SLRs

Minolta Dynax 7 Review (aka Minolta a-7 & Maxxum 7) – As good as it gets – By Bob Janes

July 10, 2020

The Minolta Alpha/Maxxum or Minolta Dynax 7 (as mine is, and as I shall from henceforth be calling it) was released in 2000 and was about as sophisticated as any 35mm SLR ever got.

Film cameras had nigh on a century of dominance of photography, but at the turn of the last century, their days were numbered. The last-gasp innovation of APS film had not set the world on fire and looming on the horizon were digital cameras that could record our lives, produce instant results that we could immediately review and push our expectations of image quality and light sensitivity beyond what is possible using chemistry.

As this film era came to an end the photographic giants produced some lovely cameras – Film SLRs were at their most sophisticated and in those last few years some amazing SLRs were created. This article seeks to look at one such camera from the company formerly known as Minolta.

Minolta Dynax 7 / Alpha 7 / Maxxum 7

The Minolta Dynax 7 had multi-mode metering, memorized the settings of the last 5 films shot, had shutter speeds up to 1/8000th of a second, allowed customization of just about every feature (so if you want your exposure counter to count down rather than up, and for the film leader to be left out of the cassette after rewind, you are in luck!)

All this is set via readable menu items selected on a control panel hidden beneath a magnetically latched metal hinged door. The  Minolta Dynax 7 supports in-lens motors, has 9 AF points in the viewfinder – the central one being a highly accurate ‘double cross’ and (possibly unique for a film SLR) featured a rear display that makes setting the custom functions a doddle and still fools people to this day into thinking it is a DSLR.

The Minolta Dynax 7 was not the top of the pile, that position was taken by Minolta’s last bid to produce a professional film camera, released a few years before, which was the Dynax 9. The 9 is a titanic beast, but it never included quite as much technology and features as Minolta packed into the 7, and had to be retrofitted to use lenses with built in motors (SSM in Minolta’s nomenclature).

They even gave the Minolta Dynax 7 a special mode that emulated the company’s (as then unique) Smooth Trans Focus lens, by actually adjusting the position of the diaphragm blades of the lens during exposure (tripod required). But the thing that set the 7 apart from the crowd was a feature that Minolta had been re-introducing over the previous 5 years. Dials. Knobs. Switches. Lots of ’em.

While so many of Minolta’s cameras since the introduction of the 7000 in 1985 had relied on adjustment by pressing a button and moving a wheel (or in the early days a jog switch) Minolta had started, with their 600si, to bring back dedicated controls and knobs. On the Minolta Dynax 7 they brought this to a wonderful ergonomic head, with just about every camera function being controllable from its own dial, switch or button. In all it has 10 dials, 13 buttons (not counting two lock buttons on dials), 4 switches and a multi-controller – and that is without getting into latches, lens releases and covers, or the sensors on the viewfinder and grip.

The darn thing positively bristles with controls. The only camera to rival it was the digital version, the Konica Minolta 7D, which was a camera so frighteningly difficult to mass produce because of all the dials, switches and levers that it required a lot of expensive hand assembly and consequently suffered a certain amount of QA issues (which may, in the end, have played a part in hastening KMs departure from the camera business).

But with the Minolta Dynax 7 they got it right.

Minolta Dynax 7 - Back

Even the battery grip is well designed, allowing use of AA batteries, improving portrait handling and communicating with the camera via some contacts that engage with a slot under the camera. The grip is designed so that your hand is in the same position relative to the lens in portrait or landscape formats. When fitted, the battery grip pushes the control count up by another 7.

So what’s not to like?

Well the hot shoe is Minolta’s own proprietary iISO shoe, which is unusual and might put some people off, but it is a good design. It had been around for about 10 years by the time the Minolta Dynax 7 came out, and would still be used (by Minolta and then Sony) for another 10; so flashes that are compatible are not rare – and it also uses Minolta’s IR remote triggering which is still supported by Sony’s current flashes.

The one sticky issue from a handling point of view, would not have become apparent immediately – the rubberized covering for the bits of the body where leather or leatherette would once have been used felt fine at first, but over time it would degrade, becoming tacky – which makes it unpleasant to handle and turns the camera into a dust magnet. This was a fault shared by other cameras of the period and can be solved by the careful removal of said rubberized covering with alcohol and a soft scraper.

The one thing you should not use the Minolta Dynax 7 for is Infra-Red photography. This is because it does not use conventional sprockets to move and measure the film, instead it has a little IR emitter and sensor inside the back that counts sprocket holes and makes it possible to change films mid-roll and then pick them up again with less wastage. The down-side is that the IR emitter will fog IR film.

One weak point is partially due to a ‘safety’ feature. The release for the back will only operate if a film has been rewound – otherwise the latch just moves freely but does not release the back – this can lead to new owners who are unfamiliar with the camera to think that it is broken and try to force the back open – which will break the plastic latch for the back. The normal approach in such circumstances of looking for a rear door from a dead donor camera is complicated by all of the stuff integrated into the back (11 control buttons/switches and a large LCD panel). Don’t force the back.

