Name the two biggest camera companies right now. Did you say Canon and Nikon? That's fine. So did everyone else who isn't on the Sony train. Who was the biggest in the 80s? Those two still? I think you're forgetting Minolta. This underdog Japanese company debuted the first automatic film advance, in-body auto-focusing camera in 1985 and took the fucking market by storm. They dethroned Nikon and took the photography world by storm. It's really too bad Sony swallowed them in '06.
Minolta was founded in Japan when Kazuo Tashima, the son of a manufacturing giant, visited Leica in Germany and decided he liked the idea of making cameras. in 1929, they dropped their first camera and were off to the races. They spent most of their life chasing Canon and Nikon, innovating as fast as they could but never quite gaining the same brand recognition.
In the 70s, in what must have been a wet dream of Kazuo's, Minolta paired with the legendary Leica to produce a limited run of cross-branded cameras termed the Leitz LC or the Minolta LC, depending on the market. They were sought out for their expertise in camera-body electronics and sensors by the most prestigious old-school camera company. Is it any wonder they were first to market with autofocus?
The autofocus on the Maxxum is suprisingly fast. It only has one focus point (in the center), which is a little bit of a problem. But it has a convenient lock button where the right thumb rests, which, while held, locks the exposure and focus. So you can set one or both, hold the button, then adjust your framing before finally hitting the shutter. I don't shoot a lot of moving targets or sports, so this is a perfectly workable solution for me.
And while this is an incredibly subjective thing, I really enjoy the way it feels in the hand. It's a good size, the grips are made of the proper sort of rubber, and the controls are intuitive and simple. They chose to use arrow buttons in place of wheels and dials, which is a little less convenient but not a dealbreaker. It's about as big and bulky as a mid-range DSLR (think of a Canon 60D). And people like their mid-range DSLRs for a reason.
I keep having to remind myself this is an 80's camera, not a late-90's. It feels remarkably solid, full-featured, and has aged well. There are many 90s cameras (and even 00's) that haven't lasted nearly as well. By stripping away all the extra bullshit and focusing on the essentials, Minolta ensured its continued usability for decades to come.
Maybe they just hadn't invented all the extra bullshit at the time.
Afterlife (courtesy of Sony)
It's great that Sony still (sorta) supports the A-mount lenses. It's not native in any of their trendy cameras, but their in-house adapter gives you full electronic control of the functions, and the autofocus is almost as fast as on the native body they were built for. I've rented the A7s and used A-mount lenses exclusively with no trouble and very nice results
Lenses are fairly affordable these days. A decent 50mm goes for $30-40. I got mine with an 80-210 f/4 that is phenomenal and holds its own against the more modern tele-zooms. When I rent Sony cameras, I always just grab the smart adapter and use all of my own Minolta lenses.