12.05.2017

Dutch Date - Part 3: Minolta Freedom Dual C and Minolta Freedom Zoom Explorer

Every so often, I'll get really frugal and ask a couple of cameras to share a roll of film.  Though there are problems here and there, they'll usually agree.  I call these "Dutch Dates" and usually try to pair cameras with something more than simply the film format in common.  Below is a look at just one such pairing...


They scarfed down their British fare with reckless abandon, and remarked, how of their contemporaries coming up in the 90's, they were some of the few who could really see the "big picture."

Camera Models: Minolta Freedom Dual C (1991) and Minolta Freedom Zoom Explorer (1999)

Similarities: Both are Minolta made point and shoot models with multiple focal lengths that have the fairly rare ability to shoot at the 28mm focal length on the wide end of their focal length range.

Differences: The Freedom Dual C, an earlier model, is actually a dual lens camera rather than a zoom like the Freedom Zoom Explorer.  It offers special buttons only to turn off flash or to use a self timer.  The Explorer however has a burst mode, night portrait mode, red-eye reduction flash, and macro mode among its options. 

Film Shared: Ilford Delta 400, fresh dated, developed in TFX-2. 

As the 1990's progressed, point and shoot cameras continued to try to reach new and impractical levels of focal length, as the typical 35-70mm range began to expand ever upwards with each successive year.  As the decade closed, and a consumer digital era crept imminently close, the longest of these super zooms stretched to a 200mm focal length! 

Far fewer camera models in this age of length inadequacy crept inward, typically leaving 35mm (or more often 38mm) as the widest focal length offered, and in effect leaving snapshooters in close quarters with few comparative choices.  Minolta was one of the few makers to crack the semi-wide ceiling on some of their models, with a couple of models reaching inward to be operable at a wide 28mm focal length.  



These two Minoltas show wide angle capabilities in point and shoot cameras from both the beginning and ending of this tumultuous decade for point and shoot cameras.  Both hit that seldom reached 28mm threshold on the wide end, thus providing the potential to be a versatile and portable shooter in ways that the bulk of point and shoot models just can't do with their limited inner focal reach. 

I picked both of these up with the intention of using them as good landscape shooters that were pocketable.  Admittedly, one of the models is more versatile than the other, but I was certainly curious what both were capable of, particularly in close quarters. 

By and large the Minolta Freedom Dual C is a 28mm point and shoot that has a mechanical feature that extends the elements outward and swings in two additional elements in to result in a 40mm alternate focal length, which differs from many other "dual" models that had a rotating lensboard that the user could "switch" between focal lengths.   The 28mm triplet lens goes as wide as f/4 while the addition of the two additional elements to make the lens a 40mm slows it down to f/5.6. 

By comparison, the Minolta Freedom Zoom Explorer is a true zoom camera covering the entire focal range between 28mm and 70mm.  Its lens has a pair of double aspheric glass elements, and while fairly fast on the wide end at f/3.5, this slows to an f/8.9 lens on the long end.  The camera adds a handful of mode options in comparison to its older sibling, that either add fun or complication to the shooting mechanics of this late 90's shapshooter. 

Today, neither camera carries anything in the way of following compared to other beloved point and shoot models, so it comes as no shock that I managed to snap both of these examples up for $2 at local thrift stores, and one had a fully working battery inserted! I quite honestly paid more for the single roll of film that these two cameras shared than I did for BOTH of these cameras combined!


Minolta Freedom Dual C


The Minolta Freedom Dual C shows an appreciable degree of early 90's styling in its contours.  The only front controls are the sliding lens cover and a small button below the flash to disable it. 

This and another unrecalled point and shoot were up for grabs at the local Goodwill, and I nearly passed on both, before taking a second look at this one and realizing how oddly quirky it was, and that it covered the wider focal length.  I had originally eyeballed pairing the Freedom Zoom with another wide angle point and shoot, a Pentax IQ Zoom 928, only to find that camera was a dud, leaving this as a really neat alternative, that coincidentally was from the same maker. 

Aside from the focal length, I really liked how solid this camera felt.  Despite being made of plastic, the camera had nary a give nor creak anywhere in its construction.  I also liked how simplistic this camera's interface was, as well as the easy location of the flash override button.  On seeing how the switch from 28mm to 40mm worked, I actually marveled at the intricacy involved in making such a modest bump in focal lengths. 


A short video showing the internal conversion from 28mm to 40mm and back again.

If there was something negative that I found myself feeling with this camera, it was that I worried that I liked this camera more than it liked itself! Reading the manual that came with the camera to scout specifications, it seems the low end of the EV scale goes only as low as 6 (comparable to EVs of about 3 on most point and shoot models).  As well, the film only uses a very few film speeds in conjunction with the DX coding. As in TWO! This camera will rate film at only 100 or 400 based upon the DX codes.  It becomes evident that this truly was not a camera designed for the enthusiast market, such as the Yashica T2.

