Behind the Mask – Reader’s Digest PN919/Vivitar PN2011 Review

Although Vivitar in terms of plastic cameras are best known for the legendary VUWS, they produced several at the turn of the century, some of which have also got a cult following like the PN2011 (commonly seen in Reader’s Digest PN919 guise). But does this live up to its more famous sibling ?

Civic Sensibilities I
Civic Centre, Carlisle. January 2017. Reader’s Digest PN919 (aka Vivitar PN2011) with Ilford XP2.

It is another very compact all plastic camera (again no hotshoe for flash). It is slightly bulkier than the VUWS and is finished in solid 2 tone plastic rather than the rubberised VUWS. The styling makes the camera look like a 90’s non zoom AF compact and you could easily be mistaken for shooting a bulkier digital compact when using it. It feels slightly more solid then the VUWS.

VUWS and PN919
VUWS (in Superheadz Wide and Slim Guise) and PN919 (aka the Vivitar PN2011)

That extra space is probably due to the  3 advantages of the PN2011 – tripod point, a sliding lens cover and a switchable panorama mask.

PN919 rear
PN919 rear. Note the panorama switch labelled P above the film window

We’ve seen this Kodak standard  mask before on cameras like the Halina Panorama (aka Ansco Pix Panorama) and the Olympus OZ-10. When engaged a mechanical mask moves inside the camera covering the upper and lower thirds of the frame giving a pseudo panorama effect. This seems nuts in 2017 as you can just shoot whole frame and crop for the same effect in photoshop but back in the late 90’s there was a bit of rage for this option for prints. Unlike the Halina, the PN2011 gives you the option to turn off and on mid roll and neatly the mask is mirrored in the simple viewfinder.

Old Town Hall
Carlisle, January 2017. Reader’s Digest PN919 (aka Vivitar PN2011) with Agfaphoto Vista Plus 200.

Everything is fixed from the 28mm lens to the 1/125 shutter and f/8 aperture. Note that last figure as the VUWS’s wider 22mm lens has a f/11 aperture giving it a slight advantage hypothetically in terms of hyperfocal distance although the PN2011 gains slightly in lower light making 100 & 200 ISO films more useful.

Civic Colours II
Civic Centre,Carlisle, January 2017. Reader’s Digest PN919 (aka Vivitar PN2011) with Agfaphoto Vista Plus 200.

That said I think I’d rather keep the narrower aperture. The shots are obviously softer than the the VUWS. It is not bad as toy cameras go but it can’t hold a torch to VUWS even when exposure is optimal. The viewfinder isn’t too bad in terms of accuracy (central focal point ends up being just a bit below and right from the viewfinder centre)

Example shots on a PN919
Example shots on a PN919. Top is full frame and bottom is with the Panorama mask engaged. As you’d expect no real advantage over cropping the top shot.

It has quite obvious barrel distortion too and is very soft in the corners. It performs for a toy camera as you would expect is best a few metres away but in optimal conditions does okay at distance. I wouldn’t get below 1.5m with this and things are already falling off a bit at that point. Reader’s Digest gave the PN919 version away suggesting you keep it in the glovebox of your car in case you had an accident – an intended comment on the capabilities of the camera and perhaps an unintended one on the driving capacity of their readers !

Test shot with the PN919
Test shot with the PN919. This is as close as you’d wanna get before focus blurs too much. AVP200 2017

So no VUWS clone but then it was never going to match one of the arguably best plastic lensed cameras ever made (although it allows you more scope when shooting with 200 and 100 ISO). Shift the bar down a touch to the land of the better single use and the likes of the Halina Panorama. In good light it holds its own against these although you’ll need to be aware of it’s limitations (certainly not a camera to under expose). Camera-wiki is a good stopping point for various links including modding this camera.

I’m warming to this….

Interior Lighting
Glasgow central, 2017. PN919 with Ilford XP2

3 thoughts on “Behind the Mask – Reader’s Digest PN919/Vivitar PN2011 Review”

  1. I don’t really think the PN2011 and VUWS compare that close, the focal length is just too far off. The panorama on this is always a bit tricky on this – in a way similar to the vignetting on the UWS in that you want the horizon level so you don’t have to straighten and crop off the effect. I have come around to liking the color that the PN2011 gets. 400 speed is ideal, but 100 is really great in full sun.

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