|Minolta Maxxum XTsi Dual Zoom Kit w/28-80 and 80-200
by Vivid Light Staff
Looking for a lightweight easy to use SLR? One that has everything in one box including two zooms, shoulder strap, and even batteries? Something that will do duty at the soccer field and on family vacations? A camera that won't require you to get a degree in photography to use it - but that you can do a little experimenting with if you want to? And let's not forget that it shouldn't break the bank.
Well if those are your requirements then you'll likely be pretty happy with the XTsi. Minolta has hit the mark for the consumer market with this camera. It's a solid step up from the point and shoot world, but if your aspirations are for more rugged use or higher quality optics you'd be better served by Minolta's 800si or Maxxum 7. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of this capable little camera.
Buying an SLR can be a confusing experience if you're not already a photo enthusiast. Minolta has tried to take some of the confusion out of the process. This kit includes the camera, a general purpose 28-80 zoom, a 70-210 telephoto zoom (both include lens hoods), a shoulder strap, and even the two CR2 lithium batteries. A few seconds after you've unpacked the camera you're ready to shoot.
The only thing I had to buy that wasn't included in the kit was a step ring. The filter size on the 70-210 zoom lens is 49mm and the filter size on the 28-80 is 62mm. A step ring is an adapter that allows you to use a single filter size with both lenses. For regular use I'd recommend a skylight (1A) filter for both lenses to protect them from scratches.
Using the XTsi was equally easy. I ran through a roll of film before I bothered to go back and look at the manual. The manual, by the way, was a pleasant surprise. The folks at Silver Pixel Press, who publish the Magic Lantern Guides, have made a nice living off the fact that most camera manuals are pretty bad. The XTsi's manual however was well organized, well illustrated, and easy to understand for someone who's not a photographer. Any modern SLR has a lot of features and can be confusing. Minolta has divided those features up into levels. Level one covers everything you need to get up and running. That will probably be enough for many, but if you want to explore the cameras abilities - and to improve your photos, you can progress through the levels in the manual and learn the features of your camera.
Speaking of learning the camera, the same philosophy is carried over to the controls. The idea is to make the basics accessible and easy, and then give you the ability to easily explore features as you feel the need. Along those lines Minolta gives you a large 'P' button on the top of the camera that sets everything back to it's original mode. This is a great function for beginners who get lost in the myriad of functions of some SLRs and can't figure out how to get back to square one. It could be a pain at times because you had to remember what functions you needed to reset if you accidentally hit the button while using the camera.
I dropped the camera and it's lenses into my long suffering Lowepro bag which is normally stuffed with two camera bodies and 5 lenses. When I got to my destination and grabbed the bag I had a moment of panic thinking that I had forgotten to pack the camera into the bag. A quick check confirmed that it had made the trip safely, but the XTsi is that light. Just the thing when strolling around on vacation or hanging out all day at the ball field.
In use I found the XTsi to be relatively easy to learn. Pop it into program mode and it will satisfy many folks. Want to take more control? I do a lot of shooting in aperture priority mode to control depth of field. Commands on the camera are accessed through the function dial on the left side of the camera. Rotate the dial to the function you want to control, then rotate the control dial (under the shutter release) while holding down the function button in the center of the function dial. It takes longer to type it out then to do it, and it's intuitive after the first few times.
Exposures from the 14 segment honeycomb meter were spot on for the most part, although I was able to fool it into underexposure with a scene that had a tremendous exposure latitude from dark to light. However the exposure wasn't so far out that a good mini lab wouldn't be able to get a print, and in fact mine did.
The XTsi has a max shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second which should please all but the most demanding shooters. When shooting sports you may wish for a little more then the XTsi's two frames per second film advance.
An interesting feature unique to Minolta is eye start focus. The way it works is that there is a sensor in the camera's grip that tells the camera if someone is holding it. When you put the camera to your eye it begins to focus - without you having to depress the shutter button to start focusing. The idea is eye start focus makes for faster picture taking with active subjects or when shooting candids. It worked well when getting some grab shots in a crowd of people but I found it distracting when shooting landscapes and turned it off, easy to do with a clearly labeled switch on the back of the camera. That's something else that Minolta has done a good job with. Controls are for the most part clearly labeled and easy to find.
The XTsi includes a panoramic mode, accessible through a switch on the side of the body. The switch engages two shutters that block off the top and bottom of the film, and block off part of the viewfinder to help you frame the image. When shooting those panoramics, or when you want to get yourself into the portrait the XTsi includes a self timer that will trip the shutter 10 seconds after the timer is engaged.
For More Advanced Users
The 28-80 lens included with the kit has a macro mode that will allow you to get in close. While not a true macro we were pleasantly surprised by the results shown in the two flower images below. The first is the image as it appeared on the negative, the second is a blow up of a slice from the center of the image. There is a softening of the images at the edges but no more then you would expect from a lens of this type. To get edge to edge sharpness in macro mode requires a true macro lens.
Macro not your thing? The XTsi offers a number of features for those wanting to go beyond the program modes. Both spot metering and spot focus are available on this camera, which gives you a great degree of creative control over exposure. If you're not sure if the meter will pick the best exposure for the scene, you can choose auto bracketing, which will shoot three successive copies of the image at a half stop over, a half stop under, and at the measured meter reading.
You also have the option to dial in exposure compensation of up to 3 stops over/under the meter's reading in half stop increments. You also have the option of manually setting the ISO speed of your film. It's common with slide film for example, to rate the film 1/3rd of a stop slower then it's actual ISO number to get improved color saturation.
Want to do some night shooting? The XTsi offers slow sync flash that allows you to properly expose the background of your night shots instead of getting a solid black background.
If you want to really see what you can do with flash photography, Minolta makes several flash heads that work with the XTsi. The 5400HS can sync with the XTsi for flash photography up to 1/4000th of a second, and the XTsi supports wireless operation with the 3500xi flash.
The XTsi also has a number of custom functions that allow you to control shutter release priority, film rewind, film leader in/out, always over/under expose a given film type, autoflash on/off, focus hold/spot/continuous, focus sensor selector left/right/center, press and hold for spot meter or press an activate spot meter, autofocus illuminator on/off, and allow eye start to work with just the eye sensor (use if you're wearing gloves).
Complaints, Gripes, and Nit-Picking
While the 28-80 gave us some surprisingly good images we felt that images from the 70-210 were a bit soft, though really no worse than other lenses in this class.
While the XTsi's focus speed is decent in daylight, it's slow in low light conditions. On more than one occasion there was a noticeable delay when the shutter was pressed while the camera figured out if it was completely happy before it would fire. On one occasion we couldn't get focus to lock on a moving subject in low light and couldn't get the camera to fire at all.
Speaking of the built in flash, it's fine for fill flash duty or for portraits (it has red eye reduction) But you'll want something more powerful for any kind of serious flash work. We'd like to have seen a little more power in this unit but there's a trade off in battery life. There's also no separate flash exposure compensation.
The tripod mount is set back farther on the XTsi then on most other cameras. If you use a quick release plate for your tripod (as we do) the plate hangs off the back of the camera and tends to catch things in the bag and can spike you in the chest when the camera is around your neck.
Is This Camera Right for You?
If you're looking for simplicity, ease of use, and light weight in a package that can grow with you then the XTsi dual zoom kit might be right for you. We found street prices on this package ranging from $525 to $575 making it a real bargain.
What's Not There that You Might Want
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