VMLP 32: The Minolta X-600, a Little Something Extra

For me, the Minolta X-600 was only a little less mythical than the Minolta Sky.  I had seen references to the X-600 in passing but had never seen anyone mention one until a member of the Minolta Collector’s group showed pics of his newly-arrived prize.   Intrigued, I searched for one and found a few in Japan; those in good condition were 200.00 or so.  I’m not comfortable ordering from Japan, and that price was not in my budget, so I set aside the idea of ever owning one.   Well, imagine my shock when one appeared on eBay in the US with a low starting price!   When I wrote to the seller about the camera’s functionality, he assured me it was working correctly, so I decided to bid.

After a few days, I got antsy because surely I would not be the only one looking for an X-600.  I asked the seller what he would want for it, and he gave a vague and useless answer.   Then I looked at the cost of ordering one from Japan and what I would consider a good deal.   I finally settled on a number that was significantly less than what it would cost to buy one from Japan and was high enough that the seller would not want to wait seven more days to sell it.  I made the offer, and now I have my X-600!

Historical Perspective 
The X-600 was released in 1983, close to the release date of the X-570, but it looks more like the X-300, which was released a year later.    What makes the X-600 special is its role in Minolta’s experimentation with focus assistance.   By 1983, Minolta was surely deep into designing the Maxxum 7000, released in 1985, and the X-600 offers a little peek into the Mind of Minolta at the time.

The X-600 has focus confirmation—yes, it is a manual camera that tells the user when the subject is in focus!    In order to clue the camera in on the lens’ minimum aperture, the later  MD-III lenses have an extra pin at the 3 o’clock position.   My MD-III 50mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.7 have this extra pin.  The X-600 was sold for only one year and only in Japan, which explains why I had never seen one for sale in the US.

Inspection and Appearance 
On arrival, the camera was in excellent condition except for the area over the film advance, where pieces of plastic above the screw heads were chipped away.  I’ve seen so many other cameras with these pieces missing that I think it is part of their aging process.    Comparing the X-600 to images of the X-370, there seems to be little difference, styling-wise.  No significant marks or damage were visible. If one ignores the film advance lever housing and shutter speed control, the cameras feels like the X-570.  The X-600 and X-570 also share the same shutter.

In the viewfinder, one finds another significant difference.  The focus screen is plain with a central, hollow black rectangle.   The bottom of the display has two red arrows and a green dot,  like the Maxxum 7000.   The arrows indicate how the lens focus ring should be turned to achieve focus.  The green dot appears when focus is confirmed.  The aperture is not shown in the viewfinder.

The mirror offers the biggest design hint of what Minolta was thinking.   It has markings similar to those seen on the Maxxum 7000. (I have no idea how the mirror design helps with focus confirmation.)  Unlike its brethren, the X-600 uses two AAA batteries that load into the grip.

Function and Handling
The X-600 weighs a little more than 17 ounces, and after carrying around an SR-T, it feels positively light.   Like other X-series cameras, it has a good fit and familiar layout.   The shutter speed shows in the viewfinder.

After loading two batteries, I was eager to see how well the focus confirmation worked. I tested with the 50mm 1.4 MD-III lens. Since the X-600 is very similar to my X-570 and X-700, I was only interested in how quickly and accurately it could nail the correct focus.  Aside from the vase images,  the largest possible apertures were used for testing, usually either 1.4 or f2.0.

Test Images
Using a partial roll of Kodak Ultramax, I shot the following sequence of images, hand-held (50mm f1.4, MD-III).

  • Narrow DoF: Flower vase at f5.6 and f2.0.   Focus is on the center pink stem.
  • Low-light(ceiling fan light)/large aperture: Dispenser (LED light, ceiling lights off) and XE-5 (focus is on “minolta”)
  • Dad sign(focus on “DAD”) and (silver beads (focus is on largest bead in center of the frame).

Each time, the camera beeped confidently, and the green dot appeared.

 

 

Impression
Count me amazed and amused!  Minolta had perfectly functional focus confirmation on a manual camera in 1983!   Imagine this focus confirmation on the X-700 or X-570.  I love this feature!  Using large apertures at close range, it can be a little jumpy, but I assume that is because the DoF is so narrow.

Even with the Maxxum 7000 being such a big hit, I think the X-600, if offered to the rest of the world, would have been a hit as well. With film being popular again, it would go over well today if more were available. Perhaps Minolta did not want to undermine sales of the Maxxum 7000, but I think the X-600 was a lost opportunity. If you can get your hands on one, you’ll like it.

Postscript
This report was intended to be longer, using more MD lenses to see how well they work with the X-600.   Unfortunately, while walking out the door for a field test, I dropped my X-600.   The film advance popped out of place and became floppy.   After trying various simple measures, I sent my X-600 for repair.   I’ll write about using the camera with the MD 35-70mm 3.5, the MD 200mm f4 and the MD 28-85mm in a future post.

2 Comments

  1. Many report that the focusing confirmation system works just fine with any MD, MC and even pre-MC lenses. Apparently, there are actually two “confirmation” approaches in the X-600, one for bright light and one for lower light levels. The tab in the lens merely tells the confirmation system which approach to use, but the default works fine works with most lenses.

    1. Author

      Interesting…and that makes the X-600 even more desirable! It’s difficult to find info for this camera. Thanks for this!

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