I planned the aquisition of an XE1 for a rather long time but somehow hesitated. User reports were favourable, but not completely enthusiastic, somehow. The ruggedness of the XE is also offered in the SR-T Series, with the addition of battery independence, albeit of course without exposure automation. THe XD, on the other hand, offers AE (including a quasi-program-AE for your occasional snapshot) and a much better finder display with an LED array, clearly a plus under dim lighting conditions.
So why an XE?
One day I bought one regardless and became my favourite SLR from the first day. I have a hard time figuring out why exactly, but I think the XE's features in this exact combination fit my way of taking photgraphs.
The XE (Japan), XE7 (USA) or XE1 (rest of the world) was introduced to the market in 1974 and represented the middle class between the amateur SRT series and the XM/XK that was produced for the pro market (and in the long run rather didn't yield the succes Minolta hoped for, which is why it had now followers).
It offered the CLC light metering known from the SRT and the aperture priority AE of the XM. It didn't however offer the interchangeable finders and focusing screens of the latter, nor its 1/2000 top shutter speed. But it offered a newly designed vertically travelling metal shutter developed with Leitz and Copal thatz was also built into the Leica R3 (the XD and the later Leica Rs had a rather similar shutter by Seiko). Indeed the XE ist quite identical to the Leica R3, with the exception of the metering system, finder and electronics. Ironically, the Minolta's electronics proved to be less prone to failure.
Shutter speeds are electronically controlled from 4 seconds to 1/1000, steplessly if you use AE and in full stops in manual mode. There is a mechanical speed of 1/90(X) in case of battery failure. Set shutter speed and aperture are indcated in the finder, along with an analog needle display of the shutter speed comuted by the metering system. So it's possible to work with the camera without taking your eye from the finder. Finder brightness is not quite on par with the XD, but more than sufficient at least with fast to medium speed lenses. The standard (and only) focusing screen sprts a focusing wedge and a microprism ring.
Gadgets included are an eyepiece shutter for tripod work and reprography and a nifty double exposure lever that disengages the film transport when you cock the shutter. There also is an exposure compensation dial (+2 to -2). that's about it.
Hey, I almost forgot: The XE combines automatic diaphragm and stop down metering, in that the DOF preview button uncouples the aperture simulator. So you can fully use metering and AE even with the DOF preview activated, contrary to most other cameras. Consequently, the DOF button is a toggle and does't return to open apertue viewing by itself. This might sound harmless, but it really is a great feature that makes depth of field control a breeze as it is not coupled with loss of time.
Handling is flawless. The XE is rather big and heavy and thus makes it easy to safely handhold even a little longer shutter speeds, and all controls are within your fingers' reach when your eye is at the shutter. The contemporary MC Rokkor lenses fit the camera best, but of course all MC and MD lenses will work (even if smaller lenses like the MD 45/2.0 do look a little bit odd on this camera).
Quirks? The self timer lever seems to be the XE's achilles heel, it is made of plasic and seems to break quite easily (although it makes a rather rugged impression on my sample). The shutter speed dial can only be turned to and from AE via the slow speeds, which is something you can get accustomed to.
I seem to step into the trap that most of the previous XE reviews have stepped in: praising the camera, without being able to exactly tell you why. Take my word: you have to use this camera to understand, and it's really worthwhile. The XE is a serious tool, and it does feel like one. And so it encourages good photography.