As you know, I’m a big fan of older digital cameras.
Those digital classics that are usually overlooked and abandoned in someone’s drawer, having since been superceded half a dozen times by a series of later and supposedly greater new models.
Being electronic, there’s the likelihood that with each passing year – and indeed with every blink of the shutter – they’re closer to capturing their last image.
And unlike old mechanical film cameras that can usually be repaired by someone who possesses the skills and patience, electronic cameras (film, and especially digital) are usually good for nothing once they do give in.
So buying any older digital camera has its risks and pitfalls.
This blunt reality has dictated my spending on such devices in recent times.
I’m not going to pay hundreds for something that I might make only a dozen photographs with before it fails.
Most of the digital classics I’ve bought this year have cost under £20.
Even my two current favourite cameras, the Pentax DLSR siblings the K100D and K-m only cost me £26 and £30 respectively, so whilst I’d be disappointed if they packed up, I wouldn’t be devastated, and already I’ve made hundreds of pictures with each that have made them excellent investments in my eyes.
My most recent acquisition is a camera that’s been on my unofficial wish list for a couple of years (despite me knowing the dangers of a wish list!), the Konica Minolta Dynax 5D.
The origin of my interest is that this is the camera (along with the 7D) that Sony used as the DNA of their first DSLR range, when they bought Konica Minolta’s camera operations in 2006.
Previously I’ve had a Sony a100, which had much going for it, not least of all a lovely 10MP CCD sensor.
Ultimately I moved on to early Pentax DLSRs (also equipped with Sony CCD sensors it turns out, including both the K100D and K-m mentioned above), but the a100 laid the foundations for the kind of digital images I didn’t know were possible when shooting film.
So the Konica Minolta cameras that the first Sonys evolved from held considerable interest for me, especially the much praised 5D with its 6MP CCD sensor.
This particular example had come up before on eBay, with the standard 18-70mm kit zoom and a 70-210mm tele zoom.
The kit zoom I had little interest in, the tele zoom even less, so the starting bid seemed much too high for what for me would be just the camera.
I forgot to mention that during my experiences with the Sony a100, I tried a few old Minolta lenses.
Minolta’s AF mount was developed in the mid 80s, and any lens since then is compatible with any Minolta AF SLR, Konica Minolta DSLR, and the Sony A mount DSLRs.
Indeed, I understand that many of the Sony A mount range of lenses are simply rebadged old Minolta designs.
I had three lenses – the 50/1.7, 50/2.8 Macro and 35-70/4 Macro Zoom.
The standard fifty was a very decent performer, all I could ask for from a 50mm AF lens.
The Macro was stunning, and remains possibly the most impressive lens I’ve ever used. And that’s been quite a few!
Finally, perhaps best of all was the 35-70mm f/4 Macro.
With the a100’s APS-C crop sensor this equated to a field of view from 52.5-105mm, very sweet territory for me with a DSLR, where I generally shoot closer and with a shallower depth of field than with a compact camera.
Even better, the Macro function was genuinely decent, unlike many cameras with macro emblazoned on them as a marketing tactic but disappointingly lacking in capability for close up photography.
I loved this lens, and for a zoom it was pleasingly compact too.
Once I decided to switch back to Pentax, my main regret was not being able to use these three lenses any longer, despite Pentax having plenty of their own gems.
So my plan was to find a cheap Minolta 5D body, then buy another of the 35-70/4 zooms, to see how this set up compared with my Pentax K100D and Pentax-F 35-70mm zoom.
Cutting the story short, the Minolta went for more than I wanted to pay, but then was relisted as apparently the buyer thought they were “getting 2019 DSLR technology for £60”.
So I approached the seller with an offer and we settled on £50 for the camera and two lenses.
All of my first impressions of the 5D were good.
The camera felt as intuitive as my Pentax favourites, and actually the handling was even better, because the grip is slightly squared off on the front face, unlike the continuously rounded Pentaxes.
This is of course perfectly logical, as our fingers had three joints, which wrap around the 5D like a glove.
The quality and feel of the rubber on the front grip, and the rear thumb rest, is as good as on any camera I’ve used, which sounds a minor detail, but made for an instant bond and confidence between photographer and camera.
Like when you embraced your partner for the first time, and you just fitted together, it felt right.
I had a minor concern over the camera needing a Compact Flash (CF) card rather than SD, but since it came with an 8MB CF card, and my USB card reader accesses these just as easily as SDs, it was a non-issue.
My initial few photowalks with the Minolta were very pleasing too.
The colour JPEGs straight out of camera were pretty good, and whilst I wasn’t thinking I was about to ditch my Pentax duo, my thoughts turned to the next step of my plan, that 35-70/4 Macro Zoom lens.
But then, the problems began.
On the next trip, the 5D let me take half a dozen shots, then on the next one, the screen stayed blank and the red read light by the CF card stayed on longer than usual.
An image was recorded, with all the EXIF data, but appeared all black.
Switching it on and off seemed to shake the issue.
But then a few shots on it happened again.
On and off with the power again, and now the problem was worse. I got a black screen, and the red read light stayed on, until I cut the power again.
And this has been the state ever since, despite charging the battery, trying different CF cards, and leaving the camera in a warm place for a day (that fateful photo walk was a cold day!)
So what next?
The camera is unusable in this state, and the lenses are worth very little, so I donated the whole kit to a charity shop (it also had the obligatory charger, bag, strap etc) for someone to use what they could for a bargain price.
It is a real shame as the 5D was very enjoyable to hold and use, and the colour JPEGs were good.
With black and white there wasn’t quite enough in camera control, so I reverted to my favoured Snapseed b/w treatment. As I have a number of cameras that do deliver b/w straight out of camera, this would make the 5D a colour only camera.
And whilst the colour output was among the best I’ve seen from a DSLR, my two Pentax CCDs are even better.
So I won’t be rushing out to get another Minolta DSLR.
Historically, it’s been a frustrating brand for me.
Some of their lenses are stunning, both the older manual SR mount (MC/MD) lenses, and the AF mount, as I spoke about above.
But when I settled on the excellent little X-300 as my favourite film body, I went through three in as many weeks and all failed me. So I went back to Pentax and Contax.
And it’s been a similar story with this Dynax 5D.
On the upside, at least I got to try it for a while.
And I know overall it didn’t tick as many boxes as my Pentax DLSRs, and meant adopting another lens mount/system I didn’t really need.
So it’s been a satisfactory outcome overall.
Plus, with all the electronic cameras (film and digital) I have picked up for peanuts over the years and have worked perfectly, I was due a dud!
How has your luck been with digital cameras? What brands have served you most loyally? Have there been any you loved but let you down with their unreliability?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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