I got the Minolta SRT-303 as a gift from my better half, and the fact that it was a result of some successful thrifting makes me love it even more. But all sentiment aside, let's start this Minolta SRT-303 review with some cold hard facts, and hopefully by the end of it you will have a better understanding if this is the camera for you.
Minolta SRT-303: Cold Hard Facts
The SRT-303 is a 35mm SLR (single-lens reflex) film camera that was first introduced by Minolta in 1973. You might have heard of the SRT-303's arguably more popular counterparts, the SRT-101 and 202. The 303 is actually quite an improvement from the 101 and 202 series, both of which were introduced earlier by the company. So how come the SRT-303 never became as popular as the rest?
It has a lot to do with the fact that Minolta introduced three different names for the exact same camera model. The company introduced the SRT-303 mainly targeting the European market, while at the same time introducing it for the American market as SRT-102 and the Asian market as SR-T Super. So chances are you've heard of the 303 by another name. Whether you call it the SRT-102, SRT-303, or SR-T Super, here are some of the camera's key features.
Shutter speed: 1/1000s to 1s and a bulb mode for long exposures
Standard lens (interchangeable): MC Rokkor 50mm F1.4 (F1.7 or 58mm F1.2)
ISO: 6 to 6,400 (manually set)
Battery-powered light meter
Viewfinder shows needles and meter to view the level of exposure (brightness), selected ISO, shutter speed, and F- number (aperture measurement)
Hot shoe flash
Manual film loading, advancing and rewinding
Minolta SRT-303: Ease of Use
Film loading, advancing, and rewinding are manual with the SRT-303, as is the case with many, if not most, SLR cameras. I always get nervous loading films and find that it can be tricky to get the take-up spool to actually do its job, which is to take up the film roll, and it's pretty much the same with the SRT-303. But that's how it can be with film photography. I would much prefer for the film loading, advancing, and rewinding to be automatic, but the camera parts are so sturdy and robust that I have confidence in them not breaking while I find my way around. This applies to virtually all of its parts, including the film rewind crank and knob, as well as the film advance lever.
Once you load a film onto the camera, it's time to start the fun and take some photos. To do so, you would first need to activate the light meter, which you can do by turning the battery switch on the base of the camera to the "ON" position. If you aim your camera and look through the viewfinder, you'll see the indicator needle moving according to the exposure. Once the indicator needle stops moving, you then need to adjust the shutter speed and aperture accordingly until the follower needle aligns with the indicator needle. You can see all these needles moving at a glance without ever taking your eyes off of the viewfinder, which is incredibly helpful when composing and framing photos. I follow the light meter meticulously when I was shooting, and as you can see from the photos below, it does its job and is quite accurate at it as well.
On top of providing all this useful information, the SRT-303's viewfinder is also impressively big, bright, and clear, which is not to be taken for granted as it is not a given with many other film cameras. To me, the importance of having this quality of a viewfinder cannot be overstated. After all, most of your time with a camera will likely be spent peering through the viewfinder, trying to get the perfect shot. Having previously shot with cameras with viewfinders that are tiny as well as a bit tinted and hazy, I must say you certainly benefit from a much more enjoyable shooting experience when your camera's viewfinder is as big, bright, and clear as the SRT-303's.
While I highly appreciate the SRT-303's light metering system and viewfinder, it's still worth mentioning that with all these systems in place, capturing a photo with the SRT-303 could take some time. In general, there are three settings to adjust before you would be ready to shoot your shots: the shutter speed, the aperture, and the focus. Once you fix those, you also need to work on staying steady when advancing the film and pressing the shutter to prevent movement of the camera during exposure and avoid blurred pictures. This can be quite a challenge considering the weight and bulk of the camera. The SRT-303's body itself weighs 710g, and its lens 305g. Sturdy and robust as it may be, the SRT-303 might not be the camera for you if you are looking for a light and compact camera that you can easily stuff in your bag as you go about your day.
Granted, the shooting process is essentially the same with all SLR film cameras. It even gets more elaborate with many other cameras out there. So in the strict context of SLRs, I really can't complain about the SRT-303. However, if you are looking for a camera that would allow you to shoot your shots more quickly and easily, the SRT-303 might not be it. In fact, an SLR camera might not be it altogether. Perhaps a point-and-shoot camera would be a better fit instead.
Minolta SRT-303: Final Verdict
I've had a great time shooting with the Minolta SRT-303 in general. Its viewfinder is big, bright, and clear, and I love how it acts as an information center in the way it provides a reading of the exposure level, aperture measurement, and shutter speed, all at a glance. Its light metering system is accurate and it helps when composing and framing photos. It contributes greatly to an enjoyable shooting experience and I am here for it.
The SRT-303's build is also robust and sturdy, truly showcasing Minolta's excellent craftsmanship and mechanical design. This removes much of the fear of breaking the camera's parts when tinkering with its settings, or when loading, advancing, and rewinding the film.
With its sturdy build, however, comes the camera's size and weight, which I would say are slightly on the bulkier and heavier side. This can make it more challenging to steady the camera when shooting to avoid movement and prevent blurred pictures. It also makes the camera less suitable to use for extended periods of handheld shooting or travel.
The shooting process might take some time as you adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and focus, but that is simply how it can be with SLR cameras. In fact, the SRT-303 is quite easy to use when compared to other SLRs out there, which is why I think it would appeal to beginners, while at the same time also appealing to experienced photographers.
If you are looking for a shooting experience that is even quicker and easier, though, the SRT-303 might not be the best film camera for you, especially when also taking its size and weight into consideration. In fact, an SLR camera might not be it altogether. I would suggest a point-and-shoot camera instead. I, myself, have been an avid user of the Olympus AF-1 point-and-shoot and can definitely vouch for it. Or, if you have more cash to burn you can always go for the Contax T2 just like these celebrities.