Camera Reviews

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

After owning two Minolta Maxxum 7000 bodies that broke, I went looking for a working Maxxum body so I could put my two A-mount lenses through their paces. Then Sam over at Camera Legend profiled the mighty Minolta Maxxum 9xi — and pointed to a place where I could pick up a body for $22 shipped. That’s my kind of price! So I scooped it right up.

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

The 9xi was Maxxum in the US, a Dynax in Europe, and an α in Japan, but wherever it was sold upon its 1992 introduction, it was a hugely advanced camera for pros. It is a beast. Don’t let the plastic exterior fool you: the frame and mirror box are metal. You could drop this thing off a building and probably get right back to shooting. And it’s heavy. I’ll bet it weighs more than my Nikon F2.

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

It might also be the most technologically advanced camera I’ve ever owned. Its carbon-fiber reinforced shutter operates from 30 sec down to — are you ready for this? — 1/12,000 sec! Its four-sensor autofocus mechanism tries to predict subject movement horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. Autofocus activates, oh my gosh the voodoo, when you place your eye to the viewfinder. The 9xi also features a sophisticated a 14-segment honeycomb metering pattern. And all the information about your shot projects into the viewfinder using a transparent LCD technology. A flash isn’t built in, but compatible external flashes can be controlled remotely and sync up to 1/300 sec.

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

See that little door on the right, under the FUNC button? Open it to access extra controls for things like setting ISO and rewinding the fim — and to insert “creative cards,” which Minolta sold to add new creative shooting modes to the camera. They didn’t sell well; the pro photographers who could afford this expensive camera didn’t need them.

By the way, if you like powerful auto-everything SLRs like this, check out my reviews of the Nikon N90s (here) and Canon EOS A2e (here). You might also enjoy my reviews of the Minolta Maxxum 7000 (here), Nikon N8008 (here), and Canon EOS Rebel (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I had a 2CR5 battery lying around so I dropped it in, spooled in a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, clipped on my 50mm f/1.7 Maxxum AF lens, and went out whenever the weather allowed late in the winter. I had the best luck at Bethel Cemetery.

McCurdy

One thing I really appreciated about the 9xi was its viewfinder’s built-in diopter correction. I’ve reached that age where I need to carry reading glasses with me, but I’m resisting. I also really appreciated the knurled wheel right in front of the shutter button. It moves you through valid aperture and shutter speed combinations given how the camera read exposure. I used it to set the shutter at 1/12,000 sec for this shot just to see what happened. That’s some reasonable bokeh from that lens.

Stone

I put the 9xi on a tripod for this shot of my to-be-reviewed Ansco B-2 Cadet. Even with every light on and the blinds open, there wasn’t enough light to give me a wider in-focus patch.

Ansco Box

This lens gives good definition and sharpness. I wasn’t wowed by the contrast — the miniblind shadow on the wall was much stronger in real life — but that could be the film as much as the lens.

Tree In the House

I didn’t feel like I’d wrung the camera out yet, so I loaded a roll of Kodak Max Versatility 400 (expired, cold stored), clipped on my 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 Minolta AF Zoom, and kept going. That lens, by the way, came in the kit with many consumer-grade Maxxums. Ho-lee-cow was there ever barrel distortion, especially at 35mm. Thankfully, it was easily fixed in Photoshop. I shot most of the roll Downtown, beginning along Massachusetts Avenue.

Tattered Paqer Can Transform Into Sky

When I moved to Indianapolis in the mid-1990s, Mass Ave (as we call it) wasn’t much. A couple galleries, a couple restaurants, a whole bunch of decay. It’s been transformed into a happening place to be. These shots don’t show much of it, though, especially this detail shot of some planters next to a new condo building.

Yellow bowls

Margaret and I strolled through Lockerbie, an old Downtown neighborhood near Mass Ave. We both love to take in historic architecture. Lockerbie is just charming. Margaret and I have talked about moving Downtown together, but somehow I doubt we’d be willing to pay what it costs to live in this very popular neighborhood.

Lockerbie home

The more I shot the 9xi, the more out of love I fell with it. The tactile experience was just unremarkable. It was going to need to blow my socks off to offset the camera’s size and weight.

In Lockerbie

I finished the roll by driving down Michigan Road a little ways from my house to snap this building, which is on the southwest corner of Cold Spring Road. I’ve always wondered about its story; there’s a large house behind it on the property. For reasons I can’t fathom, this photo was featured on Flickr’s Explore. It’s far from the best shot on the roll.

House on Cold Spring Road *EXPLORED*

See more from this camera in my Minolta Maxxum 9xi gallery.

The Minolta Maxxum 9xi sparks no joy. It is just a heavy lump that does a job. In contrast, whenever I pick up, say, my Nikon N90s, I feel a strong emotional connection with the instrument and finish each roll of film feeling a certain satisfaction. I want that satisfaction in any camera that stays in my collection.

