VMLP 4: The Minolta Maxxum 7000—Let There Be Autofocus!

After using the Maxxum 7000i, my first Minolta and real camera in more than three decades, I realized I wanted to try other Minolta cameras. That realization led me to research other models. On learning that Minolta favored the numbers 5, 7, and 9 when naming cameras, I decided that, given the low prices, it would nice to own all the “Sevens.” The first time I saw a picture of the Minolta Maxxum 7000, I hated the design. It struck me as a gag item, like something paired with a goat behind Door #3 on Let’s Make a Deal. My dislike was instantaneous, and I vowed not to buy one.  

I actively resisted the 7000, so ignoring it, I bought a 700si, a Maxxum 70, and then counting my pennies, a Maxxum 7. I tried to be happy with this set—it didn’t work. That Maxxum 7000 nagged me. After all, how could I own the Sevens and never have the one that started the line? After a couple of months of nagging, I gave in and bought a “Bargain” version 7000 from KEH for 15.00 and change. (I could own one, but never have to admit that or even display it.) It sat untouched for weeks while I played with my other toys. Finally, when it was the last untried camera and there was nothing better to do, I loaded batteries and film. 

Historical Perspective
The Minolta Maxxum 7000 was a big deal when released. It was the world’s first camera with body-integral autofocus. Introduced in 1985, it was a computerized marvel. While other companies had dallied with AF technology in the lenses, the Maxxum 7000 and the accompanying lenses had computer chips that controlled key functions and allowed for communication between camera and lens. The Maxxum was an instant success. However, everything wasn’t all rainbows and light.  

Initially, the Maxxum logo had the two Xs in “Maxxum” overlapping. This design brought scrutiny from Exxon in the form of a trademark complaint. As a result, Minolta had to change the logo. However, it was patent infringement that ultimately did the most damage. Here is something few know: Minolta obtained its initial autofocus technology from Leica. Yes, Leica (1). Perhaps this helps to explain why Minolta fought a protracted battle with Honeywell before losing big. Likely, Minolta assumed the acquired Leica patents would be protective. Nope. Minolta had to pay 127 million dollars in damages, which seems to have weakened the company and likely contributed to its eventual demise.  

The 7000 sold well, and the quality of the lenses released with it no doubt helped. The company released a set of excellent primes: 50mm lenses (f1.4, f1.7, f2.8 macro), 24mm f2.8, 28mm f2.8, 85mm f1.4, 135mm f2.8, and 300mm f2.8 APO. Minolta released the 35-70mm f4 as the kit lens and four additional zooms: 28-85mm f3.5-4.5, 28-135mm f4-4.5, 35-105mm f3.5-5.6, and 70-210mm f4 (beer can). Thirty-five years later, many of these lenses are still highly regarded. In fact, of those I have tried, only the 28mm seems average. I haven’t tried the 24mm, 135mm, 300mm, and 85mm, because they are too expensive. 

Inspection and Appearance 
There is no getting around it; the Maxxum 7000 is a child of the 80s boxy school of design along with shoulder pads and big hair. Whereas the SR-2 was elegantly minimalist, the Maxxum 7000 looks like appliance designers conceived it. It has a definite refrigerator vibe. No word related to style and fashion —cool, snazzy, sleek, elegant, lovely— would ever be used to describe the 7000. It is a box with buttons; fortunately, they are the exact buttons needed. If Grant Wood had included a camera in American Gothic, it would have been a Maxxum 7000.  

 When I opened the plastic baggie from KEH, I was surprised at how good the camera looked. It was listed as “Bargain,” but other than a few minor scrapes, it looked really good. I concluded that the lack of demand made it a bargain item, not the amount of wear. It had a small amount of white bloom on the rubber but was otherwise fine cosmetically. 

The first thing I noticed was the number of dedicated buttons. While the 7000i had “Function” and “Mode” buttons, the 7000 has dedicated buttons for major functions. The top panel LCD screen is a decent size and very easy to read. The battery compartment shows its refrigerator-chic influence. The camera is mostly plastic, which doesn’t bother me at all—plastic is lighter. 

Function and Handling
At only 19.6 ounces, it seems relatively light. It takes four AAA batteries or one lithium battery with a special holder. Adding AAA batteries is a pain, like a scene from an old 60s sci-fi movie where the protagonist has to flip a switch then shove a chunk of parallel-arrayed fuses into a socket, or the building will blow up. I fully expect to see the words “ray gun” when reading the manual. Captain Kirk could have had one. 

