Camera Reviews, Photography

Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

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Unbelievably, when Kodak introduced the tiny 110 film cartridge in 1972 a few camera makers said, “Hey, I know! Let’s make a super high-quality camera for this film!” Never mind that Kodak intended this film to be used for family snapshots. Never mind that Kodak had to invent a whole new film technology so that the super-narrow 16 mm negatives could yield a print with merely heavy, rather than unacceptable, noise and grain. Makers as lofty as Voigtländer, Rollei, Pentax, and Minolta quickly issued 110 cameras with fine multi-element lenses and automatic exposure control. Pentax and Minolta even went as far as creating single-lens reflex cameras for 110 film. This is Minolta’s: the 110 Zoom SLR.

Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

This camera is an odd duck because it doesn’t have that classic SLR look. Yet an SLR it is, with a fixed f/4.5 lens that zooms from 25 to 50 mm and includes a macro mode that focuses to 11 inches, a shutter that operates from 1/1000 to 10 sec., and aperture-priority autoexposure that uses a CdS-based light meter. Strangely, the light meter and the aperture selection dial are next to the lens on the camera’s front. But zooming and focusing are on the lens barrel where they belong.

Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

Every 110 Zoom SLR came with that rubber lens hood. When you’re not using it, push it toward the lens and it collapses cleanly and cleverly. It screws in, so you can remove it. When you attach a flash to the hot shoe, move the dial to the left to X so it will sync properly. The other choices on that dial are A for autoexposure and B for bulb (the shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter button down). The switch next to the shutter button locks and unlocks the button. The switch north of the shutter button lets you adjust exposure up or down up to two stops. The little red button checks the batteries – two SR44 button cells you can buy at the drugstore.

Film isn’t available at the drugstore anymore, though. Kodak and Fuji gave up on the format a few years ago. The Lomography folks offer new 110 films in color and black and white if you’re curious. Or you can find expired 110 film on eBay, which is what I did. Three rolls of expired Fujicolor Superia 200 came with this camera for under $20 shipped.

Straightaway I dropped in a film cartridge and some batteries and got to shooting. My favorite shot is of these flowers from my next-door neighbor’s extensive hosta gardens. I used macro mode for this shot.

Hosta flower

I had trouble focusing this camera. The manual says that the focus patch shimmers when a subject is out of focus. Thanks to age, my eyes are starting to decline and I have to work harder now to see fine things. Given how many of my shots were out of focus, clearly I sometimes failed to see that fine shimmer. Here, my subject the traffic barrel is only slightly out of focus.

Merryman

I took my dog Gracie over to Holliday Park for a walk with the 110 Zoom SLR in my hand. One of these days I’ll figure out a more interesting way to frame The Ruins, although I do like the color I got. I cropped this a little but shot it zoomed all the way out, at 25 mm, which felt to me like 50 mm on a 35 mm camera.

Ruins

I am impressed with this camera’s metering, which got good exposure under pretty much any circumstances I threw at it. The camera lets you know when there’s too much or too little light – when you press the shutter button halfway, a red triangle appears inside the viewfinder when the shot will be overexposed, and a yellow triangle appears when the shutter speed is slower than 1/50 sec and shake will be a problem. No triangle means the camera will return a good exposure.

Headless

But true to 110 form, these images are grainy and noisy. Macro shots such as this one suffer worst, and can show appreciable loss of detail.

Macro flower

I found focusing to be so unsatisfying that I’m unlikely to put any more film through this camera. I got about a dozen usable images from this 24-exposure cartridge. You can see them all in my  Minolta 110 Zoom SLR gallery.


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42 thoughts on “Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

  1. My experience with this camera is similar to yours. I too think the odds are against my using it again. Still they are cheap and an interesting part of photo history. I imagine more compact 35mm cameras like the Olympus XA hurt the more sophisticated 110s.

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  2. That camera has the oddest shaped body! I’ve never seen one like that — a strange hybrid…Thanks for sharing the photos. I’m getting inspired to use my film cameras again. My dad had a minox, which I loved as a kid – eventhough the pictures were grainy and the size of postage stamps. I looked all over my mother’s house to see if it was still there, but sadly, it’s gone……Have you seen any of those around?

