Leica Likely ? Minolta Riva/Freedom Zoom 90c review

Most film photographers dream of owning a Leica, if even just for the Kudos. Social services got a bit upset when I tried to swap one of the weans for a mint M6 (with lens I hasten to add). But there are a few routes to owning a Leica for less financial pain. One is where this Minolta kinda comes in if you get a working ‘un

Frost Lichen
Devorgilla Bridge, Dumfries, January 2017. Semi-kanckered MINOLTA RIVA ZOOM 90c only working at 38mm with Fujifilm Neopan 400CN.

Minolta started co-operating with Leitz (the makers of Leica) in the 1970’s. The Leica CLE rangefinder was one of the first product, swiftly followed by shared development of the Leica R3 and Minolta XE SLRs (the R3 is actually one of the cheapest  ‘serious’ leicas you can buy costing the region of what you’d pay for a Nikon FM or FE).  However our focus is on the the compact end of things today and this where the 90c comes in.

Minolta Riva Zoom 90c
Minolta Riva Zoom 90c

Peas in an Expensive Pod ?

Leica from 1989 began to sell AF compacts. These were originally based on (and probably made by) Minolta models. The C2-Zoom which you can buy for about  50 quid was probably based on the 90c. Torsten Kathke excellent review at 35mmc also pretty much confirms they’re same beasts abet in different clothes.

The Leica certainly looks more distinctive, but the 90c is not bad for an early 90’s AF Zoom. The cameras differ in wide length too by 2mm, but bar that they appear very similar. Our 90c was sold both as the Riva Zoom 90c (Europe and Japan) and the Freedom Zoom 90c (US). In the UK I’ve seen (and owned both).

Aisle today gone tomorrow
Sweetheart Abbey, July 2017. Minolta Freedom Zoom 90c with Expired (2014) Kodak BW400CN

Auto Pointless

Both the Minolta and Leica share the same USP/Gimmick. Minolta called it Auto Standby Zoom (ASZ) whilst Leica called it Auto-Zoom. This held out the promise of the camera intelligently zooming for you when you held the camera to your eye.

Notice that feature on cameras you can buy today ? Nope, that because what you got was a dog’s dinner that makes the camera seem like it’s possessed. Literally pick up and point the camera and it decides to go zooming in and out all on it own (and this being an early 90’s camera means not so quietly)

You can thankfully knock it off or override it for a mo by hitting the zoom toggle. Both the 90c and C2-Zoom have the same top plate layout. In front of the shutter sits the zoom toggle and behind it 2 buttons for the flash system allowing you move between (1) auto, manual fill in and off. The second button sets a preflash for red-eye. Sitting over the middle of the toplate is a good-sized LCD showing info. Behind this is a timer button. The 90c was available with an optional IR remote.

Minolta Riva Zoom 90c Flash Test
Minolta Riva Zoom 90c Flash Test with Fujifilm Neopan 400CN. Generally good exposure note lesion from debris in lens

Specs Appeal

I struggled to find much about this camera’s specs beyond the manual at derrybryson.com. What this confirms is a 38-90mm 1:3.5-7.7 with a EV range (@ 100 ISO) of 6-17 at 38mm and 8-17 at 90mm. I can’t find out much about the shutter speed but the manual suggests a 1/4-1/350 range. Sylvain Halgand describes the lens as a 4 element rather than 6 lensed number. When wide you can focus down to 75cm and to 90cm at 90mm

No flash GN is given. The flash has a better range with the lens at wide from the manual  (0.75-6m at 100 ISO versus 0.9-3m)

Kirkbean Kirk
Kirkbean Kirk., 2017. Minolta Freedom Zoom 90c with expired (2014) Kodak BW400CN at box speed. Not bad on this wide shot…..

Another Brick in the Wall ?

Although a typical, heavy early 90’s brick, Minolta made some efforts to style it. It sits comfy 2 handed and the controls are ergonomically laid out. It is as noisy as any other early AF zoom so not a great stealth street shooter.  Noise and ASZ aside, it is an easy enough. Loading is your usually DX coded autodrive affair.

Optically this a game of two halves. The wide end is quite peachy. The zoom end  is pretty soft heading to rubbish. It is okay close up but landscape shots are a no-no. There is no getting away from this in use and not surprisingly matches Torsten’s experience of his C2-zoom.

Kirkbean Kirk
… on tele end things are noticeably softer. Minolta Riva Zoom 90c with Expired (2014) Kodak BW400CN. 2017

The wide angle isn’t perfect. It tends to pincushion distort a bit but you could live with it.

Shame as if Minolta had just made this a non zoom it would have been quite a killer camera.

Minolta Riva Zoom 90c Test shor
Taken at wide end this shows the Minolta Freedom/Riva Zoom 90c’s tendancy to pincushion distort. Still shrap mind. Fuijfilm Neopan 400CN 2017

However there is a another issue – reliability. I had to go through 3 of these to get here. I started with one completely knackered Riva then another Riva that was stuck only working at wide angle. The final freedom worked Until i dropped it but even before that bits of plastic were falling off.

Summary

This on paper sounds good but is let down by the tele end and the AZS stuff is frankly a bloody liability. Although reasonably styled it is heavy and to be frank you can by a good Pentax Espio for  less that will be consistently  good at all focal lengths.  Sure the 90c  is a great camera wide but this is mean to be a zoom and you could by a mju-1  for not much more. The Leica has the same optical issues so certainly not worth the money for the red dot privilege.

They also seem prone to breaking so not one to rush for

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9 thoughts on “Leica Likely ? Minolta Riva/Freedom Zoom 90c review”

  1. I had a Samsung something, and a Rollei X70 which were probably the same innards in different bodies, given how incredibly similar the spec, lenses and modes were.

    They both had a feature called something like portrait zoom. When you were in this mode and pointed the camera at a person, it would zoom in so you got a well composed head and shoulders portrait. This worked unnervingly well, so the technology, which sounds similar in principle to Minolta’s Auto Standby Zoom, was eventually refined further to a point of usability, if not by Minolta!

    I guess the modern equivalent in some ways is smile detection where the camera only fires when everyone in shot is smiling. This sounds a gimmick, but I’ll be honest, for portraits of the family (with myself in too) on holidays and days out, it’s proved to be an excellent feature, and much more useful and less faffing about than a standard 10s self timer.

    I’ve had a couple of Minolta fixed lens cameras that have impressed, most notably the AF-S, which is probably as capable and fun as any of those 80s 35/2.8 plastic AF wonders.

    I also had a Minolta AF Tele Super, which on paper was great and handled well, but broke almost as soon as I started using it. It wasn’t promising enough to seek out another.

    Which leads me to wonder why you persisted through three versions of this zoom to get a (mostly) working one, when like you say, cameras like the Pentax Espios especially (and the Olympus Mju zooms) are great and plentiful?

    1. The ASZ on paper sounds great and bits of it work well. Eye sensor stuff works well enough (you can see it on modern cameras like the the Lumix G series were a similar sensor switches viewfinder and rear display on and off. The Zoom bit is just totally cackhanded and given this is an early 90’s zoom not great for subtle approach.

      I do get a bit obsessive about certain camera models – This is a case in point and a good illustration of why you shouldn’t (I’d not get one again after finally getting and breaking a working one) and I’ve done the same with the mju-I although my working one is definitely a keeper. I’ve also had thing going re the XA2 and Smena/Cosmic Symbol or the the later is to do with a desire to replace my childhood camera that I managed to knacker 5 years ago. Almost always whilst none of these cameras are exactly expensive they oddly sit in the £10-30 mark ! I never seem to get as het up about getting a 99p Halina (although oddly they usually work)

      1. I think this is a trap I fell into Alan, thinking that just £10 here on a camera and £20 there on a lens is nothing. Then I’d end up spending a few hundred pounds over a couple of months and suddenly you have to stop and think! Especially if/when the cameras you end up with aren’t that special or useful. That same amount could have bought one or two really special, fully working cameras.

        I’ve recently had a similar realisation about Adobe LightRoom. £10 a month doesn’t seem much but I’ve had it about three and a half years so then £400+ becomes significant, for something I only use the very basics of. Hence my recent switch to Hipstamatic.

        1. In similar fashion – I have had to delete my eBay apps and force myself not to log on via a computer etc. as a severe bout of GAS over the last two years has seen me rack up about £600 of “only” £10 or less items (postage included)… I’m now steeling myself to start downsizing my collection to only those items I will actually use 🙂

          1. Me too Harry, deleted the eBay app from my iPhone and have gone cold turkey, not bought anything for nearly two months!

            I have ventured back on to it this week though to have one final purge and sale of the stuff I really don’t need, so I’m left with the beautiful bare essentials…

    1. Yes shame really for my bank balance too !! (whilst not expensive as such they’ve all cost about a tenner so buy the time you’ve added postage I ended up spending £50 to get a working one which i then dropped. There does seem to be a reliability issue with cameras post mid 1980s, more complicated and more plastic in the age of the disposable lifestyle

  2. I’ve lost count of the number of second hand compact cameras that have worked for two or three rolls before dying on me. As I’m not particularly hard on cameras, and have owned some stalwarts for many years, my sense is they used infant technologies while being built down to a price.

    Plastic advance drives, primitive shutter mechanisms and failing lens covers are the usual culprits, along with dodgy LCDs and locked up zooms. By contrast some fixed lens thumbwheel compacts seem to go on forever.

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