Minolta X-570 and the Maxxum 7000 – The End (and Beginning) of an Era

Minolta X-570 and the Maxxum 7000 – The End (and Beginning) of an Era

1940 1091 Jeb Inge

Minolta’s story is almost Shakespearean; filled with both beauty and tragedy. The company was one of the most innovative and groundbreaking in the photo industry. They consistently invented new technologies and implemented breakthrough features years (and sometimes decades) before their competitors. They were the upstart who would never be king, out-marketed by their competitors, and an eventual casualty of litigation and consolidation. Today, their products are perennial sleepers – affordable equipment whose value outpaces its cost in the modern marketplace.

There’s a little Hamlet in there, a little Macbeth, and it’s far from Much Ado About Nothing.

By 1981 Minolta was coming off of twenty years of unmatched innovation and sales success. They spent the sixties and seventies producing workhorse mechanical cameras made out of metal, and manual-focus lenses whose stellar reputation endures today. In 1962, the astronaut John Glenn carried a (rebranded) Minolta Hi-Matic with him during the first manned orbit of the planet. In 1966, the SRT-101 pioneered through-the-lens metering and the precursor to matrix metering with that camera’s CLC system. In 1977, the XD became the first camera to have multi-mode metering including a rudimentary version of program mode.

But just as Minolta’s success was reaching its peak, a new era was dawning. With Canon’s release of the consumer-oriented AE-1 in 1976, Canon proved that an under-served yet extremely lucrative amateur photographer market existed. This segment of the market promised more new customers than the previously coveted professional market, and lots of cash would follow for any company who could produce a high-quality camera for less money. Minolta hoped to duplicate their rivals’ success.

At the time, the XD was Minolta’s flagship camera, and an exceptional camera it was. It was a metal body, leather ensconced beauty that came from Minolta’s partnership with Leica. But as the brand’s flagship model, it carried a flagship price tag that the non-professional simply wouldn’t pay. Minolta needed a cheaper camera.

To make a less expensive camera meant using cheaper materials and embracing a greater reliance on electronics. At the same time, the camera needed to be extremely user-friendly and of such a quality that a new shooter could make gorgeous photos effortlessly. In 1981 Minolta debuted the X series, a line of SLRs that promised to satisfy all these requirements.

The X-700 was the first to be released, and it proved to be one of the company’s most famous manual-focus bodies. In our review, James called it “capable, quietly handsome, and easy to use.” That’s a perfect summation of a camera that was designed and intended to be an SLR for everyone. Its major selling feature was that it offered a Program shooting mode that would essentially turn the camera into a point-and-shoot for people who didn’t want to think about things like aperture and shutter speed. That difficult task was left to the camera’s light meter and microcomputer.

But though the X-700 cost roughly the same as Canon’s consumer-grade cameras, Minolta sought to undercut their competition with an even thriftier machine. Two years later the X-570 was released as the cheaper camera in the brand’s lineup. The X-570 got rid of the X-700’s Program mode, but retained much of what made the earlier camera so great.

But that’s all history now, and today, theres’s a strong case to be made for the lower-cost, lower-tier X-570 actually being a better machine than its more expensive older sibling.

The X-570 offers either aperture-priority auto-exposure or full manual mode with meter assistance. This last point is critical in retrospect, compared with the X-700. When looking through the incredibly bright viewfinder of the X-570 in manual mode we see LED lights on the right side of the frame. One solid light indicates the selected shutter speed while another LED blinks to highlight the camera-suggested shutter speed. This blinking light wasn’t included in the X-700 and is a nice fail-safe measure for shooters adjusting to manual metering.

The camera’s user-selectable ISO ranges from 12 to 3200 and shutter speeds range from 4 seconds to 1/1000 of a second. There’s an exposure lock, a depth-of-field preview, and a silicon photocell TTL center-weighted meter capable of automatic exposure ranging from EV 1 to 18. Screw on the Auto Winder G and the X-570 can shoot 2 frames per second. Put on the gnarly Motor Drive 1 and you’re up to a blistering 3.5 frames per second. There’s a slow-shutter speed alert sound if you like to stand out in a dimly lit crowd, and this paired with the camera’s already noisy shutter has each frame sounding like a test of the Emergency Alert System.

