Minolta XD 35mm Film Camera Review

Minolta XD 35mm Film Camera Review

2000 1125 Jeb Inge

I started shooting film with Minolta’s SRT-101, a historical camera that decades after its creation remains an outstanding machine capable of withstanding severe conditions. My personal SRT had clearly seen a lot of these — the film door had to be coaxed into closing, the viewfinder had a crack in it, and the meter needle drooped in depression. It had done the job of getting me hooked on film, but it wasn’t going to follow me much further down the road of my analog journey. 

As I researched what camera would replace the SRT, the XD continued to ping my radar. It was smaller and lighter than the SRT, had a much improved meter and a variety of metering modes. Best of all, this one-time flagship camera was now available for a song, and could often be found for about a hundred dollars.

There’s truth to those stories involving online camera auctions and highway robbery. I found myself in such a situation after winning a batch of cameras for less than thirty dollars. The majority of the cameras were run-of-the-mill, and today I can’t even remember what they were. I bought the lot just to get at the gem hidden within, a Minolta XD. I’d scored my SRT’s replacement for less money than a good case of beer.

When the camera arrived, I sent it off for a full tune up without delay. I had an upcoming trip to Europe and was planning to take the XD as my main shooter. It arrived freshly rebuilt with just enough time to shoot a test roll and see what the meter would do. Those first photos of Virginia cherry blossoms in the spring hinted at good things to come. Three years and a few thousand photos later, there’s no other way to put it; the Minolta XD is a magical camera.

It’s rare to see people flaunting the Minolta XD in Instagram camera porn posts, and that’s a good thing for those of us in the know. This lack of exposure means that for a few hundred dollars, you can have one of the greatest SLRs ever made, the swan song of Minolta metal cameras and a testament to the company’s dedication to craftsmanship and innovation.

But though the Minolta XD may be rarely flaunted, it’s equally rare to read or hear anything bad about it. In the uncommon instance that it is discussed, it’s always accompanied by rave reviews. It has somehow become that guy from high school who everyone fondly remembers, even if no one seems to remember his name.

In 1974 Minolta had found success with its XE. That camera’s new electronic Copal shutter and automatic exposure system were a hit with shooters looking for a robust camera with semi-auto shooting. Around the same time, Olympus, Canon, and Pentax began releasing much smaller yet no less capable cameras in the OM series, A series, and ME series respectively. Almost overnight, the rather muscular XE became too damn big. After just three years Minolta ceased production of the XE and released the XD (known as the XD11 in the USA and XD7 in European markets).

The XD is a camera that combines all the bells and whistles available in the late seventies. It has an electronically-controlled, vertically-traveling metal blade focal plane shutter with step-less speeds from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second in automatic mode. If the batteries run out, the “O” setting operates mechanically at 1/100th of a second. It boasted a highly improved silicon photocell and through-the-lens centre-weighted light meter with an automatic exposure range of EV 1 to 18 at ISO 100. It has exposure compensation in single stops from -2 to +2, a depth-of-field preview device, PC flash connection, a “safe-load” indicator, interchangeable focusing screens, a self timer from two to ten seconds, and a viewfinder blind. Its acute-matte viewfinder offered remarkably bright composing with aperture and shutter information built in. 

With this overflowing list of features, and weighing in at just 560 grams, the XD instantly competes with any other SLR of the era. But what sets it apart from the rest is its metering systems and versatile shooting modes. 

The XD was the first camera to offer both aperture- and shutter-priority shooting modes in addition to fully manual operation. Switching to the green shutter priority only required that the photographer switch the aperture on the new MD Rokkor lenses to the minimum aperture, which was also in green on the lens barrel. The camera would then choose the aperture based on the selected shutter speed. But Minolta designed its shutter priority system so that if the photographer’s selected speed wasn’t slow enough, the camera would reduce the speed itself until an acceptable exposure was found. While many cameras operated with an unofficial shutter priority system, the XD was the first to put it as a selectable mode along with aperture-priority mode.

But the XD also had its own “unofficial” program mode. Minolta engineers had given the camera a “final check” metering system by which the camera would check the exposure by gauging light intensity immediately before the shutter fires and make any shutter adjustments it deems necessary. Anyone noticing a slight shutter lag has heard the “final check” system in action. 

