Minolta XG7 (1977)

What is it?
Minolta XG7-cropThis is a Minolta XG7 (Minolta refers to it as an XG-7 on paper, but the camera’s name plate says XG7) which is a manual focus 35mm SLR camera introduced in 1977.  The name XG7 refers to a model sold in the United States only.  Minolta sold the exact same camera in Japan and in other markets as the XG-E and XG2.  The XG series was considered to be more entry level compared to the higher end XD series, and both the XG and XD series followed the successful SR and SRT lines of Minolta SLRs first introduced in the late 1950s.  Both the XG and XD series came in a smaller body, had aperture priority auto exposure modes, and used common 1.5v alkaline/silver oxide/lithium batteries instead of the 1.35v mercury batteries of the previous generation.  The XG7 was one of first Minolta SLRs to use the company’s new “Auto” MD bayonet lens mount.

Film Type: 135 (35mm)
Lens Mount: Minolta Bayonet MD Mount
Lenses: 50mm f/1.8 and 28mm f/2.8 Auto Rokkor
Focus: Fixed SLR Prism
Shutter: Focal Plane Cloth
Speeds: B, 1 – 1/1000 seconds
Exposure Meter: TTL Central Zone CdS meter with LED Viewfinder Readout
Battery: (2) S76 Alkaline, Silver-Oxide, or Lithium Cells
Flash Mount: Hotshoe and PC X-Sync
Manual: http://www.cameramanuals.org/minolta_pdf/minolta_xg-7.pdf

History

Minolta was a Japanese company founded by Kazuo Tashima in 1928 in Osaka, Japan.  Tashima enlisted the help of German camera technicians Billy Neumann and Willy Heilemann to help him design Japanese made cameras, but utilizing German expertise.  The company was originally known as Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shōten which translates to “Japanese-German Camera Shop”.  In 1929 Nichi-Doku released its first camera, a folding 6 x 4.5 cm camera known as the Nifcarette which was inspired by similar German folding cameras of the time.

In 1931, the company changed its name to Molta Gōshi-Gaisha.  The word “Molta” is an acronym of a German translation meaning “Mechanism, Optics and Lenses by TAshima”.  Shortly after this time, both Billy Neumann and Willy Heilemann left the company to form their own company simply called Neumann & Heilemann.

In 1933, Molta Gōshi-Gaisha applied for a trademark for the name Minolta which would be used as a brand name for their forthcoming cameras.  After World War II, much of the information regarding the history of the company was lost or destroyed, so it’s hard to know for certain if Minolta was also an acronym like Molta.  Some sources say that Minolta stood for “Mechanism, INstruments, Optics and Lenses by TAshima”, but others state that Minolta is taken from the Japanese term “Minoru ta” (稔る田) which means “ripening rice fields”.  Ripening rice fields are commonly used as symbolism in Japanese culture for signs of health and prosperity.  In addition “Minoru ta” is pronounced exactly the same as the name “Minolta”.

Throughout the 1930s, the company saw great success in Japan and started releasing other lines of cameras and photographic equipment.  In 1937, the company changed its name once again to Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō K.K. which is often abbreviated as “Chiyoko” and released its first Twin Lens Reflex known as the Minolta-Flex.

In 1940, Chiyoko introduced the Rokkor line of optical lenses for military use only.  During the early part of World War II, Chiyoko produced cameras both for military and civilian use, but in 1943 stopped all civilian production.  Chiyoko was heavily involved in the Japanese war effort, but by the end of the war, 3 out of the company’s 6 factories were destroyed by US bombings.

In 1946, Chiyoko resumed manufacturing of consumer cameras and optical equipment and continued to expand its line of cameras.  In 1947, a highly successful line of “Leica-inspired” 35mm rangefinder cameras known as the Minolta 35 was released.  The Minolta 35 sold very well and was in regular production until the early 1960s.

Throughout the 1950s, Chiyoko saw great success in Japan and abroad.  Their TLR and rangefinder models were very successful and the company’s reputation for quality optics and reliable operation gained them a lot of popularity amongst professional and consumer level photographers.

