I’ve said quite loudly here that I’m not looking to acquire any more cameras anytime soon. But I do still keep an eye out for what I call my “Catch and Release” program: Find a cheap but working camera, test with a roll or two of film, and if it passes, package it with a Bikes and Film Cameras Club membership. I want to make it easy for someone who is a cyclist and is film camera curious to enter our
Pretty much all of the cameras that have been part of the “Catch and Release” program have been compact point-and-shoots from the 1980’s through 2000’s. These are the cameras I can find for $15 and under, the price cap I’ve put for the program. But many are still very capable, especially the 90’s superzooms that get no love on the film camera blogs. I never really looked at SLRs because most will be more expensive than that, and even if I could get one for real cheap it mostly would be for the body only–I still would need to find a lens.
Then one day while perusing Blue Moon Camera’s eBay page, I saw a Minolta XG-7 body for very cheap. And while it was being sold as-is, the listing noted that they checked the shutter speeds and everything seemed “on” though speeds were not guaranteed for accuracy. A body by itself would normally be a problem, but this was a Minolta manual-focus body that took SR/MC/MD lenses, and I have plenty of those. In fact, I have an extra Minolta Rokkor MD 50mm f/1.7 lens 1 that wasn’t seeing any use–if the body worked, I could include it when I packaged it with the Bikes and Film Cameras Club membership. Sold!
There were several different series of manual-focus SLRs that Minolta produced, starting with the introduction of the SR-2 in 1958 and ending with the X-9 in 1990 (though the X-370 was produced–or at least available–up until “the end of film” in 2005). While Minolta doesn’t offer the same cache as say Nikon, especially since it’s now a dead marquee, many of those series have some reverence with current film photographers. You’ll find loving tributes to the SR, SRT, X-1/XK/XM, XE, XD, and X- series. But you’ll rarely hear anyone sing the praises of the XG series. That’s because XG cameras were designed to be budget-friendly starter SLRs, aimed to compete with the likes of the Canon AE-1, the first “big deal” easy-to-use consumer SLR that was selling like gangbusters. And the XG series was launched at the same time as the higher-end XD series, a series that garnered (quite rightfully) all the attention. The XG series was destined to be the underdog.
I’ve haven’t heard anyone say bad things about these cameras, per se. But when camera bloggers aren’t ignoring this series (the Minoltaphiles over at Casual Photophile are suspiciously mum), it’s usually couched in the caveat of “why bother”? 2 The big Minolta manual-focus SLR resource The Rokkor Files sums up the XG line thusly:
The Rokkor Flies: XG Series
The XG Series was an important range of cameras for Minolta, firmly placing them as one of the best value manufacturers in the marketplace. The cameras had features that many photographers wanted, such as an easy to use auto-exposure mode and light weight with compact size. Additionally, they were very affordable. While not as sturdy or full featured as the more expensive models they fulfilled their role admirably.
However, today their attractiveness has waned somewhat for the Minolta manual focus user. With more competent bodies very inexpensive on the used market, the once significant financial savings of the XG series over the X-700 or XD11 are diminished. I would personally recommend that a photographer seeking a good Minolta manual focus camera seek out one of these models instead.
Of course, these words were probably written 15-20 years ago, when any film camera was cheaper than dirt. With the continual increase in price on even Minolta cameras, perhaps the XG series is worth a revisit?