It’s this feature, and the perceived shutter lag that it brings, that takes the most getting used to when first shooting with the XD. But it’s precisely this feature that sets the XD apart from its contemporaries. It’s a camera built primarily for reliability and automated precision. It offers complete manual control, more automation with other exposure modes, and even further control with exposure compensation. If all of this can’t make a proper exposure, the camera still has a trick up its sleeve. Between the time you push the shutter button and it takes the photo, the final check system essentially makes making an improperly exposed shot impossible. Pick the amount of hand holding desired, and simply enjoy the heck out of shooting this camera.

It seems ridiculous to say that the XD begs to be used. After all, it would be a pretty terrible camera that looks better on a shelf than shooting in the streets. That said, the Minolta XD is well-suited to both. Minolta designers and engineers were clearly locked in step throughout the camera’s creation process.

From an aesthetic perspective, the XD exudes class and sophistication. It’s all metal and cow hide, and buttons are as flush to the top plate as seems possible. For a camera boasting so many features, it doesn’t look superfluous or gimmicky. The exposure compensation lever is tucked in close to the ASA dial and as little real estate is given to the exposure mode selector as possible. The XD isn’t a showboat, but a precision tool, and its taut, meaningful design says as much. 

Fortunately it’s even more enjoyable to use. It’s perfectly balanced and with the later (and often smaller) MD Rokkor-X lenses, it’s no trouble to carry it all day or throw it in a travel bag. Its film advance lever operates like a hot knife through butter — it’s unbelievably smooth, and with its short throw I find myself burning through film at breakneck speed, even without an autowinder (the made-to-fit Autowinder D adds stability with bigger lenses like the MD Rokkor 80-200mm f/4.5). And while the slight shutter lag does take some getting used to, the sound it makes won’t. The XD’s shutter is one of the quietest of any reflex camera ever made. It’s almost rangefinder-esque. 

While the XD is certainly a high-end camera (or was, in its day) it can also take its share of punches. Mine has traveled thousands of miles through a handful of countries and climates and has produced thousands of images, all while being dropped and jostled, having lenses roughly and hastily swapped, and other unmentionable abuses. Not once has it malfunctioned, jammed up, or given me any cause for concern. In fact, I’ve never had to replace the original set of SR44 batteries I had in the camera. Only using the batteries while a finger is on the shutter button saves power, and while batteries shouldn’t be left in for ten years, it’s easy to imagine that they could be with this camera.

It’s hard to find fault with the XD. I might wish it had auto-exposure lock, but what camera had that in 1977? The exposure compensation lever can be stubborn, and I suppose the shutter speed dial isn’t as smooth as the advance lever. But I’m really fishing for things to complain about, because the XD is a stellar camera, and should be in any conversation about the best cameras made during the manual focus era.

It’s not a “professional” grade camera, but does that really matter in 2018? Certainly it was Minolta’s flagship camera until it spearheaded the autofocus revolution in the eighties. Even with cameras packed with additional features, like the X-700 and X-570, Minolta still listed the XD as its top dog.

Today, the Minolta XD is available in mint condition for a few hundred dollars and often less than that if you’re patient. If you’re especially cost sensitive, consider the XD-5, the budget friendly little brother. One of those can be had for less than $50 and all you’re sacrificing from the XD is aperture information in the viewfinder, the viewfinder blind and the film loading indicator. For a camera this good — and with a lens system so legendary — to cost so little is good for consumers, but seems an insult to the people that created it.

My time with the XD has made me a die-hard believer, both in that camera and in the Minolta brand. That doesn’t come from any sense of nostalgia or romanticism. It’s the loyalty that any object deserves when it proves to be unfailingly reliable. If you’re someone that scoffs at the concept of “they don’t make them like they used to,” then give the XD a shot. From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Bavarian Alps, the XD has delivered for me every single time.

While moving overseas, I shed most of my belongings out of necessity. That included some cameras and lenses. Those that survived the purge were delicately packaged with a generous amount of bubble wrapped before being ensconced in packing peanuts and shipped to Europe. When I received the boxes I was devastated to find that the shipping company and/or German customs had taken the box that contained the XD out behind the proverbial woodshed. The mirror was shattered, leather covering ripped apart, and its film advance lever totally torn off.