The camera itself is light, with a plastic body, but it doesn’t feel cheap. Yes, it’s plastic. But it’s that 1980s ABS, unbreakable Gameboy plastic. It gives the 570 the advantage of reduced weight while skirting the liability of flimsiness. But 30 years later that old ABS plastic (made from bromine) can eventually turn yellow from UV exposure (something you’re guaranteed to encounter in photography). The result is that the nice, white Minolta badging on many X-570’s looks slightly beige.

Shifting colors aside, the styling of this camera is fantastic. Like the 700 before it, the 570 is a joy to hold, and it’s clear that a great deal of thought went into making it fit comfortably in the hands. Unlike my XD, which is metal and real leather, I don’t worry about getting the X-570 dirty. There’s no leather to shrink, so who cares what happens?

The camera is even more ergonomically perfect when it’s mated to the Motor Drive G. Especially when shooting with a long telephoto zoom lens, it’s amazing the difference an inch and a half makes. This drive, or the even more potent Motor Drive 1, only adds to the camera’s professional look and feel.

The exposure lock is nicely implemented and works great in tricky lighting situations, working especially well with the camera’s center-weighted metering system. The shutter dial is easy to use, and the blinking LED showing what my speed should be is a nice feature missing from the 700. It would be nice to have exposure compensation, but this camera’s intended audience didn’t need such things.

Every time I take out the 570 it’s a joy to shoot. With its plastic styling, loud slapping shutter and purely plastic film winder it really doesn’t care what you think of it. The frame counter on mine hasn’t worked in a few years, which feels like the camera is just shrugging its shoulders. Its incredibly bright viewfinder with 95 percent coverage shows the world as it is, and the photos I’ve gotten back from it have that unique Rokkor personality.

Sample shots from the Minolta X-570 were made with Fuji Color C200 film.

All things equal, the X-570 is a stellar camera. So why doesn’t this camera get its due respect?

When I type “Minolta X-“ into my web browser, the suggested auto-filled search results include “X-700,” “X-370,” “XG,” and about nine more X-something cameras, none of which are “X-570.” It feels like the world has forgotten about the X-570.

Part of the answer could be that it suffers from book-end syndrome (an ailment that I just now created to describe what happens when a camera is released between two very famous cameras). Sure, the features of the X-570 make it more of an enthusiasts’ camera compared with the X-700, but the program mode of the X-700 made it the perfect camera for someone who wants to get into film photography (the target demographic of both machines). For this reason, the X-570 was never going to be as popular as the X-700, and it remains less popular today.

And then there’s the camera that Minolta released just two years after the X-570 – the Maxxum 7000.

Among Minolta’s long list of innovative achievements, releasing the first proper autofocus SLR has to be at the very top.

Development of the 7000 saw Minolta go back to the drawing board and redefine camera construction. Nikon, Chinon and Pentax had all made rudimentary attempts at autofocus using existing camera bodies and add-on design, but Minolta understood that to make autofocusing really work, the entire system had to be overhauled from the ground up, so that’s what they did. This new camera would change the very face of camera manufacturing and push all makers headlong into the era of speed, convenience, and technology.

The camera itself is a massive technical upgrade from the X series. On the earlier cameras, it takes a separate motor drive to automatically advance film, and controlling aperture and shutter speeds means turning dials and knobs. The 7000 has a 2 FPS motor drive built in, and two sets of buttons controlling all major camera functions. It’s capable of shooting in aperture-priority, shutter-priority, full manual, and full program modes. It features shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/2000 of a second and a flash sync speed of 1/100th of second. ISO ranges from 25 to 6400 and it’s got two light meters covering an LV range from -1 to 20.

Oh, and it also has a TTL phase-detection autofocus system with 8-bit computer system that automatically focuses faster than any camera that came before it.

The Maxxum 7000’s new-age design isn’t all internal. The exterior sees a radical shift from the SLR cameras Minolta was producing just two years earlier. It brings a sleek black metal, plastic, and rubber design with harsh 1980s edges. On the left are four long silver buttons that change the drive system, exposure compensation, ISO setting and exposure mode. Automatic film winding and rewinding eliminates that chore, and DX coding means we never need to adjust ISO when switching films. A conductive shutter release button activates the camera the moment we rest our finger on the shutter button.

It’s as if Minolta took all of their best tricks, made them even better, put them in the 7000 and added the new technology of autofocus. When it debuted, it was the greatest, most glamorous SLR in the world. And this undeniable fact wrestles with the simple truth that I don’t enjoy shooting it.

