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Minolta Dynax 7 Film SLR Review

Minolta Dynax 7 Film SLR Review - 

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Category : Film SLRs
Product : Minolta Dynax 7
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User test by Philip Weston

Minolta Dynax 7


I sometimes wonder if the word 'Minolta' is Japanese for 'scrupulous attention to the most minute detail'. The new Dynax 7 certainly lives up to that description. Apart from the camera itself, there are a host of tiny little points that suggest this:-

  • the redesigned lens cap that now permits easy removal even while the lens hood is in place.
  • the fact that every Minolta lens comes complete with lens hood.
  • the eyepiece cover with pockets to store PC socket cover and/or hot shoe cover while these facilities are in use.
  • the clip on the neck strap for holding the remote release cable out of the way.
    The list seems endless and these are only the most trivial ancillary items. The attention to detail on the camera is amazing.

 

Minolta have, for some reason, never achieved quite the popularity in the UK which their quality and specifications deserved. In 14 years teaching photography, I only ever came across two male students using Minolta although this was very much the marque of preference among the ladies. A macho thing, perhaps? Certainly until recently Minolta styling has tended towards the sleek rather than the chunky; this trend was reversed with the Dynax 9 and is continued with the latest model. At about the same time, attitudes among UK photographic press also changed, with Minolta now being very favourably represented. A coincidence perhaps?

Overview
That the Dynax 7 is something a little bit different, something a little bit special is first suggested when you see the enormous data panel on the camera back [what an eminently sensible place to put it]. The general configuration is similar to most cameras these days with battery bulge forming a hand-grip and control wheels for forefinger and thumb.

The shutter release on top of the grip has a very definite two stage push, no chance of accidentally tripping the shutter when you are merely focusing and metering. The common data panel on the top-plate is, in this case, quite small and shows only the shutter speed and frame counter. In a step away from Minolta's tradition of everything being controlled by these two control wheels, and in common with the highly acclaimed Dynax 9, the majority of settings are made with two knobs, one either side of the pentaprism. The one nearer the shutter release sets exposure mode - the common program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual are supplemented by three additional 'P' modes where users can store their own preferences. You can set each of these up for very specific requirements or simply leave them at the factory settings which work extremely well in 99% of situations. Concentric with this, actuated by a small protrusion, is the control for single or continuous motor drive, exposure bracketing, self-timer and multiple exposure.

The other knob, on the left side of the top-plate, controls exposure compensation. The main part is ordinary exposure compensation, with a range of three f/stops either side of zero when used in 0.5 f/stop increments and two f/stops either side of zero in 0.3 f/stop increments. Yes, you get a choice.

Another plus point. Concentric with this is the flash compensation control; here the range is two f/stops each way, in 0.5 f/stop increments. Small though these protrusions for the secondary functions of the two knobs appear, I tested use wearing really, really thick gloves and had no problem at all (apart from getting the camera back open). Certainly all taking functions on both the camera and the VC7 vertical control gripwere perfectly usable.

As the makers of the first commercial autofocus camera, Minolta have always been right at the forefront in this department. In the Dynax 7 they have extended matters still further. The camera features nine point AF sensors giving a very wide focus area in the viewfinder and also permitting selection of each of these sensors individually for asymmetric compositions. The centre sensor is a combination of a '+' shape and an 'x' shape which gives remarkably fast focusing even in poor light conditions with a slow lens. A multi-directional rocker switch permits selection of any of the local focus sensors, with a concentric ring to lock the selection - or you can use the very wide general focus zone which covers about a quarter of the whole viewing screen.

All autofocus works well in decent light, it is poor light and/or small maximum aperture lenses that sort the men from the boys. The Dynax 7 is very definitely in the former category in this respect. Given the light contrast in the UK during the test period this is perhaps as well. I used two other marques of camera during the same period and while they hunted for focus, the Dynax 7 locked on and held firmly. Same speed lenses in each case so in these instances, Minolta's focus system proved superior.

Information Central.

