The Minolta Dynax 9 is More Camera Than I Need – Review

The Minolta Dynax 9 is More Camera Than I Need – Review

2000 1125 Connor Brustofski

When I first started in photography, I wanted nothing to do with plasticky SLRs. They were too similar to the Canon Rebel T3i that my sister used or the chunky DSLRs I saw around everyone’s necks. I wanted something different, something quirky, and honestly, I wanted something difficult.

The challenge of figuring things out and the journey of overcoming a camera to make good photos was enticing to me. I wanted to take good photos despite my gear, to have people say “You took this with that?” It feels a little childish now, but that’s how I felt when I was 19 years old.

But now, I look at plasticky 1990s and 2000s SLRs and I see potential. I see their incredibly long feature lists, I see their low weight, I see the consistency of the shots from their modern lenses. They have ironed out the kinks of older cameras. I see the best deals in film photography today. I see James’ iconic article on dorky AF SLRs about why we should all love them. I see a pile of gold photos waiting to happen, and on top of this pile I see the Minolta Dynax 9.

History

The Dynax 9 (known in Japan as the a9 and in North America as the Maxxum 9) was Minolta’s final attempt to capture the pro market after their Maxxum/Dynax/Alpha line sputtered a bit in the 1990s. The camera reviewed incredibly well, but never achieved the success of cameras like the Nikon F5 or Canon EOS-1 because Canon and Nikon did a better job of catering to professionals from the beginning.

Minolta’s other pro AF offerings, the 9000 and 9xi, failed entirely to capture the market. Despite Minolta pioneering practical AF SLRs, they had lost that edge and needed a home run to have any chance. Unfortunately, as we know now, Minolta didn’t do enough to stick around. That doesn’t mean they didn’t hit that home run, though.

From the moment I picked up the Dynax 9, I was convinced that I have never felt a more sturdy SLR in my life. The body has no play to it, doesn’t bend or make noises when stressed like other plasticky cameras. The Dynax is a truly professional camera, made to the highest standards.

Like its ’90s and ’00s SLR comrades, the Dynax comes with an incredibly long feature list. The standouts include a to-this-day unbeaten maximum shutter speed of 1/12,000th of a second, tangible dials for most functions, and continuous shooting of 5.5 frames per second.

It also incorporates a 14-segment honeycomb metering pattern that all but ensures correct exposure in any situation. It has flash sync at 1/300th, built-in double exposures, and a dust/moisture resistant body. It has a built-in flash with 4-zone metering pairing with Minolta’s flashes of the era.

The Minolta Dynax 9 could easily be a brand new camera. It doesn’t feel like a company’s last, desperate attempt to remain relevant to professionals in 1998. The dynax is more like a combination of Fuji’s physical dials and Sony’s button layout. The Sony connection makes sense, since Sony bought Minolta in 2006. You could say that the dominance of Sony mirrorless was built on the back of this camera.

Even compared to other Dynax cameras, the 9 is in a class of its own. I had owned and used a Maxxum 7000i with no issues for a long time before I used the Dynax 9, but it’s a toy by comparison. The plastics are lower quality, the viewfinder is smaller, and the entire package feels inferior. This feeling only continued when I put film in and used the camera. The autofocus is lightyears faster than my 7000i, and very confident. One complaint about SLRs of this era is focus hunting, but the Dynax confidently whirs into focus normally, on the first try.

Using the Camera

It was the end of May when I tested the Dynax 9, and people had begun to flock to outdoor spaces to enjoy the sun. After a long Finnish winter, people were excited to get out.

Along with the people, the plants and animals had gotten the warm weather memo and were out in force. In Finland, things can go from zero to one hundred like this at the flip of a switch. What had been a lonely, cold park two weeks ago was suddenly full of people on blankets, dogs on leashes, and fresh flowers. People were throwing frisbees, swimming, and playing volleyball. Watching the world spring back to life only strengthened my shooting itch. I wanted to capture it all, and the Dynax 9 was there to help.

From my normal landscapes to macro to sports, the Dynax handled everything I threw at it and begged for more. Despite being a bulky bear of a camera, the Minolta Dynax 9 is quite light on its feet.

