Camera Reviews, Photography

Minolta X-700

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One of the great things about collecting cameras is that friends and family sometimes give you equipment they’re not using anymore. I’ve picked up many cameras that way over the years, albeit usually the junk nobody wants. But now that digital photography has taken over and film cameras are doorstops, sometimes the good stuff finds its way to me.

Such is the case with this Minolta X-700. My aunt Maxine bought it in the mid-1980s, but it has been sitting in a drawer unused for at least 10 years. She found out about my collection and decided I needed to have this camera.

Minolta X-700

I’ve never owned an SLR before. For many years, cost was a barrier; I could not afford even a low-end used one. But more importantly, until recently I didn’t care much about photography! I’ve collected cameras for 30 years primarily because I’m fascinated with all the engineering and manufacturing necessary to make them, not because of what the cameras could do. I can get plenty of pleasure out of even the lousiest all-plastic Instamatic, which I can pick up for a couple bucks anywhere. I have never needed to spend my money on an SLR!

But as I have taken more and more photos because of my road hobby, I’ve learned a bit about composition. And I’ve changed my collection’s focus from junk cameras I found at yard sales to working rangefinders and folders. As I have run a roll of film through so many of these cameras now, I’ve had to learn the mechanics of photography to get decent results. I have begun to find the pleasure of photography, and have begun to read about and deliberately practice the skills of taking good pictures.

But now to this camera.

Minolta X-700

The X-700 was the pinnacle of Minolta’s final manual-focus SLR camera series, in continuous production for 20 years starting in 1981. It was aimed at the advanced amateur with two autoexposure modes, one where you set the aperture and let the camera figure the shutter speed, and the other where the camera figured out both settings. In this age of auto-everything cameras, it may be hard to believe that in 1981 it was pretty remarkable to twist the lens until the viewfinder image was crisp and then press the shutter button confident that the camera would figure out the rest.

My camera came with three lenses. The primary lens is a 50 mm f/1.7 Minolta MD, which seems to be widely recognized as a fine, sharp lens. There are better Minolta MD-series lenses, but nobody seems ever to complain about this one. There were also a 28 mm f/2.8 Gemini MC wide-angle lens and a 80-205 mm f/4.5 Gemini MC zoom lens in the camera bag. The best I’ve heard anybody say about Gemini lenses is that they’re adequate.

Minolta X-700

My experience shooting with an SLR was limited to my ex-wife’s fully manual Pentax K1000. I took a few shots with it on birthdays and at Christmas just to be sure she’d make it into a few photographs. She set the aperture and shutter speed so all I had to do was focus and click. I guess you could say she was that camera’s autoexposure system!

I had to read the X-700’s manual just to figure out how to turn the camera on and access its autoexposure modes. But once I figured those things out, I set out to one of my favorite places to take pictures, the cemetery at my church.

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

I have recently become interested in depth of field, and this camera gave me a great opportunity to experiment with it. (Unfortunately, my digital camera offers only limited ability to control depth of field.) I especially like how the gravestone in the photo below really pops against the blurred background.

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

This stone says, “Dying words – Good by Pa take care of Allie and Jimmie.”

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

This is one of the most unusual gravestones in the cemetery. This one looks best in a larger size, so click it to go to Flickr, where you can click “All Sizes” to see it in better detail.

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

I burned through most of the roll using the Minolta 50mm lens, but did get a couple shots with the wide-angle and zoom lenses. This photo was taken with the wide-angle lens. I don’t like how the shot is brighter in the center than at the edges, but I don’t know whether that’s due to a so-so lens or to photographer inexperience. Notice the scratch just right of center. A few photos came back from the processor with little scratches; I’m not sure why. (By the way, the Hollingsworths and the Hightshues were this 170-year-old church’s founding families. They owned acres and acres of land near the church.)

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

I shot this stone from across the graveyard. It’s the only zoom shot I took that turned out; the rest were all out of focus because I was holding the camera in my hands. It’s hard to hold a camera steady when you’re zoomed to the max!

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

I got this shot by accident while looking over the camera from my car’s front seat in the church parking lot. I like how just the area around the Toyota logo is crisp, and how the detail just begins to fade along the center section of the steering wheel.