Minolta Dynax 7
The biggest single feature noticeable on the Dynax 7 is that enormous data panel on the camera back. In 'normal' mode this shows the value of every single control on the camera so you can see in an instant the drive mode, the exposure mode, any compensations set, the metering mode, the focus mode, the focus zone, even whether the date will be imprinted on the frame or not. When you tip the camera on end for a portrait format shot, the data panel resets so that the information is still legible - and it does this which ever way you tip the camera. It doesn't invert if you turn the camera upside down though!

To the left of this panel are two buttons, the lower is a press on/press off backlight button for the data panel (the light also goes out by itself after five seconds) while the upper controls what data is shown. Position one shows all relevant active settings, position two shows only those controls that you have changed since the last exposure, position three is a linear display of exposure compensation setting (the cursor works in either 0.3 or 0.5 f/stop increments, according to what is selected on the compensation knob, while the display remains in 0.3 f/stop mode.) The final position before returning to position one shows you the shutter speed and aperture used for the previous five exposures, along with exposure compensation used. Above this are the settings for the forthcoming exposure.

Another function of this display button is in conjunction with the AE lock. Meter a scene, press the AEL button and, while holding this in, press the display button. The data panel shows shutter speed/aperture/exposure compensation for the metered scene, plus variation from that setting for each of the honeycomb segments. If a segment is grey then it is the same as the setting at the top of the screen; any variations are shown in f/stops (and fractions thereof, depending again on whether the exposure compensation is set to 0.3 or 0.5 f/stop increments). These figures are shown against a light background where that segment is brighter and against a dark background where the segment is darker than the overall metered exposure. This display works even when you aren't using honeycomb metering mode. By this means, you have an instant check on which bits are likely to be out of the range of the film. Not perfect but a darn sight better than the 'chuck it and chance it' approach.

The back also holds other controls. Firstly, there is an eight way rocker switch to permit selection of any of the eight off-centre local focus sensors. Centred within this rocker is a button to select the central sensor. Concentric with the switch we find a three position switch allowing selection of local focus zone or wide-angle focus zone, with the central position being 'lock'. Just above this focus control is the AE lock button. Again, this has a concentric switch for 14 segment honeycomb metering, centre-weighted metering and spot metering.

Other switches on the back are the on/lock switch on the left and the AF/MF button on the right above the aperture control wheel. All in all, there is a heck of a lot going on behind the camera and all of it in the most logical place.

Ever since I started to market my late father's railway photographs, I have been acutely aware of how useful photographic data can be. The Dynax 7 can store information on every photographic aspect of every exposure for seven 36 exposure films, information that can subsequently be downloaded onto a SmartMedia card using the accessory Data Saver DS-100. This will store data on up to 1900 films depending on the size of the card. It can also be transferred manually straight to a database, as I did.

Every roll of film is allocated a Data number (which is exposed on frame 0 when data storage is selected) and the ISO value recorded. Then for every frame the following is recorded:

  • aperture
  • shutter speed
  • lens focal length
  • lens maximum aperture
  • exposure mode
  • metering mode
  • date/time information
  • exposure compensation
  • exposure bracketing values
  • flash compensation
  • flash bracketing values [including flash on/off status; if flash is off then no data is shown]

 

These can all be turned off if desired. The information is even retained for up to six months if the main batteries are removed because there is an internal battery (non-accessible) that is charged up when the normal batteries are first inserted.

Hands on.
It's all well and good having loads of control over every aspect of picture taking but are they actually usable? In short, a resounding YES. One particular problem that I have personally is that I use my left eye and hence the majority of a 35mm SLR is across my face instead of being in the clear air beside my face. This has often meant that camera controls weren't especially easy to get at. Here, despite the diminutive size of the camera, everything with the exception of the AF/MF button falls readily under the thumb even with the thickest pair of gloves on. I struggled with the AF/MF button even without gloves - it seemed as if my thumb just wasn't long enough. Set against that, how many times did I actually need to use it because the AF wouldn't pull focus properly? None. In my particular instance therefore, the positioning isn't a problem.

The camera under test here was supplied with a VC7 vertical control grip which screws to the tripod socket and vastly enhances handling in portrait format. In addition to a conveniently placed shutter release, front and rear control wheels are duplicated, as are AF/MF and AEL buttons. In other words, you still retain full control of the camera even in vertical mode without having to shift your hands around to find the controls. A definite benefit and well worth the modest extra cost.

