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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Maxxum 5 and 28-80mm f3.5-5.6 AF D Lens
by Vivid Light Staff

Want a lightweight camera with a lightweight price and heavyweight features that is easier to use than pretty much anything in it's class? 

Take a hard look at the Maxxum 5. This is a camera that is comfortable for the novice shooting soccer games or the photographer who wants to push the envelope and do more than the basics.

Minolta keeps doing things that impress us and I've got to say that the Maxxum 5 can be added to that list. One of the problems with a modern SLR is to provide easy access to it's multitude of functions. So we've all become acquainted with difficult interfaces, multiple dials, and buttons that are tiny beyond comprehension. The result for many consumers is that they leave the camera in P (program) mode and never venture into the confusing morass of "real" photography with their cameras. The Maxxum 5 suffers none of these problems and makes it far easier for newcomers to photography to explore new ideas and concepts.

Let's take a step back. The consumer end of the photography market is where manufacturers sell the most cameras and not surprisingly, is where they make the most money.  The Pentax 7, Canon Rebel 2000, Nikon N65, and Sigma SA-7 had all been on the market for while before Minolta introduced this camera. That gave Minolta a chance to look at what was right and wrong with those cameras when they were designing the Maxxum 5.

I should confess at this point that I prefer larger heavier cameras. Being a big guy with big paws I often find these smaller cameras uncomfortable to use. The Minolta was a pleasant exception. It was comfortable both in my oversized hands and in the undersized hands of my petite wife. It was also a nice change in terms of weight. Of late I'd been shooting pro gear out of a backpack. Switching to a lightweight bag and an 11.8 once camera was a revelation. It felt like I was only carrying a point and shoot around. At 11.8 ounces the Maxxum 5 is not only lighter than the Xtsi it replaces but its the lightest camera in its class. The 28-80mm D lens reviewed here ads only 6 ounces for a total weight of just 18 ounces!

If you're new to SLR photography the Maxxum 5 continues a nice feature found on previous Minoltas. A large "P" button on the top deck allows you to reset everything back to factory settings and places the camera into program mode - giving you point and shoot simplicity. A nice feature indeed as newcomers can find themselves lost in the settings of their cameras - unable to remember what they changed or how to get back to where they started. 

Want to take more control of your photography and venture into some of the cameras' features? Those you're most likely to want to try are just a button away. 

Depth of field preview is located on the right side of the lens and is activated by pressing the button toward the lens rather than in toward the camera body. Since the button only requires light pressure a light press of your pinky or third finger will stop the lens down and let you evaluate depth of field in a surprising bright viewfinder. 

Want to improve the depth of field you're seeing in the finder? On the opposite side of the lens you'll find a switch that toggles the camera in and out of manual focus mode. I was feeling around for this button quite a bit until I realized I could just slide my thumb back to toggle in and out of auto-focus. As a matter of fact, as you get used to the camera you'll find that almost every button falls easily under a finger. It's just a matter of familiarity. 

Up on the prism housing you'll find two additional buttons. The first allows you to dial in exposure compensation in half stop increments. by pressing the button and rotating the command dial next to the shutter release. The button above if, labeled with a lightning bolt serves double duty to pop up the built in flash, or it can be used in conjunction with the command dial to select or cancel red eye reduction. In P mode the flash pops up automatically whenever the camera thinks the light is too low. In the other modes (aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual) the user must select when to use the flash. The flash button can also be used with the command dial to cancel the pop up flash in program mode. When up in low light the flash fires a series of pre-flashes as a focus aid which can be an annoyance for your subject. 

Most other functions are available using a dial on the top deck, allowing you to take full control of your shooting - including 14 custom functions that control everything from shutter release priority to whether the film leader is left out on rewind (a very nice feature indeed).

In program mode there are five specialized shooting modes that are common on cameras of this type: portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, and night scene. 

When you look through the viewfinder and press the shutter release to focus you'll see one of seven focus area indicators light up to show you what the camera has decided to focus on (though you can't choose the sensor yourself). If you want you can choose spot focus which will default to the center sensor. 

Information in the finder is complete and easy to read. Focus was quick and accurate. Though it did slow considerably with dark objects in low light we didn't have and problems with the autofocus hunting. 

Shutter speeds on the Maxxum 5 range from 1/4000th of a second to 30 seconds. Film advance is a respectable three frames per second. Flash sync is 1/125th second. 

Exposure bracketing is available by first setting the increment you want to use (1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or 1 stop) then holding in the exposure compensation button while shooting. 

The built in flash has the same guide number rating as the flash we tested on the Xtsi. We don't know whether there was a problem in our Xtsi test rig or if we got an exceptional flash in our Maxxum 5 test rig but we certainly got better results with the Maxxum 5. 

Gripes and Nit Picking
If we didn't find something to complain about you'd say we weren't doing our jobs. Like any camera the Maxxum 5 isn't perfect. As mentioned above the autofocus aid light is generally annoying and will have your subject squinting as if they were looking into the mid-day sun. Thankfully it can be turned off easily.

We missed not having diopter correction built into the finder. Optional snap in diopters are available but they're nowhere near as convenient - especially if you and your spouse require different settings. 

Every 35mm camera I've ever used has a film door that opens from the left side except for Leicas and the Maxxum 5. Minolta added a button release on the back of the camera that opens the back instead of the little catch on the side of the camera that most manufacturers use. Once film is loaded the camera back is locked until the film is rewound so that the camera can't be opened accidentally. This is a good thing and I could get used to the door opening from the right except that the lug for the camera strap is placed about and 1/8th of an inch from the top of the door. You guessed it, you can't open or close the door without catching the camera strap in the door. Not a big deal until you're tired and loading you 10th roll of film for the day. Then you want to take a pair of hedge clippers to the strap!

We found street prices for the Maxxum 5 in the $240 to $275 range (mail order vs. retail). Prices for the lens were between $70 and $100 or you can buy them both as a kit for $310 to $360. Minolta also packages the Maxxum 5 with a 70-200mm or a 75-300mm zoom. 

What you get is a lot of camera for your money, perfect for travel and family photography, but with enough features for you to stretch your creativity. 

All camera manufacturers have raised the stakes in this category in recent years with cameras far better than their predecessors. Minolta has hit the bulls eye with the Maxxum 5. 

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