When introduced the Minolta X-1 / XM / XK camera system was the most advanced professional system available. It and the motorised version of it produced later remain the only "true" professional models produced by Minolta during the manual focus era.
In late 1972, Nikon and Canon were competing to have the best professional ‘system’ camera that featured interchangeable focus screens and finders. However, they did not have advanced auto-exposure capability. Of the other manufacturers, the Pentax ES and Nikkormat EL had auto-exposure, but were not all that sophisticated nor did they have screen and finder systems, and other features sought by professional photographers.

Then in September 1972 Minolta joined the battle by announcing to the world at the Photokina Show in Europe the X-1/XM/XK series of cameras including a permanently affixed motor drive version. It was the first system camera that included interchangeable finders and screens combined with a very sophisticated auto-exposure capability that included a solid state electronically governed shutter and aperture priority.

    An image from the first marketing brochure for the X-1/XM/XK Series. The huge prism case housed the complex (for the time) electronic auto-aperture system.    

The X-1 started sales in Japan in April, 1973. By early 1974, the X-1 was marketed in North America as the XK and in Europe as the XM. Other than the name change, all else about the camera is the same.

With the introduction of the X-1/XM/XK Minolta had a great opportunity to achieve a greater share of the professional market at a time of significant change and innovation in new camera design. The camera incorporated many engineering firsts, but unfortunately Minolta appears to have lacked some serious marketing savvy, and the chance for the company to compete actively with heavyweights Canon and Nikon was lost.

Probably the biggest mistake Minolta made with the X-1 was not having motor drive capability for the camera. The competing Canon F1 and Nikon F2 models both featured the availability of detachable motordrives, which many professionals considered to be a must-have. It wasn’t until June of 1976 that the motorised version of the X-1 became available, and even then the drive was non-detachable, meaning that in addition to being heavy and bulky there was no way for existing X-1 users to upgrade their cameras to motorised status. The X-1/XM/XK Motor camera will be discussed in detail in a later article.

For whatever reason, the X-1 was not the success with professional photographers that Minolta would have hoped for, and at about $790 USD including AE finder, 50mm f/1.7 and case, the camera was quite expensive and out of reach for many serious amateurs who might otherwise have been interested in it. However, for those photographers that understood the overall value and sophistication of the system, the camera became indispensable. The X-1/XM/XK cameras were introduced at a time when no other manufacturer could match their complete system solution.


The complete Minolta X-1/XM/XK system at the time of the introduction of the camera, from a Minolta publication. It is noted that the company took a little marketing license with the photo - several of the lenses shown weren't actually introduced until 1974.

Specifications of the Minolta X-1/XM/XK are as follows:

  • Type: 35mm SLR
  • Lens mount: MC, 54 degree rotating bayonet. Full aperture metering and automatic diaphragm operation with MC Rokkor lenses. Compatible with earlier Rokkor lenses if stop-down metering is used.
  • Shutter type: Electronically controlled focal-plane with horizontal travelling titanium curtains.
  • Electronic shutter speeds: 16 to 1/2000 sec. in steps, 4 to 1/2000 sec. continuously variable with the AE finder (CdS cells) or 8 to 1/2000 sec. continuously variable with the AE-S finder (Silicon cell).
  • Mechanical shutter speeds: X (1/100 sec.) & B
  • Shutter curtain time: 9ms
  • Power: Two 1.5v silver-oxide batteries. Malory MS-76, Eveready S-76 or equivalent. Battery check with red lamp.
  • Viewfinders: 6 different interchangeable finders showing 98 percent of area appearing on film. Viewfinder types are Plain, Match Needle, High Magnification, Waist Level, AE and AE-S. Variations are addressed later in this article.
  • Focusing screens: 11 different screens available. Screen types are P (standard), C1, C2, C3, H, M, PM, G, S, L & AP. There was also an F screen listed in early marketing material but no example has surfaced thus far.
  • Film advance: Lever, single or multiple stroke. 110 degree winding angle after 20 degrees unengaged movement; advancing type exposure counter resets automatically when camera back is opened.
  • Multiple exposures: Yes, with film advance release.
  • Mirror: Oversize, quick return with lock-up device. No image cutoff even with extreme telephotos.
  • Self timer: Yes, lever type, from 6 to 10 seconds.
  • Flash sync: X contact: electronic flash synchronizes at 1/100 (X) and longer step-less and step speeds, FP contact: FP bulbs synchronize at all step speeds through 1/2000 sec. including X (1/100); single terminal in threaded socket with X/FP switch; direct contact on accessory mount for Minolta cordless flashguns with optional accessory hot shoe.
  • Dimensions: 84 x 147.5 x 48mm (3-5/16” x 6” x 1-15/16”) without lens.
  • Weight: 670g (23.63 oz.) without lens.

