The Minolta 110 Zoom SLR is a strange little camera. But it makes the most of 110 film and its tiny negative. See my updated review here.
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.
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.
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. There’s some color shifting from the expired film, but for such a tiny negative that sharpness isn’t bad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But if you forget all the special settings and just shoot stuff at medium distances, you’ll get good results.
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.