My first SLR was a Minolta SR-T 101, given to me by my dad, which was awesome because that was the camera he shot with, too. When I reengaged with photography some years ago, I built out my Minolta kit, eventually trying some of the newer electromechanical bodies and picking up lots of lenses. These days, Minolta glass is very inexpensive and an incredible value for the money. This was high quality stuff, and perhaps because they never truly found their pro market, they were forgotten in the dust of Nikon and Canon. Shame, really, but for today’s gear scavenger, it’s a blessing.
So I’ve always had a fondness for Minolta. Even though today I shoot mostly with my Leica MP and 35mm Summicron, with the Canon 1V a distant second, I still go back to the Minoltas every few months to keep them working, and rather than just work the shutters through their speeds, I take them out and let them get some fresh air.
This was probably Minolta’s most serious body before things got plasticky. It was the first SLR to feature aperture priority and shutter priority shooting (aka “multi-mode”), and it was the last Minolta to feel like a solid chunk of brass. It was the foundation for the Leica R4 through R7, through Leitz’s partnership with Minolta (which also brought us the Leitz/Leica Minolta CL). While I find the later X-570 (a sort of cheaper X-700) to have more features and a more useful viewfinder, the XD 11 feels better in the hands, and I’ll always prefer a heavier body to a lighter one, especially because I often shoot at slower speeds, and a heavier body more easily dampens shutter and mirror vibrations.
It’s very easy to use. Depressing the shutter lightly will activate the meter. If you’re shooting in manual mode, the right-hand row of LEDs in the viewfinder will suggest the best shutter speed for the aperture chosen. A window at the bottom of the viewfinder shows the actual setting on the aperture ring (that’s what that little window you never noticed under the “Minolta” logo is for). If you’re shooting aperture priority, it shows the shutter speed it has chosen for you, and it actually shoots at a more exact speed; e.g. instead of either 1/125 or 1/60, it might shoot at 1/101, due to its electromagnetic shutter control. If you’re shooting shutter priority, the LEDs light up against a column of aperture values. It’s very simple and immediately graspable.
When you depress the shutter fully, the aperture stops down and the meter takes a second reading and adjusts as necessary, depending on your shooting mode, THEN the shutter flies and your film is exposed. This introduces a very slight delay, more akin to using a contemporary SLR, but significantly more than using a camera with a manual shutter like a Leica M or the older Minolta SR series. In practice, it has not been a big deal for me at all.
The sound of the shutter with its slight delay is something of a mechanical sneeze, a ker-CHUNK. It’s actually quite quiet and I shoot on the street without drawing attention, unlike a big, contemporary SLR like my Canon EOS 5D Mark II or EOS 1V. I just love the look of this body too. Black, with soft leatherette surfaces. The old, better (in my opinion) Minolta logo, the reassuring chrome of the buttons around the lens mount. And a film reminder. Why can’t we still have these? A little pocket on the back of the camera to remind you you were shooting Tri-X, not Plus-X, dummy.
The only element I do not like is the film rewind lever. It looks cheap and nowhere near as elegant as that on the earlier SR cameras. To be honest, I think it does work a little better and is more resistant to wear.
I am so fond of using this camera that I am going to actually replace the vinyl (I think it’s faux leather) surfaces with 3M Griptac, which is a material used on golf club handles to make them “grippy.” I’ve just ordered the material from cameraleather.com, and I’ll be sure to write a post with the results.
In the coming week, we’ll look at some photos in posts dedicated to the lenses used to take them.
Here’s a little preview:
Please read this excellent article about the XD 11 at Rokkorfiles.com which inspired me to get one of my own.