My son at the old railroad bridge Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD Agfa Vista 200 at EI 100 2018
A lot of abandoned railroad infrastructure remains across our nation. As railroads consolidated and shed lines through the 20th century, they left a lot behind.
Some of those lines have been converted to rail-trails. The best-known one in central Indiana is the Monon, named for its former rail line. But there are others.
A short rail-trail in Zionsville ends/begins at this bridge over Eagle Creek. A ramp leads down into Starkey Nature Park below, where there are great hiking trails. I like to go over there with my sons when they visit. Hence this photo.
This line was originally part of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four Railroad. The New York Central took it over in 1906; they built this bridge. In 1968 New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central, which went bankrupt in 1970. When Conrail was formed in 1976 it took over this line. I don’t know when it was abandoned.
After shooting my Minolta XG 1 in Operation Thin the Herd, I decided it was time to part with all of my Minolta gear. Bit by bit I’ve been selling it off. But before I let my 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens go, I shot one last roll of film with it.
It’s a crying shame I’ve had such bad luck with Minolta bodies, because the lenses are sublime. This 50/1.4 leads the pack. It’s easily the finest 50/1.4 I’ve used for any system.
Ultrafine Xtreme 100 has been a good utility b/w film every time I’ve used it, but this lens made the stuff absolutely sing.
Just look at that sharpness and detail! If only I had better luck with Minolta bodies, this lens and I could have made beautiful music together for years to come.
But I sold the camera to one person and the lens to another. I hope that they both get excellent use in new hands.
Now every time I look at these photos, I will think wistfully about this lovely lens.
Yellow flowers Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD
Agfa Vista 200 (at EI 100)
When I was 22 I broke up with a young woman who I still call my first great love. We were such comfortable companions. Our favorite thing was to watch bad movies together on cable well into the wee hours. She was brilliant at heckling them. Her dry, nerdy humor kept me laughing. I don’t laugh easily. She was a real gift in my life.
Yet we couldn’t make other things about our relationship work, important things. I don’t think she ever felt like I really loved her. I showed her in the ways I knew how, but she needed to feel loved in ways I didn’t understand and couldn’t give. And when I was tired or overwhelmed or irritated I was prickly and difficult. Still am. She never knew how to deal with that and she took it hard.
Sometimes a relationship can’t last because you’re not right together in some ways that really matter. Yet you’re reluctant to end it because it’s otherwise so comfortable. But after awhile comfort isn’t enough, and after a longer while the places where you don’t fit start to grate. More of your needs must be met. We ended our relationship, and it hurt, and we missed each other. But it was necessary.
My many Minolta SLRs have all been lovely and felt great in my hands. Their lenses are sublime. My heart leaps over the images these cameras give me. I want to shoot with them forever.
But they have been so unreliable. I just can’t keep one working for the long haul. There may be photographers out there who enjoy taking their gear apart and keeping them working smoothly. I’m not one of them. I just want my gear to work, period. And that’s why I’ve just sold my last Minolta body and am running right into the arms of reliable Pentax and Nikon.
Minolta SLRs and I have not gotten on well. They are unfailingly delightful to use and return great images — when they work. Which, in my experience, is seldom. I’ve owned two X-700 bodies that developed the well-known stuck winder problem. The fix involves soldering new capacitors. I’ve owned two Maxxum 7000 bodies that developed the common failure of the aperture-control magnet, meaning every photo was taken at f/22. There’s a fix but it involves major disassembly and considerable luck. Even the SR-T 101 and 202 I’ve owned had issues, though less catastrophic. The one reliable Minolta SLR body I’ve owned is this one: an XG 1, from the late 1970s.
This was an advanced amateur camera in its day, chock full of electronics to make the photographer’s job a breeze. It’s an aperture-priority camera, too, which is my favorite way to shoot. Mine came with a 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X lens, a good lens with interesting characteristics. Here’s one of my favorite shots on this kit, of my son in his room, on Fujicolor 200.
For this outing I mounted my 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD lens. It came with the first X-700 I owned and I’d shot it just once before that camera bricked. I’ve kept meaning to shoot it again, so onto the XG 1 it went. I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 but shot it at EI 100. It did lovely work. Minolta’s manual-focus lenses are just so good.
My sons were together over my birthday weekend and we took a hike through Starkey Nature Park in Zionsville, where we came upon this old railroad bridge.
There are some lovely trails inside Starkey. Zionsville really is a lovely place to live, with a charming downtown and amenities like this middle-of-nowhere getaway right in town. The rents are not for the faint of heart, however. Or the taxes. My inner skinflint wants to run right back to much-less-expensive Indianapolis.
The camera and lens handled nearly perfectly. The shutter button is electronic — placing your finger on it activates the meter, and a light touch fires the shutter. It’s so light that twice I accidentally fired the shutter and wasted a frame.
