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Minolta Dimage 5

The "little brother" to the Dimage 7 - same great features, but 3.3 megapixels and a (much) lower price...

Review First Posted: 9/14/2001



Click to Buy Now at State Street Direct!
MSRP $999 US

 

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3.34-megapixel CCD delivers uninterpolated images up to 2,056 x 1,544 pixels
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Tack sharp 7x optical zoom lens covers a 35-250mm equivalent focus range
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Ferroelectric LCD technology gives sharp electronic viewfinder image that is visible even at low light levels
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12-bit A/D conversion provides excellent tonal range
 


Manufacturer Overview
Minolta Corporation is a traditional camera manufacturer of long experience, making a slow but calculated entry into the digital marketplace. Like its popular line of 35mm SLRs, the Maxxum Series, Minolta's Dimage Digital Cameras are developing a reputation for innovative technology in light metering, exposure control, and compact autofocus lens design. In 1996, Minolta introduced the Dimage V, the first digital camera with a detachable lens that enabled users to preview pictures with the camera body in one hand, while holding the lens at a distance in the other. Eventually Minolta developed the EX1500, a modular digital camera used as the framework for an amazingly effective 3D capture system, developed in partnership with the software firm MetaCreations (renamed Viewpoint Corporation in Fall 2000). In addition to conventional and digital cameras, Minolta manufactures high-quality light meters, spectrophotometers, colorimeters, and an award-winning line of film scanners, including the Dimage Scan Elite, Scan Dual II, and Scan Multi II.

Spring 2001 marked the introduction of three new Dimage digicam models -- each representing a separate price point to appeal to different segments of the digital market. The Dimage 7 is designed to appeal to serious photographers who want high resolution (5.24 megapixels), a long-range wide-angle-to-telephoto zoom lens (equivalent to 28-200mm), and a sophisticated user interface with extensive creative controls. The Dimage 5, reviewed here, is the middle-range model, with the same sophisticated controls, but a smaller 3.34-megapixel CCD and an expanded 35-250mm equivalent lens (due to the smaller CCD). Finally, the compact, autofocus Dimage S304, targeted for the amateur market, which shares the same microprocessor and most of the same technology, but with a 3.34-megapixel lens and 7x zoom lens equivalent to a 35-140mm on a 35mm camera. All three models are scheduled for release in the summer.


Highlights


Differences from the Dimage 7
If you've read our review of the Dimage 7, you already know most everything there is to know about the Dimage 5. (So you can just skip directly to our test results.) Here's the sum total of differences between the Dimage 5 and its big brother, the Dimage 7:


Executive Overview
One of three new models scheduled for release in Summer 2001, the Dimage 5 Digital Camera is a ground-breaking product for Minolta Corporation -- integrating many of the outstanding features from Minolta's line of 35mm SLR film cameras with a high-quality 3.34-megapixel CCD, ultra-sharp 7x optical zoom lens, and advanced digital technology never before seen in a consumer class digital camera. Given the virtually identical lens, body, electronics, and feature set, it's no surprise that the Dimage 5 performed very similarly to the Dimage 7. This camera looks and feels much like a conventional 35mm SLR, with an elongated lens barrel and a lightweight magnesium alloy body that makes room for a wide variety of dials, switches, and buttons. Though camera operation appears complicated, it is logical and relatively easy to learn. Minolta has packed a lot of functions into a very workable layout, and a range of features typically found on very expensive pro-digital cameras.

The Dimage 5 is nearly identical to its companion model, the Dimage 7, except for a smaller 1/1.8-inch interline-transfer CCD, which is made up of 3.34 million pixels (compared to the D7's 5.24 megapixels). Based on 3.17 million effective pixels, the Dimage 5 provides a maximum resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels in still photography mode and 320 x 240 pixels in movie mode. The 12-bit A/D conversion provides a wide dynamic range (detailed highlights and shadows) and fine tonal gradation, with more colors per RGB channel than conventional 10-bit processors. The CCD's light sensitivity ranges from 100 to 200, 400, and 800 ISO equivalencies, although we found the image noise at ISO 800 too high for the images to be useful, at least to our tastes. An Auto mode lets the camera vary the ISO depending on the light level.

