Decisive Moment? We don’t need no stinking decisive moments! (A Minolta Freedom Action Zoom 90 review)

Dear God, stop me before I buy another 90s point and shoot.

Sure, I know many people find excellent, amazing, unbelievably stupendous cameras for half of nothing at various thrift stores, but I don’t,* and the Minolta Freedom Action Zoom 90 (aka the Freedom Zoom Traveler, Riva Zoom 90, and Freedom Zoom 90) is no Nikon One Touch 100.

Where do I begin? Well the lens range looks mediocre, even on paper. 38-90? It’s definitely not wide enough, and as for 90, well, I always want it to be longer.

The aperture range is a laughable 4.8 on the standard end and 10.8 at tele… About average for cameras of this type, to be honest, but still. If you’re indoors, it’s probably best to let the flash pop when and how it wants.

One good point: the camera has very few settings: The top panel has, from left to right, a recessed force-rewind button,** an on/off switch, a button to cycle through flash settings (Auto, On, Off, Night Portrait, Off/Infinity Focus Lock), a self timer, the zoom rocker, and the shutter release. (Note that it doesn’t remember settings when powered off. Ugh.)

The zoom stops at what I guess is 50, 70, 85, and 90, or something like that. The jump from 38 to n1 seems long, the change from n1 to n2 and n2 to n3 seem roughly equivalent, and the step from n3-90 is not much at all. Anyway, the zoom steps. It isn’t linear. I’m not sure that matters to anyone.

The exposure seems to be biased towards depth of field, not that it matters much with such a slow lens, but it will take an exposure down to ~1/15th, if the flash is off and the scene is dim enough.

It accepts DX coded film, and reads 100, 200, and 400… everything else and anything without a DX code gets shot at 100.

For a camera with “Freedom” in the name, this has me curious.

The metering range at ISO 100, according to the manual, is EV 6.5-12.5 on the wide end and EV 8.9-15 on the tele end. If my understanding of EVs (based largely on the table at Wikipedia and some recent experience with some old Kodak Brownies) is good enough, this indicates a shutter speed range of roughly 1/2 to 1/200th of a second.

Given the flash output, this should be sufficient for most uses this camera was designed for—seemingly family snapshots at birthday parties and on holiday, more or less—but for one, glaring flaw: the focus system.

On half-press of the shutter, the exposure is calculated and (I think) locked, and then on full press, the camera focuses and then trips the shutter.

Did you catch that?

Let me repeat: half press locks exposure; full press focuses, then shoots. Ugh. To help demonstrate, I made a short video… Enjoy!

If focus was quick, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the focus is woefully slow. It takes about a full second to go through its entire range and pick some spot to focus on. Granted, it usually*** guesses correctly, but by the time it trips the shutter, whatever cute thing your nephew was doing during his “graduation party” from “NaNoo School” is long over.

For a camera with “Action” in the name, this is seems like a problem.

Add to that the common practice of loading the film on the “wrong side,” and you have a camera just hits too many wrong notes for my taste.

So let’s look at some pictures.

In most instances, it’s sharp enough, as long as you let the flash pop OR at least hold it really steady.

The flash proved a huge annoyance, as always on auto-flashes often do.

And the lens distorts somewhat, though it can be corrected, sorta, though it’s a complex, moustache distortion and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t ever get straight lines completely straight.

It’s surprisingly good for selfies, really, and ok for a narrow range of general uses (outdoors, bright light, very stable support).

With the flash off, and stable support, I was somewhat surprised how well exposed these two came out. It’s just right, nearly, in fact, though this is, of course, very forgiving color negative film.

Get out of that range, though, and expect failure. (As with any other camera, really…)

It’s just the focus system, and its implementation, that are the main detractor, for me.

So, as mentioned above, Daniyal graduated from “Nanoo School” earlier this year, and moved into Big Boy Pre-K 4 earlier this week. Nanoo (my Mother-in-Law, aka Amma) threw him a little party. I really wish I’d taken a more competent camera along.****

Amma (in the American Flag hijab) got him all dressed in a proper cap & gown.

There was a brief ceremony (I think I called up Pachabel’s Canon in D on YouTube, but maybe I spared everyone that indignity), and then there was cake!

So, the Minolta Freedom Action Zoom 90 (aka the Freedom Zoom Traveler, Riva Zoom 90, and Freedom Zoom 90)… I think I paid about $8.98 too much for it at the local Goodwill last December, though people are asking anywhere from $10 to $125(!!!) for this camera on the ‘bay.

Like many other 90’s auto everything cameras, especially ones with zoom lenses, it works fine, as long as you let it do it’s thing and don’t try to force it to do anything. The only huge, glaring flaw, is the laughably, indecently long shutter lag. Ugh.

Purpose
Price
Craftsmanship
Ease of Use

Overall, I’d give the Minolta Freedom Action Zoom 90 a wide berth. I won’t even gift this thing or try to sell it on my for sale page.

If you have one of these and appreciate/enjoy it, more power to you. But if not, I’d suggest picking up a used Casio Exilim digital camera. One of the early- or mid-00s ones. As long as they still work, they’re likely to be far more capable, with far less lag, and they’ll cost much less than one of these film cameras.

And, yes, I just recommended a digital camera over a film camera…

*The Nikon One Touch 100 being the exception that proves the rule.

**I need to remember this, in case I accidentally load film in this again…

***read “not always”

****and even more wish I was a competent photographer…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.