A few months ago I picked up a old Minolta X-370 for less than $10. This is a bit of an underdog of a camera, overshadowed by the X-700, the full-featured flagship of its line. But I like the simplicity of the X-370 — it’s a very light, efficient machine with manual exposure controls that don’t require you to lower the camera from your eye when you’re shooting. I thought it might be a good candidate for a cheap take-everywhere camera, and it cleaned up nicely and worked great — for two rolls. Then the mirror got stuck in its flipped up position and the camera exhibited the classic symptoms of the capacitor failure that plagues Minoltas in this line.
After reading a bunch of message board posts and watching this excellent video from Matt Originals multiple times, I decided to embrace the challenge of replacing the capacitor. I visited Digi-Key, spent a few bucks on the exact part Matt Originals recommended, and dug up my soldering iron.
Long story short: I replaced the capacitor! And the camera’s working now! But I’m not entirely sure the capacitor was the actual problem!
Replacing the capacitor
The message boards were right — if you can solder, this is a very manageable job! First, I removed the batteries and the four tiny screws on the bottom plate of the camera to expose the capacitor. It’s the blue thing on the left. As recommended by various online guides, I took note of the plus sign on the right side of the capacitor — I’d need to make sure the new capacitor was installed with its plus side in the same place.
Second, I removed the old capacitor by carefully melting the solder attaching the capacitor to the circuit board, taking care not to melt the thin plastic of the board itself. I then cut the wires extending from the new capacitor to match the length of the wires on the old capacitor.
IMPORTANT: the specs for the new capacitor note that the longer wire is the positive terminal. So it’s key to remember which side that is before you trim the wires so you can make sure the positive wire of the new capacitor is attached to the same spot that the positive wire of the old capacitor was.
Then I soldered the new capacitor into place. I haven’t soldered anything for years, so I was pretty pleased with the outcome!
Finally, I screwed the bottom plate of the camera back into place, reinstalled the battery, and fired up the camera… and the camera wouldn’t advance, the shutter wouldn’t fire, and the mirror remained stuck. Oh no!
The real problem?
I started googling again and read the message boards very carefully. According to Minoltafan2904 on Photorio.com, the capacitor problem is characterized by the shutter not firing, the film advance lever not moving past 30 degrees, and the LEDs in the viewfinder illuminating briefly, but going out when you press the shutter release button. All of those things were happening with my camera — but in addition, the mirror was stuck in an upright position.
So I started searching specifically for the mirror problem, and eventually I found this post by John Koehrer on Photorio.com, who suggested that a stuck mirror might be due to a shutter curtain not completing its cycle. The curtain on my camera looked fine to me. But on closer inspection, I saw just a bit of the black metal edge of the curtain on the far left. So I very carefully and gently nudged that metal edge to the left… and the mirror released!
Now everything works properly! The LED viewfinder lights stay on and function correctly and the film advance and shutter advance work. The mirror got stuck again a few more times as I tested the camera, but I just nudged the shutter to release it and after a few dozen more firings, it doesn’t seem to be getting stuck any longer.
So was my problem all along just a shutter issue? Or did I have both a shutter and a capacitor issue? I suppose I could get a definitive answer by reinstalling the old capacitor to see if the camera still functions. But that feels like begging trouble. At least I know that I rose to the challenge of soldering and correctly installed the new capacitor (whether or not I needed to), which makes me pretty proud.
I still need to load the camera and test it in the field to see if the sticky shutter and stuck mirror problem recur. It could be that the camera needs a good old fashioned CLA (clean, lube, and adjust). But that would probably cost four or five times the price of a new used X-370 body. If we get to that stage, I might just do some more googling to see if I can figure out how to CLA an X-370 myself.
Maybe this seems like a lot of effort for a $10 camera. But this is one of the glories of analog photography for me. It feels absolutely fantastic to crack one of these problems and actually fix an old camera, and the photos I take with this junky beater will always feel extra special.