I got the camera bug from my parents. Neither of them are professional photographers but both enjoy photography and regularly took me to galleries as a kid. I think I took photography for granted for quite a while due to the abundance of photo books at home and how well my grandma liked to maintain the archive of family photos.
Back when I was 13, my uncle and dad even took me with them to a talk with Steve McCurry, of course I was more interested in chatting up my first girlfriend and spent a substantial portion of the talk texting her under my coat. The very first analog camera I ever had was a Lomography fisheye back when I was 8, and I think that camera had a substantial influence on me and why I love wide angle and fisheyes in particular. For my 16th birthday/Christmas (the two are close and I was supposed to be born on Christmas day) my parents bought me a Nikon DSLR and while I enjoyed using it, I found I never truly fell in love with it despite having access to the family trove of Nikon glass. Over time I moved back on to film and fell back in love with photography.
Anyway, the camera I want to talk to you about today is the Leica Mini Zoom. I picked my copy up cheap thinking it might work for a friend who wanted to get into photography with something for everyday situations that was more advanced than a disposable camera. I tried to convince her to get an old used Sony RX100 series or other compact that would suit her purposes well and would be cheaper in the face of increasing film prices and reduced colour film availability. I was unsuccessful. I showed her a few options and she fell in love with a camera I had often flirted with, the Yashica Samurai 3.0X and found herself a decent copy on ebay.
In the time between when she bought it and it arriving I found the Leica Mini Zoom and purchased it, thinking either she likes it or I just pass it on to the next person. I did what I always do when I find/purchase a new camera and ran a roll of Kodak Gold 200 through it. Thank god I did because this camera houses a surprisingly fantastic Vario Elmar 35-70mm f4.0-7.6 lens.
When I test compacts I like to use them as they would be if I just handed the camera to someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. I do not focus and recompose, I simply point and shoot. I regularly hand them to my partner or friends and see how they find it as well as shooting in varied circumstances. All of the following photos were developed at home by me and scanned using my home scanning rig. And yes, I did manage to get 37 shots out of this compact, so far I find I get an extra shot every roll, which is always appreciated.
What I’ve noticed about this camera is that the flash is very bright and cold. Unfortunately, I can’t be sure if this is common across all copies of this camera, or simply mine because I’m not paying the prices they command on ebay. Additionally, I found while researching this camera that there is supposedly a Vivitar 1 500PZ housing a different lens, but otherwise very similar looking camera that was produced in the Philippines. Equally the chassis of the Nikon One-Touch Zoom AF is supposed to be similar but to me looks very different. I think this is merely internet hearsay as to me I see enough differences in the body. Another body however that is in the same series is the Panasonic C2200ZM, I’ve seen this one in person and it is even closer than the Vivitar to the Leica.
I think this is a situation with different cameras being made by one manufacturer for different target audiences. Some of the Panasonic cameras are unmarked production, but many have a sticker (possibly why some appear unmarked) or markings that denote them as being made in Korea. My Leica Mini Zoom is marked as being “manufactured in Japan for Leica Camera GMBH”. This leads me to believe the three cameras were manufactured and aimed at different target audiences; whilst the Vivitar and Panasonic appear to have very similar feature sets, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had different lenses.
The Leica Mini Zoom is stated in the manual to have a unique lens and advertising materials indicate the same. In any case, I strongly recommend if you happen across one of these for a decent price, give it a go, they are fantastic little cameras and I love mine. I got it cheap and it’s perfect for throwing into my bag in a similar manner I did with my Olympus mju-ii back before it developed heavy light leaks. These cameras were designed to be carried everywhere and used in all situations, so do that. Short of premium compacts I see no reason to baby a compact camera. The electronics will eventually fail and babying the camera won’t stop that.
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