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Minolta Maxxum 7 & 
5600 HS(D) Flash

by Vivid Light Staff

Someone at Minolta has their eye on the ball.  Their newest line of Maxxum cameras, the new Maxxum 5 (see News this issue), the Maxxum 7, and the pro level Maxxum 9, are doing all the right things and incorporating some trick new features.

We received our Maxxum 7 along with a 5600HS(D) flash and two lenses.  Frequent readers know that we are very conscious of a camera's ergonomics.  A camera should have a solid feel and its controls should fall easily under your fingers.  The controls should be intuitive and make sense.  You shouldn't have to refer to the manual to figure out how to set basic functions.  The idea being that if you have to concentrate on the camera, you're not concentrating on making images.

The Maxxum 7 gets high marks on ergonomics.  At just under one pound it's not a featherweight camera and this is a good thing.  A bit of weight to the camera body helps with its balance when a lens is attached.  That said, it doesn't have the real heavyweight feel of a top end pro camera (such as the Maxxum 9), making it a good compromise for most serious amateurs.

The controls are easy-to-understand buttons and knobs for the most common settings.  Custom functions are controlled by buttons hidden behind a small door below the rear display panel.

Put the camera to your eye and you'll find a reasonably bright, uncomplicated viewfinder with a built-in diopter adjustment for those of us who no longer have the eyesight of a 20 year old.  One minor gripe I had with the finder is that I sometimes had to reposition my eye to see the viewfinder information.  That information is clear and easy to read though and was still crisp when shooting in bright sunlight.  A really good idea is the rubberized ridge that wraps 3/4 around the viewfinder.  This provides a solid, cushioned place for you eyebrow to rest - establishing a solid third contact point and helping to create steadier hand held photos.

The Maxxum 7 allows you to choose from 9 focus points via a rocker button on the back of the camera.  A thoughtful option is a center button in the middle of the rocker that jumps you back to the center sensor that you're likely to use most often.  It's one of those little design features that makes you say "that's a neat idea, someone was thinking."  There are a lot of those kinds of ideas on this camera.

Adjacent to the viewfinder is a toggle switch that allows you to choose between spot, 14 segment, or average metering.  We found the meter to be accurate with a tendency toward slight underexposure.  This will please slide shooters but you may want to dial in a little positive exposure compensation if you're shooting negative film to get a little more "meat" in your negs.

Next to that is another unique feature - a manual override button.  This button engages a clutch in the camera body that allows you to disengage the autofocus motor and touch up the focus manually.  The button falls right under your right thumb when your finger is on the shutter release making it easy to operate.  This is an extremely useful feature for both macro and for portrait work where you often want to touch up focus slightly to make sure your subject's eyes are tack sharp.

An area that has a lot of good ideas is the information display on the back of the camera.  You can toggle through several standard displays that allow you to control how much information you see.  Want to see everything - you can.  Want a less cluttered display - it's there.  Just want to see exposure information - it's there.  Want to know your exposure settings for your last 5 frames - no problem.  Turn the camera on its side to shoot verticals and a sensor in the camera detects the rotation and automatically rotates the display to make it easier to read!  Somebody was thinking.

Another nice feature of the display is activated when you press the depth of field preview button.  Focus on your subject, press the DOF button, and the range of sharp focus is shown on the display screen.  This is really handy for macro photography where the plane of focus can be very thin, and it's useful for landscapes to help you determine a point of focus for maximum sharpness throughout the image.  But keep in mind this only works if you are using the new Minolta D lenses which are capable of measuring subject distance.  One final feature that is much appreciated is an illumination button next to the display that lights it for easy reading in low light.

When you start shooting you find that the Maxxum 7 provides 4 frames per second advance and shutter speeds up to 1/8000th of a second.  You can choose between single shot, continuous shooting with predictive focus tracking (which Minolta claims is now the fastest available), or multiple exposure modes.  You also have a choice of bracketing exposures up to 7 frames (3 over & 3 under).  And both exposure bracketing and exposure compensation can be controlled in 1/3rd or 1/2 stop increments via the command dial on the left side of the camera's top deck.  Mirror lock up is also available for you macro shooters.

Some interesting accessories are available for this camera.  The VC-7 vertical grip is thoughtfully designed, featuring a battery pack and  contoured grip with both shutter release and command dials.  Right now Minolta is offering $100 off the grip when you buy a Maxxum 7.  With street prices on the grip between $175 and $200 that makes the grip a real bargain.

Another option is the Data Saver DS-100 which allows you to download shooting data to a smart card.

The Maxxum 7's built in flash covers 24mm and is surprisingly strong for a built in flash; allowing you to use it more creatively than just for fill flash on close subjects.  But when used with the 5600 HS(D) flash unit and D lenses this flash system really shines.   The system reads subject distance and determines exactly how much flash is necessary to achieve proper exposure and the flash can sync at any speed up to the camera's maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second with no special fiddling required of the photographer!  This means that you can use fill flash in bright sunlight enabling you to shoot wide open and still blur the background.  A great feature for portrait shooters.

The Maxxum 7 also allows you full control of the flash exposure through flash compensation and flash bracketing that are independent of the exposure compensation.

The Maxxum 7 supports TTL wireless remote flash.  This means if you remove the 5600 HS(D) and place it on a tripod, or on the feet that are provided with the flash unit (see photo above), the camera will send out a coded  infrared signal to trigger the flash.  It's output is measured by the meter while the shutter is open, and another coded signal is sent out to turn the flash off at the end of the exposure.  You can also set the flash for a 2:1 flash ratio using wireless remote ratio flash.  This means the off-camera flash will provide 2/3rds of the flash while the on-camera flash will provide 1/3rd.  (For an explanation of how and when to use a 2:1 flash ration see our article on portrait lighting). 

Studio flash systems are also supported via PC terminal on the left side of the camera.  This all ads up to what is probably the most versatile flash system in the industry.

In the Field
As you've probably guessed by now we found the camera easy to learn and use in the field.  It displayed no bad habits and we rarely had to go back to the manual (except for the custom functions).  And among those custom functions we found one last welcome surprise;  Custom function 3 allows you to leave the film leader out when rewinding a partially exposed roll of film.  When you reinsert that same roll later, again choose custom function three and use it to tell the camera what frame to start the roll with.  The camera then automatically advances the roll to that frame and off you go.

We found street prices ranging from  $630-$670 for the Maxxum 7 and $360-$400 for the 5600HS(D).  For the money you get a thoughtfully designed camera with a wide range of features that you're not likely to grow out of any time soon.  If your main interest is either portrait or macro work, this versatile flash system offers you a great tool.

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Somebody was thinking when they designed this camera






















Press the DOF button and you not only see DOF previewed in the finder, but the actual area of sharp focus is displayed on the rear panel.













text and photography copyright 2001 Vivid Light Publishing