Minolta SRT Manual Film Cameras: Learn Photography with a Minolta SRT
The Minolta SR-T SLR film cameras
The Alphatracks quick reference guide to the Minolta SRT manual focus 35mm camera
Even today, the Minolta SRT line of manual film cameras remain popular with photographers. Rugged, capable and easy to use, the SRT cameras were used number of well-known photographers to start their careers. Although digital photography has moved film cameras like the Minolta SRT out of the mainstream, these workhorses are still an excellent way to learn photography skills and an provide an enjoyable exercise for those who want to dabble in 35mm film photography.
The Minolta SRT camera line was offered in numerous models from 1966 to 1981. A sturdy 35mm SLR, the SRT became emmensly popular due to a combination of excellent ergonomics, attractive price and Minolta's complete ine of accxessories.
Although the features of the SRT pale compared to modern dSLR cameras, the SRT series offered several "firsts" for Minolta and the camera industry as a whole. Even today, the SRT models are still able to produce wonderful images and provide an excellent path to learning to operate a SLR. Thanks to the metal body and rugged construction, it is fairly easy to locate used Minolta SRT cameras in excellent condition. (Think e-bay, pawn shops, yard sales and the like.)
These SLRs also offer a benefit that few cameras can boast of today: they require no batteries to operate. The built-in exposure meter does use a battery cell for power, but this has no effect on any of he camera's functions. You can remove the meter battery from a SRT camera and continue to shoot as long as you have film. All the camera's functions, settings and adjustments will be fully operational.
The Minolta manual-focus system was very extensive, as this marketing photo from 1975 attests.
Minolta offered a complete line of lenses and accessories for these cameras. One of the reasons the cameras were so popular was the excellent Rokkor lens line. Minolta was able to maintain full compatibility between the SRT and all the manual focus lenses. The first lenses with the Rokkor mount appeared in 1958 and certain lenses were still offered by Minolta in 2001. Any of these lenses were fully functional on all SRT models. (See the Alphatracks Rokkor lens page for more details.)
Other sites of interest to SRT owners:
Andy Hands' Rokkor Files site has a large SRT section, with photos and original brochure reprints. A must-visit section is reprints of Dick Sullivan's SRT Resources which contains steps to convert a SRT series camera to use silver oxide meter batteries.
The Minman site offers a wealth of information on manual focus Minolta SLR cameras
For more Rokkor lens information, check out Peter Blaise Monahon's manual-focus Minolta site
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Loading film into your SRT series SLR
It's easy when you know how
Loading your SRT camera with fresh film is a simple matter. If you're new to using the camera, however, you should take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the process in detail.
Get in the habit of never opening the camera back unless you are absolutely sure there is no loaded film inside. If you open the back while film is outside of the metal cassette, the film will be ruined. To check, flip up the crank handle on the rewind knob. Carefully turn the crank in a clockwise direction. If the handle spins freely, there is no film loaded in the camera, or the film has been safely rewound inside it's protective cartridge.
If the handle won't turn, there is loaded film in the camera. You will need to rewind the film so you can safely open the back. Turn the camera upside down and press down on the clutch button. You'll find the clutch located inside a small triangular shaped recess in the bottom. Press it down until it clicks and remains depressed. Return the camera to the upright position, then crank the film clockwise until the handle spins freely.
Now you can open the back. Grasp the rewind knob and pull upward in a slow, steady motion. As you pull the knob upward, you will hear a metallic click and the back will spring open. Swing the back fully open. If there is an exposed cassette in the camera, pull up on the same rewind knob and lift the cassette out.
Take a fresh roll and pull the leader out from the cassette about five inches. Place the cassette into the left side of the camera with the plastic nipple facing down. Lift up on the rewind knob to allow the cassette to fit into place, then press down on the knob to secure the film cassette.
Now take the film leader and drag it across the film platen so it fits over the dual sprockets. Insert the narrow part of the leader into the slots on the take up spool.