Sample shots from the Maxxum 7000 were made with Ilford Delta 3200 film. 

What made the Maxxum such a groundbreaking camera in 1985 are the very same things that make it a bore in 2018. The innovative autofocus, once perceived as fast and amazing, is today loud and far from speedy. It uses just one center focus point, and it often has to hunt for focus in all but sunny conditions. Thank goodness it allows for manual override, which I employ frequently. The button-actuated aperture controls feel far from intuitive and the shutter speed controls are awkwardly placed above the lens release button on the front of the camera. The creative control buttons can be difficult to press for those with larger hands, and their styling is as dated as a Thomas Dolby record. The meter seems to underexpose a bit, perhaps due to it relying on a 33-year-old 8-bit computer system.

It’s hard to level these criticisms against such a historically significant camera, because it’s not as if the camera is failing. When this machine was released in 1985, Minolta got everything right. It’s just an unavoidable truth that 33 years have passed since then, and expectations have risen. Where manual focus, knobs, dials, and levers are timeless, electric motors and computerized features are not.

The first one through the breach often becomes the first casualty, and in the great autofocus campaign, this could be the ultimate fate of the Maxxum 7000.

Between the two cameras, these Minolta cameras that ended one era and began the next, the manual focus X-570 is what I’d inevitably reach for when given the choice. It never interrupts the process of making a photo, it employs all of the lessons in manufacturing and design learned by Minolta up to the day of its release, it remains a fantastic economic value, and it’s a machine that generates looks. It’s a performer that consistently takes great photos because it was built to last.

The Maxxum 7000 is a well-built, forward-thinking machine, but it demands a significant amount of patience from the modern user. For its incredible technology and for the way it moved the ball forward, it deserves a prominent place on a top shelf in the Museum of Photography. But it’s on that shelf that I would leave the Maxxum, while perhaps echoing Hamlet’s gravedigger, “Age, with his stealing steps, hath clawed me in his clutch.”

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge lives and works in Richmond, Virginia as a photographer and writer. He has also worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge
29 comments
  • My Grandpa shot the Maxxum 7000 from when it was released until he passed away three years ago. As you say, it feels like a modern camera performing poorly, as opposed to other film cameras whereby their inefficiencies and required manual input is part of the the attraction. Regardless I still put a roll through it every so often 🙂 As always, thanks for the review

  • For the kind of work I do, the Maxxum 7000 is a fine camera. Problem is, I’ve owned three and all of them failed electronically.

    And I’ve owned two X-700s that failed with the dreaded stuck-winder problem. I’ve eyeballed an X-570 but worry that it, too, will fail in the same way.

    I have but one post-SR-T-series Minolta camera, an XG-1, for my MD-series glass. If I could find a more capable body that I felt would keep working for the long haul, I’d buy it. I’ve given up on Maxxums.

    • Good point, Jim. Electronics that old can’t be expected to hold up. And that’s not even a knock on them. I love the SRT series, but the XD will always be my favorite Minolta camera until I can get my hands on an XK. The XD really is a masterpiece of quality. So far I haven’t had any issues with my 570.

    • Michael McDermott February 2, 2018 at 1:24 am

      Maybe I should locate one for you. The only time I have had a Minolta not work was when I bought one that was not working so I could see if I could fix it myself. As for the X-700 I have done the capacitors once when I bought a non-working one just to try my hand at it.

    • I have a couple of SRT 101s and a SRT 303b that make sure no dust settles on my manual focus minolta lenses

  • Interesting reading. For some reason most of my favorite shots have been taken with a X-570, even though I regard it as rather cheap. It seems incapable of taking a poorly- exposed picture.

  • James – seriously, there’s some brilliant writing in there… and I laughed aloud at, “With its plastic styling, loud slapping shutter and purely plastic film winder it really doesn’t care what you think of it.”

