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Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2

Konica Minolta updates their top-end electronic SLR with a higher resolution sensor, much-improved electronic viewfinder, a faster 3D autofocusing system, and high-speed USB 2.0 connectivity, among other improvements.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 07/13/2004

Executive Overview

The earlier Minolta DiMAGE 5, 7, 7i, 7Hi and A1 digicams have proved so successful among consumers, that the company apparently decided to keep a good thing going under their new Konica Minolta brand name. The new DiMAGE A2 offers most of the same exceptional features found on the previous models, with a few updates that further extend its capabilities. The A2 continues with the same sharp 7x optical zoom lens, and host of fine-grained user controls that contributed to the earlier models' popularity, but switches to a new 8.0-megapixel CCD, and adds a number of subtle but significant enhancements like a new (much) higher-resolution viewfinder, USB 2.0 connectivity, a depth-of-field preview function, and a faster 3D Autofocus system. There's also an improved movie mode that offers up to 544 x 408 pixels at 30 frames per second, a new Ultra-High-Speed Continuous Advance mode that captures VGA-resolution images at seven frames per second, and a new minimum ISO sensitivity rating of 64. Not all of the changes are upgrades though - a couple of points have been reverted to the DiMAGE 7Hi's specification, such as the 1/4,000 second fastest shutter speed (instead of 1/16,000 second on the DiMAGE A1), and the 12-bit A/D conversion (where the DiMAGE A1 was 14-bit). As with the DiMAGE A1, the DiMAGE A2 features extensive creative controls (including an option to use the Adobe RGB color space), sophisticated camera functions, and a user-friendly interface that make it appealing to advanced users, while its simple to use full "auto" mode lets you hand it to a novice with confidence. The camera's ergonomic design looks and feels a lot like a conventional 35mm SLR, with an elongated lens barrel and a lightweight magnesium alloy body with plastic outer panels hosting the numerous dials, switches, and buttons. Although the profusion of controls makes the camera appear complex, they're all logically arranged and actually fairly easy to learn. Konica Minolta has packed a lot of functions into a very workable layout, with a range of features normally found only on more expensive professional-level digital cameras.

A 2/3-inch interlaced primary-color CCD with 8.3 million pixels (8.0 million effective), provides a maximum resolution of 3,264 x 2,448 pixels, among the highest available in a consumer digital camera as of this writing in early May, 2004. The CCD's light sensitivity ranges from ISO 64 to 800, and may be automatically controlled by the camera or manually selected by the user. As with the A1, the DiMAGE A2's color space flexibility includes two sRGB options (Natural and Vivid color), in addition to standard and embedded-profile Adobe RGB options for professional use in a color-managed environment.

All that sensor resolution would be useless, however, if the lens couldn't resolve fine detail. The DiMAGE A2 appears to feature the same advanced apochromat 7x zoom GT Lens that was so impressive on previous models in the line. While this lens really stood alone in the earlier marketplace in which the A1 and other predecessors competed, other makers have now caught up with their optical designs, so the A2's lens is now less notable than it once was. (Still very good, it's just that the competition now equals or exceeds it in some respects.) Comprised of 16 glass elements in 13 groups, the GT lens has two anomalous dispersion (AD) and two aspheric glass elements for sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion and glare. The 7.2-50.8mm focal range (equivalent to a 28-200mm zoom in 35mm format) provides the flexibility for wide-angle interior and landscape shots, as well as close-up portraits and distant action in sports photography. The manual zoom ring is a pleasure to use, with a wide rubberized grip and smooth, mechanically-coupled lens action. A maximum aperture that ranges from f/2.8-f/3.5 (depending on the focal length setting) is fairly "fast," helpful for low-light and action photography. The Macro capability lets you capture subjects as close as 9.8 inches from the lens, which translates to a very small 1.5 x 2.0-inch minimum capture area. A host of focus controls provide a lot of flexibility, and on-demand manual focus lets you tweak the autofocus setting without switching from auto to manual focus mode.

Similarly to the A1, the DiMAGE A2 uses a conventional TFT LCD for its electronic viewfinder (EVF), rather than the unique reflective ferroelectric LCD that was used on the previous DiMAGE 5, 7, 7i and 7Hi models. Where the A1 had a viewfinder resolution of 235,000 dots (approximately 320 x 240 pixels with three dots per pixel - red, green and blue) though, the DiMAGE A2's new TFT LCD viewfinder has an astonishing resolution of 922,000 dots (640 x 480 pixels, each consisting of three dots). The additional resolution makes focusing manually a much easier task than with most EVF-based cameras, and the dramatically higher resolution just makes it a lot easier to see what's going on with your subject, but if you desire, you can trade off some of the increased resolution to improve another area some EVFs have an issue with - refresh rate. At its standard 640 x 480 pixel resolution, the DiMAGE A2's viewfinder offers some 30 frames per second - still as fast as most electronic viewfinders. At a resolution of 640 x 240 pixels, though, this doubles to an impressive 60 frames per second, for liquid-smooth panning - very useful when tracking fast-moving objects to frame the perfect shot. As with past Minolta SLR-style cameras, the DiMAGE A2's viewfinder does an excellent job in low light, and offers unique flexibility, with a variable position eyepiece that tilts up as much as 90 degrees. The camera's 1.8-inch LCD monitor also tilts downward about 20 degrees or upward 90 degrees, making it more convenient when shooting at high or low angles.

