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Two years ago I wanted to buy a camera to accompany me on my travels. At the risk of sounding 'snobbish' I wanted something I could use to take photographs rather than just holiday snaps. What I wanted was an SLR. But what to choose? With prices ranging from £100 - £1000 (and more!) I had to think long and hard. I didn't want to spend more than £300 as an absolute maximum but I wanted something that would introduce me to photography gently. Something that would allow me to take holiday snaps as well as exercise a bit more creativity. The Minolta 505si fitted the bill admirably, and still does although there are now perhaps better cameras available. The first thing you notice about the camera is that, for an SLR, it is small. And light! Even with a standard lens attached, it's probably one of the lightest SLRs you are going to find. This means that carrying it around with you is no problem, be it slung around your neck or clutched in your hand ready to shoot. Speaking of lenses, you generally have to choose at purchase time whether you want a 35 - 80mm or 28 - 80mm lens. I opted for the 28-80mm lens and would advise anyone considering this camera to do the same. Both are zoom lenses but, as you would expect from the numbering of the two, the 28-80mm lens covers a wider range. What this means in practice is that when the lens is 'zoomed out' to it's minimum setting, a photograph from the 28-80mm lens will, for example, show more of the horizon than the 35-80mm lens. You pay slightly more for the 28-80mm lens option, but it does give you a bit more flexibility when taking pictures. The lens mounting will take any standard Minolta Autofocus lenses so you can add/change lenses in the future. The camera has a built in flash which, while not particularly powerful, is useful provided you are not too far away from the subject. It also has a number of program modes which aid the beginner in taking phot
ographs. In normal operation, the flash will pop up and fire when the camera thinks a scene is too dark. This can be over-ridden however and the flash can be set to either off, on, auto or "red-eye reduction". In red-eye reduction mode, the flash actually fires twice... once before the photo is taken and once whuile the photo is being taken. I have found that this has a tendency to produce photos in which most people have their eyes closed. While this undoubtedly reduces red-eye, it doesn't lead to an attractive picture. In terms of opreation, the camera offers a complete set of features from fully automatic point-and-shoot type modes right down to fully manual where every setting must be selected by hand. In between these two extremes there are Seven program modes including Macro, Portrait, Landscape, Action and Night-Time. Each of these modes changes the behaviour of the camera slightly to favour the subject of the photo. In Landscape mode for example, the emphasis is placed on ensuring that as much of the scene is in focus as possible whilst in Action mode the emphasis is on as fast a shutter speed as possible to try and freeze the action. Using these modes helped to introduce me to the theory behind photography as I would set a mode and see what shutter speed and aperture the camera selected for a particualr scene in a particular mode. As I became more familiar with the effects the aperture and shutter speed had on the output, I started to use the other program modes on the camera; Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. These two modes allow you to manually change either the aperture or shutter speed with the camera automatically adjusting the other value (for example in the case of aperture priority mode, you set the aperture and the camera changes the shutter speed) to ensure that the photograph is not over or under exposed. All of these settings are controlled via a simple selection of clearly labelled buttons and d
ials on the top of the camera body. There is an LCD display that tells you all the stuff you need to know (how many pictures you have taken on the current roll, Flash on/off/auto, Aperture & Shutter speed for the current scene (with the shutter release button half pressed) and a low battery warning are the main ones. Things are made even easier by the autofocus mechanism in the lens. By simply pressing the shutter-release button half way, the camera is activated. It determines how light the scene is and (depending on your program mode) sets the aperture/shutter speed accordingly. It also starts focussing the lens, which using the 28-80mm lens that I got with the camera, can take anywhere between 0.5 and 2 seconds. The autofocus also has a number of modes, Single Shot, Automatic or Continuous. Single shot focusses the lens on what it thinks is the target and eaves it at that; Continuous focus is intended for tracking moving objects and will see the camera continually 'tweaking' the focus as you move the camera; Automatic tries to determine which of the two other modes is most applicable to your current situation. Autofocus can, like pretty much everything else on the camera, be turned off but unless you really need to I would advise against it. There is nothing in the way of focussing aids through the view finder so using manual focus is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, especially considering how freely the focusing ring moves! There is also a built-in 10 second self-timer that can be activated and you can also set the camera to motordrive mode (at 2 frames per second) or set it to take multiple exposures on a single frame of film. Of these the timer is by far the most often used. Finally, there are 9 customisable features covering things like whether the film is rewound automatically, whether you can take a picture before the autofocus has finished etc. To be honest, I didn't really find myself using any of them that mu
ch at all. All in all, it's a fine introduction to SLRs. You can pick it up straight away and start taking photos, leaving it set to fully automatic but as you get more confident/adventurous you can start to exercise more control over your picture taking. It has interchangeable lenses so you can add to your collection to give you more flexibility and it has an accessory attachment for a more powerful flash. It's small (for an SLR) light and relatively sturdy and makes good use of the batteries as well. In the last 2 years I've taken hundred of photos with it (probably only a handful and halfway decent but that's not the cameras fault!!!) and not had any problems. Any gripes? The camera I bought didn't come with a remote release facility, although Minolta later saw fit to add one. The lack of focussing aids can be a bit of a let down at times.