Minolta XG-E
SLRs

Minolta XG-E Review: Takes a Lickin’ and Keeps On Tickin’ – by Aaron Gold

May 15, 2020

How I got my Minolta XG-E… In my Nikomat FT2 review, I mentioned my friend Mark who bestowed that camera upon me. Here’s the full story: One week I showed up to Mark’s office for his weekly Models and Movies night (that’s train models, you perv). I had my Pentax KX with me and mentioned that I was getting back into film photography. Mark beckoned me into his back room and beat me until I came to my senses. No, sorry, that’s what he should have done. What he really did was take his collection of 35mm SLRs, put them in a box and give them to me. Mark is an awesome guy and I’m lucky to have him as a friend. Send me $20 via PayPal and I’ll introduce you to him.

Among the gear he gifted to me was the mongrel Minolta XG-E shown here. As you can see, it’s pretty ragged, and this is after I cleaned it up a bit. The body is adorned with chips, scratches and cracks. The leatherette is attempting to peel itself off the camera, presumably so it can crawl under the porch to die. And all this with the camera having spent most of its life in a naugahyde case, which I won’t show you lest Mark get arrested for posthumous abuse of a nauga. When I first set eyes on the camera, I didn’t know whether to put film in it or take it to the veterinarian and have it euthanized.

Mark assured me that the camera’s well-used appearance was well-earned: This XG-E was the camera he used most in his youth, and what he used it for was sports photography. “It was rode hard and put away wet,” he said, drawing on a seemingly bottomless well of clichés. “I beat it like a rented mule. Used it to hammer in a couple of nails.”

I figured the chances of this tattered and tired XG-E being in operable condition were roughly on par with a Nikon F6 owner singing the praises of a Ricoh KR-5, but when I popped in a pair of silver-oxide batteries, I was pleased to find that it worked just fine—the meter came on (in automatic mode, at least) and the shutter fired at all speeds. That’s more than I can say for the two Nikons of similar vintage that floated across my transom (an FG and an FE, both DOA).

An alleyway in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles. Minolta XG-E, Ilford FP4+

As with the Nikomat FT2, Mark’s father bought this camera in Japan, which is why it’s called XG-E and not XG7 (its American name) or XG2 (Europe). According to The Rokkor Files—which, for those not familiar, is a gold mine of information about older Minoltas—the XG series was introduced in 1977 as Minolta’s entry-level SLR. (Here’s a cool XG7 commercial.)

As beaten up as it looked, the XG-E seemed to work pretty well. Mark gave it to me with a Minolta Rokkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, and the first roll of pictures I shot with it looked fantastic. They included the photo below, a grab shot of my friend Jason at Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles. This is one of my favorite pictures, and the XG-E captured it beautifully.

My friend Jason and his pickles. Minolta XG-E, Ilford HP5+

Only one thing about the XG-E puzzled me: When I turned the shutter-speed dial out of automatic mode, the meter would go dark. I figured something was wrong with the camera—given the way it looked, something had to be wrong with it—but I soon learned this is exactly the way the XG-E is supposed to work. This has to be one of the silliest design decisions I’ve ever seen, and as the owner of a Nikomat FT2, I know a thing or two about silly design decisions.

I have since learned Minolta XG-E (XG7, XG2—sorry to keep repeating that, but we must please the Google gods) was designed to compete with aperture-priority semi-automatics like the Nikon EM and Pentax ME. But while those cameras only offer three shutter-dial settings—automatic, flash sync and bulb—the XG-E has a full range of speeds from 1 second to 1/1000. Minolta’s way of making this effectively an automatic camera was to disable the meter when a manual shutter speed is selected.

A wall in Crown Point, Indiana. Minolta XG-E, Ilford FP4+

My uneducated guess is that the Minolta folks were trying to save money by sharing parts with the XD. All well and good, but I still can’t believe that a group of seemingly intelligent men (and they had to be men; it was the 1970s, and besides, no woman would suggest anything so asinine) got together in a conference room and convinced themselves this was a good idea. Only from the mind of Minolta, I guess.

The irony is that the XG-E has one of the best shutter-speed dials of any camera I own. It’s big, knurled, and easy to turn, and it’s positioned right at the front edge of the camera so you can turn it with a finger-tip while keeping a solid grip on the body.

