5 Frames With a Minolta XD7 and Vivitar 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 – Riding Route 101 – By Peter Roberts

One of my childhood memories is of family days out discovering different parts of London by bus in the late fifties and early sixties. Sometimes my father had a particular destination in mind, other times we would just see where the buses would take us. Those were the days when an Oyster was something slippery downed by the dozen by people with more disposable income than we had and a Freedom Pass might have been a song by Pete Seeger. What there was, however, was a Red Rover Ticket which gave unlimited travel for a day on London’s red buses.

We lived on the edge of the red bus network close to Sidcup garage, a cavernous 1930s building now sadly demolished. Our day would start here and the adventure began even before the journey did. To purchase the Red Rover tickets we would have to go inside the garage itself and find the duty inspector who would usually be in the mess room. After which, as the buses used to turn round by running through the garage itself, if we were really lucky we were allowed to sit on the the top deck (where else?) of a bus inside the garage while it waited to leave. All heady stuff for a youngster and no doubt sowed the seeds of a long-held belief that the only real buses were London Transport ones.

When a friend sent word that The London Bus Museum had organised a running day these memories resurfaced and I just had to go. Well, all of that and the fact that I love vintage transport of all kinds.


I had no intention of making this a purely photographic expedition so I took the minimum of gear, a Minolta XD7 and a Vivitar 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5. Not being a great fan of zoom lenses I don’t often use the Vivitar but when I do I’m always pleased with the results although it is prone to vignetting. It doesn’t seem to have featured on 35mmc before and what little there is on the internet about it usually mentions the short throw of the focussing ring which is only about 40 degrees. Does this make for quick focussing or does it make accurate focussing difficult? I’ve really got no strong opinion either way. It’s just a characteristic of the lens that I have no problem with.

Wanting to treat my partner to a nice day out I took her as well and we made our way to North Woolwich via the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. From there we entered into the spirit of things by bus hopping to Wanstead while along the way I snapped a few images that appear to be influenced by those in Ian Allan’s ABC of London Buses or Buses Illustrated. As such, I’ve given these two suitable captions.

RT1431 1949 AEC/Cravens in early cream top livery.
RTW467 1951 Leyland in later plain livery and G351 1945 Guy/Park Royal in original livery.

We reached Wanstead in time for a late lunch and if we were doing things properly we would have pulled our warm Tizer and fishpaste sandwiches from our tartan duffel bags and tucked in. As it was I rather fancied trying a pie and mash place that we had passed but this well meant suggestion was rejected and we ended up sitting outside rather longer than intended at an artisan café.

Time was getting on and I suppose the day’s excitement had got too much for Josie because she suggested that we catch the next bus all the way back to North Woolwich. So I thought that I’d better squeeze in some photography that was a little bit more imaginative.

Plenty of room on top.
Old skool bus, old skool driving, non-optical glass.
Time for a chat at the end of the run.

The film was FP4 Plus developed 14 minutes in R09 1:50 alternating between gently agitating and giving one immersion every minute.

If tickets cost a pound apiece
Why would you make a fuss?
It’s worth it just to ride inside
That London Transport omnibus.

(From ‘A Transport of Delight’ by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann)

If you’ve stayed with me all the way and didn’t alight at an intermediate stop, thanks for reading.

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21 thoughts on “5 Frames With a Minolta XD7 and Vivitar 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 – Riding Route 101 – By Peter Roberts”

  1. Dan Castelli

    I love any kind of road trip adventure. Your post was a joy to read. Your photos have beautiful tones and a ‘period’ look to them. The Vivitar lenses are good performers, and the Minolta is underrated as a fine camera.
    Thanks for a nice posting.

    1. Peter Roberts

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Dan.
      That XD7 handles beautifully and is one of my go to cameras, especially if I want a simple life. I didn’t intend to make a 5 Frames out of the trip but I’m pleased I did now, so many memories surfaced when writing it.

    2. Clive Shepherd

      You are absolutely right. Minolta was not the noisy front running in the day, although they did attract some top photographers such as David Hamilton. They were also heavily involved with co-operative project with Leica. (CL, CLE, R3, R4…) They still exist. After buying Konica and becoming Konica/Minolta they were bought out and rebadged as Sony. They have set the mark for full frame mirrorless cameras and supply sensors to several of the top competitors.

  2. What a wonderful piece about the past and present. Simple equipment. I need to use my 35~85 Minolta zoom.. When I came to Toronto, , any spare time was exploring my new home. Subway, streetcars and buses. I met folks who were born here not knowing so many places! Your images really neat.

    1. Peter Roberts

      Thanks Jason.
      Simple equipment indeed. All that is necessary sometimes.
      I agree that public transport makes an interesting subject, worthy perhaps of being a sub-genre of street photography.

