Minolta Maxxum 500si [1994]

A lot of cameras have their fans and cults of followers.  Some because they are expensive, exotic and beautiful machines.  Some because their owners think they are under appreciated bargains.  Some because they are industrial work horses.  But you'd have to search the far corners of the Internet to find a fan site for the Maxxum 500si.  This is not because the 500si is a bad camera, it isn't; it's just you wouldn't expect to find an owner's club for 1980's Cavalier cars or a fan magazine dedicated to Hotpoint dishwashers would you?  The 500si is more akin to an appliance like a boom box than it does with a classic camera like a Nikon F2.

And that's the way it was marketed; in Circuit City along with the TV's and APS point and shoot cameras.  It was a cheap Minolta camera that worked.  If you wanted to step up from a point and shoot camera, the 500si might have been the camera you chose.  Light, inexpensive and simple to use.  That's not to say that in the right hands the 500si was not capable of fantastic results; it was.  It was just more likely to  be the camera your mom bought before going on her trip to Europe.

In your hands the 500si, without a lens, feels very light and plasticy but somehow it avoids feeling delicate.  It's not nearly as creaky as the original head of the Maxxum family; the 7000.  It is very compact with few controls to stumble over.  I'm betting the majority of 500si cameras rarely went out of program mode, and yet, the few controls do allow the user to move beyond dummy mode an into Aperture and Shutter priority modes and fully manual operation.  But there are also scene modes available that would deter all but the most determined user from working out how to use this camera in manual mode.  But, as manual mode is not what the 500si is about, this is hardly a fair criticism.

The 500si does what it was designed to do with little fanfare but adequately.  Focusing can be a little slow but it will make decent negatives, film and lens choices permitting.  I didn't buy this camera myself but it was passed to me from a light user that had moved on to a digicam.  You won't see many 500si cameras on the street because most of their users have been swept up in the digital revolution and any film die-hard has much more glamorous film camera choices available to them.  If you have one to hand the 500si will make as good an image as any other 35mm SLR but it is not an inspiring camera.  If you're searching for the film experience on the cheap the 500si will work just like a 90's thrift store CD player will play your CDs.  As an item itself it is as bland as cameras of this era come.  And that's where this review ends; if I write anymore (I defy anyone to write more than a paragraph on the 500si without yawning) there's a danger that I will fall asleep at the keyboard.