Manual focus cameras force one to concentrate on the fundamentals of photography. Using a manual focus camera requires a sequence of tasks: compose the image, meter the scene, set the aperture size, set the shutter speed, and shoot. You must be familiar with concepts such as depth of field and exposure compensation to ensure the final image is what you have in mind. Getting everything right can be easier said than done. However, that challenge is part of what makes film photography a fun learning experience. In the excitement of getting a shot, I have often forgotten to set the shutter speed or change the aperture. Too often, I have under or overexposed an image when using a camera without a built-in meter. So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes; everybody does so at first.
Overview of Minolta’s Manual Cameras
Choosing a Minolta manual focus camera is easier than selecting an autofocus model. Minolta’s autofocus cameras changed significantly over their 19-year production span, with each generation adding many new features. On the other hand, manual focus models changed more slowly and have fewer features.
The first Minolta SLR, the SR-2, introduced in 1958, had no metering capability and left the lens aperture closed down after each shot. Later SR-2 models reopened the lens aperture and were dubbed “auto.” The lenses from this period have “Auto Rokkor” on the front.
The next significant advance, Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering, became a reality with the introduction of the SR-T 101 in 1966. With SR-T models, the user adjusts the lens aperture and sets the shutter speed before taking a shot. The camera provides metering assistance using a “match-needle” approach to get the correct exposure. A needle in the viewfinder moves based on the amount of light, and the user turns the shutter speed dial until a small circle in the viewfinder overlaps the needle. When the two overlap, the exposure is appropriate.
Aperture priority shooting became a reality with the release of the XK (1973) and XE-7 (1974). When using aperture priority shooting, the user sets the aperture, and the camera uses metering information to select the proper shutter speed. Aperture priority mode was a major advance over the SR-T approach because the user no longer had to worry about setting the shutter speed every time.
Next, the XD-11 (1978) introduced multi-modal shooting, allowing the photographer to choose aperture or shutter priority shooting. In shutter priority mode, the user sets the shutter speed, and the camera uses metering information to set the proper aperture. Finally, with the X-700 (1981), Minolta introduced Program Mode, in which the user simply selects the subject, and the camera uses metering information to set the shutter and the aperture.
In each generation, Minolta usually made two models—a top-level model (SR-T 102, 202, XE-7, XD-11, X-700) and a less expensive one (SR-T 101, SR-T 201, XE-5, XD5, X-570, X-370, XG series). The differences between levels are most notable in the X and XD series models. The XD models have aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes. The X-700 has Program mode, aperture priority, and manual modes, while the X-570 and X-370 have only aperture priority and manual modes. All XG series cameras have only aperture priority and manual modes. There are other differences, especially regarding flash use, but flash use is a more advanced topic.
With the above in mind, choosing a manual camera involves deciding whether one wants: 1) a camera with no meter (SR series), 2) a camera with a built-in light meter, without aperture or shutter priority shooting (SR-T series), 3) a camera with at least aperture priority mode (XK, XE, X-370, X-570, any XG)), or 4) a multi-mode shooting camera that can do both aperture and shutter priority (XD 11) or full Program Mode (X-700)).
Minolta only made one manual-focus SLR aimed at professionals, the Minolta XK/XM/X-1. The XK/XM/X-1 are collector’s items and not suited for a beginner.
Most manual camera newbies find that getting sharp images can be a challenge. Focusing screens—plain, microprism, and microprism with split screen— help to ensure sharp images. As the name indicates, plain screens offer no assistance, and using one is like looking through a regular window.
Microprism screens have a central area that changes as the lens’ focus ring is turned. Some people have difficulty seeing the changes with micro prisms alone, so split-screen focus aids were added. Most people find that microprism screens with split-image aids are the easiest to use and the fastest to obtain focus. If you have doubts, go for a camera with a split-image focus screen.
