Minolta DiMAGE E323 Review
Positioned in the hotly-contested 3-megapixel, 3x optical zoom, $300-range consumer digicam market, Minolta's DiMAGE E323 is an easy to use point-n-shoot with automatic exposure and several programmed scene modes designed to appeal to the beginner through intermediate photographer. Manual settings are limited to Exposure Compensation (+/-1.8), and White Balance.
The Minolta 3X optical zoom lens produces sharp results throughout its range, with some barrel distortion at extreme wide angle and pincushioning at full telephoto. The operation of the optical zoom is smooth and quiet, having continuous movement throughout its 36-108mm (35mm equivalent) range. Its 36mm focal length at maximum wide angle provides a field of view sufficient for most interior shots, while the 108mm maximum telephoto provides enough magnification to compose shots of distant subjects.
The DiMAGE E323's shooting performance is good. From power-on to the capture of your first image takes about three seconds. Shutter delay, the elapsed time between releasing the shutter and capturing the image, measured an impressive and professional-class 1/10 second when pre-focused, or 1 second including autofocus time. Shot-to-shot took just over 2 seconds. In continuous shooting, the E323 captured four images in 2.6 seconds in Best mode, and 9 images in 6.2 seconds in Standard mode, but the LCD viewfinder went blank during both image capture processes; you'll be happy that the E323 is equipped with an optical viewfinder so that you can follow a moving subject while shooting in continuous mode. The E323 is responsive enough for you to capture many unposed moments and images of sporting events. The above times are based on 2048 x 1536 images without the flash on.
Outdoors, the DiMAGE E323 produces good results, both well-exposed and richly saturated. The 3X optical zoom lens has enough range, 36-108mm in 35mm equivalence, to provide flexibility in composing your shots and is sharp enough to produce pleasing 8X10-inch prints. Although the LCD viewfinder has no anti-reflective coating, its brightness can be adjusted and we found it to be usable in most outdoor shooting situations; you'll be forced to use the zoom-coupled optical viewfinder only on the brightest of days.
Because of the limited flash range and 36mm wide angle focal length, you'll realize the best indoor results when shooting portraits of individuals and small groups; capturing a well-exposed image of the entire dance floor at your niece's wedding is beyond the E323's capability. You'll be able to include yourself in group portraits because the DiMAGE E323 is equipped with both a tripod socket and self-timer. Although the DiMAGE E323 is not equipped with a focus-assist lamp, its autofocus was surprisingly effective in low ambient light, as was the LCD viewfinder. The E323 did a good job of squelching its flash during macro-photography, and would make an good camera for online auction product shots.
The E323's battery life was acceptable during our tests. Using a pair of AA NiMH 1800mAh rechargeable batteries, we were able to capture over 100 images with the LCD on before a low battery warning occurred. We always recommend using NiMH batteries when possible, and you should have several charged pairs on hand.
The Minolta DiMAGE E323 has a combination of features unique for a camera in this class. Among its 6 scene modes are Cosmetic and Slim. Cosmetic scene mode is optimized to reproduce soft skin tones and is prefocused to a distance of 8.2 feet. Slim scene mode changes the vertical or horizontal proportions of the subject using digital zoom, allowing you to fatten or thin your subject in the camera without using an image editor. Finally, the E323 has the ability to produce interpolated 6-megapixel images from its 3-megapixel image sensor. Comparing equally-sized enlarged segments from 3-megapixel non-interpolated and 6-megapixel interpolated images, the interpolated image showed a minor improvement in quality. This feature will be of most value to those desiring to make poster-size prints.
At a street price of under $300, the Minolta DiMAGE E323 offers levels of performance, features and quality that will please the intermediate photographer, yet remains easy enough for the novice to use. If you're looking for an under-$300 3-megapixel 3X zoom digicam with movie mode that can capture family, travel and sports images, and produce pleasing prints 8x10-inches and larger, you should include the Minolta's DiMAGE E323 on your short list.
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