Hand-me-down Heroes : No. 1

We love cameras. We love geeking out about their wiz bang specs, elaborate craftsmanship and proudly share/boast about our technical and ergonomic marvels. This series however, will open the aperture on perhaps an oft overlooked aspect of our gear: sentimentality.

Hand-me-down Heroes is a new series aiming to share the stories of the machines that started us down this rabbit hole. Bequeathed by a family member or close friend, these are the cupid cameras that pierced us with the arrow of photographic obsession. Though they may no longer be our daily workhorses, lack some luxurious features, or missing that brand image, the memories they’ve witnessed and the valuable lessons learned have no price tag.

My Father’s Camera : Minolta X-700

The Minolta X-700 came out in 1981 as Minolta’s top-of-the-line manual focus SLR system camera. As such, this was the camera that literally captured every childhood memory I have. My father had always lusted for a Nikon F2 from his days back in Vietnam, but could only afford to splurge on the Minolta X-700 to document the formative years of yours truly.

The European Camera of Year 1981 was no slouch, but I vaguely recall richer uncles and family friends scoffing at Minolta as a brand inferior to Nikon, Canon and Pentax. I can also remember classmates giving me $h!t about my Turntec sneakers because they weren’t cool like their Nikes and Adidas. Nevermind that I kicked most of their asses in running, a brand inferiority complex had often plagued my youth.

The brand worshipping brain washing was hardwired deep. I remember meeting a guy one time and talked about hobbies and what not and he said he played guitar. I asked him if he was a Fender or a Gibson guy, to which he replied that he uses an Ibanez. “Pffft,” I thought to myself and disregarded him as a legit player. I don’t even play guitar! There is not one musical bone in my body. I basically only knew those guitars and judged a guy on something I don’t even do based on “brand names.” As it turns out, plenty of legit metal and thrash players swear by Ibanez.

Fast forward to university

As a graphics design major, I was required to take an analog black and white photography course as a prerequisite at university. I was a broke ass college student and didn’t have the ends to swing no camera so my dad pulled the X-700 from the dusty shadows of the past and presented it to me at a ritual ceremony underneath a sacred waterfall. “I remember this thing…ain’t no Nikon but oh wells, thanks Dad.”

After shooting a roll of Kodak Tri-X, self-developing and spending a few hours in the darkroom printing, it was game over. I was hooked.

Of course the rich kids in the class had their Leicas and Nikons. But for once, I did not care about the printed letters and saw the camera as a just tool for the first time. The Minolta X-700 is an amazing machine that did not get in the way. It let me focus (badum tish!) on the fundamentals and I learned everything from manual focusing and depth of field to exposure and composition on this X-700.

The 50mm f1.7 lens was plenty fast enough and the angle of view is close to real life. Minolta was one of the few companies who made their own glass and they were great. I mean Leica thought they were worthy enough to collaborate with right? I didn’t need those Nikons and Canons the other kids have to take better photos than them. Thus began a 20 something year love affair with photography that shows no sign of waning any time soon.

The Minolta X-700 now

Yeah I have a Leica now with Leica glass. The rangefinder way to shoot suits me, and Leica prices 10 years ago weren’t as bonkers as there are now. But in terms of SLRs, the Minolta X-700 is still my only one. I’ve owned several SLRs over the years but the X-700 still sticks around. It’s never been serviced and 40 years on, this thing keeps on ticking.

The Minolta X-700 has been knocked for being plastic but the bottom plate and levers are metal and shows patina from usage. The body is indeed plastic but robust enough to last 40+ years and keeps the weight down. It is also an entirely electronic camera and will not work without a battery or if the internals get fried. But again, 40 something years old, I’ve had it for 20 something years now and it hasn’t given me any headaches (knock on wood).

A good point about an electronic camera like the Minolta X-700 is the the turn off switch. Often times i’ll wind the Leica but not take a shot and lose the shot once I put it back in a bag and something pushes the shutter button. The shutter speed dial on the Minolta X-700 is brilliantly designed and you can have the film advanced and then turned off to not trip the shutter during transport of storage.

Sample Images

The 50mm f1.7 is a great super affordable normal lens to get started on and focuses to 45cm!  The following were taken on Kodak Gold (the film of my childhood memories) and self-developed with Cinestill df96 and scanned on a Plustek Opticfilm 8200i.

What’s your Hand-me-down Hero?

The Minolta X-700 is my Hand-me-down Hero and I will cherish it forever. I hope to shoot my own kids on it soon and God willing, have them shoot their kids on it as well. It’s not super sexy, it’s cheap as chips but it is a no nonsense machine that does its job well and without complaining. There are no MTF charts or DXOMARK that can put a number on its value, it has taught me lessons beyond the mechanics of shutter speeds and aperture. I am sure y’all feel the same way about yours.

Do you want to be a part of Hand-me-down Heroes? If you’d like to share with us on Japancamerahunter.com, send us a short story of what/ how you acquired your Hand-me-down Hero and relevant photos, optimally sized 1500px across.
Oh and don’t forget your contact details (Insta, website, flickr et al). Send your Hand-me-down Heroes here.  And please make sure the shot is of good quality, you are a photographer after all.