Minolta Manual Camera Models
*** Note: Minolta had different model names for the North American, European, and Asian markets, which can be quite confusing. All model names in this guide are specific to the North American market. To find the model names for other markets, consult this LINK
Minolta SR Series (1958) – No meter, manual mode only
For those who want to rough it, the SR series is perfect. But forget about owning an SR-2—it’s a collector’s item and very difficult to find. The SR-3, my favorite of the group, isn’t a collector’s item but is still hard to find. The SR-3 also has a split-image focus aid while the SR-7 and SR-1 do not. All models are 55 years old or older, so finding one in working condition is challenging.
The SR-7 has a built-in meter, but metering is not through the lens. The other SR models required external meters (attached to the camera or hand-held). The SR-7 meter and attachable meters from this era are rarely accurate today, so if you buy one of these cameras, be prepared to use a hand-held meter. Learning to use a camera with a hand-held meter requires patience and might result in a lot of wasted film. Therefore, I don’t recommend SR cameras to complete newbies. However, if you are game, go for it.
Cameras with Through-the-Lens Metering
Minolta SR-T Series (1966) (101, 102, 201, 202, 200, 100, SR-T SC, SR-T MC) (Built-in meter, manual mode only)
The Minolta SR-T 101 was a big deal when released in 1966. It offered TTL metering, which meant causal users did not have to carry around a hand-held light meter. Minolta sold a ton of SR-T 101s, and they are known for being durable and capable devices. My first camera was an SR-T 101. The SR-T 101 has a microprism focus screen and offers stop-down metering. The SR-T 101 does not show the aperture setting in the viewfinder, so when composing, you have to move your eye away from the viewfinder to see the correct aperture setting. This is a minor inconvenience that can be avoided by getting an SR-T 102 or SR-T 202.
The SR-T 100 and 200 are budget models that were sold at a lower price than the main models—101, 102, 201, and 202. The main SR-T models had TTL metering, 1/1000 shutter speeds, self-timers, and depth-of-field preview capability. Budget and department store models had TTL metering but lacked one or more of the other key features. The SR-T SC and SR-T MC are department store models (Sears-SC, K-Mart MC), and they have features that fall between those of the main models and the budget models. All SR-T cameras are metal and weigh accordingly. Importantly, every camera repair shop that works on Minolta cameras repairs SR-T models.
Minolta XE-7, XE-5 (1973) (Built-in meter, aperture priority and manual modes)
The Minolta XE-7 and XE-5 were part of Minolta’s collaboration with Leica. The XE-7 is the top-level camera with aperture priority and manual modes. The XE-7 has more sophisticated electronics than the SR-T series, and today many XE- models have poorly working or non-working meters. Fewer XE models appear for sale compared to SR-Ts, and those that do, tend to cost more than SR-T models.
The XE-5 differs from the XE-7 in only a few minor ways. The XE-5 lacks multi-exposure capability and a film advance indicator. More importantly, the XE-5’s viewfinder shows only the recommended shutter speed—no aperture is shown in the viewfinder.
Minolta XD-11, XD-5 (1977) (Built-in meter, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes)
The XD series represents the second Minolta SLR series released as part of the Minolta/Leica collaboration. The top-line XD-11 was the first SLR to offer users aperture, shutter, and manual modes. To match the camera’s new capability, Minolta introduced MD lenses (SR-T and XE cameras use MC lenses). XD cameras are lighter and smaller than prior Minolta SLR bodies. Like the XE-5, the XD5 differs only slightly from the XD11. The XD-5 lacks a film-safe indicator, and the viewfinder does not show the current aperture.
Minolta X-700, X-570, X-370 (Built-in meter, X-700-Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes; X-570, x-370 aperture priority and manual modes)
Introduced in 1981, the X-700 brought Program mode. The X-700 was a very popular camera, and like the SR-T series, Minolta sold millions, making the X-700 easy to find today. Failing capacitors are the main downside of all X series cameras. Some later models have bad capacitors that prevent the camera from working. Fortunately, due to the popularity of the X-series, most repair shops accept them. Even better, camera stores offer X-series cameras with warranties. X-Series cameras can use motorized winders.
