A few notes from me first. This article was a pleasure to read as it seems the author actually got in and had a good play with this model, and was quite taken by it. Unlike a lot of photography magazines this one does not seem to take a particular leaning towards or against any one make of equipment. For U.S. reader substitute Maxxum for Dynax, as that's the only difference. (Craig H)
Now to the article.......
All text copyright Australian Photography September 1995
Long have I yearned for a no-nonsense SLR with a basic set of goodies, that wouldn't weigh a ton, tax my engineering brain or my pocket. Now the mind of Minolta has created a mighty middleweight , The Dynax 600si Classic.
Turn the camera on and a diminutive LCD atop the body comes to life with a battery health symbol that displays cell strength as well as shutter speed and aperture values. The finder brightness, easily the highest I have ever encountered, will impress, especially with a slow lens like the Cosina 28-80mm f3.5-5.6 which was supplied with the test camera. The clear LCD display below it displays shutter speeds and apertures in large numerals. The finder display dims automatically in low light. A wheel allows you to set the eyepiece diopter anywhere from -2.5 to +0.5, which is great unless you have astigmatism and need cylindrical correction.
If you've set the camera to manual focus, an M.Focus warning appears in the body panel. Mercifully , this Minolta stays in manual focus until you push the AF/M button to change the mode; the 600si won't reset itself raucously to AF every time you turn the camera on or off. Not only does this mean less noise, you can leave the lens on MF for storage and even mount a filter with no fear of damage to the AF drive mechanism. Thanks Minolta for an overdue safeguard.
Turn the large mode knob to Program, A, S, or M to set full auto, Aperture priority auto, Shutter priority auto or metered manual exposure. At the base of the knob is a film transport selector lever with five positions: single shot (in the center) flanked by auto bracket, multiple exposure, continuous framing, and (cancelable) self timer options.
On the other side of the pentaprism is a two tier exposure compensation control - the top one, with a locking button, takes care of exposure compensation (+/- 3 stops) and the bottom is for adjusting your flash exposures (+/- 2 stops, in half stop increments). Recessed into the palm-grip area is the AF mode switch; S for single-shot AF (the camera focuses on the nearest object detected by its sensors and locks focus) and C for continuous predictive focusing of moving objects. In the straight up A position the camera will autoswitch between C and S modes based on subject movement. A dot in the finder LCD confirms focus, and acquires "rings" if a moving subject is detected. Focus confirmation works with manual focus as well but you aren't told which way to turn the lens focus rig to get the right spot.
The 600si sports Minolta's pioneering 3 zone AF, a central horizontal sensor responding primarily to vertical lines, plus two vertical sensors straddling it, sensitive to horizontals. A flick of the AF mode switch set the camera to wide area focus or centre-spot focus. Right above it is the 3 position metering mode selector, the only control which caused me frustration in trying to decipher the meaning of its markings: a rectangular frame, the frame with a spot inside and the spot alone. I assumed the middle one meant centre weighting (the manual offered no help). The colour brochure that came with the test camera had pictures that resolved the issue: the frame with the spot stood for 14 segment honeycomb metering, while the empty frame indicated centre-weighted averaging! Sounds illogical but you don't need to be told twice. The spot was of course, self-explanatory, and meters 2.7% of the picture.
In the middle of the meter switch is a push button marked AEL: push and hold this in for auto exposure lock using the spot sensor. Minolta has a nifty trick up its sleeve: - push the recessed ISO button and AEL simultaneously and you've converted AEL to a lock and stay locked function. Now aim the spot circle in the finder at your preferred subject and press the AEL button once; your reading is locked (memorised even if meter turns off) until you push AEL again or change the metering or exposure modes. Positively brilliant, Minolta, and a marked improvement on even Ricoh's famous one touch AE lock! While holding in that ISO button , push an unmarked button on the right of the lens mount and, magically, a +/- 3 stop exposure scale with a centered zero appears in the finder. That scale doubles as a manual exposure meter as well. Lock a reading with the AEL and a dot appear and remains above the zero.
With the reading locked, you can dial in the exposure compensation you need - the dot shifts to show your compensation value. Now aim the spot at other areas of your subject and a second, moving dot glides along the scale to show you the relative brightness of those areas compare to your locked spot reading. What an easy way to assess the scene contrast vis-à-vis the contrast recording range of your film!