    Part of my laughter was because I think there actually is a Mind of Minolta, right?! It’s true, the camera does indeed think. And another part of my laughter was because I just got my X570 – my first camera – out of a clear zip-lock bag to take a look at it again and guess at the cost of fixing the back end of it. What?! Somehow the back-end actually worked fine! Was there some supernatural moment going on? The last time I looked at it – three years ago – was to take off the broken 50 1.7 kit lens. In the process, it occurred to me then that I could use a replacement MD 50 1.4 on my A7R and not fiddle with that tired, broken X-570. So I got all intoxicated about that RokkorX magic on my A7R and I picked up a MD 50 1.4 and then an awesome MC 58 1.4 and then dropped it on to my A7R2 when I upgraded. And I forgot about that old x-570 beast. The Minolta 50 and 58 worked beautifully on my A7R and then my A7R2s… Last year, a guy basically gave me the MD 135 2.8 for $10 and that was a little fun, too… on my Sonys. And then only a few months ago, a friend gave me all her Canon gear (AE-1 etc.) while I was traveling in Houston and I got all excited about film and dropped by a store to see if they could quickly clean the absolutely filthy AE-1 and I was told no, not quickly, so while I was speaking to the store (Houston Camera Exchange) I looked down to see a legendary Nikon F100 and got completely infatuated. It was clean, in perfect working order and so I bought it on the spot. Three rolls of 36 later, I’m in love with film, figuring out how to shoot it again, and that old X-570 was still forgotten… until I stopped reading your article to go get it.

    So, I just picked up the X-570 again… and the back was somehow in perfect working condition and closed without any issue. And then, what?! The battery actually worked?! Three years later?! So I clicked a few images (no film in it) just to hear that CLACK-ing sound, and then I heard the beep as I walked around pointing the camera into dark corners… Then I reminded myself of a photograph taken with my old, trusty X-570 and I collected it from a corner of a desk… and I saw an image of my wife and daughter taken 22 years ago… (my daughter is now 24 and was two at the time). The photo, likely taken with Kodak Royal Gold 400 and printed on Kodak paper, was in perfect, unfaded condition… and I see clearly how Minolta made such a brilliant camera at the time and how my sister and her husband, who purchased it for me as a college graduation gift, gave me so much more than any of us ever knew…

    So, thank you again and again for your blog, your writing and your talent as a photographer… and historian. Seriously, there’s some fantastic history in this post. Are you aware of any small history on Minolta other than what’s on wikipedia and on your blog? I think it would be a fascinating read – but alas, a quiet Japanese company in the 60s and 70s wasn’t exactly the standard for public disclosure of whatever brilliant back-room engineering was going on… Well, thanks again.

    • Hey Scott. Thanks so much for your kind words regarding the site and our writing. It’s truly encouraging any time we hear we’re helping people enjoy this hobby.

      Speaking of back end issues – we accidentally published this under the wrong author. This piece was written by Jeb, so all writing kudos go to him, and I know he’ll appreciate the kind words as well.

      Lovely story about your camera and its time spent making images of your daughter. Mine are three years and one year old and I know that all of the images I’m making with these cameras, lenses, and film will only grow more important to me as they grow up.

      As for other Minolta history pages – try Google searching “The Rokkor Files” for some really thorough (if a little dry) information. You could also go to the source and grab decades worth of old camera magazines from the 60s and 70s (usually for under $10 for more issues than you’re willing to read). Beyond that, not too sure. There are plenty of other blogs out there, but we’re so focused on what we’re doing here that we don’t get to spend too much time reading other sites.

      By the way, did you ever get that AE-1 cleaned? I clean and lubricate those things in about fifteen minutes. I’m surprised they weren’t more eager to help you.

      • James – thanks for all of that.

        Jeb and James – both of you are excellent, witty writers/photographers. So often one of the nicer moments in my week is when Casual Photofile hits my inbox. Hey, not every week… you know, don’t let all this praise get to you too much. 😉

        • …. and oops, no I have been too eager to shoot with my F-100 to get the AE-1 cleaned… but I shall… I should shoot the same exact images with the AE-1, F100 and X570 and ask folks to guess which is which… better yet, you guys should! 🙂

  • A friend parted with his duplicate MD lenses and a couple of Minolta bodies; X700 and SRT 101. I added three more X700 bodies and two more SRT 101 bodies and one SRT102 body. I have been testing them and added two autowinders and one motordrive for the X700 bodies. Nice. I fixed the meter in one SRT101. I had the capacitor fixed in two X700 bodies. Now I have three MC lenses which I use on the SRT bodies; 50mm f1.7, 50mm f1.4 and 58mm f1.4. I really like the SRT series because they feel so solid. SRT 10w has the hotshoe that is hot. The X700 is kind of a “go to” with those winders I keep my eye in the viewfinder.

