Over the last five or six years we have seen an explosion in the growth of digital photography, in both the compact camera, and now the SLR segments of the market. This has been beneficial for many Minolta manual focus users, as it has resulted in a progressive reduction in the price of film cameras and lenses, including Minolta lenses.
While many people still consider film to be a better medium, there is no doubt the way of the future is digital, and with no likelihood of Minolta releasing a manual focus digital body it had appeared that Minolta manual focus users were going to be left out in the cold.
While some other manufacturers lenses are compatible with some modern DSLRs using an adaptor, that isn't the case with Minolta manual focus lenses. Unfortunately in Minolta cameras the lens-mount to film distance is shorter than every other manufacturer. This means that even if you mount a minolta lens on another body using an adaptor you will lose infinity focus. Alternatives exist to mount manual focus lenses on Minolta AF bodies using a special converter, but this not only increases the focal length, it also diminishes the resolution of the superb Rokkor glass.
Minolta manual focus users probably figured they would never have a path to digital without selling their lenses and spending a lot more money buying into a modern AF system. Well thankfully, that is all now changing. There is now an alternative for Minolta manual focus lens users to enjoy digital capture, thanks to the efforts of Chinese manufacturer Seagull.
Seagull introduced its first camera with a Minolta lens mount in 1964, the Seagull DF. Over the years it has continued to release cameras with the Minolta mount, and has built an healthy market within China and Asia for the Minolta lens mount. This growth is one of the reasons that Minolta lenses are still so highly sought after within Taiwan and Korea.
After not releasing a new film camera for several years, Seagull has just announced that they are commencing distribution of a brand new digital camera with a Minolta manual focus lens mount, the Seagull D55. I am fortunate to know the owner of the Australian distributors for Seagull cameras, John from Shutter-Box Photographic Equipment in Melbourne Australia. John had just returned from a trip to Shanghai to see the latest developments at Seagull and was able to give me some first hand information about the new camera.
The newly announced Seagull D55 digital SLR.
The Seagull D55 is quite different from every other Digital SLR currently available on the world market. Presumably due to the fact that Seagull have never manufactured an auto focus camera and they are seeking to market to existing Seagull users they have created a DSLR that is quite basic in design. In fact, based upon the specifications this appears to be the closest digital camera to a traditional film body ever manufactured.
Unlike every other DSLR the D55 is designed to be used with totally mechanically controlled lenses, being the Seagull lenses, and of course naturally all manual focus Minolta lenses. This means that aperture control is conducted in exactly the same manner that it has been done for previous Seagull film bodies, ie. through the aperture ring at the base of the lens.
The camera uses a silicon cell for metering and unfortunately only offers a centrally weighted metering pattern. Other specifications are remarkably similar to a Minolta X-700, right down to the inclusion of a horizontally travelling cloth shutter (surely the only modern DSLR to use such a design). Shutter speeds are 1-1/1000 plus bulb, with flash sync at a slow 1/60 second.
The camera supports a dedicated flash (yet to be confirmed if this is Minolta compatible) however the flash is not TTL. Presumably this is due to the difficulty of measuring flash output from light reflected from a sensor as opposed to film. While other manufacturers have introduced pre-flash metering systems to resolve this issue it appears that Seagull have chosen to simply make the flash feature non-TTL. This should not be an issue as many digital users have found traditional "auto" flash units to provide excellent flash exposures with modern digital cameras. Interestingly the camera does have a pop up flash, with the designers including a tiny metering cell to the side of the pop-up flash to enable correct exposure. The company has certainly taken some ingenious measures to enable creation of a Digital SLR without the technology normally associated with this type of product.
The D55 from the rear - utilitarian in design.
From the digital perspective, Seagull have used the same Sony 6MP APS-C sized sensor used by Minolta in the 7D and Nikon in the D100. Given glowing reports from 7D users we can assume that results from this sensor will be very good, but naturally the D55 will not include the anti-shake technology available in the Minolta body. John advised that the camera shoots in RAW and Jpeg, however RAW conversion is currently only available through proprietary software which has yet to be translated to English.