The XG-7 was the first of the series ,3 introduced in 1977. Like the XD/XD7/XD11 which was introduced at the same time, it was a smaller, more compact camera than the previous Minolta SLRs, designed to compete with the craze of small SLRs unleashed by Olympus (the OM-1) a few years earlier. The bodies of both cameras look similar at first glance–they roughly have the same proportions (the XG-7 is slightly longer than my XD-5) and are actually fairly close in weight (the XG lighter by almost an ounce). But the internals and the functions are what separate the cameras. The XDs use more advanced silicon cells for light metering, while the XG use the older, cheaper, but proven and reliable cadmium sulfide (CdS) cells. The XDs use a vertically traveling titanium focal-plane shutter, the XG a more traditional horizontally travelling cloth shutter. While both the XD and XG series had aperture-priority auto-exposure and a manual exposure mode (except for the lowly XG-A), the XD had the perk of shutter-priority mode and the ability to meter while in manual mode. (Though the XG-M did meter in manual mode.) 4
The use of older, cheaper tech and lack of advanced features meant that Minolta could charge about 50% less for the XGs than the XDs. But the XGs were still very capable cameras. And you could still use all that great Rokkor glass too. The XG line was a great choice for a late-70s photographer who wanted to get “serious” and demanded the benefits of an SLR, but didn’t have the cash to shell out for an XD and wanted something lighter and more automated than an offering from the SRT series (which was produced up until 1981.)
But how would the XG-7 work in the year 2023? I picked it up from Blue Moon on Saturday March 11th, after Coffee Outside. I slapped on that Rokkor MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, popped in two SR44 cells, and a roll of Cinestill 400D, and promptly started shooting. I figured that the ride to Kelley Point would feature lots of interesting things to photograph, and I wasn’t let down.
I Immediately took to the camera: it was really easy to shoot. All of the XG cameras are designed to be used in aperture-priority mode, much like how my Olympus 35RD begs you to shoot in shutter-priority mode. For one thing, when the speed selector is set to “A”, it locks up–you’ll need to depress a small button to turn it to any of the manual speeds. Easy-peasy. As I primarily shoot in aperture-priority mode with my XD-5, this was no big deal. As for metering, I just needed to touch the shutter release ever so slightly to activate it, and LEDs in the viewfinder would light up with the appropriate speed. 5 It did not take long for me to fill up that roll.
I sent off the roll to The Shutterbug on Monday. On Tuesday I got the results. Verdict? Great! Everything seemed properly exposed, no light leaks (except on one shot) or other noticeable issues. The camera works! It’ll be a great camera for someone for sure. But…
I sort of…like this camera?
Oh, Shawn, you don’t need another manual-focus Minolta SLR! You have two already! And that freshly CLA’d XD-5 is everything the XG-7 is, and more. Why hold on to it?
Well, it was fun using it. It did what it needed to, and got out of the way. And I like the way it looks too–it’s not as nice as my XD-5, but I don’t feel it looks “budget” either, no matter what Jerome at Earth, Sun, Film says. Perhaps there’s room for a “bang-about” SLR in the stable? At the very least, I want to use this camera a bit more before it passes on to someone else.
For photos with the Minolta XG-7, please see the dynamic flickr album below. (You may have to hover your mouse over it to “activate”.) Or click here.
1 It came with a Minolta XD-5 that was broken, but the seller just refunded me and told me to keep the camera.
2 The big exception is the last XG camera, the XG-M. Introduced in 1981, it is widely considered the best of the series. It’s the only one that serious photographers give the time of day to. Its body was very similar to the just-introduced X-700, which also gets a high degree of praise.
3 One quirk of Minolta: While there might be a camera in a series that had the “1” moniker, it was never the first. Their first SLR was the SR-2, then followed by the SR-1. And yes, there was an XG-1 that followed the XG-7. The story I heard was the president was superstitious about having the first camera of the series start with “1”, thinking it bad luck. Also, he liked the number 7, so that’s probably why there were so many Minolta models with this number.
4 Another difference: The XD series could meter up to ISO 3200, but the XG could only meter to 1600, one stop less.
5 The irony: while the XD series was technically the “advanced” line, the XG got a few advancements not seen on the higher-end line, the “soft touch” electromagnetic shutter release being one of them. Basically contact from skin completed the circuit. On the XD series you do need to depress the shutter slightly to activate the meter. Also: The XGs featured an electronic self-timer with flashing red LED on front, while the XDs still used a mechanical self-timer. Perhaps because these two technologies weren’t “proven” and might cause consternation amongst pros, they thought it be better to test them out on the amateur line?
I have an XG7, and you’re right. It’s often an overlooked camera. It’s very capable, but often takes a back seat to the X-500 and X-700.