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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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…
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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