VMLP 21: The Minolta Maxxum 600si: A Perfect “First” Camera

I like knobs and buttons—so do a lot of people. It would seem that by 1995 Minolta had gotten the message and produced the 600si—YES!!!. Like a lot of gear, I heard about the Minolta 600si reading forums posts. I was focused on buying “7” level Maxxums and, at the time, had primarily used the 7000i. While the 7000i is easy to learn, I never liked using menus to access functions. The user interface for the 600si paved the way for the Maxxum 7 and later Minolta cameras, bringing transparency back to the feature access.

As it was so important for later Minolta camera designs, I am perplexed at how little attention this excellent camera receives. The lack of attention is reflected in the cost—I got mine for 25.00 with free shipping. Reviewing eBay sales figures, one finds that very few are sold compared to the number listed for sale, which is a shame. Later cameras such as the Maxxum 70 and Maxxum 5 sport the same design features but with many more functions and settings. While those additional functions are attractive, they can also be distracting and confusing for newbies. The 600si does not have Subject modes, programmable functions, or features one needs to buy a book to understand. Instead, it is a good basic camera that does everything needed and nothing extra. It is just sophisticated enough to be a good intro to AF camera technology and yet simple enough to be understandable without reading a book. I think it is the perfect camera for a beginning film shooter.

Historical Background
The 7xi was the big announcement of 1991, and it was a flop. The 700si came out in 1993 and won all four photography awards in 1994, but it still retained a modal interface. The 600si, released in 1995, was a break from the modal interface that began with the Maxxum 7000 and reached its peak (nadir) with 7xi. The classic interface of the 600si is the antithesis of the xi camera series and a welcome change.

The 600si retained much of the capability of the 700si, but notably missing from the 600si are the AF assist light, a fourth AF sensor, eye-start, the ability to leave the film leader out when rewinding, and access to Creative Cards. However, exposure bracketing was an improvement over the 700si. On the 700si, bracketing required pressing the shutter release and the EC button concurrently. On the 600si, bracketing is a setting selected using a dial on top of the camera—simpler and faster.

The 800si (1997), the pinnacle of the “si” series, also lost the ability to use Creative Cards, but it retained the modal interface. However, later cameras in the “si” series and subsequent Minolta cameras emulated the 600si.

Inspection and appearance
My 600si arrived in excellent condition, but without a body cap. There were no significant marks or scratches, and it was very clean—which is not my usual experience. The markings were clear and easy to read, and the symbols used were appropriate. If one has used a classic Minolta, it only takes a few seconds to figure out how a 600si works. Buttons are a big deal with the 600si, and for some reason, they seem larger than necessary, as if Minolta was trying to make a point.

Controls
After the modal interfaces of the first three generations of Minolta AF cameras, the 600si is a welcome change. One can easily see and select functions simply by looking at the top of the camera. From left to right (camera facing away from you), one sees the exposure and flash compensation controls, the LCD, and the exposure mode control (PASM). A rotating dial beneath the exposure mode control allows one to select drive mode (single frame, continuous, bracketing, multiple exposures, and self-timer). Toward the front, one finds the shutter button and front control dial on the right side, which is used to adjust aperture size and shutter speed.

Metering mode and autofocus selectors are on the right rear of the camera, while the autofocus mode control (single, automatic, continuous) is on the right (vertical) side of the camera side. Finally, ISO, flash, and rewind controls are found on the camera back at the bottom, just under the film door. In all, the controls are well placed, easy to read, and easy to access.

Compared to the back, the camera’s front is sparse. One finds the flash control, lens release, and AF/Manual switch on the left front.

Function and Handling
The 600si sits in my sweet spot for camera weight at about 20oz.  Experience has made me adjust my ideal weight range to 18-22oz, from a high of 24. SR-Ts now seem a bit heavy.  It fills the hand without being too bulky—the grip is just the right size for my hands. With a lens attached, it is balanced and easy to maneuver.

Loading film is a no-brainer, as with all Minolta AF cameras. The top LCD panel, which has large, easy-to-see characters, shows shutter speed, aperture, ISO, battery strength, and frame count. The things one is most likely to adjust while shooting—AF area, metering mode, exposure compensation–are within easy reach, and all show in the viewfinder display. No more going through menus to adjust metering mode or focus area—both are quickly done with the thumb. Ahh, the joys of buttons and knobs!

