Minolta Vectis S-1 Review (1996)
Believe it or not, but this space age looking camera is actually over 20 years old. Not only that, but this was my first SLR camera, so is kind of an important landmark in my photographic journey!
For my 16th birthday, I was offered a choice by my parents, who both worked in aviation (hence my love of of air travel). They said in could either have flying lessons (in a plane, not as a superhero unfortunately), or I could have a ‘proper camera’. The Minolta Vectis S-1 was the result of that decision.
Launched in 1996, the Minolta Vectis series consisted of two cameras. The flagship S-1, which I had, and the more compact S-100. These cameras used Advanced Photo System film, which was slightly smaller than 35mm film, and where the APS size digital sensors take their name.
APS was the film industry’s attempt to modernise photography with new features, but it didn’t really catch on with professionals, and with the introduction of digital photography, it went the way of the MiniDisc, another technology I bought into! Haha!
Compared to most other SLR’s available at the time, this thing was pretty alien, something that was gonna prove to be an issue for me, but more on that later.
The Vectis S-1 had all the functionality of an SLR, with full manual controls, but being almost entirely electronic, it had buttons rather than dials, which if I was using it today, would really irritate me. It did have one large dial on the rear of the camera, but I prefer having multiple these days. Back in 1996, however, I was right at the beginning of my photographic journey, and so speed was of little importance. On top of that, being film, everything was at a slower pace than we shoot today anyway.
There were couple of things that APS cameras enabled you to do that traditional 35mm couldn’t. The first was that you could select the picture format between ‘C’ (classic) which was a traditional 3:2 ratio for a 6x4” print, ‘H’ (High Definition) which was a wider 16:9 ratio for a 4x7” print, or the super wide ‘P’ (Panoramic) which gave a 3:1 ratio and yielded a 4x11” print. This was a feature I actually used a fair bit, more than I probably would now, given that we have the ability to shoot insanely wide panoramas with digital.
The other feature that I really enjoyed was the mid roll rewind feature. APS film was digitally encoded so that you could rewind film when you were half way through, switch to another for a bit, then put the first roll back in, and it would go back to where you left off. It was great for switching between colour and black and white films.
I only ever had the standard 22-80mm f/4-5.6 kit lens, which I actually wasn’t a huge fan of looking back. Aside from the rubbishy aperture that all kit lenses suffer with, the zoom was kind of stiff, which was annoying.
This is a very nice camera to hold, and generally I do prefer off centre viewfinders, although nowadays I do opt for more retro looking bodies, which is why I love the Olympus PEN-F.
I mentioned earlier that the design of this camera was going to be a hindrance. Well back when I was 18 years old and doing my art foundation, we had a short photography module. This is actually the only formal training I’ve ever had believe it or not. Anyway, the lecturer was a Nikon fanboy and he took one look at the Minolta, and freaked out. He couldn’t understand how the viewfinder was off to one side, and wouldn’t believe that it was an SLR, despite me taking the lens off and showing him the mirror. To cut a long story short, I failed the module due to ‘non submission’. The truth is, the lecturer refused to accept my prints when I presented them to him. Oh well, Photography is now my full time job, so I guess it wasn’t that much of a hindrance after all!
The image above was one of the images I shot for that module. It kind of sucks, but I was completely clueless, and the lecturer didn’t exactly go out of his way to help me. It’s misfocussed, but the exposure is decent enough.
A few months later, we had a college trip to Barcelona. By then, I had improved a little and began experimenting with light a bit more. Pretty much all the photos I took on the Vectis S-1 were on Kodak Advantix film. I may have shot some on Fuji, but probably only one to two rolls.
I continued using the Minolta for a few more years and into my art college degree course. Obviously as a student, the majority of my photography was nights out on disposable cameras, but I did take the S-1 into London for a pre-opening ride on the London Eye, and a visit to Tate Modern, shortly after that first opened.
I have never for one second regretted choosing a camera over flying lessons for my 16th birthday, however, as much as it served me pretty well, I think going with a traditional 35mm SLR over an APS camera may have been a better choice. I guess it just proves that you shouldn’t always take the advice of the guy in the camera shop.
With all that being said, the Minolta Vectis S-1 is still an important camera in my history as a photographer, and I do like some of the images I captured with it, even today.