The Dimage 5 also features an advanced apochromat 7x zoom GT Lens, based on the same technology used in Minolta's popular Maxxum series SLR lenses. Comprised of 16 glass elements in 13 groups, the GT lens has two anomalous dispersion (AD) and two aspherical glass elements for sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion and glare. The 7.2-50.8mm focal range is equivalent to a 35-250mm zoom in 35mm format, and provides maximum flexibility, although not the extreme wide-angle of the Dimage 7 for interior and landscape shots. On the other hand, the longer telephoto range would be great for sports or nature photography. The manual zoom ring is a real pleasure to use, reminiscent of interchangeable zoom lenses on our 35mm film cameras, with a wide rubberized grip and smooth transitions between focal lengths. The Super Macro capability enables photographers to capture subjects as close as 5 inches from the lens.

One of the most impressive features, however, is the Digital Hyper Viewfinder. While technically an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) -- a miniature version of the larger rear LCD display (complete with information overlays) -- this viewfinder incorporates a sophisticated "reflective ferroelectric" LCD design, with a stated visual resolution of almost 220,000 pixels. We were amazed by the display quality, much better than we're accustomed to seeing in EVFs, with a very smooth, sharp, and clear image, even in low light, where most EVFs fail miserably. The Dimage 5 & 7's EVF is still short of perfect, but we regard it as a significant step up from most any other EVF we've worked with. (See our more detailed comments in the Viewfinder section below.) In addition to better quality, the Digital Hyper Viewfinder offers unique flexibility, with a variable position viewfinder that can be tilted up as much as 90 degrees for comfort in low-angle shooting.

As did the Dimage 7, the Dimage 5 excels in the exposure-control department, we likened it to walking into a candy shop, you don't know which bin to dive into first! The autoexposure modes offer three metering options: multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot. The multi-segment metering divides the image into 256 segments, placing emphasis on the main subject, luminance values, color, and autofocus information to accurately calculate exposure. Like other AE metering systems, the center-weighted and spot metering options reduce the emphasis to a large area in the center of the frame, or a specific spot within the frame, respectively. Exposure modes include Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual, plus five Digital Subject Programs specifically set up for Portraits, Sports Action, Night Portrait, Sunset, and Text exposures. These presets use not only aperture and shutter speed settings to best capture the subjects, but also Minolta's exclusive CxProcess image processing to optimize color balance and skin tones.

On top of all these features, the Dimage 5 also provides a Digital Effects Control that can be used to adjust Exposure Compensation (-2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments) as well as Color Saturation and Contrast, within a seven-step range of values. The Record menu features a separate Digital Enhanced Bracketing option for exposure, color, or contrast, taking three bracketed exposures of an image, with three different values adjustable from one-third, to one-half, to full-stop increments. A customizable AE / AF Lock button can be set to lock only autofocus, autoexposure, or both. White Balance is adjustable to one of four preset options (Daylight, Tungsten, Cloudy, and Fluorescent), along with an Auto and Manual option. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 4 seconds, with a Bulb setting that takes exposures up to 30 seconds long. Maximum lens apertures are f/2.8 at the wide-angle end and f/3.5 at telephoto. After you've recorded an image, you can check the results of all your "tweaking" in the form of a histogram, displayed in the camera's Playback mode.

The Dimage 5's Autofocus is powered by a Large Scale Integration (LSI) chip that rapidly processes image data through a high-speed 32-bit RISC processor. The autofocus information is measured in one three ways: Wide Focus Area averages readings from a large portion of the image center (indicated on the LCD by wide brackets); Spot Focus Point reads information from the very center of the LCD (indicated by a target cross-hair), and Flex Focus Point allows you to move the target crosshair to any position within the viewfinder, so you can focus on off-center subjects without having to lock and recompose the shot.

