Minolta SLR film cameras: SR-T 200 and XE-7

Minolta SR-T 202
The Minolta SR-T 202 sports fully manual mode, CLC TTL metering, a shutter button and not a whole lot more. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Minolta built one of the first SLR cameras with TTL metering in the SR-T 101, and the SR line continued on to include some of the most solid cameras ever made.

The SR-T 200 was the first film SLR camera I ever owned myself. I bought it with a 45mm pancake lens at a thrift store. I found the XE-7 at another thrift store, with a much nicer lens. For a while, they were my only film SLRs.

I was excited by the opportunity the Minolta system afforded to buy good glass pretty cheap, and the quality of the cameras overall is still superb. Minolta never quite had the gravity of Leica, or later Nikon and Canon, nor the massive market of Kodak, but they still turned out some great stuff.

So I picked up some more lenses and other accessories at thrift stores and elsewhere, and eventually got another SR-T 200.

Then I got a Canon AE-1, which started to supplant the Minoltas. Then I got the Nikon FM2n. My love affair with the Minolta SR series isn’t over, but my daily driver has moved on to Nikon.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t made some memorable frames with them. I used the XE-7 for a dozen or so rolls of film on our trip to canyon country in southern Utah, like this one:

Steam on Utah highway 261
Steam rises from the asphalt on Utah highway 261 south of the junction with highway 95 after a sudden blizzard dropped about 1-inch of snow in an hour early in the afternoon of an otherwise beautiful day. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The SR-T 200

The SR-T 101 was a major upgrade from its predecessors when it was introduced in 1966. It featured an aperture coupling that automatically connected the lens to the meter (one of the earliest), and had the first matrix metering system in an SLR, called “Contrast Light Compensator.” It uses a couple different sensors on the pentaprism to compensate for uneven lighting, preserving shadow detail in exchange for allowing a touch of overexposure on small amounts of extreme brightness — it tries to achieve a truer average exposure than other meters of its day (and does pretty well at it).

The meter is a needle and ring style, with the ring changing positions inside the viewfinder as you adjust the shutter speed or film speed. The needle is controlled by the metering circuit and accounts for the aperture. When the needle is lined up in the center of the circle, the exposure is correct. The width of the circle seems to be about one stop, so you can edge the outside one way or the other for about 1/2-stop of exposure compensation if you need it.

The meter is turned on or off by means of a rotating switch on the bottom of the camera. It’s flush with the bottom panel and features a knurled edge you have to press your thumb or finger into to get enough traction to turn the switch. The switch has three positions for battery check mode, on and off. Battery check mode sends the needle to a small square marker along the meter edge in the viewfinder and holds it there if the voltage is correct.

Minolta SR-T 200 back
The DIN-ASA conversion chart on the back of the SR-T 200. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The SR-T 200 was the budget model starting in 1975 and through the end of the line in 1981. It has shutter speeds from 1 sec. to 1/1000 and B with a 1/60 flash sync, supports film speeds from ASA6 to ASA6400, and is nearly unmatched in pure simplicity. There’s a reason the SR-T series are still among the most popular student cameras around.

It has another feature that, while not always necessary these days, can come in handy. It’s a chart on the back of the film door that lets you quickly convert DIN film speeds to ASA. If you’re shooting expired film — expired long enough — you might find this really useful. I’ve got a couple rolls of really ancient Agfa 120 film I’m saving for something special that are only rated at DIN 13, and thanks to this chart (confirmed by Internet research) I know that’s about ASA 16. Given that it’s been expired for almost 60 years, I’ll probably have to shoot it as ISO 0.25. That’s like, 1/4 sec at f/16 in full sun or something. Anyway, it’s a neat feature.

I felt really safe carrying this camera around in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. In case I got attacked, I felt confident I could use the SR-T as a bludgeon without damaging my film, or most likely, my ability to finish the roll…

The XE-7

Minolta XE-7
The Minolta XE-7 with the MD W.Rokkor-X 24mm f/2.8. It’s a little big, but it’s very sturdy, solidly-built and feels good in the hands. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Called by at least one poster “The Crown Jewel of the SR Line,” the XE-7 is about the same age as the fully-manual SR-T 200. It has a larger body and several additional features, though.

For one thing, it works with modern alkaline batteries (the SR-T uses mercury batteries — the Wein air-cell batteries or an adapter are you only options now). It has a more accessible power switch, too, and a separate battery test switch on the top of the left edge of the body with a simple LED indicator.

