Unless you’re getting on a bit, like me, you probably won’t associate the Minolta brand name with photography equipment, or even necessarily have heard of them. They were a major player, though, particularly in the 1970s to 1990s, with at least a couple of firsts: the first multi-mode autoexposure SLR, the XD7 (a.k.a. XD in Japan and XD11 in the U.S.A.) and the first body-centric AF SLR in the 7000 AF. In addition, the Minolta “Acute Matte” focus screen technology was provided to Hasselblad for their 501/503 (and contemporary) series of cameras which, I can state from experience, makes a huge difference in terms of preview image clarity, if not ease of focus. Unfortunately, despite their innovations, Minolta couldn’t compete with the market leaders later on, and they merged with Konica before the camera division was entirely bought-out by Sony in 2006.
Sony continued with A-mount DSLRs, using the same Minolta AF mount (which differed from the pre-AF MD/MC mount) but are now concentrating on their E-mount which is the basis of their mirrorless system and is entirely different. There’s little doubt, though, that Sony’s ability to continuously innovate their camera line has been, in part, thanks to the knowledge and resources gained through Minolta and Konica Minolta.
Going back to 1985, I briefly owned a used XD7, for about a week, but had to return it because it was faulty. I’d gone in for the X-300, the only one of the current models that I could afford, and the shop had offered the second-hand XD7 as an alternative. I really liked it but it wasn’t usable in the end, so I opted to go with the original choice and enjoyed the X-300 for the next couple of years. Of course, the one I really wanted at the time was the X-700 but that was out of the question. The X-300 was fine if not ultimately a little too restricted but, by the time I was able to upgrade, instead of the X-700 I switched to Nikon. One thing I do remember is how much I liked the Minolta 50mm f/1.7, in terms of clarity and colour rendition, and how I found Nikon’s kit-50mm a little lacklustre by comparison!
In recent years, with memories of that XD7 and the 50mm on the X-300, I have been battling with the desire to buy back into yet another SLR system. I’ve been good and I’ve been sensible – until now. Whilst on holiday I wandered into an antique shop and immediately spotted (my camera radar is always operational with practically zero downtime) a Minolta X-700 in a case, with a Tokina AT-X 28-85mm 1:3.5-4.5 attached. They wanted £28 for the lot.
Let’s get the lens out of the way first. The AT-X range from Tokina was their top-of-the-line “pro” series and they are, reputedly, excellent. The one attached to this X-700 is pristine (now that I have given it an external clean-up) with no fungus or marks, whatsoever. Clean, clear and mechanically perfect; this lens alone is worth more than £28.
I was trying to test the camera in the shop but the owner didn’t know much about it. He has a “camera guy” who checks and provides all of his antique cameras and this person suggests prices accordingly. I, therefore, assumed the camera was non-funcional as this is how it appeared to be, despite trying some new batteries which the shop owner happened to have. I went away to have a think. Some quick research later and I discovered that the main reason for failure of this model is one or both of two certain capacitors – one in the base and the other beneath the top cover – which are prone to failure. I am fairly adept with a soldering iron and so the replacement of one or two capacitors is a minor challenge which I accepted. A quick negotiation down to £25 later and the kit was mine.
I immediately ditched the case. I wouldn’t normally do this but it was literally falling apart in my hands, leaving a trail of dust and debris in its wake. This is what happens when manufacturers cut costs and produce cruddy fabric cases covered in plastic faux-leather which disintegrates horribly. This is in stark contrast to the Pentax kit case for the Spotmatic range: real leather, strong and beautiful (so much so that I have two). Even the Pentax case for the later ME series, also fabric with a faux-leather covering which has invariably cracked by now, is usually sturdy and intact. What were you thinking, Minolta?
Anyway, back to the camera itself. Once back indoors I nicked a battery from another camera I had with me and cleaned the contacts of the X-700 thoroughly. Battery in, power on and finger on the touch-sensitive button… the meter sprang to life and the shutter fired! No soldering necessary. As far as I can tell without having had the chance to test with film yet, this camera is fully functional.
There’s work to do, though. I have removed the decayed mirror-buffer foam, which was not easy. The issue, with Minolta in particular, is that they tend to favour having a baffle between the lens mount and mirror box, which obscures the top front of the mirror box and, therefore, the mirror bumper. I recently worked on a Pentax S3 which had the same and it’s a pig to remove old debris and replace with new foam. I now need to replace the mirror bumper and clean out the decayed foam making up the light seals around the film door, and replace all of those. Then it’s time to film-test.