For a guy who set out to collect 35 mm rangefinder cameras, I sure have ended up with plenty of 35 mm SLRs. Most of them have been given to me, usually in a big bag with plenty of lenses and accessories. I love free cameras!
And I’ve loved shooting with these SLRs. There’s just something about knowing that what you see in the viewfinder is what you’re going to get in the resulting image, especially when the SLR offers depth-of-field preview.
So I’ve been buying classic mechanical SLRs when I get a good deal on them, such as was the case with this Minolta SR-T 101. Produced from 1966 to 1975, it was among the first SLRs to offer full-aperture through-the-lens light metering, in which the camera compensates for the set aperture as it measures light. We take this for granted today.
The SR-T 101 also offers a cloth focal plane shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/1000 second, with support for film speeds from 6 to a whopping 6,400 ASA. It also offers mirror lockup, a mechanical self timer, and a depth-of-field preview button. A throwback feature is the cold accessory shoe, which means that hooking up a flash requires a cable.
It’s also a throwback that the battery – the infernal banned mercury PX625 – powers only the meter. No battery? No problem – set your own exposure (for example, using the Sunny 16 rule) and just shoot. If you are eager to rely on the meter, however, drop in a zinc-air Wein cell or, as I did, use an alkaline 625 cell. Both have voltages different from the mercury cells, which theoretically can affect accurate exposure. As you’ll see, my photos turned out fine.
The SR-T 101 uses a classic match-needle system for setting exposure. With a battery installed, you turn the camera on using a switch on the bottom. Then you peer through he viewfinder. At right there are two needles, one that shows the light reading and another (the one with the loop end) that shows the current exposure setting. To get proper exposure, you adjust aperture (on the lens barrel) and shutter speed (using a dial on top of the camera) until the two needles line up.
I lucked into an early SR-T 101, from 1966 or 1967. This article charts the changes over the SR-T 101’s run, but in short, because my camera has a black film-speed knob on top, and because two top-plate screws on the back of the camera are equidistant from the viewfinder, my SR-T is from the first year or so of production.
By the way, if you like sturdy mechanical SLRs also check out my reviews of the Nikon F2 (here), Pentax Spotmatic SP (here), Pentax Spotmatic F (here), Pentax KM (here), and Pentax K1000 (here). (I’m a bit of a Pentax fan.) Other Minolta SLRs I’ve reviewed include the X-700 (here), the XG 1 (here), the Maxxum 7000 (here) and the Maxxum 9xi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
My SR-T 101 came with a 50 mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor-PF lens, which is not original to the camera. Early cameras shipped with either 58 mm f/1.4 or 55 mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor-PF lenses. The 50 mm lens on my camera wasn’t made until the mid 1970s.
No matter; the lens did a fine job. This is the barn on my buddy Kurt’s farm. It was built in 1865 north of Plymouth, Indiana, on Michigan Road lands.
Together, the lens and camera weigh about two pounds. Holding this heavy camera in both hands, I nearly tipped over as I squatted to photograph the recently baled hay.
My mother has had this little black vase for as long as I can remember. It was on her hutch when I visited last, so I arranged it with the bowl of peanut butter cups and shot with available light. The image came back from the processor’s a little too warm, so I cooled it down in Photoshop Elements.
An obligatory flower shot. I like how this lens and film (Fujicolor 200) rendered purple. I am seldom impressed with the purples I get; often they end up being more blue than in real life.
On a later outing I shot Ferrania P30 Alpha, a contrasty ISO 80 film. I walked around my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, for these photos.
SR-Ts are terrific cameras once you get used to their size and weight. The controls all feel sure and strong, but lack that luxury feel of professional SLRs like Nikon’s F2 or F3. But nothing about this camera says “cheap.”
Why do cities plant trees that block their historic architecture and signage? Argh.
You can see more photos from this camera in my Minolta SR-T 101 gallery.
If you like mechanical SLRs, you should experience an SR-T-series camera at some point. The 101 is a great place to start. Send one out for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment) and it will give you many years, perhaps even decades, of great service. And the Rokkor lenses range from very good to sublime. There are so many ways to win with an SR-T kit.