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    • Minolta must have thought its camera oddly shaped too, as when they issued an updated version of this camera it looked more like a standard SLR, but at 3/4 scale.

      I have only seen Minox cameras online. I had a Minolta 16 when I was a kid, which is the same kind of thing.

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  3. I don’t think I knew this camera existed or maybe I’ve just managed to forget it. It seems like a solution in search of a problem that just didn’t exist. There were two reasons I owned a couple of 110s when I was toting a 35mm SLR. One was that they were cheap but their size was at least as important. A typical 110 slipped easily into a pocket and went where the SLR didn’t. Wrapping the little film in a big camera meant there was nothing to compensate for the loss of picture quality.

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    • I think you’ve nailed it – solution to a nonexistent problem. Or maybe Minolta was trying to see if there was a market for a more sophisticated 110 camera. Who knows? Certainly, this camera loses 110’s killer advantage — the ability to have tiny cameras. I have another 110 camera here that I plan to use as soon as I can find a battery for it — a Rollei, and it is the smallest camera in my collection. It’s truly itty bitty, barely bigger than the film cartridge.

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  4. It’s a camera that could only have been conceived in Japan; you got some nice images from it. I had one when there was still some film available in stores. However, as I recall, I had to make some alteration to the film cartridge to fool the camera into thinking that it was a different ASA. Between that and the image quality limitations, I just couldn’t stay interested in making pictures with it. Still, I’m sorry now that I sold it as it was interestingly odd.

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    • I’ve read about the film-speed setting tab on the film cartridge. Apparently it wasn’t a problem for the film I had in this camera, as everything came back properly exposed. I’m with you; this camera’s worth keeping because of its oddness factor.

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  5. ryoko861 says:

    If anything, it’s cool looking. Something else to keep my eye out on during my garage sale outings. Back then though, that was bomb!

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  6. Ronald Schleyer says:

    I used the Minolta 110 Zoom for years and produced fabulous B&W images, mostly portraits, using Verichrome Pan (ASA 125, always shot with a +1 yellow filter as recommended by Kodak for exact gray-tone rendering of Caucasian skin) developed in Acufine diluted 3:1 and extended development (13 min. at 75 degrees, if I recall) for super fine grain results. These blew up to 5×7 on an 8×10 piece of paper very beautifully, producing a nearly 1/2-life-size portrait, very sweet, compelling, full of rich shadow detail. The beauty of this camera was that one could pack it around constantly in its nifty little soft-sided case. It was rugged, too. I never owned a better camera for candid portraits that were worth fussing with in the darkroom. Two rolls of film separately wound on reels fit in a 35-mm stainless steel tank. Camera finally broke down, can’t remember why, and I switched to a Rollei 35S using Tri-X, also processed in Acufine, and then 2475 Recording Film, ditto on Acufine (ASA 1600), which yielded a gorgeous structured grain of museum quality, like an etching, almost. Equally sharp results for small-scale prints up to 8 x 10 and even an occasional 11 x 14. The Recording Film system with Acufine even produced one 16×20 print that I processed in the bathtub and won a blue ribbon and $100 cash back in 1976 when that was real money, but this was with a solid-brass used Leicaflex weighing at least 3 1/2 pounds, I think, with a Leica 90-mm f/2 picture-window portrait lens that weighed as much as the camera and cost much more than it did. Ah, the classic days of roll film!

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    • Is there anything Verichrome Pan can’t do?

      I’m glad to know that you got such good results with your 110 Zoom and good old VP. I love hearing your “report from the field” of serious use with this camera. I could tell as I shot my test roll that Minolta meant it for such use.

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  7. Ronald Schleyer says:

    By the way, Jim, you may keep your eye out for the new Canon G15, which may be the ultimate digital compact camera, finally, so many years after the dissolution of the film world’s small-camera highly capable rages, such as the Rollei 35S and the Minolta 110 zoom, both mentioned above. I know I can’t wait to obtain one. This new machine completely wipes out its very considerable competition and may never be outmoded by any future camera. Thus, it took at least 20 years of digital camera development to reach the highly advanced technical stage achieved, about 1975-1980, by the best miniaturized roll-film cameras! This calls for a celebration, actually . . . .

