Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Top 10 Best (and Worst) Minolta Cameras Ever

Also in this issue:
  • How I shot the video
  • Copenhagen, Colorado, and California Seminars are happening!
  • A65 / A77 book is out, and timeline for the new NEX 7 book
The Top 10 Best (and Worst) Minolta Cameras Ever

I'm starting to expand into video.  This show-and-tell piece turned out to be so large that it's being split into two parts.  Watch Part I below:

Things I Neglected to Mention
  1. The XD-11 had a viewfinder as big and bright as the Sony Alpha 900's.  (Only it was a teensy weensy camera body.)
  2. The Minolta Maxxum 9's pop-up flash was there to trigger the wireless flash.  None of the media critics could figure that out, since none of the camera's competitors could do that.
  3. The XK Motor was actually sold for about $1000 USD when it came out in 1976, not $10000.  (Although if you adjust for inflation it probably works out to that amount...)
  4. The Top Worst list appears in this blog post here.
How I Shot the Above Video

My humble portrait studio is being pushed to its limits as there's barely enough room in there for video lights and THREE video cameras.  And my pull-down shade, while perfect for head-and-shoulders portraits, was barely wide enough to accommodate the scene I was shooting.  Had I zoomed out just 1mm more (so I could have some breathing room above my head) you would have seen the left and right edges of the white screen.  And I couldn't have moved the cameras back any further.  So for this video I decided to keep my head cropped (which isn't so bad - besides, there's some precedent). 

The three cameras I used were the Sony Alpha 77, 65, and 55.  The 77 and 65 made use of their Manual Exposure for Movie modes, while I had to trick the Alpha 55 into overexposing so the exposure and white balance for all three cameras came out the same.  I had one camera set to the wide shot, one fixed for close-ups (that was the A77, and I moved its articulated screen to the top so I could see how high to hold the camera for the close-up shots).  The third camera was a medium shot somewhere between the two, which I ended up not using. 
Three cameras shooting simultaneously.  The A77's screen (bottom camera) was positioned so I could see where to hold the camera on close-ups.

I went cheap on the lights.  My first hope was that I could retrofit my existing softboxes and diffusers which I use for the wireless flash and just put in some constant light source.  Too difficult.  So instead I sprung for an inexpensive kit on ebay.  The kit is decent for what it does, and while a good value, they weren't designed for the kind of high-key lighting I was attempting.  (While great for green screen shooting, they weren't bright enough to get the background looking bright at f/8.  I had to use f/4 and bump the ISO to 800.) 

Now, for sound...  The built-in mics on those cameras just won't do - they're too far away and you'll pick up all the room acoustics.  I do have some professional microphones which I could plug directly into one of the cameras, however those of you who own my books on any of the aforementioned cameras already know that there's no way to turn off the automatic gain control on the sound.  So plugging in a good mic would just result in some very high quality hiss during the silent portions. 

There are two ways around this:  1) BeachTek makes a device which accepts all professional microphones (and provides monitoring too) and generates an inaudible 20 kHz tone as part of the audio feed. Too low a frequency to be recorded, but enough to fool the Automatic Gain Control circuitry and keep it from bumping up the audio during quiet parts. 

2) The other way is to do what Hollywood filmmakers have been doing since the 1930's: Record the sound separately, then add it in post.  So I grabbed my Zoom H4n digital audio recorder (which I now use for all my Xaphoon recordings), plugged in the mic, set the levels manually, and placed the mic in front of the table, just below the frame:

The entire 15-minute presentation was done with one continuous take, with all three cameras rolling at once.  Switching between the different cameras was done on my computer after-the-fact.  Sony Vegas (which is actually really good software) has a mode where you can take up to four pre-recorded video feeds, synchronize them together (along with the audio) and then switch between them as they're playing back like a live director would do.  Not bad.

A fisheye view from the presenter's perspective.

Seminars - Copenhagen, California, and Colorado

While it's true we're doing fewer seminars this year, the first three of the four are going full steam ahead!  Right now the seminars for Copenhagen, Santa Monica California, and Durango Colorado are all open for registration.

