Minolta DiMAGE G400 Review
The DiMAGE G400 is a compact "pocket size" point-n-shoot 4-megapixel digital camera with a stylish and durable all-metal body. It's physically identical to its Konica sibling, the Revio KD-420z, and is the first product announced by the Konica Minolta Camera company, recently formed by the merger of Konica and Minolta. The G400's automatic exposure mode is simple enough for a beginner to capture high-quality images, and offers a range of control in Manual mode that will please an intermediate photographer.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the G400 is its remarkable shooting performance. Minolta claims that the G400's performance is improved over the G500, and our measurements are in agreement. From power-on until the first image was captured took only 7/10 second, so responsive that it will likely be ready to shoot before you are; you'll rarely miss that unposed spontaneous photo opportunity. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, measured less than 1/10 second when pre-focused, a remarkable performance for a consumer digicam; shutter lag including auto focus was an equally impressive 4/10 second. In single shot mode I was able to capture images at a rate of 1 every 2.5 seconds. The G400 offers two modes of continuous shooting: Continuous and Super Continuous. In Super Continuous mode The G400 was able to capture 3 images in one second, a rate that rivals some digital SLR's; in this mode the LCD viewfinder goes dark during the image capture process, so you'll use the optical viewfinder to follow a moving subject. In Continuous mode, shots could be captured at one second intervals; the G400 briefly shows the last image captured on the LCD in this mode, again you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder if you are tracking a moving subject. The above times were measured using a SanDisk Ultra II 256mb SD memory card with no flash and Quick Review off, and include photographer response time and image capture; they are numbers that you can reproduce in real-world shooting conditions.
While beginners will enjoy the simplicity of shooting in Automatic exposure and Scene modes, intermediate users will appreciate the flexibility of Program, Aperture Priority and Manual modes. Standard settings are provided for White Balance, Exposure compensation and ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200 or 400). The aperture is only capable of two settings, fully open or fully closed, the actual aperture number being dependent on the lens' focal length. The shutter speeds are very flexible from 1/1000 sec all the way out to 15 seconds with many intermediate steps. The G400 offers an Auto exposure bracketing mode, but its usefulness is limited because the exposure steps are fixed at +/-.3EV. Your long exposures will benefit from automatic noise reduction that's applied to the image after capture.
Exposing the menu settings for the more advanced features, including Flash Brightness, Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness, Slow Shutter, and Color adjustments, takes a bit of work. First, you must activate Custom Functions on the Setup menu, then activate each of the settings you want to appear on the shooting menu. Having done that, you activate the shooting menu and make the changes you want. I'd hesitate to call the menu system "user friendly", and the pre-publication version of the manual I used wasn't of much help.
I was pleased with the G400's outdoor shooting results. The lens produced sharp results throughout its 34-101mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom range, with a moderate degree of barrel distortion at extreme wide-angle and a bit of barrel distortion at full telephoto. I also noticed some chromatic aberration (purple fringing in high-contrast areas) that was more evident at wide-angle than telephoto. Other than that, our outdoor test images were both well exposed and richly saturated.
Because of the limited flash range (7.5 feet) and 34mm wide angle focal length, you'll realize the best indoor results when shooting portraits of individuals and small groups; capturing an image of a large banquet room is beyond the G400's capability. You'll be able to include yourself in group portraits because the DiMAGE G400 is equipped with both a tripod socket and self-timer. The G400 has no focus-assist lamp, and its auto focus system suffers indoors as a result. You'll be happy with the G400's indoor exposures only if you work within its limited flash range, and have enough ambient light to operate the auto focus system. The G400 does offer manual focusing with preset distances of .8 meter, 1.2 meters and 2.5 meters that can be used when auto focus fails. Closeup macro shots with the flash were excellent as the camera "throttles down" the flash for nearly perfect exposures every time; the G400 would be a good choice for shooting close-up images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings, just make sure that there's enough ambient light for the auto focus system to operate.
When shooting movies be prepared to wait a few seconds as it processes and stores the short video clips. It records audio with the motion video and as is the case with most digicams with sound capability, you can't use the optical zoom once you start recording. You can preset it before you start however. The reason for this is simple, the zoom mechanism is noisy and would be easily picked up by the microphone. Movie clip capability is nice but it will never replace a dedicated camcorder in quality, recording length or ease of use.
The 3.7v 860mAh Lithium-Ion battery, although small, seems to hold up fairly well if you don't use the color LCD too much. I averaged about 125 shots before exhausting the battery's capacity, including a lot of time using the LCD to explore and test the G400's menu system. Because the battery is proprietary and there's no other way to power the camera, I suggest that you buy a spare one; batteries always die when you need them the most. One word of caution: the G400 has no latching mechanism to retain the battery when you open the battery/memory door, and the battery will likely fall out when you open it. The G400 supports both SD and Memory Stick media. Both can be installed concurrently, and a menu option is provided to assign recording priority to either card.
With its small, stylish body, 4-megapixel imager, impressive shooting performance, high-quality outdoor images, and street price of under $300, the Minolta DiMAGE G400 has a lot to recommend it. If you don't do a lot of indoor flash photography, the G400 would be a fine choice as a travel and outdoor camera. However if your family is like most, a camera will see most of its use for portraits indoors using flash; the limited flash range and poor auto focusing in dim light make the G400 a poor choice for this purpose.
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