I don’t know what was more shocking, that it had happened, or the fact that I found myself feeling very real emotions about the death of an inanimate object. I sat on the floor holding the camera like Forrest Gump holding Bubba on a riverbank in Vietnam. It was the loss of a camera, but also the loss of a companion. Even more, I felt a determination to replace the XD even though I owned other Minolta cameras. 

Almost four years after I purchased my first XD, I bought my second. Completely refurbished and outfitted in a desert orange skin with matching Autowinder, Auto 320X flash and straps, this “cowboy Minolta” was mine. For a paltry 160 Euros I once again owned one of the greatest SLRs ever made – a legendary camera built as the sun was setting on the era of high-quality, manual-focus masterpieces. I may have paid a bit more for my second XD, but even at that price it was highway robbery all over again.

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has also worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge
38 comments
  • Avatar
    Tobias Weisserth August 17, 2018 at 7:40 am

    “But Minolta designed its shutter priority system so that if the photographer’s selected speed wasn’t slow enough, the camera would reduce the speed itself until an acceptable exposure was found.”

    Which makes the XD7/11/s the first SLR to feature a P mode essentially as well.

    I love this camera. I own three XD7 bodies and an XDs body – plus a wealth of lenses, including the Rokkor 50mm f1.2, the Rokkor 35mm f1.8 and the Rokkor 28mm f2.

    The motor drive is worth highlighting as well. You can burn through a roll of film in about half a minute.

    I’ve taken this camera to China and many other places.

    This set was shot with an XD7: https://www.flickr.com/photos/polarapfel/sets/72157645668731783

  • A truly lovely camera. I acquired mine around 1981, in mint condition, with the MD f1.7, the motor winder and 280Flash. I recall that the flash was touted as being able to keep pace with the autowinder, 2fps, at least at near distances. I later added the MDf1.4 and which to my eyes, is a better match cosmetically. I still have the outfit to this day, but as I no longer shoot film, it only gets an outing every so often to give it a work-out. Even today, the viewfinder is an eye-opener, being large, bright and easy to focus (eat your hearts out, dslr users). It’s only weak point being battery dependant and having a fall-back 1/100 sec mechanical speed really couldn’t make up for this. But then, no one complains about their car’s reliance on a battery to get them going! But a lot easier with the Minolta, just remember to carry a spare.

    You could have mentioned that it was developed in conjunction with Leitz – it was the basis for the R4 and R5. This association certainly hints at its pedigree.

    My first Minolta was the SR1-s with the huge PG f1.2/58mm. Somewhat large and heavy, even for those days. I didn’t keep this one long. Other than bragging rights, I really didn’t have a need for an f1.2. More recently, following a bout of nostalgia, I acquired a fully working SRT Super, and which many regard as (possibly) the best all mechanical Minolta ever. Lovely large full information v/f with the almost tactile feel of a match needle TTL exposure meter, and this is all the battery is needed for.

    • Plus, the batteries last so long it’s almost something Ive even thought about. One of these days Ill get around to using that 58/1.2 Ive heard so many good things about. It’s hard to beat the mechanical Minoltas for reliability endurance and as a self-defence tool.

  • A couple of things to add. Minolta had a way of naming their products differently for different markets. The XD11/XD7/XD are all the exact same camera – The 11 was released in North America, the 7 in Europe/the rest of the world, and the plain XD was just in Japan. Other than the number, they’re identical. The XD5 does have a few less features (minors ones as you stated), but is essentially the same camera. One petty gripe is that the leatherette can suffer from shrinkage and some peeling. I’m not surprised your replacement came with a new skin. XD’s are superb cameras that are not outdone by similar cameras of the era. Nice review!

    • Ive never understood the naming system. Especially with the SRT line where the 101b was the 303 elsewhere, etc. I know that later models of the XD, when they came branded by the updated Minolta logo, had a more durable leather that resisted shrinkage. Frankly Id like one of those, as the leather on both of mine was/is so nice that I feel bad getting it dirty.

  • Really sorry for your loss, I can totally understand how terrible it was to find out that your camera was dead. Long live to the cowboy Minolta then!
    Thanks for the wonderful article, it saved me from bringing the camera to the repairman to fix a non existing shutter lag. I really love the camera and that was the only thing I could complain about!

