The Cinematic Point and Shoot – Minolta P’s (Freedom Vista) Review

The Cinematic Point and Shoot – Minolta P’s (Freedom Vista) Review

2200 1238 Roberto Felipe

The Minolta P’s (or the Freedom Vista or Riva Panorama, depending where you are in the world) is a paradoxical camera. Going by the spec sheet, it’s hard to see why anyone would choose it. Besides a wide 24mm lens, a shutter button, self-timer and flash, it’s a camera seemingly lacking in features. It intentionally exposes less area of the film negative than almost all other 35mm cameras, and it does so to achieve an arguably gimmicky effect- “panorama” photos.

And yet the Minolta P’s’s interesting aspect ratio, punchy lens, and overall ethos make it a camera that I highly recommend to any photographer looking for a unique and rewarding challenge.

The Minolta P’s was made in 1991, a time when the automatic-everything point-and-shoot segment was running at full sprint. It was designed to be a consumer point-and-shoot, easy to use, and to shoot exclusively in a panoramic aspect ratio to capture landscapes and group shots. It was offered in a number of vibrant (and collectible) colors. Mine happens to be red.

It’s worth noting that one info-graphic inside the manual suggests that the P’s is the perfect camera to grab a vertical panorama of the Eiffel Tower (2024 Olympics, here I come).

Specifications of the Minolta P’s

  • Lens: 24 mm f/4,5 lens, manually operated lens barrier
  • Shutter speeds: 1/4 to 1/200 s. when flash is canceled
  • Flash: Built-in, range 0.9—2.7 meters (at ISO 100)
  • DX code speeds 100 & 400 ISO
  • Motor wind and rewind
  • Timer with warning light
  • Power: CR123 lithium battery
  • Weight and Dimensions: 185 grams, 11.6 x 6.2 x 3.4 cm

The Minolta P’s limitations are also the things that make it shine as a user’s camera.

As mentioned before, every frame made with the P’s is in a panoramic aspect ratio. The camera achieves this through a physically smaller film gate that only allows part of the film negative to be exposed. Many other point-and-shoot cameras of its era opt for this as an optional feature (for example, Pentax’s IQ Zoom series contains a number of models which have a Panorama/Normal switch that flips physical blinds at the top and bottom of the film gate). But the P’s leans hard into pano mode. You won’t be making a full frame image with this camera, no matter what, but being limited to this aspect ratio is the fun of it all.

The bright viewfinder is shaped accordingly, with frame lines and horizon guides so you can compose your panoramic scenes.

The flash, too, is limited, in that it can be overridden, but you have to press and hold the cancel it, meaning two hands are needed. This is rather annoying. Even the DX code reading is limited (this is an odd one that I haven’t encountered before). Take a look at how it’s described in the user manual:

“Film-speed setting: Automatically set to ISO 100 for DX-coded films rated slower than ISO 400, or to ISO 400 for DX-coded films rated ISO 400 or faster; ISO 100 set for films without DX-coding”

So, the Minolta P’s seemingly can read the DX code of a range of film, but defaults to exposing them at 100 or 400 only. At first, I was a bit confused and turned off by this. But in a way this can be a solution to another frustration found in most point-and-shoots; the inability to manually set our ISO. Depending on what film we load, this limitation can be somewhat hacked into an advantage – if we choose our film intentionally, it’s possible to overexpose our film of choice.

User Experience

I’ve spent the last few weeks carrying the Minolta P’s with me everywhere I went, intending to shoot it in all sorts of light. It was this everyday carry approach that really polished my opinion of the P’s, which is that I like this camera. It is so, damn, portable. Weighing almost nothing and being extremely slim, it’s among the most effortless cameras I’ve used.

And then there’s the cinematic aspect ratio.

I have a tendency to think of memories or moments in the form of cinematic scenes from a movie. The Minolta P’s’s aspect ratio quickly became second nature. It’s like plucking memories from my brain and placing them on film. Occasionally trying out a vertical composition worked in some cases, but I likely won’t go out of my way to do it again (unless I go to Paris sometime soon).

The lens is surprisingly good. It’s sharp enough, performed well in most lighting situations. It produced noticeable vignetting, but not obnoxiously so, and at times the vignetting added to the cinematic appeal of my shots. The wide lens does also produce some distortion toward the edges of the frame, though like the vignetting mentioned, it’s not too noticeable or offensive (unless we’re doing one of those vertical orientation shots with a person in frame).

I noticed that I reverted back to the days of my childhood, using a disposable camera. What am I talking about? Well, in more than a couple frames my finger made an appearance. Not a huge problem, and with the first roll out of the way I’m confident I’ll get used to proper hand placement, but readers with larger hands beware.

There are, of course, things that I don’t like about the camera. It’s not perfect, but that’s good. Perfect is boring.

My loudest complaint is that the flash is easily my least favorite part of the camera. It’s automatically ON by default, and though we can cancel it by holding down the flash cancel button, it’s not as fast or easy as it should be. To cancel the flash requires a workflow-freezing hold that lasts just a bit too long. A single press would have been better. But I’m really just upset that I ever have to use two hands with a camera this size.

Due to this first-world inconvenience, I opted to let the flash fly free for the majority of my first roll. Auto flash is something I’m used to with one of my favorite point and shoots the Kodak VR35 K12, which I’ve reviewed previously. But I quickly learned that the Minolta P’s has a deeply unflattering flash. It often seemed much too harsh for my taste.

Final thoughts

My favorite thing about The Minolta P’s is the creative challenge it brings. When I’m shooting a camera with every feature and setting under the sun, ironically that plethora of options can bring about an overwhelming abundance of choice and hamstring the process of simply existing and taking pictures. But the Minolta P’s is not a feature-packed fully-loaded beast of a camera. It’s just the opposite; an ultra-portable box that (literally) captures just a sliver of light. And it doesn’t hurt that it comes in a sleek, plastic, early-90s shell.

Limitations tend to enhance creativity. The boundaries of what we can and cannot control become a catalyst to finding ways to create something we may otherwise might not. The Minolta P’s foundational feature, the 35mm film panorama crop, usually gets the cold shoulder, or a snide comment that “You could just crop in post.” And that’s technically true. But picking up the Minolta P’s is a choice to accept the challenge of less. The challenge of limitations. It’s a choice to expose less of the film negative and not think it’s a waste. A choice to change your perspective figuratively and literally. Picking up the Minolta P’s is a choice to flex your creative muscle.

And More on the Minolta P’s:

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  • Excellent review! So many times I have considered getting on of these – and I love the colours. Shooting with a cropped pano IS different than just cropping 35mm later, as you are committed to the framing and concept with no turning back. It is different as every pano is intentional.
    The reason I have not bought one is because I already have a few 28mm P&S cameras that offer the pano as a switchable option.

    Nice shots!

  • I was puzzled by the odd 2-choice DX coding until I looked at my table of DX codes. Reading the codes from left to right, it was quite obvious that the 3rd box on the top row controls the 100/400 speeds. (As a programmer, binary is almost a second language. 😉) So chances are that Minolta decided to save money by using only one sensor, although the “fingers” may be there. Film latitude would cover for the lack of precision.

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