Peter Hollbaum-Hansen of LOF-SKOLEN University (he's orchestrating the Copenhagen events) have a full week of activities planned.  Here's a quick rundown:

April 21-22       The Actual Seminar
April 24 7-9      Lecture on my days as a NASA engineer
April 25 7-10    An evening hosted by Sony Denmark 
April 27 6-10    Refresher Course
April 28 10-5    Field Workshop

This should be a fun week (and I'm sure I'll be exhausted when it's over) and I'll have some more tricks up my sleeve if the light is as bad as it was during my first visit in 2010. :-)  Here are some links for you if you want to learn more:

The Santa Monica, California seminar will be held on June 9-10, and a 1-day field workshop on June 16th.  Learn more and sign up here.

The Durango, Colorado event is being hosted by the Durango Photo Club, and there will be three events: A technical lecture, a 2-day seminar, and a 2-day Field Workshop all happening between July 12 and July 22nd.  Learn More and Sign Up here

The final seminar for the year, to take place in London (well, Sussex) is still on the horizon for September, 2012, just after the Olympics.  Just haven't had any time to work on logistics.  Stay tuned. 

Ebook News

Well, at long last my ebook on the Alpha 65 and 77 is out, and the reviews have been pretty positive - even from readers of previous books.  (I worked very hard to make sure these folks would not be disappointed!)  Unlike my previous books (which were designed to be viewed on a horizontal computer screen), this one is being optimized for viewing on iPads and e-readers (hence the vertical format).  Purchasers of the .pdf file will also get a FREE .mobi version so they can read it on their Kindle ebook reader too.  (Nook and other e-reader owners: an epub version is available but it's still being polished.  Email me privately for more info.) 

My next book will be on the NEX-7, which I would have started already if I only had one in my hands.  :-(  It turns out I ordered the Kit version back in September, 2011 and as luck would have it those have been delayed by the Thailand floods the most.  (Who knew?)  Adorama estimates a delivery time frame of July.  I've appealed to a local Sony rep who seems empathetic and willing to help.  Can't wait to get my hands on one!

Until next time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

============= Learn how to take "Wow!"-type images the NASA way!


  1. I'm glad that you mentioned the RD175, that was my first DSLR many years ago. Sometimes I would get a strange pattern in large plain areas of one colour such as a blue sky. I still have some images taken with the camera and still have the software to open them. The camera also came with a copy of Photoshop, another start for me that continues until this day.

  2. That was a fun video. I was expecting some typical roundup - but to take the entire modern history of Minolta was a blast. I recall the controversity over the minolta 9 and its popup-flash. Which was quite ironic when it came to the a900 which DIDN'T (the Minolta engineers at Sony probably have learned from the minolta 9) have a popup flash and people were annoyed by that omission.

    1. Yeah, I talked about that a few years ago here:

      There's no formula for success, but there is a formula for failure, and that's trying to please everyone. :-)

  3. Gary, you hit big home run with me with that video! I shot a lot of weddings (and portraits, too) with a couple of XD-11s, and to me they were just the sexiest camera I ever used. That was from the mid-80s into the mid-90s, when most "pro" photographers were using medium format. I actually had a couple of guys all but accuse me of lying when they saw the results -- "you can't get good enough quality with 35mm...". The funniest part is that I've owned at least one copy of all the manual focus Minoltas you showed and loved them all, even more than the Nikon F, FM, and F3 that I had for a while. Great stuff!

  4. Gary, just a note from a RD-175 user. I used my RD-175 from the time it came out until replacing it with the 7D. I used it for hobby and for scientific documentation and still have over 50GB of shots archived from it, some of those have made their way into websites and even into books and educational posters.

    You incorrectly described the sensor array. The RD-175 used two of the sensors for green, offset half a pixel apart vertical and horizontal. The third sensor was half red, half blue. And the pixels in the RD-175 were rectangular.

    1. Thanks, Walt! Didn't know that. Makes sense since the eye is much more sensitive to green than all other colors.

  5. Interesting retrospective!

    I'm surprised to see that the 600si didn't make it, as it was the first AF camera with good controls (the 9000 and especially 7xi, I replaced it with weren't good from that standpoint!).

    Re the Russian cameras, Zenith had some better toys back then... I remember drooling over the Zenith TTL and the Practika MTL3, which were the only cameras I could dream to buy in the late 70s ;-)

    1. Good point. The 600si was indeed noteworthy as it experimented with knobs again and directly led to the design of the Maxxum 9 and 7 (which in my mind were much more versatile cameras).

    2. As the happy owner of both a 600si and Maxxum 7, I wholeheartedly agree. The 600si is pure joy to use - the clear simple controls, perfect size and weight (even better to hold than my 7) are unmatched by any other brand. The 600si has only one drawback - the AF isn't nearly as fast or decisive as the 7. Glad I have both :-))

  6. Gary,

    What a treat, from Blog to Print to Seminars and now Video. Who knew that you have so many talents.

