Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D SLR Review
By Movable Type Admin
(Note: This conclusion was updated on 3/1/2005 to reflect the new firmware improvements in CF write speed, buffer writing and USB download throughput. If you already own the Maxxum 7D be sure to download the new firmware for it now!)
The first thing that strikes you about the 7D is the multitude of controls that sprout from its body, so many, in fact, that there is no room for a top-mounted data LCD. The benefit is that many settings that on other dSLR's require wading through menus or removing the camera from eye level to change are manipulated directly via a dedicated dial or button. Photographers with roots extending deep into the 35mm film era will appreciate the extent to which the 7D's controls are brought to its surface.
Taking the place of the top-mounted data LCD present on most dSLR's is the large 2.5-inch LCD monitor which serves as a recording mode display as well as a playback and menu navigation monitor. The recording mode display is very informative, with indicators for essentially all of the available camera settings. It was also enjoyable to use, turning on automatically via the eyepiece sensors, and rotating automatically via the camera's orientation sensor; it is not necessary to remove the camera from eye level to view or change settings. The display is quite bright; in dim ambient light I sometimes turned it off to eliminate its distracting glare as I raised the camera to eye level.
Despite the wealth of controls on the 7D's body, its menu system is quite extensive, the recording menu having three pages, playback having two, custom functions four and setup three. I won't repeat describing the menu functions here, except to say that they offer comprehensive control of the camera's functions, and are on a par with the competition; the menu's are logically structured, and options are well-described in the provided documentation. The menu text was easy to read thanks to the large LCD, and navigation was easily accomplished using either the 4-way controller or the front and rear control dials.
The LCD, while certainly bright and resolute enough for playback, is limited to a magnification of only 2.4X for small JPEG images and 4.7X for large ones; RAW images can not be enlarged. Most competitors offer playback magnification of both JPEG and RAW images in the range of 10-12X, better for critical field review of focus; this is one feature of the 7D that needs improvement.
The 7D's viewfinder is both bright and informative. All the necessary camera status information is presented on the bottom line, and focus areas are illuminated briefly when autofocus is locked. Complementing the 7D's Anti-shake feature, the right side of the viewfinder displays an Anti-shake scale that informs you of the amount of shake detected; reducing camera movement will improve the effectiveness of the 7D's Anti-shake feature. The viewfinder's deep rubber eye cup and dioptric adjustment easily accommodate eyeglass wearers, providing a clear and full view of the focusing screen and display areas.
The 7D's shooting performance is quite robust and competitive in the prosumer dSLR market. From power-on till the first image was captured was dependent on the size of the installed CF memory card, measuring 2 seconds with a Lexar 80X 1GB to 3.2 seconds with a Lexar 4GB 80X card; waking the 7D up from its power-saving sleep mode took about the same amount of time. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was less than 1/10 second when pre-focused, and just over 1/10 second including auto focus time for a high-contrast subject. Shot-to-shot delay averaged 1.1 second in both single and continuous AF; using the internal flash, the shot-to-shot interval grew to between 1.6 and 2 seconds depending on subject distance.
The 7D's performance in Continuous advance mode was dependent on image size and quality. In Large Extra fine mode, the 7D captured 18 images in 5.9 seconds, with subsequent shots coming at 6/10 second intervals. 36 Large Fine images were captured in 12.2 seconds, with subsequent shots at 1/2 second intervals. It took under 10 seconds to flush a buffer full of JPEG images to the 7D's CF memory card. In RAW mode, the capture rate stayed at 3fps, but only 9 images could be captured before the buffer filled, and the interval to capture subsequent images slowed to 1.5 seconds; it took 15 seconds to flush a buffer full of RAW images. I'd rate the 7D's shutter lag and autofocus performance very good, its capture rate average, and its rate of buffer transfer to CF memory good. The 7D's shooting performance was improved dramatically with the installation of the new Version 1.10 firmware. The increase in the 7D's rate of writing to CF memory improved its continuous shooting depth, rate of capture with a full buffer, and buffer clearing times; the 7D is truely a different camera with and without the firmware update. Be sure to equip your 7D with a high performance CF card; you'll enjoy the speed! The 7D's performance was measured using a fast Lexar 4GB 80X CF memory card, 17-35mm Konica Minolta AF lens, flash off, daylight lighting, 3008x2000 JPEG/Fine unless otherwise noted.
The 7D's body-integral Anti-shake system is a first among dSLR's. Minolta claims that Anti-shake will help you capture blur-free images at shutter speeds two to three stops slower than the 1/focal-length rule of thumb, and my experience agreed. Shooting with a Minolta 24-105mm AF zoom at full telephoto, a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 157mm, I was able to capture consistently blur-free images at 1/30 second, a 2 ½ stop improvement over the rule of thumb 1/160 second. At a shutter speed of 1/20 second, better than half the images were blur-free.
The 7D's autofocus system is flexible and accurate. It provides a choice of focusing modes including Manual, Single AF, Continuous AF and Automatic AF, which allows the camera to switch between single AF and Continuous AF depending on subject movement. Continuous AF was quite responsive, being able to keep up with the flow of play on a soccer field and the playful antics of a fast Shetland Sheepdog fairly consistently. A Custom function is provided to give priority to AF, which prevents shutter release until the camera focuses, or Shutter Release, which releases the shutter even if focus can not be confirmed. The autofocus system can be set Wide Focus Area, allowing the camera to select the optimum focus point from the 9 available, or the photographer can select the focus point using the controller and optionally lock it.
Low-light AF performance is very good even without the use of focus assist lamps, but the 7D will fire a few short bursts from its internal flash or use the focus assist lamp of an external 3600HS(D) or 5600HS(D) flash to achieve precise focus even in complete darkness. As good as the AF system is, there are always conditions that favor the use of Manual focus. The AF/MF button, located conveniently under the shooters right thumb, switches the camera between manual and autofocus, allowing you to keep your eye at the viewfinder while switching focus modes. While in MF mode, the 7D's AF system monitors your focusing effort, and turns on the Focus Locked indicator in the viewfinder when it is in agreement.
The MAXXUM 7D's exposure system is capable and flexible. In ordinary shooting conditions, its automatic settings produce well-exposed, nicely saturated shots with accurate color reproduction. But when conditions are demanding, the 7D provides every exposure setting you could want. Dealing with unusual light sources? The 7D's White Balance system not only has all the standard presets, but each preset has a fine-tuning range of adjustment in 7 steps. Custom white balance can be set from a reference shot, and saved in one of three registers for later use. You can even set white balance using the color temperature of the light source.
Both Exposure bracketing and Flash exposure bracketing are offered, with flexible choices of ± .3 or .5 EV for three or five frame; bracketing drive mode can be set for single or continuous advance. Exposure compensation can be set ± 3EV in .5 EV steps, or ± 2EV in .3 EV steps. Contrast, saturation, sharpness and hue can be adjusted in a range of 5 steps, -2 to +2, via the Digital FX menu. Color modes of Natural and Natural Plus (increased contrast and actuance) use the sRGB color space, while Embed Adobe RGB uses the Adobe RGB color space.
The 7D helps the photographer manage the multitude of available settings in two ways. First, the Recording Mode display clearly indicates every setting that's been made, allowing you check everything in one glance. Second, the 7D's MSET function allows you to store sets of camera settings in any of three registers; those settings can later be restored by turning the Exposure mode dial to the appropriate register number. The memory not only restores settings made via the 7D's menu system, it recalls the camera's many switch and dial settings as well, including exposure compensation, flash compensation, drive mode, metering, focus points, and white balance.
The 7D's exposure system, while offering comprehensive control for advanced photographers, is missing the beginner-friendly Scene modes offered by its competition. Taking a sports, portrait, night portrait or landscape shot? Sure, you can do it with the 7D, but you'll be setting the exposure parameters yourself, unaided by a built-in Scene mode that could optimize the settings for you.
The 7D produced good exposures using its internal flash; it provided sufficient coverage for a 17mm wide angle (25.5mm in 35mm equivalence) field of view, and its AF-assist and Red Eye reduction functions were both very effective. Exposures made with the Minolta 5600HS(D) external flash, however, were inconsistent. The 7D tended to underexpose at wide angle, this despite the use of Advanced Distance Integration (ADI) compatible lenses. I had to use flash compensation of around +1½ EV on every image taken with the Konica Minolta 17-35mm f/2.8-4 D lens, while shots captured with the 24-105mm f/3.5-4.5 D lens required compensation at focal lengths less than about 40mm. The underexposure issue can hopefully be fixed by Minolta with a firmware update. Meanwhile, users of Minolta's external flash products will become familiar with the flash compensation dial when shooting wide angle.
The 7D's image quality is very good. Image noise is low at speeds up to ISO 400, and moderate but acceptable at ISO 800. Noise at ISO 1600 and 3200 is quite noticeable. Overall, the 7D's noise characteristics are roughly equal to the 2-year old Canon 10D, falling short of the standard set by the current Canon 20D. You might find that using the 7D's Anti-shake feature will minimize your need to shoot at the higher ISO settings, however.
The 7D's NP-400 battery is quite powerful, lasting for more than 350 images with AS on before it was depleted. As always, keeping a second battery fully charged is highly recommended.
I thoroughly enjoyed using the MAXXUM 7D. It's controls offer a nice blend of menu-driven functionality and the traditional direct control offered by dials and switches. The 7D gives you the impression that it is first a camera, and second a digital device. Its ergonomics were excellent, being comfortable to hold, easy to operate, and informative while held at eye level; the 7D has clearly benefitted from Minolta's experience with its MAXXUM film SLR's. The Konica Minolta MAXXUM 7D will find a ready market among users of MAXXUM film SLR's; its lens compatibility and familiar design and operation will find easy acceptance among those who have been patiently waiting for Minolta's dSLR.
With a price and feature set aimed at the prosumer dSLR market, the 7D faces
stiff competition, largely from the Canon EOS 20D. Its image resolution (6 vs 8-megapixels),
image noise at high ISO,
and continuous capture rate (3 versus 5 frames per second) lag the 20D, but the 7D's
image quality and handling are excellent.
Its body-integral CCD-shift Anti-Shake
feature is a first among dSLR's, allowing you to enjoy low light hand-held
shooting with every lens in your kit; it is equally effective as the lens-based image
stabilization or vibration reduction features of its competitors. Lens cost should be
considered when comparing systems; the 7D's Anti-Shake feature may provide a cost
advantage versus purchasing multiple IS or VR lenses of competing systems.
Second Opinion by Doug Rowan
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to use the new Konica Minolta MAXXUM 7D. While the large 2.5-inch color TFT LCD provides a clue that it is a digital camera, there is nothing else noticeable to confirm that notion.
It's pretty obvious that the engineers at Minolta are also photographers because the 7D is missing many of the simplified modes that most other DSLR models possess. Instead, the design takes the opposite approach by providing every major function needed via an external dial or switch. While having no night scene, action or portrait modes may cause some potential buyers to shy away from the camera...that would be a terrible mistake. The camera more than makes up for those missing functions by providing the user with an almost unlimited number of customizable options and features!
The 7D was obviously given much thought during the design phase and while not the quickest out of the gate (regarding start-up and high-speed continuous shooting), it more than makes up for those faults by being close to the perfect portrait, wedding, nature or fashion photography tool. The excellent performance of the Anti-Shake, Matrix Metering, Color Rendition, Auto Focus (accuracy & speed) put this camera almost in a class of its own! It's not designed to be a sideline sporting event tool but it is designed to provide the photographer with a myriad of useful features and functions.
Nothing is wasted...including multiple functionality of the rear LCD, the automatic orientation feature or the super bright, 95% coverage viewfinder with interchangeable focusing screens. Add to that the playback histogram, up to 4.7x image zoom (including adjustable brightness) and the (very usable) ISO Range of 100, 200, 400 & 800 (in certain situations, even ISO 1600) and you have a very competent camera for the serious photographer.
As a side note regarding the Anti-Shake function...a prior boating accident (& several mountain bike wrecks) had pretty much relegated me to using a tripod for virtually every photograph I took. That was until my acquisition of the DiMAGE A1, featuring the first generation of Konica Minolta's unique Anti-Shake technology. Talk about being set free! The usefulness of this feature in the MAXXUM 7D is difficult to appreciate until you have experienced it for yourself! Every lens you purchase for the camera can now be considered Anti Shake, versus the more expensive Nikon VR or Canon IS lenses that provide the same functionality, so it can significantly lower the overall cost of owning this camera.
Note from Steve: You can see some of Doug's (aka "Kalypso") Maxxum 7D pictures in our
Pictures forum and we've added a couple of full-size images on our Maxxum 7D
Sample Photos page.
Maxxum 7D Firmware UpdateNote: We have retested the camera with the new firmware and the performance results are included in this revirew. The 7D is significantly faster at writing images to the CF card, especially when using a high-performance card. With an 80x Lexar Pro Series card, buffer clearing speed has been improved by about 400% and the USB 2.0 download to PC speed has gone from 1MB/sec to nearly 2MB/sec!
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