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