Should you ever need to open the back without rewinding the film, you can disable the latch safety feature with an ‘easter egg’ style button combination:

  1. Turn the power off at the main switch.
  2. While pressing the ISO button under the magnetic cover and the AE-Lock buttons, turn the main switch on.
  3. The display should now show “Back cover can now be opened”

To cancel without opening the back, repeat steps 1 and 2.

And now some photographs taken with the Minolta Dynax 7…

a view from 'The Grapes'

Shot with Agfa APX 100 – at high tide this statue is nearly up to his ankles – shot from ‘The Grapes’ at Limehouse…

Minolta Dynax 7- Old Volvo

Shot with Kentmere 400 – This rusty veteran Volvo was parked up near the river at Greenwich, pretty much at the point where the zero meridian is.

Mud Runner

Shot with Kentmere 400 – Mud runner in West Wales – one of the few times I’ve used a film camera with high-speed continuous drive…

London Eye

Shot with Kentmere 400 – The London Eye on the South Bank at Southwark.

Rocks at Nash point

Shot with Kentmere 400 – Cliffs near Nash Point in South Wales.

Minolta Dynax 7- Tethered Canoes

Shot with Agfa APX 100 – Tethered Canoes on the Thames near Limehouse.

Woolwich Pub

Shot on Kodak Tri-X – The side entrance of Rose’s Free House in Hare Street, Woolwich.

Volkswagen beetle

Shot on Kodak Tri-X – Volkswagen Beetle parked inside the British Museum.

Cannon at Upnor Castle

Shot on Kodak Tri-X – In the interests of balance – a shot of a Can(n)on! – Upnor Castle, just across the Medway from Chatham.

Minolta Dynax 7- Gantry on the Thames at Charlton

Shot with Ektar 100 – this is a pier on the south bank of the Thames, just downriver from Greenwich

The Minolta Dynax 7 is a delight to use. It does just about anything you could ask of a film camera and has just about every feature bar an interchangeable prism and screen. It even looked good – those who have followed Minolta over the years will note that while they have produced some marvellous cameras, the likes of the SRT 101 (gawky), X/XK/XM and 800si (Frankenstein-like) and 9xi (a blob), were never going to win any beauty contents. With the 7, for the first time since the XD7/XD11, they produced something that was almost pretty, in addition to being state-of-the-art.

The bottom line? The Minolta Dynax 7 makes me want to be a better photographer.

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    evan bedford
    July 10, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    I don’t think you have to worry about being a “better photographer”. You’re already there. Bravo!

  • Reply
    Bill Thoo
    July 11, 2020 at 3:39 am

    Great review. I started with a Minolta 7000 and then 700si, and have picked up a 7 more recently (as the previous models tended to have the plastic melt off the chassis over the years). Anyone with a Sony full frame mirrorless camera will see on that back cover the design legacy being maintained. I don’t shoot it as much as my mechanical/semi mechanical cameras, though, as ironically this camera gets out of the way of the photography. I am in a phase where i’m enjoying fiddling with all the camera bits, rather than just creating images. When I want images on film without worrying there will be a camera or user issue getting in the way, I use the 7.

  • Reply
    Jerome C
    July 11, 2020 at 3:57 am

    Great to read about the 7! I have quite a few Minolta SLRs, and my Maxxum 7 is my absolute favorite. I have never missed a shot or had a bad exposure while using it. It is a camera one grows into. It has features to meet the needs of any photographer from beginner to professional. I love to shoot in aperture priority mode with the 100mm f2,8 macro, which use as a regular prime. it’s an unbeatable combo!

  • Reply
    Sroyon
    July 11, 2020 at 7:48 am

    Nice review! Do you remember what lens you used for the Rose’s Free House and VW Beetle pics?

    • Reply
      Bob Janes
      July 11, 2020 at 8:56 am

      Thank you. From the looks of them it is the Minolta 20AF, althuogh my favourite wide of the A-mount set is the 24AF. The fisheye shots will have been taken with a manual Zenitar fisheye.

  • Reply
    Murray Kriner
    July 11, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    I have long used most of Minolta’s bevy of beautifully designed and able-featured cameras. Both SLR & rangefinder alike have functioned like swans gliding along willow-lined river banks once you learned precisely what these gems needed to make them sing. My Maxxum 7 is especially dear, even though most of the special feature hack cards are missing from my shooting bag, its fundamentals being very plain once you figure just where every last control resides. Great article, much deserving of a truly innovative and worthy adversary to any of the many contenders. Thanks for all the well versed writing and images included.

  • Reply
    Victor
    July 11, 2020 at 3:34 pm

    I have two of those, and both with the same problem: aperture actuator dead. Seems to be a common problem, so beware. In this case the camera is still usable wide open, but that’s not ideal. Very hard to fix too…

    • Reply
      Bob Janes
      July 14, 2020 at 10:29 am

      I’ve not heard of that before – I think you may have been particularly unlucky – certainly the 7 does not have a reputation for such failures going by the posts at Dyxum. I know the aperture actuator is a big problem on the Minolta 9000AF, but hadn’t heard of similar on later series of cameras.

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