As can be seen, the X-1 stands apart from all of the other Minolta SLRs in both terms of physical features such as the interchangeable viewfinders available and the extensive range of easily interchangeable screens, as well as operational features including manual shutter speeds of up to 16 seconds, and a high top shutter speed of 1/2000 sec.


Like the other cameras produced by Minolta at the time, the X-1 is built like a tank. It was produced a generation before plastics and flexible circuit boards were routinely used in the construction of cameras, and as a result it is made from many hundreds of precisely machined metal parts, wire and (because of its new electronic shutter) circuit boards. Of course, while metal construction assists with durability, it unfortunately has the corresponding heavy weight. That said, the camera provides the user with a feeling of confidence and the knowledge that one is using a precisely manufactured piece of machinery.

The X-1 was only available in black, and has a leatherette that is firm to the touch, never wears and in most cases still looks new after 30+ years. The balance of the camera in your hands is impeccable with all controls within comfortable distance.

    Minolta XK without finder. The screens can easily be interchanged by simply removing the finder to get access to the screen.    

Minolta engineers added an unusual feature to the X-1 called the Senswitch. Visible on the front of the camera in the photograph above, the switch is located in an area that when the camera is held in a ‘normal’ position, your fingers should depress the switch and thus turn on the metering system. When you set the camera down, it shuts off the metering, thus automatically saving battery life. While this sounds like a good idea, it is not in practice. The reason is that if the switch is not depressed and the shutter is released in 'auto' mode the mirror will lock-up and the shutter remains open for a 16 second exposure. This occurs because without the Senswitch depressed there is no power provided to the meter, and accordingly the meter cannot tell the shutter when to close. To fix the problem, one must rotate the shutter dial from ‘auto’ to ‘X’ to reset. This will release the mirror, close the shutter and return the camera to normal operation.

One method many users choose to avoid this issue is to dispense with the use of the Senswitch altogether through leaving the meter permanently on when shooting. The AE, AE-S and Match Needle finders have a separate switch to permanently turn on their meters if one wishes to do so. When turned on, they by-pass the Senswitch and avoid the previously mentioned problem. Other finders operate on a manual basis, and accordingly do not require power to the meter to work. These can be operated without the depression of the Senswitch.

If the shutter is released and the batteries are dead or power cannot be restored, the mirror locks up. In this circumstance the only way to lower the mirror is to rotate the battery cover which actuates a lever in the battery compartment. Many X-1/XM/XK cameras are sold as junk because the owners are not aware of this procedure, and believe the camera to be inoperable.

As one of the first cameras with an electronic shutter, Minolta realised that professionals would demand a back-up system for use in the event that the batteries died. Most electronic cameras are unable to operate in any manner in the event of battery failure. To provide the back-up system, Minolta included two mechanical speeds on the finders, being X and B. With the finder set to X or B the camera will operate correctly without batteries. In the X position, the shutter speed is set at 1/100 sec., while in the B position the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter release is depressed. Additionally, a storage place for fresh batteries was included in the neck strap.

