Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta XG 1

Garrett at the bridge

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.

Minolta XG-1

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.

Garrett, down the hall

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.

Phlox

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.

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.

Trail

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.

What is this?

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.

Boys

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.

Construction

There were just a few shots left on the roll when Damion and I made a quick trip to Thorntown. I wanted to tell him the story of the time his mom got me out of a speeding ticket here largely for being young and blonde and beautiful. It was good to share a happy memory of his mom with him, from a time before he was born. I’m not sure we would have had that moment without “taking a photo walk” as an excuse to get out.

Welcome to Thorntown

Here’s a gallery of the photos I’ve shot with this Minolta XG 1. Check it out!

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.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Garrett, down the hall

Garrett, down the hall
Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X
Fujicolor 200
2017

Over the last couple years this is the view I’ve had of Garrett most often: him gaming online in his room. We’re a family of introverts, and we’re all geeks to some extent. It’s really common when we’re all home to be involved in separate online pursuits. The house is good and quiet. We like it that way.

© 2017 Jim Grey. All rights reserved.

Film Photography

single frame: Garrett, down the hall

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Camera Reviews

Minolta XG 1

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.

Minolta XG-1

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.

Minolta XG-1

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.

Bloomed

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.

Impressionistic flowers

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.

On the bridge

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.

Arms wide

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.

Abundant white flowers

This is accurate: it was eight o’clock in the evening.

Eight o'clock

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.

Shadows

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta XG-1 gallery.

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!
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