The Minolta Maxxum 9 – The Perfect Professional 35mm SLR?
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Before we start, I’m going to say a thing; I’m primarily a Nikon shooter. I run with a Nikon F5 and a D750 for my autofocus Nikkor kit and have a pile of lenses of both the Type-D and Type-G variety. Plus, I have a FE, FM, and FA and again a pile of excellent AI and AI-S lenses in the manual focus realm. But none of these can hold a candle to what I see as the perfect professional 35mm SLR, the Minolta Maxxum 9. It’s so good. I only have a single autofocus Minolta Camera.
- The Maxxum 9 Linage
- Camera Specifications
- An Overview of the Maxxum 9
- Maxxum 9 Operation
- Lens Considerations
- Example Image Gallery
The Maxxum 9 Linage
Minolta’s first entry into the professional SLR market had been a bit of a flop, known as the X-1, also known as the XK or XM, depending on your market. First released in 1972, the X-1 had everything you looked for in a professional system camera. The one thing it missed, a motor drive, which both the Nikon F2 and Canon F-1 offered. Minolta joined forces with Leica and produced an amazing lineup of cameras through the mid-1970s and into the 1980s continuing the X line, with the XE and XD (again, XE-7 and XD-11 for us in North America). During this time, many companies were working on producing autofocus systems, including Leica, Konica, Honeywell, Nikon, Cosina, Canon, and Pentax. Honeywell would end up taking many of these companies to court and ended up getting settlements from all of these companies. While Nikon would be first with the F3AF, it proved a dead-end system. Pentax, Canon, Pentax, Konica, and Cosina would all produce their own systems with varying degrees of success. However, in 1985 Minolta hit back and hit back hard. they released the a-7000. We know it as the Maxxum 7000 or Dynax 7000 in Europe. Minolta decided to produce a new lens mount or ?-mount (a or alpha mount) with electronic contacts. A traditional mechanical link housing the AF motor in the body and a simple screw connection to drive the focus elements in the lens. The new mount is a departure from their older manual focus SR-Mount. But they also released seventeen brand new lenses. Some of these lenses were even based on Leica lens design. But the a-7000 also offered up an internal film advance drive and a departure from knobs and dials, opting for buttons, LCD screens, and menus to adjust all the functions. The 7000 was aimed at the advanced photographer; they also released the a-5000, a far simpler camera aimed at entry-level. But then they decided to aim at the professional market; the a-9000 is an interesting beast. It opted for a more hybrid feel. The 9000 used a mix of buttons and dials, screens and direct display. They also left out of the internal film advance motor, going for a manual film advance, making it the only autofocus camera to offer this. Still, there was an optional motor drive or power winder. The system proved a commercial success and launched many other companies from starting their own more successful autofocus offerings. These early alpha cameras were creatures of the 1980s and opted for hard lines and looked like those early VCRs. Minolta offered up their second-generation line of autofocus cameras in 1988, the a-7700i (Japan), Maxxum or Dynax 7000i everywhere else. This included an entry-level ?-5000i and even lower the ?-3000i and a strange ?-8000i. Lacking was a professional model. The two main differences between these second-generation Alpha cameras are that you could reprogram them using a chip system, and they also improved the autofocus system. They also smoothed out those hard lines. By the third generation, Minolta had again changed the design, going for a total departure from any knob or dial, and went for an even smoother look for the camera bodies. In addition to their advanced offering (a-7xi), they had three lower-end options, a-5xi, a-3xi, and a-2xi. They dropped the 8 series but returned a new professional offering a-9xi. The 9xi ended being a decent camera and went with the overall feel of the xi series of smooth lines and blistering fast autofocus that used the idea of fuzzy logic to help set not only the focus but if you used a zoom lens from the xi series, could also guess your composition and zoom the lens to the guessed point. By the mid-1990s, the latest series started to hit the shelves, the si lineup. Again, they dropped any professional SLR offerings. But there are three cameras in the line that is worth noting, a-700si, a-600si classic, and a-800si. These cameras were highly underrated but had fast autofocus, improved size and more compact designs. And it is worth noting, especially with the a-600si classic, they included knobs and dials again, a major shift away from the earlier xi series. In 1998 Minolta returned to the professional market with the a-9 (Maxxum 9, Dynax 9). The new professional camera made from magnesium and stainless steel, fast autofocus, bright 100% viewfinder, eye-start, HSS flash support. And kept that hybrid control options with knobs and buttons. The camera also opted for a wonderfully ergonomic grip, and the VC-9 allowed for a natural grip and perfect balance. Minolta also offered up a special databack that imprinted exposure information between the frames and stored them to a Compact Flash card which you could then export to an Excel sheet. Minolta also released a special edition, the a-9Ti. When Minolta released their SSM line of lenses, they offered up an upgrade to the a-9. Sadly when Minolta released their two digital SLR offering, the a-9 was not offered in a digital form. However, today the Sony a-900, a-99, and a-99ii all grew out of the Maxxum 9.
