The Minolta SR-T 303 – The camera that gets out of your way

The Minolta SR-T 303 – The camera that gets out of your way

2400 1350 Allysse Riordan

I have a fondness for the Minolta SR-T series. My uncle’s Minolta SR-T 101 launched me on my journey back into photography. It was my workhorse camera for a couple of years, the one that taught me the ropes of film photography and never left my side. This all changed when I discovered the Minolta SR-T 303, a camera that takes the best elements of the SR-T 101 and adds some new features to make one of the very best film cameras for no-frills photography.

Yet, you may have never heard of the 303.

In 1973, Minolta christened the 303 with no less than three different names. The Minolta SR-T 303 was aimed at the European market, the Minolta SR-T 102 was aimed at the USA market, and the Minolta SR-T Super was aimed at the Asian market. All three models are the exact same camera, apart from the name engraved on the front of the body. For the rest of this article, I will refer to the camera as the Minolta SR-T 303.

Specifications of the Minolta SR-T 303

  • Camera Type : 35mm film, single lens reflex (SLR) camera
  • Shutter : Mechanical cloth focal plane shutter. speeds from 1/1000 second to 1 second, plus bulb mode for long exposures
  • Lenses : Interchangeable lenses for Minolta SR mount system (often called MC or MD lenses)
  • Exposure Modes : Manual with light meter assistance
  • Metering System : through-the-lens CLC (Contrast Light Compensator) meter coupled to shutter and film speed; meter sensitivity EV 3 to EV 17 at ISO 100
  • Viewfinder : Mat-Fresnel-field focusing screen with split-image spot surrounded by micro-prism band; exposure control needle, selected shutter speed and aperture visible in viewfinder
  • Film Speed Range : ISO 6 to 6400, set manually
  • Flash : Hot shoe 1/60 second flash sync with electronic flash
  • Additional Features : Automatic reset film counter, self-timer, depth of field preview, mirror lock-up (this feature was removed at some point in its production)

Origin and Special Features of the 303

Confusing naming convention aside, the camera is very straightforward. Aimed at the amateur market, Minolta ignored pro features such as a motor drive, and focused on the core purpose of a camera – producing an image. As a result, the Minolta SR-T range of cameras has very few bells and whistle. They are all fully mechanical, fully manual cameras only requiring a battery to operate the light meter.

The light meter found in every SR-T camera is a CLC (Contract Light Compensator) meter coupled to the shutter speed and film speed. This CLC metering system took two readings from different locations within the mirror box. It was a revolutionary system and an early form of matrix metering. The SR-T series also allowed metering with the lens wide open, an uncommon feature when the series first launched. Minolta first introduced these combined technologies in the camera that I got from my uncle, the Minolta SR-T 101. I did not get to experience the meter, however, until I bought the Minolta SR-T 303 – the electronics having died in my 101.

The CLC metering system still works a treat today if you can find a camera with a functioning meter (and I would argue against buying one that’s broken). As with all metering systems, you need to understand a bit about the science behind them to nail your exposure every time – this is not what I’m here to write about, so I won’t get further into the art and science of metering. Here’s the handy Wikipedia article to get you started. Once you understand what the CLC system does, a Minolta SR-T 303 with a working meter is an absolute joy to use. Simply look through the viewfinder, align the metering needle and circle-tipped needle in the viewfinder by changing your aperture and/or shutter speed, and you have a correctly exposed scene. All that’s left is to press the shutter release.

It’s a very intuitive system that achieves excellent exposure in most situations. For the longest time, I used it without worrying about my settings. I prefer to shoot around f/8, so I would set my lens there and adjust my shutter speed accordingly – instant aperture priority mode – only keeping an eye on the shutter speed numbers to make sure they didn’t drop lower than 1/60. After two years of use, I have very few badly exposed images, and most of them are because of my own poor decision making rather than the meter itself.

Back in the 1970s, Minolta made a lot of noise about their new CLC technology. But today, plenty of film cameras have very competent light meters, and I am sure that many cameras have better ones than the one in my Minolta. Setting the meter aside for a moment, there’s much more that drew me to the Minolta SR-T 303. It starts with the bright, full information viewfinder.

Minolta’s advertisement was centered around the viewfinder, claiming that ‘this is the 35mm reflex camera that lets you concentrate on the picture, because the viewfinder shows all the information needed for correct exposure and focusing. You never have to look away from the finder to adjust a Minolta SR-T , so you’re ready to catch the one photograph that could never be taken again.’  The Minolta SR-T 303 is the epitome of this statement, with its cut-out window in the viewfinder eye piece it offers full view of all settings (shutter speed, meter reading, and selected aperture). The last of these settings is missing from the viewfinder of previous SR-T models and in the SR-T budget line cameras, which only provide a view of the meter reading and the selected shutter speed.

