In the last few years main photo brands designers tend to recreate shapes and retro design adapted to modern digital cameras: since the introduction of the new Olympus PEN and, above all, with the launch of the Fujifilm X100, a clear message on how the ergonomics and style of the old film cameras of the past were and remain a winning choice. Not everyone knows, however, that this operation had already been carried out in the late 80’s by Minolta which was at the time one of the most advanced camera manufacturee in terms of technological content ( to Minolta, among other things, the introduction of one of the first autofocus SLR camera body) and innovative research.
Tentative did at the time with the PROD 20’s is totally analogous to what today Olympus, Fujifilm and others are doing: advanced technology in a camera body that recalls an earlier era of photography; in this case, it comes to using the best technology available at the time regarding autofocus and automatic exposure in a body that recalls the features of famous cameras of the twenties and thirties, although with new materials.
The camera was introduced in 1990 in a limited edition of only 20,000 numbered units mainly for the Japanese market, although some smaller imports also occurred in the United States and Europe; the entire package represented a recovery of design because also the box, made of refined cardboard, recalled immediately packaging of pre-war rangefinder cameras. The package included a lens cap in metal, the owner’s manual (also with clear reference chart at the time passed) and a soft bag for carrying the camera.
HOW IT WORKS
The camera is built in chromed metal and brown plastic and covered with imitation leather of the same color; the general appearance is that of a rangefinder camera with fixed lens and clean lines reminiscent of even some Leica models . As mentioned the camera’s operation is fully automatic, as the technological content are the same as Minolta AF compact cameras production of the early 90s. User can operate essentially only two commands: the shutter release button, located on the top cover together with the frame counter, and the self-timer lever, located to the left of the lens: a blinking LED to indicate the oactivation delay of about 10 seconds. Coaxially to the shutter button is the mode dial to turn on the camera (in the L position for Locked).
The film is inserted through the door at the back and there is no pawl winding in
since loading is automatic once closed the back as well as rewind of the exposed film, which starts automatically at the end of the poses or at least no later than the 36th frame. The film speed is automatically selected by reading the DX code while in its absence the default sensitivity is set to 100 ISO. The specifications state that the sensitivity setting covers from 100 to 1000 ISO for negatives and from 100 to 400 ISO for reversal films.
On the bottom there is a switch to unlock the battery compartment, which is accessed by removing the entire bottom (as was done in the old screw mount rangefinder cameras); the battery (which thankfully exists in a rechargeable version) is critical, because the camera does not work at all without electrical power.
The operation, in conclusion, it is completely “point & shoot” because the user is responsible only to frame the shot; to facilitate this inside the viewfinder (very large and very bright) there are the frame guides and the indication of the autofocus measuring zone (the minimum distance of focus is 0.9 m), which is useful when you want to work in AE-Lock through the intermediate pressure of the shutter button. Even firing of the flash is fully automatic and can’t be manually excluded, as governed exclusively by a center-weighted average light metering circuit which is located in the front window just inside the crown of the flash; this may be a limit to the creative use of the camera in low light conditions. Its entry into service is indicated by a flashing LED in the viewfinder that indicates loading. The flash has a range of 3.3 m (ISO 100) and 6.6 m (ISO 400) while the meter reading is from EV 9 to EV 16.2 at ISO 100.
The Minolta PROD 20s is also more suitable for exposures in bright sunlight, in which its lens can produce particular incisiveness and certainly represents, together with the design, the element of greatest value and interest of the camera itself; clearly derived from the Rokkor lenses that equipped cameras of the HI-Matic series, it is likened by many to a value such as the Zeiss optics Orthometar 35 / 4.5. It is, in any case, a Tessar scheme lens, therefore can ensure quality shots. The focal length, along with the rapid operation, make it a very suitable camera for daylight street photography.
Model: Compact 35mm autofocus.
Format: 24×36 on 135 film
Lens: Minolta 35 / 4.5
Shutter: on the focal plane, iris.
Exposure modes: automatic.
Viewfinder: Galilean frames.
Self-timer: yes, 10 seconds.
Multiple exposures : no.
Flash: integrated automatic flash.
Size: Length 141.5 mm; height 73 mm; depth 39 mm.
Weight: 390 gr.
Power: 1 stack DL223A / CRP2P or equivalent (6 V).
robustness and reliability;
no mechanical operation;
no flash bypass;
high rating, due to the rarity.
AVAILABILITY ‘AND PRICES
The camera is obviously not easy to find, at least according to the canons of common equivalent cameras and the few models that appear periodically on sale are quickly purchased. Generally, in stores or at specialty retailers, the price fluctuates between 200 and 350 € for a complete package, while it can happen in auction sites to find an exemplar at about 100 euro price. Very unlikely to be able to go below this figure. It is convenient to add about 25 euro for a rechargeable battery and its charger. The model reviewed here was purchased in like new condition at an itinerant trader, at the price of 100 euro.