Toyota Matrix steering wheel

If I weren’t so in love with shooting 400 photos on a road trip with my digital camera, I can see myself making this Minolta X-700 my workhorse camera. It is clearly a fine camera of great capability. I can see that I was just beginning to tap into its versatility as I shot this one roll of film.


If you like classic cameras, check out my entire collection.

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36 thoughts on “Minolta X-700

  1. Lone Primate says:

    Nice piece of technology. :) Ooo, you’re in for a blast with that 50mm f/1.7 lens. I’ve got Canon’s cheapest lens, the 50 mm f/1.8, for my XT, which I’ve sadly neglected, but times I’ve used it I’ve gotten great work with depth of field. I love, I really love, the way everything that’s not central to what you’re doing becomes soft blurred. There are people whose whole thing in photography is the quality of that blur — the bokeh. Yours looks pretty smooth.

    I can’t say I envy you the film aspect of it… I had an SLR when I was 20 and it largely collected dust because I hated not knowing if my shots were any good till I actually spent the money to get the film developed. It was hard to learn the craft when you had to wait days to see what worked and what didn’t, and then try to remember what you’d done on a given shot. Your shots already seem pretty solid, though, and I don’t think you have the same issues with film as I do. :)

    I’m curious if any of the lenses you have for the X-700 can be used with any model of current DSRL. From what I understand, Sony owns what was Minolta’s digital line now, so it’s possible they make something that could use those lenses and save you a lot of money if you do move on to a DSLR in the future.

    Just a warning: if you fall in love with 50mm photography, the curve gets steep. :) My 50mm f/1.8 was a hundred bucks. But the f/1.4 is about $400… and the holy grail f/1.2 is over three times that at its cheapest!

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    • I can get film developed pretty inexpensively through Snapfish, maybe seven bucks a pop including hi-res digital images. So if I have a hankering for film, I can always get out this camera and use it. I may take it along on Saturday when I make a road trip and see how it does.

      But for everyday road tripping, nothing beats an autofocus digicam that has a decent lens, like my lowly, aging Kodak Z730. Its 28mm Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens has been almost perfect for my road-tripping ways — nice and wide to take in the landscape, and very crisp. And it’s not hard to lug around, although it’s not quite pocketable. The camera’s functionality is pretty limited, but for the most part my photos are road documentation or family snapshots, so its limitations don’t frustrate me too often.

      Being the great big geek I am, I love toys, and so I drool over DSLRs. But the practical side of me isn’t sure I’ll end up buying one. I’m just too darned cheap to sink so much money into it for what little real use I’d get out of all its features.

      But now that I have this X-700, I can get it out whenever I’m feeling artsy phartsy!

      (Really, I could get out my Retina IA, too — great little camera.)

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      • Lone Primate says:

        I never thought of that — that you’d be getting digital “prints” back from film these days as well as the paper kind. That’s a nice bonus, alright. :)

        28 mm is a nice wide angle on a digital camera. I’m only personally aware of one that’s wider — I forget which; a Fuji model, I think, that boasts 24 mm. Most are in the 35 mm range… one of the reasons I went on eBay to find another Canon S80 after selling mine off was that I was sorely missing the 28 mm width it boasted. You might want to hang onto the Z730. :) That’s “zed” 730, by the way, right? ;)

        I think you’re right about the DSLR. I bought a Rebel XT in 2005 and I probably only use it four or five times a year. The P&S cameras I have do 80% of what it does (besides, they shoot video and it doesn’t), so it really only comes out when I want to do something special. It’s probably a good call on your part to “know your limit and [shoot] within it”. :)

        Here’s where I want to go next…: http://www.fujifilm.com/products/3d/camera/finepix_real3dw1/

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        • Most developers will scan your negatives and give you digital images now. Even Wal-Mart does it. I don’t give a rip about the physical prints anymore, but for some reason you have to take them!

          That Fujifilm camera looks neat — but my eyes don’t work together, so I don’t see in 3D and the value is lost on me!

