The Minolta Maxxum 7000 broke new ground: it was the first 35mm SLR with an in-body autofocus system.
It wasn’t the first autofocus SLR, but the few that came before it had all of the focusing motors in the lenses. The Maxxum 7000 put the motors in the body, and all the other manufacturers soon followed. Chips in the lenses and accessories talk to chips in the camera body, changing settings inside the camera for best operation — groundbreaking stuff in 1985, when this camera was introduced.
Experienced photographers were wary. Their all-mechanical cameras seldom failed. But the siren song of auto-everything was too much for the consumer market, which flocked to this camera and the many imitators that followed. Experienced photographers eventually came around.
With the Maxxum line, Minolta scrapped its older MC and MD lens mounts for a new fully electronic A mount. Sony’s α-series digital cameras still use this mount; my 7000’s 50mm f/1.7 AF Maxxum lens clips right onto the latest Sony cameras. I gather that Minolta sold this camera primarily in a kit with a 35-70mm f/4 zoom lens, but almost all of the Maxxum 7000s I found on eBay came with this 50mm prime lens.
Minolta also abandoned the mostly metal bodies of their earlier cameras for an all-plastic body. This was the way the industry was going: Canon and Nikon introduced plastic-bodied SLRs at around the same time.
The Maxxum 7000 offers program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and manual modes. It reads the DX coding on the film cartridge to set ISO (from 25 to a whopping 6400), but you can override it. Buttons on top of the camera control all settings. I’ll probably always prefer the dials on mechanical, manual cameras to any electronic controls, but these buttons aren’t bad. I found them a lot easier to use than any of the electronic controls on my auto-everything Nikon and Canon cameras. The LCD panel shows your settings in a logical, easily understood way. All around, the Maxxum 7000 is a thoughtful, easy-to-learn design.
Four AAA batteries power everything, including the automatic film winder.
By the way, if you’re a Minolta SLR fan also check out my reviews of the SR-T 101 (here), SR-T 202 (here), X-700 (here), XG 1 (here), and Maxxum 9xi (here). Also see my review of the rangefinder Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here). You can see all of the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
The old cameras I buy online sometimes arrive broken. It’s a hazard of the hobby. I’ve learned how to assess cameras carefully and ask good questions of sellers, and now I have pretty good luck, at least with all-mechanical cameras. But the more electronics an old camera has, the more likely it is broken in a way so subtle that even the most scrupulous seller wouldn’t know.
I took the 7000 along in April on our Spring Break trip to Mammoth Cave. I shot a roll of Fujicolor 200 happily, anticipating great photos. But when the film came back from the processor, every shot was badly underexposed. Photoshop helped me make usable images out of a handful of them — I rather like this nicely textured shot of one of the tipis at the Wigwam Village — but most of the images were well beyond saving.
I’m learning that even in a botched capture, you can sometimes coax out an interesting image, like this shot from downtown Cave City. A thunderstorm was threatening.
I was also able to save this gritty photo of a small grocery store in Cave City. I also shot this with another camera at about the same time; see it here for comparison.
I figured the poor exposures must have been my fault somehow — could I have accidentally set ISO too low? So I tried again with a second roll of Fujicolor 200. In case the camera really was at fault, I took three photos of each scene, at 0, +1, and +2 EV. I shot most of the roll Downtown on a sunny day. I had some success, like this shot of Leon’s Tailoring Shop.
But several shots still turned out badly underexposed. So I asked the Internet why. It turns out that the Maxxum 7000’s aperture-control magnet commonly fails, and then the camera shoots everything at minimum aperture. On this lens, that’s f/22. I shot the good photos on this roll blazing bright sun — just the kind of light f/22 likes. All of the sunny-day photos were usable, but exposures were best at +2 EV. This photo turned out best of them all. This giant mural is painted on the side of the Indianapolis Public Schools headquarters building. The red Chevy is a nice contrast.
Speaking of red, the back of the Saffron Cafe offers it liberally. These sweet results suggest a fine lens, at least when stopped all the way down! I would have liked to try some up-close shots to see what kind of bokeh I would get.
Even though the sun was bright, the camera had trouble resolving shady spots. Some tweaking in Photoshop brought out a little shadow detail in this shot. When I worked Downtown going on 20 years ago now, the Elbow Room was my favorite lunch spot.
I’m glad to have experienced this camera. It felt good in my hands, and the controls made sense. One or both of those has not been true for every other auto-everything SLR I’ve shot. So far, if I was going to keep just one auto-everything SLR, it’d be the Maxxum 7000.
But not this one. Repairing the aperture magnet problem is said to cost north of $100. It’s tons cheaper to just buy a working body. If I stumble upon one for a good price someday, I’ll scoop it right up. But meanwhile, I really do prefer my mechanical SLRs for everyday shooting.
Meanwhile, the lens is valuable to Sony α owners. This 50mm f/1.7 lens goes for about $50 on eBay all the time. Selling it will let me recoup my purchase cost. I love it when I break even on a broken camera.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.