Minolta Freedom Zoom 160
A New Take On AF Tech

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To test the Freedom Zoom 160 we photographed that most elusive of subjects--kids. In each case we composed so that the subject was off-center. In each shot the camera "grabbed" focus for us and indicated the subject by lighting up a red outline in the viewfinder. This is a point-and-shoot photographer's dream--no more missed focus shots.
Photos © 2001, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

Although we don't ordinarily review point-and-shoot 35s in Shutterbug, we were tempted to check out the new Minolta Freedom Zoom because of its autofocusing system. Minolta, as you might know, was a pioneer of AF technology with the Maxxum SLRs. Now, they have taken that pioneering spirit and applied it to a unique solution to focusing with a point-and-shoot 35.

Inside the new camera sits a large, multi-line CCD sensor that is said to differentiate between people and objects and calculates distance, location, and brightness so that both exposure and focusing are accurate. The camera has three focusing modes--Area AF, Spot AF, and Target AF. Area AF uses a "subject-recognition system" to locate same within the frame, whether it's centered or not. You can also use Spot to single out one subject within the frame or Target AF for moving subjects. Each mode is accessed via a push of a button. What's the difference between this and other AF systems used in compact 35s? Normally, an AF system targets the centered subject, as that's where the AF sensor sits. Area AF is said to target a human subject within the frame. It does this by analyzing a database of over 3000 images and comparing it to statistical data on human dimensions. Inside the camera sits a 32-bit RISC processor that calculates all the above and makes a focusing decision. The exposure is decidedly subject weighted and calculates exposure using 125 metering segments, thus handles backlight and other difficult lighting conditions. For subjects in motion the camera incorporates predictive AF, as the camera continually calculates focus until the shutter release button is pressed.

In the field, the camera shows you exactly what it has chosen for focus. A light press on the shutter release activates red boxes in the finder. These show you the target and the chosen subject. The boxes range from a very wide red box that covers almost the entire frame to smaller rectangles and squares that show you just what you will get sharp. And, because focus and exposure are linked, you are more likely to get both the right subject and exposure when you fully depress the shutter release. And, because it's a film camera, you don't get the bothersome time lag associated with many digital point-and-shoot cameras today.

The best way to see how all this works is to get a Minolta Freedom Zoom 140 or 160 into your hands. Look through the finder and give it a try and you'll be amazed at how accurate point-and-shoot AF can be. This affordable, pocketable, and sleekly designed camera poses one of the best solutions we've seen to the problems often associated with point-and-shoot picture quality.

In our test we photographed off-center subjects in a deliberate attempt to foil the AF system. As you know, with most point-and-shoots the AF target is decidedly centered, and often smaller than we'd like. But the camera's AF system came through with flying colors, even showing us the focused subject with a square or rectangular red outline right in the viewfinder frame. And there was no need to focus lock and recompose. That's an accomplishment that any photographer who's ever missed focus will appreciate.

For more information, visit Minolta's web site, www.minoltausa.com.

Technical Specifications

  • Camera: 35mm lens shutter
  • Lens: 37.5-160mm power zoom
  • Eye Start Automation: Activates continuous AF and AE
  • Autofocus System: External, passive AF
  • Focusing Steps: 942
  • AF Modes: Wide, Spot, Target; predictive AF in Target mode; focus lock in Wide and Spot AF
  • Exposure System: 125 multi-segment, Programmed AE; AE lock; DX coding
  • Flash: Built-in; Autoflash, Autoflash with redeye reduction; Fill; Flash Off; Night portrait modes
  • Data Imprinting: Date model only; can be defeated
  • Weight: 6.9 oz
  • Size: 4.4x2.4x1.8"
  • Price: $199
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