Minolta X300s and Steven Seagal (Pic: Rob Andrews/Gage Skidmore)
One of these is a vintage warrior still capable of shooting straight in the 21st Century… (Pic: Rob Andrews/Gage Skidmore)

By London Camera Project

Quite a few things happened in 1990: the reunification of Germany, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and Tim Berners-Lee built his first World Wide Web server. But what I really want to talk about now is the important stuff.

That year gave us ‘Hard to Killfeaturing the ubiquitous Steven Seagal, and the Minolta X-300s.

One was a heavyweight, plastic-covered number all in a shiny black exterior and the other was a camera. Boom tish. To give the Minolta its ‘True Justice‘, it was made of the right kind of plastic.

Many plastic cameras have come and turned to dust since the X-300s was first on the market but most are either lying useless, ‘Under Siege‘ in a drawer somewhere or ‘Marked for Death‘ rotting away in a landfill. There is something about the build quality of this particular beast that is reassuring in a number of ways. It does weigh more than it should for a plastic-bodied SLR which is probably due to a metal chassis underneath it’s stealthy shell.

Minolta X-300s (Pic: Rob Andrews)
The Minolta X-300s was an improved version of the Minolta X-300 (Pic: Rob Andrews)


This combination of tactile wipe-clean polymer over a tough metal frame is in my opinion the first of two reasons this camera is so ‘Hard to Kill‘. The second is the huge range of absolutely stunning lenses which could really start a ‘Fire Down Below‘. There are some beautiful… let’s use the word ‘legacy’ lenses out there for this line of SLRs. So while the Sony shooters sell their grandparents to hoover up anything with the letters F and D on it, the under-appreciated (for now) MC mount lenses just have not garnered as much attention, which is great.

Yes, the fastest of them have already been snapped up by classic lens hunters or are on sale for ferociously inflated prices but it’s definitely worth having a look out for one as prices are not yet completely Out of Reach.

Woman walking between police (Pic: Rob Andrews)
Shot on Kosmo Foto Mono rated at ISO 400 (Pic: Rob Andrews)

Using the X300s does not take much getting used to. I’m very used to shooting my Olympus OM-10 which is lighter, smaller and quite intuitive, especially in aperture-priority mode. With the Olympus you select the film ISO and the light meter selects the shutter speed, which is displayed in the viewfinder.

Police officer illuminated by flash (Pic: Rob Andrews)
Shot on Kosmo Foto Mono rated at ISO 400 (Pic: Rob Andrews)

The shutter speed on the OM-10 is only adjustable with the manual adapter and you can’t easily turn this while quickly composing a shot. Maybe if it’s a landscape but candid shots definitely not. It’s not all that ergonomic. On the Minolta X-300s, though the speed selector wheel is discretely ‘Submerged‘ just under the shutter release button. Which makes it easier to adjust on the move.

Although just like Mr Seagal in ninja mode, it’s hard to see even when you’re looking for it and also like the ponytailed one you’ll know it when you feel it. Turning the wheel sets the shutter speed along a spectrum from one second up to 1/1000s, bookended by Bulb mode and Auto. The latter is pretty much aperture priority and the speed selection lights up in the viewfinder which is really handy. Almost as handy as a set of nunchucks. I do prefer this feature to that of the OM-10 as it’s quite intuitive in use and I can set aperture and speed without moving my eye from the view finder.

While on the subject of speed the Minolta gets up to 1/1000s, which is generally OK for everyday use and let’s face it, London is not often blessed with that Sunny 16-1/2000s weather, and who points an SLR ‘Into the Sun‘? Would I like a faster shutter speed? Maybe, but I probably wouldn’t get to use it much.

It’s a very decent camera to hold and behold. The X-700 does command a lot of fan boy praise but the X-300s can handle itself quite well and for me I love the noise it makes when I fire that shutter, it sounds like a bad guy getting ‘Pistol Whipped‘ by Mr Seagal.

What is annoying is the ‘Kill Switch‘ which is quite easy to forget about and before you know it, your batteries are ‘Half Past Dead‘. Not always a massive deal as LR44 batteries are still cheap and easy to find.

The power switch is one thing but what left me ‘Driven to Kill‘ was the self-timer. This is a small fiddly button/switch which is against the body of the camera parallel to the lens. It’s too narrow for average-sized fingers and slides up and locks silently with little feedback. The timer is silent, most SLRs will beep a countdown but the Minolta X-300s’s doesn’t. The very small LED (tricky to make out ‘Against the Dark ‘ next to the switch lights up. Also, it doesn’t pop back down after the shot which did catch me out the first few times.

Like a lot of 90s stars (Not Mr Seagal though), Minoltas of this generation are known to burn out. Something about the way the PCBs are put together – the capacitors often blow leading to quite capable cameras becoming almost useless. I have a few similar cameras in a drawer like this and thought of opening the ‘Belly of the Beast‘ to replace the capacitor but my amateur hands would probably leave messy ‘Exit Wounds‘, although I’m sure it’s not impossible for someone with a bit of know-how and a steady hand. A half hour’s work could get them back up and running and give them ‘True Justice‘.

I took mine Out (For Justice) on a quick walk through a park and found it very agreeable to work with.

If someone had me at the ‘End of a Gun‘ and told me I had to make an ‘Executive Decision‘ and choose either the OM-10 or the X-300s I’d still go for the Oly. The Minolta is not a ‘Perfect Weapon‘, but it’s definitely a ‘Keeper‘.

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