110 format has been always considered synonymous with low quality photography done especially for fun: small 100 box cameras have been for years one of the surprise gifts contained in bags of potato chips or as attachments to magazines for children. They were in fact simple plastic boxes with a 110 cartridge inside, which was often the only one that would never impressed by those cameras.
Same way, “adults” products from the photographic industry for the 110 format have always been represented by simple tools without any kind of regulation made by users, with full respect to the dictates of Sunday/vacation photography. In addition to this predominant production, though, must be remembered a few examples of the most comprehensive and sophisticated cameras, the aim of which was to transpose some of the features of the 135 equipment in a smaller format, so as to attract to the 110 even more evolved photographers; particularly remarkable in this niche are the Pentax Auto 110 and the Minolta SLR 110.
Given the renewed presence on the market of both black&white and color 110 films (for now made by Lomography, in the future perhaps other manufacturers will be added …), as well as the ability to recharge autonomously 110 cartridges , it can be interesting to take a closer look at these two models as we can consider them the two main examples of quality 110 cameras.
Both cameras are presented with a much higher building quality than the totality of existing competitors, about both the choice of materials and care in the assembly; Pentax looks like a miniature SLR, while the shape of the Minolta (later reflex-like in the MKII version) is much more intriguing, much thinned and vaguely similar to a downsized movie camera. Design features are also reflected in the technological contents which for both cameras are good enough to meet the expectations of demanding photographers.
Both cameras are very different from simple point and shoot units and provide true electronic exposure programs; the Pentax 110 is fully automatic, and delegate the selection of the pair time-aperture to the metering circuit, very accurate, within the range of values between 1/750 sec f/13,5 to 1 sec f /2,8; the second version, called Super 110, also includes additional elements such as the 1.5 EV exposure manual adjustment. Minolta 110 works in aperture priority by electonically selecting the shutter speed (in the range between 1/100 sec and 10 sec) to match the manually selected aperture within the range f /4,5 – f/16; it also allows you to select a shooting mode with bulb, as well as synchronization with electronic flash at a fixed speed 1/150 sec. It also comes with a dial for exposure compensation from -2 to +2 EV in steps of 1 EV
The Pentax looks like the heart of a true reflex system (Pentax System 10) which includes six lenses, all with f/2,8 as maximum aperture with the exception of the 18mm pan-focus: 18mm (two models, standard and the aforementioned pan-focus), 24mm, 50mm, 70mm and 20-40mm zoom. These lenses are a masterpiece of miniaturization and, coming to terms with the resolution little negative can offer, do not give up quality typical of Pentax lenses.
The Minolta 110 provides a non interchangeable lens descendant of the well-known Rokkor family with 25-50mm focal length and max aperture f /4.5 with additional macro shooting capabilities up to 28 cm.
Minolta and Pentax endowed both these cameras with various accessories; while the Minolta are the most classics such as carrying cases, filters or dedicated flash, accessories Pentax’s are more oriented to the SLR system and include, in particular, a motor winding, a focal multiplier and a dedicated tripod.
These cameras are fully usable and enjoyable nowadays, both with original and refilled 110 film cartridges. Functions and exposure modes available allow their use in all of the most typical light conditions; for night or very low light use Minolta is preferable, thanks to the long time of than 10 seconds and the presence of the bulb mode as well as the threaded socket on the shutter button, while the Pentax has an indisputable advantage in the presence of interchangeable lenses that allow a wide range of focal lengths. Both cameras are dependent on batteries, but as they are working with simple LR44 elements this is not an issue. A small bore of the first Auto 110, then resolved with the Super model, is the need to operate two times the lever to advance the film one frame.
What to choose
Soon we will publish the reviews of both cameras but the answer, given the current market prices and features summarily set forth above, is simple: both!