For those who need to bracket, the 600si offers a fast fix: 3 exposures (correct, under, over) 1/2 stop apart. Film transport is set to continuous shooting automatically; the 600si fires at up to 2 frames per second which I found adequate - you may not. The bracketing is canceled if you lift your shutter finger before the sequence is completed. Even a 12 frame bracketed sequence takes little time to set up, not only that, it can be done without taking you eye from the viewfinder.
You can also bracket your flash shots - lift the pop-up flash or fit a shoe mounted Minolta Program flash. Turn the film transport lever to the bracketing position and, when you touch the shutter button, "Fbr" appears in the LCDs signifying flash bracketing. You can add flash compensation via the knurled ring below the exposure compensation control. Sadly, no warning or compensation scale appears in the finder. Multiple exposures are available, up to 9 or more per frame. The counter shows how many exposures of the sequence remain.
Minolta AF lenses have no aperture ring, you set your exposures by adjusting two knurled wheels , one under your middle finger, and another under your thumb. In the program mode, turning either wheel shifts the shutter and aperture. (No its doesn't - Hux) In aperture priority, either wheel sets the aperture; in shutter priority, likewise, either wheel sets the shutter speed. In manual mode, the front wheel sets shutter speeds whilst the rear wheel sets apertures. All settings are made in half stop increments, with the values read out in both LCD panels.
In program mode, lift the pop up flash. With dark or backlit subjects the flash fires automatically, delivering a burst metered through the lens, balanced with the background if at all possible. A lightning bolt blinks in the finder to confirm correct exposure. To force-fire the flash, hold down a button on the lens mount flange with your left thumb while pressing the shutter release. The flash beam is wide enough for a 28 mm lens; its guide number of 12m gives you a reasonable 3-meter reach with an f4 lens. Redeye reduction via 4 pre-flashes is available; the flash also doubles as a focus aid light with difficult subjects.
The button on the right of the lens mount is for depth-of-field preview, a motorised facility that works in every shooting mode but tends to be very noisy. An easily lost cover protects the 3-pin remote release terminal. This accepts lockable cable switches as well as Minolta's fine infrared Wireless Controller IR-1N system, intravalvometers and slave trigger devices.
The 600si has an optional Vertical Control Grip VC-600 that screws onto the body via the tripod socket - you can either use the lithium batter or 4 AA alkaline's. The VC-600 offers a secure grip when shooting verticals (for big handed people!) plus a second exposure control set comprising a release button, an AEL button, two control wheels and a PC socket for studio flash.
Shooting with the 600si was a breeze, even without reading the instruction manual. You can hand this camera to a beginner and get sharp well exposed photos from frame one. This camera has no separate user-set programs for portraits, landscapes, sports or close-ups; it does the sums and sets the appropriate program lines itself. That means fewer mistakes by the user. Minolta calls this Expert intelligence, and it works.
Film loading was positive, with fairly quit advance(one shot or an adequate 2 fps continuous). I persuaded the camera to leave the leader out by switching it off and opening the back one second after the frame countdown reached 0. Autofocus was swift; never once did the camera hunt for focus, which was uncanny. Exposures on slide and print film accurate using the honeycomb meter , while the total control offered by the AE lock (the best ever) was a joy. The shutter release sequence made pleasant noises, reminiscent of all mechanical SLR's, while the halfway indent on the release button was just firm enough to prevent accidental exposure. Flash exposure was dead accurate, even using wireless TTL control.
The camera is no heavyweight and is blessed with peerless ergonomics; the convenience and security of direct read dials are to be believed - the positions of the levers tell the story at a glance. When numbers are important the body LCS panel is large enough to display legible numerals. When you turn the exposure control wheels, the metering dots still travel the opposite way, which is a let down (only Nikon has ever got this right).
The real changes I'd like to see are the mode dial swapping places with the exposure compensation controls (you wouldn't need to take your left hand from under the lens barrel) and a reduction in the depth-of-field preview noise level.
The outstanding virtues of the Minolta 600si are in its mechanical design. Film handling is agile, viewfinder brightness is spectacular; its controls are clearly marked and it has every feature sought by the serious shooter, at an affordable price. It offers a painless transition to automation for even diehard manual SLR fanatics. It can not only be mated with a vast array of high-performance optics and arguable the best flash control system available, but can run on affordable, easily available batteries. Most modern SLR's are unfathomable without an instruction book, but with this camera you (almost) don't need one.
The 600si is a revolutionary autofocus SLR, as groundbreaking as the original Minolta 7000 of 1985. The more I used this camera, the I wanted to own one. MCD (Minolta Camera Distributors) had to remind me three times to return the Minolta 600si to them; I just didn't want to part with it! Enough said.