Resurrecting a beloved Minolta A1 during some snowy Jankuary isolation

By Dave Powell

For Jankuary 2024, I’d planned to grab some walk-around landscapes after a recent snow storm… with the above Minolta DiMAGE A1 “prosumer” digicam slung over my shoulder. But I’m recovering from Covid, and my wife very gently called my plan “the worst idea EVER!  So I reeled it back to just seeing what I could shoot out through our condo windows.

A Great Old Camera

Now, the 5-megapixel Minolta A1 isn’t really “Janky.” But it is old! One of the highest-rated digitals of 2003, its hard-to-beat features included:

  • World’s first “anti-shake” technology, which jiggled its CCD sensor to compensate for hand-motion.
  • Nearly 60 shutter speeds from 1/16,000th to 30 seconds.
  • All important controls are on the camera body (rather than only reachable via menus).
  • An excellent 28-200mm (equivalent) f/2.8-3.5 APO lens, with 16 glass elements (2 AD and 2 aspherical) in 13 groups.
  • A real mechanical zoom ring with effective focal lengths marked (no “fly-by-wire” here).
  • A solid, well-balanced metal body and comfortable rubber hand-hold.
  • Tilting EVF and LCD panels, with 100% frame views plus enhanced B/W low-light viewing.
  • Easy switching between image taking and reviewing without having to remove one’s eye from the viewfinder.
  • And a petal sunshade that is conveniently stored backwards on the lens.

But as with many early-2000’s digicams, there were compromises:

  • It uses CompactFlash cards (which I actually love).
  • Its low-res EVF has some moire and color-smearing issues.
  • Shutter lag of a second or more. If you intend to shoot action, just remember Clint Eastwood’s immortal question: “Are you feeling LUCKY?”
  • ISOs to only 800 are supported, with 400 being the safest limit for low-noise JPEGs (though RAW files were OK at all ISOs).
  • Closest macro focus is about 6 inches.
  • Not a biggie for most people, but I love to shoot digital infrared. And as you can see in this article, the A1 is Janky-awful at that!

Still, it was a highly rated piece of 2003 kit.

Views from Indoors Out

Over 24 hours, our storm dumped 14.5 inches of snow on the town, but 19 inches on our hilltop condo. The precipitation (and lighting) varied from overcast blizzard to full, clear sun. And the camera handled everything well– even produced some “film-like” results. Shot at ISO 100, they were all good, but here are the best:

At Christmas, we decorate the wall outside our front door with a picture frame around a small artificial wreath.
Here’s the view from our dining room over the back deck (I didn’t enhance colors in these shots).

 

A broader view of the back hill from our screened porch.

That hill is much steeper than it looks. Better to climb up than down! And those weathered cedar fences are so old that the trees they’re bolted to are growing around them. We believe that a dairy farm was once here. And as shown below, the fences form a kind of funnel that may have channeled cattle into a hilltop corral. Partly visible between the fences to the right of middle is an old granite hitching post with its iron “rein rings” intact (but covered in snow):

The camera’s 7x optical zoom pulled in a closer view of that hitching post.
I’ve never before seen this effect. The wood finials atop the posts were encased in snowy spheres. And little snow wreaths encircled the posts below them. Weird!
Some mid-storm branching action.
And deck chairs near the end. By this point I’d already scraped 10 inches of snow off the furniture and deck. And this photo reflects the additional 9 that fell after.
A more “abstract” view of those chairs.
Some “snow lollipops” outside the screened porch.
Icicles outside our bedroom window– shot through a Janky, low-tech, “window-screen filter.”

And finally, a three-season seating area in front of our building. Nearby, a glacially deposited boulder hosts a lichen that could share its birth year with Galileo! The reason I think so is described in this article. NOTE: I shot this scene through the same window screen as the above photo, but the camera saw right through it.

Not Too Bad!

As mentioned earlier, I did not artificially enhance the photos’ colors. My only post-processing was to re-spread RGB tones across their entire ranges using the Levels command. As you see, the Minolta A1’s exposure meter does a nice job. It’s one of the two digital bridge cameras I’ve kept.

The other is a higher-spec 8MP Olympus C-8080 WZ, with its own amazing lens. As described here, I use it to quickly digitize film for my 35mmc articles. And that’s possible because– while the camera’s specs claim its Super-Macro mode focuses down to around an inch away– when set as described in the article, the distance shortens to about half that.