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    • I’m still madly in love with my PowerShot S95, but I just checked out the G15 online and am delighted to see that it packs an f/1.8 lens at widest angle.

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  8. Ronald Schleyer says:

    Hi Jim–Your readers might like to know exactly the accessories needed to make the new Canon G15 into the perfect B&W pro-quality miniature camera, including the ability to make digital B&W infrared (IR) and to apply the latest B&W fluid-motion techniques, which require ND (neutral density) filters. Fluid motion allows capture of that “dreamy” quality of landscapes gained by photographing a bright scene with moving water and clouds in time exposure, requiring a tripod, of course. Digital B&W IR also requires a tripod. Using a tripod requires the optional electronic shutter release. The filters require the optional filter adapter from Canon. The filter adapter makes the camera permanently a little larger, requiring a special case. The case is big enough to protect the camera and carry all the filters, the shutter release, and the tripod, in a very handsome miniature package. Voila! The G15 so equipped will do everything the Rollei 35 and Minolta 110 Zoom used to do using a host of speciality B&W Kodak films, multiplied by about 10 in quality and versatility.

    Tamrac Aria 1 Model 5421 Camera Bag, Moss Green
    Vivitar VT-9, 9-inch Mini-Tripod, Red (folds to 5 3/4 inches)

    Canon Interface Cable IFC-400PCU (camera to computer)
    Canon Remote Switch RS-60E3
    Canon 58-mm Filter Adapter FA-DC58D

    Hoya 58-mm UV(C) Slim-Frame Fine Weather Filter (constant use)
    Hoya 58-mm PRO1D ND32 Neutral Density Filter (5 stops)
    B+W 58mm 3.0 ND MRC 110M Neutral Density Filter (10 stops)
    Hoya 58-mm Infrared R72 Filter
    Hoya 58-mm White Mist Portrait Filter
    Rocketfish 58-mm Lens Cap RF-LC58

    Free Software from Canon:
    Digital Photo Professional 3.11.41 updater for Mac OS X
    ImageBrowser EX 1.1.0 for Mac OS X
    CameraWindow DC 8.9.1 for Mac OS X

    Imaging Software:
    DXO Optics Pro 7 Standard Edition
    DXO FilmPack 3 Essential Edition

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  9. Ronald Schleyer says:

    Jim, your blog already radiates sweetness and light! What more could a guy want? Actually, I am busy writing a big book on the genuine theory of the world (‘The Living Idea’) that will remake the secular order, which ought to please fine fellows like you, who have been waiting for it, as it were, all this time. Look for it in the iBook store in a year or so, God willing.

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  10. Ronald Schleyer says:

    A necessary to footnote to my effusive expatiation on the Canon G15: it is not capable of “bulb” (unlimited) time exposure like the usual run of expensive DSLR cameras. Like most of its compact brethren, and unlike the best cameras of the film era, is limited to a relatively short-duration of time exposure (15 seconds), which in fact is significantly less than the 60-second exposure limit of the G1X, Canon’s premiere iteration of a super-functional compact camera. This means the new G15 cannot fully execute “fluid motion” photography using ND filters (the usual examples of which require at least 1 minute and as much as 4 minutes exposure on a tripod), despite my imagining and saying that it did. In fact, I have the G15 in hand now. Except for the above-described limitation, the G15 appears to be a fantastically versatile camera, capable of fine portraiture and digital infrared (IR) landscape photography, whose time exposures (using an IR filter) are well within the 15-second limit. I’m sorry to have misled your vulnerable readers, Jim. No doubt Canon has its technical reasons, one of which is that the onboard computer has to perform a noise-reduction task on time exposures and this requires large investments of waiting time and battery power. Here is a link to beautiful examples of “fluid motion” B&W photography, executed by a world-class photographer using a top-drawer DSLR: http://www.bwvision.com/

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  11. Barry Benton says:

    Jim, I really enjoyed your write-up on the Minolta 110 SLR. I bought one when they first came out and both loved and hated it. The packaging form was really handy and I used the camera a lot. I think that part of the lack of sharpness was the heavy guillotine shutter and mirror action relative to the camera weight; lots of shake. I later bought a Pentax 110 SLR with, a much lighter shutter and mirror, and had better results. A dedicated 110 projector improves slide viewing.

