Saturday, March 19, 2011

Minolta Maxxum 9 Review

Minolta Maxxum 9 Review
March 2011, Carl Garrard
*All images of the Maxxum 9 were shot with the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
 
Minolta Maxxum 9 Professional 35mm SLR Camera (Body Only)

Why not review a film camera? Certainly the Maxxum 9 still breathes life, and it is one of the finest film SLR's ever to come from Minolta's design team. This is also the SLR that set the bar for many Alpha cameras to come after it. Therefore the Maxxum 9 deservedly should continue to be commemorated and celebrated. Part of me also wanted to cut my teeth with a film camera review for the first time; and to do so on a film camera that is arguably one of the finest SLR's ever designed - I find it an honor. Yet before we get going though, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts about film and film photography in general which has much to do with my initial motivation to pick up the Maxxum 9 in the first place.

 

Just ask around and you might hear labs and professionals admit that there seems to be some signs of a renewed interest in film. Here in Southern California, and with the people/professionals that I've discussed this topic with, film shooting and developing indeed seems to be on the rise. Four different labs that I've talked with in the last month have all said the same thing, and the list of professional photographers that I talk with are also concur. Why is this? Well thus far, the consensus is that the photographers going back to film or picking up film for the first time aren't fully happy shooting digital alone.



Let me be very clear though. Film will never be at the level of greatness it once was, but I do think it is a format that will endure in the shadow of this Digital orgy that has encompassed the world. Yet I don't want you to think I am getting ahead of myself, either. When I say that film is on the rise, I mean that this format isn't going backwards anymore in some parts of the world. Indeed film is just starting to go forward in those areas- and slowly of course.

My interpretation of this trend is two fold. First a term that I coined and like to use is retro-nomics.

This is the current trend to admire and covet things from the past; and two, the realization that instant gratification isn't always gratifying and that there is indeed something to be said for patience and learning. Not only that but film indeed has a special image quality to it.
Why Shoot Film VS. Digital?
 


This is a common question, and one I imagine has been asked at least a billion times throughout the world.  Yet, the answer is clear- film still offers an alternative experience to digital, and still has its advantages over it to this day. And let me be clear, I'm not defending film here. Film doesn't need any defense. What I am doing is reminding the few of you that read this article with an open mind that film can be very rewarding in several categories.
Why I like film in addition to digital.
Shooting with film isn't as instantly rewarding in the way that digital can be. In terms of reviewing your work, it's going to take some time to see your results.  Film rewards you instantly in other ways, but there will be more on that in a bit.  Here is a bit of a list of reasons why Film has an advantage but I can sum up the experience of shooting film in one line- Film photography hits an internal tuning fork that digital just cant deliver. Other reasons I like to shoot film:


  • Shooting with film helps support local film labs/camera shops
  • It strongly advocates photography fundamentals and good technique
  • Gives more captured dynamic range than digital (especially with negative films)
  • Has a unique look and atmosphere  that cannot be duplicated digitally in its entirety
  • Film bodies are affordable and offer wonderful handling and viewfinders (especially large format film)
  • Many choices of film types and artistic/practical uses
  • Nowadays film scanners are cheap, so you have two archival methods vs. only one on digital 
  • Greater sense of satisfaction from the whole photographic experience and final output
  • You won't get hounded by people wanting to see your pictures right away
  • Seeing your final images is like opening a gift on Christmas morning

All that said, I've set the stage for the review and shown why I'm motivated to share some thoughts about this camera with you. Some of you probably never heard of the Maxxum 9- but that's okay. Hopefully you'll come away from reading this article with some new found information about the Maxxum 9.

The look of film is really unique. It's not subjective, it's real. You do have to have a mind for subtly though, and you either get it or, you don't. Here is a shot made with the Maxxum 9 w/Fuji Superia 400 (digitally "scanned" with the KM 7D).