I sure do love my sons. They’re both back in college now. I really miss the years they were still in public school because I got to see them all the time. They’ve got some of the growing-up troubles typical of entering your 20s, but I think that the big picture looks bright for both of them.
I carried the XG 1 to work a few days. The building going up next door to my office looks like it’s starting to wrap up. It was hard to frame things in the viewfinder — a line of black schmutz obscures the view in there. I’m not sure when that happened; I don’t remember it being that way the last time I used it. I’m sure it wasn’t that way when I got it. The mirror is clean so it’s got to be inside the prism. I wonder how hard it would be to get in there and clean it up.
Standing on Thorntown’s mean streets, I extolled the XG 1’s strong reliability to Damion when the meter stopped responding. I was at the end of the roll; could that have been why? Or was it a weak battery? I’d used those two LR44s in several cameras before. When we got home I swapped in fresh batteries and the meter still didn’t respond. I rewound the film, dropped in a fresh roll (Ultrafine Extreme 100, photos to come). The meter came right to life and was strong through the roll.
Even though I’ve already decided to focus on Nikon and Pentax SLRs, I thought I might keep this XG 1 in case I came upon good Minolta Rokkor glass in my travels. But then I inventoried just those Pentaxes and Nikons and counted fifteen bodies. While doing that I came upon my two Olympus OM-1 bodies and the great set of lenses I have for them, all donated to me by the father of one of my closest friends, and knew I could not part with those either. I just don’t have room for Minoltas after all.
Competition among SLR manufacturers heated up during the 1970s as use of electronics increased and body size decreased. Minolta’s XG series was their way of competing against Olympus’s OM series and Pentax’s M cameras.
I bought one because I had two Minolta X-700s in a row that failed, but I wanted a body lighter than my SR-T 101 to shoot my MD Rokkor lenses.
When Minolta introduced its XG series of SLRs in 1977, it slotted between the near-pro XD series and all-mechanical SR-T series. The 1 in the name doesn’t mean it was the first of the series — that was the XG 7 — but rather that it is the entry level model. Or at least that’s what it became upon its 1979 introduction. In 1982, the camera’s name gained a hyphen (XG-1) and the new “rising sun” Minolta logo.
The XG 1 is meant to be used in aperture-priority mode. Just set the shutter speed dial to A, choose an aperture, and let the XG 1 do the rest. In aperture-priority mode, the cloth shutter is stepless from 1/1000 to 1 sec. A shutter-speed scale appears inside the viewfinder. When you touch the shutter button, red LEDs light next to the shutter speed the camera chooses. When two consecutive lights glow, the shutter speed is somewhere between the two values.
You can use the XG 1 in manual-exposure mode, too, but the camera offers no indicators that let you find the right exposure. If you want to use the light meter, you’ve got to be in aperture-priority mode. By 1979, silicon-cell meters were the hot new thing, but the XG series stuck with center-weighted CdS-cell meters. At least the XG 1 took films in a wide range of speeds, from 25 to 1600 ASA.
By the way, if you’re a fan of Minolta SLRs, have a look at my reviews of the X-700 (here), the SR-T 101 (here), and the SR-T 202 (here). I’ve also reviewed the big Minolta Hi-Matic 7 rangefinder (here) and the weird Minolta 110 Zoom SLR (here). To see all the cameras I’ve reviewed, click here.
I dropped some Fujicolor 200 into it, along with two LR44 button cells (without which the camera won’t function) and off I went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The grounds contain extensive and well-maintained gardens. I have no idea what this plant is, but I sure enjoyed all of its purple.
I read up on the 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X lens that came with my XG 1, and some pan its bokeh as more crisp than creamy. I see where they’re coming from, but the effect is hardly unacceptable. The background of this shot reminds me of an impressionist painting.
I wanted to see how the XG 1 handled a subject in motion, so I opened the aperture wide to get a fast shutter speed. As the fellow passed me by, he apologized for getting into my shot! I hollered back at him that I meant for him to be in it.
Statues dot the grounds; this is a detail of my favorite one. The XG 1 handled easily. If I have a complaint, it’s that the shutter button triggers with only light pressure. It’s too easy to trip it before you mean to.
But that’s the worst thing I can say about the XG 1. It quickly became an extension of my eyes and hands. You really can’t ask for more from any camera.
This is accurate: it was eight o’clock in the evening.
The museum grounds were once the country estate of Eli Lilly, who founded pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company here in Indianapolis. His home, Oldfields, still stands on the site. I took this shot in a portico at the back of the enormous house.
I blew through the entire 24-exposure roll in an hour while wandering these grounds. That’s always a sign I was having a great time with a camera. I seldom warm up to a camera so quickly. If you like aperture-priority shooting, you could do worse than a Minolta MG 1.
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.