So with the Olympus around, why do I keep a 5MP Minolta A1? Five main reasons:

  • Its 7x optical zoom in a more compact body than the Olympus’s (with a shorter 5x zoom).
  • That fully manual zoom ring (versus the Olympus’s toggle switch).
  • The A1’s articulating EVF and rear LCD (seen in the opening photo)… as opposed to only an articulating LCD on the Olympus. The A1 viewfinder also swings up to fully vertical– perfect for taking “look-up” shots of mushrooms!
  • The clever way its “anti-shake” technology conserves battery power. In most later cameras, the feature is either on or off. But on the A1, you first push a button on the camera back to put anti-shake in “stand-by” mode… and the feature kicks in automatically whenever one’s fingers wrap around metal strips on the front of the hand-hold! (They’re visible in the opening photo.) And as soon as one stops holding the camera, anti-shake returns to stand-by. Very clever, and it still works well.
  • Those– plus the A1’s more compact, but just as sturdy, form factor– make the camera a super-flexible “weekender” when I don’t really need my 20MP Lumix ZS100’s 10X zoom.

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

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About The Author

By Dave Powell
Trained in mathematics, physics, cosmology, computer programming and science journalism. Retired mathematician, award-winning technical and journalistic writer. 1989 winner of the Bruce B. Howat Award-- an international business-journalism equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. (Only one Howat was awarded each year, IF the committee in Geneva found an article they really liked. But I don't think the prize is granted anymore.) Also a past author and editorial advisor for Sesame Street... where I regularly worked with Jim Henson and Kermit!
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Comments

Rob Stammers on Resurrecting a beloved Minolta A1 during some snowy Jankuary isolation

Comment posted: 02/02/2024

A great read, particularly as I have all three cameras mentioned: The Minolta A1 & A2 ( in their original boxes both mint condition), as well as the Olympus C8080. I agree totally these are darned fine cameras which I too thoroughly enjoy using. Also mentioned in a comment post is the really fine Minolta Dimage 7i, which I managed to buy for a paltry sum, in absolute mint condition, as with the A1 & A2, all the vital controls are are the bodies of these cameras. The A1 & A2 and the Dimage 7i have indeed become cult and collectable early digital cameras, with great ergonomics and still produce great results. Regards Rob (uk)
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 02/02/2024

Thanks Rob... and they all come from what is widely considered the "Golden Age" of CCD cams! I once found a website where a pro photographer admitted to collecting as many of these models as she could find... 'cause they are still so darned good. Wish I could find her site again! Cheers, Dave

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Roger on Resurrecting a beloved Minolta A1 during some snowy Jankuary isolation

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

It makes me want to get my Minolta 7i into action again. Yes, subject to their being 5mpix, these are remarkably good cameras, with controls that put many other cameras to shame. An enormous number of settings can be adjusted without going into any menus. Great that yours is still working well. The plastic zoom ring on my 7i eventually disintegrated, and had to be removed, meaning zooming involves pushing and pulling the lens in and out. I guess the A1 was better made.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Agreed all around, Roger! Before buying the A1, I thought about getting a 7i. But its IR-blocking "hot mirror" was much stronger than the previous 7's. And sadly, the A1's is too. However, as I discovered, its visible-light images can't be faulted!

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Geoff Chaplin on Resurrecting a beloved Minolta A1 during some snowy Jankuary isolation

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Frighteningly good shots and colour rendition! I hope you are fully recovered from Covid.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Thanks so much Geoff! And I have recovered (thanks in large part to the genius design of the Paxlovid defense drug). It was actually fun to run around the house-- sniffling, sneezing, and shooting out through our windows!

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Bill White on Resurrecting a beloved Minolta A1 during some snowy Jankuary isolation

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

I have a Konica-Minolta Dimage A2 and loved using it for years, when it was my only digital, and now I cannot give it up. I also have an Olympus C7070 Wide Zoom that renders very nicely (CCD). Love the article Dave!
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Wonderful, Bill! The A2 had certain advantages over the A1, and I debated getting the A2 as well. Probably should have... if only as a backup if the A1 ever croaks! Cheers, Dave

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Ibraar Hussain on Resurrecting a beloved Minolta A1 during some snowy Jankuary isolation

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Thank you my friend ! Really enjoyed the article and the lovely winter photos !! Amazing now well this holds up I used to have the KM A200 and then the A2 which I believe are this A1’s successors. Both a joy to use and have a cult following! You have inspired me to have a look for another one - either of the two I used to have.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

I'm so glad my friend... and you're welcome! The A1's CCD images continue to amaze me. But WOW... I hadn't heard of the 8MP A200! A tilt-twist rear LCD would certainly make up for its non-tilting VF. (And I'm sorry about my late reply to these comments. Since the new site cut-over, I haven't received comment email notices. I've notified Hamish that comments seem to be "auto-posting" now without "moderation"!)

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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Likewise I have missed comments. The A200 I’m going to get on Wednesday Complete mint boxed example for under $50. Going to be fun! Thanks again

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

WOW... Under $50... Me Jealous!

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