Desert Island Cameras No. 03 – Minolta Edition

Desert Island Cameras No. 03 – Minolta Edition

2000 1125 James Tocchio

We’re back with another installment of Desert Island Cameras, the recurring article in which we answer the question, “If you could only have one, which would it be?” That’s right – in a quest to help you choose the very best from the most popular camera brands, we’ve taken on the near-impossible task of paring down and choosing just one camera and lens we’d be happy to have for the rest of our lives.

We’ve already about Nikon and Olympus, popular brands known for innovation and quality. And today we’re discussing another Japanese maker whose cameras can stand toe to toe with these and any other brand in the world of vintage cameras.

So which Minolta would the CP staffers pick if we could each only choose one? Here are our absolute, be-all-end-all, one-and-done, stuck-for-the-rest-of-our-lives Minoltas.

Josh’s Pick

I’m going to be honest here; I’ve been dreading this particular edition of Desert Island Cameras. Choosing the best Minolta is like trying to choose the best Beatles song – too many masterpieces. Nevertheless, after weeks of deliberation and agonized soul-searching, I’ve come to a conclusion. For me, the Minolta XD-11 reigns supreme over all other Minoltas.

The XD-11 is the youngest child of the brief union between Minolta and Leica (which bore prior fruit in the form of the amazing XE-7). Yes, you read that right. The XD-11 has Wetzlar DNA, and it shows in its compact design, flawless finish, and impeccable build quality. The XD-11 was also built to showcase Minolta’s technological prowess – the designers endowed it with the world’s first multi-mode auto-exposure system (it allowed both shutter-priority and aperture-priority in addition to manual mode). It’s a masterpiece of an SLR, one of the rare cameras that are as beautiful as they are functional.

Mated to the XD-11 I’d choose none other than the Minolta MD 50mm F/1.4, a lens that James purports to be the ultimate standard legacy lens. I’m inclined to agree with him. This sub-one-hundred-dollar lens is one of the finest 50s around in terms of resolution and sharpness, and happily competes with the best from Deutschland when it comes to making that creamy bokeh the youngsters love.

This combination of body and lens is easily one of the best in Minolta’s impressive decades-long catalog, and I’d argue that it’s one of the best in all of 35mm photography in the same span of time. For the reasons mentioned, and more, I’d gladly spend the rest of my days shooting an XD-11.

Buy the Minolta XD on eBay

Buy it from our own F Stop Cameras

Dustin’s Pick 

If there’s one thing that science has taught us, it’s that real photographers prefer Minolta three to one over any other camera brand. Citation? What are you, a professor? Well, facts aside, I can say for sure that Minolta is my favorite photographic brand.

Their innovations were often decades ahead of the competition, and for more than half a century the brand provided some of the most wonderful shooting cameras in the world. It’s a shame they’re but a distant memory, but at least we still have a diverse anthology to choose from and shoot with. If I’m purchasing a one-way ticket to paradise, the Minolta that’s coming with me is the X-570.

The X-570 (released as the X-500 in Europe and Asia) was a follow up model to the award-winning X-700. It hit the market in 1983 and was considered by many to be a superior camera to its more popular predecessor due to the fact that it lacked the fully automated Program mode, which some consider to be a feature for novices. It also displayed the shutter speed in the viewfinder, and as someone who prefers shooting in manual this is very welcome, as I never have to take my eye from the finder to ensure I have my settings correct. For flash shooters, the x-570 possesses minor but delightful improvements such as the ability to shoot slower than the 1/60 second sync speed via the AE lock button.

It sports an electronically controlled stepless shutter capable of 1/1000 second to 4 seconds in Aperture Priority mode and 1/1000 second to 1 second (plus Bulb) in manual mode. The viewfinder is incredibly bright and sharp, sporting all the information needed to make quick and accurate exposures. It has a wide ISO range of 12 – 3200 and the meter continues to function when the depth of field preview is being used – something unseen in the X-700. Other features include a film safe load indicator, touch-sensitive meter activation, and an audible slow speed alert when the camera is set to 1/30 second or slower. It truly possesses all the bells and whistles one would need to make any kind of image.

As I mentioned in another post, Minolta’s lenses are some of the finest in existence. I’d opt for the modern MD 50/1.4 to pair with this body as I do believe it’s one of the best 50mm legacy lenses available today. It’s wonderfully sharp at lower apertures and renders in true Minolta fashion. It’s certainly in my top three favorite fifties of all time.

