Monday, April 16, 2012

The Top Worst Minoltas Ever Made

This is the follow-up to the Top 10 Minoltas video I made last month, where I showed off the Top 10 Best Minoltas ever made (my opinion, of course).   This is the rebuttal to that video, the Top Worst Minotlas Ever (again, my opinion).  I couldn’t come up with a list of 10, but here’s the list of the cameras I think the world could have done without.  And because I don’t actually have any of these in my collection, it makes no sense to make a video about them. :-)

1. Maxxum 70
This film-based camera came out shortly after the digital 7D, and while the camera itself wasn’t so bad, it’s naming was just abysmal, especially if you call your favorite store to ask if it’s in stock:

     “Hello, do you have the Minolta 7D in stock?”
     “Yes, we have the Minolta 70 in stock! It’s $350.”
     “Wow, $350 for a 7D?”
     “Yup! $350 for a 70!”
Could have started an Abbott and Costello comedy routine with that one.

2. Dimage 7/7i/7hi

These cameras were the predecessor to the A1 and A2 bridge cameras mentioned in last month’s video. With the 7 / 7i / 7hi Minolta was still figuring out unimportant things like ergonomics and responsiveness using contrast-detect autofocus. I had the 7i with me for my first 3 months in China and I hated it so much (“Take the picture Now! NOW!! NOW, DAMN YOU!”) that as soon as the A1 was announced I ordered it from New York and had it shipped to my apartment in Beijing.  The 5 megapixel sensor was wonderful in low ISO, and it ran on 4 AA batteries which didn't last nearly long enough.

3. Dimage RD-3000

If the RD-175 got an honorable mention last month for its innovativeness, this 2nd-generation refinement should have been a better camera. My biggest complaint was that the system was based on Minolta’s APS-C camera system (the “Vectis”) instead of the Maxxum / Alpha DSLR mount. Why? Because they wanted to minimize the insanely large crop factor that the Maxxum-based RD-175 had. “Well”, said the Japanese engineers, “we can either make the sensor bigger or use lenses that create a smaller image circle”. And so they did the latter.

I will give this camera credit, though… it’s the ONLY digital camera I know of (maybe the RD-175 did this too) which calculated the flash exposure the same way the film cameras did – by looking at the sensor and telling the flash “STOP!” in real time. (Maybe that’s why this camera’s flash exposure accuracy was all over the map.)

4. Maxxum 9xi
I owned this camera. I hated it. This in spite of the fact that there was a LOT going for it:
  • It was practically indestructible. Between the UV-cured plastic exterior or the fact it could withstand a drop onto concrete (even on the pentaprism) from a distance and survive.
  • A 1/12,000th of a second shutter speed
  • Reasonably intelligent focus tracking
 What didn’t I like?
  • They had a transparent LCD superimposed over the focusing screen which darkened the entire viewfinder.
  • No flash exposure compensation
  • No way to set the camera to AF-C or AF-S. It was AF-A 24/7, and you were at the mercy of the camera’s (poor) decision-making abilities.
  • Let's face it; it was ugly. :-)

5. The entire xi product line

Okay, maybe I'm being harsh, but when Minolta wanted to shake up the world by creating these cameras with "xpert intelligence" they really didn't have their existing demographic of photo enthusiasts in mind.  These cameras were aimed at people who knew very little about photography, offering an “intelligent” auto-zoom (which somehow would help you compose the image), little cards you could insert to tell the camera what kind of a picture you wanted to take, and lenses with zoom motors inside.  Thankfully Minolta abandoned that approach starting with the si series which followed.

6. Honorable mention: Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

Imagine pairing great optics with a ridiculously small yet popular film format, and you have this little bastard of a camera.  It was actually well-designed mechanically; you could control your f/stop and shutter speed, the mirror actually doubled as a shutter, and it was sort of impossible to actually put it into your pocket (which you could do with other 110-format cameras of its day).  I've always said that there was little correlation between good products and products that sell, and this camera certainly reinforces that notion.  It was so popular that a sequel was produced a few years later.

7. Neutral: X700, 600si
The insanely popular X-700
The rear of the 600si (showing off the buttons and dials - the front was actually pretty unremarkable)

I got a LOT of emails from fans of these cameras, concerned that they might be on my 10 worst list since they weren't on my list from last month.  While the 600si was indeed noteworthy for being the first to experiment with going back to knobs instead of the then-ubiquitious "push this button and rotate this wheel at the same time" user interface, I felt the Maxxum 7 and 9 which took this experiment to the next level were better cameras.  Similarly, while I have nothing against the immensely popular X-700, I felt that the XD-11 had a higher-integrity design.  (So there!)

The Next Seminars

No sooner do we return from Sedona that we're packing for Copenhagen!  (The seminar we did there in 2010 proved to be so popular that we have been asked to return.)  That will be followed by Santa Monica (California) in June, Durango (Colorado) in July, and finally Brighton (England) in September.  Yes, folks, this is supposed to be a 'light' year for travel. :-)

The events in Copenhagen have been expanded - After the weekend seminar on April 21 and 22, Sony will actually be participating in a newly-scheduled promotional event to take place the evening of April 23rd.  (They'll be bringing their latest products for people to try out, and they've asked me to give a short talk on the SLT design tradeoffs.)  The next evening I'll be giving a lecture entitled, "My Life as a Geek" which talks about my days at NASA and the kinds of electronic and computer inventions I designed and built in my youth that got me admitted in the first place.  (That should be fun!)  Finally, there's an evening "refresher" course for those who attended my seminar back in 2010 followed by a field workshop on Saturday, April 28th.

Here's the same information in table format for those of you who are visual thinkers, along with links to get more information (and hopefully to sign up :-) )

Copenhagen Events

The Santa Monica, California seminar will be held on June 9-10, and a 1-day field workshop near the world-famous Santa Monica pier 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 


1) It cost me $70 in batteries (S76 and CR123 lithium batteries) just to get all the cameras to work properly for last month's video. :-)

2) I sent in my A77 to Sony to see if they could do anything about the flash exposure accuracy.  It should arrive back in just a few days.  When I return from Copenhagen I'll be testing it against the A65 which exhibited the identical behavior to see if things have improved.  Then I'll be selling the A65 because I just have too much stuff.  Any takers?  (I'll even throw in a free copy of my e-book for the camera! :-) )

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Are Kit Lenses Worthless?

 Also in this issue:
  • The Next Seminars
  • Other Tidbits

My New Favorite Travel Camera

When it comes to travel photography, there was always a soft spot in my heart for the Konica Minolta A1 and A2 bridge cameras.  These came out before the legendary KM 7D, and I used the A1 for half of my China blog.  By today's standards the image quality falls short for all but the lowest ISOs, but as far as form factor and function goes, these cameras had a certain gem quality to them.  The user interface was clearly designed by a photographer (as opposed to a marketing team); they had a real wide angle lens (most bridge cameras of the time didn't) and thankfully they had a manual zoom ring (as opposed to the motorized kind that only drained the batteries and offered no real benefit).  It shot movies, it had a built-in intervolometer, and it was my first exposure (no pun intended) to the promise of the electronic viewfinder.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago, when my NEX-7 and kit lens FINALLY arrived.  Imagine - all the quality of the A77 without the weight or volume!