VMLP 7: The Minolta SR-3–The Best Version of the Minolta SR-2?

The Minolta SR-3 was the next upper-level Minolta SLR after the SR-2. The SR-2 is a collector’s item because it was Minolta’s first SLR and only about 20,000 were made. The SR-7 is noted for its built-in meter, the first Minolta SLR with this capability. The middle child SR-3 goes nearly unmentioned. 

I learned of the SR-3 only after getting an SR-2 and deciding to find out how many SLR models Minolta had developed. I searched the web for reviews—nothing. After a few searches on eBay, one showed up, but it was more than my allotted budget for cameras (25-35.00 unless I deem them special). Being just barely curious, I passed. It wasn’t until I needed a copy for the Vintage Minolta Love Project that I went looking for one in earnest. That’s when I discovered how rare they are. Minolta made many more SR-3s than SR-2s, but no one cares enough to write about them. Since there are more of them, why do so few show up for sale? One may show up every few weeks, usually for little cash. However, those sold from Japan seem to command high prices (assuming they are actually selling). Perhaps the Japanese know what I eventually discovered—the SR-3 is the best version of SR-2.

I came across an eBay seller with a lot containing an SR-3, part of a camera case, and a third-party 28mm lens. I made an offer for the camera and got it and the case for 30.00–hitting my budget. He jumped at the offer. Yep, middle child. I wish there were a “thrill of the chase” story to tell, but that’s it.  

Historical Perspective 
The SR-3 added three improvements over the SR-2. First, it allowed for an external, attached meter. The meter attached to the camera’s shutter dial and was an improvement over using a handheld device—clever for the time but cumbersome. That selenium meter is now more of a collector’s item than the camera. I have yet to see a provably working copy for less than 50.00 or so.

Next, with the SR-3 came a truly automatic diaphragm, but not right away; my copy still stays stopped down. So, like the SR-2, the lens remains closed down until the film is advanced. The 1961 and later SR-3 versions reopen the aperture immediately. Finally, the focus screen had a split-screen, a much-needed improvement over the fresnel screen with micro prism of the SR-2. Beyond these changes, it’s just like the SR-2 and, unfortunately, gets no respect. I have not been able to find an affordable selenium SR meter, and I’m not enough of a collector to pay the asking prices for those being offered. 

Inspection and Appearance 
When the SR-3 arrived, it wasn’t an event, as had been the SR-2. The camera had a few scuffs, readily excused considering its age. It was dusty (why don’t sellers clean their items?). The mirror box was dusty with crumbling mirror foam, but the mirror was intact. I dusted off the mirror and removed the rest of the foam.  

The SR-3 retains the same elegant, minimalist design as its predecessor. Having held SRs and SR-Ts, I prefer the SR design. SRs strike me as less formal, less rigid compared to SR-Ts. Holding this SR-3, it seems less clunky and rounder to the touch, offering a more pleasant sensual experience—but that’s just me. I went through each of the shutter speeds, and all worked fine. I attached a lens, and it worked fine. Looking through the viewfinder, I immediately appreciated the better focusing experience. I see no sign that there were ever any light seals. The place the light seals should be is perfectly smooth metal with no marks, adhesive, or smudges. 

Function and Handling
Like the SR-2, the SR-3 weighs 18oz, a good weight without being tiring. The viewfinder window is round and has a new bayonet interface, replacing the screw-in mount of the SR-2. Finally, I can use my Angle Finder II. I also managed to find an SR Magnifier II with a bayonet interface. The viewfinder is the same, except the SR-3 sports a split-image focusing aid, making focusing much easier and quicker. The Angle Finder II, used with a tripod, allowed me to focus without my glasses, a huge plus. Outside, I could see using the SR Magnifier II for a difficult focus situation. 

The film take-up spool is the same as the SR-2, a single bar which the film goes under. For me, this makes loading quicker than later cameras with a sprocketed spool. The film advance seems to go around further than I thought it should, almost 270 degrees. I don’t recall doing this on other cameras. Of course, I haven’t shot a manual camera in a few months, so I may simply not remember.  

Shooting
I found an Auto Rokkor 58mm 1.4 with a stiff focus ring for 15.00 and decided to try it. Added to that were the MC 135mm 2.8 PF and the MD 28-85mm 3.5-4.5. I tried using a few drops of grain alcohol to loosen the focus ring’s movement, and it seems to have worked. I’m getting the impression the lens was dropped because there are a few odd scratches on the front element. The glass is usable, though. Otherwise, the lens worked with no problems.   

The Angle Finder II worked well, although I did have a problem getting it to lock in place at first. The optics were clear, and I was able to adjust it with no problem. However, I did run into difficulty in low-light shooting. The SR Magnifier II had a much better glass than the one I bought for the SR-2. I could see clearly, but I now realize the magnifier is not nearly as useful as expected. As with the angle finder, low light makes it harder to use. If asked for a recommendation, I would suggest buying an angle finder. Magnifiers, well, the jury is still out. The split-screen focus aid was wonderful. I spent much less time focusing compared to the SR-2.  

I ran into significant issues with my meters on this shoot. I was experimenting with low-key studio lighting and using two iPhone apps and a newly acquired Minolta AutoMeter III. All three gave different readings. The AutoMeter III was often off by 4-5 stops compared to the apps. I found a forum post that suggested pressing the reflector/incident switch a few times to clean the contacts. That helped a little. I was about to give up completely when, having placed the meter too close to a bookshelf edge, it fell to the ground. Since then, the readings have been the same or within one stop of the iPhone apps. I’ve ordered an 18% gray card to check the apps and the meter against my Maxxum 7 and Maxxum 9 meters.  

The controls for the SR-3 retain the simplicity of the SR-2. The film advance moves smoothly. I removed the mirror foam, so the mirror impact is louder than usual.  

Impression
Using a vintage camera with no meter can be a lot like going camping and insisting on building a fire from scratch with a flint. It can be a rewarding experience, but not one you want to repeat in critical situations. Since I bought this camera for the experience of using it rather than for making art, I’m good with the extra steps required to use it.  

Having shot two rolls of film with the SR-3, I can say it is a reliable and well-made camera. If one is looking for simplicity, it is a good choice. I will count the SR-3 as another positive experience. After using the SR-2, the process of using a camera from 50 years ago is becoming more familiar. My experiences with the SR-2 and SR-3 have convinced me that I don’t like having to meter every shot using an external device. So, my next side project will be practicing “Sunny 16” with the SR-3.  

Managing exposure challenges such as backlighting or bracketing has become more intuitive as well, so I’m much less fumbly using this beautiful classic. Hummingbird shots, though, will still summon the Maxxum 7, or now, the Maxxum 9. If metering were not an issue, the SR-3 could be a walk-around camera.  

What can I say? The SR-3 is the best version of the SR-2. It has all the positive qualities of the SR-2 and having been improved by the new features, it is worth owning if one has a thing for classic Minolta SLRs. After 60 years, it still looks good and works perfectly. Now, how many things can you say that about? 

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