VMLP 19: The Minolta XG-M–Second Time’s the Charm

The XG-M entered my life because it was the last model of the XG series—no romance involved. By the time I bought the first copy, the idea of owning one had been percolating for a while. I wasn’t particularly itching to buy one because I had plenty of other cameras to try. Always looking for a bargain, I came across an eBay listing offering a working XG-M with an MD Zoom 28-85 and Zoom Rokkor 100-200mm (preset type). At the time, I badly wanted the MD 28-85mm, and only two were available on eBay. One was 88.00 and looked as if it had been abused; the other was around 120.00. The XG-M/28-85mm combo was priced at less than half of that amount.

When the camera arrived, basic testing showed it was operational, and the lenses were in good to excellent condition, so I was pleased. A few months later, when I finally got around to using the camera, the meter was wonky, and I could only use the camera in manual mode. (Incidentally, it was this XG-M that led to my creating the Minolta Repairs page.) I wasn’t upset because the MD 28-85mm and the Zoom Rokkor more than justified the purchase. However, I still wanted the full XG-M experience.

A few months later, I decided to search for an inexpensive XG-M body (25-35.00) with a working meter. I did not care how it looked, only that it worked. That search ended when I found an eBay listing for an XG-M with a lens for about the same price as the first set. Looking closely at the images, I discovered the unnamed lens was an MD Zoom 35-70mm f3.5 with the macro option! After assurances from the seller that the lens was clear, I bought the set. Thus, looking for an XG-M resulted in my getting two exceptional lenses. Generally speaking, XG series cameras usually come with cheap third-party lenses, but XG-Ms are different. People tend to adorn XG-Ms with decent glass, and having used my XG-M, I know why. One of my favorite shots (maybe my all-time favorite shot) was taken with an XG-M and MD 28-85mm—excellent camera, excellent glass.

Historical Perspective
Introduced in 1981, the XG-M came with a new body style that included a grip and the new logo as seen on the X-700 and X-570. The XG-M is the top of the XG series line, and even though the XG series was released as a budget-friendly consumer line, the XG-M is a class act. It looks and feels so different from the XG7 released in 1977 that one questions if they are related. I have seen references to the XG-M as a poor man’s X-700, but that description does not do it justice. It is an aperture-priority camera with the metered manual mode, EC of -2 to +2, and full aperture and shutter information in the viewfinder. Since I shoot in either aperture priority or manual mode, the XG-M suits me perfectly. Considering that I bought two XG-Ms, both with excellent lenses attached, I think many XG-M users agree– The XG-M is an excellent camera with unneeded features removed.

Shutter speed goes to 1/1000. Oh, and by the way, the “M” is for motor, referring to the ability to use a motor drive (G). The XG-M does not offer TTL metering for flash. Since I am not a fan of on-camera flash and prefer using flash with manual control, this is not an issue.

Inspection and Appearance
When the second XG-M arrived (the subject of this review), it was well-packed and in excellent condition. There were only a few minor scrapes and no dents. It was also pretty clean. The 35-70mm was in good condition with clear optics. For a camera that was over forty years old, it didn’t look a day over 25.

Cameras should be easy to hold. The surface of the XG-M is covered with a faux leather material that offers a non-slip, confident grip. It is not plush like the XD-11 and feels cool to the touch, but it is highly functional. The grip on the camera’s right side also adds sureness to one’s grasp. Together the grip and the covering are a plus.

Controls are easy to access and use. Located on the top left, the combined ISO, EC, and rewind control unit work well. One has to press a button to change the EC setting. While I found this problematic on the XD-11, on the XG-M, I never had an issue. The ISO dial is moved by gently pulling up and turning it. Rewinding and opening the back door are smooth. On the right side, the shutter speed/exposure mode dial and On/Off switch are combined in one unit. I like the ease of using the On/Off control. My fingers are large, and being able to change from “on” to “off” by sliding my finger across the front tab, while a small thing, is very much appreciated. Shutter speeds go from B to 1/1000. The frame counter window is small and hard to read at times. More times than I wish to admit, I have begun to open the door only the realize the film has not been rewound. The Safe Load signal seems helpful, but I wish there were a loud beep signal for “You idiot, don’t open the camera door with film inside!” The battery testing facility is also a nice touch.

From the front, the Depth of Field button, lens release, and remote shutter release are on the right side of the lens mount. The X-sync terminal and self-timer are on the right.

I love the viewfinder. Its brightness allows one to easily read shutter and aperture settings. The focusing screen has a split-image focusing aid, which I vastly prefer over the plain screens in my x-570, SR-T 201, and SR-T 101. The mirror box, to my surprise, was very clean. Even the mirror foam was in decent shape, which is rare in my experience. The only significant finding on opening the back was discovering the light seals were nearly non-existent.