    • Writing this article actually made me order the Motor Drive 1 and it’s amazing. It really pushes the handing of those cameras to a higher level. Do you actually use both 50s or stick with one over the other? The SRTs are some of the toughest cameras around. I still have a 101 that’s really beat up. Trouble with them is deciding whether its worth the money to clean it up or just buy a new one!

  • I think the Maxxuum was so good even Stanley Kubrick recommended it – as told by Matthew Modine http://www.firstshowing.net/2013/interview-matthew-modine-on-kubrick-and-his-full-metal-jacket-app/ I use the X700, X570 and a few of the older bodies and am loving them.

  • Randle P. McMurphy January 30, 2018 at 2:27 am

    Owned a Minolta SRT-101 for a while but I didnt like the size and mechanical build to much.
    Later I fall for a Minolta 9xi (and Minolta7xi as second body) because of “the technical innovation” compared
    to the other companies like the 1/12000 and high-speed flash technics.
    There was nothing wrong with the system just not “right” for me – had to say why but the Nikon F5 to which
    I switched felt more like the tool I needed……

    • Ive never used the later Maxxums but I know that 9xi has an insane 5-ish fps without an external drive. Frankly if you’re doing high-volume photography there may not be a better SLR than the F5.

  • Dear James

    Thanks very much for this article. A while back, I got a Maxxum 7000 for free from a friend who didn’t use it anymore. It was at the time when fiml cameras were basically seen as worthless… So I put some film through it and absolutely disliked it. Coming from a Nikon F3, the body just felt so cheap and uninspiring in comparison. Combine that with the somewhat lacking AF (I can manually focus much faster with a decent SLR) and the clumsy controls and I ended up selling it. It didn’t help that the camera came with a slow 35-80mm f/4-5.6 (or something like that).

    But after your article, I still regret selling that camera. Today it would have its place on my shelf in my camera collection.

    Looking foreward to reading your next article! (And wishing that your second podcast episode might eventually see the light of day).
    Basil

    • Apologies for the delay on the podcast. We’ve been looking for an audio producer to put it together for us to increase the quality and timeliness. I’ll get the recordings put together in the meantime and get those out to you guys by the end of the week.

  • Never got into any Minolta Af. I had a pair of Nikon F3 bodies that suited me just fine. My Minolta SRT 101 was an homage to David Hamilton a photographer whose work I always admired. It was a camera that he used. The 58mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.7 came with the bodies when I acquired them. Still testing them. Being a Nikon guy I have a pair of F100 bodies and a 50 f1.8 AFS and 85mm F1.8 AFS . These are my main cameras.

    • I’m still eager to one day grab an a9, which I’ve heard is one of the best SLRs ever made. But you can’t go wrong with that F100 either.

  • I don’t care what you guys write about, I’m just here for the writing. And I mean that in the most complimentary way.
    Great stuff Jeb.

  • Michael McDermott February 2, 2018 at 1:17 am

    I have always felt Minolta was underrated even when compared to Nikon and Canon. I fell in love with the SRT-101 in 1970. Over time I have collected 60-70 Minoltas from the Hi-Matics, to several copies of all the SRTs, the XE, the XD, the X mentioned here and the Maxxums also mentioned. Then there are all the Rokkor lenses, flashes and motor drive accessories that go with each model. Film has always been my preferred mode for decades. However, with the great Rokkor Maxxum lenses for my 7000 and 9000 I had to find a 7D to try a digital SLR. The 7000 and 7D are night and day but both have their place and both are fun to use in the right circumstances. Actually they are all fun to use and if I want to make people stare I’ll pull out the Autocord. Too bad they went under for such a stupid thing. Who knows what they would have created?

  • The 7000 was charming, but I hated that the rubber grip crumbled

  • Minolta XD 7 forever. My first camera that encoraged me to keep a my photography and still beautiful today. It works after 36 years.
    I wonder if Sony would have sold more A7 series cameras if they were called Minolta? Maybe they would have sold less? We will never know.

  • If I ever wanted to add a Minolta camera to my GAS collection, it would be the 7000. While researching my lowly Nikon N65, I came across a Youtube video comparing the N/F65 to a Canon EOS A2E and Minolta 7000. The features of the 7000 looked appealing and well thought out. No warnings about the electronics failing but the slow auto-focus system was pointed out.

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge lives and works in Richmond, Virginia as a photographer and writer. He has also worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge