A year and a half or so ago (writing this in December, 2000) Minolta brought out their 9. This was a body aimed at professional level users, designed for ruggedness and ease of use. It left behind the pushbutton controls paradigm, returning to the knob and lever user interface, which had the groundwork laid for it by the classic 600si.
This was and remains a very fine camera, which was welcomed wholeheartedly by the Dynax/Maxxum user community. But there was a problem. Lots of people admired the 9 for its ease and speed, but weren't willing to pay the price monetarily or in terms of weight and size.
Mid-2000, Minolta brought out the answer to that in the 7. Traditionally, the "7" of any Maxxum series is the groundbreaker. The 9 introduced no new technology. It simply took the best of what Minolta had to offer and packaged it up in a very tough package. I have been using one for over a year and totally happy with it. But the 7...
Take the 9. Shave off weight and size. Add 6 AF sensors to it. Add a beautiful LCD dot-matrix display to the back. Add a couple little niceties like a locking back (which prevents opening the back on an exposed roll of film), cancelable beeper, etc. And you have the 7.
Let's look at the major points. The first, most attention getting feature is the LCD panel. This is not a segmented panel like everyone else's, but a true dot-matrix LCD display capable of giving you a great deal of detailed information. It shows you camera modes and settings and can display all the exposure information for a number of rolls of film.
It can also display the scene's lighting over the entire metering area. This allows you to gauge the range of brightness of various areas of your subject, making selecting exposure compensations that much easier.
It can ALSO flip orientation, so that when you shoot verticals all data shows right side up - not sideways!
But the best thing it can do is showing you your custom function settings in plain English (or several other languages). Yes, not by number, but by name!
There is another small LCD display on the top deck. This is limited to giving you exposure information (f-stop and speed) and when the camera is off it shows the frame count.
Another feature of note is the AF area selector. This is a simple joypad arrangement. You press the portion of the pad representing the sensor you want to use. There are 9 of them, with the central sensor being a dual cross arrangement. This is a combination of x and +, giving you an asterisk-type sensor, sensitive to verticals, horizontals, and slanted lines in either direction. The x sensors work with lenses of f2.8 or faster.
The AF system can be set to single shot, continuous tracking, automatic mode selection or manual focus. There is a neat addition - a direct manual focus button under your right thumb. Let the AF system do its thing, press this button, and touch up focus by hand without changing focus modes to manual! Great stuff.
The 7 has a top shutter speed of 1/8,000th. AF is reputed to be the fastest on the market - I'll vouch for the fact that it is extremely fast and accurate. Ambient metering is Minolta's excellent 14-segment honeycomb. Flash metering is the 4 segments, AF system linked sensor introduced on the 9.
Flash sync is at all speeds using the 5400HS or the new 3600HS and 5600HS flashes. You can control these flashes as well as the 3500xi and 5400xi wirelessly by using the built-in flash. One feature I haven't tried (not owning the appropriate flashgun) is the high speed wireless sync, allowing you to use high shutter speeds with off camera flash. Sounds neat. There is also a date/time imprinter.
To IR film users - the 7 uses an IR sensor to count film sprocket holes. This means that the edges of your HIE or whatever will be fogged! Bummer.
Exposure modes include the usual Program, Aperture Priority AE, Shutter Priority AE and Manual. Also there is a green P mode, which puts the camera into full auto mode despite the settings of other controls. Great for a rank beginner or when you're handing the camera to someone to take a shot of you and your significant other in front of Niagara Falls or something :)
Is it perfect? No. What DON'T I like about the camera? In reality, very little. Some of the neat things like built-in eyepiece blind are missing. The AF area selector is somewhat finicky about where you press it. The finder is not the 100% area of the 9, but I'm spoiled. You cannot change the focusing screens yourself. Why not? I don't know why they did that.
All in all, the 7 is a great little camera. It has most of the features of its big brother the 9, but in a smaller package and at a reduced cost. It even adds features of it's own, some more advanced than those in the 9. If you are looking for a super camera but don't want to haul the 9 around, look close at the 7.
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