The 700si is of course Minolta's top amateur SLR model, the 9xi of course filling out the 'pro' spec model. As many owners will testify it is a very competent camera hosting almost everything you could want. Most reviews cover the camera solely from a first time use point. Having owned a 700si for about 1 year I have gotten to know the good and bad points of the model. Hopefully I will cover more than just the basics in this review, but if you want the technical details please jump over to the Specs Page on this site.
After the 7xi failed to capture the minds of the buying public (although it has captured it's fair share of hearts - with many happy users) Minolta sought to rectify at least some of these concerns, the foremost being the somewhat difficult controls for initial users of the 7xi (and likewise 9xi). As can be seen with the even later 600si Minolta put to use some clever ergonomic work and market research in the design of the new models. The design philosophy of the 700si was one button - one function and to a user I can honestly say it doesn't take much to get the most out of the 700si. The 700si has a logical operating sequence and is highly controllable with most buttons and controls falling easily to thumb and finger. This sequence continues when you add the highly desirable VC-700 vertical control grip.
The VC-700 is great addition to any 700si, with its advantages beside the logical inclusion of all exposure controls and shutter release, being in the advantage of being able to use inexpensive and readily available AA alkaline batteries or the standard 2CR5 or optionally using AA ni-cad batteries. To a person with large hands like myself the grip also provides a more secure surface for holding especially in the vertical position. Also it gives the convenience of a PC sync terminal for studio flash, although you require a reverse polarity lead for some popular makes of studio flash. The biggest negative is that the contacts on the base plate of the camera and VC-700 can be a little grimed with time and require cleaning with both a pencil eraser and methylated spirits to get a good contact. Also I find that although it provides a secure grip the battery tray catch is a little weak feeling and tends to click about under your hand although I have yet to suffer a power problem because of it.
The autofocus system on the 700si has been improved over both the 9xi and 7xi with some improvements although I unless you were testing side by side it would be hard to tell. Having moved from the 3xi to the 700si I have found that the focusing is both reliable and quick., perhaps not as quiet as the Canon USM range but, I doubt the Canon system is any better. According to technical reviews the 700si system has been improved over the 9xi/7xi in regards to faster subject detection, superior response with low light/low contrast subjects; and substantially increased AF speed and tracking. This all points to newer faster processors and software, which would be likely in a later generation camera. Selected of one of the four focus points are easily manually through the AF button and front control wheel selection or stay with the automated wide-area focus. The AF certainly can track at high speeds though and in this regard is certainly better than anything from Nikon and also Canon, with its ability to track up to 270 kph (150 mph).
On the note of the lens system, one thing that constantly amazes me is how we as Minolta users are so critical of the change from the MC/MD bayonet to the new AF bayonet and always draw comparison to Nikon as an example, yet there seems little criticism of Canon for changing their mounts from FD to EOS with the same lack of thought for legacy owners. I'll leave you to ponder this.
One of the first things that caught me unaware was the hushed rewind and film advance that the camera defaults to. It can of course be over-ridden and will instead do high speed rewinds. The hush mode certainly is that and unless you are paying attention your film will soon be rewound. I have yet to need a faster film advance speed over the 3fps available, although I wonder why Minolta saw fit to lower the speed from the 4 fps available in the 7xi.
Depth of field preview is provided for unlike the 7xi but is somewhat noisy, although it seems effective. It seems as shame that Minolta didn't include a mirror lockup control whilst they were at it. Another new feature has been the addition of a memory setting control (on the left of the top plate). This has, at least to me, been a useful feature. As a person whose main interest in photography is landscape work, the advantage of being able to leave the camera in Program mode, but at a single press of the button have Aperture priority with f16 set has been a real boon. Any combination of controls can be set for one press recall what ever you want.
I have found the manually lifted built-in flash (GN is 12m with 24mm coverage) a better option over the automatic pop-up of the 3xi (and I believe other xi series cameras). The built-in flash is in my opinion an advantage often overlooked, giving you the option of leaving behind the big flash that you might not need, but still be prepared for something out of the ordinary. Something I haven't yet tried, since I still use a Minolta 5200i flash unit, is the high speed sync able with the 5400HS flash. I'm sure you wouldn't need the full 1/8000th sec sync that the 700si and 5400HS is capable of, but if you work within the knowledge that the GN drops significantly once past the normal 1/200th flash sync speed, you have something that can be used quite creatively especially for fill flash in bright conditions or close up high speed action.
The view finder is bright, exceptionally so compared to many of the older SLR's I've used. Some say the brightest around. Screens are interchangeable, with either cross-hairs or grid patterns, but changing is best left to a service agent. Whilst I at this point view finder coverage is 94% horizontal and 92% vertical, which is much the same as other makes and models but I must admit I yearn for 100% coverage. Correction unlike the 9xi or 600si is by diopter correction pieces rather than a built-in adjustment.
Compensation features are fine with both flash and exposure compensation providing +/- 3 EV in 0.5 EV increments. Likewise exposure bracketing is provided for in three shots at 0.5 EV increments on , under and over. A worthwhile addition is the Bracketing 2 card which provides for 3, 5 or 7 shot sequences, and at 0.3, 0.5 or 1 EV increments. This is certainly a boon when shooting print film where 0.5 EV is barely noticeable due to exposure latitude. This new card also provides both exposure and flash bracketing and replaces the Flash Bracketing Card and Bracketing Card.
Although the 700si has a double exposure feature, the Multiple exposure card gives the option of up to 9 exposures on one frame with an option of three sequencing modes, normal, fade-in (gradually increase exposure), or fade-out (gradually decrease exposure). I believe the standard double exposure system can be fudged to give multiple exposures by setting double exposure into the memory feature and after each shot pressing the memory button to reset the camera to double exposure without advancing the film (I haven't tried this personally).
Another few cards worthwhile looking at are the Custom xi card which allows you to set certain camera features permanently, such as leaving the film leader out, auto Dx memory on or off, manual or auto film rewind and other functions. Also the Multi Spot card has been worthwhile. This card allows you to select up to 8 spot readings which are automatically averaged for an overall reading, much like would be done using the zone system. I find this something akin to being the poor man's spot meter. Whilst I'm on this topic the spot meter read 2.7% of the viewfinder image. Finally, although not the last card available, the Data Memory Card 2 is very useful for storing the exposure details for up to 40 exposures.
Sadly the card system's major drawback is that to use these various features requires you to change cards. This is a real letdown of the whole system when you want to record exposure details yet want to use multi spot readings. The only card that is required to remain in the slot is the Custom xi card.
Moving away from the technical merits of the system, the exposure system in the 700si has been first class. As would be expected from the makers of the Autometer and Flashmeter series hand held exposure meters, the metering system in the 700si is basically flawless. The proviso with this being, that you need to understand the basics of metering, as even the best artificial intelligence driven metering system will let you down under some conditions, but if you own and use a 700si you should be expected to have a reasonable understanding of the concept behind accurate exposures. I have found that the 700si's exposure system has enabled me to have a better success rate than before, which I attribute to the superior 14 segment meter over the 8 segment meter in the 3xi.
In the 700si I have found a camera that offers most everything I need or could want. It has sufficient features and capabilities that ensure that it will continue to fulfill my needs as I improve in my ability as a photographer. Its autofocus system is fast and reliable and its metering superior. And finally it has been easy to use from the first time I picked it up. After a short time with the user manual I have been able to use every feature on the camera quickly and easily. I'd recommend a 700si to anyone considering themselves an advanced amateur or who requires a camera that they can grow with.
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