The built-in, pop-up flash offers two methods of flash metering: Advanced Distance Integration (ADI), which bases its exposure on the lens aperture and feedback from the autofocus system (how far the subject is from the camera), and Pre-Flash TTL (through the lens), which uses a small metering flash before the main exposure to gauge how much light is reflected by the scene. The Dimage 5 also includes a top-mounted hot shoe for attaching Minolta external flash units (and possibly compatible third-party units). Flash modes include Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Rear Flash Sync, with Flash Compensation available from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments.

Additional Dimage 5 features include a Movie mode, Continuous Shooting, 2x Digital Zoom, a Memory feature for saving settings, Interval Recording of 2 to 99 frames in 1- to 60-minute intervals, 10-second Self-Timer, Black-and-White mode, three Sharpness settings, and five image compression levels: RAW files, Super Fine, Fine, Standard, and Economy compression settings. Resolution options for still images include 2,056 x 1,544, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480 pixels. Movie resolution is 320 x 240 pixels.

Not to be outdone on the input phase of digital imaging, Minolta has incorporated Epson's new PRINT Image Matching technology, which ensures that all Dimage 5 files output on compatible Epson printers will be automatically color balanced to provide true-to-life hues and saturation.

Powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries (an optional AC power adapter is available), the Dimage 5 delivers an amazingly versatile package for the serious amateur or prosumer photographer. It's not a perfect product by any means, but it offers an exceptional array of features and capabilities, including one of the best fixed-mount lenses we've yet seen on a digicam.


Design
The Dimage 5 is similar to traditional 35mm SLR design, but with a slightly "T" shaped body, due to an elongated lens barrel on the left side of the camera that extends behind and in front of the body and hand grip on the right. The camera is not very compact, measuring 4.6 x 3.6 x 4.5 inches (116.5 x 690.5 x 112.5mm) with the lens at its shortest position, but its magnesium alloy body is surprisingly lightweight for its size (approximately 17 ounces / 505 grams without the batteries or CompactFlash card. An accessory camera bag would certainly be the preferred method of carrying and storing the Dimage 5, accessorized with the supplied neck strap for when you want to keep it out in the open for quick shooting.

 

 

The camera's front panel houses the Minolta GT 7x Zoom lens, Self-Timer light, and the front of the pop-up flash compartment. Encircling the lens are two adjustment rings: a rubberized optical zoom grip on the front end, and a notched Manual Focus ring at the base of the lens. A set of 49mm filter threads on the inside lip of the zoom lens accommodates filters and conversion kit accessories. A second set of filter threads, on the outside edge of the lens, accommodates the accessory lens hood. Also visible from the front of the camera are the Shutter button and Selector Wheel, located at the top of the hand grip. Two vertical, raised ridges on the front of the hand grip give fingers a place to grasp as they curl around the grip.

 

 

The right side of the camera holds the CompactFlash memory card slot, covered by a hinged plastic door. A diagram on the inside of the compartment door illustrates the proper method of inserting the memory card, and a small black latch on the right is used to eject the card from the camera (the latch must be pulled up from the bottom into a vertical position to eject the card). Next to the eject button is a USB jack for direct connection to the computer. On the outside of the CompactFlash compartment is a tiny red light (near the top left corner of the compartment door), which indicates when the camera is accessing the memory card. (Do not open the compartment door when the light is on.) At the top of the right panel is one of the two neck strap attachment eyelets.

 

 

The left side of the camera features a host of camera controls, including the Function dial, Effects dial, Auto / Manual Focus button, and Macro button (on the side of the lens). The Function dial, located at the top of the panel, controls the image Size and Quality, Exposure mode, Drive mode (Self-Timer, Continuous Shooting, etc.), White Balance, and ISO. The Effects button allows users to adjust Contrast, Exposure Compensation, and Color Saturation. The Focus button simply switches between Auto and Manual focus modes. A Macro switch on the lens barrel can only be engaged when the lens is in full telephoto position. The second neck strap attachment eyelet is at the top, next to the Function dial. Also visible on this side, on the very tip of the electronic viewfinder eyepiece, is the Diopter adjustment dial, which adjusts the viewfinder display to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

 

 

The top panel accommodates the pop-up flash compartment, with two small tabs on either side to open the flash, and an external flash hot shoe on top, which is protected by a sliding plastic cover that is completely removable from the camera body. The hot shoe features a custom electrode setup for Minolta accessory flash units. In addition, there are a number of controls that access various camera functions, including: the Mode Dial / Main Power switch, with Recording, Playback, and Movie modes, plus Setup and Data-Transfer settings; a Shutter button, a Setting Selector Wheel, and a small Data Panel display that shows battery status, camera settings, and the number of images remaining. Finally, there is a Subject Program button (directly adjacent to the Data panel) that allows you to choose from one of five specialized shooting presets: Portrait, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, and Text.

 

 

The remaining controls are on the camera’s back panel, along with the electronic viewfinder eyepiece, LCD monitor, and battery compartment. We were particularly impressed with the Dimage 5’s electronic viewfinder (EVF), which features a reflective, ferroelectric display that translates into a very clear and bright viewfinder display. The viewfinder tilts upward about 90 degrees, offering more flexible viewing angles. When the camera is set to the Auto Display mode, an infrared sensor on the right side of the viewfinder eyepiece senses when your eye is near the viewfinder and automatically activates the EVF display. Control buttons on the back panel include the Display Mode switch (near the viewfinder eyepiece), which allows you to choose between EVF and LCD display, or Auto switching between the two; an Information (i+) button in the center of the Display mode switch, used for changing information overlays and alternating between full-image and index displays in Playback mode; a Menu button, a Five-Way controller for scrolling through and selecting menu options, a Quick View / Delete button; a Digital Zoom button near the bottom of the back panel; and an AE / AF Lock button located just below the Mode Dial in the upper right corner. Along the bottom edge are two compartments covered by flexible plastic flaps that fit snugly into place: On the left are the DC In and Video Out jacks, and on the right is the Remote control connector jack. The Remote control jack presumably works with a wired remote unit, available as a separate accessory. We would also like to commend Minolta for including the back panel access to the battery compartment, which allows you to change batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod (many digicams put this on the bottom panel, too close to the tripod mount).

 

 

Despite the slight curve of the battery compartment beneath the lens, the camera’s bottom panel is fairly flat. A metal, threaded tripod mount is located in the front center of the bottom panel.


Viewfinder
The viewfinder is one of the most interesting aspects of the Dimage 5. It employs a "Digital Hyper Viewfinder" as well as an LCD monitor for composing shots. The Digital Hyper Viewfinder display would generically be called an "Electronic Viewfinder" (EVF), and is essentially a miniaturized version of the LCD monitor, complete with image information display.

We confess that we've never been big fans of EVFs, for a variety of reasons. For one, resolution is often considerably less than the rear-panel LCD, and it doesn't remotely compare to the view through a purely optical viewfinder. A bigger concern though, is that most EVF displays are woefully inadequate for low-light shooting. The high refresh rate required to provide a "live" view of the subject means that the CCD just can't capture enough light in each frame to make the EVF display usable. Time and again, we've seen EVF-equipped digicams that are capable of taking pictures in conditions far darker than those that can be viewed in the EVF itself. Without a low-light capable viewfinder, you're reduced to guessing where your subject is in the viewfinder.

The EVF on the Dimage 5 works down to incredibly low light levels, and has remarkably high resolution under normal lighting. The spec sheet indicates that the EVF uses a reflective ferroelectric LCD display, with a visual resolution equivalent to 220,000 pixels. We're not sure how the "equivalent" resolution is computed, but there's no question that it's razor sharp. The ferroelectric technology is also a new one on us, but apparently has been around since the 1980s. We don't pretend to understand how it works, but the bottom line appears to be that ferroelectric LCDs not only switch states faster (potentially providing faster refresh rates), but they are also somehow able to represent a full range of color at every pixel, compared to the purely red, green, or blue coloration available with conventional LCDs. This was evident in looking at the Dimage's EVF display, which appeared remarkably smooth, with none of the red / green / blue pointillist appearance of conventional micro displays. Whatever the technology, the Dimage 5's EVF is unusually clear and sharp, and is also dramatically more light-sensitive than conventional designs we've seen.

Another neat feature of the Digital Hyper Viewfinder is its auto-switching capability. On the right side of the eyepiece, there are infrared sensors inset behind a pair of vertical windows. (You can see the windows slot to the right of the objective in the viewfinder eyepiece photo above.) By placing the Display Mode control in the "A" position (see photo inset right), the IR sensors detect your eye as it approaches the viewfinder, automatically turn off the rear panel LCD, and activate the EVF. If you bring the camera back down again, the process is reversed, and the LCD panel comes back on. Very handy! (There are also settings for activating the EVF or LCD only.)

For added convenience, the EVF eyepiece tilts upward 90 degrees, offering a range of viewing angles. A Diopter Control sliding switch adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers, in arbitrary units from -5 to +0.5. (This covers a wider range of eyesight than we're accustomed to seeing in eyepiece adjustments. It handled our 20:200 vision with no trouble at all.)

We did find a couple of quibbles with the EVF though, and some users have complained about its characteristics quite a bit. Here's what the issues appear to be. (Both from our own observations of the Dimage 5 and 7, and reports from Dimage 7 users.):

  1. Eyepiece optics. - Several users have written to complain of blurriness in the viewfinder, which seemed strange to us and prompted us to take a closer look. We're not sure how to characterize it, but it did seem that we sometimes got a slightly blurry view in the eyepiece. We think this might be a "curvature of field" problem, where not all of the field of view is sharply focused at the same time. We confess that we couldn't get a consistent "look" though, as sometimes everything seemed perfectly sharp, while at other times, there was a distinct blurring around the edges. (All this with no change to the diopter adjustment.) It might have something to do with eye position, but we never did nail it down. 90+% of the time, everything looked OK, and those times it didn't, it seemed like a little fidgeting and squinting ended up with it looking right again. A bit of a mystery, but we do see what some users were referring to.

  2. The "cracked glass" effect. This is evidently a consequence of the ferroelectric LCD's square, firmly abutting pixels: If you have a subject in view with lots of very fine, sharply-contrasting detail, the viewfinder image gets a "crackled" look to it. It seems that these artifacts result from the fact that, while the square, smoothly tiled LCD pixels give a very smooth appearance, the image can change very abruptly from one to the next. On a conventional LCD, with the R, G, and B pixels spread across a bit of an area, your eye tends to smooth over inter-pixel transitions. With the ferroelectric LCD though, adjacent pixels can change brightness very abruptly, causing this "crackled" pattern.

  3. Blown highlights. - In extended use, the biggest complaint we personally had about the EVF was that it was very hard to judge what was going on in the highlights. In landscape shots where we cared about cloud detail for instance, it was very hard to compose the sky portion of the image, because the bright areas tended to wash out to a featureless expanse of white. This is somewhat due to the tendency of the camera itself to drop highlight detail, but we lay some of the blame on the EVF system for it.

Overall, after living with it a bit more in the production unit of the Dimage 7 we had for an extended test, we still like the Dimage 5 & 7's EVF better than others we've tried, but are still of the opinion that optical viewfinders are to be preferred if they're available. (As we see more long-ratio zoom lenses on digicams though, expect to see more and more EVFs along with them. - It's just too difficult to create a 10x zoom ratio optical viewfinder that's lightweight, accurate, and affordable.) We think the bottom line on the Dimage 5/7's EVF will be a matter of personal preference: It's hard to hear ourselves saying this (being committed internet denizens), but prospective purchasers should probably make an effort to get a hands-on look at the camera and play with the EVF, before making a purchase decision.

The 1.8-inch, TFT color LCD monitor is comprised of about 122,000 pixels, and offers a very bright, clear image display. Like the electronic viewfinder, the LCD monitor displays a range of exposure and camera information in both Record and Playback modes, which is activated by the i+ button on the Display Mode dial. While shooting with the Dimage 5 outdoors, we observed that the LCD seemed to be much less prone to washing out in direct sunlight than the LCD's we've tested on most other cameras.

In Playback mode, the Dimage 5 displays a fair amount of image information, which is again controlled by the i+ button on the Display Mode dial. A histogram feature is also available, for checking on the tonal range of the captured image.

Recorded images can also be viewed in Record mode by pressing the Quick View (QV / Delete) button, located directly beneath the Five-Way Controller. Once in Quick View mode, you can access all of the same functions as you can in Playback mode.


Optics
The Dimage 5 is equipped with a 7.2-50.8mm, aspherical glass lens, the equivalent of a 35-250mm lens on a 35mm camera. Although they have the same lens, the range is slightly longer than on the Dimage 7 (28-200mm) because of the smaller chip size on the Dimage 5. Unlike most digicams we've worked with, the lens zoom operates by rotating a collar around the lens barrel, which is coupled mechanically to the lens elements themselves. We like the sure, precise control this gives, as opposed to the rocker switch-controlled motor that most digital cameras use to rack the lens in or out. It definitely requires two hands, but the direct manual control will feel great to photographers accustomed to film-based SLRs.

The lens is made up of 16 elements in 13 groups, including two AD glass elements and two aspherical surfaces. Aperture is manually or automatically controlled, with a maximum setting of f/2.8 at wide angle and f/3.5 at telephoto. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity in normal mode. Activated by a small switch on the lens barrel, a macro focusing mode allows you to focus on objects 5-19 inches (13-48cm) from the lens surface. A mechanical interlock prevents the Macro mode switch from being thrown unless the camera is at maximum telephoto. The minimum macro area covered at the closest focus distance is a fairly small 1.93 x 1.44 inches (48.9 x 36.7 mm). A plastic lens cap with spring-loaded catches hooks onto the inside lip of the lens, protecting it from dirt and scratches. The lens cap does not have an eyelet for attaching a strap, so you'll want to take extra precautions not to lose it.

The Dimage 5 provides both manual and automatic focus control. The camera's specification sheet describes the autofocus system as a "Video AF system." While we're not familiar with that terminology, conversations with Minolta engineers at PMA revealed that the Dimage 5 uses a phase-detection focusing technology rather than the much more common contrast-detection system. The advantage of the more complex phase-detect approach is that the camera not only determines whether or not the lens is in focus, but also how far out of focus it is, and in which direction (near or far). With this information, the camera can focus much more quickly, since it "knows" roughly how much, and in which direction, to adjust the focus, rather than having to "hunt" for the best focus at the outset. The AF system will still have to do some hunting for the best setting, but it should spend less time doing so than a contrast-based system.

In practice, we've found that Minolta's autofocus technology is neither more nor less effective than the schemes used on other cameras, but is definitely different in what it'll focus on and what will give it problems. We've seen the Minolta cameras sometimes have trouble focusing even when the subject contained sharply contrasting detail, which would be an ideal target for conventional contrast-detect autofocus systems. On the other hand, we've seen the Dimage cameras focus very well with low-contrast, lightly textured subjects that would give normal autofocus fits. The final chapter on digicam autofocus technology clearly isn't written yet, and in the real world, Minolta's phase-detect AF appears to be just a different approach, without overwhelming strengths or weaknesses.

For what it's worth, we found the autofocus of the Dimage 5 under good conditions to be a bit faster than average among cameras we've tested, and noticeably faster than that of the Dimage 7. We're not sure of the reason for this (given the two cameras' identical electronics and optics), but speculate that it might have to do with the smaller amount of data the system has to deal with, thanks to the Dimage 5's smaller CCD.

