Updated Mar. 16, 2021
The Pentax K1000. The Minolta X-700. The Nikon F3. When it comes to naming the Japanese 35mm SLRs that remained in production the longest, those three models are at the top of most lists with both the Pentax and Nikon breaking the two-decade barrier (21 years for the Pentax and almost 22 years for the Nikon to be more exact), and the Minolta clocking out after 19 years. Unsurprisingly, all three of these models are very popular with film enthusiasts today, with the Pentax and Minolta routinely being recommended as "Best Beginner Film SLR" and the Nikon being lauded as an all-time classic and sometimes espoused as the "Best 35mm SLR of All Time". The objective of this article is not to wade into any fray over "the Best..." (seeing as what's best for me or you will not necessarily be the same in any case), but rather, to introduce you to another entrant in the longest-produced sweepstakes; one that receives far less notoriety, yet can prove to be an excellent choice as an introduction to film photography.
The X-370 was the final link in a chain of Minolta manual focus (MF) consumer SLRs that were a direct response to the unmatched sales success of the Canon AE-1. Within a year of the AE-1’s debut in 1976, Minolta fought back with the XG-7 (XG-2 in Europe & XG-E in Japan). Coming in at two-thirds the cost of the class-leading, enthusiast-targeted XD, the XGs would serve as the template for the X-xxx series, which would terminate with the X-370. Per Minolta's wont, the XG models changed designation according to sales region (North America vs. Europe vs. Asia, in this case). They were Minolta's first hybrid-construction SLRs, featuring glass-reinforced polymers ("plastic" for the less-verbose ;-)) with an aluminum front plate & film gate and a steel plate based around the tripod mount to stiffen the entire assembly. As time went by, Minolta tweaked their design and production techniques to make the most of this modular platform. Over the eight-year interval from the original XG-7 to the X-370's introduction in 1984, 35 to 40 grams of material was shaved from the construction. Electrical circuits were also simplified over time.
An X-xxx Series Overview
Consolidation of their manual focus SLR lineup was one of Minolta's main goals with the X-xxx models. Instead of five or six models (made up of various XDs and XGs), there would be just three, and they would share as many parts as possible to reduce production costs. Minolta started at the top with the X-700 (introduced in late-1981), which married an XG chassis & internals to the XD's "final-check" silicon photodiode (SPD) meter and introduced Minolta's first through-the-lens (TTL) flash metering system. This slotted it between the XD and the XG-M as far as cost went. It was also the first Minolta to feature auto-exposure lock and a Program exposure mode (the camera set both shutter speed and aperture automatically), to go along with Minolta's traditional Aperture-priority (A) and Manual modes.
Just as they had done with their previous XE, XD, and XG lines, Minolta had a slightly de-contented version of the X-700 waiting in the wings. In 1983, the X-570 (X-500 outside of North America) made its debut. Deleted were Program Mode and Exposure Compensation. The X-570 would make do with A and M modes. This was a very small step down, and the -570 actually added two features (versus the X-700) that made it a more versatile SLR for advanced users: 1) slow-speed flash sync (allowing for sync with shutter speeds slower than the standard 1/60 sec.), and 2) a twin-LED readout in Manual mode (a glowing LED for the meter's recommended shutter speed, and a blinking LED for the actual speed that was set on the dial). This allowed the user to keep the camera to their eye instead of having to look at the shutter speed dial to confirm the setting. ISO range was also expanded to 12 - 3200 from 25 - 1600 on the X-700.
An Untimely Demise for the X-570
1984 brought the X-370 (X-300 outside of North America), rounding out Minolta's final MF SLR triumvirate. Being the base model, the feature deletions were more pronounced:
The result of all of this trimming was an SLR that came in 20% cheaper than the X-570 and 40% less than the X-700. Adjusted for inflation to 2021 (as are all prices in this article), you could own an X-370 (with a 50/1.7 lens) in 1984-85 for $360 USD. Now, it's quite obvious that the X-570 had the best combination of features as far as an enthusiast was concerned. But it would suffer from middle-child syndrome, being overlooked by consumers awestruck by the blinding superiority of the X-700's Program mode ;-) or the enticingly-priced X-370. When Joe/Jolene Consumer looked through the viewfinder of all three models in the store, they all looked the same, except for that magic green "P" glowing inside the X-700 and the absence of the aperture readout in the X-370 (which they probably didn't notice anyway, unless the salesperson pointed it out :-)). And if the salesperson did point it out, they probably also pointed out the $150 USD difference between the X-700 and the -370, with the X-570 stuck in the middle. Overall sales of the three models reflected this reality. The X-570/-500 was only produced from 1983-85 and sold until early-1989 with approximately 350,000 units made versus the two-decade or more lifespans of the X-700 (1981-99 & 2.1 million sold) and the X-370 (in production until 2005, with 1.8 million sold by 1993 and millions more produced in China in OEM and licensed versions from 1987 until at least 2012).
The X-570's main problem was that the X-370, even lacking DOF preview, TTL flash, and the aperture readout, was still a lot of camera for the money:
1985 brought an all-black version of the X-370...the X-7A. (The international X-300 was available in both chrome and all-black finishes.) The X-7A can be easily confused with the earlier Japanese-domestic-market-only X-7 (1982), the black version of which was basically an XG-A with the addition of a slow-shutter-speed warning beeper and a removable film back. The X-7A is considerably more camera than the X-7 though they are usually priced identically nowadays (bargain alert!).
