review

What I Learned Shooting... #3: Minolta XD-11 -- A Tribute

I’m gonna switch topics from film to cameras and lenses here for the next couple weeks while I wrap up my 2 100ft rolls of Agfapan APX 100. (I’m at #17/36 as of posting this)

I have pretty much all the gear I could want or reasonably need. I have a full shooting set of lenses (and a few extras) in Minolta SR (the actual name of the mount, not MC/MD -- so help me god if I hear one more person call it that...), and in Pentax 6x7 for medium format.

Over the last five years I’ve shot a Minolta XD-series (XD, 11, and 7) camera with near slavish devotion. I’ll test out a new camera now and again --mainly an SRT 102 (seriously underrated), and the Minoltina Al-s (also critically underrated).

I may switch to a compact rangefinder (say a CLE with Rokkor 40/2) now that I tote a Pentax 6x7 around for most of my “serious” work, and use 35mm as a bts/quick journal camera, but I’ll never get rid of my workhorse(s). Also if I end up doing more portraiture or editorial work, and it wasn’t on Medium Format, I’d happily shoot it on my XD.

Let me put a few things out there right now:

  1. I love these cameras so much, when I had all four break on me, I nearly got their serial numbers tattooed onto my ribs (I didn’t -- a friend pointed out that that was kinda Holocaust-ey, and maybe I should avoid that -- thanks Jake.)

  2. I’ve always been a “Minolta guy,” my first camera, at age 15 was an XG-M, the repair guys at my local repair shop Walter’s Camera Repair -- http://www.walterscamerarepairs.com/ -- Call me “the minolta guy.” (not a paid endorsement, seriously, if you’re in LA and need honest repairs done at a fair price and pretty quickly, they can probably help you out.)

  3. Either by gross overfamiliarity or closemindedness, I really don’t like most of the other 35mm camera brands’ SLR’s from the pre-autofocus era. I hate the Canon AE-1, I think it’s a bad camera with a backwards meter, honestly Canon SLR’s on the whole before AF are just straight garbage. Most of the Nikons are nice but badly designed, clunky, or flat out backwards -- good lenses though. I guess Pentax is okay (for 35mm -- Medium Format is a whole different story). I don’t know shit about Olympus -- people who shoot them seem to really like them.

  4. I think most reviews of this camera kinda miss the point of it. Or at least haven’t run  give or take 400 rolls through the the thing. It’s always “Leica this, Minolta that.”

  5. My complaints on reliability are a little bullshit. I probably ran +/- 75 rolls through the damn thing this year. I don’t think most people run that much through their cameras or tend to flat out abuse or over-carry their equipment the way I tend to. I’ll probably keep stricter track next year.

After nearly a page of disclosures and complaints here we go:

Here’s why I love this camera:

  1. It feels really nice in the hand. -- It’s a relatively compact design, but all metal, and it’s weighted really evenly with the 50 1.4 MC, which is the lens I use most as of writing this. I realize this is probably a dumb thing to vaunt as it’s best feature, but it makes it much more enjoyable to use regularly.

  2. It has a quasi-mechanical vertical shutter. While it lacks a really fast sync speed -- like a Contax g2 or a leaf shutter camera -- it can do 1/100th of a second, mechanically. I can shoot any lens I regularly use with it, safely, and mechanically if I have a battery failure. Also 1/100th of a second is fast enough for *most* uses. I know HSS is a hot commodity, but 1/100th is usably fast for me. Also, for an SLR, assuming you get a good copy of the camera, it’s really quiet.

  3. It has three modes in order of usefulness, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority. It’s not easy to accidentally switch between the modes, and they’re all pretty reliable --- the camera actually has a hidden program mode which double-checks your exposure and fixes it -- steplessly.

  4. The meter is good down to EV 1 -- Which basically has you covered in most situations you’ll ever run into, unless you’re a hardcore night photographer, or shoot mostly backlit.

  5. Kind of a no-brainer, which is why it’s #5 on my list, but Rokkor lenses.

Complaints:

  1. It’s a hard camera to fix. My normal shop can do a bunch of fixes on it, but they can’t fix everything -- apparently the circuit board is kinda janky, or not an easy one to fix because of how early-primitive it is in its technology.

  2. It’s not nearly as reliable as a standard mechanical camera. I put way too many rolls through my camera, but I still probably have to send it out once a year for maintenance.

  3. People have started to get in on the camera, and the price of them keeps climbing. Also the number of Black Minolta XD’s keeps shrinking. And if you’ve seen the black finish, you know how great it is. The silver is fine, but the black finish is just better.

What’ve I learned shooting it?

A lot.

I’ve had one (of four) basically since I showed up in Los Angeles five years ago.

Basically, with the XD-11, I’ve used it to shoot everything: friends, the city, my drive across America, my first fashion editorial --- which I’m pretty sure never got released --- and every project I’ve done in 35mm. If you look at my instagram or any 35mm feature or story on here, it was most likely shot on the XD11.

It also showed me what I like and dislike in a camera, and it’s now what I bench my expectations around.

Anyway -- Thanks for reading! If you’ve enjoyed this -- please consider buying a zine in the shop. It helps me keep the lights on here.

What I learned shooting #01: Fuji Pro160s (35mm)

What I learned shooting (#01):

Most film reviews are unhelpful at best, they tend to gloss over how the tester shot what they shot and what their own biases and predilections are. I often learn more about photography and a specific emulsion from shooting large batches of the same film over and over and reviewing it, rather than rapidly changing between different emulsions.

For these reviews, I’ll shoot no less than 25 rolls of a given emulsion.

Today’s Review:  Fujifilm Pro 160s (35mm)

Technical considerations:

The film was indeed expired when purchased, but well stored. I mostly processed in large batches of 6+ rolls at a time by either D+J digital imaging or (primarily) Fulltone Photo.

Everything was shot on a Minolta XD11 and the Rokkor 50mm 1.4 MC PG, 24mm MD 2.8, and 85mm MD 2.0. I shot everything handheld, and at higher shutter speeds to compensate for hand-shake.

I shot 2 100ft rolls bulk-loaded of the emulsion (+/- 35 rolls), and exposed all of it at EI 100 to compensate for the expiration date, and to slightly overexpose.

Initial Bias:

I like slow film, cool tonality, and relatively even or muted colors. Fuji Pro 160s should, by most guesses be a slam dunk for me. I shoot mostly landscape, travel, and street/diary type stuff on 35mm. I’ve also shot the same or similar emulsion in 120 and really really liked it. I absolutely love fuji pro400h and fujifilm provia as well.

What I learned:

For day to day shooting, it was fine, but I found that in many situations, storage dependent, the cool-tone reproduction was actually more of a curse than a blessing. If film is stored correctly from the beginning of its life, it tends to hold up much better post-expiration, and in bad conditions when shot.

Unless you’re sending a bulk roll to a dip and dunk facility, your lab may have to cut your roll (this happened multiple times) if it’s too long. You may also end up damaging a machine or causing an accident if your roll is improperly bulk loaded. Also the metal snap-top canisters, while theoretically more durable have a tendency to fall open.

Cool tone films are hit or miss at rendering bright sunlit days, and you need subjects or scenery with enough tonal warmth in them inherently to show any kind of brightness, as light alone won’t show through.  The nature/landscape of the west coast generally doesn’t render super well on this film, because of that cool tone reproduction.

Would I seek out more of it?

Not actively. It’s a nice film, but not so nice that I’d pay a premium or spend extra time seeking it out. If it happened to fall into my lap at the right price again, I’d snatch it right up.