Flowers lay atop a memorial marker in the churchyard east of the nave of St. John's Cathedral, 14th Avenue, Denver.
Flowers lay atop a memorial marker in the churchyard east of the nave of St. John’s Cathedral, 14th Avenue, Denver. These photos of the Cathedral were taken with Ilford Delta 100 film in my Minolta SR-T200. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Shutter speeds range from 4 seconds to 1/1000, as well as B, X (flash sync at 1/90), and a newcomer — Auto.

Auto is simply aperture priority mode; set your aperture, select the right film speed and any exposure compensation (dial top left), and away you go. Mine seems to work pretty darn well, though maybe 1/3-stop underexposed on shots that are fairly dark to begin with. The film speed knob locks on Auto mode and has to be released by pressing a small silver button while turning the knob.

The shutter release is separate from the film advance lever on the XE-7 (it’s in the center of the winder on the SR-Ts). It adds a multiple-exposure lever, a self-timer, a sync cable socket, and even a viewfinder shield for working with long exposures.

The XE-7 also includes a DIN-to-ASA chart on the film door, but this one only goes down to DIN 12. The film speeds available are from ASA12 to ASA3200 — a slightly different range than the SR-T. A nifty depth-of-field preview button rounds it out (it locks in or out — out is DOF preview mode).

The meter in the XE-7 is a single needle that moves up and down a shutter speed scale to indicate the correct speed for any given exposure. It’s not as easy to see in lower light than the purely mechanical SR-T meters, but they’re not that easy to see, either.

My examples

The first SR-T 200 I found was in okay, but not great, shape. Everything seemed to work, but when I put the first roll of film through and developed it (that was the first roll I ever developed myself, too), the entire roll came out clear — not a single millimeter had been exposed.

So I took it to my friends at Englewood Camera (I am not paid by them, I just have a superb relationship with their staff and love their store) and their regular technician determined the shutter was bad. The meter didn’t seem to work, which he determined was a cord that had come off a pulley (the ring is hooked to the shutter speed knob and aperture coupling by a thin string that winds through the camera body). I paid a little over $100 to have both issues repaired, new light seals installed and the whole thing CLA’d.

The XE-7 looks a touch rougher, mostly because there’s a bit of brassing starting on the corners. Inside, things are similar — mostly great, with accurate shutter timings and serviceable light seals (though they could stand to be changed, at least in back). Everything works perfectly with the exception of the auto-exposure’s quirkiness — it tends to underexpose about a half stop a lot of the time, but that’s easily corrected by adjusting the film speed a half stop slower.

I cleaned it up myself, mostly cosmetically, with a little LCD-cleaning solution (extremely mild and so far seems safe on any plastic I’ve found) and a couple Q-Tips (yes, the brand-name ones). I’ve put dozens of rolls of film through it with good results.

The second SR-T was mechanically in superb shape, but missing the plastic knob on the film advance lever and the battery cover. About $15 on eBay solved both problems and it’s been a sturdy body since.

My favorite Minolta lenses
Some of my favorite Minolta MC/MD-mount lenses. If this were my true dream team, the 24mm would replace the 28mm. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Lenses

Both of the SR-Ts came it me with the kit lenses — MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2.0 pancakes (very short lenses). The focal length is great for a normal lens, and they honestly have pretty good glass. They’re not very valuable because there are millions of them out there, but for a lightweight, walking-around lens, there’s no reason for any Minolta MC/MD-mount shooter not to have one (or two, or three…).

The XE-7 came with a MC Rokkor-X PG 50mm f/1.4, which is a truly superb lens. It features excellent sharpness, great out-of-focus performance and bokeh, and little-to-no vignetting. It’s solid, easy to focus and generally, probably, the best 50mm lens of Minolta’s film days.

Twin Rocks Trading Post
The Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe in Bluff, Utah, sit below the Navajo Twin Rocks monument and offer Navajo arts and crafts, inexpensive expired Fuji film, and delicious Navajo fry bread breakfasts. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I found the MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.4 in a beat-up leather lens case at a thrift store. It feels ever so slightly loose sometimes, but I’ve seen several others online mention the same problem; it doesn’t seem to affect the performance of the lens. My experiences have been slightly better than, but similar to, those of Mikko Niskanen. It’s a touch soft in the corners, and it can be a little unfriendly to harsh lighting or scenes with extreme dynamic range. That said, it’s fast, has incredible center sharpness, and its front element is just a beautiful and impressive piece of glass (read: huge).

