If you are new to Minolta autofocus gear, very likely, you are having a hard time deciding on what cameras and lenses to buy. Minolta cameras and gear were marketed in North America as “Maxxum” and in Europe as “Dynax.” There is a lot of info available in blogs and YouTube videos for classic manual focus cameras and lenses from the 1980s and earlier, but autofocus gear gets little love. For many people, manual focus cameras have a certain vintage appeal. I own many manual cameras, but I also use and love Minolta’s autofocus offerings. If you are new to photography and curious about Minolta autofocus cameras and lenses, keep reading!
Minolta produced six generations of autofocus cameras, starting with the groundbreaking Maxxum 7000 in 1985 and ending with the Maxxum 5D digital camera in 2004. As might be expected, each generation added new capabilities and features. Even though autofocus cameras have many features, all feature a “P” or program mode that does everything for the user. All one has to do is point the camera and press the shutter button. The camera will ensure that the image is in focus and the light is correct.
If you are entirely new to photography, and especially if you are serious about mastering photography fundamentals, I suggest buying an autofocus camera with a more traditional user interface like those of vintage mechanical cameras (knobs, dials, and buttons). That familiarity easily transfers to other cameras, whether manual focus or digital.
What Level of Photographer Are You?
Minolta aimed its cameras at four levels of users. Cameras with “9” in their names are designed for professional photographers— Maxxum 9000, Maxxum 9xi, and Maxxum 9. The Maxxum 9 is one of the best film cameras ever made. Pro cameras are more expensive, weigh more, are more durable, can take more punishment (more metal), and have more complex functionality. Pro-level cameras are not the best way to jump into Minolta gear unless you have significant photography experience. Even today, pro-level cameras can easily cost 150-400.00 or more.
Cameras with “7” in their names are intended for advanced amateurs. They have fewer advanced features than pro models and are not weather-proof. They also weigh less, and their bodies have more plastic. Though not pro-level, advanced amateur cameras have many sophisticated capabilities. And while they are easy to use in “P” mode, they have every feature required to do any kind of photography. Unlike pro-level cameras, many advanced amateur cameras now cost very little. The most sophisticated advanced amateur camera is the Maxxum/Dynax 7. Even today, they sell for 150.00-250.00 or more. The Maxxum 7 is probably the most sophisticated film camera Minolta ever made. It has functionality that the Maxxum 9 does not because it was released in 2000, two years after the Maxxum 9. Today, most seven-level cameras sell for 40-100.00 dollars with lenses on eBay. Camera stores charge similar prices but without lenses.
Cameras with “3” or “5” in their names are aimed at more casual users, and those with “3” are basically point-and-shoot SLRs. Since seven-level cameras are inexpensive and can do so much, there is little reason to buy a three or five-level camera. Of course, there are exceptions. Starting in the mid-1990s with the “si” models (e.g., 400si, 600si, XTsi), Minolta produced quality cameras in this category. The best of the group is the Maxxum 5. It was released in 2001, a year after the Maxxum 7, so even though it is a five-level camera, it has features that exceed those of earlier seven-level cameras.
With the above in mind, I consider the best AF Minolta to start with is one that provides all of the essential functions required and is easy to learn. The cameras suggested below reflect my experience using cameras from each level. These are suggestions for those new to film photography who want a Minolta AF camera. I also assume that the reader wants an SLR.
Suggested Cameras for Newbies
When Minolta introduced the Maxxum 7000, it changed how users interacted with the camera. The classic dials and knobs in older cameras were replaced with modal controls that used buttons and menus. The next two camera generations, the “i” and “xi,” had fewer buttons than the 7000, along with more extensive menus. With the “si” generation released in 1994, Minolta began to decrease the use of menus while returning to classic controls. The 600si, introduced in 1995, was a complete return to retro design. After the 600si, Minolta produced cameras with classic controls (Maxxum 7 and Maxxum 9) as well as hybrids that sported menus and dials (XTsi, Maxxum 5, Maxxum 70).