The Slow Devolution of the X-370
1985 also served as the demarcation line as far as the future of the manual focus SLR line as a whole for Minolta. With the overnight success of their Maxxum (in North America; Dynax in Europe; Alpha in Japan) AF system introduced in February of that year, Minolta began the process of slowly shuttering their quarter-century-old SR system. This started out innocuously enough: discontinuing production of the under-appreciated X-570, leaving the X-700 & X-370 to care for the now rapidly-declining MF market. Next, Minolta moved to lessen labor costs by offshoring most of X-xxx series production to Malaysia and later, China (although some were still assembled in Japan). Then, slowly squeezing the higher-end MD optics out of the lineup and actually turning to sub-contractors to design and build small & cheap zooms to go along with a few token primes by the mid-90's. It would only be the X-370, in its entry-level/student market slot, that would receive any sort of "updating" (mostly in the form of cost-cutting ;-)) in the final decade-and-a-half of the Minolta MF system. It went something like this:
Life With an X-370 Series Minolta Today
While a base-model in every sense, the X-370 acquitted itself well among its contemporaries such as the Olympus OM G (OM-20), Nikon FG-20, Pentax P-3, and even older higher-level models that were being lumped into the same price bracket by 1985, such as the Yashica FX-D. The -370 totally out-classed the identically-priced Canon T50, which was really a poor SLR version of a point-and-shoot (you still had to manually focus and rewind the film, while having no opportunity to take control of exposure as you gained experience). The Olympus competed well based on features, especially the viewfinder (93% @ 0.92x), but definitely feels less-solid; the Nikon matches the feel and capability of the X-370 (and throws in a better vertical-travel shutter), but the somewhat dimmer viewfinder (92% @ 0.86x) lags a bit behind; the Pentax (another overlooked, but very capable camera) feels as solid and maybe even a bit more so than the Minolta, but the viewfinder (92% @ 0.82x) is a step down.
Today, an X-370/X-7A/X-9 will easily run you a third to a quarter of the cost of an equivalent-condition X-700 from a reputable used camera dealer. That makes it a veritable steal in my books. While undeniably lesser in features, its build quality is equivalent and the guts of both cameras are essentially identical. With the elimination of the Program and TTL flash modes came simplification of the X-370's internal circuitry, with 25 connections requiring de-soldering for a complete teardown versus 37 in the X-700. That relative simplicity makes the X-370 easier to repair, particularly when it comes to the most common malady afflicting the X-xxx series SLRs: the dreaded failure of the mirror-release capacitor. Easily-accessed in the bottom of the X-370, you are looking at a 10 to 15 minute DIY repair with modest soldering skills on the X-370, while the X-700 requires removal of the top plate, ISO controls, and more to access its mirror-release capacitor...a much more laborious and time-consuming process. ***NOTE*** You may as well replace the aperture-control capacitor on the X-700 while you are at it (it triggers two separate diaphragm-control electromagnets prior to the triggering of the mirror release magnet). It is found in the same location in the bottom of the X-700 as the X-370's mirror release capacitor.
Another tidbit concerns replacement of the focusing screen. Although Minolta did not draw attention to it in the instruction manual for the X-370, the focusing screen was identical to X-700's & X-570's. The various dealer-interchangeable screens for the X-700 are rare to find nowadays, but they will fit the X-370 just fine or you can use the standard X-700 screen to replace a scratched or otherwise damaged X-370 screen or vice-versa. Again, with care (focusing screens are very easily scratched if you are not careful), a good set of self-closing tweezers, and a fine pick, it is a 3 to 5 minute job to remove, blow any dust off of, and replace the focusing screen on any X-xxx series camera.
Sure, the X-370/X-7A is far from the pinnacle of 35mm film SLRs...but for the money, you get an awful lot of camera. The viewfinder is one of the best of any non-professional SLR of the era, and with Minolta's Acute Matte focusing screen technology, it is a bright and snappy focuser. Film winding, while certainly not being mistaken for that of an XD or XE, is also snappy and plenty smooth. All-in-all, I find that the X-370 doesn't get in the way much, if at all, of my photographic intentions. It's simple, lightweight, and solid enough for casual to moderate use. In other words, a great way to sample the film SLR experience for the first time, or a great backup body to any of the more-advanced Minolta MF bodies. It is an excellent gateway to the magnificent menagerie of Minolta manual focus glass available today, too. You get the option of traditional styling with the first-generation or the swoopier second-gen models (the X-9 is the definite pick of the litter among these as far as features go). Taking its two-decade lifespan badged as a Minolta together with at least another 7 years following that in various guises from the Shanghai General Camera Factory into account, the X-370 might well lay claim to the longest production life and highest numbers of any Japanese-designed 35mm SLR. Not too shabby for a camera that became "obsolete" only a year after its introduction :-).
Various Instruction Manuals @ https://www.butkus.org/chinon/index.html
Popular Photography March 1982 - Lab Report XG-M p. 113
Popular Photography November 1982 - Lab Report X-700 p.115
Popular Photography April 1985 - Lab Report X-370 p. 33
Popular Photography September 1990 - Test Report X-370N p. 54
Minolta SLR Production Numbers @ http://knippsen.blogspot.com
Chinese SLR Production Numbers @ http://knippsen.blogspot.com
Minolta X-600 @ http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Minolta_X-600
Popular Photography June 1983 - Minolta X-570 & X-600 Introduction p. 69
Popular Photography December 1994 - Minolta X-600 SLR Column p. 38
Suffers from a quarter-century 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.