In actual use, there are a number of features that are obvious inputs from photographers rather than designers 'bright ideas'. One of these is that the focus sensor actually used is lit with a red light until focus is achieved  this saved me from more than one focusing error where I had either forgotten to lock the selector or simply just left it on the previous setting. Once focus is achieved, the shutter release becomes operable (one of the 35 custom functions built into this camera also enables you to set up release priority instead of focus). There is the option to have audible focus confirmation if desired. I desired everywhere except the odd shot inside church during a wedding!

The first five rolls I put through the camera were all exposed on Program using the 14 segment honeycomb metering (ie the 'I left my brain at home' method which requires no thought at all). Results - just plain brilliant; two frames wrong out of 108 and I'm not sure that I would have got them right using a reflected light meter either. You can't complain at that. One feature that I have always liked in P mode is the facility to control either shutter speed or aperture simply by rolling the front or rear wheels and the camera compensating on the other control. If you like, you effectively have either shutter-priority or aperture-priority without changing that knob on the top-plate. Of course, you always have the facility to change to either of these modes if you require this. Manual exposure, the one that a lot of people shy away from because they 'can't work it' is equally simple. Select the shutter speed or aperture you require, depending on whether you want to have total control over subject movement or depth-of-field. Whichever metering mode you have selected, you simply adjust the opposite control wheel to the original one until the cursor in the viewfinder is on '0'. Viewfinder blocked because the camera is on a tripod and you've used the eyepiece cover. No problem. Press the 'Disp' button twice and you have the same scale and cursor displayed on the data panel - or, using Minolta's own terms, the Navigation Display.

Although Minolta's latest dedicated flash, the 5600HS(D) was supplied for this review, I only had time to use it in my least favorite mode [on the camera's hot-shoe - specially designed to give awful lighting!) it worked brilliantly, as it should! The new 24-105mm D lens sends distance data to the camera. This is then interpreted and flash exposure based on the honeycomb segments in focus is calculated; this method works much better than plain old computer flash and is a definite advantage. The same principle applies with the other three new 'D' lenses, which similarly feature Minolta's latestcircular aperture. There are also wireless and ratio options where the little pop-up flash built into the camera provides part of the light and the 5600 HS[D can be set for either 2:1 ratio or 1:2 [or equal amounts. The ability to create nicely lit portraits with minimal fuss with just one camera and one accessory flash is something I look forward to playing with at a later stage!

One point that has been addressed on the Dynax 7 is PC socket polarity. Most cameras are not sensitive to the polarity of a flash plugged into the PC socket [ie studio flash] but Minoltas in the past have - for example, my Dynax 9xi simply will not fire Courtenay studio flash without a special sync lead. It fires every other type I've tried, but not Courtenay. The Dynax 7 reviewed will fire anything plugged in [as will the Dynax 9], it simply isn't polarity conscious at all. Like the end of an era I suppose; and good riddance too. It was something of a nuisance having to make sure that you had a switch polarity synch lead as well as an ordinary one.

Summary
It would be extremely easy to go on and on and on about how good this camera is. Let's put it in a nutshell. I changed from the market leading 35mm SLR marque to Minolta because I liked what I saw last time I reviewed one of their cameras (the Dynax 9xi) and I very seriously thought about changing from the pro-spec 9xi to the new 7. Very seriously. Still might do it. A seriously good piece of kit, certainly well up to professional grade. Top grade lenses too - as good as lenses get at the moment and continuously evolving. Nice one Minolta.

MINOLTA DYNAX
Technical specifications

Camera Type: 35mm SLR with built-in flash, autofocus (AF), and autoexposure (AE)

Lens Mount: Minolta A-type bayonet mount

Film Type: 35mm film

Eye-start Automation: AF and AE automatically activated/deactivated by combination of eyepiece and grip sensors. Eye-start is turned on/off by eye-start switch.

