Swell Reflex Too: The Minolta SR-T 200

I'm the Quirky Guy with a Camera, and I approve this message:

"In the market for a Pentax K-1000? Do you actually want to use it as a film camera, and do you have no sentimental attachment that makes you specifically want this model?  Do you actually like saving money?  Would you like a camera with nearly identical capabilities to a K-1000 at a fraction of the price?  If so, I present your camera!"

I rarely editorialize in my posts.  I tend to simply lay out my personal observations specific to particular camera model or film, present these observations along with my results, and let you, the reader, make an informed choice from the information I present.  I don't typically get into the heartfelt and often irrational positions that Camera A is "better" than Camera B so you'd better not buy the latter.

But every now and again, I notice something really off about the film world at large to which I feel I need to add a sanity check, and this is very much one of them.

One of the most iconic of 35mm film cameras of the later decades of film's prominence was the Pentax K-1000, a fairly simple 35mm SLR camera offering metered manual shooting and little else in the way of bells and whistles.  For years, it was THE standard camera for photography students and school yearbook offices, largely because it was the cheapest manual control camera available at the time.  It is a ubiquitous piece of film history as classic as a Hershey Chocolate Bar.  And it's also quite overpriced in today's market.

Examples of this very common and very basic camera are often selling for $50 and upwards. Sure there are people who used this camera decades ago clamoring to rekindle their younger years who may want one of these cameras for this very reason, though I can't see why.  I used a Pentax K-1000 for a couple of years while shooting for my college yearbook, and while I never hated it, I simply never saw much of any appeal to it, even in a day when I couldn't afford a "real" camera of my own.  Even today, as I gravitate more and more to all things film, the "K-Grand" as we often called it, has no draw to me whatsoever, particularly at the prices in today's market.  It's a camera whose popularity is a puzzle to me.

In sharp contrast to the popular K-1000 are those camera models that have been relegated to relative obscurity.  A big part of this obscurity comes from what I would call "big brother syndrome," where the model in question isn't as full featured as a more "premium" sibling, and in a market where a buyer can pay a few dollars more for the marquee model of a lineup, they almost certainly will elect to do just that.

The result is that there are often some overlooked gems out there to be had, even if they are not the most coveted models of their lineup.  They may lack some professional grade features of the era, such as mirror lock up or depth of field preview, but often contain just enough basics to still be totally versatile shooters that will handle most shooting environments.  They are often in excellent condition, and may cost a fraction of a more well known camera like the K-1000.  

In 1966, Minolta released its revolutionary SR-T lineup, pioneered by the well known SR-T 101. When used with the "MC" series lenses, cameras in this lineup enabled metering with the aperture wide open, making focusing and composition of images much easier. Production of the SR-T 101 continued for nearly 10 years, during which it was supplemented by a budget model and a premium model with suffixes 100 and 102 respectively.  In 1975, the entire lineup was given a refresh, and new names that varied with the market.  In the US, the "updated" versions were numbered with suffixes between 200 and 202.  

The SR-T 200 was still the basic variant, offering match needle based metered manual exposure, a top shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, and not much else in the way of extras. It was a mechanical SLR camera designed for the entry level / budget market, and priced modestly below the 201 and 202 models also offered by Minolta at the time.

Today, it is not a big challenge to find working cameras across the SR-T lineup at very modest prices. They were common models made in great numbers, and they were well constructed.  Cameras like the SR-T 101 still have their adoring fans to this day, and this adoration is well deserved.  Given this adulation and affordability, it isn't tough to covet an SR-T 101.

Externally, the SR-T 200 appears quite similar to the SR-T 101, with the main visible difference being the self-timer switch on the higher end model.  Unseen here is that the depth of field preview button on the 101 will latch on and off, whereas the version on the 200 requires the user to hold it down during preview.

As a result, the SR-T 200 is often forgotten.  After all, it is the budget entry in the lineup, and as such, is oft overlooked, or thought of as the less capable stepchild of its siblings with the higher last digit. To a large degree, this oversight is really very much a shame.

I stumbled across the SR-T 200 on a whim on a Goodwill trip quite a while back.  Though I had only minimal interest in the seeming sameness that was the SLR camera offerings of the 1970's and 1980's, this camera came equipped with a smaller and slightly "left of center" Minolta 45mm lens instead of the typical 50mm lens often seen on used SLR cameras.  In addition, the camera and lens were priced at about the same price as a roll of film, so it seemed to be an item of very minimal risk. I snapped it up, only to have it sit on the shelf for months as other "quirkier" cameras took precedence over this pedestrian SLR camera.  All I could say about it for sure was that the shutter seemed to work at all speeds.

Finally, as the autumn colors entered their final weeks, I picked the SR-T 200 up from its shelf, loaded it with an adapted 675 cell, and tested the meter.  It too seemed to work, lining up more or less with expected readings in "Sunny-16" type conditions, making a very strong case for me to show this overlooked camera some long overdue love.

And if you can forgive me for sounding a bit sappy, this once orphaned camera, like only a choice few of the many I've encountered over the past couple of years, seemed to respond surprisingly receptively to this attention, performing better than I could have ever imagined. With little more than a fresh battery, the 40 year old SLR snapped through a roll of relabeled Ferrania 200 film as it were a brand new camera.  The meter was consistent and sure in its readings, and the shutter clicked through each successive frame with a comparably confident precision as it deftly worked its way through its nitrate based medium. Shooting with the SR-T 200, admittedly, carried a real joy that is often elusive with some of my quirkier devices.  There was a certain nicety in leaving the exposure worries largely aside and simply focusing, composing, and shooting.