The viewfinder is bright, clear, and easy to focus on a subject. It is worth noting that I do not wear glasses and the experience might be different for someone who does. The focusing screen contains a split-image spot surrounded by a micro-prism band, making the focusing process effortless. Align the lines to form a circle and you have achieved focus. It is simple and efficient. And yet, it is also one of the camera’s weakest points. Close up and at certain odd angles when my eye is not perfectly centered to the viewfinder, focusing can become difficult. Still, I can forgive the Minolta SR-T 303 for this flaw. I do not often find myself in such positions or photographing close-up.

Another flaw of the camera is its weight. At 710 grams, it is not light. Pair it with any substantial lens (as I do) and you have a workout on your hands. I occasionally daydream of relegating the SR-T 303 to the shelf in favor of a lighter weight option. I have gone as far as browsing camera sites, reviews, and second-hand shops in search of a contender, but no camera has yet captured my heart as the Minolta SR-T 303 has. At least not for the price. A fully working and guaranteed SR-T 303 with basic lens (bought from a reputable camera shop) should not cost more than £125 ($150 US). The thrifty among us can take the risk on an eBay camera, where SR-Ts can cost as little as $60 (though these are often not tested or guaranteed).

Final Thoughts on my Minolta SR-T 303

Ultimately, the Minolta SR-T 303 is not a camera for everyone. It has no automatic features to rely on. Instead, the camera is deceptively simple, offering guidance on how to achieve the perfect exposure, but letting the photographer make the final decision on the settings of each image. With this Minolta it’s easy to forget about the technical chores of photography and only concentrate on focus and exposure. Users who want to delve deeper into the intricacy of the ISO/Shutter Speed/Aperture dance have a camera that’s ready for them to learn and grow. It can take us from novice to amateur without the need to change or upgrade.

The Minolta SR-T 303 has transformed my experience of photography. I do not need to carry any gadgets to supplement it. I do not need to worry about the electronics and automatic modes failing. I keep a spare battery on me (these weigh nothing and almost as little). Sure, the meter can die, but it is still going strong. I can simply raise the camera to my eye, select my settings, frame, and release the shutter all in one smooth series of small movements.

Most important, the Minolta SR-T 303 is a creative tool that that gets out of the way. I can focus on creating the photograph I envision without complications and buttons and dials breaking the creative moment. And this is why the Minolta SR-T 303 has become my workhorse camera, the one that I keep coming back to. It is reliable, solid, and provides an unrivaled photographic experience, one that I’ve not yet never in any other camera.

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Allysse Riordan

Allysse (she/they) is an image maker, writer, sound artist, and microadventurer (not necessarily in that order). At the source of their work are their journeys and every day life with a focus on nature. Through non-fiction pieces and imagery, they recount the personal stories they encounter in daily life and during their travels, taking the reader/viewer/listener outdoors with them. They become the guide through which the audience can embark on a journey in a particular space and time, noticing the small details of life, meeting strangers, exploring new landscapes, and delving into their inner world.

All stories by:Allysse Riordan
  • Thanks for your review. It is great to see reviews of vintage equipment. I have always thought that the SR-T cameras were the best Minolta ever made. It reminds me of a Canon FT that I used to have. Minolta made some very nice cameras back in the day, although I never cared for their later Maxxum auto-focus cameras. Apparently, they had a good enough reputation that Leica selected them to build some of their cameras. I also understand that there are some real gems in the Minolta Rokkor lens range. The weight may be a little off-putting at first but it is telling you that this is a very solidly made camera with a lot of metal parts. It is probably far better made than today’s top of the line cameras. I agree that there are many benefits to mechanical, manual cameras. After using electronic, multi-mode cameras for a few decades, I ended up switching to a pair of Nikon FM2s, which resemble the camera you have reviewed in many ways. They are still going strong after more than 20 years.

    • Allysse Riordan June 24, 2022 at 3:35 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience.
      Minolta did work closely with Leica for a while. Those cameras and lenses sometimes feel like a hidden gem that not many people think about. It’s good though, as prices haven’t gone as crazy as some other brands/systems.

  • Good review of your camera, accompanied by some excellent photos. Thanks!
    I have not really looked into the SRT series cameras very much. Frankly, this is mostly because of Minolta’s naming “system.” I think I will need to learn a bit more so I can figure out what I might be buying. Not really that difficult.
    The other thing that has kept me away from these cameras is the battery. But, there are solutions to that and those have gotten a bit easier over the years. I wonder what are you doing for that?
    These cameras all seem to have quite a lot of the things I value in a 35mm SLR and the lenses available to use are–mostly–very good and not too pricey.
    Coincidentally to reading this today, I have been thinking to get another 35mm SLR as currently I do not have one. Been shooting mostly 4×5 and 120 for the last year or so and what little 35mm film I have used has been in one of my rangefinders.
    So, I do appreciate the nudge to get an SLR that your review has given me!

