VMLP 28: The Minolta Maxxum 7— I’m Pretty Sure Picard Has One

Being in command of an extraordinary machine is an intoxicating experience. I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and the bridge has always held a particular fascination for me. The sense of being in absolute control of an immensely powerful ship–the lights, the screens, the sounds–has never lost its appeal. Although Sisko is my favorite captain, I like Picard’s way of issuing commands.  “Make it so!” is not simply a command to do something; it is a request to make a specific outcome a reality. It is a phrase that embodies complete confidence that the desired result will occur. Use a Maxxum 7 a few times, and that confidence in the certainty of the expected outcome will creep into one’s psyche. I’ve read many anecdotes where those who prefer manual cameras say they do so because it gives them complete control. Addressing that sentiment, I ask, “What is your definition of ‘complete’?”

The Maxxum 7 allows one to swap out a film canister mid-roll, put in another one, shoot it, then put the original unfinished roll back and start shooting at the exact frame where you left off! It can remember exposure data for seven 36-frame film rolls. While using a D lens, pressing the DoF button gives a visual display of the DoF and distance to the subject in feet or meters on the back panel.

Metering and focus are dead-on accurate. When I have to deal with tricky backlighting or red flowers or need fast, accurate autofocus, I know I will get the shot. It has nine selectable focus points and allows EC by 1/2 or 1/3 stops. The Maxxum 7 allows one fine, direct control of shutter speed, aperture, and metering, AND it provides tools for managing image data! That is my definition of complete control.

Like the XD11, the Maxxum 7 has jumped ahead in the user report queue because it is my other favorite Minolta. People like cameras for any number of reasons—handling, style, reliability, sturdiness, capability. I love the Maxxum 7 because it provides an array of features that help me capture an image exactly as I wish. Compared to other cameras of the 90s, the Maxxum 7 is like the computer on the Enterprise D compared to a laptop. When I want to be assured of a classic shooting experience, I grab the XD11 and chill. When I set out to boldly explore where I have never gone before, I want the capabilities of the Maxxum 7.

On reading about the Maxxum 7 for the first time, all I could think was — I want one!!! My quest began in 2019, around April, if I recall correctly. This was also close to when I discovered that Minolta no longer existed. Reading blog posts got me hyped to get a Maxxum 7. At the time, I had a 7000i and a Maxxum 70. After searching eBay for a Maxxum 7 and finding only an a7 from Japan for sale—too far to return—I gave up for a while. Finally, after about five more weeks of searching, a Maxxum 7 went up for auction. That auction was one of my best scores and included a Maxxum 7 with VC-7 grip, 28-105mm lens, and a 50mm 1.7 “XX” lens. I finally had my Maxxum 7!

It is difficult to describe what it’s like to experience a Maxxum 7 for the first time. The Maxxum 70, a fine camera with many excellent features, did not prepare me for the Maxxum 7. Sure, I had seen pictures and read about the 7, but that is different from loading batteries and film, turning it on, and watching it come to life. For most of the three months I had spent learning photography, the 7000i had been my go-to camera, and I used the Maxxum 70 like it was a 7000i. But the Maxxum 7–well, I was in awe and confused simultaneously. There was more capability than my novice-photographer self could handle. 

Naively, I had assumed I was ready for the ultimate Maxxum. Nope. I put the Maxxum 7 back in its storage tray and returned to the 7000i. When I got a Maxxum 7000, I went even further back to that—exquisite control is possible only for those who know what they are doing.

Historical Perspective
The Maxxum 7 launched in 2000, late in Minolta’s history. It was introduced after the magnificent Maxxum 9, Minolta’s last stab at the professional market. They seemed to have given the 7 the old college try because the Maxxum 7 is loaded with wizardry. It has the memory storage capability of the 800si and the buttons and knobs of the 600si. The rear LCD panel displays metering data and exposure info for the last ten frames, along with typical info such as ISO and shooting mode.  Looking at the Maxxum 7D digital camera, it is obvious the Maxxum 7 was the template for Minolta’s future digital professional cameras. It was Minolta’s last big gesture in camera design, and it is a marvel.