    Well done. Looking forward to more.

  7. Thanks for sharing this. The camera that got me into the Minolta fold was the 8000i. I hope you don't include it in your worst portfolio. Comparing what I learned with that with what I have learned from the subsequent digital cameras is for me an object lesson on how digital technology is empowering.

  8. Gary:

    I watched and enjoyed the video on the "Top Ten" Minolta cameras but with some anxiety.
    I have a Minolta film camera which didn't make your list and my fear is it may be on your "worst" list.

    I own the XG-1 camera. How does it rate?
    Don't be shy, give me the real scoop.

    Good job Gary, looking forward to more of your videos.

    Sam Morris.

    1. Hi, Sam. I actually used an XG-7 (and later, an XG-9) for many years. They were nice cameras but what really bugged me was that in Manual mode the meter was really dead! You were really on your own.

      Anyway, I think of these cameras fondly, and no, they're not on the worst list. :-)

  9. Hi Gery. That was a fun video.Well done.I am looking forward to your visit in Copenhagen.

    Per Christiansen, Denmark

  10. really enjoyed watching this, Gary. very nicely done; thanks alot.


  11. BTW, I just posted an HD version of the video which is much less painful to watch full-screen :-)

  12. Loved the video. I'hoping that the Minolta X700 doesn't rate too badly in your world. I like mine. The A77 book is excellent. I find it extremely useful and

  13. Hi Gary,
    Thanks for a nice video.
    I've just finished your book on the A77. It was a pleasure to read it, and I feel more familiar with my lovely camera now.
    I just got an e-mail from Sony Denmark, advertising for your visit. They say the evening hosted by Sony will be on Monday 23rd, and not on the 25th as it says in your post. For those who are interested more info can be found here:

    I look forward to see you in Denmark! (but don't put your expectations to high hoping for good weather...)

    1. Hi, Mathias! Yes, the date was changed and that was reflected in the April blog post. Thanks for correcting it here too.

  14. What a lovely and useful video; I learnt a lot from the first second to the last one! I'm also starting a very humble collection of Minoltas and the two Minoltas that I'd put as 11th and 12th would be the 7S rangefinder (a little bulky I know) and the X-700 (too comercial and well known I know).
    Thank you so much for your passion im doing this!

  15. What about Minolta 5000 af ? Thanks

    1. That camera didn't end up in either the 'best' nor 'worst' lists. :-)

  16. :) Thanks... This camera is new to me.. so can u share some experience with Minolta 5000 , and about film loading?

  17. What can I say that has not already been said.
    Amazing potted history of the second oldest camera manufacturer. My favourites include the Repo or Minolttina rangefinders and the Minolta RD3000 which was really a studio and graphic based camera often used "tethered" to a monitor and used the exceptionally light and good veCtis lenses in fact the only reason I keep a couple is to use the otherwise completely obsolete APS [film] sized lenses. No one has ever been able to adapt these to another mount, except the kludge that David Kilpatrick did for fun. So that gets both my best and worse rating :-)

  18. Hi, still can not find the "worse" video PLEASE give us a better hint at where it is ?

    1. Did you try looking at the subsequent blog post? It's the last item I write about.


  19. The Dynax 7D or Maxxum 7D was ergonomically
    for real one of the ever best designed DSLR
    in History, period. :) Still love that old 6MP
    Gem, but you simply can't compare this APS-C
    Sensor to the inferior Dimage A2, which is just
    a simple Bridge Digicam with 1/2.3" Sensor Size, apart from that, at low ISOs the IQ was/is great back in it's day, i don't have
    the A2, but still occasionally an A1 (5MP)
    in use. ;)

    Greetings from Germany,
    M. Petzold

  20. hey gary i just today found a minolta maxxum 7000 at a thrift store. I bought it and was trying to look up some stuff about it. Im not sure if you talked about it in either catgeory (best or worst) but i was wondering if you could tell me anything about it?

    1. Neither best nor worst; but it was the first commercially available consumer system. They're relatively slow to AF (by modern standards), and that particular model is prone to failures of the aperture-control mechanism. If yours exposes well on a bright day, then you're not suffering from this problem. Congratulations on your find! GF

  21. I'll like to know more about the Minolta 5000


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