Those of you with long-enough memories will remember the day when Minolta was bought out by Sony. A sad day, to be sure, but one that allowed the Alpha lens mount to continue.
This was important, as it allowed Sony to access an instant back catalogue of lenses stretching back over 20 years. It also meant the company was not alienating owners of these lenses. Which was important, because that's what the Minolta 7000AF did 20 years ago.
The Minolta 7000AF (Minolta Maxxum 7000AF in the US) introduced the Alpha mount, and instantly eliminated any compatibility with previous MC and MD lenses. Many people were so annoyed they left the brand. Canon experienced the same thing when it introduced its EOS series, which left FL and FD lens owners in the lurch.
However, the 7000AF needed to move things on, as the world it entered was now an autofocus one, and without the Alpha mount, Minolta would have had to go down the same path as Nikon and Pentax, which used lens-controlled systems with heavy motors.
Minolta’s system was different. It placed all the focus controls in the body, meaning smaller, lighter, and cheaper lenses. And it’s still in use. Buy a Sony Alpha camera and you get the same mount. Sony’s cheaper lenses still use the same autofocus system. Their more expensive ones have moved onto lens-controlled autofocus, but the system does live on.
There were two other reasons the 7000AF was unique. Number one was its pairing of autofocus with a motor drive. It was the first to do so, and meant every single modern film SLR until digital came along followed the 7000AF’s blueprint. Not something many cameras can claim.
Number two was its removal of the aperture ring from the lenses. The Alpha mount allowed Minolta to control not just focusing, but also aperture from the body. This, too, was unique at the time as I recall.
As with so many classics, the 7000AF looked right, too. Its aesthetic was straight out of the 80s – angular, chunky and covered with colourful buttons. It looked like Knight Rider in camera form.
There were one or two legal issues with the 7000AF, though. Minolta was sued first by Exxon, who claimed the Maxxum logo, with its crossed x’s, looked too much like its own, then Honeywell, who said the 7000AFs autofocus design infringed on its patents. While the former resulted in just a logo change, the latter cost Minolta US$127.6 million.
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