Minolta XD-11

(So I’m finally getting around to publishing this thing…)

This was my first “real” camera that I got a little over a year ago. I’ve acquired a few since then, but this one is still my favorite. :)

The XD-11 (also known as the XD-7 in some regions) was made from the late seventies through early eighties and is arguably one of Minolta’s best manual film SLRs of all time. It was the last full-metal body SLR (followed by the semi-plastic X-700) and was the first mass-market camera to include multiple exposure modes (aperture priority, shutter priority).  This made for an incredibly durable and advanced camera.

This camera is built and the controlled the same as a fully manual SLR — shutter speed selectable on a dial around the shutter button, aperture selectable on a ring on the lens. The metering isn’t as intuitive as some cameras. I’d suspect that the older match-needle system would be quicker.

The XD-11 uses a center-weighted meter. By half-pressing the shutter release, it gives a recommended shutter speed for the given light, ISO, and aperture setting by lighting up small LEDs in the viewfinder next to selectable shutter speeds.

The selected aperture and shutter speed is also visible in the viewfinder — basically everything you need to know. This lets you make adjustments without having to lower the camera and examine/move dials. The XD-11 is one of the few Minolta cameras from the era with all this information in the viewfinder. For example, there was a simplified XD-11 produced as the XD-5, where this information was removed from the viewfinder. Also, the XD’s predecessor, the X-700 kept the aperture readout, but removed the shutter speed. The display of set shutter speed is incredibly convenient for shooting in full-manual.

This camera offered two automatic modes. Up to this point, cameras — if they had an automatic mode — was either aperture priority or shutter priority, which may or may not be coupled with an optional manual mode. This camera was the first consumer camera to offer all three in one package — manual, aperture priority, and shutter priority.

If I use an automatic mode, I tend to use aperture priority first. It makes more sense to me, probably because it seems to follow my regular method of shooting. In this mode, you set the aperture and the shutter speed is automatically controlled. You still have to pay attention to the meter, as there are two pitfalls. The shutter maxes out at 1/1000, so you can overexpose an image if you don’t close the aperture far enough. Secondly, if there’s not enough light or the aperture is too far closed, the meter will request too long of a shutter speed, resulting in blur. Certainly, though, this allows for faster shooting when the lighting is consistent and you don’t have the time to dial in the shutter speed when the lighting varies marginally.

The XD-11’s shutter priority is much more of an ‘automatic’ mode. In this mode, the camera will control both the aperture first, and shutter speed if necessary. The viewfinder readout changes, showing and lighting up aperture values instead of shutter speeds. For this mode, the MD lenses are recommended. The lens’ aperture needs to be stopped down to maximum and a reasonable shutter speed selected.

The ISO ranges from 25-3200. There is an over-under exposure control (+/- 1 or 2 stops) which is a little clumsy to use quickly, but works fine if you have a moment to set it. Selectable shutter speeds vary from 1 sec to 1/1000. Flash sync is at 1/100 of a sec (the red ‘X’). The camera has two mechanical methods of firing (even with no battery), ‘O’ fires at 1/100 and ‘B’ is bulb.

The viewfinder is bright and large. In the center of the viewfinder, there are two focusing prisms.  In the middle is horizontal split image.  Incredibly useful for quick and accurate focusing when dealing with lines perpendicular to it.  Surrounding that is a microprism ring.  When an area is in focus, it looks normal.  When out of focus, the image is scattered and has a glistening effect — definitely useful when you’re not dealing with straight lines that cater well to the split-image.

My only complaint about the viewfinder is that in low-light, it becomes difficult to understand the meter. The lights are bright enough, but it can become difficult to read the number next to it, since they are lit from light coming in the lens.

All around, I think XD-11 a wonderful, easy to use camera with plenty of excellent glass to pick from. I particularly love the MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4. It’s definitely my most used lens. Sharp, fast, and has really pretty bokeh (IMO). The MC Rokkor-X 28mm f2.5 is next. Wide angle is fun.

For samples images, the majority of all of my film set on flickr is from the XD-11 (and scanned with the Epson V500). I try to label everything in the description with camera, lens, film, and anything else relevant.

As a side note, I just ordered my first digital SLR, the Nikon D200. I’m not abandoning film, but I wanted a little more modern medium that would enable me to shoot and process images with more speed and flexibility. Film has, without a doubt, taught me many things about photography. It changed the way I think about, approach, and even take photos. While not an end-all solution, film is an excellent medium for learning and producing high-quality images.


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