Shooting with the Minolta Maxxum 9 (Review)
Of late I've been pretty hot about using film for several reasons.  I just love the experience of shooting with film- not only because of it's simplistic and analog/chemical nature, but also because of the rich history of film itself; both for personal and impersonal reasons alike. Before I go further, please know this review isn't an advertisement for the Maxxum 9, this is just a personal article/tribute for a fine film SLR.
I have several film cameras in my possession (mostly Alpha/Minolta film cameras), but one I like to use the most is the Minolta Maxxum 9.  The MaxxumMaxxum 9 is unfortunately forever in the history books, and has been replaced by Sony's Alpha division. You can't get any service for this camera from Sony or Minolta any longer as Sony's service contract for Minolta products ended January 1st, 2011. However, there are many shops that still support and repair most film cameras.
About the "9"
The "9" as I like to call it is an exceptionally built photographic tool. Anyone who has ever held a 9 for any length of time knows exactly what I am talking about. Balanced and hefty, the 9 leaves an impression of a build quality that costs several thousands of dollars. It's unique in that the body itself is mainly constructed of high grade stainless steel and zinc alloy, not magnesium. The feel of steel is unique and gives the 9 a personality all its own. Holding it gives you a feeling of uncompromising density and rigidity, yet the carefully sculpted grip seems to softly melt into your hand. The 9 is ultra strong and unforgiving yet, very very comfortable. It's hard to set the 9 down based just on build quality alone.
Viewfinder
Raise the 9 to your eye and you are treated to one of the finest optical viewfinders on an SLR (or DSLR) ever crafted. The view is huge, clear, simple, and spacious. Eye relief is generous and there's plenty of shooting information available with a quick glance. Technically it's a 100% view of your scene at .73x size (full frame measurement). This translates into a very large view. Inside, there are only three auto-focus points located in the most commonly used locations, simple yet very effective.

Here is a shot from the Grand Canyon (South Rim). Shot with the Maxxum 9 and Minolta 50mm f/1.7 on Provia 100, scanned for web. Something about making an image of a classic vacation spot with a classic camera that leaves a lasting impression.

Plenty of shooting information is available in all that internal real estate. Exposure compensation is the the right of the finder with a -3 to +3 scale in 1/3 increments (it shows 1/2 stop increments as well). On the bottom from left to right is the flash indicator, AF area, AF focus indication, BULB setting, shutter speed, aperture value, and AEL designation, among others.
No SLR/DSLR viewfinder I've used yet is as wonderful as the 9. That is unless of course you are talking about the Alpha 900, which uses a very similar viewfinder specification and treated with coated optics to reduce some minor glare. Once the Maxxum 9 treats you to its viewfinder, you're hooked. That's it.
So unless you have some interest in shooting film, I do not recommend looking through the 9's viewfinder; that is unless you like to be tortured waking up from dreams about it every day.
Controls and Overall Handling
Controls on the Maxxum 9 are all located in a comfortable, easy to find manner. The engineers that designed the Maxxum 9 paid detailed attention to commonly used controls and situated them in such a way as to be second nature to the photographer. There many fine details that made its way into the design of the 9 that are very helpful when you are shooting. For example: the main mode dial and exposure value dial have glow-in-the dark symbols so you can make changes easily in the dark, the LCD on top has a lamp that illuminates and shuts off automatically about 7 seconds after you engage it to preserve battery life. The viewfinder has a shutter with a lever you can actuate which blocks out incoming light during long exposures.
Handling is simply superb. Minolta nailed handling on this camera, nearly everything is exactly where it should be.  Main controls are within easy reach of the thumb and forefinger for quick adjustments while keeping your eye to the finder. No need to look at the back or top of the 9 while shooting once you get used to where your controls are. This enables the photographer to keep their eye and mind on the subject and photographic situation at hand. The only control that might require a peek is the drive switch located under the right control knob. Despite that, the 9 is meant to be used and adjusted plastered to your eye (and that's just fine by me considering that wonderful view).
Custom Settings
Custom settings are available on the Maxxum 9. Under the grip door plate are a series of buttons from top down: Data, Film Rewind, ISO, and ADJ- the latter two are pressed simultaneously to access the custom function menu wherein you are able to set many more preferences that you might think the 9 is capable of doing. The manual is written excellently and gives you detailed descriptions of how to make custom adjustments to your 9. When you change your battery you'll need to reset your adjustments, however.
Features
The Maxxum 9 has some good features but really we are talking about a simple and elegant camera. After all, it is a film camera and by that design alone makes it a much more simple camera to operate than a comparable DSLR. However, the 9 has it all in the right places.
First of all, lets talk shutter speed. The Maxxum 9 is the worlds fastest SLR camera (less one the other 9 series Minolta, the 9xi) with a shutter speed of 1/12,000th of a second.  Why is this important? First of all this high shutter speed lets you shoot with larger apertures in bright light than you would normally be able too.
This means you have greater control over depth of field in more lighting circumstances than a slower specification would allow (less overexposure situations). Also, the fast shutter speed of the 9 allows better stop motion action of faster subjects (race cars, hummingbirds, golf swings, for example), giving you more of a chance for super sharp high speed action shots.
The Maxxum 9 also has a superb AF assist lamp; the type which sends out a high contrast red grid array in dark conditions allowing for precise auto focus in complete darkness.  Not all assist lamps are created equal. Solid pattern assist lamps never work as good as a high contrast array style lamp similar to what the 9 has.
For long exposure shooters the Maxxum 9 is equipped with an eyepiece shutter, which engages by a small lever on the left side of the optical viewfinder housing. When engaged, the shutter leafs have red/orange paint to signal to the photographer that it is engaged (perfect). The eyepiece shutter is much more convenient than a removable eyepiece cap, and much faster to use in practice than the latter.
Bravo for an included pop-up flash. Two reasons right off the bat having an on board flash is a good thing- it serves as a wireless trigger for your wireless Minolta flashes meaning you don't have to have two flashes in order to reap the benefits of wireless flash capability. The other reason is obvious- you have a decent flash for situations when you are in a pinch or don't want to lug around a larger flash all day.
Note- The Maxxum 9 was criticized by professionals for having an on-board pop up flash. Those are the same professionals that either didn't use the Maxxum 9 or, failed to realize the benefits of having wireless flash. Overall they didn't realize that having one on a professional camera could be a very good thing in certain situations. Jealous? Perhaps. Snobbish? Could be. Either way, those same critics would be laughed out of the park if they made such comments nowadays.
Also worth mentioning is the fast frame rate of the Maxxum 9 which for it's day was one of the fastest at 5.5 frames per second. Still to this day that specification is entirely respectable, especially for a full frame camera. Battery life is equally impressive using only two lithium ion CR-123 batteries. The battery life equates to about 400-800 exposures (that's a lot of film) depending on how much on board flash you use, and the ambient temperature outside.
Externally the Maxxum 9 has a flash sync port, a sliding door  on the grip side for remote trigger access, and a lift and hide door for the auxiliary  battery grip electrical connections. Nearly the entire bottom of the Maxxum 9 has a rubber surface to keep scratches to a minimum when using a tripod frequently (or just setting it down on rough surfaces).Fit and finish are top rate, with a very tough and thick paint job that resists scratching and weathering.

And last but not least the Maxxum 9 is weather resistant, special attention being given to seals around doors and buttons etc. that normally could let water or dust intrude into the camera body- a real boon for outdoor photographers, but all photographers benefit from this.
Performance
The Maxxum 9 is best described as a fast, reliable, and simple camera. Metering is spot on and confidence inspiring (especially multi-pattern metering). I've not had any issues with metering on the Maxxum 9 worth quibbling about. If I were a picky man, I'd say it underexposes about 1/3rd of a stop at times, but not always and it never really seems to affect the final exposure much, if, at all.
Auto focus speed is impressive, even to this day. Tracking is accurate with it's predictive focus algorithms Minolta became famous for. Match that with it's 5.5 frame per second frame rate and top 1/12,000th second shutter speed and the Maxxum 9 isn't a bad sport shooters camera even to this day. I find that an impressive fact.

Conclusion
At the heart of every Alpha made today (or all the Konica Minolta cameras designed after it) is the spirit of the grandfather design of the Maxxum 9.  No other SLR I've used comes close to it's unique and simple utilitarianism. The Maxxum 9 is equipped with most of what you'll need but it seems almost too simple to use and operate, that is of course if you like complications in life.
What the Minolta Maxxum 9 lacks in overall features it makes up in spades with how well it performs.

Put simply, it just works. And works, and works.
Minolta wasn't always known or famous for overall reliability during its history, yet the Maxxum 9 is just that- extremely reliable. Just about any Maxxum 9 owner will attest to that fact, and include me in that group happily.
With it's ironclad build quality, simple but effective controls and features, outstanding comfort and handling, the Maxxum 9 is a classic SLR. One of the very best ever made, by any manufacturer. I'd be hard pressed to criticize anything about its design in fact, mainly because the sum of all it's parts seem to equate to one simple and effective harmonious output. Add or delete anything to or from the Maxxum 9 and you risk upsetting that harmony.
Some have complained about its weight, lack of auto focus points, having a pop up (pull up) flash, and not enough custom or "professional" features. Fine. Far as I'm concerned, they just don't get it.
Minolta's Maxxum 9 is a work of art, with a practical workhorse of a soul. This is a rare combination in a camera design.

