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Alpha Silver Jubilee – 25 years 1985-2010

The i generation

Within a year, Minolta had upgraded the 5000 to the 5000i, adding the first on-camera flash; at the bottom end a 3000i was introduced. The first signs of a weakness of intent at professional level came with the absence of a 9000i. They may have thought the 9000 was good enough to require no replacement.

Minolta Club members and Minolta staff at Osaka HQ, 1986

Members of the UK Minolta Club and executives of Minolta Camera C0 outside the Osaka headquarters building, with models, in 1986 – taken on a loaned 16mm f/2.8 fisheye AF lens

All the first wave of Alpha lenses had been designed by the Sakai optical factory, which the club visited in 1986. Sixteen members signed up for a two-week trip including India, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan. The highlight of this was a day spent with Minolta, including a reception at the Osaka headquarters tower and a tour of the lens making plant. Quality Circles of eight workers made every lens by hand from the components, and some lenses were very complex. The 28-135mm ƒ4-4.5 was shown off with the most pride, alongside new G series superlenses.

Photokina 1990

Photokina 1990, Cologne, Germany – celebrating two years of ‘Camera of the Year’ success and showing off the Creative Expansion Card system. Like the fashions of the 1980s, it was not destined for immortality.

By 1989, a new wave of cheaper mass produced lenses had arrived to replace the initial range. They were lighter, smaller, and often swapped a constant aperture for a variable one. The 70-210mm became an ƒ3.5-4.5, and the 35-70mm did the same. More use was made in all lenses of the hybrid aspheric elements first seen in the original 35-70mm.

The 1988 revision to the i series established a kind of three-year cycle. In 1990, a ‘bridge’ camera called the Riva 105 appeared – ‘the brick’ with its built-in 35-105mm ƒ4-6.7 Auto Power Zoom lens. The 8000i in the same year rounded off the range but was not a 9000 equivalent.

It’s not an SLR, it’s not even an Alpha, but the Rive (Apex) 105 followed by a more conventional designed 105i was the precursor of the power-zoom xi range to follow

The Riva’s function APZ linked the zoom setting to the focus distance so that if you framed a subject at 10 metres and followed it with continuous auto focus, the zoom would automatically keep the subject the same size even if the distance changed to 5 metres. It would also make an intelligent guess at initial framing; you lift the camera to the eye, the AF sensors detect the apparent area of focused subject, and zoom to fit as you touch the shutter button.

This camera was not an SLR, it had an optical finder, but it previewed the main innovations from the next generation of Alpha SLRs.

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