    • Allysse Riordan June 24, 2022 at 3:42 am

      Glad you enjoyed the article and photos 🙂

      The Rokkor Files website is a fantastic resource to make sense of the naming convention (and which camera might be the best fit for you).

      I use a 625a battery. You often see people tell you not to use that one as the voltage is not quite right. I’ve had no issue with it myself. In tricky light situations, I occasionally compare to a Reveni Lab or my phone light meter. It’s never been widely different.

  • Merlin Marquardt June 23, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    Great camera, great article.

  • Ah . . . SRT (mine was 101). My first real camera! Bought it new in 1968 – back when men were men and cameras were cameras. I still have it, but haven’t put film through in quite a long time. Your review may inspire me to find the right battery and see if it feels and sounds the way I remember. Thanks.

    • Allysse Riordan June 24, 2022 at 3:31 am

      I hope you get around to finding a battery (though it’ll work fine without too) and using the camera again. The SRT cameras are such pleasure to use.

  • I love my SR-T 102 that I third-degree-inherited last year, it’s the first “real” camera that I’ve ever used. Like using a carbureted car to learn how to tune performance engines, it’s good to be comfortable with the basics (fuel/air/spark or aperture/shutter/ISO) so that when you get into something more complicated (fuel injection or modern AF film cameras) like I did with a Maxxum 5, you know what it’s doing and that it’s capable of handling those basics so that you can really fill in the details. The other nice thing about the SR-T line is the variety and quality of lenses available, mine came with a decent collection, and I’ve had no issues filling in any gaps with some seriously high quality glass for reasonable prices.
    Great article on a really interesting and influential camera!

    • Allysse Riordan June 27, 2022 at 4:02 am

      Glad to hear you’ve also been enjoying your camera 🙂
      As you say, they are great to learn the basics.

      The lenses are fantastic. I’ve got a small collection too and they are all fantastic.

  • Gotta love hipsters 🤣🤣🤣

    • Bernard Miller July 1, 2022 at 9:43 pm

      Errrr, what’s hipsterish about a Minolta SR-T 303? That’s about as unglamorous a camera as I can imagine; it’s not a Contax T2 or an Olympus Stylus Epic…or even a Leica, for god’s sake. (You *do* recognize those cameras, and their place in hipster culture, right?) An SR-T 303 is about as sexy as a 1975 Chevy Impala, which didn’t make *anyone* horny in the least.

      Some people just *like* to shoot film, because they grew up shooting it, or they like the results they get from it, or it provides a more slow-paced reflective experience, or they just like working with well-made, practical old tools. Or for loads of other perfectly valid reasons. And the camera under discussion, as the author describes, does that capably and with a minimum of fuss – particularly from people who know nothing about film coming up to the user and asking, “Oooooo, is that a Hasselblad?”

      I mean, bro – do you even shoot film?

      • Hipster cameras = over-hyped, over-priced = must fit in a shirt or jeans pocket, as ably supported by the two you instance. They will die before many of these older cameras, where even if the meter fails will still be eminently usable photographic tools.

        Now where are my lightly used and fully working minty Yashica T4 and Ricoh GR1 cameras I’ve owned from new, but kept in storage for the past 20 years. There must be a hipster jerk willing to part with loadsamoney, surely?

  • Great camera, love my SR-T 303 and my SR-T Super (303 in Europe, in Asia Minolta selled the same camera as Super, in America they called it 102) so very much.
    I’m supporting each word of the hole article , but especially the last section with the concluding words ” creative tool ” and ” unrivaled photographic experience”. My personal summary would be the same as yours.
    I don’t search for the perfect camera any longer.
    Thank you, Alysse !

  • Very nice presentation of the Minolta SRT 303.

    Two months ago i saw a Minolta Rokkor MD 50mm f1.4 lens on a local flea market, it had a SRT 303 attached to it 🙂 for which i though i have no use. I paid for both 30 eur. After the usual CLA of the lens i wiped the 303, it was almost mint, but the viewfinder had a lot of dust inside and after playing with it i noticed that the mirror didn t return on 1/30 of a second or lower. A quick search showed this is common with the 303, another quick search on youtube showed it s super easy to solve. Another problem i noticed was the “aperture teller” on the body didn t move, this one required to remove the mount and put back a cable on a roller, also an easy fix. Cleaning the prism/viewfinder is also not difficult.

    Inspired by the successful repair and above all by this great website i decided to shoot my first roll of film after 35 years. After some research i decided to use a LR44 battery and set the ISO to half the film speed, i did some comparison with my Sony A7mk2 (in manual mode including ISO) and the 303 using a 50/1,4 lens on both, the exposures where ok. So i shot a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 at ISO 50 on camera, the exposures where good, if anything as they say better to “overexpose” film when in doubt. It was also a joy to use my Rokkors; the 28mm f2, 35mm f1.8, the “new” 50mm f1.4, the 58mm f1.2 and the 85mm f1.7.

