VMLP 5: The Maxxum 9000—Nice and a Little Confusing

After deciding I wanted to try Minoltas other than my Maxxum 7000i, I went for the Sevens in the Maxxum line. The Maxxum 70 was the next purchase (it has a meta-origin story—The People by the Side of the Road). In quick succession, the Maxxum 7, 700si, and 7xi followed because they were dirt cheap, except for the Maxxum 7. Listings for 9-level Maxxums were routinely in the 150.00 plus range, so I wrote off the possibility of owning a 9 series Maxxum. This was before I discovered ShopGoodwill. ShopGoodwill can be a crapshoot—”you pays your money; you takes your chances.” However, once I learned it was possible to write to the Goodwill sellers and ask questions, I decided to take a shot.  

By this time, I had created a wishlist of items that I would buy if I could find them at the right price. On that list were all three 9s and a few lenses (this was before my manual Minolta phase kicked in). The Maxxum 28-135mm had attained legendary status, so it was at the top of the Maxxum lens list because I had already bought the 100mm f2.8 Macro. As luck would have it, a Maxxum 9000 with motor drive and “Secret Handshake” 28-135mm came up for auction.  

The camera looked a little rough, and the lens had the usual rubber oxidation. The note for the item said the motor drive could not be detached, and the camera had not been tested. I wrote the Goodwill site to ask about the lens, figuring that if the camera were busted, the lens alone would be worth the cost. The DC Goodwill (BTW, very good for communicating) wrote back saying the lens was clean. Since every 28-135mm listing I had seen were all for 125.00 or more, I decided it would be worth spending 50-60.00 to get this beat-up looking copy with clear optics. I won the auction for 47.50, and when the camera showed up, it worked! So, I got a working 9000 with a 28-135mm lens with clear optics in working order for under 50 bucks. Sweet!

Historical Perspective 
Introduced in 1985, the Maxxum 9000 was the world’s first professional autofocus camera. It offered advances over the 7000, which had been introduced earlier— 5fps motor drive, spot metering, illuminated viewfinder, and 1/4000 shutter speed, to name a few. The boxy design and the user interface of the 7000 are not quite as evident in the 9000. The 9000 has knobs, and oddly, a film advance crank. Unfortunately, the 9000 did not have the same impact in the professional world as the 7000 did for causal users and enthusiasts. For whatever reasons, professionals did not flock to it. 

Inspection and Appearance 
My 9000 came in a dusty camera bag with a motor drive attached. It looked better than the pictures. The camera’s body is all metal except the prism housing, and the metal skeleton is noted in the camera’s heft. What had looked like a significant gouge in the grip was actually a shadow, and after cleaning the camera up, it was in good to very good condition. The drive separated easily, despite the warning in the listing. The power pack was the Ni-Cad ND-90, and unfortunately, no charger came with it. All knobs and buttons were easily operated, and the windows were clear. The top LCD had a bleed moving vertically from the top, covering about 25-30% of the display.  

The battery compartment is in the grip and accepts AA batteries, which is much more convenient than the AAA of the 7000. However, the design of the battery holder is quite irritating. The contacts for the negative and positive battery nodes look the same, containing a spring. In every other device I can think of, the spring goes with the negative terminal only. With the 9000, if one is not paying close attention, it is easy to put the batteries in incorrectly. When I put batteries in the first time, I thought the camera didn’t work. I made the same mistake later. I felt foolish making the same mistake twice, but from online forums, I’ve learned others have made the same mistake, so I don’t feel as bad.  

The 28-135mm had significant rubber oxidation but no noticeable dents or nicks. Holding the lens up to a light, the optics were completely clear, with just a minimal amount of dust as the only finding. Surprisingly, the front lens cap was in the bag! Overall, lens and camera were in very good condition.

Function and Handling
This is a sturdy camera. Weighing about 23 ounces, it has a bit of heft. With the 28-135mm attached, it is noticeably heavy. The control layout is sensible, and it is easy to access every function. Even so, right away, it was evident that the Maxxum 9000 is more complex to operate than its 7000 sibling.  

Top of Camera
Exposure Mode
The exposure mode switch is simple enough, fitted as a round dial surrounding the top LCD. This camera, and every other Maxxum 9000 I’ve seen, has a bleed in the LCD. In front of the dial is a switch that slides from side-to-side but is paradoxically called the Shutter “up-down” control. It allows one to adjust the shutter speed. Note that there is also a dedicated aperture control “up-down” slider on the camera’s front just to the right side (facing the camera) of the lens mount.  

The film advance is manual—yes, manual. More than a few times, I have been shooting and thought the camera had malfunctioned because the film didn’t advance. After a few panicked moments, I realized I needed to advance the film manually— such an odd design choice. The Off-On switch and frame counter are next to the film advance, and no surprises are waiting. The Self-Timer switch is in front of the shutter release button and provides a 10-second delay. 

Metering Controls
On the left, one finds the metering controls. One can choose Averaging, Spot or Highlight, or Shadow metering with autoexposure lock—a surprising feature that disappears in later Maxxums but reappears in digital models. The AEL lock button can be used in P, A, S, and Highlight and Shadow modes to hold exposure while adjusting the composition.