Minolta XG-7, XG-9, XG-M (Built-in meter, aperture priority and manual mode)
XG cameras were introduced in 1977 as budget models alongside the more expensive XD models. XG models have fewer technical capabilities than the top-line XE, XD, and X cameras. Of the group, the XG-M offers the most capability and provides metering in manual mode—the others do not. Today, XG cameras tend to be less expensive than other models, but prices vary greatly.
Suggested Cameras for Newbies
While any manual Minolta can be an excellent first camera, the following cameras are suggested as the best starting point because they are easy to find in working condition and easily repaired.
SR-T 102 and 202 — All SR-Ts are sturdy, capable cameras. However, the 102 and 202 are the best of the group and show the aperture in their viewfinders, while the others do not. They also have the best focusing aid (microprism with split-screen). The costs of SR-Ts vary widely, and all models are readily available, so there is no reason to get a budget model.
When buying from a camera store, expect to pay 130.00 to 175.00 for a camera with a lens. Prices from eBay can be 30-40% less. Any SR-T will be a reliable camera, so look closely at the capabilities of whatever model you are considering to see if it fits your needs. SR-Ts provide only a manual shooting mode.
X-700 and X-570 — both cameras are popular and readily available. The X-700 has Program mode, aperture priority, and manual modes. The X-570 offers only aperture and manual modes. Both cameras offer the same focusing aides and have user-changeable focus screens. Oddly, the X-570 shows the lens aperture in the viewfinder, while the x-700 does not. From a camera store, expect to pay 175.00 to 250.00 for an X-700 with a lens; the X-570 with a lens usually costs 30-50.00 less. Look for an X-700 that has a serial number starting with “1”, as they are not likely to have bad capacitors.
There is also an X-370 model—a budget model below the X-570. However, since prices for the X-370 and X-570 tend to be close, there is no reason to buy an X-370 if the X-570 and X-370 are close in price. Otherwise, the X-370 is a good option.
XG-M — of the XG models, the XG-M (“M” = can use the Motor 1 Drive) is the most advanced, and since today all models cost about the same, there is no reason to get a model other than the XG-M. The XG7 and XG9 are older models than the XG-M and work well if they are more to your liking.
Every shop that repairs Minolta cameras does SR-T repairs, so an SR-T is a safe bet and a sturdy camera. The popularity of the X-700 and X-570 also assures plenty of repair options. Older SR models, the XE lines, and XK have fewer places that accept them. XG models, being less popular than SR-Ts and X models, fall closer to XE models when it comes to repairs. Shops repair them, but not as readily as the X and SR-T models.
The cameras listed above are more than 30 years old. The safest place to obtain one is from a camera store because they offer six-month or more extended warranties. I have bought gear from KEH, Roberts, and Hunts, and all provide fast shipping and warranties on used gear. If you decide to buy from eBay, look for sellers with ratings of at least 99%, and only buy from those who accept returns.
Other Models for the Curious
For those feeling more adventurous, the models below are worth exploring.
These are purely manual cameras. The SR-7 and SR-3 have top shutter speeds of 1/1000 while the SR-1 and SR1s top out at 1/500.
After almost 50 years, the electronics in these cameras can be erratic. Based on reliability issues, I suggest newbies avoid XE series cameras. But, if you want to experience one, jump in—when fully working, they are great cameras. But be aware that many camera repair shops do not work on XE models.
Like XE cameras, XD models have sophisticated electronics that can go bad over the years. The main problem that can occur with the XD line is inaccurate meters, which makes aperture and shutter priority shooting unreliable. If tempted by an XD, be sure it works correctly in all modes before buying. Also, have it CLA’d (clean, lubricate, adjust) soon after purchase. It seems slightly easier to get an XD serviced/repaired than an XE model.
These cameras have older CdS metering instead of the newer silicon sensors in the X and XD lines. No XG models offer TTL metering for flash use. Many were sold, so they are plentiful. They can produce great results if their limitations are not a problem and repairability issues are not a concern. The XG7 and XG9 are the best, aside from the XG-M.
Keep in mind that the top models of each camera series offer the most features, and buying one will ensure that you have the capability needed for future activities. On the used market, camera prices vary greatly, making the original price difference between budget and top models less significant. Shop around.