Inspection and Appearance
The first thing I noticed was the color. The camera is dark gray instead of black, and to my eye, that color is classier. After expending so much effort on modal interfaces, Minolta went all-in on buttons and knobs. Usually, within a review, it is reasonable to describe a camera’s controls. With the Maxxum 7, such an approach would quickly become tedious—there are so many— so I’ll stick to the highlights. Exposure compensation can be done in 1/2 or 1/3 increments. The standard exposure modes–P, A, S, and M are joined by a special P mode (where the user can still adjust the shutter or aperture on the fly) and three user-programable custom exposure settings.

On the camera’s back are controls for selecting autofocus and metering modes, eye start, and AEL. Near the bottom is a small drop-down panel where one can manage exposure data, ISO, date, and its 30 programmable custom functions.

With great power comes a lot of reading—a lot. The user manual is nearly 200 pages. Of course, one could set the camera to “P” and forget it. But why insult such a great camera? After thumbing through the manual, I returned to the 7000 and 7000i until I was ready for the big leagues.

The camera’s pressure-sensitive grip fits comfortably in hand and can trigger the eye-start system, and its silver insets add a certain amount of tech chic to its appearance. It looks capable and professional while being understated. Nice.

Maxxum 7s, along with other 90s-era SLRs, suffer from peeling coatings. I have a Maxxum 7 and an Alpha 7. The Maxxum 7 has a peeling coating problem; the Alpha 7 does not.

Function and Handling
Moving from another Maxxum to the Maxxum 7 requires a mental reboot unless the other Maxxum was a 600si or 9. Whereas modal cameras such as the 700si required pressing a button, then going through a series of menus, on the Maxxum 7, every function is literally at one’s fingertips.

Loading film is simple for all Maxxums; pull the film leader over and close the camera—done. The viewfinder display shows every important setting, and a small wheel on the camera’s back allows one to change focus points with a thumb. Exposure bracketing is a snap and can be done for 3, 5, or 7 frames in increments of 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 1.0 EV. Autofocus is fast, even in low light. When I’m chasing butterflies, I use a Maxxum 7 or 7D.

There are front and rear control dials accessible with the thumb or forefinger that control shutter speed, aperture, and other settings. One never has to look away from the viewfinder to make an adjustment.

At only 575 grams, the camera never feels heavy, even with a lens attached. It is well-balanced, and the viewfinder is bright and easy to read. The only fault I find with the Maxxum 7 is the lack of weatherproofing. Weatherproofing would have made it perfect. In all, the Maxxum 7 is the perfect helper—comfortable, fast, and unobtrusive.

I have learned that disaster awaits when I switch to a manual camera after using an autofocus camera for a while. I have to stop myself from making inattentive mistakes like opening the back without rewinding the film. But going back to an earlier Maxxum can be even more jarring, leading to moments of staring at the camera while wondering how to do EC or change the focus point.  A Maxxum 7 will spoil you for other Maxxums too. Using one and then going back to an earlier Maxxum is like having hot and cold running water and electricity and then living on the side of a mountain in a tent. You miss things…

Rear Panel
The rear panel display truly elevates the Maxxum 7 above other Minoltas and other film cameras of the era. The LCD displays exposure data for the last ten frames. Most times, such information isn’t necessary, but I have tried keeping paper and electronic notes when testing a lens or preparing for a user report, and my notes are NEVER correct. Something is always missing. With the Maxxum 7, those problems disappear. All one has to do to see what the aperture or FL was for the last shot is look at the panel.

I have an app for calculating depth of field. I need the app because using the step-down button on most cameras makes the viewfinder too dim for me to see anything clearly. The Maxxum 7 solves this problem by providing a DoF display on the rear panel that provides exact measurements.