          My zed-730 is starting to act funny — not sure what’s up, but the images are coming out a little dark and need to be run through post-processing to get them looking right. So maybe it’s time to find yet another one on eBay. My first one met its demise on a road trip when I tripped over something and sent the camera flying. The second one, used and abused, was a dud. I’m on my third one, another used one. It’s only a 5 mp camera with 4x optical zoom — positively creaky by modern standards — but the results speak for themselves. Anyway, not too many wide-angle P&S digicams, so you’re right, best to stock up. Or maybe I should look for a Canon S80.

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        • Lone Primate says:

          Heh, I was just going to cringingly ask if I might recommend the S80. Thanks for the opening. :)

          It’s a great camera, 8 MP, 28 mm lens, long battery life (rechargeables, of course, and a very common battery type; four of my five Canons use it), shoots 640×480 3o fps video, and you can easily carry it on your person. Only down side is it doesn’t shoot RAW. But buy one or two back-up batteries and for 95% of what you do, you probably won’t need another camera for years. :) Ounce for ounce it might be the best idea Canon’s ever had and I’m only sorry they’ve refused to follow up with an S90. Highly recommend it.

          http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canons80/

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        • Ah, yes. I’ve never had any trouble with mine (also a 2.8) in low light but I have a steady hand so I’ve not had any problem with pics of 1/15-1/20 exposure or 1/25 with some zoom. If I lean against something, I can go to about 1/4-1/5 or if my hands have a decent rest as much as 2 seconds. Of course, it’s much easier with a tripod! My ISO 400 has a good bit of grain so I only use it when I absolutely must. The newer ones are better from what I read.

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        • I certainly appreciate the tips, Michael. I’m itching to upgrade my camera — although funds will need to go to other more pressing needs for some time yet. But when I do upgrade, wide-angle is a must because of my road hobby, and low-light ability is extremely helpful when I am on the road at twilight. It would be very nice if the camera allowed semi-automatic or full-manual operation with a good lens so that I can play with depth of field too.

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        • I believe all the Canons have full manual mode. I know the A and G series do and the S90 does also. To be honest, I use that mode quite a bit since I like waterfall pics where you need to underexpose the shots up to 2 EV at times. I also use the manual shutter mode a lot for those times I need to do a low-light shot without a tripod. I set the speed I feel I can do given whatever support I have available as I wrote earlier. You’d likely play with the manual aperture mode (in conjunction with manual focus at times) for depth of field. I do that for wildflowers, insects (http://i250.photobucket.com/albums/gg248/topshot-rhit/IMG_4237.jpg), etc.

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        • I’m not hung up on AA batteries. My Kodak’s got a proprietary battery and once I bought a backup, I’ve been good to go. That your PowerShot could take that insect photo with good depth of field like that swings me back to the G11.

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        • Just max out the aperture and adjust the other settings if needed to get the exposure you want.

          The tilt/swivel screen lets you compose shots most people cannot or wouldn’t think of. I have done many ground level ones. Did one of a trail with huge DOF and manual focus so only the ground immediately in front is in focus. Just like our walk with God, we can still see the path we’re on but not necessarily the steps we’ll be taking to stay on it.

          The S90 will do DOF even better since it has the larger ap, but doesn’t have the tilt/swivel, which is a requirement for me now.

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        • I won’t do tons of DOF work, but when I want it, it’ll be nice to have. So the G11 remains my choice. Now to save up for it. By the time I can buy it, heck, the G12 may be out.

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        • I’m disappointed to learn the G series doesn’t take standard AA batteries though. I falsely assumed that it had that feature since it has a similar case shape to the A series.

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  2. Great review Jim, the camera does sound like a work horse, I still have my F100 Nikon another workhorse film camera.

    I bought my Nikon D200 almost 4 years ago for 1699.00, you can now pick them up for less than 700 dollars, just a thought ;)

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  3. Go for the new G11 instead. It also does 28mm, more zoom, RAW, and most important they brought back the tilt/swivel LCD. Even though I only have the A620, I’ll never buy another camera without that feature. You have the added bonus of the CHDK software tweaks with newer Canon models – you won’t know when to stop playing!

    I prefer the topmost tombstone pic myself. It has the best composition IMHO.