The Minolta SR-2 was Minolta's first SLR, released in 1958.
The Minolta SR-2 was Minolta’s first SLR, released in 1958.

In the mid 1950s, Single Lens Reflex cameras were coming more and more into the mainstream, and in 1958, Chiyoko released the Minolta SR-2 which was the company’s first SLR camera.  The SR-2 was considered to be a very advanced camera of its time, incorporating modern features such as a pentaprism viewfinder, instant-return mirror, a bayonet lens mount, lever advance, and an auto-resetting frame counter.

The very next year, Chiyoko expanded their product line to include photocomposing machines, copiers, and projectors.  Its worth noting that during the 2000s, when Minolta merged with Konica and sold its camera business to Sony, they retained their product line of printers and copiers, which they still make to this very day.

In 1962, Chiyoko changed its name once again to Minolta Camera K.K., this incorporating the Minolta name into the official company name.  This very same year the SR-7 was released which was the world’s first SLR camera with a CdS light meter.  Minolta was so good at making light meters, that they were contracted by NASA to make the Minolta Space Meter which was used as a light metering device on the Apollo space and moon missions.  Minolta continued to innovate and in 1966, released the SRT line of cameras, which was the company’s most successful camera line-up until that point.

Minolta had such a high reputation for quality that in 1972 the company formed a partnership with the German company Leitz, who was the maker of the Leica line of cameras.  This was a bit of a “full circle” for Minolta as they had released a Leica-inspired model in the late 40s which helped propel them into the spotlight as a premiere camera maker.  This partnership with Leica benefited both companies as Minolta would help Leica mass produce a line of R-series cameras in the 1970s, and Minolta would share some of Leitz’s design expertise.

Also in 1972, for the first time Minolta aimed to cater to high end professional photographers.  Around this time, Nikon and Canon were entrenched in a battle for the crown of the pro-market, and Minolta released the X1 to compete at this level.  Although the X1 ultimately would be outsold by its competitor’s comparative models, it was not due to lack of quality or features.  The X1 was quickly followed by the XE line of SLRs which was the brand’s first fully electronic SLR, and was aimed at the mid-level market.  The XE series featured some of the advanced features of the X1 such as an advanced Auto Exposure mode, bright viewfinder, fully manual control, hotshoe, double exposure lever, and rear power switch, while coming in a lighter body with a fixed viewfinder and reduced shutter speed range.  The XE line would continue through the late 70s, ending with the entry level XE5.

While the X1 and XE lines were not considered failures, Minolta was not leading the industry in the pro market, so instead, they transitioned their efforts to the mid level advanced amateur market.  Taking a cue from smaller bodied SLRs by Pentax and Olympus, in 1977 Minolta released two lines of smaller bodied SLR cameras known as the XG and XD.  The XG would be the lower end line aimed at the amateur market, while the XD would be a top of the line model that bridges the gap between amateur and professional.  The first models from these two lines were the XG7 and XD11.  Both cameras would feature Auto Exposure modes, Minolta’s excellent light meter, and top speed of 1/1000th of a second.  The XG series had a cloth shutter, while the XD had an advanced metal shutter similar to what Nikon was using at the time.

While considered a mid-level camera, the XG7 still had many features that made it stand out from the competition.  For one, it was the only camera in its price range with a soft-synthetic leather covering which gave it a “luxurious” feel to it.  It had an electromagnetic shutter release button that would activate the exposure meter only when in contact with skin.  The viewfinder had both an aperture setting indicator and LED exposure scale.  Other feautres of the XG7 were an electronic self timer with LED indicator on the front of the camera, a film safe indicator which shows if the film is properly loaded, an oversized mirror to eliminate cut off on large telephoto lenses, and finally a shutter release socket that worked with both mechanical cables and electronic shutters.

The XG7 was so successful that Minolta decided to split up the camera into two separate models called the XG1 and XG9.  The XG1 would become a less expensive entry level camera, and the XG9 would improve upon on the XG7 with a redesigned viewfinder, brighter focus screen, a depth of view preview button, and support for a Minolta quartz data back.