    • It’s an usual feature, but then again we aren’t using these cameras for sports shooting!

    • If your camera is not serviced, then it may be worth mentioning that the shutter lag now, after some 40 years later, is actually much worse than it was when the camera was new. But the good thing is that it can be relatively easily fixed, if you are handy enough. There is an air piston located on the left side of the the mirror box (when looking from the front). That piston gets clogged by excessive dirt over a time and slows down, thus increasing the shutter lag. Remove the black plastic front cover, dismantle the piston and clean it with alcohol (no oil or other lubricants). There are multiple instructions how to do so on the web.

  • I so want to try one of these. I’ve got a lovely 50/1.4 Rokkor-X lens just waiting for it. I’m down to one Minolta body, an XG 1, that I think I’m going to sell on. I think I’ll keep that Rokkor for the day I find an XD at a price I’m willing to pay.

    • Its hard to find a 50 1.4 that tops the Rokkor. It’s just an absolutely stellar lens. And it definitely deserves to be on an XD. My 1.4 came on an SRT-202, another great pairing.

  • A point of clarification regarding your statement on the lack of an autoexposure hold on competing cameras and the XD-7 when it was introduced in 1977; in fact, several contemporary cameras had this feature including the Nikkormat EL/ELW/EL2, Canon EF, Konica T3, and the Leica R3 (in the spot meter mode). There may be others with this function from that period that I’m not aware. Back when most autoexposure cameras had an averaging or center-weighted meter pattern, the AE lock feature was very useful. Nowadays, of course, with sophisticated multi-pattern metering, an exposure lock is no longer as important to getting a good exposure in tricky lighting situations or when your subject isn’t centered.

  • Nice review of a great camera. When I as looking for an aperture priority camera to go with my FM2 I tried and rejected a few including the F3. I would have settled on an FE2 but the one I ordered wasn’t working. Then an XD turned up at just over $100 and having admired but never owned Minolta cameras I went for it. Now it’s my go to camera. A genuine classic yet, as you say, relatively unknown and very affordable. If you’re interested I also did a review of my XD at http://ollithomsonphotography.blogspot.com/2018/06/minolta-xd-review-part-1.html

    • Awesome that you got a black one in such great condition. Minolta used material created by Leica for the black body XDs which made them last longer and withstand the elements more than the standard black SLR of the time.

    • Olli, relatively unknown today to those coming to film photography to see what it was/is all about, but certainly not to those of us in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Minolta was a respected member of the “Big Five” as they were then called; the others being Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Pentax. I recall Minolta lenses being highly regarded. We can’t imagine today the interest aroused when the XD model was released in 1977. Up until then, slrs were either aperture or shutter priority (Canon even backed both camps, but needed two bodies, one of each) so to have both modes in one camera was a breakthrough of historic proportion at the time.

  • I cut my teeth on the 101, 202 and XG-M between 1971 through 1999. With the advent of Ebay I went full out collecting of Minolta cameras from rangefinder, to TLR, to most all their film SLR cameras except the low line XG cameras. They were flying under the radar by a mile back then and one could get an XD-11 for under $50 like I did. Well that cover has pretty much been blown by now. As for me whether I use my original 101, the XE-7 or my XD-11 they are all fun instruments.

    • We are passed the days of the fifty dollar XD but it’s not too much more than that today. The SRT cameras are the ones I miss using the most. They are fantastic cameras.

      • Not so fast! Only last Sunday I picked one from eBay for a grand total of £31. I believe that works out at just under 50USD?

        About three years ago I sold my collection of vintage SLRs – they were sitting pretty on a shelf and getting almost no use. I figured they should go to somebody who will use and enjoy them. As soon as they were sold, I regretted getting rid of them, big time. Gone was the shiny Olympus OM2n who always produced lovely prints, the mint condition Canon AE-1P, the slightly temperamental Pentax ME Super, and the gorgeous Olympus Trip 35. I mourned them ever since. All I had left was the Olympus MJU II – a nice, but vastly overrated camera.

        Recently I decided it’s time to return to my first serious hobby – film photography. After scouring eBay for a while, I came to some conclusions. First, camera prices sure have shot up since 2015. Second, why not Minolta?
        After much reading, I decided the XD7 is a solid choice…. the rest is history. I’d also like to say that reading this article a couple of weeks ago was decisive in helping me make my choice (well done!)

