In 1977 the Minolta XD7 / XD 11 was Minolta’s flagship model and is by many considered the finest manual-focus SLR Minolta ever produced. But it’s not very popular, it never was and never will be.
Minolta all the way
In 2012 I was starting shooting film with a Minolta X-700 I bought for a quick flip and ended up keeping. It’s a reliable machine, made for the amateur photographer. It’s snappy and I kind of like the 80’s design, so I was very much okay with it for almost a year. But then I went down the Rabbit hole of filmphotography-blogs…and when I first saw a Minolta XD on www.japancamerahunter.com (thank you Dan K.) I instantly fell in love with it. It was slick and elegant. With the first look I was sure: this camera is striped down to the bear minimum – what little did I know…
After reading reviews for a couple of days I placed a whinning bid on a very nice copy of an European XD7 (XD11 in the US, XD in Japan). It came in superb condition and with a Rokkor MD 50mm f/1.7 attached to it. The ever ready case was in pieces but kept this lovely SLR in almost mint condition for who knows how many years.
The first thing I noticed when picking it up was the weight to it. It’s not heavy, nor flimsy – it’s balanced. And yes, theres cold metal I felt next. The corners of the XD are smooth in comparision to other SLR’s and the body itself is a little concaved and covered in soft faux leather – making it a pleasure to hold. The XD’s chassis-design is a product of Leitz and Minolta partnering and is also parent to Leicas R4 to R7 bodys. It’s so similar that you can swap the back of your XD with a Leica R4 back to have a film window.
And the XD is compact – about the size of a Pentax ME or an Olympus OM-1. But the black finish is a special anodized process licensed from Leitz – far superior to the black paint more commonly used. Therefore most black XD’s are in great condition with little to no brassing.
Overall the XD presents itself in a very nice built quality and Bauhaus-like minimalist design. Every nob and every dial gives reassuring feedback. By using the film rewind crank alone, you’ll understand – not to speak of the buttery smooth winding lever.
Anyhow, the earlier XD’s leatherette tends to shrink. It’s just cosmetics, but make sure to go for a later model if you’re on the market for a Minolta XD. You can tell by the position of the exposer compensation dial what generation of XD your looking at. When its facing to the left, it’s one of the first generation. The dial is much easier to operate but also easier to accidentally move and the leatherette will shrink. The newer models have the dial facing to the prism and a leatherette that holds up pretty good. The last generation has the newer Minolta Logo printed on the prism.
Next, I had a look through the viewfinder. I already knew that this viewfinder is considered exceptionally bright by many and that the acute-matte screen used in the XD was also made available for Hassleblad. But in my opinion it’s a tak behind the super bright Nikon FM2n’s viewfinder. The XD’s shutter speed readout is much nicer though. In the FM2n your shutter speed readout is reduced to + (=over), O (=correct) and – (=under). In the XD you can read right away what shutter speed is suggested according to the aperture you have selected. Making it much easier to correct your settings. The XD will start metering as soon as you press the shutter release button half way down, and stops when releasing.
The aperture readout window is placed right at the center bottom and easy to read. When choosing manual mode, the shutter-speed window will pop up right next to it so you can tell your current selected shutter speed. Great for metered manual use. When switching to shutter priority mode, the shutter speed readout on the right changes to a aperture readout, telling you what aperture the XD will choose considering your selected shutter speed and metered light.
The shutter-dial is lapping over the body by a bit, so it’s easy to reach and control while composing through the viewfinder.
And let me tell you that the shutter release sound is silky smooth, second to none. This vertical traveling Seiko MFC Shutter has a top-electronic speed by dial of 1/1000 of a second and a „O“ Setting for battery independent picture-taking. Totally mechanical and with a speed of 1/100 of a second the XD provides a failsafe system that I wouldn’t want to miss.
Bells & Whistles
In 1977 the Minolta XD was the very first camera that had shutter and aperture priority mode combined in one body. But the XD is not stopping there.