Loading film was simple—put in the roll, pull the leader onto the take-up spool, then close the back. Rewinding the film was a puzzle— I had to read the manual. There is a little bar one has to pull to start rewinding—weird. Batteries in, film loaded, it was time to get this sad episode with the odd-ball camera over and move on. 

 When I lifted the camera to my eye, I was shocked. The viewfinder was absolutely clear and bright, like looking out a large, freshly-washed window. I spent the first 10 minutes just looking at things. Having used all the newer Maxxums first, I expected the 7000 to be a primitive joke. Once more, I was completely wrong. The weight was not too heavy, not too light and with the 50mm 1.7, it balanced well in my hands. The AF was faster than expected. The combo settled quickly on targets, and I snapped up that first roll in about an hour.  

The AF motor had a quiet whirr, which I found pleasant. The viewfinder display had just enough information to be helpful without being overwhelming. In fact, once I decided to learn photography more deeply, I went back to the 7000 and 7000i as my cameras of choice because they are helpful without doing too much. It was like having an XD11 that helped with focusing. And at that stage of my development, simple with a little help was exactly what I needed. 

Controls are easy to access. The exposure compensation button is easy to press without touching other settings. Changing the aperture took a little getting used to—one has to press an up/down button on the lens mount. The later Maxxums do this using a control near the shutter button.   

Shooting
By the time I got the Maxxum 7000, I had a variety of lenses, so I tried a few. The 50mm 1.7 locked focus quickly and produced sharp images. I shoot mostly in aperture priority mode, and after a few shots, found it easy to change aperture settings. 

I LOVE the viewfinder; it is bright and clear and may be my favorite viewfinder of all the Minoltas. Placing a finger on the shutter button activates the camera, and slight pressure locks focus and metering. Visual confirmation of focus lock is via a green dot and/or a soft beep. Focus confirmation is available in manual mode, which is especially helpful. All one has to do is put gentle pressure on the shutter button while turning the focus ring, and when either the green dot appears or you hear the beep, the subject is in focus. Very nice!

Daisies at Noon

Focus confirmation while in manual mode is one reason I think this is a great camera to learn photography. The received wisdom is that those new to photography should start with a manual camera. I disagree. Any AF camera can be used in full manual mode, PLUS you have focus confirmation!  

Impression
It took about three weeks before I saw the images the camera made, and I have been a fan of the 7000 ever since. Every shot was in focus, properly exposed, and sharp. Wow. No more judging books by their covers for me. 

I have shot about ten rolls of film with my 7000s. Yes, I bought a few backups because getting one repaired is not worth the price (if it is even possible). I love my 7000s, but there have been a few issues. A crossed “XX” model purchased from eBay has a squeaky AF motor. A Goodwill purchase has a blank viewfinder display. Even so, I was able to shoot with both. I can’t complain; the most I have ever paid for a Maxxum 7000 is 17.00. And often, for less than that amount, one can get a camera, lens, bag, and accessories. 

If you want to try a Maxxum 7000, buy one from a camera store such as KEH (Seattle ShopGoodwill is excellent also) because the cameras are tested and known to work. Very likely, you will get a great camera for less than 30.00. If buying from eBay, get the seller to agree to a return if the camera doesn’t work. Ask, even if the listing says “No Returns.” Sellers who are sure the camera works will usually agree. On eBay, 30.00 should get you a lens and something else along with the camera. 

What can I say? The camera I loathed is now one of my favorites. I can see why it was a big hit when released in 1985. Like my former self, some will call it ugly and plastic, and they might well be correct. However, what they cannot say is that it doesn’t deliver on its promise. I think this is a good camera for beginners—it is easy to use, yet quiet, capable, and inexpensive. Shooting in manual mode is a breeze. 

There is a saying that goes, “There is nothing worse than a reformed…” That accurately describes my attitude toward the 7000. I have shot, with the exception of the Minolta XK, every major SLR produced by Minolta since 1958. I love this machine, no apologies, no qualifications.  

References
1. Minolta’s Milestone Camera and the Myths of Innovation, February 2015

2 Comments

    1. Author

      Sorry you had such a disappointing experience. It’s a crap shoot buying old cameras, but I have been very lucky. I’ve bought most of My 7000s from Goodwill with lenses and all have worked. Even better, the lenses have been clean. It’s a much better camera than expected. I calculated, and on average my 7000s cost 10.00. For that price, they are great!

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