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Minolta Maxxum 3

The Editors, July, 2003

Landscape mode favors great depth of field, keeping things sharp from foreground to background. Photo by Ron Leach

The Maxxum 3 offers lots of advantages over point-and-shoot "compact" cameras, including far better autofocusing and metering systems, through-the-lens SLR viewing, and the ability to use a wide range of interchangeable lenses (including the 100–400mm zoom that brought this guy up close). Photo by Ron Leach

Maxxum zoom lenses are much faster than those built into point-and-shoot lens-shutter cameras, especially at the long end. This translates into much sharper hand-held telephoto shots. Photo by Lynne Eodice

The perfect point-and-shoot SLR?

It's a wonderful concept—take your best metering system and your best AF features, and put them in a very simple and very inexpensive point-and-shoot camera. That's what Minolta did in creating the new Maxxum 3, and the result is a point-and-shooter's dream: an extremely simple-to-use camera that produces sharp, properly exposed images in just about any shooting situation.

The camera provides two focusing modes; auto and manual. When you switch the camera on, it's in autofocus mode. If you want to switch to manual (we rarely did with this camera), just press the focus-mode switch on the lens mount down, then rotate the lens' focusing ring until the image appears sharp in the finder. The finder's in-focus signal glows once focus has been achieved, whether by auto or manual means.

Autofocusing is single-shot except in Sports mode, in which it becomes continuous multidimensional predictive. That means in Sports mode, the camera will continuously focus on the subject as long as you keep the shutter button depressed halfway, and it will calculate the rate and direction of the subject's motion and from that predict its position at the exact moment of exposure, adjusting focus accordingly. While most AF SLRs have predictive AF, theirs can deal only with subjects moving in a constant direction at a constant speed. Minolta's multidimensional version can handle subjects that change speed or direction. It's nice to see this feature in a point-and-shoot camera.

Like all current Maxxum models, the 3 will autofocus in light levels as dim as EV –1 (a level so low it calls for an exposure of 4 seconds at f/1.4 with ISO 100 film, and as dim as any current AF 35mm SLR's AF system can handle). There's also a built-in AF illuminator (via a few quick bursts from the built-in flash unit, or a dedicated shoe-mount unit when attached) that makes autofocusing possible in total darkness (on subjects within 16.4 feet). For situations where the AF illuminator would be a distraction, it can be turned off by pressing the flash-mode button when switching the camera on.

Normally, the AF system uses all three sensors (one in the center, and one to each side, indicated by a square and two brackets in the viewfinder). If the subject appears anywhere in that area, the camera will focus on it. You can switch to spot AF (using only the central sensor) by pressing and holding the spot AF button as you shoot; doing this also locks the exposure.

The Maxxum 3 provides only one metering mode, but it's a dandy: Minolta's excellent 14-segment honeycomb, which amazed us when it was introduced in the Maxxum 7xi more than a decade ago, and is used in all current Maxxum models. There are six exposure modes, all variations of program AE, where the camera sets both the shutter speed and the aperture for correct exposure. There's standard program (engaged each time you switch the camera on, and indicated by a large P on the LCD panel atop the camera), plus five subject programs, which are selected by pressing the Subject-Program button until an arrow appears by the desired icon on the LCD panel. The subject programs bias the basic program's shutter-speed/aperture combinations for optimal results when shooting portraits, landscapes, close-ups, sports action, and night portraits with flash (set the camera to Flash Cancel, and Night Portrait mode becomes Night Scene mode, employing long exposure times to record dim night scenes by available light—use a tripod).

You can't set shutter speeds or apertures, and the Maxxum 3 won't tell you what shutter speed or aperture it has set. This rules the camera out for serious photographers, but makes it supremely simple for the point-and-shooters who are its target market. There's no exposure compensation, but you can lock the exposure by holding the shutter button halfway down (or by pressing the spot-AF button).

ISO speeds from 25–5000 are set automatically when DX-coded film cartridges are loaded. With non-DX cassettes, the ISO setting remains that of the last-loaded DX roll. You can't set ISO speeds manually, but this camera's target user wouldn't want to.

Like all current Maxxums, the Maxxum 3 has a built-in TTL autoflash unit. It covers the field of view of a 28mm lens, and has an ISO 100 guide number of 39 (in feet). When D-series Maxxum lenses are used (these contain distance-encoding devices, hence the "D"), you get ADI (Advanced Distance Integration) flash metering, which combines distance data from the AF system with information from a pre-flash exposure, and essentially automates exposure based on the guide-number system (GN/distance = f-stop). This eliminates adverse effects on exposure caused by unusually bright or dark subjects or backgrounds. With non-D lenses (or when using the wireless remote flash function), you get Pre-flash TTL, without the distance data.

Any of five flash modes can be selected simply by pressing the flash button and watching for the desired icon to appear on the LCD panel. Each time you press the flash button, the icon changes: Autoflash (the flash unit automatically pops up and fires when needed), Autoflash with Red-Eye Reduction (same as auto, but the flash fires a few quick pre-exposure bursts to stop-down subjects' eyes and thus reduce the red-eye effect), Fill Flash (the flash fires for every shot, regardless of light level), Fill Flash with Red-Eye Reduction, and Flash Cancel (which keeps the flash from activating—handy when you want to capture the effect of ambient light, or when flash use is prohibited).

For more flash power, you can attach an accessory Maxxum Flash 5600HS (D) or 3600HS (D) unit to the camera's hot-shoe, or use one or more of these units off-camera with wireless TTL operation. To use the wireless feature, you first must mount the flash unit in the camera's hot-shoe, then switch both camera and flash unit on, and press the flash-mode button until WL appears on the LCD panel. This activates the wireless function, and you can then remove the accessory flash from the hot-shoe and position it as desired. Press the camera's flash-mode button to pop up the built-in flash, and you're ready to go. A signal from the built-in flash will fire the remote unit(s). Normal maximum flash-sync shutter speed is 1/90; this drops to 1/45 with wireless/remote operation.

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