Pros: Sharp images; vibrant colors; small & light package; feature-filled.
Cons: Eyestraining viewfinder; underexposure in difficult lighting.
I was in preparation of taking a trip overseas and did not want to carry along something bulky, since the holidays should be about fun. I already have a Canon EOS-300/Rebel2000 SLR - although light in comparison to most SLRs, it is space wasting compared to an auto-camera; I also planned to carry along my DV-camera (a JVC GR-DV2000 which I find can be a shoulder-pain maker if carried around for too long), so the SLR was a definite no-no.
It took me a while before buying th Prego 70, since I didn't want to invest in something flimsy. I needed something that was small (uhhh... tiny), robust, sharp, easy-to-use, and had some capabilities of an SLR. I was never in favor of auto-cameras (that's one reason why I don't like digitals), so choosing the right one created more agony.
The first thing that I associated "small" with was "APS" - Canon & Nikon; and they are truly small. I had a friend who owns a Canon Elph model, but I have yet to see a decent photo taken from it. I read newsgroup posts claiming that APS produces photos just as good as 35mm, but personal experience tells me otherwise. APS photos are so noisy and grainy than any photo I have seen come out from a 35mm shot. I also discovered that APS development is more costly and buying a scanner that supports APS can break an arm or two.
I then looked at 35mm autos that were the smallest on the market and read up on whatever others had to say. Olympus, Nikon, Canon, ... Although they had cameras that had the size and quality that I needed, there was one factor that disturbed me - their price, reaching as high as an SLR body.
Through some press power, the local camera store posted out its catalog for the season - and lo & beho, I was introduced to the Rollei brand of cameras. I am a fan of German engineering so I trusted Rollei to be decent. But the price - the Prego was too affordable to believe, only US$150! I couldn't find any reviews of the Prego 70 anywhere, only the Prego 90 had any raves - and they were all positive raves I might add. Finally I decided, the Prego 70 it is and I bought it (I was still dreaming of getting one of those Leica auto cameras, but it was out of my range for the time being).
Rollei is renowned for its high quality products, especially in the field of optics. The Prego 70, although inexpensive, has all the master German engineering put into it. The attractive camera itself is very small by 35mm standards, measuring 111x61x34 mm (Ricoh and Olympus have slightly smaller models, but they felt a bit soft in comparison). This is about 3cm longer than the Canon Elph APS. It feels very light, weighing about 200g; this is with the camera having a metal frame which makes it feel quite sturdy. Like most cameras, the Prego 70 runs on a CR2 lithium battery.
It has a 35-70mm (~2x) VarioApagon zoom lens, which steps in increments of 5mm. The lens is protected by 2 sliding curtains when the camera is turned off. The small size of the the Prego 70 is achieved through having this short lens mechanism.
Although small, the sensors at the from of the camera have been arranged to prevent accidental blockage from the hands of the shooter. There is plenty of room for your right hand to hold the camera. The only caution is not to block the flash unit when your left hand is on the camera.
When I bought the camera, it was packaged nicely in a gift box with a leather case and wrist strap.
At the front of the camera is an infinity-focus lock button used when shooting things that are far away. I have yet to use this feature.
All the other buttons are located at the top of the camera. Four small buttons for power, date, self-timer, and flash are located under the LCD. They are small and deep enough as to avoid any accidental pressing. The focus/shoot button is the largest, colored green, has the wide-angle & telephoto zoom buttons in front of it. These three buttons have been arranged for easy accessibility whilst looking through the viewfinder.
The first thing that makes the Prego 70 different to most cameras is the film loading mechanism. Rollei chose to make it upside-down. The film door opens on the right hand side at the back and the film cartridge pops in on the right, with the film scrolled to the left. When you get the negatives, they become upside down. There are diagrams on how to properly load the film inside the film door - this makes film loading easy to perform.
