Camera Reviews, Photography

Minolta SR-T 202

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The top of the line.

That’s where Minolta’s SR-T 202 sat upon its 1975 debut: atop Minolta’s hierarchy of SR-T 35mm SLRs. It might be hard to tell, because Minolta offered a dizzying array of SR-T cameras worldwide, some with model numbers higher than this. But here’s a secret decoder ring: if you have any SR-T with a higher model number — say, 303b, 505, or 505s — you actually have this camera, the 202. Those were just the model numbers given this camera elsewhere in the world.

Minolta SR-T 202

This heavy brick won’t win any beauty contests. The photographers who shot them didn’t care — they wanted a precise, versatile, and durable machine, and they got it. The 202 features a cloth shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec. at 6 to 6,400 ISO. It also features classic match-needle metering, but no autoexposure modes. That meter, Minolta’s “Contrast Light Compensator” (that’s what the CLC on the camera’s face means), is the world’s first matrix metering system. It uses two metering cells to assess contrast, making sure bright areas don’t turn out too bright and dark areas don’t turn out too dark. The 202 also features a hot shoe and a focusing screen with a split-image spot surrounded by a microprism ring. This is almost everything you’d expect of a camera in this class — curiously, mirror lock up is missing. That feature allegedly reduces camera shake on longer exposures, and allows mounting of ultra-wide-angle lenses, which often have deeply protruding rear elements that the mirror would block.

Minolta SR-T 202

You’ll find this camera in two versions. The earlier 1975-77 version offered both FP and X flash sync and a locking depth-of-field preview button; the 1978-80 version offered only X flash sync and a depth-of-field preview button that functions only you hold it in. Every other difference is cosmetic, such as the film-plane indicator (the red o with the line through it) moving from right of the prism housing to left of it. My 202 is the later version.

Minolta SR-T 202

I got my 202 in an antique store in Centerville, Indiana, on the old National Road. Blue corrosion goo was crusted around the battery cover, which is never a good sign. But even if the camera were a basket case, that 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens was worth owning if I could get it for a good price. As I fired off a few frames at various shutter speeds, this 202 felt and sounded right. So I offered 20 bucks. The store owner countered with an additional ten bucks. Sold! 30 bucks for an f/1.4 prime!

I cleaned up the battery compartment and dropped in an alkaline 625 cell (a substitute for the dreaded, banned mercury 625 cell the 202 is designed to take), but the meter wouldn’t budge. Persistent Googling turned up several reasons a 202’s meter would die, all of them repairable — but requiring way more camera disassembly than I’m willing to do. So I loaded some Kodak Gold 200 and figured exposure using either Sunny 16 or my iPhone’s Pocket Light Meter app.

I shot the entire roll near home. Using this f/1.4 lens indoors with ISO 200 film, I got a very narrow in-focus patch, even on a blazingly bright day. This was the scene on my desk, right under a window.

Pens and Mophie and TLb

This summer I stripped all the paint off my front door (what an ugly job!) and repainted it in La Fonda Copper, to harmonize with my home’s brick. Hopefully in the spring I’ll replace the aluminum storm door with a white one, the kind with the built-in rollaway screen. But anyway, the lens and film rendered this dusky coppery color as orange. Can’t win ’em all.

Entry system

At least I got good reds when I shot the hedgerow next to my driveway. This hedge not only provides some privacy for me and my next-door neighbor, it looks fabulous for a couple weeks in the autumn when its leaves turn. (It was nine feet tall when I moved in. What a job it was to cut it down to size.)

Red study 3

The SR-T 202 is heavy, but such is the way of all-mechanical 35mm SLRs. Otherwise, everything about this camera feels good. The controls are where you’d expect them to be, and they all work smoothly. A nice touch: both aperture and shutter speed appear in the viewfinder, so you can adjust both with the camera at your eye. The shutter fires (and mirror slaps) with a sound that some call loud but that I call satisfying and solid.

This is the only shot I didn’t take on my property. But these two trees are just a block or so away. They’re among the most spectacular in the neighborhood every autumn.