ISO Switch 
A tiny ISO switch sits just in back of the metering control. ISO is adjusted by pressing this button and moving the Shutter up-down control.  

Exposure Compensation
Exposure compensation is managed by pressing the small button labeled +/- in front of the metering control while moving the Shutter up-down switch. EC range is -4 to +4 in half-stop increments.  

Film Load/Unload Knob 
Since I’ve loaded film in many cameras before, I assumed the Maxxum 9000 would be similar. Nope, instead, another quirk became evident. To open the film compartment, one has to pull up on the knob and slide a tiny black button that lies in front of the knob. The knob is so small that even reading the manual, I didn’t find it right away.  

Back of Camera
The camera’s back is simple. There is a diopter adjustment knob, simply marked “+/-“(-3 to +1), the shutter curtain control, the AEL lock button, and a multi-exposure control. Pressing the multi-exposure control allows one to move the film advance lever without actually advancing the film to the next frame.

Front of Camera
The front of the camera has a few standard controls. The lens release is to the right of the lens mount. At the bottom right of the lens mount lies the Autofocus/Manual switch. On the left side of the front are the battery compartment and the Preview switch, which is used to stop down the lens to see depth of field.  

Bottom of Camera
Nothing remarkable here, just the typical film rewind release seen in manual Minolta’s and the attachment for the tripod and motor drive.  

Shooting the Maxxum 9000
The viewfinder is clear and reasonably bright. The focusing screen is marked for average and spot metering. The display bottom is lighted, which is helpful and sufficiently informative. It provides a bulb mode elapsed time reading, EC, shutter, aperture, and exposure mode readouts. The focusing signals are interesting, letting one know when the subject is too close, in focus, or that manual focus is required. 

Focusing in was fast and relatively quiet. Metering was accurate, and the self-timer worked fine. My only problem was forgetting to advance the film manually. The lighted viewfinder helps in dark settings. Compared to the 7000, the focus seemed to acquire the target slightly faster, but that could be my biased perception.  

Rewinding the film was more of a pain. Having to press the bottom button, pull up the metering knob, and push the door release slider, felt like trying to solve a puzzle. In manual cameras, all one needs to do is pull up the knob.  

I shot a few expired rolls of Fuji 100 and 200 film at box speed to make sure the camera worked. Then, wanting to see how easy it might be for someone not used to an AF 35mm camera, I loaded a roll of Ultrafine and gave the camera to my wife, who has only used iPhones and disposable cameras. I put the camera in Program mode, gave her a five-minute tutorial on how the AF worked, then sent her off to shoot a few frames. She was shocked at how easy it was to use. 

I wish I could regale you with tales of the motor drive, but I have no power cord for the lithium pack, so I couldn’t test it. 

Impression
I like this camera, despite its quirks. However, I’m glad that I didn’t pay more than I did for it. It works well, but so does the Maxxum 7000, and the 7000 doesn’t have the quirks. Now, the 9000 does offer a few features that could be handy. The Highlight and Shadow exposure settings are useful to me, but how many people need them? Spot metering, on the other hand, is quite helpful and is one thing I often wish the 7000s did have. Multi-exposure could be appealing from an artistic perspective, and that could increase its appeal. Also, having a shutter speed of 1/4000 instead of the 1/2000 of the 7000 comes in handy when choosing film. Focusing and metering, spot metering aside, seem to be no better than the 7000. The 9000 handles well and doesn’t weigh too much, so those are also pluses. As for the 28-135mm lens? I prefer the 28-105mm (not the xi) by far. The 28-105mm has a shorter MFD, is lighter, and less bulky (28-135mm is ~28 oz!), and from my usage, equal or superior in sharpness. 

As I said, I like this camera. But having had the other Maxxum cameras before getting it has colored my opinion. The Maxxum 9000 is interesting historically and as a collectible, and for those who want the full Minolta experience, it is worth owning. Certainly, if one is available at the price I paid, by all means, buy it. I will continue to use this camera but have no emotional connection to it in the same way as with my Maxxum 7s and XD11s. If it breaks, I will keep it on the shelf and view it fondly. It is a piece of Minolta history and part of the Vintage Minolta Love story–it’s family…

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

(All images developed in CineStill 2-step color or DF96, scanned Epson 600, Epson software.)

2 Comments

  1. I’ve never seen a 9000 before. It looks a little ungainly — is it balanced in the hand?

    I’m astonished that the Epson software made scans this nice. I have an old Epson V300 and the bundled software was awful. I upgraded to SilverFast to get the most from my negs.

    1. Author

      Actually, it feels pretty good. The grip/battery compartment is rounded and feels better than the 7000. It weighs more, but with a 50mm attached (I used a 50mm 2.8 macro or 100mm 2.8 macro for these shots)it is well-balanced. I like it. If it were completely automatic, it would be one of my favorites.

      I tried silverfast, and the effort wasn’t worth the difference from Epson scan software. I use only standard settings plus ICE for color. If there is lint on B&W I remove it with retouching tool in iPhoto. That tool is good for removing little particle blemishes.

      Once I realized that using coffee filters helps to keep developing solutions clean, the problem with particles has just about disappeared. I check for lint before hanging to dry and rinse again if I see any. So, I do very little post processing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *