Digital Cameras - Minolta Dimage EX 1500 Zoom Test Images
While not part of our standard test suite (for obvious reasons), we wanted to show the capability of the Digita scripting environment. Click here to see a sample of "Digita Theater," created entirely in the camera! (~500K to load before display).
Outdoor portrait: (1,416k!) (See below for smaller images) The Dimage EX 1500 handled the high contrast of this scene very well, producing an image with good tonal balance and contrast, holding detail in the model's shirt quite well, yet not plugging the shadows too badly. Unfortunately, we have to attach the disclaimer that the lighting on this shot wasn't 100% comparable to that when we shot it with other cameras: We had the EX 1500 for a relatively short time, and had unusually bad luck with the weather. We had a single "window" of sunshine at the right time of day, and just missed getting the shots off that we needed. Waiting impatiently for the sun to get to the right angle, we found ourselves in a race with a rapidly-approaching cloud front, the first wisps of which were drifting across the sun by the time these shots were taken. The result was that the lighting here isn't quite as contrasty as is usually the case, although for this shot, it wasn't too far off. (We hope to re-shoot these images at some point, to more exactly match our standard conditions.)
One thing we noted immediately in this shot was how effective the 1500's 25-segment matrix metering was: Normally, we need to shoot this scene with a fair bit of exposure compensation dialed-in to handle the overall high-key lighting. By contrast, the EX 1500 nailed it pretty well with no adjustment. The main shot here (1,416k!) was taken with no compensation. For comparison, here's a version shot with +2/3 EV compensation added (1,382k!). You could argue for either, probably the ideal would be +1/3 EV, but the default exposure is very good. The bright colors of the flowers came out very accurately, neither too bright nor to dull. Flesh tones are excellent also.
The EX 1500 produces such large images in its highest-quality mode, and our shooting time was so constrained, we're including the following images, which were re-saved in Photoshop, at a greater compression level. These will let you evaluate the color rendition, without waiting 20 minutes for the download on a slow modem! NOTE though, that these images will show JPEG artifacts which aren't the fault of the camera! All that said, here's the main photo (284K), and the lighter version from above (296K).
|Closer portrait: (1,408k!) Again, an excellent performance. Detail in the model's hair is exceptional, and the very low compression setting makes for no detectable JPEG artifacts. Again too, skin tone is excellent. As with the standard outdoor portrait shot, we snapped the main picture here (1,408k!) with no exposure adjustment, and also took this one with a setting of +2/3 EV (422K). (The lighter image was shot in "fine" mode, and so is considerably smaller.) Again, the absolute ideal is probably midway between, although the default setting here produced a somewhat darker image than in the wider shot above. Overall though, the EX 1500's metering seemed to be unusually accurate. (The clouds had moved in more by the time this shot was taken, making the lighting a good bit "softer" than normal, though. -- We'll re-shoot this one too, when we get the camera back again.)|
|Indoor portrait, flash: (1,419k!) The normal flash setting produced this shot (1,419k!), with excellent color, and the 1500's trademark sharpness. Color balance was quite good, but perhaps primarily due to the strength of the flash illumination, which strongly dominated that from the room. Here's a shot taken in "fine" mode (481k), for a quicker download. We tried the "slow sync" mode for the flash, which would let the ambient light have a much greater effect. The result was this image (457k - also taken in fine mode), which indeed shows much more effect from the incandescent room lighting, but as a result, is extremely yellow. This would likely work better in a dimly-lit outdoor setting, under more daylight-balanced conditions, but you'll need to jerry-rig some sort of filter arrangement for this to work under incandescent lighting as here. (We say "jerry-rig" the filter, because the telescoping EX 1500 lens has no filter threads on it.)|
|Indoor portrait, no flash: (1,381k!) The EX 1500's white balance capabilities seemed a bit limited, as evidenced in these pictures. With the white balance set to "auto," the results were quite dark and reddish-yellow, as shown here (1,424k!). Here's a version taken with the camera set to the "Fine" compression mode (474k), rather than the "Super Fine" mode used in the first image. For some reason, the "Fine" image is slightly but perceptibly lighter. The "incandescent" white balance setting produced this image (1,413k!) and this fine-mode one (478k), which is a bit less red, but still highly colored. Boosting the exposure compensation a full f-stop (EV value) resulted in this image (1,381k!) (our main shot for this category) and this fine-mode one (452k), which had better tonal balance, but was still rather yellow.|
House shot: (2,181k!) Our standard House poster reveals the extraordinary
resolution and detail rendition the Dimage EX 1500 Zoom is capable of:
The main shot here (2,181k!)
was taken in the "Landscape" mode we mentioned earlier, and
the resulting resolution is really exceptional (an adjective we seem to
be using quite a bit with the 1500). We really went a bit overboard with
this image, exercising the various camera resolution and image quality
modes, as well as the "Landscape" mode, and white balance settings.
The result are the three tables of links below, showing in turn, the camera's
default shooting mode, with auto white balance selected; the camera's
default shooting mode with daylight white balance selected; and the camera's
"landscape" shooting mode, with automatic white balance selected.
(Great fun for readers with T1 lines! ;-)
Daylight White Balance
"Landscape" Mode, Auto White Balance
Far-Field shot: (1,818k!) This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles, and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.
As we mentioned in the review itself, the EX 1500 captured exceptional detail in this image, exceeding the performance we would have expected based strictly on the results of the resolution target test. Detail in the small branches and pine boughs is exceptional, as is that in the brickwork. Maximum sharpness is at the center of the image, with the lens showing some softness at the edges though, particularly on the right-hand side of the image. For reference, we ran a series of shots here, exercising all four compression levels for the camera's large image size, as well as the highest quality mode for the small image size. The links are in the table below:
We also took advantage of this shot to test the camera in its "Landscape" shooting mode, which applies a sharpening operator to the picture, while still in the camera. We found the result quite pleasing, and in fact used one of these versions for our main shot above (1,818k). Most cameras tend to "over-sharpen" images when they attempt this sort of operation, producing "halos" around contrasting objects, and bringing a heaviness to the fine detail. In contrast, the EX 1500 handles this exactly right: The sharpening applied in the "Landscape" mode produces only a distinct enhancement of fine detail, with no hint of halos or heaviness. Very impressive, to the point that we'd recommend shooting with the camera in this mode most of the time! For comparison, we ran a resolution/compression series in Landscape mode, to match those we did above in the camera's default mode.
Default scene setting
"Landscape" scene setting
"Musicians" poster: (1,658k!) Again, wonderful detail and resolution, and excellent, natural color. The main shot (1,658k!) here was taken with the white balance set to "auto", while this one (1,657k!) was shot with white balance set to "daylight." There actually is very little difference between the two, although to our eyes, the "daylight" version is a bit more natural, with a slightly cooler tone. We also tried the EX 1500's "portrait" mode on this target, producing this result (1,650k!). Unlike the "landscape" operating mode, we were unable to see any clear differences between images captured in the camera's default mode and those taken with "portrait" mode enabled. (There's supposed to be some in-camera softening of detail, but we frankly couldn't see it.)
We went hog-wild with this shot also, taking full image size/quality
sequences for auto white balance, daylight white balance, and the full
range of compression settings for the large image size in "portrait"
mode, as shown in the tables below.
Daylight White Balance
"Portrait" Mode, Auto White Balance
Macro shot: (1,625k!) The macro capability of the Dimage EX 1500 Zoom is extremely good, although at first contact, we thought it was only moderately so: The documentation that came with the unit we tested indicated that the minimum focusing distance in Macro mode was a less-than-stunning 14.6 inches (35.8 cm), resulting in this shot (640k), covering an area of 3.3 x 4.4 inches (8.3 x 11.1 mm). After we'd taken our first round of shots though, we discovered while just playing around with the camera that it would actually focus quite a bit closer. We went back to the copy stand to see just how close we could get, and discovered that the actual minimum focusing distance was more like 5.5 inches (14.0 cm)! This produced the truly dramatic macro performance shown in this image (617k) (taken in large/fine mode, in an effort to ease download times relative to those of large/super images). At the 5.5 inch minimum distance, the telephoto lens combined with the very high native resolution to produce really exceptional macro pictures, covering a minimum area of only 1.33 x 1.78 inches (34 x 45 mm) with very high detail.
We experimented a bit with the onboard flash in macro mode, and found that at closest approach, it did in fact wash out the shot fairly badly, as shown here (541k). (No surprise, considering how close we were.) We'd just bought some neutral-density "gel" material at our local pro camera store, and so tried using it to reduce the strobe's light output. This picture (623k) shows the results with a 3-stop (ND 0.9) gel filter over the flash, producing good exposure, but some glare off the brooch. We tried adding a strong diffusion gel to the flash as well, and got this shot (575k), which is more evenly lit, but rather dark. We suspect that a 2-stop ND gel plus the diffusion filter would have been just right. (The conclusion from this experiment is that ND and diffusion "gels" will let you get right on top of a macro subject, while maintaining excellent exposure.)
"Davebox" test target: (1,383k!)
Color accuracy and tonal gradation at the highlight end of the scale was
exceptional in the "Davebox" test: The highly-saturated colors
of both the MacBeth (tm) and Q60 targets show great purity, accuracy,
and saturation. At the same time, the delicate pastels in rows A, B, and
C of the Q60 target are handled very well, too. On monitors with a low
"gamma" setting though, you'll see a fair bit of noise in the
deepest shadows. In looking at these images, we decided belatedly that
we should have experimented with exposure compensation a bit to boost
the brightness, but by the time we arrived at that realization, the camera
was on its way back to Minolta, to meet a deadline for a print-based publication's
review. As mentioned above, we hope to get a unit back again before too
long, so we can re-shoot the outdoor portrait images. When we do, we'll
do another round of the Davebox images as well. As with many of our shots,
we ran a full set of image size/quality variations, shown in the table
One of the shooting modes for the camera is a "night exposure" mode, which is supposed to reduce sensor noise in low-illumination conditions. We tried that mode here, with the results shown in the table below. Overall, this produced a slight decrease in noise, but also a somewhat darker image overall. We'll repeat this test when we do the re-shoot as well...
"Low Light" noise-reduction
ISO 12233 ("WG-18") resolution target: (1,413k!) (Technoids only) Visual resolution of ~600-650 line pairs per picture height horizontally and 550-600 vertically is very good. Resolution seemed slightly higher with the lens at the wide-angle end of its range, as in this shot (1,413k!), than with the lens at the telephoto end, as here (1,371k!). It was difficult to "call" the exact resolution figure though, due to the level of "aliasing" we found in the images. (See the next paragraph.) The EX 1500's resolution wasn't the highest we've measured on an objective basis (although not missing by much), but its performance in the outdoor far-field shot was exceptionally good, at the very top of the field. Overall, we were a bit puzzled, in that the EX 1500 seemed to do better with natural subjects than its performance on the studio-based resolution test would normally have indicated.
A clue to the unusual sharpness of the EX 1500 Zoom might be found in the slightly greater degree of color aliasing we observed in the images of the resolution target: Some manufacturers deliberately "blur" the images in their cameras slightly, to avoid color aliasing in areas of high contrast. (More technically, they apply "optical low-pass filtering" to their optical systems.) It may be that Minolta has chosen to go with a sharper optical system, accepting the tradeoff of occasional aliasing with regularly-spaced high-contrast subject detail.
We again ran a full range of tests on this target, running through all
image quality settings for both large and small image sizes, at both telephoto
and wide-angle lens settings.
Viewfinder accuracy/flash uniformity target: Due to the critical framing of our studio shots, we're always happy when we find a camera with an accurate LCD viewfinder, and the EX 1500 was a big hit in this department: Its LCD viewfinder appears to show exactly 100% of the final image area when framing the shots. (We attribute any inaccuracy in the viewfinder alignment shots taken with the LCD to the limits of our ability to identify the exact edges of our target's "hot" area. By contrast though, the optical viewfinder was rather "loose," showing only 77% of the final image area in telephoto mode, and 76% in wide-angle mode.
Flash uniformity was good in wide-angle mode,
with a little light falloff in the corners, and excellent in telephoto
mode. There was a slight amount of barrel distortion in wide-angle
mode, but none at all at the telephoto end of the range.
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