The relationship between it and it's photographer is one of an inseparable bond. While the Maxxum 9 may not be ideal for every circumstance, it certainly is one of the few SLR designs one could argue is perfect and not get much, if any objection.

Be safe and Happy Shooting,

-Carl 


Click and Support, easy as pie.

19 Comments:

Blogger Edward Harding said...

I am considering getting one of these bodies for a few reasons; some which mesh nicely with yours stated above...
I like the idea of shooting with film to help strengthen my photography overall.
The Maxxum 9 seems like it would be a natural transition after using the A700 for the last few years.
Though I hate to wait; I, like you, get very excited to see the results.
The 9 would probably (LOL) pair well with all of the legacy Minolta lenses that I have.
It would help develop my eye and vision; as there is a lot more thought required in setting up the shot, since you may not have an opportunity to getting the same scene.

Great review... well written and easy to follow, it really conveys the technical reasons along with what the technology's going to contribute to the overall enjoyment of you craft.

March 19, 2011 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Hi Ed,

I think you'd like one as long as you plan on throwing a few rolls of film through it every year. I don't use mine every day, but when I do use it, it's the photographic equipment equivalent of having dessert.

As you know, film is a bit more challenging and requires more thought. The 9 eliminates some of the mental burden by doing what it's designed to do, and does it well. It's such a pleasure to use.

Carl

March 20, 2011 at 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well written, Carl! You have expressed perfectly what many of us that that shoot film and digital and specifically own the Maxxum 9 have been saying and feeling for a long time! We shoot lots of digital but always wind up coming back to film and the 9! I think every alpha mount photographer owes it to themselves to try shooting some T-max 100 or Ektar 100 in a Maxxum 9. The results are so very rewarding. I'm never disappointed! One note of caution to those with SSM lenses. The 9, as delivered from the factory is not compatible with SSM or SAM lenses. It needs an upgrade to do so. My 9 has been to Runtime in Bremen Germany and my 70-200 f2.8 SSM G spends a lot of time on my 9. The Minolta 5 and 7 are SSM/ADI ready.

Kelly

March 21, 2011 at 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent article Carl. I am the proud owner of a MAXXUM 9, and there isn't a digital SLR/T on the market now that would make me want to part with it. Not even the a900! While I appreciate the a900, who needs 24MPS?? Unless you are using a 44 inch wide printer for your prints, it is more or less shooting mice with an elephant gun! A 12 to 16 MP FF DSLR with all of the features of the MAXXUM 9 would be one killer of a camera. However, about the closest thing to that out there today seems to be the NIKON D700, and SONY couldn't care less how many of the old Minolta photographers are making the switch. Only after my demise will you be able to pry my MAXXUM 9 from my grip, and I have no doubt that it will still be clicking away as usual. It seems that SONY is bent on force feeding their version of a technological "all in one" DSLT down everyone's throats. Message to SONY...a lot of us are gagging on it! We are looking elsewhere...in droves!

March 25, 2011 at 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know how much would I have to pay to get one? Thanks and great article

March 26, 2011 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Thank you, glad you like the article. Typically the Maxxum 9 goes for about $300-750.00 on ebay in good to mint condition.

Carl

March 31, 2011 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger Ari said...

Hi,

Do you have any examples of the date imprint on the photo?
Or at least where and what sort of printing it is? For example the dynax 7 is left hand side, and in a yellow dotted style. Where as most othe QD's are right hand side and orange LCD style. It's sort of important that I find out which this it. =D

It would be a huge help if you know the answer to this!

Kind Regards,
Ari

June 12, 2011 at 2:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

I like your article and fully agree with everything you said about film photography and also about the Dynax 9. It's a great camera to have.
I had the opportunity to choose between the Dynax7 and 9 a while back, i choose the 7 because of all it's features and similar handling like the Dynax 7D, which i also own.
I used the 7 a for a while and in my head i did regret a little bit that i had not choosen the Dynax 9. I love all the ways both of the 7's has to offer and it has a great AF on it.

Now, more than a year later i was looking for a flash to match with my 7D body, since all the others i have did not work well with it.
after some searching on the secondhand sites i came across a great combination that i could not go pass, the 5600HS(D) flash with the Dynax 9 all together.
I quickly made sure i could have it, and now i also own that great piece of equipment and very happy.
Also the price i bought it for was too good to be true and the camera was in mint condition.
I fortunately also got hold of the VC-9 grip for a great bargain and now it's complete.