Model: Maxxum 9, Alternativly Dynax 9 (Europe), a-9 (Japan)
Type: Single Lens Reflex
Format: 135 (35mm), 36x24mm
Lens: Interchangable, Minolta (Sony) A-Mount
Shutter: Electronically-Control, Virtical-Travel Focal Plane, 30″ – 1/12000″ + Bulb
Meter: 14-Segment TTL Metering, EV0 ~ EV20 @ ASA-100, ASA-6 – ASA-6400
Autofocus: CCD Based TTL Phase Detection Meter, Multiple Cross-Type Sensors
Year of Manufacture: 1998-2006
Dimensions (WxHxD): 155x111x75mm
Weight: 910g (w/o battery)
An Overview of the Maxxum 9
The Maxxum 9 is not a small camera. Even without the VC-9 grip attached and without any batteries, it still weighs in at 910g. While the VC-9 and batteries do add a fair amount of weight, the camera overall is well balanced and sits comfortably in hand. Thanks to the ergonomic grip and hybrid use of both stainless steel and magnesium in the camera’s construction. This same ergonomic design can be found in the VC-9, which also places the shutter release about 3/4 from the bottom, allowing it to sit comfortably at your trigger finger. These shutters buttons are comfortable and aren’t on a hair-trigger. It’s easy to half-press without fearing to fire a shot by accident. The Maxxum 9 uses a blend of both physical dials and buttons to make adjustments. Both the camera grip and the grip on the VC-9 have exposed metal strips. These are sensors to let the camera know it’s being held. These sensors act as a ‘safety for the eye-start function. Two other sensors below the viewfinder will get the AF motor spun up and focus the camera for you as soon as you bring the camera up to your eye. A notable feature, and if you’re a Nikon shooter, you’ll appreciate it, is that you have two command dials that you can use to adjust settings along with aperture and shutter speeds. Camera modes are set by a single dial, along with your EV adjustments and shooting modes. A switch allows you to set your metering mode and switches at the front for Auto or Manual focus, along with autofocus mode. There are also switches to turn on and off the Eye-Start function and your flash mode. One thing to note is that the Maxxum 9 has a built-in flash, which can be used as a wireless master strobe to trigger other HSS Minolta flashes remotely. Underneath a spring close door is your function buttons. These you can use to set the ISO by pressing the button then using your command dial to adjust. A manual film rewind button can be found here, along with the custom settings button. While I won’t go into all the details for the different custom settings, these are all laid out in the manual anyways. But through these custom settings, you can set up the camera exactly the way you want, including my favourite function, leaving the film tail out when rewinding. The viewfinder in the Maxxum 9 is the best in my whole camera tool kit. Thanks to the 100% size and bright focusing screen. All your information is also clearly displayed inside the viewfinder that makes life easy. One nice thing is that the screen on the camera’s top plate is small and does not suffer from bleed, nor does the internal screen. Now the camera itself is completely weather-sealed, and even some external ports are easily closed off, and those ports and their covers are built into the camera itself, so you don’t have to worry about losing them.
