Only From the Mind of Minolta – Looking Back 40 Years at the Minolta 110 Zoom SLR Camera

The announcer booms, “A new camera bursts onto the scene…” while the audience watches a Minolta SR-T 101 appear to explode and then—like magic—reassemble and become the revolutionary Minolta 110 Zoom SLR. 

They told us that the exploding part of the commercial had been shot with a Hulcher high speed camera, and that baby powder was used simulate smoke. Some of the surviving small pieces of the demolished SR-T were cast in Lucite blocks and given to important dealers and journalists.

It was a potent TV spot, there’s no doubt about that. Consumers began buying literally the day after the commercial aired, at least in the Chicago market where I worked as a Minolta factory sales rep. That was about 40 years ago.

The Minolta 110 Zoom SLR was released in 1976 and the price, as I recall, started at $249 and slowly eroded to $199. In 2017 money, $199 is equivalent to about $817.99. (I say “about” because I took the average of three inflation-calculator websites.) That was a lot of dough for a 110 cartridge camera.

But what a 110 camera it was!  Check out these specs!

It was a true SLR, with through-the-lens viewing and a 25-50mm f/4.5 zoom lens that was the equivalent of a 50 to 100mm in 35mm terms. The zoom focused as close as 11.3 inches. Exposure was Aperture Priority automatic (Minolta’s hallmark) and the shutter ranged from 10 full seconds to 1/1000th. (Hey – this was big stuff for a 110 camera in 1977.) There was even a +/- 2 EV exposure compensation slider.

Exposure metering was not through-the-lens. On the front of the 110 Zoom was a black wheel that housed the metering cell.

The shutter was metal and stepless, so the user was not limited to fixed intervals; i.e., if a shutter speed of 1/231 sec was called for, that’s what the venerable Minolta 110 Zoom SLR used. Flash synch was 1/150 sec and there was indeed a Bulb setting for long time exposures.

She was small (5.3 x 4.3 x 2.1 inches) and weighed a hair more than 15 ounces. Of course, like on any good SLR, there was a tripod socket and a threaded coupling for a cable release.

For all its wonder, exposure metering was not through-the-lens. On the front of the 110 Zoom was a black wheel that resembled a grade school pencil sharpener. That’s where the metering cell was located.

Coolest part, in my book, was the clever thumb lever advance that was positioned on the bottom of the camera, exactly where your right thumb should be. Lefties surely cursed us, but for other 90% of America, the film advance kicked butt.

A couple years later Minolta replaced the 110 Zoom SLR with the Mark II version. Unlike the unique, space-age look of its predecessor, the Mark II looked a lot like a Fisher-Price version of a normal 35mm SLR. Pentax had their 110 SLR also, and it had interchangeable lenses.

With little effort, you can find the Minolta 110 Zoom SLRs on auction sites for less than $30.


—Jon Sienkiewicz