Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi Review
Minolta has significantly upgraded the popular DiMAGE 7i with the introduction of their new DiMAGE 7Hi. It employs the same 5-Megapixel imager, Minolta GT 7X optical zoom, flexible Hyper Viewfinder and the same lightweight, stylish and durable metal body, only now it's finished in professional black. So, please read our DiMAGE 7i Conclusion to get the full story, we will only cover the differences here. The Dimage 7Hi is Minolta's new flagship model and a step-up from the still current Dimage 7i. With less than 6 months between their introduction, the 7i is not being replaced. The 7Hi is designed more for the photographer that demands a very ergonomic camera with a finer compression routine on the 2560 x 1920 (5 megapixel) images, shoots rapidly in sequences or easily connects with studio lighting. At $1299, about $300 more than the 7i, Minolta brings to the table a serious pro-sumer pseudo-SLR type camera with these changes: new super fine JPEG compression, new color space settings, a standard PC sync flash port (standard for studio lighting and external flash units), more white balance options, longer exposure times, an upgraded LCD rear monitor, a large and faster buffer and lots of customizable user settings.
The new quality setting is an almost lossless 1:2.5 compression routine for JPEG called "ExtraFine" resulting in far less compression artifacts (particularly in the red spectrum) for finer quality printing. The new 64MB SDRAM buffer allows the camera to fire repeatedly as the image is stashed in the buffer and streams the image to the Compact Flash or MicroDrive while simultaneously capturing more images. You can shoot approximately 3 frames per second with 2560 x 1920 full-size images at any quality setting including TIFF or RAW. The Customizable user interface allows the user to customize the Memory recall method, Control dial in M mode, Bracketing, Manual shift, Color profile, Dialogue default on the delete confirmation screen and Undo function for "P" reset. Then, in the midst of shooting, you are able to recall and adjust them briskly.
Shooting in full resolution the TIFF images take about 20 seconds to process and store and the RAW mode is approx. 13 seconds. (This is about 35% faster than the DiMAGE 7i and 70% faster than the 7). Here's the biggest change: in either TIFF or RAW you can shoot a second and third frame in a little over two seconds in single drive mode. In continuous drive you can shoot three frames in about a second. After firing off three frames, a subsequent frame can be shot as soon as the new buffer flushes enough space which is about 14 seconds. In 2560x1920 ExtraFine JPEG mode (which is where most would use it) using the standard continuous advance you can fire off 7 shots at 3 fps and then you have a 4 second wait as the cameras processes the images and starts to empty the buffer. In Single frame mode (JPEG) you can shoot one shot after another up to about ten frames and the shot to shot lag is a little over one second. There's a momentary blink of the display but no real delay and afterwards the card activity LED is lit for about 5 seconds as it writes out the data. Initial shutter lag (the time from depressing the shutter release to capture) is also impressive at well less than a second and can be reduced to nil by half depressing the shutter release (pre-focusing) and only fully depressing as you and your subject are ready. Note that all of this timing was done using a Lexar Professional 24x 512 MB CF card, slower or faster cards will produce varying results. Without a doubt, the image processing and capture speed of the D7Hi is most impressive for a 5- megapixel camera -- there is no competition within its class. As the old advertising slogan said - "Only from the mind of Minolta."
The new color space settings(sRGB or Adobe RGB) is a significant change - no longer requiring the image to be downloaded and processed through DiMAGE Viewer Utility (DIVU) to be able to properly reproduce the desired color space. The 7i's color space was close to the sRGB but not identical. Now JPEG's and TIFFS's with the industry standard sRGB are universally recognized and colors are interpreted accurately without laborious image processing. And via a setup menu option, the user can opt to have the color space information embedded in the output file.
The Customizable user interface dial is in the same ergonomic position, the upper left side of the body. When set to "MEM"ory position, the user can press the center button to access the five memory locations, the DiMAGE 7i has only three. Then with the camera still at eye level, choose the MEM setting or store one by rotating the command dial next to the shutter release, select and keep on shooting. Though the basic operation of the interface is not new, it's worthy of being noted again as making a sophisticated camera easier to operate is to some manufacturers, a different approach.
In the Dimage 7i review we mentioned the rear LCD had a "very narrow viewing angle" and that the EVF "would be more comfortable with a large, soft rubber eyecup around it." Well, the ears were attune at Minolta and both are now remedied on the 7Hi. The new 1.8-inch low-temperature high-contrast color LCD monitor has an extended color, contrast, and dynamic range. It also has a wide-viewing angle and covered with a very non-glare coating so that it's easy to use in even bright sun. The EVF is sharper form corner to corner, better color and ... a soft rubber eyecup around the eyepiece. No more scratched up sunglasses or glasses. So, viewing through or reviewing with the Dimage 7Hi is vastly improved. Thanks for listening - Minolta.
As far as battery consumption, the new LCD's seemed to help a little but the camera still uses its share of power. We don't find this a major disadvantage as Minolta continues to employ AA NiMh batteries, not an expensive proprietary battery. Minolta supplies a charger and four batteries, just add a set or two of high energy (1800 - 2000mAh) NiMh rechargeables to your camera bag (~$15 / set of four) - and shoot without concern. Minolta also makes an AC adapter that can be used as a power supply when at home or in a static location.
The Dimage 7Hi is a pleasure to shoot. With the look and feel more of a 'real' camera that can be held easily and manipulated without removing from eyelevel. As we said in the 7i's conclusion, you can capture some of the "sharpest and most resolute images we've seen from a non-professional digicam." Now with the 7Hi it's even more true... "If you want a high resolution digicam with all the features you'll ever need, a big zoom and excellent image quality," the DiMAGE 7Hi should be at the top of your list.
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