Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z20 Review
The DiMAGE Z20 is the latest addition to Konica Minolta's entry-level "Z" series line for 2005. This is a "super zoom" digicam that offers users the same 8x optical zoom lens like that found on the Dimage Z10 from last year, but increases resolution to 5-megapixels. You can choose from a multitude of exposure modes - the Auto and Program modes are perfect for the newbie to novice users, plus five scene specific modes that are programmed for a variety of shooting conditions. For those who are a little more advanced and need to satisfy their creative urges; the Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority and full Manual modes provide plenty of control over the exposure process.
The first thing you'll notice when you start shooting with this camera is the long focal range of its 8x optical zoom lens, which covers 36 to 290mm (in 35mm equivalence.) If needed, Konica Minolta offers an optional ZCW-200 0.7x wide-angle converter lens which extends the wide angle coverage to 26mm. Throughout our testing, we found the lens operated smoothly and produced sharp images throughout its zoom range, but exhibited moderate barrel distortion at the wide-angle extreme and slight pincushioning at full telephoto. This lens is moderately fast with a maximum aperture of F3.2 (wide) to F3.4 (tele) which allows for the use of higher shutter speeds. However, it's not stabilized, so handheld shooting at full telephoto may result in blurry images when shutter speeds are slower than 1/60 of a second. We highly recommend you use a tripod or monopod when using the telephoto capabilities of this model. While it claims a 32x range by combining the 4x digital and 8x optical zooms, we strongly urge that you avoid using the digital zoom because it degrades image quality. If you need to enlarge a portion of an image, you have plenty of resolution with 5-megapixels to crop later in an image editor and still produce pleasing prints.
The Z20's shooting performance was very robust. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was an amazingly less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and just 4/10 of a second including autofocus. Shot to shot delay averaged around 1.9 seconds without the use of the flash and only 2.2 seconds with the flash. Sports shooters will enjoy 2 modes of rapid shooting: Continuous, which is a standard burst capture mode, and Progressive, which captures images continuously at about 2 frames per second but saves only the last 5 frames when the shutter is released. Both modes captured 3 shots in an average of 2.2 seconds. Unfortunately, the viewfinder blanks out momentarily inbetween each frame, which often made it difficult to follow fast-moving subjects. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 512MB SD card, 5M/Fine quality, Program mode, preview off, flash off, unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The overall image quality when using its 5-megapixel Fine mode was very good for an entry-level digicam. Almost every image we captured was sharp and properly exposed. Outdoors it captures true to life images that showed good color saturation. The LCD viewfinder was quite usable outdoors, even in bright sunlight. Its high refresh rate provided a high-quality real-time preview of moving subjects, and its viewfinder image reflected by the Switch Finder allowed for easy panning. Beginners will most likely achieve the best results when using its Auto and Program modes as well as the pre-programmed scenes. The moderate wide-angle field of view of its 8x zoom will be sufficient for some landscape shots, but let's face it, people buy these type of cameras for their telephoto magnification.
The built-in flash has a powerful range of up to 15 feet (at ISO Auto.) Although you can't illuminate large open rooms like a gymnasium, church, etc. Your indoor living room shots and group portraits should please. I saw very little noise in high contrast (open blue sky) areas as well as low contrast (shadow) areas, however there were noticeable amounts of Chromatic Aberration present around highlights (which is typical with zoom models.) Like some of the past "Z" series cameras, the Z20 features an impressive macro capability, being able to focus as close as 0.4 in. (1 cm) at wide angle. Our indoors results were also pleasing. In low ambient light, both the LCD and its reflected viewfinder image were easy to view, and the autofocus was a little better than average in these conditions. However, it will fail if the light level is too low or if your subject lacks the necessary contrast; we feel it would greatly benefit from an AF illuminator.
The Z20 is powered by 4 standard AA-type batteries, this means you can use alkaline, one use lithium, or NiHM batteries. As always, we recommend using high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries because they're reusable and more powerful than alkalines. We found the battery life quite acceptable, capturing over 100 images and concluding our other test, with a single set of 2400mAh NiMH rechargeables and using the camera's power-saving features.
Movies can be captured at sizes of 640x480 or 320x240 (15fps) without audio. When using the smaller 320x240 mode, you can also select a frame rate of 30fps. In addition, the Z20's autofocus system operates continuously during movie capture. Unlike most digicams that record video, you can use the optical zoom while recording a movie. However, be careful when using the zoom option as the focusing system has difficulty keeping up with the lens. We recommend you set the focal length before recording, and if you're going to use the zoom, do it slowly. Overall over movie samples were good. We saw average amounts of compression noise and the exposure system did well.
Bottom line - the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z20 is an awesome entry-level "super zoom" camera and we feel it will make a great choice for anyone who is looking for a model that offers robust performance and great image quality, all for a great low price. Its 5-megapixel images yield beautiful, high-quality 8x10-inch or larger prints. With a street price of $350 or less, it offers an excellent bang for your buck, and is sure to be a very popular digicam this year. If you want even more telephoto coverage with an Anti-Shake system then take a look at the KM DiMAGE Z5, it's 5-megapixels with a 12x optical zoom.
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