Review of the Minolta Maxxum Qtsi 35mm camera.
The Minolta Maxxum Qtsi is an interesting specimen of SLR goodness. Now if you remember our review of the Olympus IS-10 you would also remember that this camera lost all its worth due to one issue. The fact that there was no manual control of anything on that camera, yet a terrible system was controlling everything. This camera is one that deals with the same challenges. You only get control over several shooting modes and manual focus. Fortunately this camera does very well and takes some great photos, and yes we have sample photos.
First lets look at some history. Minolta created the Maxxum series of cameras starting back in 1985. Minolta created the first AF SLR with an in-camera lens motor. They also created the A-Mount to allow the lenses to be controlled by the camera through a series of contacts in the lens mount. Minolta Maxxum SLRs were in several ways superior for years to Canon and Nikon. The big two played catch-up for a while. You also can’t fault Minolta for using plastic bodies in their lower end cameras as Canon and Nikon did the same. But as good as they were they never got the market share that they deserved as Minolta was being cornered out by Nikon and Canon who were both more popular.
The QTsi came out in 2000. “Oof!” I hear you say, and that’s exactly right. This camera was released in the twilight dawn of digital. Minolta was going for a camera your grandmother could use, and they did so by taking away some creative controls in the name of making it easy to use. Professionals might get frustrated but I found the lack of control to be a charm. This camera is definitely a step up from being a point and shoot. It’s definitely a big step up. The simplicity is also very well done, I never got frustrated at this camera.
There are five selectable program modes for this camera. portrait, landscape, close-up, sports action, and night portrait. There is also a “program” mode for fully automatic shooting. You simply press the “MODE” button to change through these settings. Once you have selected a mode the camera tries to select the most appropriate settings for the subject. Each mode tries to take appropriate settings into account to take the best possible photo. For example the sports mode will prioritize shutter speed, while the portrait mode will favor shallow depth of field. In many other cameras this is hit-and-miss and the big drawback here is that the camera is a 35mm film camera with no preview. You don’t get to see the problem until you go to develop your pictures. Fortunately this camera did very well in a variety of lighting conditions. There were only a few cases where images were either over or under exposed and not by much.
The control menu is a simple LCD screen but has everything you need to run an automatic camera. The lack of information on exposure length The autofocus is well designed, possibly better than the Canon SLR camera bodies that we have been using. The camera has a continuous, predictive focus to help maintain focus with subjects that are moving towards or away from the camera. This system worked well for us. The camera was able to achieve focus and proper exposure in some pretty bad lighting conditions. The autofocus is TTL(Through The Lens) with a single focus point and sensor.
The camera is in my opinion, a very good looking one. The silver stock lens combined with the silver and black body creates a beautiful piece of 35mm history. The simplicity of this camera for an SLR is also impressive. If your mother or your child could look through the viewfinder and press the button, they can use this camera.
There is a built in flash that worked as well as any I’ve used. One drawback here is that Minolta is using a proprietary “split rail” hot shoe so there is no way to use modern flash units with this camera. There are also several flash modes to choose from. These modes are selectable by pressing the flash button on the left side of the camera to cycle through settings. Autoflash and fill flash both work well, and the redeye reduction also does a good job. This is great because red eye is harder to fix on film than it is in digital.
The lens mount is Minolta A-Mount system. This camera comes stock with a 35-80mm lens which is great This is a great zoom range for a camera. You can go all the way from a decent landscape lens up to a portrait lens. You could do a lot with this lens. Chromatic aberration was visible however and if you plan to enlarge much bigger than 8x10 you will have some problems covering it up. You can’t really fault this lens for that though, it wasn’t really designed as a top of the line professional camera.
The camera costs about $20 on Ebay which gives it a great price point. As far as SLRs go this is a great bargain since you will get a lens with the camera. Canon Cameras are at least that much for the body only. You will probably need to spend another $50 just for a lens.
This camera uses 2 CR2 batteries and has an On/Off switch on the back. Unlike the Canon SLRs that we reviewed this camera has a dedicated power switch. Just like the Canon cameras, leaving the camera on for hours doesn’t drain your batteries. I left our camera on for several days to see how bad the drain was. There were no ill effects, no drained battery. In fact the power management on this camera is impressive.
There were problems with this camera, and there are drawbacks. One big problem was that the camera didn’t like my film and didn’t rewind the film automatically. This resulted in me opening the back and exposing a section of film and ruining it. Canon has a superior method of dealing with film in that their SLRs unwind the full roll at the start and count down images as they wind back up into the protection of the spool. In this cases the whole roll was exposed from the back. A big drawback is that this camera has no method of selecting ISO values of film manually, this sucks a lot. There are fewer and fewer DX encoded films available today and more than ever you need to be able to manually select ISO. Sure, you could put strips of wire inside your camera or something crude like that to short the right pins, but I found it sad that I couldn’t shoot several different brands of film through this camera. Another shortcoming I found was that there weren’t a lot of options for flash units on Ebay.
Now lets talk about the quality of images coming out of this camera.
In several cases the camera did underexpose a bit. In the case above the camera was given a difficult landscape subject and clearly failed to produce a perfect exposure. On the other hand this isn't anywhere near the worst we've reviewed here in terms of getting the wrong exposure. This is not bad!
Not long afterwards I shot this with the exact same settings. As you can see the camera is having a hard time with the clouds and dark trees. Still, the photo works.
In this case at sunset the camera manages to get a correct exposure. Another example of the camera performing well. I don't have control over the exposure, in my vision of this shot I'd have shot a shorter exposure to make the image darker, but the camera did fine.
When given other subjects such as this tree the camera performs very well, you can see sharp focus and good exposure. The colors are as crisp as the cheap film allows, and the chromatic aberration while present isn't terrible.
Overall I’d recommend this camera to a beginner or someone who wants a very affordable SLR, but I feel that the limitations and lack of control would be frustrating to anyone who can afford to upgrade. Minolta made a wonderful camera here and had I needed a camera for my family in the 90s. The biggest failure of this camera isn’t the camera, it’s that it came out right as digital 1999 was not a good time to be releasing an SLR. It’s a great camera for what it is. The Qtsi is essentially a point and shoot with the capabilities of an SLR. That’s a great thing for people just trying to get into film and don’t have a background in serious photography, this camera offers an excellent entry-point into film.