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  12. Lance says:

    Just bought one of these this morning from eBay. Not that I need another camera but the shape fascinated me :-). I do have an Agfamatic 4000 which no longer works, the electronics finally gave out some years back after almost constant use for over ten years. I have a Hanimex 110 slide projector and hundreds of slides I captured with the Agfamatic. Many of the slides I have scanned with still more to go (I acquired an Epson V500 early last year). I will use the Minolta with films from Lomography http://lomography.com.au, preferably B&W.

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    • The Agfamatic looks like a great little camera. I think the Minolta 110 will feel a great deal different in your hands, though. I have a Rollei A110 here that I haven’t shot with yet — it looks to be a fine little camera.

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  13. Alan MacPhee says:

    I had a Minolta 110 SLR in college! I love my Nikon D7100 like no camera I’ve ever had, but kudos to my little Minolta for getting me started on serious photography. Thank you for this post!

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  14. Susan says:

    I bought this camera in an AAFES PX in 1977…from thr first moment I saw it I fell in love with the looks.. At that time I was still lugging around my college behemoth..a Yashica DL-1000?? and an OM-1 (which I dearly loved). I grabbed the Minolta in a moment of lust and took it on a 3-week trip down thru Florence, Rome, the Vatican, Naples, Pompeii, etc. We took mostly slides…and I hated those itty-bitty slides..had to put them in an adapter to run them thru my slide projectors. Even now as I thumb thru my photo albums I can instantly tell which pictures were taken by which camera…the Yashica lens was not great, the Minolta grainy, and the OM sharp as a tack. Nevertheless, I used it all summer as it was very lightweight and had a “cool” factor! Europeans were always asking me about it! Fall of ’77 I sold it to finance my OM-2…the love of my life! I still have my OM’s (later got the Titanium too) but not using them much….

    I got another one last week at a local auction….uber-clean and still working…gonna get batteries if I can find SR44 equivalents around here (I hear the new voltage screws up the meter??)..I’ll let you know how she performs…this one still has half a roll of film in it…the auction was for the estate of an elderly man who was in the Army….bet it got it in a PX too! Neat to know others have camera lust!!!
    Susan

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    • I have a couple of OM-1s here and I’d rather shoot with either of them again than this Minolta. Not that this was a bad camera, even despite the lousy 110 film format. But the OM-1s are so joyous to shoot!

      The voltage differences from the original batteries can theoretically lead to the meter being inaccurate. Theoretically. I’ve never had any problems, though.

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  15. Jessica says:

    How do you adjust the camera to micro mode? I bought mine from a yard sale for only 5 bucks but sadly no manual.. so i’m slowly teaching myself from youtube videos and online blogs.

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  16. Charles Collins says:

    I have to admit, I do really like the 70s/80s feel to these pictures. But it does sound like a real pain to get something remotely good and the line between focus and no focus is pretty distinct. I’ve just inherited my fathers Minolta and am going to give it ago in the City of London. Jim, do you use it during darker hours?

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    • I haven’t shot this camera very much given that for a long time 110 film was not available fresh. (It is again in the Lomography shop.) I hope you’ll share the photos you get from yours online somewhere.

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  17. Christopher Smith says:

    You got some reasonable shots form the camera even with expired film I have just got the next model up from this the “MINOLTA 110 ZOOM SLR MARK II” and 5 rolls
    of expired (1990) film from eBay, I hope to give it a try when the camera arrives .I can relate to your focusing problems as my eye sight is not brilliant unless the view finder has a diopter control I find it difficult to focus.

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  18. Chris M. says:

    A 110 SLR…never would have guessed. We had 110 cameras when I was a kid in the 80’s, but just simple point & shoot models…a Kodak of some sort as the “family” camera and then I got an uber-cheap (and bright blue!) Vivitar that was my own. Both had the long, skinny rectangle shape that this one would be if it weren’t for the size of the lens. An odd beast to be sure.

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