Much of one's first impressions on anything in life are often formed by their most recent previous experiences. As such, my "fuzzies" for the SR-T 200 were largely helped by the cameras I was shooting prior to picking it up.  These included a guess-focused folder whose focus readings were off, a box camera with minimal adjustable settings, a rangefinder with limited shutter speed options, an SLR with an unreliable meter, and an AF SLR with some external LCD display issues.  This Minolta gave me the ability to focus, a working meter, and a ready ability to see through changes to shutter and aperture.  It was vintage shooting in a near perfect setting, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Thus, my adoring impressions of the SR-T 200 are admittedly somewhat flawed.  For example, it would be great if the camera displayed shutter or aperture settings in the viewfinder, but it doesn't. An EV compensation dial would also be a nice plus given that the meter seems so solid, but is also lacking on this basic model.  In order to mimic EV compensation, the only choice is to change the film speed for your exposure, and then change it back. 

Viewfinders of the SR-T 101 (above) and SR-T 200 (below) are quite similar, with the higher end model displaying shutter speed by means of a moving gauge along the bottom.  One issue with this is that the illumination of this display comes from the viewfinder itself, leading to speeds on either end of the spectrum being less than visible in anything but the brightest of light.

Still, for my usual style of photography, the 200 does more or less just what I need it to do, and seems to do this very well.  The 45mm lens offers a nice little plus in squeezing in some desired elements in tight quarters, while not giving off a perspective that was noticeably wide in the process.  This camera also allowed me to put an older 100mm f/3.5 Rokkor lens into service for a few shots as well, and while I noticed the aperture didn't seem to properly stop down when used normally, I could manually stop the lens down with the Depth-of-Field preview button just prior to shooting, which seemed to do the task.

Regardless of how nice it was to shoot the SR-T 200, the experience would not mean much if the results from the film itself didn't dovetail with the good vibes from the camera.  Unlike many first rolls taken with other cameras, I didn't have a lot of worry about my results from the Minolta.  My main hesitation centered largely around the use of nearly 10 year old film, followed to some degree with some concerns about how steady my shots taken with the Rokkor would be, given that one hand was depressing a lever below the lens as I pressed the shutter release with the other.

These worries were largely unfounded, and I was pleased to see that I had a roll of mostly well exposed images, and further than the photos taken with the older 100mm lens were mostly keepers as well.  The positive impressions this camera gave me as I tried it out were carried through to the results. 

I started out shooting the Minolta in scenes of encroaching shadows and diminishing afternoon light in late Autumn.  The camera metered and performed admirably.

A scene with varied light portrays pretty well on the Ferrania 200 speed color negative film.

Among the more evenly lit of scenes renders with great sharpness and color through the Rokkor 45mm f/2 lens.

Another varied lighting scene that was well handled by the Minolta's CLC metering system.

Shadow details were somewhat lost in this scene, but the overall color rendition is quite nice.

A more closely focused scene shot nearly wide open at about f/2.8 gives off some excellent bokeh...

...while a stopped down scene portrays with good sharpness. 

The camera really did handle mixed light quite well.  A Fall morning in Maryland gives off the true feel of the scene.

Backlight pushed the shadow details in this scene to portray with a murky rendition: one reason why an EV compensation dial would have been nice.

One of my favorite nearby scenes, captured a year ago on Velvia.  The rendering on the Ferrania 200 isn't quite as vivid, but still very nice. 

Two shots of the same scene taken with the 45mm (above) and with the 100mm (below) in Gaithersburg, MD.  The longer lens generally was a pleasant surprise.

The 100mm didn't quite handle mixed light scenes as well as the 45mm, at least when attempting more close up material.  

In more even light, the 100mm Rokkor gives off a clean image with good sharpness and even toning throughout the image.

My attempt at "Foreground Bokeh" with the foliage didn't quite work as hoped, yet the 100mm lens still handled the overall scene quite well. 

This mild telephoto lens did well at compressing composition in scenes like this. 

A more distant scene rendered quite well, even though stopped down only minimally to about f/5.6.

This last shot with the 100mm was a hopeful favorite that turned out even better than expected.  I really like the rendering of the out of focus areas, while the composition works quite well for the branch in foreground. 

I don't aim to trash the Pentax K-1000.  Not at all.  It is a solid and well built camera that has endured nicely to this day.  However, aside from nostalgia, I can't see any reason why someone would elect to pay the money that these cameras command when equally excellent cameras can be had for 1/4 to 1/3 the price tag.

The only tangible benefits of the K-1000 over the SR-T 200 that I can determine are the ability to use the Pentax MF lenses on more modern Pentax equipment, and the presence of an actual hot shoe rather than a PC connection as with the Minolta.  However, neither of these benefits make a difference to me, and I can imagine this would be the same for the vast majority of actual users today. The SR-T 200 is thus an under-appreciated gem too quickly overshadowed by its more full featured siblings, which in itself is just as much a malady as the demand disparity between this camera and the more coveted Pentax.

I for one, will happily continue to shoot my SR-T 200.  If you are looking for quality build with a tiny price tag, you are more than welcome to join me.  

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