VMLP 3: The Minolta SR-2, the Start of Something Big

I never set out to buy an SR-2 in a deliberate sense—that is, in the same way I searched for my Maxxum 7. The Maxxum 7 was going to be the camera I used to achieve photographic perfection. At the time, the SR-2, and all SRs, for that matter, were unknown to me. When I decided to buy a film camera, only autofocus cameras were considered, so I didn’t research earlier cameras.

I discovered SR cameras after coming across an auction for an SR-7 on ShopGoodwill. Its odd looks intrigued me. I read about the SR-7 only enough to determine it preceded the SR-T 101, which surprised me because I thought the SR-T 101 was the first Minolta SLR. Later, I bought an SR-7 for 11.00 as a curio. Still, the SR-2 wasn’t on my radar. It was only after deciding to do the VMLP that I discovered there were earlier SR cameras, and that is how I learned about the SR-2.

The Minolta SR-2 holds a place of respect and honor, as is due the first of any beloved lineage. Its profile is considerably increased because so few (around 20,000) were made (1). In my naïveté, I logged onto eBay to buy one for VMLP only to find that they were indeed rare and quite expensive. Only one showed up in the US, and it was just a tad below 300.00. Having paid 11.00 for a working SR-7, 300.00 seemed ridiculous until I saw an international listing where the cheapest was 500.00 and one cost almost 900.00. Obviously, I wasn’t going to own an SR-2. A few weeks later, an auction appeared on eBay for an SR-2 (the seller pointed out did not work)—it went for 110.00! That was the last time I looked for the camera. 

As they say, chance favors the prepared mind, and in the case of my SR-2, this wisdom proved to be accurate. One day while searching for information about Minolta’s early SLR efforts, the search results included a link to a camera store offering an SR-2. Curious to see what small fortune they were asking, I clicked the link. The store was offering a working SR-2 with a lens for 100.00. In disbelief, I wrote to the owner, thinking it was a mistake. Nope—I bought it! Nice, huh? Good things come to those who wait. 

Historical Perspective and Features
Chiyoda Kogaku (the company name was changed to Minolta Camera Company, LTD in 1962) released the SR-2 in 1958 as a move away from TLR and rangefinder cameras (2). The camera had a bayonet mount, which Minolta adopted before other major SLR makers. The SR-2 featured an automatic aperture, which in practice is not what most today would call “automatic.” When the shutter fires, the camera aperture stays stopped down until the film is advanced to the next frame. It works this way, even with later lenses. The minimum shutter speed is 1/1000 sec, 1 second the maximum, and bulb mode is also available. It has terminals for X and FP flash. The shutter is a cloth focal-plane type (3).

The Auto Rokkor 58mm f1.8 was released with the camera, and the owner’s manual notes that the lens is double-coated, which eliminates the need for a haze filter. Interestingly, the manual goes on to state that the lens uses a rare earth, “Luntinium,” and Flint Optical Glass— not the kind of tidbit one usually sees in a manual. There is also this quote concerning the Auto Rokkor 58mm 1.8:

“This is the lens which Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko K.K, the makers of the Minolta camera is most proud of. Complete elimination of flare and utmost color balance gives you Ultra Hi-Fidelity color photography.”

Minolta SR-2 User Manual

Accessories listed with the camera: Lens shade, B&W filters, polarizing filter, magnifier, angle-finder, BC flash, copying stand, and extension tube set. 

Inspection and Appearance 
When the box arrived, I was both excited and wary—excited to own a piece of history, wary because of the number of times I’ve had to send something back. Eagerly, I ripped open the box to find a dusty gem that looked better than the pictures on the store’s site! I looked for scratches and dents, but there were only a few issues—nothing causing much concern. Then, the moment of truth arrived, I pushed the film advanced, looked at the mirror, and nervously pressed the shutter button. A beautiful, solid kerchunk! Not wanting to be prematurely joyful, I set the shutter dial to 1 second, pushed the film advanced, and fired the shutter. Worked again! After going through each speed, I sat down, heart pounding—I had a working Minolta SR-2!!!  

The mirror chamber was dirty with crumbling mirror foam. The mirror was fine, with no signs of mold or other damage. Opening the back, I did not see any light seal foam, likely all of it had disintegrated since 1958. Otherwise, everything looked fine. Finally, checking the viewfinder, there was external dust and a few internal specks—not bad for a 62-year old camera that had likely spent a few decades in a box in an attic somewhere. After removing the remaining mirror foam, blowing out the fragments, and wiping off the mirror, the viewfinder field brightened. I gently wiped the exterior, then stood and admired my new Minolta—lovely.

