Minolta SRT-101

I learned photography with this:

Minolta SRT-101 with an MC Rokkor PF 58/1.4

I learned photography with this camera when my dad allowed me to peek into its viewfinder when I was around six or seven years old. Eventually he would allow me to shoot with it with a workflow that included: match the needle-focus-shoot. For a skinny seven or so year old kid, that thing weighed a ton but I learned to appreciate it despite the heft.

Judging from the photographic records, my dad was a gadget guy who collected tech toys of that era (1960s) which included open reel tape decks and cameras. Even before I was born, there were plenty of photographs documenting our family life including my entry into this world in 1960. My first encounter with a camera actually came in much earlier when I was three years old when my dad brought home a brand new Petri 7s in 1963. The Petri 7s was introduced into the market that same year which hinted at my dad’s liking for things top of the line and brand new. What would happen is a case of an unsupervised toddler getting his hands on that camera and making a mess out of it. Blame it on my mom who thought it was a welcome distraction to allow her a little free time from me; but let me just say we never saw the camera again and I strangely did not have any photos on my fourth birthday. The photos began appearing again in 1965 (where it seems like my brother
born in 1964appeared out of thin air in the photos) when my dad got himself the SRT-101 (Minolta introduced this model that same year).

My use of the SRT-101 was limited to family events like parties and reunion which we had plenty of; I was well supervised especially in the early days (my dad did not want a repeat of the Petri 7s…). What I basically knew, apart from the workflow earlier mentioned, was that I should never move the shutter speed dial off 1/60 (flash sync speed) and I was only allowed to turned the aperture ring to make that needle thingy move. My dad’s explanation was that I would get only half a picture if I did (I would discover the reason much later in the Pentax Spotmatic what would really happen—but only in flash photography). Even in daylight or available light situations, the shutter speed stayed on 1/60. Which meant that for the rest of my grade school days, my exposure range was confined to what was allowed by the ASA 80 (ISO 80 now) color film and the aperture range of the MC Rokkor PF 58/1.4 would allow (min aperture was F16). So I could not shoot in bright sunlight and was confined to staying under the shade.

If the light went down really low I was to mount the electronic flash. These were the days before automatic or thyristor flashes which meant those things gave out the flashes at maximum power. Now my dad simply told me that when the light is inadequate (i.e., at 1/60 and F1.4 the needle still would not match) was the time to put on the flash. So almost all our flash photos were overexposed!

By the time I turned ten, a Japanese friend would give me an Olympus PEN EE-2 for a birthday present which would be superseded by Canon Datematic (RF) which I co-opted from my dad. I learned that because of their variable shutter speed (both were defaulted to automatic shutter speed) that it was okay to turn that dial. Experimenting back with the SRT-101 showed that my exposure range exponentially went wider when I began using speeds from 1/1000 to B! I also learned soon enough that I needed a tripod below 1/60. Because I wanted to take close ups of my cat, I would learned the use of guide numbers to control the flash—manually (automatic flashes would come around the house in 1976 or so).

With the Olympus, Canon and later the Pentax Spotmatic available for my use, I began to shy away from the Minolta for no other reason that its size and weight. Looking back, though, it seems that it was the most cutting edge of all the SLRs we had while we lived with my father. It definitely superseded the Pentax Spotmatic (which is a year older in vintage) and had little niceties which I found myself missing when I was using my Canon AE-1 and even my brother’s A-1.

In the days before Pentax K-Mount, the Minolta MD mount was far more intuitive than the Canon FD breech mount that came with the AE-1. Except that my dad never invested in any other lenses for the Minolta which made the Pentax more attractive (it came with a Takumar 28/3.5, 50/1.4 and a 135/3.5). On the scale of things, what good is a bayonet mount if you only had one lens? That, plus the sleeker design, made the Spotmatic a more attractive camera. It was etched into my mind that the SRT-101 was a big and hefty camera—never mind if I was no longer a skinny seven year old—now as a skinny seventeen year old; it was still weighed a ton compared to the Spotmatic.

The other thing with which the Minolta spoiled me was its CLC (“Contrast Light Compensator”) which would be a precursor to matrix metering. The SRT-101 had two cells that metered; one was biased towards the center much narrower the plain center weighted and another biased towards the bottom of the field of view. The dominant cell was in the one in the middle and the other cell considering the conditions at the bottom of the frame.

Because of the exposure range I was limited to in my early days with the SRT-101, I tended to take photos in the shade which usually meant that there was a degree of backlighting happening. The CLC metering compensated for that and most of my photos came out perfect. Later, in my Spotmatic days, I kept wondering why my backlit photos were underexposed. It was only later that I would learn how the SRT-101 fixed that for me with its CLC.

Mid-life brings me back to the present and a longing for the past reunites me back with the SRT-101. Alongside my Pentax MX, KX and KM, I have something that would survive much longer than the disposable cams that are being produced now.

Here's a photo that survived flash over exposure (dumb luck?): a photo of my grandparents back in 1970 (taken during the Christmas season of 1969).
Minolta SRT-101 + MC Rokkor PF 58/1.4 + Kodacolor II
(guessing...but that was my dad's choice film).