The Minolta SRT 201 is my all-time favorite camera. This is not because it does any one thing well, but rather that it does nothing wrong at all. A lot of photographers swear by gear that isn’t necessarily the best or most expensive, instead opting for gear that is familiar and reliable. The SRT 201 is the epitome of this concept. For me it has been my faithful workhorse. It was my first real Film SLR when I was first learning to take pictures back in the 10th grade. If it wasn’t for this piece of glass and metal, I might not consider myself to be a photographer today.
The SRT is built like a tank. The heft when you first pick it up is substantial, and makes you realize you are holding a proper photographer’s tool. The mechanical operation is satisfying and feels durable. I’ve used mine without issue for the better part of decade, and despite camera being 43 years old, I have never had a single problem with it. Every button and dial answers with a substantive click that really inspires confidence in the mechanism. Even my darling Contax 167MT (my current film shooter) with its electric shutter and Zeiss lenses, lacks such a substantive feel. The Contax always sounds like it will break if I look at it the wrong way, whereas the Minolta I feel would survive an expedition to Siberia and back (this is an apt comparison as the mechanical operation of the Minolta is impervious to cold, unlike the Contax which is dependent on electric power).
Minolta lenses aren’t quite Zeiss sharp, but they are certainly close-enough. Some of my all-time favorite pictures have been taken with either this camera, or one of its lenses strapped to my Sony A7 gen 1. Because there is no modern brand equivalent to the Minolta, old bodies and lenses don’t command as high a price as you might expect for the quality. The 54mm f/1.4 in particular is a bargain lens with a razor thin depth of field. The lenses are solidly constructed metal, and despite years of me throwing mine into my rucksack (sometimes with no protection other than two lens caps), they have worked without fail and show no signs of stopping.
The metering system is through-the-lens (TTL) and can be read via a little needle and matching circle on the right side of the viewfinder. You can engage the meter via a small knurled switch on the bottom of the camera, (you will need to use your fingernail to move it, which isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world). This on/off switch is beyond useful, as I haven’t changed my camera battery in about five years, and it is still working. Best of all, unlike SLR or rangefinders from the 60’s, the SRT 201 uses standard camera batteries! No Mercury replacement battery required. (For anyone who has wasted tons of money on temperamental and short-lived Wein Cell batteries like me, this is a blessing). I find the SRT’s metering to be uncommonly accurate. Only under the most difficult of lighting conditions do I find I need to do much exposure editing in Lightroom. Typically, what the camera gives me is spot-on. Over the years, I’ve certainly grown to trust this camera’s metering just as much as I have its mechanical operation.
If it sounds like I’m in love with this camera, it’s probably because I am. Though I am experimenting with Contax Zeiss lenses now to get that little extra bit of sharpness, it’ll be hard to beat the already stellar kit of Minolta lenses I have at my disposal. The SRT 201 is a faithful photographer’s companion. It has seen me through every phase in my learning of photography, and whether it be the camera body or its lenses, this camera continues to earn near constant use from me no matter what photographic endeavor I am setting out on. If you can get one in as mint condition as I have, you will not be disappointed.
Below you will find a small gallery of some of my favorite snapshots I’ve taken over the years with this camera. They are either with the aforementioned 54mm f/1.4 or the 24mm f/2.8.