I’ve owned dozens of 35mm film cameras from nearly as many brands – Pentax, Vivitar, Olympus, and my make of choice, Nikon. The last camera that I had before becoming a staunch Nikonist was the Minolta X-700; a wonderful camera, and though it was not as sturdy as I wished, it did introduce me to the wonderful world of Minolta cameras.
Earlier this year, a year which I’ve described as my Year of Large Format, I decided to take a break to shoot some 35mm. It was during this brief interlude that I discovered a camera that seems overlooked by most film shooters today, the Minolta XE7.
The Minolta XE7 is a machine that was quite a bit ahead of its contemporaries when it was released. It even offered features that weren’t found on the pro SLRs of the day, the mighty Nikon F2 included.
Allow me to set the stage.
It’s the early 1970s. Nikon rests firmly atop the pro photography landscape. Olympus has just released the OM-1, a miniature full frame SLR that forever changes the design pursuits of all Japanese camera makers; smaller is better! And the race to create ever-more electronic cameras is on.
Minolta forms a partnership with Leitz and the two begin developing cameras with their shared knowledge and design ethos, eventually resulting in some well- known and highly regarded cameras, such as the CL, the Leica R3 through R7, and more.
But the very first camera born from this partnership is the Minolta XE7. And it’s among the first in the world to offer aperture-priority semi-auto exposure.
The Minolta XE7’s design is pure. The camera is made with only one thing in mind – making great photographs.
There’s no style for style’s sake here. It’s minimalism, top to bottom, and this is not only visually satisfying but satisfying from an operating perspective as well. Everything on the camera is placed very strategically. This creates an intuitive feeling while out in the field exposing frames.
The top plate has a shutter release button and a shutter speed dial, both placed where they’re supposed to be placed. The film rewind lever actuates with a smoothness that’s unbeaten in 35mm SLRs. The aperture is controlled by the aperture ring on the lens, the depth of field may be previewed with a simple lever on the front, and there’s a self-timer and, notably, multiple exposure lever as well.
If this sounds simple, it’s because it is. But it’s also perfect for just getting down to the business of taking pictures.
Now for everyone’s favorite topic – the internal workings of a 35mm SLR.
Minolta certainly benefited from having Leica’s partnership – the XE7 is proof of that. Leica, known for their flagship M line of rangefinders, are known for their precise moving parts, smooth operation, and for having possibly the faintest shutter sound of any system. In the case of the XE7, the hint of Leica’s satisfying click that is synonymous with their mechanical quality can be experienced.
The metering system implemented in the camera is similarly brilliant. Two overlapping CdS photocells occupy the prism, which means that the camera can accurately meter even in high contrast situations.
The viewfinder is a wonderful place to view your composition. The meter reading is displayed through a match needle system that we use to either manually set exposure or down shift the camera into aperture priority.
Two small windows are available in the viewfinder that display aperture and shutter speed, although you will only see a red “A” in aperture priority.
In Comparison to the Nikon EL2
I mentioned earlier that I’m a Nikon fan. Naturally, my time with and opinion of the XE7 is colored by my experience. For this reason, I’d like to compare the XE7 with Nikon’s EL2 specifically, since the EL2 was the direct competitor to the XE7.
With the XE7, Minolta was aiming for the prosumer market a little earlier in the decade than Nikon. Where the XE7 was released in 1974, Nikon released the EL2 in 1977 (coincidentally 1977 was the final year of production for the XE7).
Both machines are neck and neck, and the differences between the two end up being minor.
The Minolta has the more simplistic on and off switch, but the Nikon has two on and off switches, letting the user choose which one will save from unwanted exposures. Both cameras use match needle systems in the viewfinders as well as having a 1/90th second shutter speed when battery power depletes.
Aperture priority, self-timer, and superb build quality are all things the Minolta and the Nikon share.
They’re both well-built, robust, heavy, and classically styled.
Both cameras offer an incredible lineup of lenses (Nikon’s Nikkors and Minolta’s Rokkors), the only real difference being that Minolta lenses may be a bit less expensive on the used market.
Both cameras slotted into their respective lineups just below the professional offerings. Nikon’s EL2 sat below the F2, while Minolta XE7 sat below their big, honkin’ XK.
Heck, even both cameras are named similarly – two letters and a number!
Is the Minolta XE7 Worth It?
The short answer to this question is unequivocally, yes. The Minolta XE7 without a doubt is worth every penny.
The Nikon EL2 was my first Nikon film camera, after which I was completely sold on Nikon’s build quality as well as Nikkor glass. When the XE7 clicked into my life, it failed to knock me over with the shooting experience, solely because the Nikon EL2 had already done that.
The camera that inspired me to document more everyday with amazing features such as aperture-priority AE, a match needle in the viewfinder, a bright focusing prism, and a shutter sound that brings a smile to all those within an earshot is the camera that Nikon only made for a single year. It was the EL2. But it just as easily could have been the XE7, if only I’d experienced the Minolta first.
James raved about the Minolta XE7 when Casual Photophile was in its infancy – and for good reason. The build quality, the robustness of the camera, the almost too-easy-to-operate metering system were all highly praised in James’ review. While he makes some great points, and while I agree with some of them whole-heartedly, the Minolta XE7 arrived in my life just a bit too late. When I feel the need to shoot 35mm, I’ll reach for my Nikon every time.
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