The XG-E’s awesome and yet largely useless shutter speed dial

The meter is just as good. Inside the viewfinder is a scale of shutter speeds with LEDs that indicate which one is selected and red arrows that warn of over- or under-exposure. Cooler yet is the way you turn the meter on: Take it to dinner, tell it how beautiful it is, then nibble gently on its earlobe… no, seriously, all you do is place your finger on the shutter button. It’s touch-sensitive! How cool is that—and on a camera designed in the 1970s! I wish more of my cameras (I’m looking at you, Pentax MX) had such a great controls. And yet on the XG-E, they are little more than a tease.

Once you resign yourself to using it in automatic mode, the Minolta XG-E is a magnificent SLR. It’s smaller and lighter than a Pentax K-series, though not quite as diminutive as a Pentax M. With the Rokkor 50/1.4 fitted and no strap or film, it weighs in at a reasonable 1 lb 10.5 oz (751g). I find that the squared-off edges make for less-than-ideal ergonomics, but I like the XG-E’s substantial feel. The mechanism works with minimal vibration and has a short, if slightly stiff, winder pull. In keeping with its amateur-camera status, the XG-E lacks a depth-of-field preview and a mirror lock-up, but it does have an electronic self-timer.

Graffiti on a wall. Minolta XG-E, Ilford FP4+

But the most important aspect—to me, at least—is that the XG-E makes it easy to create really nice pictures. I’m a manual-camera snob, but the results I’ve had with the XG-E are so good that I find myself making excuses. After all, is aperture-priority really that much of a cheat? I still hae control of my pictures, determining the best exposure settings for the depth-of-field or motion blur I want—I’m just letting the camera set one of the dials, that’s all.

Nah, I don’t buy it either, but a guy’s gotta sleep at night.

Dog toy. Minolta XG-E, Ilford HP5+

What I like best about this XG-E is that it’s the perfect beater cam. I can bring it on a boat trip or take it to a party and hand it around, and anyone sober enough to focus is bound to get good pictures. (If they aren’t sober enough to focus, that’s what f/22 is for.) And if the camera gets dinged up—well, look at it. How would I even know?

The XG-E has kindled an appreciation for Minolta cameras. This is clearly a well-designed instrument, one that has suffered years of abuse and neglect and not only works, but works well. Fiddle with its controls and you can tell you’re using a well-engineered, well-built camera. Look at the pics and you know you’re seeing the result of a good meter and high-quality optics. The XG-E makes me want to buy an XD-11 and more Rokkor lenses.

Town Hall, Crown Point, Indiana. Minolta XG-E, Ilford FP4+

That might not be a good idea, because the XD-11 has a good reputation and doesn’t come cheap. But the XG-E (or XG2 or XG7 or whatever you want to call it) does—tested and working ones sell on the ‘Bay in the $25 to $50 range, significantly cheaper than auto-only Pentaxes (ME, MG, MV) and Nikons (EM, FG). Minolta’s manual-focus Rokkor MD-series lenses are also bargains compared to Pentax and Nikon. Clearly, the XG-E/2/7 is underrated and underappreciated.

Would I recommend the XG-E? I have trouble recommending any automatic-only (or, in this case, automatic-mostly) camera, at least to someone looking for a single SLR to do it all. I think manual shooting is a skill that all film photographers should have and hone. More so than with digital, manual exposure just goes with the territory. And isn’t the object of film photography to get the pictures we want, exactly the way we want them? I’m not opposed to automation, but in my snobbish opinion it’s a fine line between shooting in program mode and taking pictures with your iPhone.

Yes, I take lots of pictures of walls. They tend to hold still for pictures. Minolta XG-E, Ilford FP4+

For someone looking for a good walk-around automatic SLR, yes, the XG-E (or XG2 or XG7 or whatever it’s called in your neck of the woods) is an outstanding camera. Mine looks like it fell out of a tree and hit every branch on the way down, and yet it still produces beautiful pictures.

The truth is I’ve got no good reason to use my Minolta XG-E. I’ve only got one lens for it and I prefer cameras that give me the option of shooting manually (with a working meter, thank-you-very-much).

And yet I do use it—I use it often, and not just because I like it. I feel like have an obligation to take pictures with it. I think that if a camera can survive decades of abuse and still work flawlessly, it deserves to remain in front-line service. Take one look at my well-worn Minolta XG-E, and I think you’ll agree: It’s just begging to be taken out and shot.

See more of my pix on Flickr.

