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by J Greely, 1998
[Update: apparently the 600si has recently been discontinued by Minolta,leaving a gap in their line between the XTsi and 800si. The XTsi is easier touse, but the 800si is better suited to the advanced amateur (at nearly twice theprice). With luck this gap will be filled soon.]
After I discovered the limitations of my first Maxxum, the 450si, I carefullycompared the features of the more advanced models, which at that time includedthe 600si, 700si, and 9xi. There was nothing especially compelling about the 9xi,and theres really not much functional difference between the other two. I chosethe 600si for exactly two reasons: the user interface to the controls, and theadjustable diopter.
Big dials and switches
The 600si does not have a reset button, to return it to a known state. This isbecause it doesnt need one. Want to know if youre in shutter priority mode withauto-bracketing, continuous narrow autofocus, spot metering, and +1 stop exposurecompensation? Look at the camera. Want to reset it to the defaults? Turn thedials and switches until the white mark on them is either horizontal or vertical.Want to know what mode the camera is in when its not turned on? Look at it.
This is not quite the same as an old manual SLR, where the shutterspeed and aperture are on direct, physical controls. In fact, those are almostthe only settings that arent visible when a 600si is turned off, beingcontrolled by a fairly standard pair of wheels conveniently placed under thethumb and forefinger of the right hand.
The only control I actively dislike is the ISO override switch, which is atiny little pushbutton on the back of the camera, designed to be pressed with afingernail or ballpoint pen. This is especially annoying since the camera insistson using the DX-coding on your film, requiring you to override for every roll ifyou arent shooting straight.
You can have any flavor, as long as you want vanilla
You get all of the features to be expected from an advanced-amateur camera,with the exception of mirror lock-up, something Minolta simply doesnt do. Whatyou dont get is the variety of customizations possible with competing cameras.No leader-out on rewind, no creative expansion cards, no release-priorityautofocus, etc. Well, actually, there are a few custom features, such asthe ability to change the exposure-lock button into a toggle, but nothing likethe variety present on many other cameras.
There is no program shift mode. There are no cute-and-fluffy special programmodes ("sports", "portrait", "landscape"). However, you do get2-frames-per-second continuous drive, 3-shot auto-bracketing (at a fixed +/- 0.5stop), and simple, flexible multiple exposures (up to nine per frame without anytrouble, infinite if you really want to). If youre feeling really adventurous,you can even combine multiple exposures with either the auto-bracketing or thecontinuous drive, although I cant think of a reason why.
I can see clearly now
The viewfinder data display is clean and sensible, and easily visible whilewearing glasses. Much of the display is reserved for the exposure scale thatshows you how close the current manual settings are to the metered exposure (plusor minus three stops, in half-stop increments). In Program, Aperture-priority,and Shutter-priority modes, it only comes on if you activate exposure lock, inwhich case it shows you how far off the current meter reading is from the lockedone. Combining the exposure lock button with spot metering gives you a quick wayto evaluate the contrast of a scene.
Ambient metering is one of Minoltas real strengths. The 14-segment matrixmeter is extremely clever, and comes up with reasonable solutions under almostall conditions. TTL/OTF flash metering, on the other hand, is a pretty basicsingle centerweighted sensor, and lacks the bells and whistles of some otherbrands; still, it does a pretty good job, apparently due to incorporating someinformation from the ambient meter reading.
Centerweighted and spot metering are available, and convenient exposurecompensation dials are available for both the ambient and flash exposures. Thekey to the relationship between these two dials is that the camera will bydefault always try to balance the ambient and flash exposures in a 1:1 ratio,for the primary subject. Adjusting the ambient exposure dial affects theflash exposure as well; adjusting the flash exposure dial just changes the ratiobetween the two. Theres some hidden complexity here that I plan to write upsoon, but the bottom line is that no matter what you do with the flashcompensation dial, the primary subject should end up receiving a correctexposure.
There are two things that Minolta really does right when it comes to flash:wireless sync and high-speed sync. Want to take the flash off the camera forhigher quality light? Flip the switch on the body to "wireless", remove the flash(3500xi, 5200xi, or 5400HS) from the hot shoe, and raise the built-in flash. Aslong as the sensor on the external flash can see the light from the built-in, itwill fire in TTL mode, with a maximum sync speed of 1/60.
Want to shoot at f2.8 at high noon with fill flash? Put a 5400HS in the hotshoe, switch to aperture priority mode, and fire away. The 600si will sync at upto 1/4000 with this flash, although the range gets really, really short (with ISO100 film, the guide number at 1/4000 drops from 177 feet to 15.7 feet).
Mostly plastic, with metal in all the obvious places (tripod mount, lensmount, film guides). It feels nice and solid in the hand, though, especially withthe optional vertical grip that adds a second set of controls, a studio syncsocket, and the option of using 4 AA batteries instead of a single 2CR5. A nicetouch is that the vertical grip has its own on/off switch, to keep you frombumping the extra buttons when youre shooting horizontally.
The viewfinder is definitely friendly to those of us with less than perfectvision; a removable rubber eyepiece cup protects your glasses from scratches, andan adjustable diopter allows you to do without them completely if you prefer.
I have a dislike for push-this-twist-that user interfaces. Some are betterthan others (in the Maxxum world, the new XTsi is far more sensible than the500si it replaces, and dont even get me started on Nikons), but best of all is acontrol that has direct visual feedback, so you know at a glance what its set toand what changing it will do.
Neglecting the vertical grip and the battery compartment door, the 600si hastwenty separate buttons, switches, and dials, and all but one of them either hasan obvious function or is labeled in a way that makes its correct use clear. Theexception is the depth-of-field preview button, which some people might overlookcompletely if they dont happen to trip it with the tip of their ring finger andwonder why the viewfinder went dark and they heard a funny noise.
This is a no-nonsense, hands-on camera, one of the few on the market thatgives easy access to all its functionality. There are features it lacks, butnothing crippling. Theres a Nikon N90S sitting about ten feet away from me as Iwrite this, with a nice trio of pro lenses and an SB-26, but I havent found anyreason to switch.
Text Copyright © 1998 J Greely.
Article created 1998