Shooting and Focusing
The Pregro 70 takes the "focus-then-shoot" method (passive focussing) of taking photos, very much similar to what I have been used to with the Canon EOS SLR. You press lightly to focus, the camera then indicates that it is in focus, then you press fully to take the shot. I personally feel that this approach reduces ghostly images often seen when the user has to press hard at the button. It also doesn't consume as much power as full-time active focussing cameras do. Rollei states on the spec page that the Prego 70 has active autofocussing, as in it shoots out an infrared beem to autofocus - this does not mean full-time active focussing, but rather "press-to-focus" - hence my use of the term "passive focussing".
The shoot button is of a "soft-rubber" form-factor, so there is no clicking sound. New users might be confused as to whether the photo has been taken. However, you should be able to hear the motor advancing the film when the shot has been taken, although this will be difficult in loud environments. The only other way is to note the shot number of the LCD.
People not used to the "focus-then-shoot" method tend to make the photos blurry. The Prego 70 focusses extremely fast, but there is still chance that you will get slightly blurry photos, though not bad enough to throw away.
The camera uses spot-focussing, meaning the subject must be centered to the viewfinder. Like an SLR, you can center the subject, focus (lock the focus by keeping the button half-pressed), move the camera to the side of the subject, and then shoot of you do not wish for the subject to be in the middle of the photo.
From the photos developed, I am assurred that the Prego 70 easily competes with SLRs with standard lenses. It will easily win hands down on most of the fully-automatic cameras out there for optics.
Rollei claims that the Prego 70 has +/- 1.5 points of exposure compensation. I would've liked this to be +/- 3. One thing I missed when using the camera were the abilities to lock the exposure and set the compensation levels myself, but then this is an auto anyway. In extremely glary situations, such as the beach, you really have to get close to the subject otherwise all the reflected light from the water will make the camera's metering inaccurate. What results are dark pictures of the subject.
Under shade with a bright background, it is best to shoot with the fillin flash capability. Although it is ineffective beyond 2 meters. Using the drug-store development facilities, most of the photos come out about .5-1 stops underexposed. This one reason I prefer a manual camera over fully-auto ones. More and more, it pushes me on getting a film scanner for the computer.
The Prego 70 is loaded with flash capabilities: red-eye reduction (have yet to use), fill-in, full-flash, auto-flash, and exposure compensation.
The self-timer button provides for some unique photo-taking capabilities of the Prego. There is double exposure, used for taking two consecutive photos with a single press of the button. There is a 2 second timer, suitable for use on a tripod to avoid shakes. Then there is the usual 10 second timer to get the shooter into the action as well. Finally, there is the sequential/continuous timer - which can be set to take photos with the required time delay between each shot, suitable for those who like to take shots that monitor a subject over a period of time.
The date facility provides for numerous time formats to be imprinted on the negatives. Unlike most other cameras, the timestamp is dim, which makes it nonintrusive to the photograph. The timestamp is in dot-matrix format to cater for the various time formats available.
The most annoying feature about the camera is its viewfinder. It is impossible to get a clear peek through it, even with it not being a fixed-depth viewfinder. The area is so small that it can take time to place the eye at the correct spot. At best, only the center is in focus. I found it best to place my left thumb against the left-hand-side of the camera and rest my face on the thumb to see properly through the viewfinder.
I don't know what the Rollei engineers were on when they designed the viewfinder, but it is the absolute worse I have seen in any camera - no matter what price range. Note that this is not indicative of the lens quality. You just have to be careful that the camera has been set to focus before shooting.
Apart from that, most of my other pains from the camera are through the missing features of an SLR. I am unable to set the depth-of-field, so I will not know if the the full picture is in focus or only the subject will be. From the photos developed, on most occasions if the photo has the subject far away then most of the image will be in focus. The converse applies when the subject is close up.
This camera is almost the masterpiece I have wanted cameras to be if only Rollei had designed the viewfinder better, uh... much better. Images come out sharp, with colors that are true to their nature. These are some of the most vibrant colors I have taken. I currently only use Fuji film after having undesired results with Kodak. Both the Canon EOS and Prego 70 produce lively shots with Fuji film.
I recommend this camera to anyone looking for something small and convenient, without the hefty price tag.