Throughout the 1980s, the XG and XD series continued to sell well, but Minolta’s lead in the SLR camera market started to fall farther and father behind those of Nikon and Canon.  Minolta would have a successful line of Auto focus cameras called the Maxxum series, but they would never regain the market dominance they once had.  In 2003, Minolta would merge with Konica, and by 2006, both companies would abandon consumer photography altogether, selling their technology and patents to Sony.

Today, the Minolta XG and XD series are fondly remembered by those who shot film in that era, but unfortunately, there is not a huge demand for these cameras.  If you look at the Additional Resources section at the bottom of this page, I had a hard time even finding good links to provide.  Other than the excellent Rokkor Files link, theres not much info out there.  I don’t think this has anything to do with the quality or performance of the cameras, but perhaps the abandoned lens mount, and lack of a modern legacy to build on, most Minoltas of this age sell for quite cheap, but if you find one in as good of shape as the one I have, they are still a lot of fun to shoot.

My Thoughts

I never sought out to acquire any Minolta SLRs.  At heart, I am a Nikon guy.  I have Nikon SLRs, flashes, and several lenses.  I dabbled with Canon film cameras, but never really thought I’d venture away from those brands.  One day while browsing KEH’s “As Is” category, I saw this XG7 for sale for $9 and knowing it had a nice reputation, I bought it.

Not knowing anything about what I was about to received, I was completely taken aback when I opened the package and saw what looked to be a nearly brand new XG7 with a 50mm lens in nearly perfect condition.  The camera was in such good shape, I looked to see what other lenses I could find for it, and I found a 28mm f/2.8 lens for $10.  The 28mm was more than the 50mm and body were combined!  Nevertheless, for under $20, I had myself a great 70s SLR with two lenses in almost perfect shape!

The body of the XG7 is nicely weighted and comfortable in the hand.  A feature of this series of camera that often does not hold up well over time is the leatherette covering the body.  Many used Minoltas of this era had a problem where the leatherette would shrink and cause sticky gaps around the edges of the skin.  Somehow, mine avoided such a fate and the leathertte on my example shows no signs of shrinkage.  Thats a good thing too, because its the soft leatherette that is one of my favorite things about this camera.  It gives the camera a premium feel that no other camera in my collection has.

I also liked the electromagnetic touch to the shutter release.  Its a nice feature that only activates the meter when the camera detects that your finger is touching the shutter release.  Although this camera does have a power switch, I wonder if thats even necessary.  How much power does the camera drain when it is on but the meter hasnt been activated?

Like Nikon and the Canon AV1, the XG7 has Aperture Priority Auto Exposure.  I prefer this type of Auto Exposure to Shutter Priority like on the Canon AE1.  I don’t do a lot with sports photography or fast motion subjects, so I don’t often have a need to induce motion blur.  The majority of the photos I take are of still, or at least slow moving objects, so my preference will always be to have the fastest shutter speed possible.  I’d rather have the camera decide the shutter speed for me, and let me pick the aperture.  I feel as though there is more creativity in controlling the depth of field more than the shutter speed, so for me, I usually stick with Aperture Priority modes.  If I really want full manual control, I can turn it off, but then I lose the meter, which was something addressed with the XD11.

My Results

Even before I saw my first roll of developed film, I enjoyed shooting with the XG7.  This is also one of 3 cameras my wife has shot.  Although she’s no dummy when it comes to photography, she much prefers the simplicity of digital, so for her to use the XG7 and get nice shots the first time she touched it, speaks to the ease of use of this camera.

There’s not a whole lot to say about shooting with this camera.  If you’ve ever shot with an SLR, you already pretty much have the gist of it.  The Minolta XG7 has a relatively bright focusing screen (although supposedly the XG9 and XD11s have screens that are even brighter) and the LED display inside of the viewfinder gets the job done.  Like other cameras of this era, the LEDs are easy to see in darkness, but the numerical markings require ambient light to be seen, meaning they are very hard to read in low light.  This isn’t too much of a problem because both of the over and under exposure warning lights are in the shape of a triangle, whereas every shutter position is a round circle.  So basically, as long as you are in Auto mode, and you aren’t seeing a triangle you’re good to go.  With just a little bit of experience, you can reasonably tell what your shutter speeds will be just by looking at the position of the LEDs.

