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Konica Minolta

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Konica Minolta Co., Ltd (コニカミノルタ) is a worldwide manufacturer of cameras, camera accessories, office equipment such as photo-copiers, fax machines and laser printers, and a variety of other imaging products. Based in Osaka, Japan, it is perhaps most famous for making the first integrated autofocus 35mm SLR camera system.

Minolta was founded in Osaka, Japan in 1928 as Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shōten (日独写真機商店; lit:Japan-Germany camera shop) , which translates to Japanese-German Camera Company. It was not until 1934 that the name Minolta, meaning "ripening fields of rice" in Japanese, would first appear on a camera, the Minolta Vest.

Missing image
MinotlaTLR.jpg
A Minolta TLR
Relying heavily on imported German technology, Nichi-Doku turned out their first product, a bellows camera called the Nifcalette, in March 1929. By 1937, the company reorganized as Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko, K.K. (Chiyoda Optics and Fine Engineering, Ltd.) and built the first Japanese-made twin-lens reflex camera, the Minoltaflex based on the German Rolleiflex.

In 1950, Minolta developed a planetarium projector, the first-ever made in Japan, beginning the company's connection to astronomical optics. An American astronaut took a Minolta Hi-Matic rangefinder 35mm camera aboard the spaceship Friendship 7 in 1962, and in 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the moon with a Minolta Space Meter aboard.

From the late '50's to the mid-'80's, Minolta was arguably the most innovative camera manufacturer - the first Japanese manufacturer to introduce a bayonet lens mount rather than a screw mount, the first manufacturer to introduce TTL metering with full aperture, and the first manufacturer to introduce multi-mode metering.

In 1972, Minolta drew up a formal cooperation with Leitz. Leitz desperately needed expertise in camera body electronics, and Minolta felt that they could learn a trick or two from Leitz' optics expertise. Tangible results of this cooperation were the Leica CL/Minolta CL, an affordable rangefinder camera to supplement the Leica M range. The Leica CL was built by Minolta, to Leica specifications. Other results were the Leica R3, which was in fact the Minolta XE-1 with a Leica viewfinder and spot light metering system.

In 1977, Minolta introduced the XD-11, the first multi-mode 35mm compact SLR system camera, considered by many, including author Robert E. Mayer, to be the classic Minolta camera. Others disagree on this, however. Many consider the XM (XK in the Americas), a pro-caliber tank from 1972, to be the quintessential Minolta. The XM(XK) Motor (the motorized version) may well be the most collectible Japanese 35mm camera - in September 2004, after having been fought over heavily by many contestants, an XM Motor of 1976 collected as much as 2566 Euros on eBay, approximately 200% of its sticker price back in 1976. While this is an extraordinalily high (read: ridiculous) amount, in 2004, the going price for a secondhand XM Motor (1976) is still substantially higher than the going price for a Nikon F5, Nikon's most prestigious film-based camera to date.

The chassis of the XD11, called XD7 in Europe, was used by Leica for the R4 up to and including the R7.

In 1985, Minolta introduced a new line of cameras. In North America, they used the name 'Maxxum', in Europe the cameras were called 'Dynax' and in Japan they were named 'Alpha'. They were Minolta's first line of automatic focus SLR cameras, and in fact the first true autofocus-cameras the world had seen. "Other major camera manufacturers quickly began playing catch-up.", writes Mayer. The Maxxum cameras (3000, 5000, 7000 and 9000) made other innovations too. The Maxxum 7000, for example, has arrow buttons for setting aperture and shutter speed, rather than a shutter speed dial on the body and an aperture ring on the lens. That way, the only control necessary on the lens is the manual focusing ring (plus the zoom ring in the case of zoom lenses). The 7000 has two 8-bit CPUs and six integrated circuits. A circuit on the lens relays aperture information to the camera body, and the motor for autofocus is in the camera body. An LCD shows aperture, shutter speed and film frame count. The 7000 has TTL phase-detection focusing and metering, autoexposure and predictive autofocus. All Maxxum cameras use A-type bayonet mount lenses, and Minolta MC and MD lenses are incompatible.

Mayer quotes the price of a Maxxum 7000 with an AF 50mm f/1.7 lens at US$508 in 1985. In 2004, camera dealers consider these cameras worthless, but private owners can attest that the cameras are still fully functional even without regular maintenance. The problem with them is finding certain accessories for them, such as flash (because Minolta changed the design of the flash hot shoe with the Maxxum i line in 1988). But the newer lenses Minolta makes are still A-type bayonet mount and can be used with the older cameras, even if a few features thus become unavailable (such as power zoom).

After the 4-digit Maxxum i line came the 1-digit Maxxum xi line, followed by the 3-digit si line, and recently the 1-digit line without letters (Alpha/DynaxMaxxum 3, 4, 5, 7, 9).

Minolta has introduced features that has become standard in all brands a few years later. Among standardized features that were first introduced on Minolta models are: multisensor light-metering coupled to multiple AF-sensors; automatic flash balance system; wireless TTL flash control; TTL controlled full-time flash sync; speedy front and rear wheels for shutter and aperture control. Special features introduced by Minolta are: interactive LCD viewfinder display; setup memory; expansion program cards (discontinued); eye-activated startup.

While Minolta was the inventor of the modern integrated AF SLR, they are the last of the large camera manufacturers to successfully launch a digital SLR camera using the 35mm AF-mount. They launched a digital SLR system as early as 1995, the RD-175, a 1.4 megapixel camera based on the Maxxum 500si. In 1998, this excellent, but unsuccessful camera was superseded by the RD3000, a 3 megapixel SLR based on the lens mount of the Vectis APS SLR camera line, which was equally unsuccessful. It may be said that Minolta was - again - a bit too much ahead of the time. After these commercial failures, it wasn't until late 2004 (after the merger with Konica) that they launched the Dynax 7d, a digital SLR based on the very successful Dynax 7 (Maxxum 7 in the Americas) film-based body. The unique feature of this camera is that it features an in-body Anti-Shake system, to compensate for camera shake. The Dynax 7d seems to catch on as we write this (early 2005).

To this day Minolta makes Maxxum/Dynax film-based cameras (still retaining the different names in the different world markets), improving the design while maintaining the basic concepts. The Maxxum 4 is a 35mm SLR with an A-type bayonet mount, built-in flash, autoexposure, predictive autofocus, electronically controlled vertical-traverse focal plane shutter, through-the-lens (TTL) phase-detection focusing and metering. In advertising literature, Minolta claims that the Maxxum 4 is the most compact 35mm AF SLR, and the second fastest at autofocusing, while the Maxxum 5 is the fastest at autofocusing.

Fogged Infrared Negatives
Infrared negatives fogged by frame counter.

Because of the Maxxum 4's infrared frame counter sensor, the camera's manual explicitly states: "Do not use infrared film in this camera." But, in the experience of some users, infrared film can safely be used in the Maxxum 4. The frame counter fogs the upper sprocket area, but the image area is only slightly fogged at the middle of the top edge, if at all. The frame counter works by shining a narrow infrared beam at the sprockets, to count them, and shining a slightly wider beam at the sprocket that is at the midway position at frame width. The old Maxxum 7000 does not fog infrared film at all whatsoever. (Infrared frame counter sensor is not an exclusive feature of Konica Minolta cameras.)

Like its competitors, Minolta has also ventured into the digital photography market. Their DiMage line includes digital cameras and imaging software as well as film scanners. The DiMage Z1 camera is compatible with Minolta's flashes for modern film SLRs, but the lens is not interchangeable with film SLR lenses. The Z1 connects to computers and printers by USB ports. The latest model in the Z Series is the Z5 released in 2005. The Z5 sports a 12x optical zoom lens and 5 mega-pixel capabilities.

In 2003, Konica Corporation merged with Minolta to form Konica Minolta.

Branches of Konica Minolta in the English speaking world include Konica Minolta Corporation, based in Ramsey, New Jersey, USA, Konica Minolta Canada in Missisauga, Ontario, and Konica Minolta (UK) Limited in Basildon, England.

Other manufacturers make accessories, such as lenses, for Minolta cameras. Among them, Sigma and Quantaray.

References

  • Dynax 4/Dynax 3/Maxxum 4 Instruction Manual
  • Robert E. Mayer, Minolta Classic Cameras (a Magic Lantern Guide)

External link

fr:Konica Minolta ja:ミノルタ pl:Konica Minolta

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