The Minolta Prod 20’s looks like a modern digital camera, with a retro design. So much so, that’s it’s slightly disconcerting that it is, in fact, a 25 year old point and shoot film camera. Albeit, a camera which was retro at the time it was designed.
There are so many modern digital cameras that are riding the retro train, that it’s interesting to note that the practice was also alive a quarter of a century ago. In 1990, it was suggested that the Minolta Prod 20’s was a limited edition camera, technically based on the Minolta Freedom 202 (which, as far as I can tell, was also called the Minolta AF-SP or Minolta Mac Mate).
The Minolta Prod 20’s (I’ve no idea why it isn’t called the Prod 20s or 20 s, perhaps I’m missing something) looks like it was modelled on a composite of several mid-19th century viewfinder cameras, with the addition of autofocus windows styled to look like rangefinder windows. To me it looks not unlike a Zeiss Ikon Contina, or the Voigtlander Vito B. From the digital age, the Leica X or Fujiflm X-100 series of cameras spring to mind.
However, unlike a 1950s camera, the Minolta Prod 20’s is fully automatic – including auto-focus and auto-exposure. Much like the, previously reviewed, Panasonic C-426AF there are very few features other than simply pointing the camera and clicking the shutter (other than the self-timer). Also, like many fully automatic point and click cameras, the flash engages as soon as light is dim and there is no way to override this.
But any similarity with most other point and shoot cameras ends there. The Minolta Prod 20’s is a far more stylishly designed product. Whilst there is some plastic in the body (to simulate brown Vulcanite), the camera is also built with chrome and aluminium, for that extra ‘vintage’ feel. Even the built-in flash is designed with an art-Deco retro look in mind.
Specifications and using the Minolta Prod 20’s
The Minolta Prod 20’s has a 35mm ƒ4.5 lens – so not a camera for low-light photography. Shutter speed varies from 1/40 to 1/150. The camera will automatically detect film speed, as long as the film is DX coded. As far as I can find out, it exposes film at either 100 ISO or 400 ISO, with non-DX coded films being exposed at 100 ISO.
The Minolta Prod 20’s is not a small camera, by any means. In fact, it is wider and deeper than an Olympus OM 35mm film camera (it would also be taller, were it not for the prism). It’s not especially light either, so probably not an everyday ‘throw in a bag’, or ‘back pocket’ compact either. That said, the camera has an extended grip which makes it easy to hold steady in the right hand. Another nice design touch is the shutter lock, which is enabled by rotating a small dial around the shutter button – which is reminiscent of the Canon 7 rangefinder. There’s that retro thing again.
In summary (and some made-up cultural theory)
It’s hard to know how to best categorise this camera. If I throw in a little home-made cultural theory, it could be described as a retro, post-modern pastiche of an art-deco point and shoot film camera. And, to a large degree, it is largely about the look and feel of the camera. Whilst there may be more photographically advanced cameras out there, for much less money, the Minolta Prod 20’s is certainly one of a kind. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea but, you know what? I think it works.
- For some more discussion about design and perhaps even some (not made up) cultural theory, here’s an interesting academic article about design and performativity. Indeed, it’s intruiging how design has become such an influentual topic these days – especially issues around reinvention and pastiche.
- And for some further reading, here is an in-depth article about how graphic designers perceptions of their job titles has affected practitioners views of their design capital. doi: 10.1111/jade.12353.