Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5 combines all of the features found on last year's DiMAGE Z3, increases the resolution to 5-megapixels and uses a larger 2.0-inch color LCD. The long focal length 12x optical zoom is enhanced by Konica Minolta's proprietary Anti-Shake image stabilization system. The Z5 offers a full range of exposure modes; the fully Automatic "point-n-shoot" mode for newbies, Program AE for the novice, and Aperture priority, Shutter-speed priority as well as full Manual to give the more experienced photo enthusiasts total control.
The Z5's ergonomics are good - this is a small and lightweight, palm-sized camera constructed from tough, high-impact plastic. The controls are well placed and the menu system is easy to use. I was pleased to see that Konica Minolta did not use a "switch-finder" display on this camera, instead they used separate LCD and EVF displays. Outdoors I was able to use the LCD to frame, but due to its highly reflective surface covering there are many angles in which the sun reflects on it and makes it difficult to see. That's when you switch to the EVF (Electronic ViewFinder.) Indoors both displays "gain up" to help brighten your subject in low light, but they do get a little grainy. There's a flash hot shoe that allows for easy connecting of external flash units. This is very useful when you're shooting in situations where the built-in flash lacks the range to illuminate your subject. It also allows you to bounce the flash (if the external flash has this feature), which helps eliminate the usual harsh shadowed and often over-exposed portrait shots.
Shooting performance was very robust. From power-up to first image captured measured approx. 2.2 seconds, that's pretty amazing since it has to extend its 12x zoom and boot up. Shutter lag was an impressive 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and 2/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot-to-shot delay averaged approx. 1.0 - 1.6 seconds without using the flash and about 2.6 - 3.5 seconds with the flash. Sports shooters will enjoy 2 modes of rapid sequential shooting: Continuous, which is a standard burst capture mode, and Progressive, which captures images continuously at an amazingly fast rate. Using the Continuous mode, I was able to capture 6 frames in approx. 2.5 seconds. In Progressive mode, I captured 17 frames in only 1.6 seconds. Unfortunately, the viewfinder blanks out momentarily inbetween each frame captured which often made it difficult to follow fast-moving subjects; however this is not so when using the Progressive mode. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 512MB SD card, 2560x1920/Fine quality, Program mode, preview off, flash off, unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending due to lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The Z5's most appealing feature is the powerful 12X optical zoom which covers a focal range of 35 - 420mm in 35mm equivalence. The lens operates smoothly and produces sharp images throughout its zoom range, but exhibits moderate barrel distortion at the wide angle end and slight pin cushioning at full telephoto. The lens is fairly fast with a maximum aperture of F2.8 (wide) to F4.5 (tele) which allows for the use of higher shutter speeds. Thanks to the AS (Anti-Shake) system, you'll be able to capture images with less hand shake at slower shutter speeds. We always recommend the use of a tripod or monopod for long telephoto shooting, even with cameras that have an AS (Anti-Shake) or IS (Image Stabilized) system. It's a good thing they included the AS system, because the Z5 is very lightweight and prone to camera shake at longer focal lengths. While the Z5 boasts a 48x range by combining the 4x digital and 12x optical zoom, we recommend that you avoid using the digital zoom because it degrades image quality; if you need to enlarge a portion of an image, you'll achieve better results by cropping it later with an image editor. The autofocus system is fast and accurate in brightly light conditions, and was a little better than average in low-light conditions (for a camera without an AF-assist lamp.) However, it will fail if the light level is too low or if your subject lacks the necessary contrast. The Z5 does not have an AF illuminator and we feel that these devices should be standard on all digicams.
Like past models, the Z5 is powered by 4 standard AA-type batteries, this means you can use alkaline, one-use lithium, and NiHM batteries. As always we recommend using high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries, they'll save you money in the long run, last longer, and are better for the environment. We found the battery life quite acceptable, capturing all of our samples images (about 120 shots) and concluding our other tests, with a single set of 2500mAh NiMH rechargeables and using the camera's power-saving features.
If you like to recording movies, you can capture motion video clips (QuickTime .mov format) at either 640x480 (Fine or Standard) or 320x240 (Standard) at 15fps or 30fps with audio. The Z5's autofocus system operates continuously during movie capture; however it does tend to have trouble keeping up with fast-moving subjects. You can use the optical zoom while recording a movie, and adjust white balance and color modes via the movie record menu. Be careful when using the zoom option as the focusing system also has difficulty keeping up with the lens. We recommend you set the focal length before recording, and if you're going to use the zoom, do it slowly. Also the microphone is positioned on top of the hand grip and tends to pick up noise from even the slightest breeze - a common problem on most digicams.
The image quality when using its 2560x1920 Fine mode was average for a camera in this class. Outdoors it produced nicely saturated images that showed proper exposure in most cases; only under extreme sunlight did it tend to over-expose the image. I did notice an average amount of noise in low contrast areas as well as CA (chromatic aberration - purple fringing) in high contrast areas, especially when using its Auto ISO setting. There were also some images that were a bit soft; there are adjustments for both sharpening and contrast that help fix the problem. Both our outdoor and indoor portraits were sharp, well exposed and skin tones were very natural. The "auto" white balance setting does its job well. One thing we highly recommend you do before shooting is make sure to always check the front of the lens for fingerprints. With most cameras this isn't a major concern, however with its powerful optics it can sometimes show up in your images.
Bottom line - the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5 offers an excellent "bang for your buck" at around $450. We've seen some good improvements over past models and feel it will make a great choice for anyone who is in the market for a powerful and speedy "super-zoom" model. With its abundance of exposure modes, it can be used by any member of your household, its 5-megapixel Fine images will allow you to create photo prints up to 13x19-inch size with plenty of cropping room for smaller prints.
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