Shooting the Freedom Dual C was admittedly a bit of a mixed bag.  The viewfinder is reasonably large, clear, and bright, and all buttons worked just as they should without fail.  The flash override button was indeed perfectly located and impossible to confuse with anything else, while the shutter dutifully fired off shot after shot in humble, almost thankful precision.  But the big trick with the Dual C for me was not really knowing if focus was achieved prior to pressing the shutter.  Most autofocus point and shoot cameras have some indicator, usually a green light or symbol in the viewfinder that, upon depressing the shutter partially, either glows green to denote focus being achieved, or blinks if focus is not possible.  This same light also allows you to lock focus on a non-centered object and recompose.  The Dual C offers no such confidence builder.  Depressing the shutter button partway simply... fired the shutter! And there seemed no way to compose a photo where the center of the image was not the point of focus. 



The spartan top deck of the Freedom Dual C is actually pretty refreshing in the view above.  A self timer button and lens switch are the only controls aside from the shutter release, while an analog counter window is clear and easy to read.  The view through the viewfinder is refreshingly large and bright as well.


As Delta 400 can be a bit heavy on contrast, I elected to try using Photographer's Formulary TFX-2 for developing this roll, electing to use a stand developing formula I've seen online.  This time, I didn't get the blotchy skies of my first tries of this developer with Pan F+, but I did find the developed negatives to have a discoloration on the lower half.  My only guess is that the mixed solution resettled near the bottom of the tank during the stand developing, or that the temps in the tank were uneven.  Still, the negatives were passable, and I was pleased to see that nearly every shot with the Freedom Dual C had emerged in clear focus and seemingly sharp.


Gallery:

In fading light, the Freedom Dual C was able to make a sharp and well exposed image despite some challenge of backlighting from the sky in the distance. 




The difference between 28mm and 40mm can be seen in the two images above and below.  The widest angle version is seen above, with the 40mm version below.  Both seem to show decent sharpness, but the above one looks generally sharper. 




A quick attempt to close focus shows a background that is only somewhat muted in the process. 


I had to improvise a bit to keep the subject here within the center of the frame to get proper focus, but the result is a sharp rendering through the modest triplet lens. 


The effects of the film developing are pretty evident across the left side of the image.  Still, a good result and minimal distortion are apparent in this wider angle framing. 


Sometimes, the need to "center focus" spoiled the desired outcome.  I'd have rather had focus on the closest parts of the fence with decreasing focus leading into a blurred background.  Instead, only the less prominent parts of the fence are in focus, with the rest of the frame being only mildly indistinct.


Despite a supposedly primitive DX coding and limited exposure system, I can't say I had complaints with most exposures on the Auto C.  Both highlights and shadows in this image show adequate detail. 


However, the need for balanced exposure sometimes leads to less than dramatic exposures in some challenging lighting situations.  The doorway area is too obscured in this case. 


Knowing I was pointing into a backlit scene, I wondered if the steeple would be mired in a silhouette, but the Auto C gave me a shot with decent detail, and some character to the sky as well. 


Shooting with a 28mm point and shoot, it can be interesting at just how much of a scene can be taken in by the lens. 


Swapping to the 40mm setting, I was able to get a bit of separation of focus in this one instance.  The Auto C never approached anything resembling "blissful bokeh." 


A 28mm comes in handy in those instances where you want to get a large church and a "small church" in the same frame.  


Another example of the Auto C dutifully handling exposure in a very backlit scene. 


Shot through a fence, the insistence on center focus tends to hamper the best focal points for some compositions.


The 28mm angle was wide, but was still a bit restrictive and claustrophobic in some instances.


As light fades and shadows stretch, I eeked out one more shot from the Auto C.  It came out OK, but was challenged by the inability to lock focus and recompose. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Minolta Freedom Zoom Explorer


By the late 1990's the Minolta models began to carry a smaller and more streamlined appearance, as seen in the Explorer Freedom Zoom. 

I stumbled across the Freedom Zoom Explorer over a year before finding the Dual C.  In much the same fashion, the camera was sitting in a small batch of consumer point and shoot cameras in a nearby thrift store.  Half-desperate for something cheap and new to play with, this camera stood out on account of its wide angle capability, small size, and protected clam shell design.  And at about the cost of a soda, it seemed like a very low risk gamble. 

The versatility that this camera offers in such a compact package is instantly likable. It certainly isn't the beefiest of point and shoot cameras in its arsenal of features, but it covers the basics, plus adds a distinct macro mode (automatically zoomed to 70mm), and a night portrait mode.  Obviously, being able to choose focal lengths ranging from 28mm through and including 70mm is a big advantage over simply having 28mm and 40mm such as found on the Dual C.

