The VMLP is a quest to relive the history and innovation of Minolta SLRs. Accordingly, the next camera up for review should be either the SR-7 with its built-in meter (innovation step) or the older SR-1 (historical). But here we have the XD11. Why? Love.
Generally speaking, I prefer autofocus film cameras, especially the Maxxum 7. The XD11 got to me because it has the size, weight, styling, and superb functioning that, after using it, demanded and received my attention and affection. It bumped the SR-7 and took its place as the next camera in the series because I am playing favorites–no apologies.
If one reads much about classic Minolta cameras, the XD series is always mentioned. Actually, “mentioned” is not the right word–exulted or praised are more apt. Reading such rapturous prose brought out the skeptic in me. After all, it is just a camera, right? Wrong! It is an elegant and refined classic that was a technical marvel in its day. Be warned — if you don’t like reading love stories, stop now.
Every camera has a “feel.” I am not referring to the ridges and grooves or bumps and edges. No, this is different. Some cameras you pick up, use, put down, and never think about again. There was a “usage,” but not an experience— nothing that lingers. I have shot many Minolta SLRs, and only a few have a feel—the XD11 is one of them. Recently, I wrote about the 8000i—nice camera, very efficient, easy to use. But I don’t look forward to using it. That is not to say I would not grab it to get a shot. What I’m saying is I enjoy using an XD11. The 8000i, I appreciate as a tool, as a means to an end.
The XD11 was the second manual Minolta I bought and the first manual camera I actively sought. Unmerited blessings have fallen on me many times in my pursuit of the XD11. When I began my search in July 2019, most of the XD11s for sale on eBay were listed as “parts only.” One day I came across a listing with a BIN price of 32.00. Assuming it was a parts camera, I wrote the seller asking what was broken. He replied the camera was fully functional. Finding it difficult to accept that anyone would sell an XD11 in good working order for 32.00, I asked an entire series of questions, to the point where the seller was clearly irritated that I did not believe him. I bought the camera, and it worked perfectly. Surprisingly, the leather was also in very good condition. (Don’t hate me.)
My second XD11 was listed as “parts only,” and I bought it to be a parts camera. It cost less than the first, and it too worked perfectly. Sorry. The final XD11 was the black one, the heartbreaker. Like any love story, there are rough patches. For me, it was the black XD11. Its fickle meter ruined (nearly totally) two rolls of film. Aside from the two bad rolls, I have no complaints. The black XD11 came as a lagniappe in a set where my true goal was the mint MD Rokkor 24-50mm in the original box with the hood. Also included were a pristine MD Rokkor -X 50mm 1.4 in its original box and another lens in its original packaging. The set came with a very touching note from the original owner, who could no longer use it. The meter is a pain–it worked just well enough and inconsistently enough to fool me into believing it worked correctly. Images from all three cameras are included in this report, but I will focus on my first purchased in 2019.
Released in 1977, the XD11 was a history-making achievement. It was the first camera ever to offer aperture priority, shutter priority, and metered manual mode. In its time, the XD11 was a major technological advance. Adding to its fame is the fact that the XD11 was part of the Minolta-Leica collaboration, with the XD11 providing the body design for the Leica R4. In addition, Minolta supplied Leica with some great lenses, the MD Rokkor 24mm 2.8, MD Rokkor 35-70mm f3.5, and MD 70-210mm f4 being the most famous.
The XD11 offered TTL metering, exposure compensation in the -2 to +2 range, and it was Minolta’s last fully metal manual body. Both black and chrome models were produced. Notably, the black models are anodized, not painted (license from Leica). The XD11 remained in production until 1984.
Inspection and Appearance
My first ever XD11 arrived without a body cap. The camera was dusty but had no significant dents or scratches. The leather was largely intact and looked surprisingly good for its age. All dials and buttons were intact. After cleaning, I was pleased with its appearance.
Simple controls make the shooting experience pleasant and easy. The top left of the camera holds the control dial for the ISO setting, and attached is the lever for setting exposure compensation. On the top right, one finds the shutter speed control and the switch for selecting Manual, Aperture, or Shutter priority modes.
Picking up an XD11, one immediately notices the leather. It is soft with enough give to suggest plushness, like sinking into fine leather seats. It feels slightly warm and inviting in a way that I have not experienced with any other Minolta. Pick up an SR-T or XE, then grab an XD—there is no comparison. The XE is a technological tour-de-force; the XD has that and the “it” factor.