I suppose many would argue that the plastic bodied Minoltas of the 1980s aren’t up to snuff when it comes to durability, but I’ve owned many Minoltas of various vintages and have yet to have a problem with a single one of them. In fact, I tend to favor lighter weight plastic bodies as daily shooters for obvious reasons. I don’t want to have to lug heavy equipment all over the place. It’s common to hear photographic banter in forums about electronic cameras dying, and they do, but in my experience, Minoltas stand a cut above the rest. They are well built and made for a lifetime of shooting. The X-570 is no exception.

Buy a Minolta X570 on eBay here

Buy it from our own F Stop Cameras

James’ Pick

Dedicated readers probably know where I’m going with this one. On Facebook and Instagram, I’ve been called a Minolta fanboy, and one casual commenter in a Leica discussion once told me to stop proselytizing Minolta’s best rangefinder. But tough luck, because I’m about to do it again.

My one-and-only Minolta (and the camera I’d choose above all others, regardless of brand) is the Minolta CLE. And before I go any further I want to clarify that I’m not talking about the Minolta / Leitz CL, which is an entirely different camera in every imaginable way (something less astute websites fail to understand and report). But I digress.

The CLE was made by Minolta to fit their vision of what a “Compact Leica Electronic” camera could be, and it’s the camera that Leica should have built as the natural evolution of its M series. It’s a 35mm film rangefinder camera with full manual and aperture-priority auto-exposure modes, a tiny form factor, a superb and advanced metering system, and one of the most beautiful viewfinders in all of photography. It natively pairs with M mount lenses from any brand, but was designed to be paired with Minolta’s own range of M Rokkors (28mm, 40mm, and 90mm), lenses that performed incredibly well in our reviews.

For an in-depth look at all the reasons the CLE is the best 35mm camera ever made, check out this article that managed to irritate a handful of super serious Leica fanboys. Or just buy one and find out for yourself. You’ll thank me.

Buy a Minolta CLE on eBay here

Buy it from our own F Stop Cameras

And that’s that. Our list of the very best Minoltas is complete. But not really, because we only put this list together to hear your opinions. Tell us in the comments what your “one-and-only” Minolta would be, whether you’re stuck on a desert island or not!

Want a Minolta we didn’t pick?

Find one at our own F Stop Cameras

Find one on eBay

Find one at B&H Photo

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Jeremy H. Greenberg May 15, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Nice article. I agree that the CLE is one of the most outstanding 35mm cameras of all time. Paired with your favorite focal length in Leica glass, it’s a compact, light, simple, and superbly capable combination.

  • I like the ‘dark horse’ opening pic! I wonder how the world saw Minolta users back in their hey-day. Would it be comparable to how android/iOS users these days react when seeing a wild Blackberry?

    • Madis McLembrus May 15, 2017 at 9:27 am

      Minolta was the best-selling brand for many years, so the “dark horse” image is from our time only, when young hipsters who know only Canon and Nikon (and Leica) consider any other brand B-category.

      • D’oh! What a slip. Now that I think of it, Blackberry was pretty big back in the day.
        My analogies clearly need a lot more work.

  • Madis McLembrus May 15, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Minolta 9000, durable Pro-class body, speeds from 30 sec. to 1/4000 sec, very bright viewfinder, spot meter, 1/250 flash-sync. All you ever need 🙂

    • Per Kristoffersson April 4, 2018 at 4:27 pm

      Plus it runs on dual AA batteries instead of hard-to-find and easy-to-lose ones. And uses lenses still in production. On the downside, its AF performance is as poor as it gets.

  • Hello!

    Thanks for the article, I was waiting for the Minolta edition since I’m a (delighted) X700 owner.
    Any chance that you review the XD11 one day? You have piqued my curiosity.

  • Wait, what, no mention of the almighty XK? Makes all the others feels like toys…
    While I love my XK, the CLE really is a stunner. It’s the camera that caused Leica to cancel their mini M program as it was getting too good.
    Good thing I have two of them…

    I think the best looking Minolta, and maybe any SLR, is the SR1-s. Just gorgeous slick unadulterated mid century art deco-ish design.
    Only bummer is the delicate feel compared to the XK, and the really really long film advance throw.

  • Great selections!

    I’ve had some bad luck with electronic Minolta SLRs. I’ve owned two X-700s with the dreaded stuck winder, for example. So if I were to go SLR, I’d pick my SR-T 101 every day of the week, with the 50/1.7 that’s always on it.

    But I also really like my Minolta Hi-Matic 7. It’s big, it’s heavy, but it’s also quite capable.

  • I have a CLE and four working XD bodies, (three XD7, one XDs). None of those cameras would be on my desert island list, as they’re not durable enough. None of them cannot be operated without batteries, AOL of them are subject to electronic board failing and impossible to fix. If rather take an SR-T101 which is fully manual and even allowed for mirror lockup and pair that work the king of both, an Rokkor MC 58mm f1.2. I do own that lend. It’s fantastic. Sally, I have away my SR-T.