Once the leader is snagged onto the spool, crank the wind lever on time, watching to see that the sprocket holes engage the sprockets properly. If everything looks OK, close the back, pressing on the left edge until you hear it click into place.
Now wind the shutter lever two more times. Each time to advance the lever, you will have to press the shutter release to allow you to wind further. At this point, glance at the film counter. It should be pointing at 1. Don't be greedy. If you try to stretch your film by not advancing the film advance the full two frames, you'll probably find the first image is fogged. So make sure to wind the full two frames.
Although the SRT has a robust film transport, if you don't engage the film onto the take up spool properly, it is possible for the film to slip free. If this happens, the film will not advance. In essence you will wind up taking all your exposures on one single frame.
Minolta obviously realized this could be a problem, as they included a "Safe Load" indicator on later models of the SRT series. Don't be concerned if you own one of the majority of the SRTs that do not have this feature. It is easy to check if the film is loaded properly.
Use the same rewind trick described to check for loaded film. After you have closed the back and cranked the wind lever twice, flip up the film crank and carefully try to wind the film counterclockwise. (Do not press the clutch button) If you can move the crank more than half a turn, the film has probably slipped free. Wind it backwards a few more turns, open the back and reload the film properly.
If the film appears to be loaded OK, glance at the rewind knob when you advance the film. If film is moving through the camera, every time you advance the shutter, the rewind knob will turn counter clockwise.
After you have taken all the pictures on the roll, you must rewind it back into the cassette before opening the back and removing the cassette. If you've been paying attention, you already know how to do this. Depress the clutch button, then carefully rewind the film using the rewind knob. You will feel the film when it comes free from the take up spool. Spin the knob a few more times until it spins freely. Now you can open the camera and removed the film for processing.
What do all those buttons do? - The SRT series is simple to operate, if you understand how the controls work
Once you appreciate how the controls work, you'll find the Minolta SRT series are amazingly easy to operate. If you are new to the camera, however, some of the buttons and switches might seem somewhat mysterious.
Several controls are clustered together on the right front side of the SRT series, as you can see in the photo above.
The round switch at the top is the Mirror Lock Up (MLU) switch. Rotating this switch will move the viewing mirror up out of the image path. Normally the mirror is down except at the instant of exposure. This allows you to look directly through the lens. When you click the shutter the mirror swings out of the way so light can reach the film.
There are two reasons why you might want to lock the mirror up out the way. When shooting with long lenses or telescopes, vibration from the movement of the mirror could affect image sharpness. So some models of the SRT allow you to lock the mirror up to avoid vibration.
The other reason is some very early Minolta wide angle lenses actually protruded inside the camera body. To avoid contact with the mirror, the mirror could be raised out of the way when using these specialty lenses.
Most SRT models had the MLU feature, but Minolta removed this feature in some of the later versions. If your SRT camera lacks the MLU feature, you will probably never miss it unless you are shooting with extreme telephotos or using one of the very rare early wideangles.
The lever on the front of the camera is the mechanical self timer. To use the timer, you rotate the lever counter clockwise until it locks. With the switch cocked, a small button is revealed. Pressing the button will cause the lever to slowly rotate into the normal position. When the lever reaches the top position, it trips the shutter. Simple, but effective.
The final control is the Depth of Field Preview (DOFP) button. Many users are confused by this button, because it doesn't appear to do anything.
In fact, the SRT series features a fully automatic diaphragm. The auto diaphragm keeps the aperture wide open until the moment of exposure. The wide open lens opening provides a bright image in the viewfinder, but prevents the user from seeing the effect of depth of field when the lens is stopped down.
To use the DOFP, the aperture must be stopped down. You will not see any change if the lens is at its maximum aperture. When you stop the lens down to a smaller opening, pressing the DOF preview will show the increased DOF for the selected aperture. The image in the viewfinder will be darker, of course, but you can see how DOF will impact the final image.
When you press the DOFP, it will lock in the preview view. To release the preview and return to seeing the viewfinder with the lens wide open, press the button in and release it so it snaps out.