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

Nikon Nikomat FTn

Until the late 1970s, Nikon-branded 35mm SLR cameras were designed, built, and priced for pro photographers. But Nikon figured amateurs would buy SLRs, too, if they were priced right. But Nikon feared diluting their brand, and so gave consumer cameras other names.

Nikon’s first go, 1960’s Nikkorex, never caught on. Nikon simply guessed wrong at what features amateurs wanted. Moreover, Nikon outsourced manufacture, and whispers of reliability problems hurt sales. So Nikon tried again with an all-new camera built in Nikon factories. The Nikomat (in Japan, Nikkormat in the rest of the world) was born, starting with the 1965 Nikomat FT. Recently, a Japanese Nikomat was generously donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. It’s this 1967-1975 Nikon Nikomat FTn.

Nikon Nikomat FTn

Consumer SLR photographers, it turned out, wanted through-the-lens metering, fast shutters, and interchangeable lenses. The Nikomat/Nikkormat line obliged, and could take the entire range of Nikkor lenses that were designed for Nikon’s professional F-series cameras. But the Nikomats lack the F’s interchangeable viewfinders and focusing screens, and can’t take motor drives. Also, there’s no hot shoe. A clip-on accessory shoe was available, though, and a flash can be plugged into M (flashbulb) or X (electronic flash) terminals.

Nikon Nikomat FTn

But much like the venerable F, the Nikomat FTn is built like a tank. It feels more substantial than either of my Nikon F2s. It boasts a mechanical vertical focal-plane shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/1000 second. You set shutter speed on the lens barrel, and the speed is visible in the viewfinder. It also features center-weighted average through-the-lens metering. Pull the wind lever back a little to activate the meter, and then adjust shutter speed and aperture until the needle in the viewfinder is between the + and – symbols. Alternatively, you can use the meter display on the top plate next to the rewind lever. Adjust exposure until the meter is centered in the o symbol. The FTn also offers depth-of-field preview and mirror lockup. It takes film from 12 to 1600 ASA.

A dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery required to run the meter. Fortunately, everything else about the FTn functions without a battery. I substituted an alkaline 625 cell. To heck with everybody who says this will result in misexposures. As you’ll see, it wasn’t an issue at all.

If you’re into metal, mechanical Nikons, also check out my reviews of the F2 (here) and F3 (here). You might also like my review of the Nikkormat EL (here), the Nikon FA (here), and the Nikon N2000 (here). You can check out all of my camera reviews here.

I usually test a new-to-me camera with inexpensive color film. But some cameras, this Nikomat among them, feel like they want to be tested with black-and-white film. So I loaded my next-to-last roll of dear, departed Arista Premium 400 and took this camera out and about. I used the 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C lens that came with the camera. And oh. my. gosh. what results I got.

My sons and I went Downtown to Monument Circle for dinner at Potbelly’s, my older son’s favorite place. This duo provided a little live music, right next to the soda dispenser.

Music at Potbelly's

I stepped back a little for this lonely shot of the guitarist. The FTn’s focusing screen offers only a microprism, which makes out-of-focus images look jagged. My middle-aged eyes prefer split-image focusing, but I managed to get focus right in every shot with the FTn.

Music at Potbelly's

Monument Circle was packed to the gills with people and motorcycles that evening. It was some sort of big biker event. It clogged up Downtown; the closest parking we could find was about five blocks away.

Bikes

But the extra walking didn’t matter, because we wanted to walk around Downtown anyway. We walked along Massachusetts Avenue, one of Indy’s four diagonal streets. It’s become quite the night spot in the past ten years or so. Stout’s Shoes is one of the last regular retailers remaining here. It’s the oldest shoe store in America.

The oldest shoe store in America

I brought the FTn along when Margaret and I surveyed the wayfinding signs along the Michigan Road in Marion and Shelby Counties. The Allied Appliances storefront in Wanamaker is a real throwback, and clearly it gets regular love to stay looking this good.

Allied Appliances

We lingered in Founder’s Cemetery at Wanamaker’s southern outskirts. A few gravestones are fenced off. I moved in close to one of the posts and got this great shot. It was a blisteringly bright day, the kind that makes some of my cameras struggle. But the Nikomat handled the light with aplomb.

Fencepost

I took the FTn on one of my three (!) trips to the Indiana State Fair this year, which is where I finished the roll.

Moo

On a later outing I loaded some Fujicolor 200 to see how the Nikkor H-C lens rendered color on this film I know so well. It muted the colors somewhat, for a very interesting look.

One Nine Five

But it’s a very interesting quality, epecially with these delicate spring tree flowers against the dark background.

Tree flowers

Maybe I should call the look vintage. Whatever, it is an intriguing quality.