    Shooting film after 35 years was a very interesting experience and one that would need more time to describe, it s enough to say that after two months i now have a Konica T3n, (i have all Hexanons below 200mm) a great camera on par with the SRT 303, a Yashica TL Electro (again because i have almost all the DX lenses) and a Chinon CE-3 which is a camera you must review one day here! Do you know it does wide open metering (it actually meters after it stops down) with ALL M42 lenses that have automatic exposure (the pin)?

    Keep the good work, always looking for new content.

  • Having just turned 18, I still consider myself as part of the “photography youth”. I have a SRT101 that I inherited from a Professor of Botany and Ecology, from a university here in Australia. It was part of a deceased estate and in it’s past life, him and his wife used the camera to photograph all the plant species they recorded to conduct their scientific papers. I also received a Minolta X700, but more on the SRT. It came with a few lenses; rokkor 1.4, vivitar series 1 which is MINT (really a kieron lens), and another vivitar zoom lens. I have since purchased a macro rokkor 1:1 lens, a 135mm rokkor, and a 35mm rokkor. I consider myself extremely fortunate of course, to having built up a useable, well-made collection of cameras. Apart from my nan’s Kodak Retina 1b (for sentimental reasons), the 101 is in my opinion, the best camera, especially when coupled with the rokkor 1.4. No one quite understands when I blankly fire the 101 just to hear the shutter and to watch the lens stop down, but I describe it as pure bliss. I happen to live relatively close to one of the acclaimed ‘Pentax Legend’s’, who has seen my Minolta set-up, and has been amazed at the condition of them all. Provenance is a big factor for cameras and lenses I use and your fantastic review has summed the experience of using the SRT series perfectly. Much support from Australia, and happy shooting!

  • The PX625 Mercury Oxide cell was banned more than 30 years ago due to environmental concerns in USA, Canadian and Europe including Blighty. My first SLR with a working meter was a Canon F1. This had the proper cell in it. When it died I researched the alternatives.
    The Alkalyne PX625A is 1.55v rather than 1.35v. Does 0.20v make a difference? Some say yes, others say just get on with it. For E6, for example, you would want the exposure to be spot on. Colour print far more latitude and Mono much greater latitude. I read on a discussion forum that a Canon repair technician in California advised halving the iso. I tried this and compared with the Weston V I’ve used with Pentax S1a and Nikkormat with dud meter. Very close indeed. A few years ago I went back to using the Weston V when bitten by the Leicaflex SL bug and bought two bodies, cheap, with dud meters.

    The great advantage of using handhelds is the option of reflecting or incident metering. Combine the two and you have ‘Matrix’ Top professional photographers used handheld metering religiously and shunned built in meters, rather snobbishly saying that this was a practice used by amateurs.

    Well, I’ve now gone the whole hog and bought three Leica R8 bodies to use with 9 of my 11 R lenses. I use Program with Matrix metering turning these amazing stuff into point-and-shoots.
    I’m aware that repairs to the R8 & 9 are not available, so that’s why I got 3. Two to use plus a spare. They are early ones, 2 X 1996 and 1 1997. But they are working fine. One is made in Portuguese (1997). I’ve bought plenty of the CR2 batteries in case they start getting difficult to find. Not needed to replace yet. I’m avoiding motors and winders – for amateurs.

  • Michael GB27596466 Gillard March 16, 2024 at 9:49 am

    Back in 1978 I had passed my accountancy exams and was earnin a decent salary so I decided to buy a decent camera. The guy in the London Camera Exchange weried of trying to flog me a new camera so I bought a Minolta SRT101 with a 58mm f1.4 lens, I was hooked. I still have that camera but now generally use a SRT303b keeping the 101 for attaching to my telescope as it has the MLU. I have a load of Minolta cameras: XE, XD, X500, X700 and autofocus A5000, 7000, 9000, 600si, 700si, and 800si plus a couple of Sony DSLRs. When i want to spend a quiet afternoon mooching about Devon hedgerows or a nearby National Trust property the camera of choice most of the time is, of course the SRT303 with a MD35-70 f3.5 ‘macro’ lens – a stellar camera for quiet moments, until of course you fire the shutter/

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Allysse Riordan

Allysse (she/they) is an image maker, writer, sound artist, and microadventurer (not necessarily in that order). At the source of their work are their journeys and every day life with a focus on nature. Through non-fiction pieces and imagery, they recount the personal stories they encounter in daily life and during their travels, taking the reader/viewer/listener outdoors with them. They become the guide through which the audience can embark on a journey in a particular space and time, noticing the small details of life, meeting strangers, exploring new landscapes, and delving into their inner world.

All stories by:Allysse Riordan