Autumn leaves

It’s not a test roll unless I’ve shot these three trees that stand on the golf course right behind my house. This time, I shot ’em twice, first under cloud cover…

Golf course trees in overcast

…and then in full sun. The subject isn’t that interesting, but these two photos do give a useful comparison of this lens’s performance in different lighting conditions. But notice in both shots, a bright spot on the left about 1/3 of the way down. This showed up in many of these photos. Photoshop fixed it on several of them. I’m not sure what caused it.

Golf course trees in sunlight

And just for fun, here’s my favorite possession: my lawn tractor, all cleaned up at the end of its 18th season, ready to be put away until Spring. It’s really showing its age now. The welds that hold the hood on have given way, but I clamped it back together with two locking pliers and just kept on trucking. And the original drive belt finally snapped this season. I was astounded to find that the Sears Parts Direct Web site still supports this old timer — typing in the model number took me right to a complete parts list, and I was able to order a new belt. Also, I quickly found a PDF of my tractor’s manual, which showed how the belt looped in. Awesome! Props to Sears. This is product support done right.

Craftsman tractor

The Minolta SR-T 202 is a wonderful camera. It’s too bad that the meter in mine is dead. If it worked, I’m sure I’d put this camera into rotation for occasional use. I might even lend it out, as I do with other cameras sometimes, to people who are interested in film photography but are afraid to make their first camera investment. It’s a great camera for that early experience.

But hey, at least I got that 50mm f/1.4 lens out of the deal. I can use it on my SR-T 101 and my XG 1; with some ISO 800 film, I can easily shoot indoors without flash, which I need to do sometimes.

While this lens is a fine performer, I’m surprised to find that I prefer the 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor-PF lens that came with my SR-T 101. It has character. Check out the gallery of photos I’ve taken with that lens; compare to my Minolta SR-T 202 gallery. You’ll see.

But no regrets: this was a great bargain on a fine lens. Maybe someday I’ll find a similarly great bargain on a fully working 202 body.


Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out all of my vintage gear reviews.

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41 thoughts on “Minolta SR-T 202

  1. Richard Armstrong says:

    Hi Jim
    As fine as a camera the SRT 202 is it sure wasn’t Minolta’s flagship model I would say the professional Minolta XK was Minolta’s flagship in 1975 and the fully automatic XE-7 was also released in 1975 which would also be regarded as further up the chain than the SRT 202 IMHO.

    Regards Richard

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    • I have the same issue with my 101

      However, arent these horizontal travel curtains? I believe these are some sort of cloth flaps between the mirror and the actual shutter, I’m guessing to eliminate reflections?

      Something that I noticed is that one of my test rolls showed this on almost every frame, but the second one did not, on any. I am chewing trough the third test roll, I understand sometimes “exercising” the camera a bit after a long downtime, helps solve some issues, maybe my third roll will turn out okai.

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      • I know very little of the mechanics of that camera, so I could not tell whether it is the actual shutter or just cloth flaps. I did open the camera and slowed done the shutter speed to see how it moved, and it seemed okay, sometimes. I suppose with time, it will fix itself. I just know that the problem did not exist before I took the light meter to get fixed. In any case, I haven’t used this camera in over 3 years, so who knows?

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        • Thanks dehk, I’ve checked that, all I can see is some folds of black fabric sort of between the mirror. Can those become dislodged during the mirror’s travel? Any idea on how to trigger that?

          I’ve tried leaving the shutter open with bulb mode or 1 sec exposures, every time I see a clean rectangle, I am looking forward to getting this new roll developed, maybe was a problem initially and by the second roll it went away?

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        • Put it on B open the shutter. Use a tweezers or be creative, check that piece of cloth at the back on top of mirror, and check that cloth on top of the shutter track see if any of them are loose and can flop around randomly. If so glue it very lightly with some light duty glue.

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        • Those cloth flaps are supposed to be glued to the mirror? I moved them and they wiggled a little, but couldnd get myself to pull or push them too much.

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        • Well the one on the mirror does . If it’s the one in the tracks you gotta tuck and glue them back up. If the only wiggle you are probably fine, I was wondering if any of these will come loose at high speed . Send me your email via my contact form .

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    • I’ve seen behavior like this on other cameras, and I believe you’re right that it’s a shutter problem. The shutter’s speed isn’t consistent, and the shutter slows way down at the end of its travel, which creates this shadow.

