A year with the 9

by Mike Lipphardt

About a year and a half ago, rumor had it the Minolta was bringing out a new, professional level camera body. At the same time there was a great deal of give and take on the internet (Mostly the Minolta Mailing List) about exactly what people would like to see in a pro-level camera body.

Primarily, the contributors to these discussions wanted AF speed, ease of use, and ruggedness. They wanted the bells and whistles which seem to be creeping into camera design eliminated.

Well, it seems as though we pretty well got what we wanted. The 9 is all these things and more. A lot more. I bought one, and have been using it since the summer of 1999. Here's my impression of the thing.

Let's start with the AF system. The trend is to increase the number of AF sensors. Minolta DECREASED the number of AF areas, from 4 to 3, although retaining the number of sensors. Granted the central one is now a cross sensor (that's where the other sensor went), sensitive to both vertical and horizontal lines, but there are still only three AF areas. What does this buy you? Ease of use. At what cost? Very little, actually. The three sensors cover the most used areas of the frame. The interface is easy. Press a button and turn a dial. The AF area lights in the finder (it also lights when AF lock is attained).

AF control? A nice, clearly marked mode switch is on the front of the camera to take you from automatic mode selection, to single shot, to continuous tracking. Manual focus? Also a switch on the front.

While we're up front, that's where the depth of field preview is too, in the form of a pushbutton. No surprise there.

How about the meter? Minolta has been using their AF system-linked, 14 segment meter since the xi series. So far, so good. It handles most lighting situations very well. For tricky situations, there is a spot meter. Flash metering? Now also a segmented meter, linked to the AF system. I can tell you that this is a real improvement. There is less of a tendency to overexpose -one of the weaknesses of the Maxxum camera line, until now.

Now for exposure modes. The system is controlled through programmed AE (autoexposure), aperture priority AE, shutter priority AE and manual exposure through the use of a simple marked knob. Exposure compensation is via a knob as well, for both flash and ambient. Values can be mechanically locked, and the can be set in either third or half stops.

The motor can advance film at up to 4.5 frames/second. Motor mode is controlled with (guess.) a simple knob. This selects motor mode, speed, and bracketing.

The finder? Well, it's typical Minolta. Beautifully bright and clear, with a 100% field of view. This means that some of your image seen in the finder will be cropped off during printing or slide mounting, so be aware of that if you haven't used this sort of thing before. You can make good use of all your image area if you print yourself, with no surprises.

Construction quality? Pick it up. It's heavy, and very, very well made. Ergonomics? Great. I love the way it fits my hands. I don't even need the available vertical grip for portraits.

Let's not forget the little extras. Built-in finder curtain. Sliding remote release cover - not the losable caps. Threaded PC terminal. Lot's of useful customization functions.

Before buying this camera, I owned an 800si. The 800si was a wonderful camera body. But the 9 is a picture taking machine. There are no gimmicks - no pic modes. Nothing gets in the way. Nothing tries to think for you. It's easy to understand and use. You don't need a manual to figure out the functions available to you, and they are all out there, just begging to be played with. And with the way this thing is built, they're gonna be there for you for a long time.

Mike Lipphardt (email: mlipphardt@ameritech.net), Painesville, Ohio, USA, 3 Nov 2000
HTML: Chris Valentine

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