You won't use the DOFP every time you shoot. You may go weeks or longer without using the DOFP. When depth of field is critical, however, you will find the preview function to be extremely valuable.
All of he SRT models are mechanical cameras, which means that will operate without any batteries or external power. There is however, a built in exposure meter, which requires a battery. The camera will take excellent photos without a battery, provided you select the correct exposure. The onboard meter is very handy and does a great job of suggesting the proper exposure for the lighting conditions.
The meter switch is located on the bottom of the camera. Press and turn with your thumb to turn the meter to the on position. This will activate the
match-needle indicator in the viewfinder. Change the aperture or shutter speed so that the needle is within the circle you see in the right when you look through the viewfinder. Note: you must set the ASA (ISO) of the film you are using so the meter can provide an accurate reading. The ASA/ISO is set by lifting the shutterspeed dial upward and turning it so the proper ISO shows in the widow on top of the dial
B.C. stands for Battery Check. If you turn the switch to the B.C. position, the needle should be positioned inside the black rectangle you will see at the bottom of the screen when you look through the viewfinder. If the needle is not aligned with the rectangle, the battery is exhausted and will need to be replaced to provide good exposure readings.
Do not leave the switch in the B.C. position, as it will quickly drain the battery. For the same reason, you should always turn the switch to off when you are finished shooting for the day.
The meter battery is located under a hatch in the bottom of the camera. Again you need to press and turn with your thumb to unscrew the cover. If you have trouble opening the cover, you can bend a paperclip into an improvised spanner wrench and use that to open the cover.
After removing the hatch cover, you can just tip the camera so the old battery tips into your hand.
Make sure the battery compartment is clean before installing a new battery.
An old trick is to use a pencil eraser to clean the metal contact strip to ensure a good connection.
All SRT models can use either a PX13 or PX625 Mercury cell to power the meter, Because these batteries contain Mercury, they are no longer widely available. See the resources below to obtain fresh PX625 cells.
The meter requires one button cell battery, which look like a large hearing aid battery. You may find batteries that are similar in size and shape to the PX625, but these usually are not the correct voltage. This, turn will affect the accuracy of the meter reading. You are much better off using the correct PX625 batteries available below. Or you could invest in a hand held meter and forgo using any battery in your SRT model.
Minolta SRT batteries on Amazon - Keep your SRT meter working with a new battery cell
Few camera stores still carry the PX13 or PX625 batteries used by the meter in the SRT series. These batteries used to be sold in most camera stores, but environmental fears and the death of the neighborhood camera store has all but eliminated availability of the mercury cells used by the SRT. Amazon lists a variety of partner merchants that still stock the hard to find PX625.
If you do use older mercury cells in your camera, please don't discard used batteries in the trash. Find a recycler that will keep the mercury out of landfills and water supplies!
Minolta SRT 101
Minolta establishes the series
Minolta established the SRT series with the beautiful SRT 101. Although other cameras in the series would offer a multitude of features the 101 lacked, the SLR would remain a favorite of serious photographers for decades.
Like many Minolta SRT models, the 101 was offered in both "pro" black and the more common silver finish. This particular camera appears to be one of the earlier ones, since it has the mirror lock-up switch. Minolta eliminated the lock-up feature as a running change, so earlier SRT101 cameras feature mirror lock-up, while it is missing from later versions.
The SRT 101 had a "cold shoe" flash mount -- there was no electrical connection to the shoe. The photographer needed to connect the flash to the camera's flash sync port with a cord. The shoe's only purpose was to serve as a mounting area.
(SRT 101 photo courtesy of Logan Crocker)
Find PX625 batteries on eBay
It is difficult to find meter batteries for the SRT series, Because of environmental concerns, production of the mercury cells used by the meter in SRT series ended years ago. Silver Oxide batteries will fit, but the voltage is not the same, leading to inaccurate meter readings. Fortunately, you can still find PX625 batteries on eBay.
Minolta SRT related equipment on Amazon
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