The suggested cameras have either classic or hybrid user controls—except the 7000, which is a thing unto itself (which I like, BTW). They are inexpensive; most can be bought for 50.00 or so, including a lens. In addition, all have built-in flash capability. All autofocus cameras have a “Program” mode, so you can jump right in as soon as you load batteries and film. The cameras listed below have advanced features that one can grow into; they can be used for snapshots or photography classes. Finally, none of those suggested are known to have serious reliability issues.
Maxxum 7000 (1985)
The Maxxum 7000 was the first autofocus Minolta SLR and the world’s first body-integrated autofocus camera. The Maxxum 7000 was a very popular model, and Minolta sold millions of them, making them easy to find and very cheap. The Maxxum 7000 has a retro design and is simple to learn and use with a series of buttons that control essential functions.
One problem to look out for is LCD bleed. The top LCD panel on the Maxxum 7000 tends to leak around the edges, and if a leak occurs, it can hide important information such as exposure mode, current film frame, and other information. Luckily, it’s easy to spot this problem simply by looking at the camera. I like the Maxxum 7000 because it is easy to learn. Although it is the oldest of the listed cameras, it is one of my favorites.
Maxxum 400si/ Dynax 500si (1994)
A good beginner camera. All essential features are present, along with Subject modes, and it is easy to find. The Maxxum 5 and XTsi are newer, more advanced, and usually cost about the same as a 400si. Maximum shutter speed is 1/2000. The 400si is a good choice for those who want to try film and learn photography basics, but for a photography class, one of the other cameras on the list would be a better choice.
Maxxum 600si (1995)
To me, the 600si is like having an autofocus version of the Minolta X-700. It has everything one might need to master photography and nothing extra.
Maxxum XTsi/ Dynax 505si Super (1998)
The Maxxum XTsi was one of the last “si” models. It is almost a cross between the 600si and the Maxxum 5, offering Subject modes along with a dial for setting functions.
The XTsi and Maxxum 5 look and behave similarly. Both function well, are lightweight, and have plenty of capability. They have hybrid controls with function buttons, menus, and dials. The XTsi often sells for less, possibly because it is less well known. In terms of performance, I would say the XTsi is a step above the 400si. Like the 400si, it is more of an entry level camera than the other cameras mentioned here. Some XTsi cameras suffer from discoloration in the viewfinder–the discoloration does not affect images made with the camera.
Maxxum 5 (2001)
The Maxxum 5 is the most feature-packed camera listed here. It has all the subject modes, plus add-ons like red-eye reduction and programmable functions (an advanced topic.) No, you don’t need to know anything about programmable functions to use the camera. It offers more control over metering and focusing than the 600si, and autofocus speed is slightly faster and more accurate. It is also smaller and lighter than the Maxxum 600si.
One thing to watch out for is focus screen discoloration. When looking through the viewfinder, some Maxxum 5s have a blue or orange discoloration. While it looks odd, the discoloration does not affect images taken with the camera.
Maxxum 70/ Dynax 60 (2004)
The Maxxum 70 was the last film camera made by Minolta. It has advanced features and hybrid controls like the Maxxum 5. Since it was produced when Minolta was moving from film to digital cameras and cutting costs, some of its features are not at the level of the Maxxum 5. For example, the Maxxum 5, 600si, and XTsi have maximum shutter speeds of 1/4000, while the Maxxum 70 can only go as high as 1/2000. Metering and autofocus speeds seem to be as good as the Maxxum 5.
Keep in mind that these cameras are 20 years old or older. Before buying one, make sure it can be returned if it doesn’t work properly. If buying online from eBay, buy only from sellers who accept returns (ask even if the listing says they don’t). I have used KEH, Roberts, and Hunts camera stores to buy gear, and all offer fast shipping and warranties on used gear.
Minolta made more cameras than those I have suggested. Here is my take on other models.
Other Models for the Curious
Minolta 7000i/8000i – Of the two, the 7000i is easier to find. The 8000i has more accessible exposure compensation features. Both suffer from crumbling rubber on the camera’s grip, so beware. The 8000i also is known to have problems with bleeds in the viewfinder. My 8000i has a viewfinder bleed that blocks out the aperture information, so I have to remove my eye from the viewfinder to look at the top LCD panel—very annoying. I would not buy another 8000i without first seeing the viewfinder display.