© 2020 Aaron Gold for 35mmc.com

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Terry B
    May 15, 2020 at 11:10 am

    A great read, Aaron, and something to warm me up on this chilly morning here in my neck of the woods in the UK.
    It’s the lens that gives us the image, and lenses from the heyday of Minolta are all gems, and were highly rated. Quite why they don’t seem to be so regarded today, I don’t know, but this is good news for discerning photographers who can still (but for how much longer?) get good buys.
    The “problem” with the lack of the meter not working in manual mode is, I suspect, down to cost and possibly the market Minolta envisaged for this pared down model. Back in the day, I recall cameras being marketed with full metering in manual mode as a plus point.
    I acquired my XD-7 (XD-11 for you Yanks) around 1982 and it is indeed a wonderful camera. I find that the aperture priority auto setting better suited to my needs for two reasons – I have control over DoF, but also I can set the aperture to its optimum using f5.6 or f8, where DoF isn’t of prime importance.
    You’ve posted some wonderful images here. The one of your friend Jason is quite amusing if one zooms into his eyes which we see as almost popping with anticipation! FP4 was my standard medium speed film and so I am interested in what developer was used here as quite often on the ‘net I see images shot on FP4 which haven’t dont it justice. Yours do.
    Sorry I can’t send you $20, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate that the £/$ isn’t doing too well at present.

    • Reply
      Aaron Gold
      May 15, 2020 at 5:03 pm

      Hi Terry, thank you for the kind words! The HP5+ pictures (including the one of Jason) were developed with D-76 1:1, and the FP4+ shots were done with HC-110 Dilution B. I punched up the contrast just a touch in a couple of the photos as this is something I could have easily done in the darkroom.

      I’m happy with HC for FP4, but still use D-76 for HP5 — I tried HC-110 and the Dilution B development time was too short for my liking (3.5 mins), and when I used Dilution H I thought the negatives looked a little flat. When I need high-speed film I shoot HP5+ at 1600 and develop in D-76 undiluted. The results are, I think, pretty good.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Rob
    May 15, 2020 at 11:13 am

    As an owner of the flagship XG-M, I’ll never tire of recommending a Minolta XG-series camera as a good beginner camera. They do everything you need them to do, nothing more and nothing less. If you then go for the flagship XG-M, you gain DOF preview and the meter in manual mode.

    The best bit of whatever XG series camera is that you still get access to incredible (and cheap) Minolta lenses and they will cost a fraction of what the largely similar X-700 (and again, the XG-M is essentially an X-700 without Program mode) will cost! Extra bonus point, you can then use the same lenses if you upgrade to an XD7/XD11 or SRT-series cameras.

    Just don’t go telling everybody how good Minolta cameras and lenses actually are…

  • Reply
    Wim van Heugten
    May 15, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Hi Aaron,

    Nice writing and nice pictures! I wonder why you keep saying the camera is beaten and fell out of a tree! From what I see in the four pictures it is a very well kept sample that needs the leatherette to be reglued. Or are back and bottom looking terrible?

    • Reply
      Aaron Gold
      May 15, 2020 at 5:09 pm

      It’s pretty ratty on closer inspection. You can see some of the cracks in the silver plastic in those photos. I won’t re-glue the covering, though… that camera has earned its scars! 🙂

  • Reply
    Louis Sousa
    May 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    Hi, the XD 11 is a fantastic camera also. I could be wrong but I believe the meter works on this model in manual mode. The shutter is very smooth, and I believe it shares attributes and parts with the Leica R series. Very nice images….

    • Reply
      Terry B
      May 15, 2020 at 7:36 pm

      Louis, yes, the meter works in manual mode.

  • Reply
    Mike
    May 15, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    Outstanding article, in.every way. I have a small stash of Minolta af lenses for my ancient Sony dslr, and I keep an SRT101 set up for macro shooting. Minolta was very innovative, and almost always produced quality. But let’s not let too many people know…….

