Halfway To Heaven – Why I Sold All My Minolta Cameras And Lenses

When I first held my first Minolta – an SR-1s with MC Rokkor-PF 55mm f/1.7 lens – it was as beautiful as any camera I’ve held before or since. 

Minolta AR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55/1.7 lens

In use too, both lens and camera felt well built, smooth and oozing class.

Its simplicity was as alluring as its handsomeness – no meter, just the pure essentials need to make the photographic experience enjoyable and beautiful from start to finish.

Minolta SR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55/1.7 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

So, as a result, this camera surely remains at the heart of my collection, correct? Er, no. 

After the SR-1s whet my appetite for Minolta, I explored a handful of other lenses. The pinnacle of these was quite probably the big brother of the lens on the SR-1s, a Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4.

This gem remains the most gorgeous lens I have ever owned, and quite likely the most beautiful object I’ve ever owned. 

Minolta X-700, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4 lens

Other thoroughly excellent lenses I tried were the very capable and silky smooth MD Rokkor 50/1.4…

Minolta X-700, Minolta MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford XP2 Super expired film

And the highly impressive MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro, which single handedly made me look at zoom lenses in a whole new light, and led to me using my best zooms as a replacement for a prime.

Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

As well as a humble later era MD 50/1.7 that despite its diminutive size, weight and plastic feel, optically held its own against any other Minolta SR mount lens I’ve owned.

Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens

So again, surely I’ve kept all these gems too? Er, no. Again. 

Whilst with Minolta I was indeed halfway to heaven, and thought – and still think – many of their lenses are fantastic (and indeed now have a couple of arguably even better vintage Minolta AF lenses for my Sony a100 DSLR), the bodies just didn’t match up.

Yes, the SR-1s was a lovely camera, and for fully manual and meterless film photography it’s as good as anything I’ve used.

But, for 9 out of rolls of film I shoot with an SLR, if not more, I like to use Aperture Priority mode. So I sought out a Minolta body to accommodate this, and settled on the X-700.

The X-700 had the best viewfinder I’ve seen on an SLR, and was breathtaking to look through.

But otherwise,  whilst competent enough, it somehow always felt faceless and unremarkable.

I also tried the X-700’s simpler sibling, the X-300, which I actually liked a lot more.

It took the over complicated and over featured (in my view) X-700, stripped away everything you don’t really need but kept the compact size, big bright viewfinder and of course fantastic range of lenses. It yielded some very pleasing images.

Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 expired film

So why didn’t I keep the X-300?

The answer is, which one? The first one that lasted a roll and half then seized? Or the second one that was dead on arrival (despite being sold as fully working)? Or that one’s replacement, which lasted a glorious seven shots before also seizing?

My confidence in the reliability of Minolta electronics, and the lack of personality of their bodies anyway made me wonder if I’d ever get to use my beautiful Rokkors on film again. 

In the meantime, the discovery of the divine Contax 139 Quartz which is a whole other world of class to the Minolta equivalents I tried, was the final aperture pin in the coffin.

So I sold my last remaining working Minolta body – that original SR-1s – as it was gathering dust, knowing if I wanted an old school all mechanical experience I had my Asahi Spotmatic F and a wonderful Super-Takumar 55/1.8, amongst other fine M42 lenses.

Ultimately, my Contax story has proved to be almost the opposite of the Minolta one – amazing bodies, the best I’ve used, but somehow disappointing lenses, not so much in the final image, but mostly in feel and pleasure to use.

The epilogue to this tale is that I’ve returned to the best combination of film bodies and lenses I’ve tried – Pentax.

Whether the M42s, like the aforementioned Spotmatic F with a fabulous Takumar 55mm, or K mount, like the later M or A series (my current K body is a Program A) with the excellent, light, smooth and very well built Pentax-M lenses.

Asahi Spotmatic F, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, FujiFilm Superia X-Tra 400 expired film

The moral of the story? 

For me, with my love of the tactile experience of vintage kit, having just one piece of the puzzle – body or lens – was not enough.

A ten out of ten lens with a six out of ten body, or vice versa, is just frustrating, and gets in the way of fully enjoying either.

Whereas eight or nine out of ten for each is a far better balance and experience overall.