The focusing screen has both a split image rangefinder with a microprism collar for focusing aide.  I’ve found that I like the split image rangefinder better as I have a harder time with the microprisms, so its nice to have both.  Of course this being an SLR, if you are shooting a well lit scene, you can get focus simply by looking at the image.

I tested the camera’s hotshoe with my Nikon Speedlight and it worked fine.  I am not experienced enough to accurately use flash photography indoors with a manual focus SLR, so this is something I’ll experiment more with later.  Still, its somewhat impressive to use a 1977 film camera and a 21st century flash designed for a completely different brand’s DSLR.

01-024The 50mm lens is very easy to focus and starts at about 1.5 feet to infinity.  There is a wide range of movement of the focusing collar, so you have a lot of control over depth of field.  Take a look at the shot to the left, this was shot hand held indoors at f/1.7.

Using the 28mm isn’t a whole lot different than the 50mm lens.  They both are easy to use, and have smooth focus rings.  I would say the 28mm is ever so slightly darker, but thats not a problem in outdoor light.  It is nice having a wider lens to get more in the picture.  Other than my Nikon system, I don’t have any zoom lenses, so if I had to pick between two ideal focal lengths, they would be 28mm and 50mm for a camera like this.

As this was never a top of the line camera, it doesn’t have pro features like mirror lockup or a depth of field preview button, but neither of those features are missed.  Unlike most cameras of this age, the cable release socket is not in the middle of the shutter release button, but instead on the side of the lens mount.  I haven’t actually used it, but I would expect it to work like any other.

As I’ve said a couple of times already, shooting with this camera is a joy.  Frankly, its a shame that this line of cameras is disappearing into obscurity.  There are less and less people willing to shoot manual focus film cameras, and the ones that do, generally stick with the premiere brands.  Part of me wants to try out some other Minolta cameras, but frankly, I don’t feel like I am missing much by not having the features of the top of the line XD11, and the odds of me scoring a second Minolta in as good of condition as this one are slim.  So this one’s definitely a keeper.  I don’t know how often I’ll use it, but I know that when I do, I’ll be smiling! 🙂

Additional Resources

http://www.rokkorfiles.com/XG%20Series.htm

http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Minolta_XG_series

https://www.flickr.com/search/?q=minolta%20xg7

3 Comments

  1. I bought the Minolta XG7 online (“as is” condition as well) and I was so excited to try it but the shutter ended up not working 🙁 I don’t know how to fix this since I am fairly new to analog photography. I looked online but there is an overwhelming amount of forums and videos on how to fix certain things, but it’s either not my model or they don’t answer my questions. Sigh.. 🙁 For now I’ll stick to my Pentax 🙁 Those pictures look so nice, so it makes me sadder, haha

    1. Diana, I am sorry to hear about your experience with the XG7 as it is a wonderful camera. Although I have limited experience repairing cameras, I’ve never attempted any repair on my XG7, I was fortunate to receive it in good working condition. Assuming there aren’t any obvious tears to the curtain or the body, its possible your only issue is electrical. Its possible a small amount of corrosion in the battery compartment is preventing electricity from flowing. I would recommend getting some small screwdrivers and removing the bottom panel of the camera. Don’t worry, nothing should fall out of the camera. Once you have the screws removed, it might take a bit of wiggling to get the plate off. Once you do, look for obvious signs of corrosion near where the battery compartment is. If you see any, get some baking soda mixed with warm water and some Q-tips and attempt to clean it. You’ll notice that the baking soda and water will start to bubble when it comes in contact with corrosion. Assuming there is some to clean off, try putting the plate back on with a new battery and see if that works. Beyond that, your camera might have more serious electrical issues that are not worth repairing. Keep trying though, and even if you don’t, theres nothing wrong with a Pentax. I have a Pentax Sv and its one of my favorite cameras! 🙂

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