For a small, but determined group, the Minolta SRT series cameras are still a viable path to SLR photography. Even though the cameras themselves have been out of production for over twenty years and Minolta exited the camera business in 2006, Minolta SRTs are still a hot commodity on ebay, pawnshops and used camera dealers. Minolta no longer makes cameras and digital SLRs are now king of the camera hill. Despite these factors, the SRT camera line is still producing great images.
The SRT101 started the series when it was introduced in 1966. Over the next 15 years, Minolta produced the SRT100, SRT102, SRT200, 201 and 202. The SRT series also appeared with other names outside the US. In addition, Minolta produced the SRT-MC to be sold primarily by K-mart. A similar model, the SRT-SC was sold by JC Penny.
With the huge distribution and rugged metal construction, you can understand why so many SRTs survive today. Yet it would seem they are hopelessly outdated compared with the array of fine digital cameras available. Why would any one want one of these old warhorses instead of a dSLR?
Make no mistake, digital SLRs offer a number of advantages that no film SLR can match. Digital SLR’s allow you to preview your shots, you can transfer images to your computer for editing and you can use the same memory card over and over. In addition to not offering digital features, the SRT lacks autofocus, dedicated flash, program mode and auto film advance — that is a pretty extensive list of lacking features.
Yet it is those missing features that make the cameras attractive to so many current users, With no electronics, the SRT returns the photographer to an era when one’s own knowledge was paramount to getting successful images. As a purely manual camera, the SRT forces the users to learn photography from the ground level. Many users are using a SRT as s stepping stone to learning photography before splurging a full featured digital SLR.
Another attractive aspect is cost. Although there are a number of enthusiastic Minolta collectors, so many SRTs were produced and so many were well preserved by their owners, that good, used SRTs are still plentiful. While first class SRTs may eventually become highly collectible, for now you can easily obtain a good, useable model with lens for less than a hundred dollars. A little searching may turn up models for far less.
Even better, there are literately tons of lenses available for these cameras. Minolta, of course, produced the lion’s share of these lenses, under the Rokker X and Celtic brand names. Vivitar, Tamron, Soligor and many others also produced excellent lenses to fit the SRT series. Unlike the autofocus A-Mount Minolta lenses that can be used on both Sony and Minolta dSLRs, the X-mount lenses won’t fit any dSLR without an adapter. This means you can find some excellent X-Mount lens bargains. As more and more users switch to digital, their old Rokkor-X lenses end up on the auction block. The SRT shooter can find some truly rare and excellent lenses at a price that won’t strain the budget.
Of course there are a few caveats. If you should happen on a SRT model, you have to remember it is at least twenty years old and the original SRT models have been around for more than forty years. Bad things can happen to a camera after all that time, particularly if it has been sitting unused in a closet somewhere. Although the SRTs have reputation for great reliability, always check the camera carefully before buying. After time, the shutter speeds have been known become inaccurate, requiring repair to maintain good exposures, The seals around the cameras back may start disintegrating, allowing light into the camera. New seals are available and it is a fairly simple fix.
Undoubtedly the biggest concern is the lack of a battery for the camera’s internal meter. The meter on the SRT series is highly accurate, but it was designed to use a 1.35v PX-625 mercury cell. Environmental concerns ended the production of he mercury cells, and the available silver oxide cells are the wrong voltage.
This is really a paper tiger. Use of a silver oxide battery doesn’t seem to affect the meter reading that greatly. If you were using 1960s era film, which had very narrow latitude, the voltage difference might be critical. With today’s wide latitude films, I have used the readily available MS76 1.5v silver oxide cell with excellent results.
In addition, the camera will work fine without a battery, so you could use a hand held light meter.
If you want to really learn photography, there is no better way to start than a good, manual SLR. And there are few manual SLRs that offer reliability and accessory options at as low a price as a Minolta SRT.
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