Easily, my biggest gripe about the Freedom Zoom Explorer is the viewfinder.  I found it tiny, poorly placed, and fairly unclear.  However, it DID had the focus confirmation light that I craved on the Dual.  Otherwise, I was a bit bummed that this camera with a pretty sophisticated starting point and nice focal range lacked tools for longer exposures, given that other makers were putting Bulb modes into their point and shoot models around this same time. It seemed this camera stopped just short of having the perfect suite of shooting features for its era.



Top deck of the Freedom Explorer Zoom is considerably more cluttered that its older sibling.  "Auto Flash" mode is set each time the camera is started up, generally requiring disabling using two taps of the long button in the center of this console.  The viewfinder is smaller and dimmer than the Auto C, making for a much less pleasant shooting experience. 


In use, the viewfinder was my biggest headache with this camera.  It seemed I would have a tendency to pull the camera to my eye with the expectation of lining my right eye up with the viewfinder, only to be staring at black plastic at close range. And while I loved having a Macro mode, I found that when used on this setting, the camera seemed to struggle with achieving focus in some scenes.  Still, the small quibbles aside, the Freedom Zoom Explorer did just as it was told in most cases, and operated in a manner free of major issues.  

A glance at the discolored negatives on the Freedom Zoom explorer side of the roll revealed some decent, but not delightful negatives.  I was pleased to see generally well exposed scenes, but nothing that really stood out as something that I couldn't wait to get under the scanner.  


Gallery:


A typical wide angle view taken with the Freedom Zoom Explorer.  The wide angle setting can accomplish compositions that few point and shoots can. 


The perspective of the Explorer Zoom at wide angle seems slightly more distorted than that of the Auto C, but not excessively so. 


Composing a shot with an off center focal point is much easier on the Explorer Zoom than the Auto C, and results in a much more versatile shooting experience.


I wouldn't have even tried this scene on the Auto C, but the Explorer Zoom did a respectable job with it. 


Having a zoom allows for a bit more license creatively than exists on the dual focal length Minolta Freedom Auto C. 


Longer shutter speeds are possible with the Explorer C, provided that flash is turned off and camera kept steady. 


Interestingly, the Freedom Zoom Explorer seemed to do a poorer job with backlit exposures than the Dual C, resulting in a complete lack of detail in the wreath.


Admittedly, I expected more from the Explorer, so I pushed it a bit more than the older camera.  While the sharpness of this image seems pretty good, the exposure seems a bit saddled by a loss of detail. 


Framing in the small viewfinder was a bit of an error prone exercise.  The film actually had a wider view than the viewfinder, as I recall columns occupying both edges of the frame in this shot. 



Zoomed all the way out with light fading, I actually expected camera shake from this exposure, but was surprised to see it held up.


In softer afternoon light, I found this exposure to be a bit muddied. 


While the macro function didn't seem to render the sharpest result here, it does show something that I was not able to accomplish with the Auto C, a decently muted backdrop. 

Thoughts:


Most of my dismay in this roll tends to lay with some of the challenges that occurred after the film had been pulled from the second camera, and loaded into the developing tank.  I seem to have gotten results from the TFX-2 that didn't repeat the odd tendencies for blotchy skies as I saw with the Pan-F Plus film, but the uneven development is something of great concern for future rolls.  

As to the cameras themselves, each had their charms and curses, and each showed inherent limitations in what they could do when compared with an SLR camera with a wide angle lens.  While both had a few distinct tricks up their sleeves in differing challenges to lighting, both seemed most at home in scene shots in brightly lit conditions, with more distant points of focus. 

Certainly, the Freedom Explorer Zoom is the more "capable" of the two, given its ability to accommodate more speeds of film and offer longer exposures, and the presence of a much more encompassing zoom range, a macro mode, and an ability to recompose images after locking focus, but it is also the less charming of the two cameras, and seemed to be easily tricked by backlit scenes.  The Auto C offered a much simpler operation, vastly brighter viewfinder, and it surprisingly managed to handle challenging lighting better than its newer replacement.  It's wide angle images also seemed a tad snappier and less distorted, but its inability to pre-focus and recompose combined with its limited exposure range drag an otherwise fun camera into "limited use" territory.   

A $2 a pop, both cameras certainly were nice additions to my collection of affordable film cameras, which often offers few pocketable options when it comes to wide angle shooting.  I only wish that for the $4 I paid for the two of these cameras, I had a single camera that combined the best facets of both models, though it wouldn't have allowed me the fun of this two camera experiment. Given the limited amount of wide angle point and shoot film cameras on the market, I'm pretty doubtful of finding that perfect wide angle point and shoot at a reasonable price, even today. 

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