I like holding my XD11, its balance, its weight, the way the leather warms to my touch. The chrome’s luster adds a nice counterpoint to the leather. Next to the leather, the chrome does not come off as cold or distant but more as reassuring and solid.
Looking in the mirror box, I was concerned to find what looked like fungus on the black matte walls. Some internet research revealed this to be oxidation. The viewfinder was full of specks, but after dusting off the focus screen and blowing out the mirror box, most specks disappeared. I assume this was due to the lack of a body cap. Opening the camera’s back, the light seals seemed questionable, but I did not bother to replace them. I tested the shutter speeds in manual mode, then I attached a lens and tested the meter response. Everything checked out. By this time, I was eager to try some film.
Gentle Warning: on XD11s, the ISO dial and exposure compensation lever share the same physical component. As I learned when testing the black XD11, it is easy to change the ISO or EC inadvertently if one is not careful.
Function and Handling
XD11s, for me, are the perfect size and weight. They are smaller than the SR-T and XE-series, and at a little more than 19 ounces (560gm), the weight is enough to make it feel substantive without being too heavy. Loading film is straightforward—thread it through the uptake spool and advance the film. A film counter window shows the current frame.
There is no “On/Off” button or switch, which I have reflexively searched for many times. One can choose aperture or shutter priority mode or go to manual shooting using the Mode switch. Lightly pressing the shutter button activates the meter and the viewfinder display.
The XD series introduced the MD version of the SR lens mount to allow the camera to operate in both A and S modes. MD lenses have an additional tab that passes information to the camera (Minolta lens mounts). These lenses also have a green f-stop marked. To use the XD in S mode, one has to set the lens to the green f-stop aperture.
Metering on manual focus cameras is both a blessing and a curse. Since these meters use a wide field to evaluate exposure, they can be tricked by scenes with wide exposure differences. One can get around this by metering each area separately, then choosing settings that average the reading. Another approach one could take is using a metering app. Even when I have a working meter, I will often use an app anyway for high contrast scenes. That being said, the meter of my 32.00 XD11 works perfectly.
The familiar link between pressing the shutter release and the kerchunk heard when the shutter fires and the mirror moves are different on the XD. XD cameras take a final reading before firing the shutter, so there is a brief, but discernible pause, making it difficult to distinguish between shutter speeds. I can tell one second from 1/60 of a second, but after 1/60, they all begin to sound the same.
The viewfinder is nice and bright, and the focusing aid works well. I do all shooting in either manual or aperture priority mode, so I have never tried shutter priority. I can’t think of a scenario when I might use it. Shooting outside during the day is often difficult to see into the viewfinder, so an eyecup or viewfinder aid is essential. I learned this lesson the hard way—I scratched my eyeglass lenses trying to shoot flowers.
Exposure compensation on manual cameras, for me, is problematic. Often, when I set it, I forget to return the setting to normal. I’m used to AF cameras where EC is displayed in the viewfinder, and without that reminder, I forget. Honestly, on manual cameras, I find it easier to adjust exposure directly.
I have included images from three XD11s. The color photos are the few I managed to salvage from the rolls shot using the black XD11 with the erratic meter. All are underexposed, except the paint tubes. Color shots were taken with the MD Rokkor-X, f1.4, and the black and white images with the MD Zoom 28-85mm,f3.5-4.5 or MD Rokkor-X 50mm, f1.7.
I like using cameras and never thought of myself as a camera person, but the XD11 has wormed its way into my heart. Aside from the tricky meter, my shots have been perfectly exposed, and I find focusing accurate and easy.
XD11s have a quality feel, substantive but not burdensome. The leather and chrome lend an air of sophistication. These are beautiful machines, and I love the sound of the shutter. There is a softness to it that makes other cameras seem harsh and too mechanical—ridiculous, I know.
It’s odd how objects and places can evoke a mood or attitude. Walking about with my XD11 in hand, I imagine being dressed head to toe in a white linen suit pausing for a mojito at a bar on a terrace overlooking the ocean. Planning out the afternoon’s activities–a soft breeze gently ruffling the pages of my travel guide–I tip the waiter and set out.
The XD11—refined, luxurious, elegant, and you can use it to make photographs. If you’re not afraid of falling in love, get one.