A random MD W.Rokkor-X 24mm f/2.8 found its way into my kit, probably also from a thrift store. Reviews of this lens are just as glowing as those of the PG 50mm f/1.4. With the 24mm, the 50mm and a 135mm, you’ve got a nice lens set for most things.

Occupy Denver demonstrator portraits
Portraits of the people demonstrating and mingling at the Occupy Denver encampment on the edge of Civic Center. The variety of people includes young and old, black and white, homeless and affluent, veteran and objector, from many walks of life. Taken after the march and the Veteran’s Day Parade, Nov. 5, 2011.

Also in my collection is an MD W.Rokkor 28mm f/2.8 lens, which is fairly decent. It’s not really a great lens, but it’s very useable. With the 24mm above, there’s not much reason to keep this one in your bag, but it makes a fine backup. Focusing is smooth and easy, and it’s pretty sharp in the center; edges are a bit softer.

The final Minolta lens in my kit is the MD Tele Rokkor-X 135mm f/2.8 with 4 elements in 4 groups (which is apparently one of the most desirable versions [German]). I do love this lens — it’s smooth-focusing and tack sharp in the center (not bad on the edges, either), has effectively zero chromatic aberration and among the best, creamiest out-of-focus performance of any lens I own, period.

Tossed in the Minolta box there are also a few other things: A very nice Minolta molded leather cameras case that fits the SR-Ts, a Rokinon 2x tele-converter and a long Vivitar lens — a 75-205mm f/3.8. The 2x teleconverter is fairly lousy, but the 75-205mm isn’t half bad. It’s not as sharp as a real Minolta lens, obviously, but it’s alright.

Some Cons

Not everything in my Minolta collection has been without issue, though most of my complaints are pretty minor.

The lenses, while great, still don’t seem to match the solidity of my Nikon lenses from the same era (though the 24mm may be the equal of its Nikon counterpart). The sharpness on the best of these lenses is comparable to Nikons and Canons but on anything less than the best, the differences are clear.

The meters on all three cameras require light to be seen — so shooting very dark scenes can be very difficult. The SR-Ts don’t balance well hanging from your neck on a strap without one of the heavier lenses like the 58mm or the 135mm, tending to flip back-down and lens pointing straight up.

The overall sleekness of same-era cameras by Pentax, Fujica, Olympus, Canon, and yes, Nikon, pretty much all beat these Minoltas. That’s not to say they’re not comfortable and quite functional. Just a little more … utilitarian in overall design.

Lastly, the XE-7’s shutter is electronic. Only electronic. When the batteries get too low, the camera locks up the mirror after each exposure to warn you not to try another one. You can still use Bulb, and the X-sync 1/60, but that’s it. Even without using the auto shutter speed mode, the batteries are required. Fortunately, it takes cheap and readily-available alkalines.

My favorite Minolta lenses
Some of my favorite Minolta MC/MD-mount lenses. If this were my true dream team, the 24mm would replace the 28mm. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Final Word

The SR-T 200, despite being considered the “budget” model in those years from 1975-1981, is a wonderfully solid all-manual camera. The XE-7 is one of the finer SLR cameras of its day. Many of the Minolta Rokkor lenses of the era are also hard to beat. Leica, Voigtlander, Nikon, even Canon may have had better lenses overall, but for the money it would be difficult to improve on these low-cost leaders.

For sale

Like the Olympus 35SP I wrote about last week, these cameras are for sale. Not for any reason other than my collection exceeds my wall space (less than half of my cameras fit right now).

I’ll happily entertain any reasonable offer, but here’s an idea of about what I think these are worth:

  • XE-7 body: $120
  • SR-T 200 body (recently CLA’d, with EX condition case): $60
  • SR-T 200 body (less recently CLA’d): $45
  • MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2.0 pancake: $20 ea. or included with an SR-T 200 for $10
  • MC Rokkor-X PG 50mm f/1.4: $75
  • MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.4: $100
  • MD W.Rokkor-X 24mm f/2.8: $290
  • MD W.Rokkor 28mm f/2.8: $50 or included with XE-7 for $30
  • MD Tele Rokkor-X 135mm f/2.8: $90

Every single lens has both caps, though some may not match the vintage exactly. The Vivitar lens, teleconverter and other stuff will be included randomly in sales or offers will be accepted. I’ll throw in some cool vintage straps with the cameras. All told, that list adds up to $870, but I’d take considerably less for the whole lot if you want it. We’ll have to work out shipping costs for anything, obviously, but it’s going to be about $10 for any camera or lens, or maybe 2-3 lenses.

Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Minolta SR-T 200 and XE-7 SLR cameras