Which is your favourite system? Is it because of the lenses, the bodies, or, like Pentax for me, the most satisfying unison of both?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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9 thoughts on “Halfway To Heaven – Why I Sold All My Minolta Cameras And Lenses”

  1. Like you, I’ve really, really wanted to like the Minolta system. But also like you, I’ve found the electronic bodies to be unreliable. I’ve owned two X-700s with the dreaded stuck-winder problem. And two Maxxum 7000s with the dreaded aperture-control-magnet problem. Meh. Bleh. I have a working XG-1 — not a great body, but it works, and a working SR-T 101 because it’s all mechanical. Otherwise, I’ve given up.

    I tend to shoot Pentax and Nikon most. Pentax was my first love; a bunch of Nikon gear has been donated to me and I’ve come to deeply appreciate it.

  2. Yes, Minolta nailed it on the lens front – both the manual and auto focus ranges are littered with gems.

    If only the bodies were as good.

    The X-300 is cheap enough that I could have tried again and maybe got lucky. But after three failing in short succession I just lost confidence.

    As you know Jim, I’m coming back to the realisation of how good Pentax are. I’m even considering a Pentax DSLR too, which would easily use all my Pentax K lenses plus the M42s via a simple adapter.

  3. 1. Such a shame you never tried an XD or SRT body…..
    2. Fixing an X-300/500 costs 26 cents, all they need is a new capacitor right under the bottom plate, takes about 10 minutes to exchange and they’re good to go for years again!

    I’m on the exact opposite: tried just about every brand of cameras and lenses, had an awful amount of broken Nikon gear (maybe bad luck, for me it’s the most over-rated brand ever), but i always came back to Minolta again.
    Slowly selling all my other gear now, breaking down the collection to keep only Minolta and Konica !

    1. Hi René, thanks for your comment. I have tried three SRTs, and they were good. Very smooth, robust, well made, if a little chunky and heavy.

      I never had any luck getting one with a working meter though so I used them “Sunny 16”, and in the end I preferred the simpler, smaller, SR-1s for shooting fully manually like that.

      I didn’t know that about repairing the X series, there doesn’t seem to be much about it online other than dozens of people who’ve given up on them because they fail!

      Even so, the Contax bodies, in my view, are a completely different class to use. And now I’ve gone back to Pentax, I prefer their M and A series bodies to the Minolta X series also. Which I why I ultimately gave up on Minolta.

      Fantastic lenses though!!

      What you’re doing with Minolta and Konica sounds exactly like what I’m doing with Pentax though (M42 mount and Pentax K mount) and wrote about recently –

      Binge, Purge, Repeat – Learning How To Escape The Camera Consumption Spiral

  4. Nothing wrong with Minolta reliability in my experience. My X-700, XE-5, 7000, 7000i, 7xi, 9000, 7 and 404 have all been used through many winters in Northern Europe (where I live is about 50 miles less to the north than Anchorage, Alaska). Zero malfunctions.
    Different story with Contax. While I love the Zeiss glass, I have had issues with RTS II (mirror slip), RTS (electronics), 159MM (electronics). Luckily I have access to an excellent repair dude who has expertly repaired all of them.

    1. Madis, sounds like Minolta have been fantastic for you! Guess I’ve had bad luck, but I know another photographer I follow, Jim Grey, has had even worse luck and has tried half a dozen different SR mount and AF mount Minoltas and they’ve all failed him one way or another.

      I had a Contax 159MM that just stopped working one day, despite being in near mint condition. I donated it to a friend in Porto, who collects cameras and particularly loves Contax. He left it a while and then a couple of weeks later tried some batteries and it came alive again and has been working ever since!

      I think any older camera with electronics is in borrowed time, whereas mechanical bodies can go on and on for decades.

      1. No I just said I’ve had bad luck and Jim has had even worse luck! When you try three or four cameras of one brand and they all fail (whether it’s cameras or anything else in life), it makes it hard to like them or want to try again.

        I confess though my experience with the bodies is the opposite of the lenses, as I said above, which have been fantastic in performance, and build quality. This made it all the more frustrating, and why I named this post “Halfway To Heaven”… They could have become my favourite brand/mount, if the bodies had been reliable.

        Maybe one day I’ll try another manual body (I still have a 7000i and a couple of AF lenses I use mostly on my Sony a100).

  5. When choosing a manual focus Minolta body, make sure it’s one produced before the 90’s as those were made in Japan and had better quality components. When the manual focus bodies were downgraded to budget cameras in the 90’s, the manufacture was moved to Seagull factory in China and the capacitors and other such parts used there are of a much lower quality.

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