The SR-2 has an elegant, minimalist design with a few nicely styled highlights. Sporting a lustrous chrome finish in black leatherette, it looks how I think one should dress when ordering a martini in a casino, but only in Monte Carlo. The body has the techno-chic lines that one sees in the curves of rocket ships and fixtures in classic sci-fi movies of the 1950s with a touch of Art Deco added. Sweet.

Function and Handling
The body is hefty, weighing in at 18oz. It feels solid and reliable, but not so heavy as to make it wearisome to carry around. The viewfinder window is round and has a screw-in interface, which means my SR Magnifier fits, but not the SR Angle Finder II, which has a later bayonet interface. The viewfinder is on the dark side compared to my favorite viewfinder (Maxxum 7000). The focusing screen is plain, no split image helper, which made focusing a challenge for me. The SR Magnifier proved to be a waste of 11.00. Looking through it was like using a really cheap magnifying glass—distorted and slightly cloudy. I don’t know whether the problem was my device or a general design flaw. I tried to order a second magnifier but was sent the wrong item. After that, I gave up.  

The film take-up spool has a single bar that the film goes under, making loading quicker than later cameras with a sprocketed spool. The only downside to this design shows up when loading film onto a developing reel. This spool winds clockwise, which crimps and warps the film’s leader section.

Shooting
I used an Auto Rokkor 55mm 1.8 and an MD 28-85mm 3.5-4.5 lens with the camera. Both worked without a problem. The only surprise came after my first shot. The viewfinder became dark, and I could not figure out what happened. I had a few panicked seconds before I remembered that the film advance reset the aperture. After that, I let the aperture stay stopped down while composing shots—it made shooting go faster. Shooting without a meter was cumbersome, especially for me, since I’m used to AF cameras. I used an iPhone app for metering, which gave decent results. Since then, I have learned to overexpose by one stop beyond the metering app.  

Color images are expired Fuji Color 100 shot at box speed developed with the CineStill 2-Bath Color Kit. Black and white images are Ultrafine Xtreme 100 (vase and Stop sign with MD 28-85mm) and Ultrafine Xtreme 400 (test shots antelope and liqueur bottles) developed in CineStill Df96.

Test, Ultrafine 400
Test, Ultrafine 400

The controls for the SR-2 are simple. The film advance lever has noticeable tension but moves smoothly. The mirror slap was loud–no doubt made louder by the missing mirror foam. I didn’t bother checking the light seals, just thought I’d see what would happen.

  

Thus far, I have shot three rolls of film, two black and white and one color. The first black and white roll was done as a test run using a tripod. Those shots came out pretty good, considering the trouble I had focusing; that plain focusing screen is a definite hindrance. Using the SR Magnifier without my glasses helped some, as long as the subject was well-lit with well-defined edges. However, I would not recommend buying one without trying it out first.  

Impression
After using an AF camera, the SR-2 slowed everything down considerably. The time from idea to shot was longer, even when I knew the exact shot I wanted. One day I will remove the meter from the equation and try Sunny 16. My main issue is focusing. Compared to shooting the XD11, my favorite manual Minolta, the SR-2 requires too much effort. But that’s to be expected from a camera that is nearly 20 years older. 

Overall, this was a positive experience. I would say using mechanical cameras, and this one, in particular, makes one focus more on the camera because there is no other help. Exposure compensation, bracketing, focusing, and dealing with back-lighting are all up to the photographer’s skill. Whether this lack of assistance is a plus or negative, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. The same goes for the camera’s heft. Some consider metal construction and heft pluses, others prefer cameras that don’t weigh so much. For me, it is a pleasant weight.

This camera is 60+ years old and does precisely what it was created to do. It is reliable and dependable. I like the design; it is elegantly minimalist. Finally, I see the value of having a camera one can pick up, pop on a lens, and start shooting without worrying about batteries or meters.  

My first 35mm camera was an SR-T 101 and having used the SR-2, I can better appreciate the innovations the 101 offers. So, will I keep it after VMLP series is over? Yes, for both its historical value and the fact that it still works perfectly, which speaks to its quality. It is inconvenient to use in some circumstances, but there is something to be said for going back to basics as a meditation on process. I love my Maxxum 7, but I have also, at times, made my own beer, and still make my own pizza dough and grow my own herbs.

I won’t grab the SR-2 routinely, but the next time I go touring waterfalls in the North Georgia mountains, I’ll take it along. I think both the camera and I would enjoy the quiet simplicity of aimlessly watching water tumble over rocks, allowing the gentle roar to drown out the world at large. 

References
1. Japanese SLR production numbers. Part 2: Minolta

2. Cooper JD. Minolta System Handbook, Second Edition. American Photographic Book Publishing Company, Garden City, NY; 1976

3. Reynolds C. The Minolta Way: The Minolta SLR Photographer’s Companion. Focal Press, London, UK; 1979 

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