        The camera arrived today. It’s genuinely lovely and in near mint condition. Now the search for a lens has started! I’m really looking forward to running some film through it; I feel almost like a little boy come Christmas.

        Thank you for a cool article, and for inadvertently helping me chose.

  • Where did you get your XD serviced?

    • Ive used Garrys Camera Repair for all my Minolta servicing. I’ve always been happy with his prices and the quality of the work.

  • I happened to enjoy mine, but just for a while: until some fault in its electronics—I suspect—has made it shoot at 1/100 (in fact, its mechanical setting) whatever the chosen shutter speed. Although it’s almost unusable now, while it last it was a respectable camera—albeit somewhat bulky.

    • I’ve never heard the XD referred to as bulky! That’s too bad it went haywire, but of course anything with electronics runs that (small) risk.

  • Thanks for this excellent review of the Minolta xd.

    On YouTube, Analog Insights reviews the Minolta xd7/11. As usual the reviews include the equipment and sample images as well as history/context.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fu6x7SxSTns&t=14s

    The same channel also reviewed these Minolta lenses:
    • Minolta MC Rokkor 85/1,7
    • Minolta MC W Rokkor HH 35/1,8

  • Really well done review on one of my favorite cameras. I have the “sold in Japan” version, the XD. Enjoy using it so much, I invested in some spa time (CLA) for it. Really love the big, bright, crystal-clear viewfinder. And that focus screen is to die for!

  • When I started to work, one of the first things that I bought was a reflex camera, I was dreaming a Nikon, but at the time I could not afford it so I bought a Minolta SRT 101/b. It was ever so heavy. I managed to keep it a couple of years then I traded for a Nikon FM.

  • I would like to know, if you are using all manual controls it would stil delay to take the picture or would it be instant?
    Despite it is a awesome feature to have, I would like to “not have it” when I want to time any picture.

    Can someone answer it, please?

    • Im 99 percent sure that it doesn’t occur in full manual mode. Otherwise it wouldn’t be full manual mode. I’ve never noticed delays when checking speeds in manual.

      • Jeb Inge, what you said make a 100% sense. But as I don’t know, I wanted to ask. hahaha
        manufacturers really does strange things sometimes.
        I am looking for this camera. Really loved it’s design, price and glass.

  • For me (clearly!) the best Minolta ever! And the nicest, too!

    > speeds from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second in automatic mode

    Not documented, but actually the XD goes down to 1/2300 sec. in automatic mode.

    Compare with the XM: If metering was below 1/2000 sec., the XM fires but leave the film unexposed!

    • Stefan, are you able to quote the source reference for the claimed 1/2300 sec speed please? This is very interesting and I’ve never seen it mentioned before.

      • Terry.

        My main source is the book:

        Minolta XG-XD. Faszinierende Fototechnik mit der neuen Minolta-Generation. Alle Modelle
        Josef Scheibel
        ISBN: 3776334134 (ISBN-13: 9783776334135)
        Heering-Verlag
        1980

        This is ‘THE Bible’ for every Minolta XG/XD user. Unfortunately that book may be available in German language only.

        J. Scheibel is a deep connoisseur of the Minolta SLR system with good conections to the manufacturer.

        You may also check:

        http://hupfer-fotografie.de/xd7-a.html

        Even better:

        Try out by yourself (if you have one). Set the camera to aperture priority mode (A) and find a bright subject with a 1/1000 sec. for a given aperture, say F/8. Take a shot. Now set the aperture to F/5.6 or even F/4.8 and fire. All negatives you get are exposed correctly.

        • Stefan,

          Thank you for the two links, success with the second, but as you thought, I can’t find Josef Scheibel’s book in an English language version. Also, my “holiday German” wouldn’t be up to the task even if I found the German language edition. :D)

  • Hi, I have Minolta SRTs (101 and 303b), XE and X500 also a XD which I bought from Japan. The covering was really manky and peeling but after recovering with a kit It is my favourite manual camera not as well engineered as the XE but not as heavy either which makes it much more usable.

  • Where did you get the color of the body and motor drive applied? It looks great!

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has also worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge