Minolta Dimage 7

PC World.com

WHAT’S HOT: True 5.2-megapixel imaging and a 7X optical zoom top this camera’s long list of high-end features. You also get more than a dozen dials and buttons, so you can access functions quickly. You can zoom from 28mm to 200mm (35mm film equivalent) by twisting the large rubber grip on the lens barrel. Not only does this work far faster than using the rocker-button zooms found on most digital cameras it’s also more precise. An efficient combination of settings and selector dials handles many camera operations and exposure controls that tend to be buried in menus on other cameras. For instance, when you set the selector dial to “PASM,” you can switch from shutter priority to aperture priority simply by pressing a button and turning the selection dial. Release the button, and the selector dial lets you spin through aperture values. All the information for these changes is displayed on the LED status panel (located on top of the camera), on the colour LCD viewfinder, and on the electronic viewfinder (which replaces the optical viewfinder used by most digital cameras). Other dedicated buttons include an automatic/manual focus button, a macro switch, and a big square button for switching instantly into Program mode.

The Dimage 7’s electronic viewfinder has another handy feature: It rotates from the typical horizontal orientation to vertical, making it more comfortable when shooting at almost any angle. To save power and review shots faster, the camera can automatically power the viewfinder or the LCD panel up or down, depending on which one you’re using. How does it work? Sensors in the electronic viewfinder detect when something – like your eye – is next to it. The viewfinder has another advantage, too: Unlike the optical finders of most digital cameras, it lists many of the camera’s vital settings as you compose a shot.

WHAT’S NOT: Handy though it may be, the electronic viewfinder in the Dimage 7 makes a poor substitute for a good optical (glass) viewfinder: The picture jumps as you move the camera; and fine details tend to get lost, which makes it harder to focus precisely. Images in our test photos looked grainy, and test patterns were subject to marked more distortions. The overall graininess in the viewfinder also makes working with the camera’s manual focus more difficult. Using and adjusting the flash are somewhat trickier than on run-of-the-mill digital cameras. To take a flash shot, you have to pop up the flash head manually. Moreover, the Dimage 7 is one of the few cameras we’ve tested that makes you go into the menus to change basic flash settings.

The auto-focus seems a bit sluggish, compared to other cameras, and it tends to swim back and forth too much when trying to lock in on an object. For example, the camera couldn’t focus automatically on a dark birdfeeder with a bright, sky background, forcing us to switch to manual focus. The unit’s price – nearly $2,000 – may also give you pause.

You can shoot video clips with the Dimage 7, but you can’t capture sound to go with it – a surprising omission in a camera of its price. It also lacks a panorama mode. Battery life is well below average: We managed only 169 shots on one charge of the camera’s four rechargeable AA batteries.

WHAT ELSE: The Dimage 7 is not a compact camera by any measure. Its stylish shape vaguely resembles that of a single-lens reflex camera, with a large lens barrel and bulky body. Deleting shots on the fly is easy enough; a dedicated button lets you instantly review the last shot taken. Press the button twice, and you have the option of immediately deleting the shot.

The Dimage earned an overall image-quality score of Good in our lab tests. It earned top scores for indoor shots with flash; and shots of our test mannequin, Gloria, showed pleasing skin tones, accurate exposures, and sharp details. On the other hand, the camera tended to mute bright colours, like the reds in Gloria’s scarf. Our still-life shot produced sharp details, accurate gray-scale tones, and few distortions such as colour banding or more. The still life and outdoor images, however, tended to look a bit too dark.

The camera supports Epson’s Print Image Management format, auto-bracketing (a setting that lets you shoot multiple shots in succession, each with different exposure settings), stores user-defined settings, and accepts IBM Corp.’s high-capacity Microdrives. Exposure options include spot, centre-weighted, and multipoint metering.

UPSHOT: This powerful and versatile digital camera should interest serious digital hobbyists who can live with the electronic viewfinder and the high price – but we’ve found better images in far less expensive cameras.

Buying Information:

    5.2 megapixels and 2568 by 1928 maximum resolution 28mm-200mm focal range (35mm equivalent) f2.8-f8 aperture range Shutter speeds from four seconds to 1/2000 second Electronic and LCD viewfinders USB and video connections 16MB CompactFlash media Four rechargeable AA batteries weighing 18.4 ounces with batteries Dimage Image Viewer software One-year parts and labor warranty; 8.5-hour weekday toll-call support.

Minolta Canada can be reached at http://www.minolta.ca.

Prices listed are in Cdn currency.