Maxxum 9 Operation
While it’s easy to read over facts, figures, and all that data, the best way to understand the Maxxum 9 is to get out and use one! And the Maxxum 9 is an absolute joy to use. The camera does require a battery; a pair of CR123a batteries power the main body. The VC-9 grip adds three battery options. You can use a pair of CR123a batteries; a 2CR5 battery is another option. And the best part, the third option is four AA batteries. And this is all on a single battery tray. All you need to do is set the switch correctly; you can pick either the camera or the grip with two positions for the appropariate batteries. And the camera is surprisingly good on batteries, and being able to stash away so many different types no matter where you are; you can get power for the camera. In the hand, the camera is not the lightest out there, especally with a heavy lens, like the Maxxum 28-135/4-4.5, but it is well balanced. It fits in the hands well through the ergonomic grip style both on the camera body and the VC-9 grip. In both cases, the shutter release is perfectly aligned to your natural grip. Having the two command dials makes life easy for making exposure adjustments in semi-automatic and manual modes. It also helps when accessing the custom settings. These dials are also found on the VC-9 grip. All your needed controls are right within reach and accessed through physical controls for your daily shooting. The best part about operating the Maxxum 9 is using the viewfinder. The thing is big and bright, and all the needed information is displayed in green on black display making it easily viewed in any lighting conditions. And the two top dials illuminate in dim conditions. Loading film is easy; power the camera on, load the film, close the back, and advance to the first frame. Rewinding is hidden under the access door and protected from accidental. The one thing that I found annoying is the eye-start controls; being someone who doesn’t let go of my camera if I’m using it, my hand is always on the grip, and with the camera against my body, the autofocus was constantly starting. Thankfully there’s a switch to disable. The Maxxum 9 uses the proprietary Minolta flash mount, but it does allow for the internal flash to act as a master for the HSS system, using the built-in flash to control the remote strobes. When it comes to operating the autofocus, even older lenses are fast and accurate, and the meter is equally accurate. It seems to favour shutter speed over aperture when in Program mode.
One of the greatest power of the Maxxum system is within the optics that they offered up right from the start. And some amazing lenses are worth a look and regular use! As mentioned in the camera history, many of the early lens offerings are based on Leica optical designs. Remember, Leica and Minolta worked closely through the 1970s and 1980s, and there was plenty of exchanges between the two companies. And even the earliest offerings will still work perfectly on the Maxxum 9. However, the reverse is not true, but more on that later. While you could go out and purchase every single lens in the system, if you are looking to build a decent lens kit for your 9, there are some real standouts in the lineup. In the realm of prime lenses, some of the excellent ones are the 28mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2 50mm f/1.7, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, and 100mm f/2.8 MACRO. Of these, the 28, 50/1.7, and 100/2.8 Macro are inexpensive on the used market, while the 35/2, 50/1.4, & 85/1.4 do command a far higher price. But the one thing that the Maxxum line did open my eyes to a good zoom lens. And there are several amazing options in the Maxxum line. First off, everyone talks about the 28-135mm f/4-4.5, better known as the “Secret Handshake” (an incorrect rumour that the lens was sold at cost), which is a heavy full-metal jacket lens that offers up a great wide to telephoto lens. Or if size matters, the 35-70mm f/4, which is no bigger than the 50mm f/1.7, is a Leica-based design with wonderfully soft out-focus elements. Then there’s the matching beer can or 70-210mm f/4, which again is an all-metal beast that gives excellent reach. But there’s even more, the 80-200mm f/2.8 APO and 300mm f/2.8, which opened up fast telephoto lenses. They also produced a 500mm reflex lens, the only autofocus reflex lens ever. The one thing to watch out for is the new SSM lens, which moved the autofocus motor into the lens. The 9 does not have this support natively (the Maxxum 7 does); however, there is an upgrade option; the easiest way to tell is to go to Custom setting 20, if there are four options, you have SSM support, if there are only three, you don’t have that support.
If you’re looking to purchase a Maxxum 9, then the best place to get these cameras is through our friends at KEH. You can also find lenses to expand or create a full set of A-Mount lenses to make your kit complete!