A quick overview of the product line, as of 04/2002, will give the first-time Minolta buyer a better understanding of the Maxxum 5's position. The present lineup of Minolta's 35mm AF SLR cameras starts with the QT-si, the entry-level SLR. Followed by the STsi, Maxxum 5 then the Maxxum 7. Minolta's flagship professional camera is the Maxxum 9. The only camera in the non- AF "X Series" presently is the Minolta X-370s.
The Maxxum 5 employs a 14 segment "Honeycomb-Pattern" ambient light metering system. This is the "meat" of any camera, and especially the Maxxum 5. As you move up the line of any camera company's SLRs, the main expense you are paying for is the multi-pattern metering system including it's micro-processor. The meter ties to the focus system which locates your subject, foreground and background in the frame and computes the exposure values in all these imperative areas. This data is then fed to the computer and "crunched" to yield an exposure that would take the average 'pro' a few minutes to compute! It is what makes a better camera "BETTER", and gives you the quality images you hopefully seek through better exposure. This technology frees the photographer to put more concentration on the composition of a superior image than the technical mechanics of exposure. These exposure control systems improve exponentially as you pay more for the camera body as do the "garnishes" on the outside. Yes, better cameras have more "bells and whistles" and the 5 has more than some. In defense of the 5, these have sincere merit. They give more user interface to the exposure systems and you have a more customizable functions than most any camera in this price range (about $259. as of 04/2002.)
The ergonomics and balance of the Maxxum 5 and most other SLR's does not lend itself to the longer and front-heavy lenses, i.e.: 24-105mm, 24-135mm, 28-105mm, 28-200mm and etc. Thereby enters the ergonomic BP-200 Battery Pack / grip. Minolta, unlike other manufacturers, numbers accessories with some logic, Imagine that! The BP-200 grip extends the body length to fill even the smallest hand eliminating the need for white knuckle griping of the camera. In doing so, the BP-200 reduces the amount of camera shake caused by such a tight grip. It allows you to not use the 2 lithium CR-123 batteries in the camera and the Grip powers the camera with 4-AA alkaline or MiMH batteries. No matter where you are, AA's are available and if the aren't, steal the four AA's from your flash and keep shooting. There is no shutter release button on the end of the grip to use when the camera is held vertically. If you are planning on purchasing the Five with any more than a fixed 50mm lens (which I have not seen a justifying use for in years) the BP-200 is not an accessory, it is a requirement! Owning the Maxxum 5 without the BP-200 is like going outside without your pants on!
The latest versions of most manufacturer's cameras have gotten away from the center-only focus and have moved up to at least five focusing points. The Maxxum 5 takes a step in focus accuracy by use of a seven-position focus point indicator in the viewfinder. Finally, the subject does not have to be centered when the camera confirms focus. The Maxxum 5 incorporates a convenient LED illuminated Focus Area display system. Once the camera has selected a focus area, it is automatically superimposed in an illuminated red block or dash on the activated focus point in the viewfinder.
Along with the focus indicator, the Maxxum 5 offers Spot Metering. About 3% of the total frame area) in the center of the viewfinder becomes the sole meter reading area when the spot meter switch is pressed. Maxxum did miss the target, so to speak, by not tying the spot focus indicator to the spot metering sensor. The spot only reads the center of the view finder and doesn't follow the focus point.
More of the Maxxum 5's advantages are the fourteen user settable Custom Functions (available through the main control dial.) You vary controls such as leaving the leader out on rewind, to silent rewind, to adjusting the flash metering.
As far as built-in Pop-Up flashes go (not Very) the "5" has one. Whoopee! To me, a major reason to purchase an SLR is to improve your flash pictures. Too many people confuse the Pop- Up flash with a REAL flash. If it is all the flash you need, why is there a Hot Shoe on top of the camera? Hopefully we are buying an SLR to take better pictures. To take better flash pictures requires a diffused light source well away from the lens. The Maxxum 5 has more than enough high-end flash control built into the body. All we need to add is a real flash that is bounce capable and designed for use with the "5's" system. Then we add a flash diffuser like the Lumiquest Pocket Bouncer (~$24.95.) The higher pivoting head flashes like the 5600HS(D) and the 3600HS(D) (more Numbering to befuddle us) that elevates the flash tube high enough to reduce red-eye. Adding a diffuser totally eliminates any chance of red-eye and softens the light creating more studio like lighting. There is nothing worse than a straight ahead flash picture that bleaches your subject white, and flattens any depth perception. The Pop-Up flash does have its purpose. It is useful as a daylight fill-flash to fill in deep shadows on a very close subject or fire the two above mentioned flashes in Wireless (WL) mode, which is a feature we could talk about for days. The "Pop-Up" like every other brand I have seen, does not have enough power to illuminate a typical scene by itself.
Finally a Minolta camera under $300. with a Depth of Field (DOF) preview button, Only from the "Mind of Minolta"!!! But we don't get a universal screw in cable release port. Instead we get to buy the MINOLTA electronic cable release to install in the proprietary electronic port in the camera.
Are you buying more bells and whistles than you will use? Heck NO! If you can push the shutter release button without shaking the camera you can get a great picture almost every time with the Maxxum 5. Typically, as you increase dollars spent in any camera line, most of the money goes towards increased exposure control. In other words, more bucks means less times the camera's automatic exposure system is fooled in adverse lighting situations. The 5's 14 segment Honeycomb-Pattern meter is more than adequate for most pros and will keep most of the everyday shooters from the frustration of the technically poor photos.
A word of caution I try to always extend: Remember when the magic box that holds the film has done it's magic, there is one thing between your subject and the film….IT IS THE LENS! Don't scrimp on the glass!
Minolta has a keeper here. It is relatively inexpensive at $259 (body only) which puts it
in most budgets and it is a good camera with LOADS of features for the money.
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