body-integrated autofocus to the world of photography.

I'm looking forward to putting a roll of 35mm through this camera. She may be almost thirty years old, but I bet she performs as reliably as the day she was made. Apart from a slight 'whitening' of the hand-grip plastic (a common issue with this era of camera), and a little lcd 'bleed' on one edge, my copy of the 7000 looks to be in fantastic nick. A fresh set of 4 triple A's (yes, it takes 'common' batteries - yay) and I should be good to go. Will post images soon.

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