Everyone should start with a 50mm lens. I did not. Instead, I bought a zoom first and soon had to buy a 50mm lens. Zooms are good but don’t work for many situations, like street shots and low-light scenes. They can also be cumbersome. My zoom had a maximum aperture of f4 and a minimum focus distance of 4 feet. A typical 50mm lens has a minimum focus distance of about 14 inches (349mm) from the front of the lens and a maximum aperture of f1.7. When shooting in early morning or evening, large apertures come in handy.
Buying lenses can be tricky. They can seem fine but have significant problems, such as fungus, haze, or oily aperture blades. The best way to check for lens problems is to open the lens to its largest aperture (e.g., f1.7) and hold it up to a window. Fungus can look like either ice crystals or spider webs. Haze looks as if steam were inside the lens.
Oil can gather on aperture blades and make them stick together, so they no longer work properly. To check for oil, set the lens to its smallest aperture (f/16 or f22) and look at the blades from the front and rear. Oil looks as you would expect. If buying online from eBay or another site, ask sellers whether the lens is free from fungus, haze, or oily blades and whether the focus and aperture rings turn freely. Above all, NEVER buy lenses unless you can return them if something is wrong.
50mm or 45mm (“Normal” lens)
These lenses you should consider may have maximum apertures of f2.0, 1.7, 1.4, and all deliver good images. The f1.4 will cost about 50% more than f2.0 or f1.7. In order to use the X-700 in Program mode or XD-11 in shutter priority mode, a plain MD or MD Rokkor-X lens is required. Plain MD and MD Rokkor-X lenses appeared in 1977, but they will work on earlier camera models because they have all the features of the older MC lenses, which were introduced in 1966 with SR-T cameras. MC or MD lenses are required for metering when using SR-T models and for aperture-priority shooting on all later camera models.
Auto Rokkor lenses do not support metering, so while they can be attached to any manual Minolta SR camera, the camera meter will not function. As a result, only manual shooting (NO Program, aperture priority, or shutter priority modes) is possible when using an Auto Rokkor lens. After the 50mm, you will likely want a wide-angle lens.
Wide-Angle (28mm or 35mm)
The two most common wide-angle focal lengths are 28mm and 35mm. Here, Minolta offers plenty of choices, and all are excellent. The 35mm lenses tend to be more expensive than the 28mm, and as with 50mm lenses, plain MD/MD Rokkor-X models will allow full use of XD-11 and X-700 features. Look for f2.8 lenses—they are very good and provide excellent value. The Minolta 35mm 2.8 lenses are highly praised, so expect to pay roughly double for a 35mm f2.8 over a 28mm f2.8 lens.
Mid-range Zoom Lenses (35-70mm, 28-85mm)
Mid-range zooms can be handy additions to a wide-angle or 50mm lens. Minolta has two that are highly praised and lightweight with excellent sharpness. The most famous mid-range zoom is the 35-70mm f3.5, which Leica adopted. It comes in three versions; the last version has a macro mode and is the most widely sought. The 28-85mm f3.5-4.5 comes in only one version and produces excellent images. Choosing between the two is purely a personal matter. Both are very good lenses. These zooms are not rare, but it may take a while to locate one of them. Be prepared to search for a few weeks before finding one.
Typical telephoto focal lengths are 100mm, 135mm, and 200mm. Many photographers use 135mm lenses for portraits, and Minolta offers very good versions. The best are the final two models, the plain MD and the MD Tele Rokkor f2.8. Like long zooms, the 100mm and 200mm telephotos are best considered after one has sufficient experience to judge how they might fit into their work and interests.
It’s probably best to buy a long zoom only after gaining experience when you have a better idea of how to use it. If you must have one, the most widely touted is the MD Zoom 70-210mm f4, which Leica adopted.
Well, those are my suggestions for someone new to Minolta (and photography, if that applies). If you wish to know more about Minolta and the cameras and lenses mentioned here, go to the Buyer’s Guide Page for links to reviews. The Vintage Minolta Love Project chronicles my experiences finding and using Minolta cameras and lenses.
Welcome to Minolta, and have fun!