Blog post

Camera Brands: Stick or Twist ?

From Nikon to Minolta and back again.

So what is it with camera brands, why do so many of us feel allegiance to one brand or another ? Even today as the modern camera market becomes more complex with mirrorless cameras from the likes of Fujifilm and Sony seemingly dominating the market, the old Canikon ‘debate’ I am sure is still going on in camera clubs and on-line forums all over the world. This loyalty to a specific brand may seem easy to explain, seeing how interchangeable lens cameras form part of a system, and once you’ve bought into one, changing sides becomes expensive and bothersome, not quite like Rangers buying an ex-Celtic player, but close.

I’ve a feeling though this loyalty goes deeper than just practicality, and deeper still than tribalism I suspect. Maybe it goes back to some of our first contacts with cameras, I remember as a youth I aspired to a Zenit E, being an SLR I might just have been able to afford if I saved for quite a long time, whereas my good friend who lived in a well to do area he had a Pentax, yet peering in the camera shop windows up Bold Street in Liverpool, it was the Nikons which were the the real unobtainium, those cameras that the real photographers used. So when I got older, with less family demands, and some spare cash, it was with a Nikon D3200 that I first dabbled again with photography in any serious manner. A humble D3200, yet it was a Nikon, and that red stripe meant the world to me.

Those first formative contacts with a camera though can come to us at different times and for different reasons, yet still with that idea that such and such a camera is the absolute pinnacle for one reason or another. Eventually, for the large part, I got fed up with the whole digital thing and wanted something that made more sense in its use and felt like a direct line to the sort of photography I admired, from the likes of Fred Herzog, Stephen Shore and Robert Frank to name but a few. So looking around for an analogue camera I ended up focussing on Minolta, thanks to a large extent to Antony Hand’s web pages, I must have read and re-read that whole website umpteen times over, and I still return to it regularly to this day. That website though told me one thing, the Minolta XD range was the best analogue camera that was ever made, manufactured when cameras were still produced from hunks of metal, but with all the modern attributes of A,S & M modes, all in a single camera. That was it, I was a Minolta convert, which prompted the start of what is now a significant collection of Minolta cameras and lenses.

Yet I have changed, back to Nikon, only analogue this time round. Why would that happen? The Minoltas are great cameras and the MF lens range is amazing, even better than Nikon if you ask me, although I admit it’s close.

The fact is we as analogue camera enthusiasts, are largely living on borrowed time, the cameras are getting older, more accidents are happening, cameras falling out of our camera bags, general wear and tear from use and being schlepped from one side of the country to the other. Perishable parts perish, our cameras are getting older, the first Minolta XD was introduced in 1977, that’s 44 years ago.

Yet its true that old cameras can be repaired, I dropped my first XD7 in Delft, Holland, when the split ring managed to fail and I couldn’t grab it before to my horror it clanged onto the concrete at my feet, busting the winding mechanism and denting the front of my beloved 24mm f2.8 Rokkor. When I got home to the UK it was sent off for repair, and it came back and it seemed to work, but it was never quite the same, focus was never as sharp, the winder never as buttery smooth. So I bought a cheap XD11 body, and that wasn’t really any better than my XD7. So I bit the bullet and imported an XD-S from Japan, a late model, as new as I was going to get, and for some time it all worked like a dream again. Until the XD-S succumbed to the Achilles heel of many Minolta cameras , the plastic part which you feed the film into on the winder cracked, and frames started to overlap. So again off to be repaired it was sent, luckily I found a repair shop with a spare winding mechanism. Yet when it came back, again yes it was fixed, but that buttery smooth winder was just no more.

You can see where I am going here, I was getting a bit fed up with Minolta repairs, and the Nikon cameras were calling, especially ones made more recently, at the end of the day there is no substitute for a camera that is just that bit newer, especially if you are more than an occasional film shooter, if you shoot anywhere near or above 100 rolls per annum, you need a reliable camera. Many Nikons, especially the F range were built to last as well, to take a beating when under the duress of professional use. In being made like that some perhaps feel a little agricultural compared to say a Minolta XD, heavier and bigger, the dials stiffer to turn, lock buttons where perhaps you’d prefer there wasn’t the need to have one. But it’s those very features which keep them running into old age, I’ve an F2A with the DP-11 photomic head, probably made around 1977 the same as the Minolta XD, it doesn’t look pristine, it feels like handling a brick, yet it works perfectly, all the controls are where they should be, and it’s capable of taking better photos than I can aspire to.

Nikon F2A with DP-11 photomic head.

So here I am, an amateur photographer, using equipment that was professional level when it was manufactured. Is that really necessary ? If advanced enthusiast cameras, the likes of Minolta XD, Pentax Super ME, Canon A-1 etc were still being made today, then those would be the cameras I would want to be using, without a doubt. However, given the ravages of time, and the inherent subsequent reduction in reliability, then being forced up the product range is inevitable. Such that there is now a need to consider professional level equipment just to guarantee that you will be able to capture the photograph you intended. Thankfully the passage of time also means that the used professional equipment of the past is now more affordable for the amateur.

Despite now owning more than one Nikon F range camera, my previous romance with Minolta is far from over, that glass needs to be shot with film, I will certainly never part with the manual focus Minolta SLR’s I own, and more visits to the camera repair shop are inevitable, it’s just become part of the process. In particular the SRT’s, which while being even older, have a robustness not too far away from that of the Nikon F’s. The SRT’s I feel would be most worthy of further repair shop attention, making them more precise and reliable to use would be the way to go. However they will not take over Nikon for me as being my routine choice for photography, it’s just that Rokkor glass is much too good to be ignored long term.

Feeling kind of guilty recently about ignoring my Minolta cameras I took out the XD-S, I get that it sounds like an ex-girlfriend or something, but that’s the way it is, so with the 50mm f1.4 lens and loaded with Lomo Potsdam I shot the roll. It was, unusually for me recently, a random walk about, with no particular reason to take photos other than to experience the Minolta again, and it was enjoyable, apart from every time I wound the next frame on, and the memory of how smooth it used to be came back to me. Despite that, I enjoyed seeing the results after developing in HC110 and scanning with my DSLR, please have a look below, and see if you can see what I mean about that Rokkor glass and why my move to Nikon will never be 100%.

© Copyright owner Steve Starr with the exception of company logo’s. First publication 2nd September 2021.