    2. Nice story, great pics of the DD routemasters , Minolta cameras were my go to 20 years ago and I still love using them

  3. Clive Shepherd

    Some great shots Peter! I also enjoyed your remanence of the busses. The Vivitar 28-85, as well as the similar 28-90, were considered very high quality lenses in their day. I remember when we sold them that their big selling point was that they were variable focus rather than zoom lenses. A zoom lens stayed in focus, or close, across the range whereas the variable focal had to be refocused with every change of focal length. The variable focus lens did not have as many concessions made in its design as the parfocal zoom and was seen to be the superior lens design and almost on par with fixed focal length lenses. I have one too and am still impressed by how well it works even when compared to modern offerings.

    1. Peter Roberts

      Thanks Clive.
      The information about the lens is interesting.
      I’ve often considered getting a Rokkor 35-70 but I’m always put off by its more limited zoom range. Having given the Vivitar another outing and gone public with it I think I’ll shelve that idea for good.

  4. A very enjoyable article and photos – thank you. I too was at the bus running day, but I spent my time on the extension from Wanstead to Lambourne End. Good to see what I missed elsewhere! In my youth I was very much a Minolta person, but I never progressed to an XD7. I do now own its ‘younger brother’ – an XD5 – plus a Vivitar 28-90 lens, which make a useful combination.

    1. Peter Roberts

      Thanks for that Alan.
      If you were doing the extension you may have passed us sitting outside the cafe.
      I’ve been a fan of Minoltas since the mid seventies when my first “quality” camera was an SRT101 and always feel comfortable using them.

  5. Nice shots, Peter! I just got the “downmarket” version of this camera, the XD5, and like it a lot. I’ve been using the Minolta MD 28-85mm zoom lens too.

    I’ll have to admit, though, when I first saw the title, I thought you were talking about a roadtrip down US Route 101 down the West Coast!

    1. Peter Roberts

      Thanks Shawn.
      I suppose the title did have a trans-atlantic twang to it but I liked the alliteration.
      Nice to hear that you’re enjoying a Minolta XD series. They’re great camaras.

  6. I got a very mixed memory-jog from looking at the map under the camera.
    Some of the most miserable days of my life were spent in the 1970s and 80s on Lower Addiscombe Road, just below and to the left of the front of the lens.
    Back then, it was routes 12A, 289, 725 and 726. Those buses took me on very many happy Red and Green Rover days out away from that place – they were such a joyous escape! If you want the really nerdy stuff, it was SMS, SMA Swifts and then Leyland Nationals. I did sometimes get on an RT when going to school in Sydenham.
    Bingham Road station was still there (so double-deckers could not get under the bridge) and the trams were not even dreamt of!
    (I don’t want to add my name to this post, but Hamish can figure it out from my email since I have posted here before.)

    1. Peter Roberts

      Dear Anon,
      I’m sorry that the map jogged memories of the bad times. On the other hand it could be viewed as the many escape routes available to you.
      As to the nerdy stuff, as far as I’m concerned proper London buses ended with the RM and even they were nothing special compered with the first series of roof box RTs. They were truly A Transport of Delight.

  7. Hi Peter

    No worries! Your map jogged the memory of *what was good* in the bad times. The buses were transports of delight, because in the days of the GLC, they transported me for pennies wherever I wanted to go for the price of my pocket money with change left over.

    More London Transport goodness memories continues: in Addiscombe, my neighbour was Jim Westgate, London Transport PSV and HGV driving instructor and DfT examiner, and later LT Chief Mechanical Engineer (and husband of http://www.theguardian.com/society/2001/jan/04/voluntarysector ). For nothing more than friendliness, in 1976 he gave me a tour around the Chiswick works, a ride on an RT on the skid pan, and let me have a very low-speed drive of an RT (I was only 13!). As an exception, I was allowed to take my camera into the works, but this was one of only two occasions in fifty years of photography that I cocked up loading film, so I have no record of it.

    Later, again as a friend, Jim taught me to drive. Not just to pass my test, but a huge amount of what I could call “roadcraft” – from first principles, everything about conducting any vehicle on the road. I was initially uninterested in driving, but he encouraged me, and I then became to take driving seriously. He was an exacting teacher, who required acute observation and anticipation of the road ahead, and disliked slow driving as much as he disliked speeding. This was a privilege that I did not appreciate until some time later, when I realised the extreme level of driving awareness and skill he demanded of me was not commonplace, and has served me well throughout my life since. (I have owned almost as many cars as cameras – 6 Porsches, 9 BMWs, Lotus, MGs, etc.)

    At this point, Hamish is probably getting very bored. This is not macfilos.com, after all!

    1. Peter Roberts

      Those are indeed good memories!

      PS. I liked your “Bath Cat” over on another site a little while ago 😉

    1. Peter Roberts

      And thanks to you Stefan. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
      The XD-7 is Minolta’s finest. You’re absolutely correct about Rokkor lenses. I have a selection of Minoltas and always feel guilty about pairing any of them with a third party lens.

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