Mechanical

Minolta XD-11 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2
Minolta XD-11 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2 | Friday 1 January 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

Dad bought his first camera, an Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II SLR, circa 1973, when I was a kid. Dad was still a junior manager at Barclays Bank at that time. He was raising a family, so I expect that the camera was a luxury purchase, especially given how high import taxes were (are) in the Caribbean. I don’t know that he enjoyed photography as much as I do, but I remember he brought that camera on my family adventures. Dad took many photos on family vacations or when he drove us around the islands1, up into the mountains or to a remote beach. I wish I had some of his photographs to share2. I know what it's like to be a new parent and wanting to capture every moment of your child's early life. I don’t have the memories, but I imagine Dad running around behind me or my younger brothers (or maybe Mom) taking photos of us playing on the beach in Bequia or riding our bikes for the first time. I'm sure my mom has those photos hidden away somewhere.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II + SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4
Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II + SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4 | Friday 21 December 2012 | Nikon D40 | 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6

Dad passed away in April 2019, a few years after he gifted me his Pentax and his only lens, an SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4. Dad most likely kept the camera in a damp basement. The Pentax is in good mechanical shape, but the pentaprism and lens are occluded with fungus. But old things have significance beyond mere utility value. This camera is a memento of Dad. I keep the camera on a window sill behind my computer. I keep it clean and dust-free.

Some of the greatest classic cameras of all time have been mechanical SLRs. These cameras were built like tanks with minimal electronics. At 681g, the Spotmatic II is about 142g heavier than my Fuji X-T3. The camera's operation is entirely mechanical except for a spot metering system (hence the Spotmatic name). Aperture and focus are set manually on the SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4, while shutter speed and film ISO are set on the camera body. The photographer chooses the aperture and shutter speed and the spot meter provides feedback on whether the exposure is correct. The lenses use the very popular M42 screw mount.

In 2020 on the 2020 commemoration of Dad’s passing I bought a silver bodied Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II. I don’t recall if it was from eBay or Etsy but this one worked and I exposed a few rolls of 35mm film.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II + SMC Takumar 55mm F:2
Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II + SMC Takumar 55mm F:2 | Tuesday 14 April 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

In order for auto exposure to work, the Spotmiac has to know which aperture is selected on the lens before it can calculate an appropriate shutter speed. Some camera companies used a mechanical linkage between the lens and the camera that would communicate which aperture was selected on the lens. The problem with the mechanical linkage was that the position of the linkages needs to be exactly the same each and every time. The camera has to know exactly where the position of the linkage is to get an accurate idea of which aperture is selected. Since all Pentax cameras up until this point had used screw mount lenses, there was no easy way to mechanically link the lens to the camera as there would be slight variances in rotation between different lenses.

Asahi Pentax ES II
Asahi Pentax ESII | Thursday 5 November 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8

Then after that, I bought a Pentax ES (Electro Spotmatic) II and a few more prime lenses. The Pentax ElectroSpotmatic (ES) II was the most advanced camera in the Spotmatic family. This is an extremely well-built camera with excellent ergonomics. It also featured a dual electronic/mechanical shutter that would fire electronically in Auto mode, but would also have a limited number of manual speeds that would work without a battery. The electronic shutter was stepped less from 1 second all the way to a maximum of 1/1000 second.

Minolta X-700 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2
Minolta X-700 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2 | Thursday 8 October 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8

I was bitten by the mechanical 35mm camera gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) and soon bought another 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, a Minolta X-700 which I found via Facebook Marketplace. The Minolta X-700 is a mechanical camera that uses the Minolta Bayonet SR Mount which came in two variations, the MC and MD. The previous owner was retiring and moving to Florida to be near her grandchildren. For $70 I had the camera, an MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 lens, a Minolta Auto 132FX Speedlight, a Minolta 20 Speedlight, and a JC Penny Multi-Coated Optics 80-200m f/4.5, and an expired roll of Kodak 800. I enthusiastically enjoyed using the Minolta X-700. On the first weekend after purchasing the camera I exposed two rolls of 35mm film one day at the beach.

Minolta X-700 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2, MD Rokkor-X 50mm F:1.7
Minolta X-700 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2, MD Rokkor-X 50mm F:1.7 | Thursday 12 November 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

The GAS increased and so did my love for classic Minolta 35mm SLR cameras and lenses. Near the end of 2020, I sold my Spotmatic II and ES II and all my Takumar lenses (except for the 50mm) and soon I was in possession of a work of art, a black XD-11 (of course) body.

Minolta XD-11 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2
Minolta XD-11 + MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2 | Friday 1 January 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

The Minolta XD-11 was produced from 1977 to 1984 in collaboration with Ernst Leitz of Germany, the company that makes the highly valued Leica cameras. The first product of this joint cooperation was the Leica CL and Minolta CL. The Minolta CL and Leica CL are essentially the same cameras with different labels and prices. Leica sold about 35,000 Leica CL units in the first year. The story is that Leitz was unhappy with Minoltas success and was reluctant to work further with Minolta. However, Leitz later relesed the R4 which was also built in collaboration with Minolta. Minolta brought the XD-11 to market by themselves. It was the first SLR camera to offer both aperture and shutter-priority auto exposure, plus manual control. It has classic styling, excellent ergonomics and performance. I love my Fuji X-T3 but I wish it looked more like the XD-11.


  1. We moved around while Dad climbed the corporate ladder. We moved around the British West Indies quite a bit. We lived in St. Vincent, Bequia, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Kitts. 
  2. I need to chat with my mother about that. 

4 comments

  1. Khurt, I enjoyed reading about the Pentax Spotmatic cameras and Minolta X-700 and XD 11. Very interesting even though I have never owned these cameras. Now I am using the Fuji X-T3 with two lenses, 18 – 55 and 200 mm plus my Old, Reliable standby, a Nikon D7000 body and several Nikon lenses. The Fuji is a wonderful camera but must admit I need to spend more time learning about it. Hopefully, this will be over the summer.

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