Function and Handling
Without a lens, the XG-M weighs 515gms (18 ounces). XG cameras are often described as not being sturdy like the XE-7. Well, the XE-7 weighs 10 ounces more, and I prefer the lighter cameras—bulk does not add to my enjoyment. While parts are plastic, I like the way it feels. At 18 ounces, it weighs a little less than the XD-11 and, with the grip, is easier to handle—a definite plus. It also feels balanced. With a lens attached, the camera’s weight is sufficient to balance most common lenses. The 28-85mm, 35-70mm, 58mm 1.2, and 35-135mm all felt comfortably leveraged while attached. Walking around, I found the camera’s weight to be a non-issue.

Loading film is a snap—thread it through the uptake spool and advance the film. The frame count is tracked in a smallish window on the top right of the camera. Compared to the XD-11, the On/Off switch is a welcome addition. I wish the XD-11 had one. The base setting is “A” mode, and manual mode is attained by pressing the battery check/Auto-release button and setting a shutter speed. Manual mode is metered, and when the set shutter speed is not the same as the LED value in the viewfinder, one has to change the aperture or shutter speed dial. Lightly pressing the shutter button activates the meter and the viewfinder display. I checked the meter’s accuracy using an 18% gray card and the MyLightMeter app. It was spot-on.

Pin Oak Plaque, MD 35-135mm, FP4+

Shooting
The XG-M is easy to handle, and learning the controls takes little time. I have used Tri-X, expired Fuji 100, XP2, and FP4+ with the XG-M, and all were exposed correctly. I used the Minolta MC Rokkor 58 1.2 (II) and the Minolta Zoom 35-135mm lenses for this review.

When switching over to manual cameras with meters from AF or even 50s rangefinders, I always forget to take backlighting into account. Sure enough, some shots containing significant sky portions were underexposed in the shadows—oh well… The 14-segment metering in Minolta AF cameras makes metering worries nearly non-existent. Fortunately, the underexposure was not too severe.

I mixed studio shots with street and still life scenes, and the XG-M handled everything well. The split-image focusing aid was easy to use, and even when using the 58 mm lens at f1.2, focusing was not an issue. The shutter button feels like that on the XD-11, so I had no metering problems or accidental misfires.

I have learned not to use the self-timer on SR-Ts and earlier models because of the possibility of jamming the shutter. So, I use a remote release for those shots requiring shutter speeds of less than 60 seconds. However, the self-timer on the XG-M is electronic, so I used it liberally with no problems. There is a “gotcha” when using the self-timer–it stays on until turned off, unlike the SR-Ts, which must be reset after each shot. Unlike many self-timers, the XG-M’s make no noise (at least mine did not). As a result, the first time I used it, I thought it wasn’t working. I was just about to examine the camera for problems when the shutter fired. The self-timer does blink before firing, but that can only be seen from the front of the camera.

Impression
I have an XG7 and was given an XGA, which I later gave away. Those members of the XG family look like budget cameras, while the XG-M looks more polished and is more capable. Its weight is just enough to be noticeable without being a pain. Carrying it with the strap around my neck was never uncomfortable.

The metering was spot on, as the 18% gray card testing implied it would be, so my shots were well-exposed as long as I was mindful of backlighting. Also, I like how this machine looks—angular, silver and black with the bold Minolta logo front and center—it looks sporty and modern. The covering is stylish and functional, and the grip is a definite ergonomic improvement over XD and earlier Minoltas. I also like being able to use the self-timer without worrying about locking up the shutter.

So, how does the XG-M fit into my keeper list? Well, I have tried nearly every manual Minolta SLR model from the SR-2 to the XG-M, and when it’s time to thin the herd (as Jim Grey would say), the XG-M will be safe. The XG-M may not be in the same family as the X-700 and X-570, but it’s close enough—a cousin once removed, perhaps. One thing’s certain—I’m keeping mine.

3 Comments


  1. I’ve been on the “soft lookout” for an XG-M (or X-700/570) as I wouldn’t mind an SLR a bit more smaller/lighter and a bit more modern than my SR-T 101. I still love that camera, but there is times where I want something different. And I figure that if I already have some SR/MC/MD lenses, might as stick with the system!

    But there’s a lot of “meh” ones on eBay. I did try one last year that was listed as working, but definitely wasn’t. I’ll keep my eye out, especially after this review1

    1. Author

      Yeah, it seems we have arrived at a time when most cameras on eBay have just been discovered in an attic or garage and the seller is looking for a quick buck.

      I agree the heavier cameras are losing their appeal. No more than 22oz seems to be best for me. The XG-M covering and grip are definite improvements. It and the X-570 seem ideal for those who prefer A or M mode shooting.

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