Just when I thought that, as Bob Seger might say, I had nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove, I have another camera to profile for you 🙂
THE MYSTERIOUS MINOLTA X-600
In 1994 there was an article in Popular Photography magazine regarding the “mysterious” Minolta X-600. In fact the title of the article was “The Mysterious Minolta X-600.”
In that article, I remember the late, great Herbert Keppler wrote of how in 1983 he received an express package from Minolta Research and Development headquarters in Osaka, Japan. He went on to say that in the box contained a camera he had never seen or heard of before: the Minolta X-600.
Now before I continue, let me just say that I really loved Mr. Keppler’s articles and his candid and sometimes brash way of writing. I’m can’t remember if he was Pop Photo’s editor or associate editor, but if you read the magazine long enough, you can tell that he was “The Boss” or “The Man” at that publication.
He was a legend in the photography business and to me, his articles were the main reason I was reading Popular Photography. I was somewhat awestruck actually when he sent me a hand written response to a question I sent in, back in the 90s.
I also have to say, I’ve read over the years, so many people bashing that magazine. To me though, it was better than a lot of other photography magazines out there, but that’s a topic for another day.
Now back to the X-600. After reading the Pop Photo article on it, I got the impression that this was not a production camera and I never thought about it again until I came across one, quite unexpectedly, from a local seller’s collection.
WHAT MAKES THE X-600 SO MYSTERIOUS?
Ok, there’s not a lot of information about this camera on the web, but there is some. So I will try to break down what I have read and what I know of the camera, now that I have one.
The camera was produced as far back as 1983. Contrary to what I deciphered from the Pop Photo article, which gave me the impression that the camera was never released to the public, the X-600 was actually sold/given/leaked to the public, perhaps up to 10,000 units (according the the great Rokkor Files website), and sold in Japan only. Obviously, some have made it around the world 🙂
Now what makes the X-600 special? Now you might have a little chuckle when you read this because we’re so used to it by now…
The X-600 was a manual focus camera that had focus confirmation via a green led dot in the viewfinder that appeared once you have achieved focus. That’s it!
So what’s the big deal you say, all my Nikons have done that for years. In fact, nearly all serious cameras, and even non serious cameras have some kind of focus confirmation. It’s a prerequisite. But back in 1983, this was a BIG deal. In fact, if I recall correctly, they made a big deal about focus confirmation in the Contax RX, a manual focus SLR, and that was in 1994, more than ten years later.
No one knows for sure why Minolta abandoned the X-600 project. If you search around the web you may come across something about patent infringement, but I could not confirm this in any way so I can’t state that as truth.
Anyway, the X-600 was apparently a “pre-autofocus” experiment by Minolta, an experiment that may have led to the creation of the very successful Minolta Maxxum 7000 of 1985, the runaway first hit of the autofocus era of SLR cameras.
The success of the Maxxum 7000 ushered in the era of autofocus to the masses, with Canon and Nikon following shortly thereafter.
I’ve only had this one for a short time, a few months, still have film in it. Based on my limited experience, and allow me to say that this may change with time, here are my impressions:
The initial impression upon seeing and handling one is that the camera looks and feels like the X-700. But after you hold it for a short time, you realize that this is NOT the X-700.
The X-700 was my first “real” camera which Mom bought for me in 1985 as a geeky teen with a thirst for photography. I used it for almost ten years straight before I got into all this G.A.S. stuff, and I still have it 31 years later so the X-700 is a camera I know a little about 🙂
The good news for most folks? The X-700 is a much better camera. Not only in looks, but in ergonomics and operations. The X-700 is cheaper and easy to find. The bad news about the X-700? It’s not an X-600 🙂
The X-600 is a much more basic camera, which can be a good thing, but it doesn’t have some of the things that made the X-700 so nice. For example, it doesn’t have a shutter speed dial on top as in the X-700. Instead, the shutter speeds appear in a counter on the top right plate of the camera and appears much like a film counter, which under certain conditions can be hard to see and hard to read.