The Dimage 5's autofocus system offers both Single-Shot and Continuous AF settings. In Single-Shot AF, the camera only sets the focus when the Shutter button is halfway depressed. In Continuous AF mode, it adjusts focus continuously, which is an enormous drain on battery power. You can switch to Manual Focus by pressing the AF / MF button on the camera's left side. In Manual Focus mode, you focus by turning a ribbed ring around the base of the lens barrel. As you focus, the distance is displayed in meters or feet at the bottom of the LCD monitor (or EVF) under the MF icon.

The camera also provides adjustable autofocus areas. Wide Focus area, indicated by a wide set of brackets in the viewfinder image, bases its focus on the most prominent subject detail in the center of the frame, which is determined by an array of local focus areas working together. When the focus is locked in single AF mode, one of the AF sensors (in the form of a small rectangle) will briefly flash on screen to indicated the point of focus. This mode is particularly effective when shooting a moving subject. Spot Focus Point, indicated by a target crosshair in the center of the frame, bases its focus on one specific spot in the viewfinder. By pressing and holding down the center of the Five-Way Arrow controller pad, you can switch between Wide Area and Spot Point autofocusing modes. If you release the controller pad when the Spot AF target is displayed, you can then use the four arrow buttons to move the focus point to anywhere within the frame -- a feature known as Flex Focus Point AF. (See the screen shot at right (actually from the Dimage 7), in which we switch from Wide Area to Spot Focus, and then move the Flex Focus Point around the screen.)

An AF / AE Lock button, located in the upper right corner of the back panel (below the Mode Dial), allows you to lock the focus for a specific portion of the frame, without having to hold down the Shutter button halfway. In default mode, pressing this button also locks exposure, but you can configure it in the Custom 1 Record menu to switch between AF / AE Hold, AF / AE Toggle, AE Hold, or AE Toggle functions.

In addition to the optical zoom, the Dimage 5 also offers a 2x Magnification button, located at the very bottom of the back panel, on the right side. Pressing this button activates an instant 2x digital zoom, which magnifies the image electronically and displays an "X2.0" symbol in the monitor. When activated, the live image on the LCD monitor is enlarged by 2x (to reflect the digital zoom), while the image in the EVF remains the same size, with a shaded border to indicate the crop. The digital zoom cannot be used with RAW images or in Movie mode.

A set of 49mm filter threads around the inside lip of the lens barrel accommodates Minolta’s range of accessory filters and conversion lens kits. (We really liked having the fixed filter threads on the front element of the zoom lens, making it easy to attach auxiliary lenses and filters without any additional adapters or other gadgets.)

Our resolution tests indicate that the Dimage 5's lens is of particularly high quality, as it produced very sharp images from corner to corner. The vast majority of digicams we've tested tend to get soft in the corners, distorting and blurring details. By contrast, the Dimage 5 and Dimage 7 are amazingly sharp across the entire frame. We also noticed that the lens showed significantly less chromatic aberration than we're accustomed to seeing, most likely due to the larger-than-normal lens elements and multiple ED elements and aspherical surfaces. Overall, this looks like a great piece of optics!


Exposure
The Dimage 5 offers excellent exposure control, with very fine-grained adjustment of such image attributes as Sharpness, Contrast, and Color Saturation. Though we found the camera’s user interface a little confusing at first -- with its myriad buttons, dials, and switches -- we liked it quite a bit once we got the hang of it.

The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the basic operating modes: Record, Playback, Movie, Setup, or Data-Transfer. Within Record mode, you have several options: Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, and a handful of preset recording modes, which we will describe a little further on. These first four options are all accessed by turning the Function dial on the left side of the camera to the PASM position, holding down the button in the middle of that control, and rotating the Selector Wheel just to the right of the shutter button. It's definitely a two-handed process, but quick to execute once you are familiar with the system.

