Oh how I had tried to resist. I had so many cameras already. I didn’t want a whole new camera system to have to build, maintain, make room for. But in the end, it was all for nought. This one was just too tempting. And too cheap a purchase at an online auction that petered out on a Tuesday morning. After a prolonged back and forth of missed deliveries that made me doubt that people at the post office can actually read, there it was: the Minolta 7000. (Fair warning: this has turned into a bit of a camera review. If you like to hear my take on this particular camera, go on reading. If not, well, there’s pictures you can skip to instead, naturally.)
About thirty years ago, the 7000 caused a stir. Its appearance was even termed the “Sputnik Shock” of the camera industry. (Yes, that’s from Wikipedia. Apologies). It permanently changed photography, a change only rivaled by that brought on by digital cameras about two decades later. It looked like the people who made Knight Rider had designed a camera. Or like it should have been sitting on Doc Brown’s back seat in Back to the Future. Its claim to fame? It was the first camera with an integrated autofocus system. In the US, where Minolta’s autofocus line was sold under the “Maxxum” moniker, the 7000 was marketed with a Tron-like ad featuring two photographers – one focusing manually and missing shots, and one, armed with the newfangled autofocus camera and a hair style that cannot have been low maintenance, freezing the action at the touch of the 7000’s high tech sensor shutter button. (It is interesting to note that the manual focus camera is definitely not one of Minolta’s own. It’s not easy to make out, but it looks like an Olympus, or perhaps a Pentax instead. Since Minolta did not stop making manual focus cameras until shortly before their fusion with Konica and their subsequent cessation of making cameras altogether, this was probably a good idea.)
No doubt people were fascinated by the high tech machine, but given the 7000s plastic feel and built-in-auto-everything, many probably also worried about its reliability and longevity. They need not have. 7000s usually only need a fresh set of batteries and will “boot” right up. The autofocus isn’t lightning quick by any means, but it’s perfectly usable. To the point where you can really see just how incremental the changes introduced to autofocusing in the last 30+ years were. The Maxxum has one focus point, smack dab in the middle of its bright viewfinder, and for walking around in daylight that’s really all you need in about 95% of the situations I encounter. At night, its hit rate plunges precipitously, but then you can always switch it to manual focus. Speaking of which, the 7000 and Minolta’s subsequent autofocusing cameras are incompatible with all their old manual focus lenses. This is unfortunate if you like prime lenses, since they’re quite a bit rarer than those for the company’s older “SR” manual focus mount.
What’s it like to shoot with this wonder of high technology from the pre-internet age? In one word: fun!
I hadn’t expected this at all. I had been convinced that the more automation entered into the equation, the less interested I’d be in a camera. After all, autofocus SLRs weren’t that different from he digital cameras hawked at big box electronics stores that had continuously uninspired me. Despite all of its automation – the 7000 is a camera that is easy to pick up, point and shoot – it also lends itself to what snobs term “actual photography.” (As if setting everything manually and knowing about the intricacies of the exposure triangle were what really mattered, and not the end result. But I digress.) The 7000 has a nice heft to it, but still feels light enough to carry around all day, especially with a small lens. It feels right in my hand, much like my Nikon 601, or my Minolta X-700 with the motor drive attached does. Except the 7000 has the motor drive built in. It also has a quieter shutter than the older camera. And if you’re in full tourist mode, you can operate it one-handed.
LCD displays in the viewfinder and on top of the camera keep you informed about your settings, and because the 7000 is a first generation autofocus camera, its menu isn’t yet cluttered with hard to set and understand functions. I tend to leave it in its automatic program mode, which usually chooses just about the exposure I would have picked. The LCDs are a bit of a weak point, though. The top display “bleeds” and the viewfinder LCD just kind of stopped working, segment by segment, in my first 7000. As long as the top display can still be read and all the functions set, however, this won’t affect the camera’s performance. I ended up with two 7000s from two separate eBay auctions. Both work, and both came with the kit 35–70/4 zoom lens. While the consensus is that it’s not as good as the older manual focus 35-70/3.5 lens, it’s perfectly good enough, and much smaller. Still on my to buy list for the AF Minoltas is a 50mm prime lens (other primes appear to be quite a bit more expensive than their manual focus counterparts), and maybe some of the other zoom lenses that were offered in the first generation of Minolta’s autofocus mount.
After two test rolls of uninspiring content, I took the 7000 out with me for a Sunday walk in early summer. I took shots with it at a nearby flea market, and then meandered through parts of town that weren’t all that far but that I’d never walked around in before. The light was pleasant even at midday, and the little zoom lens rendered pictures sharp (no surprise, most pictures were taken at the f8 or f11 “sweet spot”) and colors brilliantly. I could feel while I was shooting that something had clicked for me with this camera. And the results reflect that. When editing down the roll of 36, looking for the on average 10 or 12 shots that are usually worthwhile posting, it quickly became apparent that I liked almost twice that amount from this roll.
My favorite image of the day is that of the little scooter next to a blue parking sign, set against a church’s brick wall. (Titled “Shiny.”) It encapsulates the feel of the moment: a sunny summer day in the city on the weekend. And not a care in the world. Days like that are perfect for a walk. And what better to bring along than a Minolta 7000, that oddball vintage SLR from the age of the first Macintosh, of bulky VCRs and skin-tight neon clothing?
The chronology of these rolls from the middle of the year is iffy. To put it bluntly, I’m a bit lost to what happened when. I only realized while writing this post that the next post (roll 26) should have come before it. And then it occurred to me that I’d completely gotten my wires crossed, and there should have been several other posts before both of those. I had bought, quite simply, too many cameras in too short a time and shot too many rolls in too many places. While I’d normally written the date when a roll was completed on the development envelope, I somehow hadn’t thought far enough to include that date in electronic form when I’d scanned them in.
It might have been feasible to rename and reorder a whole bunch of posts and end up with something closer to the actual timeline. But what would that accomplish? As director Jean-Luc Godard said, “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” Pragmatically, I’m going to go ahead in that fashion. And I’m going to hope that that’s actually a Godard quote and not just a quote attributed to him. I’m trusting you, Wikiquote! I’m trusting you!