The camera has a small 1.8" inch LCD screen to display images, and an LCD on the top deck that displays ISO, shutter speed, shots remaining and file type. Shooting modes comprise aperture priority, shutter priority and program. Shooting mode is selected using a dial on the left of the camera, with a dial under the shutter button used to control shutter speed in half stop increments (in manual and shutter priority). ISO and exposure compensation are adjustable in half-stop increments, and are selected by pressing a button on the rear of the camera with the thumb while adjusting the dial beneath the shutter button with the forefinger. This seems an easy way to manage these key controls, and should be quite ergonomic.
|Specifications for the D55 are as follows:|
|Type:||Digital Manual Focus SLR|
|Price:||Yet to be announced|
|Recording medium:||Type I and II CF card|
|Image format:||23.7 x 15.6mm APS-C|
|Sensor total pixels:||3110 x 2030 (6.31 MP)|
|Final image size:||3000 x 2000 (6.00 MP)|
|Sensitivity:||ISO 200 - 1600|
|Image sizes:||3000 x 2000 (L)|
|1500 x 1000 (S)|
RAW + JPEG (Fine, Normal)
|Field of view crop:||1.5x|
|White balance:||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent|
|Metering range:||EV 1 - 18|
|Exposure lock:||EV locked by pressing Exposure Lock button|
|Exposure mode:||[P] Program|
|[Av} Aperture Priority|
|[Tv] Shutter Priority|
|[M] Manual, shutter speed adjustable in 1/2 stop increments|
|Exposure compensation:||+/- 2 EV in 1/2 stop increments|
|Shutter:||Horizontal traverse silk shutter|
|Shutter speed:||Bulb, 1 - 1/1000 sec (1/2 EV stops)|
|X-sync shutter speed:||1/60 sec|
Single Frame, Continuous
|Continuous mode:||RAW 2.2 fps, max 3 frames|
|JPEG Fine 2.2 fps, max 5 frames|
|JPEG Normal, 2.2 fps, max 7 frames|
|Self timer:||10 sec|
|Flash control:||Non-TTL auto flash|
|Built-in flash:||Manual Pop-up type, GN 8 (at ISO 100 in metres)|
|Viewfinder:||Pentaprism, coverage 94% (approx)|
|Viewfinder magnification:||0.8x with 50mm f/1.8 lens set at infinity|
|Focusing screen:||Fixed, matte screen with split image focusing aid|
|LCD Monitor:||1.8" 118,000 pixels|
|LCD Monitor Language:||Simplified Chinese, English|
|External interface:||Digital terminal - USB ver. 1.1|
|Remote release terminal|
|Power:||Lithium-Ion battery pack|
Before you rush out to place your order for the D55 there are some considerations to take into account.
The D55 is the first DSLR from Seagull, and accordingly there may be teething issues associated with the camera. Additionally, in the event something were to happen to your camera, repairs may need to be conducted in China, via your local distributor.
The D55 is also firmly based upon older technology. The shutter type (horizontal traverse silk) is the same type as was utilised in the X-700 and while reliable it was probably not designed to cope with the volume of photos routinely taken with a digital camera. The top shutter speed of 1/1000 sec, lack of high speed flash sync or TTL flash, and absence of matrix metering all make the D55 a considerable step down from even a basic modern DSLR, such as the Canon 350XT.
Finally, the D55 is a 1.5x crop factor camera. As a result the effective focal length of your lenses is multiplied by 1.5x. While this is similar for many modern DSLRs, they also have specially designed wide angle lenses that enable users still to achieve an ultrawide field of view. With the Minolta range of manual focus lenses, the widest rectilinear lens was the 17mm f/4, which on the D55 would give a field of view equivalent to a 26mm lens on a 35mm camera. A wide 24mm now becomes a 36mm, a 35mm becomes a 53mm etc. From a positive viewpoint, 58mm f/1.2 owners would now have the equivalent of an 87mm f/1.2.
Those factors having been said, the D55 does offer some real benefits to the photographer. These include the user interface, which is similar to that used in many Minolta cameras, the fact that metering is done at full aperture - just like a film body, and the real benefit that the camera has probably the brightest viewfinder of any digital SLR (due to the non-transmissive mirror enabled by a manual focus design).
I have no doubt that the D55 will prove to be a real pleasure to use, and for a committed manual Minolta user will represent a real digital future for their favourite lenses. If you accept it as a digital version of an older film body, rather than expecting it to do everything that a modern Canon or Nikon DSLR can do, then you will likely be very satisfied.
Pricing for export is yet to be finalised, but it is understood that it will be comparable to the US price for base model DSLRs from the major manufacturers. This is likely to mean that the camera will be considerably cheaper than these products in markets like Europe and Australia where the major manufacturers charge a premium.
Stay tuned for further updates on the D55. Should you wish to register your interest in ordering a D55, John at Shutterbox is accepting pre-orders pending finalisation of price information and shipping dates. John is happy to arrange shipment from Australia to the USA or Europe. You can contact John to register your interest at his website by clicking on the link below:
Thanks to John and May at Shutter-Box Photographic Equipment for their assistance with the preparation of this article.