Minolta DiMAGE X20 Review
The DiMAGE X20 is a super-compact two-megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom lens that offers fully automatic "point-n-shoot" operation. It's the perfect camera for the novice user that doesn't want to have to learn more than just the basics and still be able to capture good images. The 2-megapixel resolution is good for 4x6" or 5x7" size photo quality prints. The X20 is a camera that can be easily placed in any pocket or purse, it is about the height and width of a deck of playing cards and only 0.9 inches thick and weighs a scant 6 ounces including batteries. This is truly a super-portable camera.
The X20 employs the same type of "folded" 3x optical zoom as its siblings the DiMAGE X, Xi and Xt cameras. The lens does not protrude from the camera body but rather it moves inside of the camera and allows these cameras to be super-thin. In addition to keeping the lens inside of the camera, this design improves the initial startup time and the shut down time. It also reduces the amount of power used by the zoom mechanism too. The optical qualities of this unique lens is quite good. It does exhibit some barrel distortion at full wide angle and a little pin cushioning at full telephoto but overall it is a good lens capable of producing sharp images with minimal distortion. It does not have a dedicated Macro (closeup) focus mode but is capable of focusing from just under 4 inches to infinity. It's a reasonably fast lens with a maximum aperture of F2.8-3.7 and is a fairly good performer in lower light conditions. It also features a digital zoom option up to 4X but as always I like to warn people that this is more marketing hype than a real usable feature. Digital zoom simply crops the central portion of the image to create its so-called zoom effect and usually results in an image that is not as good as one created without the digital zoom.
Another of the X20's unique features is its lack of an optical viewfinder. The 1.6-inch color TFT LCD monitor serves as its viewfinder as well as its information display, menu access and review display. Thankfully Minolta has used a good color LCD with an anti- reflection coating so it's easier to see when used outdoors. We were pleased with its brightness, contrast and color rendition in all but a few outdoor environments. At the beach we had to shield it with a hand to see it well enough to properly frame our pictures. Indoors it was a pleasure to use and we had no troubles seeing it at any time. When used in review mode, it allows for up to 6x enlarged playback images which makes examining them for critical focus a snap. Movies played fluidly on the screen with audio replayed via the built in speaker. And speaking of unique features, there's a circular reflector on the front of the camera so you can frame yourself when shooting self-portrait shots.
Most people will probably use the X20's Auto exposure mode but it also offers several other special modes too. In movie mode you can capture 320x240 or 160x120 size videos with sound, the length is limited only by available memory on your SD card. The Self-Portrait mode is keyed to the use of that circular reflector on the front of the camera and sets the focus up for a handheld shot of yourself. To do a self-portrait with a group you need to use the Self-Timer mode for a ten second shutter delay and place the camera on a tripod or sturdy tabletop. Multi Frame mode captures a series of nine smaller images and saves it as one 1600x1200 size image with the nine images in a 3x3 grid. The Continuous Advance mode can capture three full-size or up to twenty-two small-economy size images at approx. 1.5 frames per second. Thanks to the audio recording capability you can attach up to 30-second voice memos to your still images.
Even though the exposure is all automatic there are a number of user-settable parameters such as the ISO sensitivity can be automatic or your choice of 64, 100, 200 or 400 equivalents. The metering can be overridden +/- 2.0EV in 0.3EV steps using the exposure compensation option. White balance options include automatic, daylight, cloudy, incandescent and fluorescent. And you can select the desired flash mode for Red-eye reduction, forced (fill), suppressed (off) or Slow-sync as well as full automatic. The user interface is a graphical menu system that is easily navigated with the Left and Right and Up and Down buttons on the back. The recording mode is quickly changed from Still to Movie with a dedicated switch on the top next to the shutter release and power button. I'm confident that even total novice users will be able to use the X20 and get good pictures. The only "trick" to using this camera is to pinch the camera with your thumb and forefinger of your left hand, this keeps your fingers out of the way of the lens. If you hold this camera the way you hold other cameras you will get your finger in the upper left hand corner of the picture way too often. This is because the lens is positioned very close to the edge of the camera. Once you learn this "pinching" grip you won't have the "finger in the frame" problem anymore.
The X20 is powered by a pair of AA type batteries and I highly recommend the use of high-capacity NiMH batteries over any type of alkalines. Remember that this camera requires the use of the color LCD at all times and that means it uses more power than other cameras with optical viewfinders. We used a pair of 2000mAh NiMH batteries and got excellent results. Minolta claims about 110 pictures (half with flash) when using alkalines and we used the camera all day and shot several hundred pictures and did considerable in-field reviewing and didn't kill our rechargeables. Unfortunately the design of the battery compartment precludes the use of CR-V3 type lithium batteries. We wish all manufacturers using 2xAA power supplies would make them CR-V3 compatible too.
Images, movies and audio files are stored on SD (Secure Digital) type flash memory cards. Minolta supplies a very wimpy 8MB size card - buy a bigger one - they're fairly cheap now with 256MB size cards for less than $100. Data from the SD card is transferred to the host computer via USB 1.1 and the DiMAGE X20 is recognized as storage-class device when plugged into a current Windows (XP, Me, 2000) or Mac OS 8.6 and later computer, no drivers are needed.
The other Minolta "X" cameras are housed in aluminum alloy bodies, the X20 uses high impact plastic but is no less stylish looking. This is to keep the cost and weight down and it accomplishes both tasks handily, the X20 is currently (as of Oct 2003) selling for less than $200. The overall image quality and color rendition was very satisfactory, see our sample photos page and I think you'll agree. We see this thin little camera finding its way into a lot of stockings this holiday season, it will make a great gift for anyone that wants a super-small and dependable digital camera. We give it a "two thumbs up" approval rating for its size, performance and low cost.
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