There is no exposure compensation dial. No ASA/ISO indicator. Shutter speeds range from 1s to 1/1000 plus B. There is NO Program mode of any kind on this camera.
Before writing this article, I tried to research this and could not find any info confirming this, even on the best Minolta sites. So if you come across an X-600, remember you probably read it here first 🙂
I certainly thought this camera would have a Program or Aperture Priority mode, but as far as I can see, it has none.
The camera uses two AAA batteries, which I actually like better than the usually hearing aid type batteries seen in the X-700 and other cameras.
One great thing I noticed is that the X-600 does not drain the batteries the way my X-700 did. I have accidentally left the X-600 in the “On” position for days and it still doesn’t show battery drain.
The viewfinder shows shutter speeds with red line indicators. The focus “window” is a long slit right in the center of the viewfinder. There are right and left red arrow focus indicators and a green spot in the middle which will light up once you have achieved focus. Anyone who has used the focus confirmation feature on Nikon cameras will be familiar with this method of manual focusing.
The “special” focus confirmation feature works, but it needs good light to work well. According to info I have read on the web, the camera needs later MD lenses with an extra pin or post on the rear lens mount which was apparently needed by the X-600, which has two focus aid sensors in the body.
But wait…I am using the X-600 with three lenses, one which has the pin and two which do not have that extra pin, yet the camera is giving me a focus confirmation signal on all three lenses when I achieve sharp focus! Whether this is reality or not, I will have to report back when I am finished with the film. Only then will I know if the focus confirmation system actually worked with these lenses.
In today’s world, I must say that there is nothing outstanding about the X-600 as a camera, other than its rarity and its history which I have tried to relay to you here.
I’m not trying to take anything away from the X-600. It’s a very basic camera that uses batteries. Usually a no-no in my book. And focus confirmation is something so basic now that we just take it for granted.
But we must, in respect to Minolta, remember that this was new stuff back in 1983 and they should be given credit for doing something that moved the camera (as a species, not just the X-600) further up the ladder of evolution.
The X-600 is the missing link, the “Lost Testament” of Minolta’s development and refinement of autofocus. The Maxxum 7000 autofocus SLR of 1985 changed the world forever, but to get to the 7000, Minolta had to create the X-600.
Just as the Apollo astronauts who did the test runs never got the glory of the astronauts who landed on the moon, the X-600 is a rare and largely unknown camera, but just like those forgotten astronauts, without the X-600, it’s safe to say there would be no Maxxum 7000.
The Minolta X-600 is most certainly a Camera Legend. To appreciate that, you must take into account its history. Once you do that, you can then realize that this is indeed a very special camera.
WHERE TO BUY?
The X-600 is a rare camera, based on the low production numbers and the limited information that there is on this camera.
The good news is that they show up every now and then on eBay and I have seen it once at KEH camera. And even better news is that when they do show up, they do not cost a lot. The bad news? You never know when they show up. It could be tomorrow, it could be six months from now. That’s the nature of rare collectibles.
I’m not sure how to say this. You may think I’m just a guy with no life who does nothing, but seek out these odd cameras, and you might have well been justified in your thinking, but honestly, and I’ve said this before…I don’t seek out these cameras, they come to me! 🙂
Seriously! As with so many other cameras and lenses I’ve come across, I found the X-600 when I wasn’t even looking for it. This is a camera that no one hears or talks about simply because not many know about it. When you don’t know about it, you’re not looking for it.
Based on the fact that this is a rare camera, if and when you do find one, you’ll probably come across it the same way I did…when you’re not looking for it.
But assuming you do find one, based on my research, prices are trending at $90-135 on eBay, but you might do a little better if you find one locally. I got mine for $60 with a little haggling 🙂
If you have one of these Camera Legends, I’d sure love to hear about it!
Note: As this is already a late posting, you can safely assume that there won’t be a “Tuesday Titans” tonight 🙂
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