A friend of mine is a pro photographer. I have a number of those, of course, and they always shoot digital for the most part. So as we’re chatting cameras at a burlesque show he was working at (as a photographer, mind you) he said those words I love. “Hey brother, I have a great big bag full of camera stuff that I have gathering dust in my garage…” Sure enough, inside were three film cameras, some decent accessories, a whole bunch of stuff I had no idea what to do with, and a box of slides from his uncle’s trip out west. Plus, the bag. Top grain leather, back when leather stuff wasn’t all made from that pressed-together meatloaf leather that flakes apart after a few years. Everything works, total score.
Part of that score was a Minolta X-7A. A camera I was decidedly unfamiliar with. My first SLR that I laid my hands on was a Minolta SRT 101 that my dad let me bring on a school trip. I have no idea if those pictures came out, he never developed the film, but that was the extent of my experience with Minolta. Before it went out of the camera business in 2006, after merging with Konica in 2003, Minolta was one of the major players in the world of photography, so I was intrigued to see what would come of this new acquisition.
It’s lightweight, it’s fairly plasticky, but it still feels fairly solid. It shoots in manual as well as aperture priority mode. It has an auto exposure lock, a self-timer, a cable release socket, an on/off switch, shutter button, focus ring and aperture ring and a little wheel for setting shutter speed or “Auto” mode and that’s about it. It’s the basic’est consumer level camera in the mid 1980s, and yet I find the use of it quite satisfying.
It fits well in my hand, it’s small and lightweight and I can carry it around all day long. I even like the “klunk” of the shutter release. Best of all, I use it frequently as a beach camera or a hiking camera, or basically any situation where I have a chance of fucking up the camera, because if I wreck it or get sand in it or something I can find a replacement for 25 bucks. So it’s expendable but still good quality and enjoyable for me to use (as opposed to being expendable because I hate it and I don’t care if it drops off a mountain or into the sea).
These are the kind of cameras that are good to have on hand if someone wants to come with me on a photo shoot and I can say “Pick a camera off the shelf (but not that one or that one or those three or that big one up there) and we can both shoot film today.” Meaning it’s a pretty forgiving student camera, and one I can always replace if something happens.
Not that I think my friends are going to break my stuff (though I just automatically kinda think my stuff is less safe in their hands than it is mine, and you feel that way about your stuff too, don’t even front like you don’t!), but how comfortable would you feel with a camera described as “This hard to find thing I found by chance for only 400 bucks and I put this super fancy lens on it and my entire happiness rests on the survival of this object of ultimate desire so please don’t drop it” and were it me I’d put the hands up and say “Ah, no thanks, I’m good.” I’d way rather hand someone a camera and say “Have fun, don’t overthink it, and if you drop it by accident it won’t break my heart.”
It’s a good machine, and one I’ll likely give away one day to a good home, but for now it’s a great loaner camera, a great back-up or just something to load with film and leave in my work bag, because even if I’m not going out specifically to do some shooting, there’s always a time I wish I had a camera on me.