I put the Minolta’s high shutter speeds to the test by watching some people play tennis. The 1/12000th max speed is genuinely impressive, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been beaten: it just isn’t necessary. Even for sports, you can get away with 1/4000th or even 1/1000th. 1/12000th only becomes necessary if you’re trying to shoot at f/1.2 in extremely bright sunlight.

Looking back, the Dynax delivered usable images even with the 100 ISO film I had in it.

I also tried my hand at some macro photography using the beercan lens. With my other autofocus SLRs, I’ve been very frustrated with close-up autofocus performance. I instinctively turned off the autofocus when I tried to get close, but decided to trust the camera. It wouldn’t be fair to hold the Dynax 9 responsible for the sins of its forefathers.

And it did great! Focusing an f/4 lens at 210mm is not an easy task, but the Dynax managed to do it capably and quickly. It did hunt a bit, but I’d chalk that up to me moving or light wind moving the subject rather than the camera.

 

After a day of shooting, though, I did notice the weight of the camera. Combined with a thick strap and the surprising heat of June in Finland, my neck was quite sweaty at the end of the day.

I used the Minolta Dynax 9 almost exclusively in aperture priority mode, and I felt a bit bad about it. It felt a bit like I was wasting this professional camera by not taking full control, but I felt confident in the camera’s metering capabilities and trusted it to get good exposure. If they didn’t want me to use aperture priority mode, they wouldn’t have put it in the camera!

That’s the beauty of an AF SLR like this, it just gets out of your way. More than any other camera I’ve used, the Minolta Dynax 9 just worked, and inspired confidence. I trusted the camera to nail focus and exposure, which allowed me to focus on framing and creativity.

People can talk all they want about the beauty of shooting manual or how metal cameras are better than plastic ones for whatever reason, but using the Dynax 9 let me be creative, and that’s what art is about for me.

Settling Up / Conclusions

And yet, I was conflicted. I had a dream camera in my hands, a pristine example of a company swinging for the fences to stay relevant. Minolta pulled out all the stops with the Dynax 9, and I had a chance to catch that home run ball and take it home. So why didn’t I?

Well, I was nagged the entire time by the thought that I wasn’t taking full advantage of the camera. I didn’t use the burst mode, I didn’t use the high shutter speeds, and I didn’t use the flash. I just wasn’t using all the features I had access to, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to.

The fanciest thing I did was turn down the exposure compensation for some shadowy forest shots. I like to capture light sliding gracefully through the holes in a forest canopy, and it looks nice to darken the shadows a bit.

After shooting for years, working in multiple camera stores, and testing hundreds of cameras, I know what I want from an SLR. I want a reliable, quick experience with good lenses and exposure compensation. I’m going to leave it in aperture priority mode exclusively, and hardly switch away from the 50mm. I don’t use flash unless I’m at a party, and I’d probably reach for a point & shoot rather than an SLR in that situation. Judge me if you will, I don’t care anymore.

So, for my purposes, the Dynax 9 is too much camera. I’ve used far more basic and been fine. I made due with the FED-2’s max speed of 1/500th, and the atrocious AF of the Yashica Samurai, after all.

What this no-compromises Minolta taught me, though, is what features matter to me and which are less important. I ended up buying a Minolta Dynax 600si Classic based on my experience with the Dynax 9, and I haven’t looked back.

Even if the 9 might be the most comfortable and capable SLR ever made, it feels good to admit that my GAS is under control and I’m satisfied with my AF SLR choices. Or perhaps I just saved some money on the body in order to spend it on nicer lenses. I’ll let you decide!

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Connor Brustofski

Connor Brustofski is a photographer, graphic designer, and wearer of colorful sweaters living in Tampere, Finland, where he works at Camera Rescue. He previously worked at Complete Camera Center in Vermont and has been shooting film for the past five years. In addition to photography, he founded Headwaters Magazine, a Vermont-based environmental publication dedicated to spreading the word on complex environmental ideas, science, and research.

All stories by:Connor Brustofski
18 comments
  • While this looks like an amazing camera, that’s the sign of a real person. Not trying to push a circle through a square hole. Being happy with what you like & use most, and leaving the flashier stuff if you have no use for all the extra bells & whistles.
    Kudos Connor!

    p.s. Fantastic images also!

  • I bought y’all’s Dynax 7 a few years ago, based off the review here. Absolute beast of a camera, even better than the 9 in some aspects (the rear LCD is extraordinary), but I agree with Connor’s assessment — in some ways, it’s too much camera. I tend to leave it for the more finicky films (Ektar, slides) when I can trust it completely to nail the exposure.

    Otherwise, I tinker away with manual with my tiny OM-1 or a gorgeous Zorki-6, or trust my X700 when I want to use the rokkors.

    • Connor Brustofski August 2, 2021 at 8:07 am

      Amen! My last article was about fiddling with some FED-2s, and an OM-1 was my go-to SLR before I moved to Finland! Great choices. Thanks for reading!

  • Great camera, but for an ultimate bargain, grab a Dynax 5. All the features you could want and more. Yes I agree, not the solid feel of the 9 or 7. But it has everything you could want in a film camera and it’s super cheap (or was, sorry).

    • Jerome (EarthSunFilm) July 30, 2021 at 7:15 pm

      Absolutely agree about the Maxxum/Dynax 5. My only issue with the 5 is that it is too small for my hands, making it a little cumbersome to use sometimes. Fortunately, I recently found a NOS Battery Pack 200, which solved the size issue!

      • I was gifted a Minolta 7D a few years back which is a bit of heavy beast and was only used once. But it came with some delightful primes and a beautiful little 35-70 F4 macro. On paper that doesn’t sound all that impressive, but on the front of the Dynax 5 it’s brilliant. Together with the 50mm F1.7 prime I find the 5 and both lenses a great set up. A champagne body and black lenses look cool too. Grab them while you can..

  • I read your post with interest as I had given some thought over the last ten your to getting a Minolta 9, but then at the end you said you chose a Minolta 600si one of, if not my favorite film cameras. I have three Minolta 600si bodies and several lenses. I originally got my first 600si through inheritance. My father’s last camera was an almost unused one with a 50mm 2.8 macro lens (Quantaray – Sigma). To me except for being not great looking plastic the simplicity and ease of using this camera, plus good results, is unmatched especially at this price range. Plus many of the Minolta lenses are just great. I also have the battery pack grip so you can use easy to find modern batteries for it.

    After I inherited the 600si from my Dad I let it sit on a shelf in my camera closet for several years without using it. Then on a lark I put in and ran the two low cost Fuji 400 film rolls through it with the 50mm 2.8 macro and was just blown away by the great results. I subsequently bought a number of other lenses like the Sigma /Quantaray 24mm f2.8 macro, 100mm 2.8 macro (a wonderful wonderful lens), the beer can 70-210mm f4, 70-210 4.5-5.6 (a surprisingly good and light lens), 50mm 1.4 (55mm filter size), 100-400 variable f stop, a couple of 30-70 3.5-something. I used to have a Sony A7iii digital and an adapter that worked super with these lenses and did a great job of AF.

    My photography has become a small fraction of my output before the pandemic just because we have hardly traveled since it started, but I recently have pulled out a couple of my 600si bodies and loaded them with film and are now just waiting for subjects to record. BTW if you want to get great close ups /macro I recommend the 50mm 2.8 and 100mm 2.8 macros. Plus the little very cheap 30-70 is a very sharp one. I have had a couple of the 50mm 1.4s. The one that takes a 49mm filter size worked better than the 55mm filter size. The 100-400 is a beast but works pretty well. I go back and forth between digital and film so the Sony E mount works quite well with any of these lenses if you have an adapter. The only thing to remember is that the coatings on the old lenses are not nearly as good as modern lenses in my personal experience.

    • Connor Brustofski August 2, 2021 at 8:10 am

      The 600si is a hell of a camera! Even that is arguably too much camera for me, but I’m a big fan of the ergonomics, tangible dials, and the vertical grip that mine came with. I also use Minolta lenses adapted to Sony for my professional work! The 50mm f1.4, 70-210mm f4, 85mm f1.4, and then a Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro. Honestly the Tamron is the one that stays on the camera the most for my purposes. Always looking to add more Minolta glass to my arsenal, though!

      Thanks for reading, Bob!

  • Jerome (EarthSunFilm) July 30, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    I agree with your conclusions. I have a complete set of Maxxum cameras, usually reserve the Maxxum 9 and Maxxum 7 for situations that will be tricky such as those requiring fast, accurate autofocus or shooting in low light.

    When I want to be certain a shot will come out right, I grab a 7 or 9.

    • Connor Brustofski August 2, 2021 at 8:12 am

      Lucky you! The Maxxum cameras are great almost across the board. I wanted to get a 9000 but ended up, like I said, with the 600si. It really just does the job, even if the quirkiness of the 9000 had my little camera nerd heart racing! Thanks for reading, Jerome!

  • Lovely shots here! Very well done.

    “Too much camera.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. We’re too often duped by marketing departments in believing that the best camera is the one that has the longest list of features because it can perform in any situation you find yourself in. This often means that the camera takes over in some auto capacity, i.e., exposure, focusing, post-processing adjustments, etc. I think that as we increase the amount of control and thought we entrust to the camera, we lose some integrity and satisfaction somehow related to the essence of photography.

    The perfect camera is subjective and non-existent, but it’s my opinion that the more control that we maintain and the more invested we are with the outcome, the more we feel that our images are true reflections of our vision, be they quality images or poor. And as we become more practiced and raise our percentage of keepers over time—man, is that ever a good feeling.

    And while I say that, I understand that some people simply don’t want to be bothered with all that goes into taking photos with analog cameras—manual focusing, exposure formulations, etc.—and that’s cool, too! So here I’ve arrived at the end of my comment without any real point. Alas, that’s why this blog and hobby is so damn fun. There’s always something new to learn and perspective to consider.

    Cheers, Connor! Thanks for the review!

    • Connor Brustofski August 2, 2021 at 8:16 am

      I think I used to agree with you more, but I’ve settled into the amount of control I like and feel that, sometimes, focusing more on composition and timing rather than fiddling with dials ends up with me embracing my own creativity. I do appreciate myself for being a bit of a manual-only curmudgeon when I first started shooting, though, as it did teach me the rules of photography, trial-by-fire style.

      I do probably shoot quite a bit more with automatic winding, focusing, and exposure though! Definitely burn a lot more film with my Dynax 600si than my FED 2 or any of the 120 cameras I’ve owned. Over time you definitely get a sense of what’s marketing hype, what’s a cool, useful feature, and what’s actually necessary (not much!) for good photos. Thanks for reading!

  • Bravo: fantastic images!
    This is a great camera from the great Minolta!
    Minolta, like Contax, unlikely are not there anymore (“unlikely” is a reference to a “scientist” which produces a propaganda report about the Covid19 to please his dictature’s friends). Minolta was a fantastic brand. Probably with the high quality Minolta lens, this camera should be on the 3 top best 35mm SLR. I am a Leica and Nikon man, so for me it is the F6. But I am pretty agree that this Minolta can beat the F6.
    Thank you fro this great review with marvelous image of your fantastic country.

  • Really good shots! The one of that yellow beast is just bad @$$!

    I get it, it’s why I use my Nikon F4 much more than my F6. Really solid, simple dials, no menus. Looking down on it you immediately can see where everything is set. And the AF is waaaay quicker than anyone can manually focus!

  • Connor Brustofski August 2, 2021 at 8:18 am

    Can’t pass up an opportunity to capture a classic like that, especially here in the Nordics. (-; they’re a lot less common here than in the States! And I agree, the F4 is a great sort of midpoint between old tech and new tech! Best of both worlds, for sure. And you end up with a really strong neck by using it!! Thanks for reading!

  • Wonderful article Connor! I’ve never owned a Minolta SLR, but do have the great A1 digital bridge camera… one their last digitals before Sony acquired the company. From your photos, I can see that the A1 and Dynax 9 seem to share an interesting and unique feature: the metal sensor clips in the hand grip. They automatically activate in-body image stabilization when the camera is picked up. The feature worked great… and may have been a prime reason for Sony’s acquisition. I also see from your links that the 600si doesn’t appear to have it. Is that camera un-stabilized? Just curious!

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Connor Brustofski

Connor Brustofski is a photographer, graphic designer, and wearer of colorful sweaters living in Tampere, Finland, where he works at Camera Rescue. He previously worked at Complete Camera Center in Vermont and has been shooting film for the past five years. In addition to photography, he founded Headwaters Magazine, a Vermont-based environmental publication dedicated to spreading the word on complex environmental ideas, science, and research.

All stories by:Connor Brustofski