Minolta PROD-20’S Review – A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing?

On paper, the Minolta PROD-20’S makes almost no sense. It’s nothing more than a dressed up cheap plastic Point and Shoot camera. Why would anyone pay over $100 for a camera that (internally anyway) is basically identical to the Minolta Freedom 202, a camera that you can probably find in good working condition for under $10. Looking at the specs isn’t exactly exciting either. A slow triplet (?) lens, limited ISO range, and fully automatic flash… who wants that? Is it really worth buying, or is it (as another review called it) just a sheep in wolf’s clothing?

Here’s what it has,

Lens – 35mm/4.5 triplet (some sources say it could be 4 elements in 4 groups)
Shutter – In lens shutter with speeds 1/40s – 1/150s (source unconfirmed)
Film Speed – Crippled DX decoding; films below ISO 400 are exposed as ISO 100, those above as ISO 400. Non-DX films exposed as ISO 100.
Focus – Active infrared autofocus from 0,95 m to infinity.
Finder – Simple bright-line viewfinder. No parallax correction.
Flash – Built-in, automatically activated, no manual override.
Self Timer – Electronic, On or Off.
Film transport – Automatic loading, advance and rewind.
Battery – 1x BR-P2N lithium battery

If you buy a complete original kit, it includes,

Camera
Metal lens cap
Leather bag
Strap
Retro style cardboard box
Assorted paperwork – manuals, etc. I’m not certain on what is all included in the paperwork.

In early 2015, after being intrigued by the PROD-20’S for years, I bought an incomplete kit which only included the camera, lens cap, leather bag, and strap.
After using the camera for almost 2 years, here are my thoughts on it.

The camera looks and feels great. I’ll be quite honest here, as shallow as it may sound, the looks were a pretty major factor in my interest and purchase of the PROD-20’S. The fit and finish is quite good. The top and bottom plates, and the plate around the lens,  are all metal, finished in satin chrome, as is the lens cap. The leatherette is a dark brown faux leather, and any visible plastic is also dark brown. I think the combination of the dark brown and satin chrome looks fantastic. The viewfinder is actually decently sized. To load the battery, the entire bottom plate comes off, reminiscent of old bottom loading rangefinders. With the battery in and film loaded, the camera has enough weight that it doesn’t feel cheap and flimsy. Another reason that I bought this camera, is because it has two proper neck strap lugs. It’s surprisingly difficult to find P&S film cameras with neck strap lugs. Most have a single wrist strap lug, or two lugs on the end of the camera for attaching a shoulder strap. Because of my particular situation and ALS, I can’t really use any camera on my own unless it has a neck strap that holds the camera up horizontally.

It’s about as simple to use camera as there is. Auto film loading (just drop in film, pull leader out over spool, close back), auto exposure, auto focus, auto flash (whenever camera decides ambient light is insufficient), and auto rewind. The only controls on the camera are the shutter button and a self timer switch. The self timer switch looks like an old fashion mechanical lever, but is really just an electronic on/off switch.  User control is really limited to just framing and shooting.

Most serious photographers will tell you that it all comes down to the lens though. Take the Olympus Stylus Epic for example. It is another fully automatic P&S film camera, and it’s almost universally lauded as one of the best P&S cameras money can buy. Most of that fame comes from the superb 35/2.8 lens on the Stylus Epic. Compared to the Olympus, the lens on the PROD-20’S is, quite frankly, terrible. With a maximum aperture of f/4.5, it’s about as slow as P&S cameras get, it is sharp(ish) in the center and not at all sharp in the corners, it has terrible barrel distortion and terrible lateral chromatic aberrations, and it has low contrast, Really not much going for this lens is there? Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there is a big difference between Image Quality and Quality of Image. I think to often people obsess about Image Quality, and lose sight of Quality of Image.  The PROD-20’S is rather unimpressive when it comes to the conventional idea of of image quality, but in my opinion it has loads of character which all add to the quality of image. I like a razor sharp, aberration free lens as much as anyone, but sometimes it’s nice and just plain fun to make images where sharpness isn’t a big part of it.

So, while it may just be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, it looks cool as hell, it’s fun as hell, and I absolutely love the images I get from it.

Here are some of my favorites,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. branden January 18, 2017

    What a weird camera. Thanks for doing the write-up on it, and proving again that it’s not the camera that makes the image. You’ve got some great shots with this contraption. I think my favorites are the last two.

  2. Jim Grey January 18, 2017

    Such appealing colors! And the lens is sharp enough, at least at blog resolution. It looks like this is a fun camera.

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