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    May 15, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    I had a Minolta XG 1 for a while, and except for a slowly desilvering mirror it was a great easy SLR. I loved the touch-sensitive shutter button. https://blog.jimgrey.net/2013/07/19/minolta-xg-1/

  • Reply
    Matthias
    May 15, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Hi Aaron,
    beautiful shots. As all late 70ies Minolta cameras your XG-E meters and exposes very nice. Esp. the dog toy picture is awesome. And get yourself the XD-11, it’s worth the money. I have a very beautiful XD-7 (as I’m in Europe) in almost mint condition. It’s the greatest SLR I’ve ever used with a fantastic bright viewfinder (the one of the XG-E shouldn’t be worse) and and an always-on lightmeter (and no battery-life-problem though) with no need for an on/off switch. Depth of field preview, same nice shutter-speed dial, exposure compensation, all you need in a camera and not more. And get some nice cheap Rokkor lenses, they are also worth it.
    Regards Matthias

  • Reply
    Andrew B
    May 15, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    Also, the 50mm 1.4 makes your somewhat raggedy XG look even better. Such a great lens!

    You could always get some new camera leather (maybe a 70s-era pastel blue?) but maybe that would be too much, defeating its love-me-for-what-I-am vibe. I enjoyed your story.

  • Reply
    Peter
    May 15, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Aaron,

    Thank you for another delightful, informative, and hilarious read!

    “My uneducated guess is that the Minolta folks were trying to save money by sharing parts with the XD. All well and good, but I still can’t believe that a group of seemingly intelligent men (and they had to be men; it was the 1970s, and besides, no woman would suggest anything so asinine) got together in a conference room and convinced themselves this was a good idea. Only from the mind of Minolta, I guess.”

    That one earned a spit-take of Twinings Irish Breakfast! You brought back memories of a 7 year old telling his father to drop the Ricoh and get the Minolta because the TV said they’re better.

  • Reply
    Murray Kriner
    May 15, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for a brief glimpse of your friends gift, in the Minolta XG-E. Own quite a few of this Gen, just not the venerable XK, which can linger on its lofty perch with other cameras I can’t afford. The only one I know comes close to your past forays interest would be the XG-M which has metering for manual over-ride. I enjoy the looks and design of all the XG series, finding the lenses a real joy as well, with a broad range of options, and some truly glass. Glad you wrote this article, and hope you enjoy your friends gift immensely. Be safe & very well my friend.

  • Reply
    Sroyon
    May 19, 2020 at 2:12 am

    Really good photos and a very entertaining read. Get the XD-11, you won’t regret it! Or here’s a secret: the XD-5 is nearly identical and often much cheaper. The smooth film advance, satisfying sound of the vertical-traverse metal shutter – it’s a great tactile experience. The 50mm f1.4 is a great choice too. If you want to add a couple more, the 28mm f2.8 and 135mm f2.8 are amazing value for money. Minolta sold these in the thousands, so they are common, therefore cheap, therefore underrated. But so good.

    • Reply
      Wayne Kuban
      June 8, 2020 at 3:06 pm

      I believe you made an error claiming the XG has an Automatic mode, which none of the XG cameras had. The “A” on the dial is aperture-priority mode. Lastly, your meter must have been broken as all my XG camera meters worked fine no matter the dial setting. I sometimes miss my Minoltas. Great film cameras.

  • Reply
    spaq
    May 19, 2020 at 10:11 am

    How is it ragged? The leatherette is coming apart in few places, but the top looks scratch-free. A reskin or just gluing down the pieces would work wonders.

    I do own an XG-1 with the 1.4/50, and I like it a lot too. I’m only missing DoF preview, the rest is absolutely fine. The meter being disabled in manual mode is silly, I agree, but I don’t use it that often (the compensation dial does the job most of the time, if something unconventional is required). I do want to get the other Rokkors, mainly 2.8/135 and 3.5/28 (which is sharper than 2.8/28), but for now I use legacy M42 lenses with a simple adapter, and while they’re not expensive lenses by any means, I don’t see the need yet.

    As for aperture priority… well, I think of manual as aperture priority with extra steps. I do use fully manual, meterless medium format cameras, and I usually think in terms of the aperture first anyway.

  • Reply
    Jeff
    May 31, 2020 at 1:42 am

    Yay, love for Minolta! The XD series from Minolta are very similar to the XG-E here, but the XDs are built tougher and, key: the metering still works in manual mode. I think Minolta just disabled manual metering it in the XG series on purpose to justify the big price difference. The XG was supposed to be the cheaper consumer version of the XD. The XD-7 (aka XD-11 aka XD) is fantastic. They use half-press rather than the touch sensitive button, but that’s actually a bonus for the XD over the XG for me, because it means the XD doesn’t have or need an on/off button. One less thing to fuss with. Anyway, the XD-7 (aka XD-11 aka XD) is hands-down my favorite camera to use.

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