The DiMAGE A2's exposure system offers three metering options: 300-segment Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot. The default Multi-Segment option divides the image into 300 separate areas, placing emphasis on the main subject, but integrating luminance values, color, and autofocus information from across the image to accurately calculate exposure. Like similar AE metering systems on other cameras, the Center-Weighted and Spot metering options place most of the exposure emphasis either on the central portion of the frame, or on a small spot at the very center of the frame, respectively. Exposure modes include Auto, Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual, plus four Digital Subject Programs specifically set up for Portrait, Sports, Night Portrait, and Sunset exposures. These presets use not only aperture and shutter speed settings to best capture the subjects, but also Konica Minolta's exclusive CxProcess II image processing to optimize color balance and skin tones.

On top of all these features, the DiMAGE A2 also provides a Digital Effects Control that can be used to adjust Color Saturation, Contrast, and Filter (hue). The Digital Effects adjustments are particularly notable for their fine gradations and wide range, allowing you to customize the camera's color and tonal response to precisely match your personal preferences. A Color Mode option offers special color effects and a black and white shooting mode, which can be adjusted via the Filter Effects setting. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. A Digital Enhanced Bracketing option for taking three bracketed exposures of an image automatically, features two different values adjustable to either 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments. In addition to exposure, this feature can also bracket any of the Effects options, including contrast and saturation. A customizable AE Lock button can be set to lock only exposure, or both exposure and focus. White Balance is adjustable to one of six preset options (Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Shade, and Flash settings), along with Auto and Manual options. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, with a Bulb setting that permits manual control of exposures as long as 30 seconds. Maximum lens apertures are f/2.8 at the wide-angle end and f/3.5 at telephoto. A real-time histogram display mode helps verify exposure before capturing the image. (There's a histogram display option in Playback mode as well.)

Autofocus performance is a key area where the DiMAGE A2 shines. Autofocus is powered by a Large Scale Integration (LSI) chip that rapidly processes image data through a high-speed 32-bit RISC processor. - That's a lot of jargon that simply explains why the A2's AF system is noticeably faster than average among high-end "prosumer" digicams. The autofocus system can determine focus in one of three ways: Wide Focus Area averages readings from a large area across the middle of the frame (indicated on the LCD by a set of widely spaced brackets); Spot Focus Point reads information from the very center of the LCD (indicated by a target cross-hair), and Flex Focus Point lets you move a target cross-hair to virtually any position within the viewfinder, so you can focus on off-center subjects without having to aim, lock focus, and then recompose the shot.

The built-in, pop-up flash offers two methods of flash metering. Advanced Distance Integration (ADI) bases its exposure on the lens aperture, feedback from the autofocus system (how far the subject is from the camera), as well as on a separate metering flash. Pre-Flash TTL (through the lens) uses a small metering flash prior to the main exposure to gauge how much light is reflected by the scene. The DiMAGE A2 also includes a top-mounted hot shoe for attaching Konica Minolta external flash units (and any compatible third-party units). An external flash sync terminal offers a standard "PC" style sync jack for connecting to studio strobes or other external flash devices. Flash modes include Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Rear Flash Sync, with Flash Compensation available from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. A Wireless flash mode lets the camera work with certain Konica Minolta-brand wireless flash units. A manual flash mode fires the onboard flash at full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 or 1/16 power. Since manual flash mode doesn't use a pre-flash, it's perfect for driving studio strobes via conventional slave triggers.

Additional DiMAGE A2 features include a Movie (with sound) mode with Night exposure option; Voice Memo mode; Standard, High Speed and Ultra-High Speed Continuous Advance modes; 2x Digital Zoom; Interval Recording of two to 240 frames in 30-second to 60-minute intervals; two- or 10-second Self-Timer; and three Sharpness settings. Five image quality levels include RAW and TIFF uncompressed files, and a choice of Extra Fine, Fine, or Standard JPEG compression settings. New to the DiMAGE A2 is a feature allowing both RAW and JPEG files to be recorded simultaneously for each image captured. Buffer memory permits up to 3 images maximum JPEG quality or RAW format images to be recorded quite quickly, but the RAW+JPEG option is unbuffered. Resolution options for still images include 3,264 x 2,448; 3,264 x 2,176; 2,560 x 1,920; 2,080 x 1,560; 1,600 x 1,200; and 640 x 480 pixels. Movie resolution options include 544 x 408, and 320 x 240 pixels, with frame rates of either 15 or 30 frames per second available at both resolutions, and recording times of up to 15 minutes per video segment possible, depending on resolution, frame rate, and memory card speed.

Not to be outdone on the output phase of digital imaging, Konica Minolta has incorporated Epson's PRINT Image Matching II technology, which ensures that DiMAGE A2 images captured in autoexposure mode and output on compatible Epson printers will be automatically color balanced to provide true-to-life hues and saturation. Newly added support for PictBridge technology allows the DiMAGE A2 to be connected directly to a wide range of PictBridge-compatible printers from a variety of manufacturers, allowing prints to be made without the need for a computer.

Powered by one NP-400 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (an optional AC power adapter is available), as well as an accessory hand grip that lets you power the camera from either six AA cells or two NP-400 packs, the DiMAGE A2 represents an amazingly versatile package for the serious amateur or prosumer photographer, and Konica Minolta's optional dual-head macro flash unit makes for one of the most capable solutions on the market for super-macro shooting. (I can imagine a lot of medical or scientific applications for the A2's combination of 8 megapixel resolution and exceptional macro capability.) USB and A/V cables also accompany the camera, for connection to a computer or television set. A selection of software including DiMAGE Viewer v2.3.2 for both Macintosh and Windows-based computers, and Ulead VideoStudio 7 SE VCD for Windows-based computers is provided by Minolta.

 

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