Minolta DiMAGE 7 Review
By Movable Type Admin
I am extremely impressed with the DiMAGE 7. It will be the first 5-megapixel camera for consumers (and priced at just $1500) and is bound to be a big hit. I have yet to use the DiMAGE 5 but I'd be willing to bet that it will be a very popular 3-megapixel digicam at $999. The Minolta GT zoom is an excellent set of optics that has been perfectly matched to the imager. It is one of only a few cameras that is razor sharp from one edge to the other and so far I have seen no trace of the dreaded chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) that plagues most other 2 and 3-megapixel digicams. Look at my sample photos, especially the night shot of the restaurant, there's no purple fringe around the neon sign or the top of the building that is completely lined with neon lights.
Thanks to some investigative work by Phil Askey at DP Review we now know that you MUST run all of the DiMAGE7's (D7) images through the DiMAGE Viewer Utility (DIVU) to reproduce the desired color space. Minolta uses a proprietary color space in the D7 that is close to sRGB but it's not identical. Many of us wondered why the pictures from the D7 were lacking in color saturation when viewed after being directly taken from the camera. I'm happy to report that once you process the images with the DIVU software they come out looking great. It does add an extra step in acquiring your images but it is well worth the time as you can adjust and correct colors as well as sharpen the pictures before saving. The DIVU software gives you a way to batch process entire directories full of images so you don't have to do each image individually unless desired.
The whole process of color space and color matching is probably new to most digicam users as most cameras just automatically map their images to the sRGB color space. Allowing the user to specify the desired color space may be seen as a burden to some but you must remember that the Dimage7 is really a prosumer camera. I won't even try to explain color space or color matching here, Qimage Pro author Mike Chaney already has a full page of information about it on his web site. I just sent Mike the color files from the Dimage7 so expect some custom Qimage ICC profiles for this camera soon. Click here to go to Mike's Color Management Information page, note that it will open a new browser window so just close it when you want to return back to this review.
Mike supplied me with the following chromaticity charts to show the different color spaces of the Dimage7 JPEG and RAW images versus the Adobe and sRGB standards.
Much of the appeal of the D7 (and the D5) will no doubt be a result of its 7x optical zoom lens. There are 10x optical zoom cameras out there but so far none of them have an image resolution that exceeds 2.6-megapixels. The 35mm equivalent coverage of the D7's aspherical zoom lens is 28-200mm which gives you an excellent range from wide angle to medium telephoto. The 28-200mm focal length is one of the most popular 35mm zoom lenses being sold today so it's nice to see it available on a digital camera. We all like the SLR cameras with their interchangeable lenses but with a digital camera this means risking contamination of the sensor every time you swap lenses. Ask anybody with a Nikon D1 or Fuji S1 and they'll tell you that keeping the imager clean is an on-going problem. So if you have a nonremovable lens it's desirable to have one that covers as much focal length as possible.
Unlike other digicams the D7 employs a full manual zoom which gives the user a lot more control than pushing a button and waiting on a motorized zoom. The manual zoom ring on the lens barrel gives you an infinite number of focal length settings versus the preset and often jerky steps used with power zooms. The manual zoom ring is a little stiffer than I like but it is probably designed that way so it doesn't become too loose later on. There is also a manual focus ring on the lens barrel and this in combination with the magnified viewfinder image lets you take total control of the focusing whenever you so need it. This manual focusing is done via fly-by-wire, the ring does not mechanically alter the focus but it is adjustable in very fine increments. Also located on the lens is the Macro button which can only be engaged when the lens is at full telephoto. The macro mode can focus as close as five inches with a coverage area of slightly less than 2 x 1.5 inches. The lens has threads for easy attachment of 49mm filters or other add-on lenses without the need of any special adapter.
The D7 offers an excellent autofocus system with settings for Single-AF (autofocus when shutter is half-pressed) or Continuous-AF (focusing all the time). The user can select from a Wide Focus Area, Spot Focus or Flex Focus. By default it uses Wide Focus and this is seen as a large rectangle in the center of the viewfinder frame. To select the Spot mode you press the center of the jog switch controller and the focus target becomes a "+" which can then be moved around. The D7 uses a phase-detection autofocus system which can find the proper focus point quicker than conventional contrast-detection systems. Under most normal lighting conditions I found that the D7 was capable of going from close to far targets quickly with very little "hunting" involved which was most impressive given its 28-200mm coverage. The D7 lacks a focus illuminator which would greatly improve its low- light autofocusing capabilities but I still found it to be very useable although there was a noticeable increase in the times that it had to "hunt" to find the focus point. The AF/AE button on the back lets you lock the focus and exposure and then easily re-compose the scene without the need of keeping the shutter half-pressed.
As with most pseudo-SLR cameras the D7 employs an EVF (electronic viewfinder) which is a small, hi-resolution color LCD display. Minolta uses a ferroelectric 0.19-inch reflective type color LCD with a resolution of 220,000 pixels. This is two times greater than the number of pixels found in the EVFs used on the Canon, Olympus and Sony cameras. These other EVFs are fairly grainy looking and the colors are often washed out, this is not the case with the EVF on the D7 and D5 cameras. In low-light conditions the monitor signal is amplified and changes to b&w but the images are still captured in full color. Going from light to dark or dark to light it takes the EVF about 2 seconds to change display modes. Unlike all the other EVF-equipped cameras that we have used to date, the D7 is very useable in low-light to dark conditions. In fact there were several times that I could see things in the EVF that I couldn't see with the naked eye. The EVF can be flipped upward up to 90-degrees to become a waist-level viewfinder and has a dioptric adjustment. The field of view is rather narrow with the edges of the display appearing somewhat blurry. The EVF needs a wider viewing angle and it would be more comfortable with a large, soft rubber eyecup around it. On the positive side let me say that the D7's EVF (and color LCD) show about 98% of the final captured image so it rates as being very accurate.
Ergonomically I like the D7, it fits nicely in your hand and is about the same size as a compact 35mm camera. I think it would have been even better if Minolta had made the finger grip a little deeper and covered it with a rubberized surface. The user controls are well laid out and easy to access but you need to use both hands when changing any of the options on the Function Dial. You hold the center button down while rotating the Control Dial with your other hand. This is exactly the same scheme that we saw used on the Sony D700 and D770 cameras a couple of years ago. The monochrome data display on the top shows all the important settings at a glance and is illuminated but the lamps come on for 5 seconds every time the shutter release is pressed. I would have thought that these lamps would also light when you were changing camera settings but this is not the case. With a preset and non-changeable 5 second timeout there is not enough time to press the shutter and then move your finger to the control dial and make any setting changes before the lamps goes out again. You can change settings by looking through the EVF or the color LCD but it would be nice to have setup options for control of the data LCD illumination.
I have no problem with the fit-n-finish of the camera, the build quality is good with all the seams matching nicely and no "squeaks or creaks" while in use. There are a few minor annoying things like the plastic cover for the DC IN and Video Out port tends to pop open too easily. When using the camera without the neck strap the lug ring above the CompactFlash door hangs down and must be lifted up before closing the door or it gets caught by it. The camera gets quite warm around the finger grip during use, it's obviously using this area as the heat sink. After a lengthy photo session the CompactFlash card can get almost alarmingly warm (hot?) to the touch. This is not destructive but it is indicative of the fact that the camera is consuming a good deal of power to generate that much heat. Powered by a set of 1700mAH NiMH batteries I averaged about 90 to 100 shots using the flash about 40% of the time and keeping the use of the color LCD to a minimum. I would advise you to always carry a spare set of freshly charged NiMH batteries as alkaline type batteries won't last very long in this camera.
I've been asked about the image processing times for the TIFF and Raw modes. Shooting in full resolution the TIFF images take about 40-45 seconds to process and store and the Raw mode is a little quicker at 30-35 seconds. It's important to note that the EVF or LCD goes blank during this image processing, the camera cannot be used until it's done. In JPEG mode you can fire off one shot every second until you've captured four frames and then you must wait as the cameras processes the images and starts to empty the buffer. You can shoot another frame in about 6-7 seconds or wait about half a minute for the camera to process and flush the entire buffer.
My bottom line on the Minolta DiMAGE 7 is that it is a very capable camera and captures some of the most resolute images we've seen yet from a non-professional digicam. It does require at least one extra step to acquire the images, they must be read through the Dimage Viewing Utility (or Qimage Pro using the supplied Dimage 7 ICC profile) and then saved again. I don't see this as a problem as most advanced users spend more time post- processing their pictures with PhotoShop then they did actually taking them in the first place. This camera, like all advanced digital cameras, has a certain "learning curve" to get its best results although most should be able to get more than average results using its "P"rogram AE automatic mode. It beats the heck out of me why someone would spend $1500 just to use a camera on automatic but hey, different strokes for different folks. This camera was designed for the advanced amateur or semi-pro user in mind, it is not a camera for the novice - wait on the Minolta S304 for a more economical alternative. I've already seen the forum messages about how the D7's images look noisey or how a group of techie "propeller heads" think that it has this problem or that problem, yadda, yadda, yadda. If these guys spent half as much time using a camera as they do complaining about it they would probably enjoy life a lot more. Don't judge 5-megapixel images by the way they look on your screen -- print them! No two people have their monitors calibrated the same and there is no "standard" screen resolution so this is a very poor way of critiquing image quality.
So having said all of that -- if you want one of the best available digicams today with
the largest finished image size of any non-pro camera and are willing to "diddle" your
pictures in DIVU and/or PhotoShop ...and... have $1000 to spend - then go buy a Dimage7!
Minolta DiMAGE 7 Enhancement Upgrade Now Available
July 2002: Dim�ge 7 Optional Enhancement Upgrade Kit is now available from Minolta.
New firmware enhances AF speed up to 50%, increases continuous advance to 1.5fps, Adds: Ultra High Speed Advance, Direct Manual Focus, Real-time Histogram, Three new movie modes, Grid and Scale recording mode displays, Manual flash output control, Enlarged playback in QuickVew and Exif Print compatibility.
Pricing for the Minolta DiMAGE 7 Upgrade Kit (including firmware upgrade and DiMAGE Viewer) is $79.95; Firmware upgrade only is $49.95; DiMAGE Viewer only is $49.95.
Click here to read the full Minolta press release.
Click here to read a DiMAGE 7 Firmware Upgrade
mini-review (posted 08/2002)
ColorFix Converts JPEG and TIFF Images from One "Color Space" to Another
Max Lyons has just released his new ColorFix utility for Windows or DOS that easily and quickly converts the colors in JPEG and TIFF images from one "color space" to another. This utility was written mainly to solve the problem of the Minolta DiMAGE 5 and 7 (and S304) cameras that save their images in a proprietary color space, not standard RGB. Even though Minolta supplies a software program called DIVU (Dimage Image Viewing Utility) to convert from one color space to another, it also applies other image corrections that yield undesirable results.
To quote Max's info:
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