"Endling" - an individual that is the last of its species.
-The journal Nature-
Meet the last great manual focus Minolta...the XD (XD 11 in North America/XD 7 in Europe). Steady on, now! Wasn't the X-700 (1981) an award-winning camera with a more extensive and capable system of accessories?! Yes...yes it was, and it sold very well (2.1 million copies versus 750,000 XDs)...and lived a much longer life...and it has TTL flash...and a real motor drive...yadda, yadda, yadda. Just pick up an example of each and stroke the film advance lever. Case closed. Well, not really closed...I'm just getting warmed up ;-). Now the objective of this article is not to denigrate the X-700. (That would be rather unappreciative, seeing as it was my first real camera, it got me hooked on photography, and it is a good camera.) But a funny thing happened when I was looking for a backup body, back in 2000. I chanced upon a black XD 11 at my local pusher...I mean camera store, and for $50 less than I had paid for the X-700! Fast forward 16 years, and the 11 is still with me while the X-700 was sent down the road a few years back. Why?
What Makes the XD Special?
Minolta began development of the XD shortly after the introduction of the XE in 1974 (coincidentally, at almost exactly the same time, Canon started development of their revolutionary AE-1). They were pushing the technological envelope, adding a shutter-priority mode to the XE's aperture-priority and manual modes, adopting a more sensitive Silicon Photo Diode (SPD) meter instead of the cadmium sulfide (CdS) meter of the XE, introducing a new, brighter Acute-Matte focusing screen, an LED viewfinder display, and notably, (thanks to the AE-1 ;-)) a microprocessor. But the most visible difference from the XE was the result of another SLR's influence.
In 1973, Olympus had introduced it's groundbreaking OM-1, the first truly compact SLR. The XE was too close to production to make the transition to this new form factor. But it's not hard to see the effect of the OM-1 in the XD. The XD is 220 grams (almost 8 oz.) lighter than the XE and within a few millimeters of the OM-1's dimensions. The XD provided all of the XE's capability and more in a lighter, smaller package. And it was aimed at the enthusiast photographer, not the average consumer (as opposed to the Canon AE-1 and Minolta's later X-700). So it retained the vertical-travel shutter configuration of the XE, metal top and bottom plates, very nearly the same silky film advance, the eyepiece shutter, and multiple exposure capability (although it used the system from the professional-level XK, which, ironically, was not as refined as the XE's). Now, Minolta obviously made XD production more efficient and cost-effective than that of the XE. But the drop-off in build quality was minimal, especially when compared to the XD versus the X-700.
Some other features of the XD are:
XD versus X-700
The X-700 was Minolta's second-generation reply to the tremendous success of the Canon AE-1 and served as the direct competitor to its progeny, the AE-1 Program. It is not difficult to see the influence of Canon on Minolta's approach. Whereas the XD was targeted firmly at enthusiasts and carried an appropriate price tag, the X-700 was all about getting to the average consumer and sold for around $75 USD ($200 in 2016) less than the XD on its introduction. To accomplish that price reduction Minolta basically took it's bottom-of-the-line XG chassis and hot-rodded it with more advanced electronics and a few bits from the XD (like the SPD "final check" meter). To appeal to the desire of people that just wanted to "point and shoot", the X-700 introduced Program mode (replacing the XD's Shutter-Priority mode) to the Minolta universe. The camera set both shutter and aperture, requiring the user only to focus and shoot (further proof that the X-700 was aimed at consumers: the camera did not display the aperture it had selected in Program mode). The X-700 also debuted Minolta's TTL (through the lens) flash metering, its most notable improvement over the XD (but tellingly, one that did not require any large outlay for new components). An even brighter Acute Matte focusing screen, a proper Motor Drive (instead of just an Auto Winder), and AE (Auto Exposure) lock rounded out the improvements over the XD. However, the subtractions are eerily similar to Canon's approach pioneered by the AE-1:
X-700s sold like crazy. Minolta sold more of them in the camera's first three years than it did XDs (including the slightly de-contented XD-5: same mechanicals, but with no aperture readout in the viewfinder, no film safe-load signal, and no integrated eyepiece shutter) in eight years. The X-700 stayed in production until 1999, meaning there are oodles of them still available for very reasonable prices. But should you buy one instead of an XD?
I sold my X-700 and kept my XD for a few reasons. They may or may not be pertinent to your situation:
This is not to say that the XD is perfect. On early versions, the exposure compensation lever is located in an area where it can be accidentally dislodged. Later versions had the EC lever moved inboard to prevent this. Also, the leatherette shrinks badly on the earlier-production copies. But you can work that in your favor if you are looking to purchase one. The shabby looks can knock the price down a bit. And then you have the opportunity to dress up the look of the camera with a custom covering, which comes in a wide variety of materials and colors for $15 to $30 USD depending on the source. If you are hesitant to do it yourself, 678 Vintage Cameras offers kits & installation for $60 CAD + shipping. You can factor that in when considering buying an XD, with prices generally ranging from $50 to $150 USD for a body (excepting the ridiculous prices for 50th Anniversary models: with nothing added other than a badge; and the limited production XD-s model, with its built-in diopter adjustment in place of the eyepiece shutter).
The XD was the final Minolta manual focus body in development before the Canon AE-1 changed the SLR industry forever. As such, it was designed and produced according to the build quality standards of the early to mid 1970s. Although it came out a year after the AE-1, it was aimed at the more established enthusiast rather than the average consumer. Post-AE-1, every manufacturer had to make compromises in components and construction if they were going to successfully compete on price with Canon. Minolta was not immune to this, and so the lower-end XG series was born in the same year, 1977, as the XD was introduced. It was a direct response to the AE-1. The XG sold as many units in its first 15 months as the XD sold in its entire eight-year lifespan. So it is really no surprise that when Minolta looked at what it would use as the basis for the X-xxx series of cameras, which would be up against Canon's improved AE-1 Program (1981), there would be far more XG DNA present than that of the XD. Minolta would also consolidate the two lines of cameras into one, which would further cut production costs. The X-700 would try to be all things to everyone. That involves compromise. AKA "good enough". And the X-700 is good enough. But not "great".
The XD is the last Minolta manual focus body that moved the bar higher in several areas: more exposure modes, more accurate metering, better vibration control, miniaturization, auto winding, brighter viewfinders, and all without compromising component and build quality. It was striving for the best in state-of-the-art technology. It's descendants would make further refinements in TTL flash metering, and better accessories. But "good enough" would now be given priority over "best", especially when it came to components. The race was now a race to the bottom. How far could an SLR be stripped down qualitywise and still be "good enough" to satisfy most users? It is a pattern that continues to repeat itself, not only in photography, but in all sorts of manufactured goods. That, to me, is what makes the XD an "endling", the last manual focus Minolta of its kind. And one of Minolta's all-time best.
Suffers from a two-decade and counting film and manual focus SLR addiction. Has recently expanded into 1980's AF point and shoots, and (gack!) '90s SLRs. He even mixes in some digital. Definitely a sick man.