An Ode to the Minolta G400

I never owned a digital camera until 2004, and since then I’ve only owned one. But I’ve owned it four times.

The first time, I did a massive amount of research online and came up with a relatively obscure camera, the Minolta G400, that seemed to have a holy grail of properties: excellent picture quality, fast startup time, relatively small size, superb battery life, a decent optical viewfinder. And it was dirt cheap: around $200 at the time. So I snatched it up. Here it is:

Over the next couple of years, I carried it with me everywhere, and it was a champ. It performed as advertised and made me start looking at everything from the perspective of “What would be a good shot here?” Of course, this constant usage led to some troubles:

Camera #1: Dropped it after taking a picture at the top of mountain while skiing in Tahoe. Hit my shoe, cracked the LCD. Had to send it in for repairs (or what seemed like replacement).
Camera #2: Fell out of my bag while jumping a fence after playing some pickup ultimate. Came back 10 minutes later and it was gone. Submitted an insurance claim and used the money to buy the same camera again.
Camera #3: After another year or so of constant usage and getting beat up in my backpack, the CCD finally gave up the ghost. Pictures were heavily banded. By this time, Minolta had stopped making digital cameras altogether. I suppose this was because they were too good. I searched around for a better camera (figuring that I might as well keep up with the times) but found nothing that had comparable features in the same price range, even 3 years later. Solution: I hit up eBay and got a used G400.
Camera #4: Turns out the reason the guy was selling it was that it was busted and couldn’t focus properly (though he failed to mention this during the auction!) I sent it back and gave up.

That was over 6 months ago. In the meanwhile I’ve tried to use other people’s cameras but I invariably give up halfway through with a bad taste in my mouth. Either the picture quality is terrible (so common in subcompacts these days) or the shutter lag is interminable, or something. So I’ve hardly taken any pictures since then. I’ve also debated buying a DSLR but ultimately decided against it because of the cost and the fact that I like having a camera that fits in my pocket and allows me to take some spontaneous pictures.

Now my mourning period is finally over, though. I’ve stopped wearing black, and I’ve just ordered a new camera, the Canon SD850 IS, which I hope will be a worthy successor. In the meanwhile, here are some of my favorite pictures from the G400 days. (There are many portraits that I love as well, but I haven’t selected them to protect the innocent.) Tell me your favorite!

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12 Responses to An Ode to the Minolta G400

  1. johnxorz says:

    Those are some excellent pictures!

  2. snafuuu says:

    I do hope you enjoy your new SD850 IS! I got the SD800 IS after Cy wouldn’t stop raving about it, and I have to say that it’s lived up to his, well, ravings.

    • aj says:

      Yeah, I was really torn between those two. It’s awesome that Canon still includes optical viewfinders in many of their cameras.

      In the end, since I don’t take many indoor portraits, I opted for the 4x zoom normal lens over the 3.8x wide angle because there are many times when I want that “telephoto” effect, such as

      and the 800 gives you really 3x optical from a standard angle. Also I was concerned by many reports of edge softening in the 800. But OTOH, the wide angle might allow for some cooler compositions. And 8MP (850) vs 7MP (800) is no difference for me. Finally, the 850 I think is a little bulkier. Luckily, from what I’ve read, though, both cameras appear to be superb.

      At least I hope so :)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great pictures! Please post your findings on the SD850…

    I would love to hear what your impressions are once you start shooting with the 850. I am this ” close to buying one, based on all the positive reviews, but I am going to hold off until I hear what your opinion is.

    • aj says:

      Re: Great pictures! Please post your findings on the SD850…

      Sure. Unfortunately, it’s only going to arrive next week, and then it might take me several weeks to evaluate it well! I’ll try to post some first impressions as a comment here when I get it, though.

  4. gdogg says:

    yeah!!! that’s me and feng.

    i am touched.

  5. kejordan says:

    this is very funny to me. my beloved fuji point-and-shoot digital cam broke labor day weekend while i was mountain biking in hawaii for no reason except being tossed about in my backpack. however, i had dropped it about 20 times before, once from about 25 feet while hiking and sometimes in snow while skiing, and it had never broken previously–so i have no reason to complain. but since i had gotten used to always carrying a camera to work with me since i usually bike or walk and see interesting things, i was very sad but have no motivation to carry my DSLR constantly. so in looking for a replacement, jon gave me his old minolta g600 when he bought the canon sd800 a couple weeks ago–perhaps i will have to try it out :) i had considered just saving for a new one since he lost the transfer cable and the card reader so i’d have to get one of those…but if this series produces pics like yours, i’m up for it! my fav btw is the tree climber and the woman running from the waves…guess i’m biased towards motion pics tonight.

    • aj says:

      Hmm.. the transfer cable should just be a mini-usb to usb one, which is available for really cheap (and if you get one, you don’t need a card reader).

      But it turns out that Minolta used different hardware from the G400 for the G500 and G600 (one reason I didn’t get those after my G400 fell/got stolen/died) and apparently it’s not as good. But I’d be curious to hear what you think about yours though!

  6. cychan says:

    Wow, those pictures are great! I really liked the spiral barbed wire one. I’m still working on my eye for composition… usually I just like to try to get as much in the picture as possible so as to better recreate the experience of standing there. Hence the wide-angle lens being preferred. If I were a better photographer, maybe I’d realize that I’d want to have a telephoto effect once in a while =).

  7. Anonymous says:

    Minolta G400

    Has the sharpest macro capability of ANY digital camera.