When first introduced, the Senswitch must have had many complaints from consumers, with the result that Minolta provided a ‘fix’ only available at their company Service Center in Japan. The fix was to eliminate the Senswitch feature entirely leaving the metered finder to turn the circuit on and off. This was done by removing the Senswitch button from the outer body and inserting two flat stamped metal pieces that hold down the micro switch to permanently complete the body circuit. These were held in place with tape and then covered over with new leatherette that was die cut without the hole for the switch.

An example of the rare non-Senswitch X-1.
This image shows the metal pieces used to complete the body circuit.
This modification was only offered in Japan and only on the X-1 model. It was not offered to the owners of the XM or XK. Given not many owners sought the modification the model is quite rare and is highly sought after by collectors. Some collectors have argued that because the change was not done on the normal production line, it is not a true variation. The consensus is however that because the modification was offered formally by the company, was undertaken on multiple cameras and was conducted at the Minolta Service Centre that it can be considered to be a genuine variation.

Another interesting variation is the Ritz XK that was only available in the United States. Ritz is a large national camera retailer that offered the XK with a waffle pattern rubberized body covering. The covering appears to be the same as used on the late MC and MD lenses (not Celtic) with the prism shaped rubber grips. Ritz also offered a similarly covered SRT-201.

The Ritz XK, a rare variation to the XK featuring a different, waffle pattern rubber coating in place of the usual leatherette. Picture courtesy of Syoji Nishida.

Some Minolta collectors have speculated that the modifications to the Ritz XK were made by the retailer itself for marketing purposes. This however is considered unlikely, after a Minolta in-house publication was found to have a reference to the master part number for a black Ritz SR-T 201 (part no. 2063-800). The obvious conclusion is that Ritz was a large enough customer that the factory did special modifications for them. The covering is prone to hardening and curling on the edges after time.

In addition to these rare body variations, there were two common types of body variations which are apparent during the production run for the X-1/XM/XK. These variations are commonly referred to as the 'early' and 'late' type bodies. The early version has a film door that has an elongated ASA/DIN reference label and rigid mirror dampener. The late version has a square type film memo holder with the ASA/DIN table and a mirror dampening mechanism that moves vertically.

The above montage shows the difference between the early and late model X-1 bodies. On the left is the early model, with its ASA/DIN reference label and fixed mirror dampner, on the right is the late model with the film memo holder and moving mirror dampner.
Other minor variations that have been noted on different cameras include a chrome or black prism release button ring, bottom covers with ‘MADE IN JAPAN’ in white or simply ‘JAPAN’ in black and right hand top covers with ‘MINOLTA CAMERA CO, LTD.’ in white or no lettering at all. It is apparent that many minor changes were made to the camera over the course of its life without these changes being identified by differing model designations.
The different finder releases - the black surround was on many of the later cameras.
A very rare XK body on the right with the late-model filmdoor but no ASA/DIN table.
A less common variation is the late style square memo holder without any ASA/DIN table as seen above. Recently, an XM with serial number 1100002 has surfaced and has a chrome film counter window ring. Given the serial number, this is considered likely to be a prototype.
XM number 1100002 - believed to be a prototype. Note the silver ring around the film counter window - this was black on all production X-1/XM/XKs..
The X1/XM/XK is a magnificent camera to use and is now highly collectible. The different finders, body types and various rare accessories will mean you will be hunting for treasures for many years to come. Of course in the meantime you get to use this outstanding system - a tribute to what was possible before the implementation of computers and even flexible circuit boards.
At the time of its release the Minolta XK was revolutionary, and a huge step forward in automation of exposure for working professionals. Together with all its other features it placed Minolta as the leader in innovation in the industry.
The X-1/XM/XK was undoubtedly a magnificent camera, but the real strength of the system rested in the interchangeable finders that enabled users to customise the camera for their specific requirements. Click on the link for page two of this review to find out more about the finders that were available for the model.