Exposure compensation, one of my pet peeves with many cameras, is easy–push a small button to turn the dial. The viewfinder display shows the current EC setting. Importantly, the EC knob is NOT easily moved, something that has caused me grief when using the XD11.

I recently obtained a VC-507 vertical grip. It has slow sync, AEL, and AF controls that allow one to do vertical shots without contorting one’s wrists. Having tried it, I can say it’s worth having, especially when using a tripod.

Carter Center, Fuji 100 (exp), AF 28-85mm

Shooting
To start, I finished up a partial roll of XP2 to try a couple of still life images using the Minolta AF 28-85mm f3.5-4.5. I had never used this lens before and wanted to get a feel for it before heading out. After getting sharpness shots for the 28-85mm, I loaded a roll of expired Fuji 100. Having been inside all winter, I was eager to head out into the city for a few frames. I could not have asked for a better February day, beautiful sunny, blue skies with the temp in the low 60s—perfect for a stroll.

I decided to head to Midtown because I had not visited the area on foot since spring 2019. Midtown may be the fastest growing area inside the city, and it has a vibrant, hopeful feel that is exciting to take in. Midtown is a large area, so I decided to visit Pershing Point and walk down West Peachtree Street a bit. After a brief stroll and with two frames remaining on my 12-exposure roll, on the way home, I stopped by a church I’d been meaning to photograph for the last three years.

The AF on the 600si works quickly and well. The viewfinder is large and bright. It displays just enough information to be informative without being distracting. I brought the 28-85mm and soon came to miss my 28-105. That extra 20mm in FL is quite helpful. I did not use spot metering, wondering how the metering would handle backlighting and shadows. Even though it is less sophisticated than the 700si, the 600si still dealt with the lighting like a champ. I used mainly XP2 and expired Fuji 100, and a few times, while shooting light-toned objects with bright reflections, the 1/4000 sec maximum shutter speed became an issue. The church image was shot at f9.5 with plenty of shutter speed wiggle room to spare. I’m so used to shooting the “7” level and above Maxxums with 1/8000 sec shutter speeds that it never occurred to me that I could run into a shutter speed issue. At times like that, I wonder how I manage with a 1/1000 sec XD11.   But this does explain, aside from grain and sharpness, why I have plenty of 50 and 100 ISO film. From now on, I will carry a couple of ND filters along.

AEL works well, although it is slightly cumbersome to press the AEL button down while firing the camera. Someone with smaller hands might find using AEL challenging because the 600si is relatively thick, front-to-back. Overall, I would rate the 600si as an enjoyable shooting experience.

Impression
The 600si is a keeper. It provides all of the basic functionality one expects from an autofocus camera but without the bells and whistles that often go unused. The UI is straightforward—no guessing is required to use the camera. The viewfinder is bright and sufficiently informative without being overwhelming. Exposure compensation is as easy as turning a knob. Bracketing, an excellent learning tool, is built-in and set with a dial.

I see the 600si as the perfect “first” AF  camera, offering the features a beginner might need along with plenty of room for growth. Like other 1990s Minolta AF cameras, it will not necessarily win a beauty contest, but neither will cameras from other brands. Compared to the Maxxum 5, I like the overall look and feel of the 600si more because the shiny Maxxum 5 can attract too much attention. The Maxxum 70 is a closer cosmetic and ergonomic match, but it only has a 1/2000 shutter—a limit I have run up against quite a few times. Compared to the Maxxum 5 and Maxxum 70, both excellent cameras, the 600si comes out looking pretty good.

After having used the 7000, 9000, 7000i, 8000i, and 7xi, one wonders why Minolta dropped the classic interface that had worked so well for decades in favor of modal designs. I suppose that question will never be answered satisfactorily, but I am glad they came to their senses. The 600si is a capable camera with a clean, approachable user interface that is a joy to use. Buy one–you’ll thank me later.

2 Comments

  1. The 650si (507si in the Asian market) is identical to the 600si with the addition of a data back and the ability to use a “panorama” adapter. This model is also available prices comparable to the 600 and there also appear to be more of them for sale. While I have yet to find the VC-507 grip, I believe it, like all Maxxum grips, allows the use of AA batteries instead of 2CR5’s.

    1. Author

      Yes, the grip allows 4 AAs or 1 2CR5. I tested with both, but opted not to use AAs because of the extra weight.

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