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      • LOL. I love the Canon Powershots. My old A75 bit the dust on a recent rafting trip – the ziploc didn’t prove to be waterproof underwater. Glad I decided to use it instead of my A620! I’d like the A650IS but they’ve refused to come down in price. In fact, they sell for MORE than MSRP. I thought Canon was going to do away with the tilt/swivel LCD for good until they added it back in on the G11. Drool away!

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  4. Nice to see you using some of your collection! My old Minolta X-500 was traded when I upgraded to digital. I then felt so guilty I bought an XG-M to replace it ….

    My own vintage collection includes a couple of 1920s Kodaks, 1950s Agfa Isolette, 1950s Agfa box and a few others. All working and most either used or being used.

    Shooting digital is a great way to learn, shooting film is the final exam :-)

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    • Paul, you’re right about how digital makes it easier to learn to shoot. My skills, such as they are, increased dramatically (from none) with my first digital camera in hand, simply because I could shoot with abandon and keep trying things until I liked the result. For that matter, those improved results led me to read up a bit about composition and light because I could see that my shots could be even better.

      Having learned quite a bit since I first shot with the X-700, I got it out again to practice my improved skills with what’s probably my best camera. Unfortunately, since I put it away last time something has gone wrong with it. Even with fresh batteries, pressing the shutter button causes none of the little red lights to come on in the viewfinder. This camera is definitely worth a trip to the shop to see if it can be fixed.

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    • Thanks, Jon! As I looked at your photos, I thought, “These have a vintage photojournalism look, maybe vintage folder or TLR, not an X-700” — and then I read your comment that you were going for a vintage, grainy look. Achieved!

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  5. Keith says:

    Unfortunately old Minolta manual focus lenses cannot be used on Sony/Minolta autofocus cameras, Minolta developed the A-Mount which has electronic connections for the camera to control the lens. What you can do with the MD 50mm manual focus lens is use a reversing ring and connect it in reverse to your autofocus camera lens (put it on manual focus first ) and you can take terrific macro shots

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    • I’ve played around with a Maxxum-series camera — all plastic, but the auto-everything was fun. Those lenses command a premium because they work with that modern Sony series. But I like the less-automatic older cameras a little better just because I’m cantankerous that way. Sadly, my X-700 has developed the disease where the winding mechanism is frozen. Apparently it’s some bad capacitor. I may get it repaired one day, but last year I got an Olympus OM-1 and a Pentax ME, and so when I want to slake my SLR thirst I can reach for one of those.

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    • Unfortunately, my X-700 now has the dreaded locked winder mechanism. It’s going to be mighty expensive to repair, so I think it’s probably going to stay this way. Using this camera was fun while it lasted.

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  6. Brandon Campbell says:

    I loved my X-700! I still have it and would still be using it if I could afford film and processing/scanning. And yes, there are digital cameras (such as my current Olympus E-PM1) that take an adapter to use the old MD lenses. But the main issues are you have to set the aperture manually, and most digital camera sensors are smaller than a frame of film (half the size in my case) so my 28mm 2.8 wide-angle lens becomes a 56mm normal lens, and my 50mm 1.7 normal lens becomes a 100mm portrait lens. But it is a cheap way to get a good portrait lens, you don’t really need autofocus when your subject is just standing there! :-]

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    • Good points on the lenses! I now have 2 X-700s and both of them have the dreaded locked winder, which traces to a failed capacitor. This is apparently a chronic problem with this camera.

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  7. If you know how to use a solder gun then it is fairly easy to replace those two capacitors. Instructions on the web. Mine doesn’t have that problem but since I have recapped 1970s stereo receivers then this camera is a minor task.

    However, rather than doing that I would keep my eye out for a X-570 which I feel is the better camera. Has improvements over the X-700 only just doesn’t have the P mode. Who uses the P mode who knows how to use shutter speeds and apertures anyway?

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    • Sometimes P is fun, but most of the time I shoot in A. And when I married last year I married into an X-570! I ought to borrow it from my wife…

      But I won’t be repairing any X-700. That’s a level of repair I just won’t do. I’ve done some simple repairs but beyond that if the camera is worth it to me I send it to a pro for repair and CLA.

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