Minolta 700si/800si – The 700si won all four major photography awards in 1994. It is a good, solid camera with many advanced features. The 800si is just a little below professional level and has features that preview the later models, such as built-in memory to store exposure data—FL, aperture, ISO, etc. The 800si also has the most powerful built-in flash of all Minolta AF SLRs. I rarely use either camera, even though I like them. I use the 700si only when I want to play with Minolta’s Creative Cards. My Maxxum 7 has all of the capabilities of the 800si AND classic controls, and if it were not for the VMLP, I would not have bought the 800si. Both cameras are relatively rare on eBay.
Maxxum 7xi – The xi cameras were a sales flop. They did not catch on, and I think the inscrutable user controls were to blame. These cameras have few buttons, and nearly every feature is accessed using a menu. They get the job done, but I dread using mine. That being said, some LOVE these cameras. To each his/her own…
Maxxum 7 – The ultimate Minolta AF camera—nuff said. The user manual for the Maxxum 7 is almost 200 pages, and I still had to look at YouTube videos and read blog posts to figure out how/why I would use some features. This is NOT a camera for newbies. After buying mine, I put it aside for a few months until I had more experience. You’ve been warned…
“3” and “5” cameras (aside from the Maxxum/Dynax 5) – These are very cheap on eBay and rarely sold by camera stores. Both levels have limited feature sets and were aimed at budget-limited buyers. Today, the difference in price between these cameras and those in higher levels can be as little as 10-15.00, so there is no reason to buy one except for the fun of playing around with it. I have a 3000i and use it like a point-and-shoot.
Unlike manual Minolta cameras, there is a limited selection of lenses that make sense for newbies. When Minolta released the Maxxum 7000 in 1985, it released a set of six lenses with it that were aimed at the non-pro market. Those are still the best lenses to get, with few exceptions.
Everyone should start with a 50mm lens. I did not—I bought a zoom first and learned an important lesson. Zooms are good but don’t work for many situations like street shots. 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 late afternoon/evening, that 1.7 comes 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 lens aperture blades and make them stick together, so they no longer work properly. To look for oil, set the lens to its smallest aperture (f/16 or f22) and look at the blades from front and rear. Oil looks as you would expect. Never buy lenses unless you can return them if something is wrong.
With the above in mind…
This is a decent lens and sometimes comes with the camera. If one doesn’t, a 50mm f1.7 can cost anywhere from 35.00-60.00. There is a 50mm f1.4 lens, but if you are a newbie, it is probably not worth the 100.00+ price.
35-70mm f4 or 28-105mm, f3.5-4.5 (NOT the xi version)
After the 50mm lens, you will want a lens with a wider field of view. Minolta’s first generation 35-70mm (f4, NOT f3.5-4.5) lens is sharp and small–only slightly larger than the 50mm. This is a great lens to have and usually costs 35-60.00.
The 28-105mm (non-xi) lens is my favorite mid-range lens. It gives sharp images, and the minimum focus distance is reasonable. The main problem with this lens is it’s hard to find. It also tends to be more expensive (50.00+) than the 35-70mm f4.
70-210mm f4 (Beer can)
This is a famous long zoom Minolta lens known as the “Beer can.” It gives sharp images, but it is on the heavy side. There are plenty of them available. Price varies from 20.00-65.00.
50mm 2.8 macro (Not suggested, but a lens I really like)
As the name indicates, this is a macro lens. However, it is quite versatile. I included it because, to my eye, it is sharper than the regular 50mm lens, and it can be used for extreme close-up shots and standard 50mm images. At one time, this lens was much more expensive than the regular 50mm f1.7, but these days they go for between 70-90.00. I use mine much more often than the 50mm 1.7 or 50mm 1.4, and I do very few macro shots.
Well, those are my suggestions for those new to Minolta and photography. If you wish to know more about Minolta gear, 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. I’ve done well buying from auction sites. Want to know how? Read Buying from eBay and ShopGoodwill.