      I hear that some people have had some luck resolving this by just using the camera a lot, but I think the more common remedy is a repair. Given that most repair shops are going to charge a minimum of around $100 for any work, you have to decide whether it’s worth it. For a camera like this, bodies are plentiful and less expensive than $100, so I’d just buy a new body and move on.

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  2. Jim, I purchased my SRT 101… pretty much for the 58mm f1.4 Lens, great for portraits on a 1.5 crop digital, but got caught on using it on its original camera, these fully mechanical SLR’s are a thing to behold and use, I agree on your assessment of the shutter sound, quite satisfactory !

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    • I love fully mechanical SLRs. They’re my favorite thing to shoot.

      Well, there are situations where my auto-everything digital camera is called for. And from time to time I like the easy, breezy shooting with an autoexposure, autofocus film SLR. But if you told me I had to shoot for the rest of my life with an all-mechanical SLR I’d just shrug and get on with it.

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  3. Andy Umbo says:

    I knew a lot of young and beginning pros that used the Minolta SR-T 101 in the very early 70’s, the lenses were considered very good, the bodies, OK in some aspects, not so hot in others, hence the development of the 202. The “romanticist” photographer David Hamilton was one of the brands pro “stars”, and they used him a lot in the press. By the time the XK came along, pros who depended on 35mm system cameras for what they were doing, had already lined up behind either Canon or Nikon, so it was just a little too late to be included in. It was “catch-up” for them after that, but for a lot of other camera makers as well. Many can say that the Minoltas gave good service, but if you compare them for build along the Canon or Nikon offerings at the time, you could tell. Still, when I was in college, it was one of the brands people picked to do work, along with the “big two”, plus Pentax, Miranda, Mamiya-Sekor, Topcon. There was a time before auto-exposure and motor drives, when there were a lot of good cameras in the running!

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    • My Minolta lenses are all at least competent performers and some of them are outright gems. But now that you mention it, I’ve had more trouble with Minolta bodies than with bodies from any other manufacturer. For example, I have two X-700 bodies that are essentially bricks.

      Like

  4. Wes C says:

    Jim, The bright spot on the left in some of your photos is likely due to a pinhole in one of the shutter curtains. One of my cameras had a small hole on the first curtain on the edge where the metal piece crimps to the cloth curtain. Several of my frames had a bright spot just like you are seeing. If the hole is in the first curtain, the problem can be lessened by waiting to advance your film until just before taking the exposure. I was able to find the tiny hole by removing the lens, opening the camera back, holding up to bright light and watching the curtains as they are advanced. Thanks, I enjoyed reading about your Minolta!

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  5. “The shutter fires (and mirror slaps) with a sound that some call loud but that I call satisfying and solid. ” – One of the best sounding shutters in my opinion are the SRTs.

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  6. That bright spot indicate a hole on your shutter cloth. Look for the hole under the light and get a drop of nail polish. Or automotive under carriage rubber (paint), or be creative.

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  7. Excellent post as always. I love the color and tones in these images! You’re right Jim, they won’t win no beauty contests, but they are well built and have a charm all their own. I have two SRT’s, I know one is the SRT-201, but I’ll have the check which model the other one is.

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  8. I also had the experience of liking the 1.7 lens better than the 1.4. I read an article the other day that said Sears is in real trouble. So maybe it is time to stock up some spare parts for your mower. It is amazing how far Sears has fallen. When I was a kid Sears was the undisputed king of retail

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    • Nice to know I’m not alone on that 1.7!

      It’s funny. The only things I like about Sears is their Lands End selection and anything with the Craftsman name on it. Fortunately, my tractor has a Briggs and Stratton engine, and most of the non-engine wear parts are standard things like belts. Woe betide me, however, if something like the steering gear breaks. That happened during this tractor’s first year and that’s a part specific to this tractor. I’m hoping this tractor can get along for another 2-3 seasons, as I’m thinking by then my kids will all be in college and I’d like to move to someplace with little or no yard to care for.

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  9. I recently unearthed my father’s old SRT-Super (moniker for the SRT-102 for Asian market) and shooting it has been a real pleasure — the 50mm 1.4 is a joy to work with, and it handles super well. Loved reading your post on it!

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