Shooting
What can I say? I’ve had my Maxxum 7 for three years, and it is my “go-to” camera when I need to be sure of the results. Tracking birds, low light, odd backlighting, snow—the meter will not let you down. I confidently shoot red flowers with the Maxxum 7, and the only other camera I can say that about is the Maxxum 7D.

The viewfinder is bright and clear, with about 92% coverage. One hundred percent coverage like the Maxxum 9 would be great, but you can’t have everything, right? Like other Maxxums, the Maxxum 7 can emit a beep when the focus locks. Mostly I consider this superfluous, but I have taken shots while not looking through the viewfinder and now find that feature useful. It seems that every possible setting is displayed in the viewfinder, which can make it seem crowded at times. Before I knew how to use this information, it was overwhelming. No longer—now, I’m glad it’s there.

I like the special “P” mode. In a few words, it is a Program mode that one can adjust on the fly. The camera selects the aperture and shutter speed as usual, but the user can then adjust either setting, and the camera will ensure that exposure stays the same. If the special P mode is too restrictive, an AF/MF button within thumb’s reach puts the camera directly into manual mode for that one shot. Sweet!!! I am a big fan of spot metering and using the central focus point, and both can be set as defaults.

The Maxxum 7 can shoot continuous frames at 3.7 fps and has an EV range of 0-20. ISO settings can range from 6-6400, which will come in handy should I try a super low ISO film such as Lomography’s Babylon Kino (ISO 13). Shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/8000, and the self-timer can be set for ten or two seconds with mirror pre-fire for slow shutter speeds.

Images
Included images are from the last three years. B&W are Kentmere or Ultrafine 400 home developed and scanned. I used three lenses for the B&W images: 50mm f2.8 macro, 100mm f2.8 macro, 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 (not xi). Color images are Kodak UltraMax or Fuji Superia 400 using  the 70-210mm f4 “Beercan.”

 

Impression
This is not a “first” camera. I learned this lesson quickly. The Maxxum 7 assumes you know photography well and want a capable assistant. While you can buy a Maxxum 7 and use it for snapshots, that would be wasted money and overkill. Get a Maxxum 7 when you have learned to be picky. Say, for example, that you want to shoot ISO 6 film, or EC becomes a touchy point, and you really want 1/3 stop adjustments, or 5-frame bracketing. Get a Maxxum 7 for those days when you shoot five or six rolls of film in an outing and want the camera to keep track of FL, aperture, shutter speed, and lenses used. Do you want to know precisely how far away that bird is? Are you a Zone System aficionado who wants exact metering? Get a Maxxum 7. As I said, this is NOT a “first” camera.

There is much more that could be said about the Maxxum 7. But, it would be a waste of words—like someone endlessly describing a perfect glass of Chateau Latour. At some point, words become meaningless, and only direct experience is of any value. The Maxxum 7 is for people who require absolute control over the image-making experience. Three years later, I’m still learning the fine points of using my Maxxum 7 and enjoying every minute of it—every turn of the EC dial.

Maxxum 7 in hand, heading out the door, I get a sense of adventure mixed with the confidence brought on by commanding incredible capability. Looking at the sun’s position in the sky, noting the shadows, I raise the Maxxum 7 to my eye, hear it spring to life, and say, “Make it so.”

6 Comments

  1. A seriously great and light (without the battery pack) everyday carry.. ties with my contax nx for most used.. much more affordable lens eco system than the contax though I do love the contax lenses “look”. The contax 24-80 is amazing and very light but not 2.8 like the Minolta..

    1. Author

      I love my 7. Keep shooting!

  2. I just got my first Dynax 7, then found a Maxxum 7 soon after that was for parts/repairs, but actually works perfectly. This thing is phenomenal. I think I’m in love.

    1. Author

      Welcome to the 7!!! It’s difficult to not fall in love.

      Okay, you got a parts camera that works perfectly. Congrats…(I’m trying to avoid serious envy)

  3. I have three of these cameras. One is loaded with E6, one with BW and one with C41. Great cameras!

    1. Author

      Excellent!!! One cannot have too many 7s!

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