AF System:

Type: Minolta's through-the-lens (TTL) phase-detection system with CCD line sensors (9-point AF System with Center Dual Cross-hair Sensors (CDC912)). Activated by pressing the focus-area selector, spot-AF button, AF/MF control button (in manual focus mode), shutter-release button partway down, or by Eye-start Automation.
Focus area: Wide focus area. Any local focus area can be selected from the 9-point sensors.
Multi-dimensional Predictive Focus Control for moving subjects.
Focus modes: Auto/manual focus can be selected.
AF modes: Single-shot, Continuous, and Automatic Autofocus
DMF mode (available with a Custom Function): Allows manual focusing without switching from autofocus mode after focus is locked by Single-shot Autofocus.
AF sensitivity: EV - 1 - 18 (at ISO 100)
AF illuminator: Built-in LED aligned with Center Dual Cross-hair Sensors. Activated in low-light/low-contrast situations; Range: 0.7 - 7m (based on Minolta's standard test methods with 50mm lens)


Manual Focusing: By visually monitoring the focus on the Spherical Acute Matte viewfinder screen and/or by observing the focus signals in the viewfinder data panel

Metering:

Type:
Ambient: 14-segment Honeycomb-pattern, Center-weighted Average, Spot metering
Flash metering: ADI, TTL 4-segment, or TTL Average can be selected (available with a Custom Function).
Activated by pressing the AE-lock button, spot-AF button, focus-area selector, AF/MF control button, shutter-release button partway down, or by Eye-start Automation
Metering cell: 14-segment Honeycomb-pattern SPC (silicone photo cell), 4-segment flash-metering SPC
Metering range: 14-segment Honeycomb-pattern: EV 0 - 20; Center-weighted Average: EV 0-20; Spot: EV 3-20 (based on Minolta's standard test method at ISO 100 with f/1.4 lens)


Exposure Modes:

  • Programmed AE (P mode): Programmed control of aperture and shutter speed based on lens specifications and scene characteristics. Pa and Ps modes are available.
  • Aperture Priority (A mode): Aperture can be selected in 1/2 EV or 1/3EV increments. Autoexposure program sets shutter speeds from 1/8000 to 30 s.
  • Shutter Priority (S mode): Shutter speed can be selected from 1/8000 to 30 s in 1/2 EV or 1/3 EV increments. Autoexposure program sets aperture values.
  • Manual (M mode): Any shutter speed/aperture can be selected in 1/2 EV or 1/3 EV increments. Correct, over-/under- exposure is indicated in the viewfinder and Navigation Display. BULB can be selected.
  • Full-auto ([P] mode)
  • Memory 1
  • Memory 2
  • Memory 3
 
Exposure Compensation: Exposure-compensation dial control:
+/- 3 EV in 1/2 EV increments
+/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV increments (+/- 3 EV with a Custom Function)
 
Flash Compensation: +/- 2 EV in 1/2 EV increments
 
AE Lock: Exposure is automatically locked when focus is locked, or when the AE-lock button is pressed.
 
Shutter: Type: Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type
Range: 1/8000-30 s plus BULB (up to approx. approx. 7 h with fresh batteries. Time count-up is available. Based on Minolta's standard test method.); Flash sync: 1/200 s or slower
With shutter speeds faster than 1/200 s, camera automatically switches to High-speed Sync (HSS) (only available with Program Flash 5400HS, 5600HS(D), and 3600HS(D)).
 
Built-in Flash:

Type: Built-in
Guide number: 12 (in meters at ISO 100)
Coverage: 24mm
Recycling time: Approx. 2s. (approx. 3.5 s with Red-eye Reduction or Wireless/Remote Off-camera Flash. Based on Minolta's standard test method.)
Control: Manual switchover. Lift-up for Fill Flash, push down for Flash Cancel. When lifted up in Full-auto mode, autoflash is available.
Flash modes: Fill Flash, Flash Cancel, Red-eye Reduction (pre-flash), Wireless/Remote Off-camera Flash (with or without 2:1 ratio), Rear Flash Sync

 
ISO Setting:

Automatic setting for DX-coded films
Range: ISO 25-5000 (in 1/3 EV increments)
Manual setting: ISO 6-6400 (in 1/3 EV increments)
With flash: ISO 25-1000
Non DX-coded film is set to the previous ISO setting

 
Film Transport: Type: Automatic with built-in motor drive. Auto threading, auto advance to first frame, auto rewind, and manual start of rewind.

