Here’s a Perfect Beginner 35mm Film SLR

In a recent article aimed at newcomers to film photography, I listed some examples of excellent cameras that could be purchased for $100 or less that would allow new users to make great quality images with very little experience. The examples were in two categories that I felt a newcomer would enjoy using; 35mm point and shoot cameras and 35mm SLR cameras. I recommend that the cameras be modern and capable of auto-exposure, multiple shooting modes, and auto-focus to better help newcomers make as few mistakes as possible. Today I’m spotlighting a perfect example of one such camera in the 35mm SLR class – the Minolta Dynax 500Si Super (known in Japan as the a-303si and elsewhere as the Maxxum 400Si).

This is not necessarily the route that I took when I came back to film after a 15 year hiatus. I went more primitive with it. My old-fashioned, auto-nothing Pentax Spotmatic with its manual focus Helios 44m-4 58mm f/2 gave me the basic tools I needed to learn the art of photography. I mentioned this choice in my last article, and it elicited some comments from our readers who thought that my way was not the best way. In the spirit of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is, I went shopping for one of the other cameras that I had mentioned in the article. An auto-exposure capable, auto-focus capable, modern film camera. A camera much different from the one with which I re-learn photography.

I have never owned, held, nor even seen out in the wild a Minolta SLR. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. I have seen them in photos and videos, of course, but never in real life. In the article, I mentioned a decent Minolta Maxxum/Dynax 5 could be had for less than $75, and that’s true. But when looking for a modern, auto-capable SLR as I recommended to new photographers in my article, I didn’t want to limit myself to a single model. There are a lot of cameras that bear the Minolta Maxxum and Dynax names, so I decided to see what was out there and buy one.

I also mentioned in the article the need to buy from a reputable retailer, especially if you are buying online. I have a list of reputable retailers who sell on eBay, and I went hunting through their listings to see what was available. It wasn’t long before I found a Minolta Dynax 500si Super with a 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 auto focus zoom lens, lens hood, remote release, UV filter, lens cap and user’s manual for less than $50. I have bought several quality items from this particular retailer in the past, and I hit the buy it now button without hesitation.

A few days later the camera arrived and looked even better than in the photos. Maybe that’s just the excitement of having a new toy – I’m still a big kid at heart. It is in excellent condition for a camera that was launched in 1995. It’s also very lightweight at a minuscule 14 ounces. This is a camera that I could carry around all day long. All I needed was to fit a new battery and a roll of film. As it turned out it was also my last purchase from that retailer as he decided to retire and enjoy the gardening. Thank you for selling me great quality items, Cliff. You were an excellent chap to do business with.

I a new Lithium 2CR5 battery for the camera and purchased got down to reading the manual to familiarize myself with the basic functions. This was easier than I thought it would be, as most of the functions I am familiar with already. It has Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual modes. There are also several preset program modes to choose from depending on what you are photographing, namely Macro, Sports, Night, Landscape and Portrait. The camera chooses the best shutter and aperture for whatever conditions it senses through its lens and whatever mode has been chosen. I just had to get used to the layout of the camera, so I loaded a roll of Kentmere 100, set the camera to manual to give me control over the exposures and toddled off out for a walk around my neighborhood.

As it transpired, Kentmere 100 was not the right choice of film to use that day, as the bright sunshine and defined shadows soon gave way to overcast skies and flat light. We have all picked a film only to have the conditions change and make it the wrong choice at some point in our personal photography journeys. But I pressed on, as I wanted to see how the camera performed and felt it would be a good test. My walk around the local farm tracks and nature trails soon came to an end with one roll of film in the can. When I arrived home later that day I developed the film in Kodak HC-110 dilution B and scanned them later that evening with my Ion Slides2PC 35mm scanner. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the camera handled the conditions very well indeed.

A few days later the weather was much brighter with plenty of sunshine, I loaded my second roll of Kentmere 100 and retraced my route to get a good contrast between the two films. I also decided to use some of the preset modes and alternated between landscape and macro mode. I revisited some compositions, but also found some different ones as the shadows were a lot more defined this time around. Time soon flew by and I was on my way back home to develop and scan my film using the same methods as my previous roll.

Comparing the two rolls of Kentmere 100 was all I needed to know that the Minolta Dynax 500si Super that I paid less than $50 for is a little beauty. The roll shot in overcast conditions was nicely exposed, nothing too spectacular of course, but also nothing I couldn’t improve upon in Affinity Photo. A few adjustments here and there soon had several presentable photographs.

The roll I shot in brighter conditions were again very nicely exposed thanks to the camera’s preset modes doing the thinking for me. All I had to do was point the camera at a composition and press the shutter. Shadows were indeed well defined, contrast was great and not even a few blown highlights could detract from an overall excellent performance from an unfamiliar camera that I had used only twice.

If I was only just beginning my film photography journey, I would definitely be encouraged by the results I got from my Minolta Dynax 500si Super. The few years’ experience I do have helped me decide to keep the camera and put it into my regular rotation for those days when I just want to travel light and be able to produce photographs that could grace the walls of my home.

I can also see why Sony paid good money to buy Minolta just after the turn of the last century. They made great stuff. The Dynax 500Si Super is 20 years old yet still looks modern, has all the features that my Nikon DSLR has, and can mount a range of impressive Minolta/Sony A mount lenses that give great results time after time. There’s only one problem, I now have Minolta GAS My wife says I have too many cameras as it is, but I think I’m going to need another shelf.

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