At page 1 in the user’s manual it reads “If you wish, you can leave exposure control entirely to the camera’s program for perfect results over a wide range.” For this, you have to chose the 1/125 of a second setting on the shutter speed dial, that was painted green in later models and had to be set coincide with the green „S“ dial for shutter priority mode and the green minimum aperture on the lens. „Green for Go!“ as Minolta said it back in the days.
I’d call this the very first program mode. As a bonus btw: the maximum shutter speed goes up to 1/2000 when you go for green.
Other features are:
- full metal body construction
- when using a Minolta auto flash, the XD automatically chooses sync speed (1/100)
- the XD can use the Minolta Autowinder D with maximum of 2fps
- Silicon photocell TTL center weighted meter
- Depth of field preview button
- Built-in eyepiece shutter for tripod use
- PC connection for studio flash use
- Film “safe-load” indicator
- Self timer (adjustable from 2 to 10 seconds)
- uses broadly available silverodyd betteries (2 x 1,5 V)
- 94% viewfinder coverage and 0.87x viewfinder magnification
Rokkor – The Minolta Lens Line-Up
In search of the perfect match for my Minolta XD7 I’ve owned and used the MD 45mm f/2, the MD 50mm f/1.7, the infamous MC Rokkor-PG 50mm f/1.4 and the legendary MC (II) and (III) Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2.
The Minolta MD 50 f/1.7
The Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 is compact, lightweight and tak-crisp but also on the cheap side when taking look & feel into consideration. But it delivers. Here is my favorite shot with it @ Ektar 100 (NYC, 2013):
The Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 50mm f/1.4
Although a lot of people say that the PG f/1.4 is the sharpest of the Minolta 50s, there is no need to upgrade from a MD f/1.7 if you ask me. The only reason might be the built-quality the MC has to it. The Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.4 is superbly built and therefore comes with substantial weight to it. But it has a buttery-smooth focusing throw. This portrait I owe to it (Portra 400, Berlin 2013):
Since the Minolta XD is built to the highest (amateur) standard, the Rokkor-PG f/1.4 goes very nice with it – it melts with the XD’s general look & feel. But after upgrading from the MD f/1.7 to the MC f/1.4 – I started to wonder if built-quality really outperformers a lightweight setup.
The Minolta MD 45 f/2
So I mounted the MD 45 f/2 on my XD7. With the X700, this inconspicuous piece of glass and plastic performed so good that I was somehow upset. This almost pancake-sized 20 EUR lens delivered perfectly fine real-life pictures and almost killed my desire for hunting down the more „desirable“ lenses the Minolta Line-Up is offering. Take a look (Kodak Gold 200, Berlin 2012):
Make no mistake. The MD 45mm is no compression to the golden era of Minolta MC lenses. The focusing throw is a bit short and not as nearly as smooth as using the focus of a brass on aluminum worm thread a MC-Lens has to offer. But it’s tiny, lightweight and from f/4 up it’s sharp as a razor!
The Minolta MC 58mm f/1.2
The Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2 is a monster. Big, heavy and hungry for light it feeds on dimly light family events. I didn’t belive it at first, but the half-stop-advantage really makes a difference and outperforms the 50mm f/1.4 in that regard. People also say that the bokeh is one of the finest you can get on a f-stop of 1.2. But it’s not meant for the XD, I rather see it on a Minolta XK/XM – making this setup a machine gun of a camera – not suitable for an all-rounder like me, at least in my book. Nether then less, it’s capable. No questions asked:
The Minolta XD is a perfect compact bit of German/Japanese collaborative engineering. It’s capable of anything a demanding amateur photographer could ask for, so you won’t be limited by the XD – that’s for sure. With its long history and brought Lens Line-Up, Minolta is a great system to invest in. The Rokkors are reasonably priced and have a perfect balance of sharpness, contrast and bokeh – at least for my taste.
In my opinion, the Minolta MD 45mm f2 is the perfect fit for the XD. It might not be as nicely built as the Minolta MC lenses but it’s lightweight, short, sharp and contrasty. A true performer.
Beginner or experienced shooter, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Minolta XD to anyone asking me for advice.