Saturday, February 22, 2020

Space Oddity

If Nikon's Pronea 6i looked like a prototype of the future consumer-grade DSLR and Canon's EOS IX looked like a Nineties sci-fi movie prop, Minolta's Vectis S-1 looked like...well, it looks normal now. If I'm walking around with the Hasselblad Lunar or the Fuji X-E1, someone inevitably asks "Oh, is that a film camera?" Despite it actually being a film camera, it's unlikely anyone will ask that about the Vectis.

It looks pretty much like a generic digital MILC or Bridge Camera from about ten years ago, not a film camera from 1996.

The lens this one shipped with was Minolta's V-mount "travel zoom". At first blush 25-150mm sounds like a super useful focal length range, but remember that shooting in "H" mode with APS film results in a crop factor of approximately 1.25X, so you have a field of view equivalent to about a 31-180ish lens.

It's a slow lens, too. Maximum aperture at the wide end is only f/4.5, and that falls off pretty quickly as you dial in the zoom and past about 55mm you're looking at a maximum aperture of f/6. The lens is also unusual in having no provision for manual focusing. Shooting the Vectis S-1 is a reminder that autofocus was still fairly new in 1996. It hunts a bit and is slow to focus; the 25-150mm is no sports lens, but that's okay, considering the camera's motor drive might deliver a single frame every second. It may look more modern than the EOS IX or the Pronea, but shooting it is a trip back in time.

The test roll, which is at Roberts now, was Fuji 100 that came in a sleeve of five, and the seller claimed had been cold stored. I manually set the ISO to 64 to compensate for the age of the film and, combined with the pig-slow apertures, exposure times on a sunny day were getting slower than 1/90th any time a small cloud crossed the sun. This camera, of course, predates any kind of stabilization in the lens...

Despite the off-center viewfinder, this is an actual single lens reflex camera, it just uses a rather more exotic arrangement of mirrors than the usual pentaprism or pentamirror. Despite that, the finder is crazy bright and features about 98% coverage, at a time when a Canon EOS Rebel gave you a dim 90% finder.

The film loads in that little trap door on the side of the camera. You press the blue "eject" button and the camera sort of whirs and chortles to itself for a second and then pops the hatch open to receive film. (It came with a manual so I need to read what you do if the two CR2 batteries give up the ghost while you have film in the camera...)

The thumb wheel will alter the aperture if you're shooting in aperture priority, shutter speed if you're shooting in shutter priority, and if you want to shoot in full stick-shift mode, the thumb wheel controls shutter speed unless you hold down the exposure compensation button while spinning it, and then it changes the aperture and leaves you longing for the dual control wheels on Nikon's Pronea 6i.

Minolta rated the camera as "splashproof" but I have yet to risk my $20 investment by splashing anything on it.

When it launched, it was not $20, but closer to $300. This was half the price of the Nikon and a third the cost of Canon's stainless EOS IX, which was so expensive it was only on the market for two years before being yanked in favor of something dumber and plastickier.

Minolta's V-series lenses are currently completely useless without a Vectis. There's no point in making adaptors for them because even the ones with "manual" focus use a focus-by-wire ring and the lens needs to be communicating with the camera for this to function. (Minolta and Nikon were the only ones to make APS-specific lenses, although Nikon's used the company's standard F-mount. Minolta engineered an entirely new mount for the Vectis...and collapsed and was absorbed by Sony in seven years. "Vectis wrecked us.")