Rewind time:
24 exposures:
High-speed rewind: Approx. 5.5 s
Low-speed (silent) rewind (available with a Custom Function): Approx. 12 s
36 exposures:
High-speed rewind: Approx. 7 s;
Low-speed (silent) rewind (available with a Custom Function): Approx. 15.5 s(based on Minolta's standard test method)

Select-frame Film Transport (available with a Custom Function)
Film Chamber Lock

Drive modes:

  • Single-frame Advance
  • Continuous Advance: Drive-speed can be selected from 4 fps*, or 2 fps
    *4 fps in manual focus mode. 3.7 fps in Continuous Autofocus mode.
  • Single-frame Advance Exposure-Bracketing: 3-, 5-, or 7- exposure series can be selected in either 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 1.0 EV increments
  • Continuous Advance Exposure-Bracketing; 3-, 5-, or 7- exposure series can be selected in either 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 1.0 EV increments
  • Self-timer: electronic with 10-second delay, cancelable. 2-second delay (delayed shutter mirror lock-up function) can be selected.
  • Multiple Exposure: 2 or more exposures
 
Viewfinder:

    Type: Eye-level fixed pentaprism
  • Focusing screen: Spherical Acute Matte
  • Field of view: Approx. 92% x 94% of film frame
  • Magnification: 0.8X (with 50mm lens focused on infinity)
  • Diopter: -1 diopter. Eyepiece diopter is adjustable from  2.5 to +0.5 diopter.
  • Eye-relief: Long eye-relief (High-eyepoint) (22.5mm from the eyepiece, 18.5mm from the eyepiece frame)
  • Eyepiece cup is removable.
   
 
Data Memory: Stores photographic data of up to 7 rolls of 36-exposure film.
Every roll of film: Data number, ISO value
Every frame: Aperture, lens focal length, lens smallest f-number, exposure compensation/exposure bracketing values, shutter speed, flash compensation/flash bracketing values (including flash on/off status), exposure mode, metering mode, date/time information
 
Others: Remote-control terminal (with a sliding lid), 35 Custom Functions, depth-of-field preview, screw-type PC terminal (available to both center-positive and center-negative polarities)
 
Audio: Available during self-timer count down or when focus is locked. On/off can be selected.
 
Power: Two 3-volt CR123A/DL123A lithium batteries. 4-stage indicator appears when the camera is turned on.
 
Battery Performance (with fresh batteries):
24-Exposure Rolls Flash use: 20 C  20 C
  0% Approx. 45 rolls Approx. 13 rolls
  50% Approx. 21 rolls Approx. 6 rolls
  100% Approx. 13 rolls Approx. 4 rolls

36-Exposure Rolls Flash use: 20 C  20 C
  0% Approx. 30 rolls Approx. 9 rolls
  50% Approx. 14 rolls Approx. 4 rolls
  100% Approx. 9 rolls Approx. 2 rolls

Trial Conditions:

Lens (24-105mm f/3.5-4.5) is focused from infinity to 2m, three times, and the shutter-release button held partway down for ten seconds before each exposure. Other basic photographic procedures are performed.

  • Battery performance will vary with usage conditions
  • Exposures taken at a rate of 3 rolls (2 rolls for 36-exposure film)/month.

Dimensions
(W x H x D): 143.5 x 97.5 x 65.5mm

Weight: 575g


Sample pictures from the Minolta Dynax 7
Minolta Dynax 7 Minolta Dynax 7
Minolta Dynax 7
Minolta Dynax 7


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Photographs taken using the Minolta Dynax 7

AmandaFoxy...LeylandAmandaCheetah on it's lookout post.Running cheetahAlhambra Interior at DuskThe Pomegranate EntranceAlbufeira apartmentsClassic ChairNear St. Abbs HeadThe Old MillSpring MeadowKite SurferFoz Lighthouse Oporto
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