Minolta 7000, a Plastic Fantastic Camera that Shocked the World
by Marwan El Mozayen
It’s 1985. Minolta starts a new chapter in camera technology: the first in-body autofocus system in a SLR. The competition is shocked…
It’s 1985. Minolta starts a new chapter in camera technology: the first in-body autofocus system in a SLR. The competition is shocked. Overnight the entire market changes. Today, nearly 36 years later, the 7000 is known as the “Sputnik Shock” of the camera industry; just like after the launch of the small 1957 Soviet satellite, the world was different afterwards.
I remember how proud I was when the dealer took a budget-level Revue (Chinon) SC3 out of the display and gave it to me—my first SLR. It was standing next to a Minolta X700 on the dealer’s shelf. At the time I thought, “Don’t even think about that camera, it’s way too expensive for you!” So, when I saw one of the first 7000 models a bit later, it appealed to me like a camera that suddenly appeared from the future, outfitted with what seemed like alien technology with its TTL phase-detection autofocus system and an 8-bit computer system. It was so different from anything else available at the time: no mechanical dials, no film advance lever, just buttons, some of them in chrome, and a big LCD display. It was a totally new design language. And the lens had no f-stop ring, emphasizing that this camera represented the dawn of a new era.
I still remember that I did not really believe that this camera was capable of correct, fully automatic, focusing. I thought it must be a marketing trick—how could this work?! Although I, like many photographers at the time, was skeptical, this camera seemed to be very good. Almost overnight the new creation from Osaka became one of the best-selling SLRs worldwide and made Minolta the market leader for the next few years.
In 2021, most people prefer the typical manual focus, heavy metal camera designs of the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s. An outdated mid-80s plastic fantastic construction seems to be as unfashionable as a white- or pastel-toned linen suit worn with a t-shirt, espadrilles (no socks), and jacket sleeves pushed up to expose an audacious yellow-gold Rolex. But maybe because I am a child of the 80s, this camera has always had some sort of appeal for me. I got my hands on a 7000 for the first time in the early 2000s and shot a few films with it. I remember that it didn’t perform too badly, but I wasn’t fascinated. At the time, I was more interested in the professional Minolta 9 series like the 9000, 9xi, and Dynax9, and excited about the price drop of so many other cameras like Hasselblad, Leica, Contax etc..
But recently, the 80s have made a comeback, so I decided to buy a 7000 to give it another chance. The camera I got is in pristine condition and I only paid 30 Euros for it! It came with the Minolta 4/35-70mm and 4/70-210mm zoom lenses and a Minolta AF flash.
When Minolta launched its new AF System, they also introduced a completely new generation of lenses. One of the “dream teams” was the combination I got in my bargain basement set. The 4/35-70mm was the shortest and most compact of its class at the time and featured very good optical performance thanks to the use of aspherical lens elements. Even today, this light and very inexpensive lens performs well on digital full-frame cameras such as the Sony A900 or SLT 99.
A lot of people give the 7000 no love because of its plastic housing and its typical mid-80s design. Yes, metal has a much higher value for most people. But taking this camera in your hand does not give you a cheap feeling at all! I find it quite ergonomic and the user interface is self-explanatory. And even if you think you messed up all the settings, it has a “panic button” to reset the camera into fully automatic program mode.
You can power the camera with 4 AA or 4AAA batteries, which is convenient. The Minolta 7000 offers an automatic film feed, and after closing the back, it automatically releases four times with a unique humming and sneezing shutter release sound. The camera is generally quiet, though.
The viewfinder is extremely bright, and the internal display informs you about the chosen mode, aperture, shutter speed, and the status of the autofocus. If you have attached a dedicated flash, a small flash icon shows if it is ready to fire.
About that new and amazing AF—yes, it is quite slow compared to modern AF systems. But under normal daylight conditions, and if you know what structure to point it at, it is surprisingly accurate. The AF speed also depends on the chosen lens; some specially-designed lenses like the 28-135mm are quite fast.
Although this was the most advanced camera when it was released, by today’s standards it can only be considered as quite basic. But still, using it over several days and under different light conditions, I must say I enjoyed working with it. All 36 test frames of a Kodak Gold 200 came out without any problems. The Program, as well as Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, did an excellent job.
Do I NEED this camera? Definitely not. But it is a wonderful time machine; when you wear your Citizen LCD watch on your wrist, and have a Sony Walkman attached to your belt loaded with a cassette with songs from Phil Collins, Dire Straits, Tina Turner, The Police, and Roxy Music, you are definitely a part of the comeback of the 80s!
If you’d like to know even more about the Minolta cameras of the 80s, you can read the article in Issue 10 of SGC. Order here.
You can contact Marvan El Mozayenr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images © Marwan El Mozayen 2021.
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