Salem Cemetery

Here the Fujicolor 200’s normal color signature comes through. The lens captures all these details well. But this isn’t supposed to be a review of the lens, but rather the camera itself, and it continued to behave well in my hands. It and I never became one — its heavy controls never let it disappear in my hands.

Eagle Creek Park

To see more photos from this camera, click here to see my Nikomat FTn gallery.

There’s a stiffness about all of the 1960s 35mm SLRs I own, this Nikon Nikomat FTn included. Maybe they all need a cleaning, lube, and adjustment. Maybe they’re just built that way. Who knows. Truth is, my 1970s and 1980s SLRs work much more fluidly and are slightly more pleasant for me to use. But this Nikomat FTn wasn’t so stiff as to be unpleasant, and these outstanding results make me want to shoot it again and again.

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

Pentax ES II

The 1964 Pentax Spotmatic, the first 35mm SLR to offer through-the-lens light metering, set the template for pretty much every popular SLR that followed. But the Spotmatic required moving a little lever to activate the meter. And you had to set both aperture and shutter speed yourself. The horror.

Pentax’s engineers worked tirelessly to relieve photographers worldwide of their lever pushing and dial twisting. They triumphed in 1971 with the Electro Spotmatic, which added open-aperture metering and aperture-priority autoexposure. The celebrating ended quickly, however: the Electro Spotmatic proved to be unreliable. Pentax followed quickly with the improved ES, but even that camera had its problems. Pentax didn’t get it right until 1973 when they released the ES II.

Pentax ES II

To make open-aperture metering work, the well-regarded M42 screw-mount Takumar lenses received a slight modification: a tab that let the camera’s exposure system read the lens’s aperture. This coincided with the introduction of Super Multi Coating, Pentax’s advanced lens-coating technology. If you shoot one of these cameras with lenses not marked Super-Multi-Coated or SMC, you lose open-aperture metering and autoexposure. The camera then works like any other Spotmatic, with all that lever pushing and dial twisting.

Pentax ES II

With non-SMC lenses you also get a narrow range of shutter speeds: 1/50, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000 sec. Screw on an SMC Takumar and twist the aperture ring to A, and suddenly these cameras’ shutters fire from 8 sec to 1/1000 sec steplessly — if 1/382 sec gets the right exposure, that’s what the camera chooses.

Pentax ES II

This electro-wizardry needs four SR44 button batteries. Most other 1970s-80s aperture-priority SLRs need just one or two. And the ES II burns through those batteries fast. I forgot to turn off my ES II one time, and when I picked it up again two days later, all four batteries were dead, dead, dead.

By the way, if you like these screw-mount Pentaxes, also see my reviews of the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), and the H3 (here). You might also like the K-mount Pentaxes; see my reviews of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), and the ME (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My ES II came with two lenses: a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar and a 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar. I screwed on the 55mm lens, loaded a roll of Arista Premium 400, and took the ES II out onto the road. Here’s my favorite shot from that roll, which I took in Michigantown on the Michigan Road.

300

The 55mm f/1.8 Takumar is widely regarded as a great lens, pin sharp. So I was a little let down by how soft these photos turned out. To see what this lens is capable of, check out the photos on this page.

Ganders Visitors

That softness shows up best at larger resolutions, so if you’re curious, click any of these photos to open them on Flickr and enlarge them there.

Augusta Station

I had a fine time shooting the ES II, however. It handled great. It’s a little heavy in the hands, but then this camera is made entirely of metal.

White Lion Antiques

I took a couple photos with the 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar and was even more disappointed with how soft my photos turned out. See this page to see the sharpness this lens can deliver. But do enjoy my neighbor’s ’67 Chrysler.

'67 Chrysler

I wondered: did I have the lenses screwed on tight? Was there something wrong with my lenses or with the camera? I wanted to try to figure it out. So I loaded some Kodak Ektar 100 and kept shooting. Sharpness improved noticeably. I don’t know why.

Bell

I took the ES II downtown one evening for a photo walk along Massachusetts Avenue. The Old Point Tavern is an old Indianapolis bar. They make a great bowl of chili.

Old Point Tavern

Here’s another of those pedal-powered beer bars like the one I shared in this post. The fellow looking directly at the camera actually called out something unkind to me after I snapped this shot.

Pedaling for beer

You’ll find racks full of these yellow rental bikes all over downtown. I never see any of the bikes in use; the racks are always full.

Bikeshare

I’ve shot this shrub in my next-door-neighbor’s yard six or seven times now with various cameras but have never been satisfied with the photos — until now. This is exactly what I have been trying to capture about this bush. Don’t ask me to describe what it is, though; I can’t.

Shrub

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ES II gallery.

I’d like to put a roll of Kodak T-Max through my ES II to see how my Takumars like that low-grain film. That’s a good sign: I know I really like a camera when I imagine the next roll of film I’ll shoot in it. The speed with which the ES II burns through batteries bothers me a little, but not so much that I wouldn’t shoot this camera again.

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