    • FYI, CLE’s aren’t impossible to fix if they break. Quite the opposite. But I respect your choice of the SRT. Great machines.

    • Hi- the open ‘O’ on the shutter dial of the XD-11 shoots the camera completely manual- in the same vein as the F3 shooting at 1/60 (I think) without batteries. And yes, the SRT is amazing- good enough for Eugene Smith!

  • I’m totally with James choice of the CLE… absolutely love this camera, best rangefinder ever!! 🙂

  • Desert island camera… i think i would go with the SRT-SUPER. No battery needed, pure mechanical marvel and – XK apart – the most complete mechanical camera of the minolta line. As for the lens….the tele rokkor 100mm 2.5 would be my choice. Recently acquired and quite excited with the results.

  • Tobias W! My xd7 has a O setting which is fully mechanical, no batteries needed, but it is st to 1/100 sec only, so yes you could use it without batteries!

  • I think that many of the so-called ‘consumer’ cameras made by Minolta are made even better by the fantastic lenses. I love the lower spec’d bodies you can pick up today on the cheap. My purchase (for $17 – most of that was shipping) of an XD-5 paired with the Minolta MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F/1.7 performs as well as anything on this list. (Okay – I cant speak for the CLE – even today it’s a bit pricey for me).

    I also love my X-700 and have never had any electrical problems others have reported. For me – this is my desert island Minolta.

    I also second Jim Grey’s mention on the Hi-Matic 7s. Great lens, easy to use – almost fool proof. What’s not to love.

  • Some of my best rated pictures on Flickr are from the Zoom SLR 110 (mark 1). It’s looks are a conversation starter too!

  • The Minolta camera that was my 1st introduction to photography in the 1970’s was the fantastic XE-7. Beautifully designed with a Copal Leitz shutter this model never let me down. It was very durable if a bit heavy. Sadly I lost my mind to digital and sold it to KEH. Alas a few years later a young man walked into my camera store in Ct. with his grandfather’s XE-5 and I knew I had to buy it. So either way the XE-5 or 7 would be my desert island Minolta. Paired with that 50mm 1.4 or 24mm 2.8. Thanks James for the great article. I do want a CLE badly though.

  • Either the XD or the Hi-matic 7sII that I own would be fine cameras in the proposed setting.
    An SRT would scare the birds with its loud shutter, but otherwise could be a good companion.

  • Mechanical, give me an SRT of any stripe, with a lean to the 101; electronic, the X-570, ergonomically unsurpassable, in my opinion, for an SLR; and any 50 made by Minolta, but a nod to the f2 45, on the 570 you’ve got a great compact setup.

  • I had a Minolta CL with 3 lenses but I could not adjust to a rangefinder. I gave it to my fiance at the time and I never asked for it back. One of my friends has an extensive Minolta SLR collection. I have acquired a pair of SRT101 bodies, an SRT 102 and an X-700 body. Assorted lenses too. The X-700 seems to be the best possible for creative use with the autowinder for bursts. I would choose the SRT102 because it has a hot shoe as well as a pc contact for a flash cord.

  • Late to the party here but my first SLR was a Minolta, the 600si Classic, and since then I have always been partial to them. While I also have several XDs and SRTs and 30 something lenses, and will get the Autocord and the CLE soon enough, I think the Dynax 7 should be mentioned as perhaps the greatest of the AF bodies, maybe across all brands. Its the epitome of its era, as comfortable as the 600, has loads of features and is simply one of the most pleasurable Minoltas ever to shoot with. My fast 50 could be glued to it and I wouldn’t mind a bit.

  • Desert island, shortage of batteries got to be the 303b with the MD 50mm f1.4

  • I use a Minolta SRT100. I’ve tried later models, and even the SRT 101 doesn’t seem made to last as the 100. Sure it maxes out at 1/500 shutter speed, but it’s the tank that I take everywhere when I want to shoot 35mm. Also, I have been meaning to try the 50mm 1.4, but I’ve just been so damn happy with the 58mm 1.4. I have other lenses, like the 45mm and a classic (almost) pancake vivitar 28mm, but I know I can’t go wrong with the 58mm.

  • I agree with Thanos and Michael Gillard :
    For the whole life and for the desert Island you need a sturdy SR-T, my favourite are the SR-T Super ( same as 303 or 102 ).
    Very nice and clear design, very precise light meter, sturdy and precise shutter, bright viewfinder.
    My lens of choice would be the ( above mentioned ) MD Rokkor 50mm F1.4.
    When you prefer a small tiny lens, i don’t recommend the MD 45mm f2, but instead the MD Il Rokkor 35mm f2.8.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio