Camera Reviews

Minolta X-700

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. It’s usually the junk nobody wants, but every now and again something really good falls into my hands.

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 had never owned an SLR before. I’d only ever shot one a handful of times. My first wife had a Pentax K1000, and to be sure she was in some family photos she’d preset aperture and shutter speed and hand it to me. Except for focusing, I used it like a point and shoot.

I’d been primarily a camera collector up to this time; photography itself was secondary. I had always enjoyed junk cameras I found at yard sales, but by this time I was shifting my focus 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.

At the time Maxine gifted me this camera, it became the most capable camera in my collection. It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

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. The other two lenses were off-brand zooms that weren’t awesome.

By the way, if you’re charmed by Minolta SLRs, also check out my reviews of the SR-T 101 (here), SR-T 202 (here), XG 1 (here), Maxxum 7000 (here), and Maxxum 9xi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

The X-700 was way more complicated than my ex-wife’s K1000, and I had to read its manual just to figure out how to turn it on and access its autoexposure modes. But once I figured those things out, I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and visited the cemetery at my church.

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

I shot in program mode. I’m surprised that the camera biased toward shallow depth of field.

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. It turns out to be my favorite photo from the roll.

Toyota Matrix steering wheel

I brought the X-700 along on a road trip down the National Road (US 40) in western Indiana. This diner was, at the time, just east of Plainfield. It has since been moved to downtown Plainfield and completely renovated.

The Diner

The X-700 was a useful companion on this trip. By this time I’d gotten the hang of it and it handled easily in my hands. Here’s an abandoned bridge that once carried US 40 west of Plainfield.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Here are some cheerful flowers I found by the roadside on an old alignment of the road near Reelsville.

Roadside flowers

Downtown Terre Haute offered me several nice subjects. This building may once have housed the Terre Haute Trust Company, but for as long as I can remember — since I moved there in 1985 — it has housed the Merchant’s National and, later, the Old National Bank.

Former Tribune-Star building

Finally, a photo of the great sign for the Saratoga Restaurant. When I lived in Terre Haute in the 1980s and 1990s, this was a place all the middle-aged people went for a nice night out. Now that I’m middle aged, I see the charm.

The Saratoga

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta X-700 gallery.

The X-700 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.

Unfortunately, a few weeks later when I tried to load another roll of film, the winder would not move. Some Internet sleuthing revealed that this is a common fate of the X-700. A particular capacitor fails and renders the camera inert. When I sought estimates for repair, I was disappointed with how expensive it would be. I put the X-700 aside thinking I’d have it repaired someday. But the years passed, other fine SLRs entered my collection, and I decided to just sell this X-700 as a parts camera.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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42 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!

    • 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.)

      • 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/

        • 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.

        • 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/

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

  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 ;)

  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.

    • Oh drooooool, the G11. It is now my #1 pick for my next digicam.

      I’m with you, the first tombstone pic is the most pleasing in composition.

      • 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!

  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 :-)

    • 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.

    • 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!

  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

    • 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.

  6. Great review. I love my X700. It’s one of my favorite camera. The minolta MD lenses are so great. Congratulation for your blog.
    Romaric.

    • 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.

  7. 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! :-]

    • 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.

  8. 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?

    • 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.

  9. Michael Gillard says:

    I agree that the X570 is a better camera, it has all necessary information in the viewfinder and the added bonus is that there’s only one capacitor to fix, it’s the easy one under the bottom cover.

  10. I had an X-700, amd something you didn’t really mention was how fantastic the viewfinder is, one of the very best I’ve seen on any 35mm SLR.

    I liked mine, and admired its capabilities, and the Rokkor lenses are magnificent. But I never quite loved it, it seemed too much for what I needed from a film SLR, almost too clever.

    So I bought a simpler X-300 instead. Which I greatly preferred, but then that broke down, and the two replacements I sought out within just a few weeks also seized too.

    At this point I pretty much have up on Minolta SLRs, which is a real shame as those lenses are amongst the best I’ve had.

    • Given how early this was in my SLR collecting I didn’t have much of a frame of reference on viewfinders!

      I wish I could use an X-700 today to see how I like it. Based on past experience with full program SLRs I probably wouldn’t love it.

      My wife has an X-570 that I keep meaning to borrow.

      • Ah I thought you might mention it when you updated the review. Maybe you’ve used more SLRs with amazing VFs than me, because the X-700 always stands out in memory as one of the very best!

        I know what you mean about frame of reference. My first two SLRs were a Praktica BMS Electronic then a Konica Autoreflex TC, both with just their standard 50mm lens. After I’d gone through a few dozen other SLRs, I often wondered about getting another example each of those first two, just to see how they stacked up.

        I think you can use the X-700 on all of the PASM modes, so you don’t need to go fully Program. I think the X-570 is well worth a try, though I would still pick a Pentax M series camera and lens over it, just for that extra chemistry I seem to have with Pentax gear.

        • Sadly I no longer own an X-700, haven’t for a long time, so I can’t check the camera for details like viewfinder or tactile feel of controls or whatever.

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