My first car was a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. My first love was Breanne Jordan. My first camera was a Minolta SRT Super. The Beetle was purple, the girl a brunette, and the camera, chrome. In 2007 I sold the car, in 1995 the girl dumped me, and the camera is here, on my desk.
The things you love the most, it seems, stick with you the longest. My breakup with Breanne was at the time devastating. The sale of the beetle, even more so. And the camera, well, I’ve never been able to get rid of it. Chase Jarvis said, “the best camera is the one that’s with you,” but I tend to think my best camera is the one I never sold. I’ve come back to the Minolta SRT101 and SRT102 because of nostalgia, but what I gained was so much more.
Dave’s cigarettes were two packs for $2 when I started smoking and are the only reason I knew where to buy a Minolta when Breanne and I were dating. She had signed up for a photography class as an elective, and so in typical high school fashion I did the same. A photography course seemed like a sure thing, a course that even I couldn’t fuck up, if you will.
The Mountain View Village Shopping Center had a camera store in it, a store that would sell cigarettes to high school kids, and no view of any actual mountains, so I considered it two for three. For a serial underachiever an expensive camera is a hard sell to working class parents, but because I knew where to buy smokes I also knew where to get a camera should my parents fall for my sales pitch.
It’s been 20 years since my Dad and I set foot in that camera shop and he bought the Minolta for me, but there’s a few things I remember. There was a girl working in the camera shop also went to my high school, but did not know that I existed. I remember thinking her hair must be dyed and as a sophomore that seemed exotic for some reason. Twenty years later this has stuck with me: her hair being exotic. I also remember that the rich kids in my school bought Nikons and Canons and that she suggested the Minolta.
At an age where you start to realize things like class, who is and isn’t rich, what people do and don’t drive, where people shop, the brand of camera you shoot with seems of great importance. I can’t remember much about how I felt at the time, but I knew it wasn’t a Canon or a Nikon, so I was likely disappointed. On the plus side the camera came with a strap of my choosing, so I dug deep into a musty bin and grabbed one that said Agfa. I tried for days to come up with a humorous acronym for Agfa, but came up bust.
With the camera I took some photos of the beetle, some photos of Brianne and still, somehow, managed to fail the photography class, twice. With some borrowed negatives I did manage to finally pass, and with that the Minolta went into a state of storage. More than ten years would pass before I would think of the camera again.
In the years since my father bought me that camera I’ve moved a lot. One move, after my dad had been laid off, I can remember renting a rollback trash can — the kind an actual trash truck delivers — and putting nearly everything we owned but couldn’t move across country with in it. The order of the day was to throw away anything you could not live without. Couches, CD’s, tables, televisions; everything was thrown away. The Minolta, somehow, did not get thrown away.
Through the grace of God my Dad and I both ended up in Tennessee, him six months after myself. I’d later go on to move to Florida, and Japan, and although it would be another seven years before I’d think about it, when I did, I knew that the Minolta still was stored in a box, somewhere. My father’s health became questionable while I was in Japan and I started to get nostalgic about him, the life I’ve lived, and cameras. I remembered that somewhere I still had that Minolta.
Three times I asked him to look for the camera and every time he said there was nothing. An old Sears lens he found was the closest he had gotten to finding an actual camera, and although I knew I hadn’t thrown it away the thought crept in that maybe he had. I made peace with the fact that I may never see it again, and I began looking for a replacement to relive my glory days with.
A black paint SRT101 found it’s way into my hands and a new love affair began. I seldom fall in love with a camera immediately, it takes me a long time in fact to warm up to cameras, but this felt different to me. In retrospect I thought it was the black paint. Yes, that’s it, the black paint was just too sexy for me to deny, that must be it. But, I also remembered that I owned a pair of Nikon FM’s that were black paint, so, I’ve got to dig deeper, I thought.
What’s so special about a camera that I thought I would hang onto it for more than half of my life and buy a second one to replace it? To be frank, I don’t know. The black SRT101 which I purchased to replace my original camera was admittedly handsome, but there’s more to it than that.
Looking at the camera closely I think it’s the simplicity that I love the most. Both of the cameras ring all of the classic cameras bells, but to me, when I think of a classic SLR, this design is what pops into my head. The classic rectangle shape, the unapologetically long forehead of the pentaprism, all of it. It feels solid in your hands without being too hefty, and it’s pleasingly lacking plastic on much of the camera.
The specs for the SRT101 and the SRT Super are as straight forward, classic camera, as they can get. Both cameras have shutter speeds which range from Bulb to 1/1000th of a second. The flash sync speed for both cameras is at 1/60th of a second, and it should be noted that between the two the SRT Super is the only one with a hot shoe. On the SRT101, mine at least, the shoe is a cold shoe.
The viewfinders of both cameras can easily be described as excellent. They’re both relatively bright in nature and somewhat free of distractions. Metering is carried out with an indicator needle and circle tipped needle within the viewfinder. While the viewfinder experience of both the SRT101 and SRT Super are similar, only the SRT Super has the f/stop displayed in the viewfinder; this feature appears on a lot of classic cameras, but it is not something I use often if ever so I don’t think it should be a deciding factor.
Something that should be consider with regard to viewfinders is the type of focusing each camera affords you. My SRT101 contains only the micro prism focusing spot while the SRT Super has both the micro prism and split focus rangefinder to use. “Big deal,” you’re thinking to yourself, and I applaud you and your 20/20 vision, Eagle Eyes. A 50mm lens poses no problem for me on either camera, but when you put a 28mm lens on the SRT101 I have to say a little payer each time I focus because I have a harder time telling when I am there. “But, depth-of-field. . .” Yeah, I know, the wider lens is going to help you out so focus won’t be as critical. Take it as a warning, that one camera is slightly harder to focus than the other.
Within the production range of the SRT101 it seems there were some variances. Mine, for instance, does not have a mirror lock-up on the camera, though if you read the instructions for it you will find mention of it. When I had the camera serviced shortly after purchasing it John Titterington made mention to me that this was a later SRT101 which is the reason for the omission of the mirror lock up. As with anything on the web your mileage may vary, so if something is different here, than on your camera, don’t blame me.
There are so many excellent classic cameras out there, and I think that ones allegiance is largely based on nostalgia, availability, and appeal. The SRT series may or may not be your particular cup of tea, but it is a camera which I highly recommend trying. In coming back to it I’ve found a no frills camera that gets out of my way and just lets me make photos. The lenses for these cameras, even the cheap ones, are excellent, the cameras are simple and rugged, and if you’re as lucky as me one will be with you for life.