I must say after holding it in my hands it feels so much different than all the other i had held, and the handling is so easy and straight forward.
The viewfinder is something else, it's like you are looking through a great clear window and seeing all the beauty in front of you, without all the distractions other viewfinders have.
The leds in it are also very nice and not too bright, a big different with both of the 7's i have.
It's AF works better than the Dynax 7, even if it has lesser sensors, it locks on better and smoother, and the mechanism works more silent also.
And when you push the button to make the photo, it's sound is so great also.
I can only say, i love the 9 and will never part from it.

Of all the other minotlta's, i have the 7000-9000-7Xi-Dynax7-7D, the 9 is the greatest to have.
My friends all have great Nikon's or Canon's, but i must say the 9 is so much different.

It's a piece to have for life. (for me that is)

Keep up the good work and keep shooting film and support that old art against digital.
(even if i also shoot digital, like Carl, when i take one of my film camera and especially the 9) it is so much more fun and joy to make pictures.
And the wait for the outcome always gives me christmas feelings. ;-)

greetings ..
André
(avdb333@hotmail.com)

July 9, 2011 at 3:58 AM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Great post Andre, love the spirit of it. Cheers! (long live the Maxxum 9!)

Carl

July 10, 2011 at 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Danielle said...

I have also great experience using my Maxxum 9. It produce also a high quality photos. Sometime during my outdoor activities I bring this with me and DSLR for a great shots.

November 15, 2011 at 6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

I have recently bought a Dynax 9 but I haven't bought the batteries yet. I was just wondering, should the mirror be in the up position when there are no batteries in the camera? Anyone? Thanks

November 18, 2011 at 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carl,

What a wonderful, personal article! Thank you very much. I agree with it in every word You state, and much of it I find is also true for the Maxxum/Dynax 7! It warms my heart.

Olli

November 30, 2011 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Thank you kindly Olli, great to see others who think the same thing about the "9". I'd so love it if Sony took the exact same form factor and slapped in a digital sensor :).

C

January 10, 2012 at 8:46 PM  
Anonymous Ottawa Photographer said...

Any idea how much the SSM/SAM upgrade at Runtime in Bremen, Germany would cost. I'm currently shopping on eBay for either a Maxxum 7 or a Maxxum 9, because I really want to shoot an upcoming trip to Italy on Fujichrome Velvia (ISO 50) with my Zeiss 24-70 SSM (and all the rest of my Minolta glass). That's one thing that owning an alpha a850 has done for me... It made me go out and buy a bunch of non-DT lenses. And once I started, I found that I really love the "look" of Minolta's glass. I'm now dying to see what my beloved 50mm 1.4, 100mm Macro 2.8, and 70-210mm 4.0 beercan look like on Velvia. Plus I'm sure the Zeiss will look pretty darned good too ;)

So yeah. What do you think I should expect to pay for the SSM upgrade? I'd prefer to get the Maxxum 9 over the Maxxum 7, mostly for the better viewfinder and the heftier body, but if the cost of the upgrade is going to exorbitant, I guess I'll buy a Maxxum 7 instead.

Cheers,
Ben!

April 28, 2012 at 12:06 PM  
Anonymous dct said...

The upgrade is no more offered by Runtime. They spent the last upgrade kits around 2010, as far as I know. Check a 9 offering properly to get an upgraded one.

June 16, 2012 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger tryingmybest said...

I have mine on sale on Ebay and am about to get sick. Thanks a lot! Am about ready to pull the ad. Lord help me to the Post Office. I can't do it.

September 10, 2012 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Cybergoldfish said...

I've been using the Dynax 9 since 2001, (and the 9000 since 83) - It rocks. Every time I need a fix on photographic heritage i go photograph real-life stuff with this "Proper Camera"...

November 9, 2012 at 5:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello everyone, I just bought a Minolta dynax (maxumm) 9xi and I have not found the memoir card I do not know that kind of card and I would like to have a link or download programe.

January 30, 2015 at 12:37 PM  
OpenID syncopated666 said...

I love this review, its great and I have enjoyed spending my time looking back on a wonderful camera i spent 5 years getting to know inside and out.

The only error in your review is this sentence and i quote "The look of film is really unique. It's not subjective, it's real" I have to correct you, everything is subjective, whilst the 'look' of each particular film is unique, you chose where to point your choice of camera, lens and film, so without complete detachment, photography is practically speaking 100% subjective because your the decision maker.

November 9, 2016 at 6:09 AM  

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