In Program AE mode, the camera determines the best possible exposure for the current shooting situation, setting the shutter speed and lens aperture automatically. Aperture Priority mode allows you to select the lens aperture setting, from f/2.8 to f/9.5 depending on zoom, while the camera selects the most appropriate corresponding shutter speed. In Shutter Priority mode, the user selects the shutter speed, from 1/2,000 to 4 seconds, while the camera chooses the best corresponding aperture. Switching to Manual mode gives you control over both shutter speed and aperture, with a Bulb setting available for longer exposures. Bulb exposure is determined by how long you hold down the shutter button, up to a maximum of 30 seconds. The Program Auto button, located on the top panel just above the Mode dial, is a handy feature, instantly returning the camera to all of its default settings and the Program AE exposure mode (especially helpful if you've set a number of functions and are looking for a quick way to get back to the default settings).

The Dimage 5’s default metering system is a 256-segment evaluative mode, which takes readings from throughout the image to determine exposure. However, Center-Weighted and Spot metering options are also available. Spot metering is useful for high-contrast subjects, as it bases the exposure reading on the very center of the image. Center-Weighted metering also bases the exposure on the center of the image, but the camera takes its readings from a very large area in the middle of the frame. You can also lock the exposure reading for a particular part of the image by pressing the AE / AF Lock button on the back panel. This locks the exposure reading until either the Shutter button is pressed or the AE / AF Lock button is pressed again. (Halfway pressing the Shutter button also locks exposure and focus.) The Dimage 5’s light sensitivity can be set to Auto, or ISO equivalents of 100, 200, 400, or 800. Exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments.

White Balance & Color Control
The Dimage 5 offers unusually flexible control over white balance, color rendition, and tonal range. Its White Balance system offers a total of five options, including Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Custom, which is the manual setting. (In Custom mode, the white balance is determined by snapping a picture of a white card. The camera then adjusts its color balance to render the white card with a neutral hue.) We found the camera's white balance to be refreshingly sure-footed, providing accurate color rendition under a very wide range of lighting conditions. (We felt it did an excellent job with our very difficult indoor portrait shot, handling the household incandescent lighting just right. Its manual mode seems able to accommodate a very wide range of lighting conditions.)

We were also pleased to see extensive Contrast and Color Saturation controls in the Dimage 5. Both of these parameters are adjustable in seven steps across a fairly broad range of settings, using the Effects dial on the camera's left side in conjunction with the Selector Wheel next to the Shutter button (the same controls used for Exposure Compensation). To make adjustments, you rotate the Effects dial to the parameter you're interested in changing, press the button at its center, and then rotate the Selector Wheel to choose the desired setting. We found this to be a very accessible, easy to use interface for these controls.

We've seen contrast and saturation adjustments in other cameras we've tested, but the usual approach is to offer only three steps of adjustment (low, normal, and high) for each. While it's better than no adjustment at all, we've found that they generally provide either too much or too little variation to be useful. The Dimage 5's seven-step adjustment makes more subtle changes, but ultimately it has a profound difference in how these controls can be used. With three steps of adjustment, the tendency is to view these features as "tweaks" reserved for special shooting conditions. The seven-step range enables users to literally customize their cameras to reflect personal preferences. Want brighter color? No problem! Just boost the color saturation control a notch or two and you're there! The steps are small enough that they make subtle fine-tuning a very viable option, yet they cover enough range that you can use them to handle fairly extreme shooting conditions (such as pumping up the contrast on dreary, cloudy days). For instance, in the case of the Dimage 7, we found that we preferred to routinely shoot with the color saturation boosted by one or two steps. In the case of the Dimage 5, we felt that the color was pretty close to correct at the default setting, but might still boost it one notch since we tend to like fairly well-saturated color. Kudos to Minolta for this implementation!

In addition to these subtle color and tonal adjustments, the Dimage 5 also offers a Black-and-White mode for capturing monochromatic images. It's accessed via the Record mode settings menu, as is a Sharpness setting that adjusts the amount of in-camera sharpening.


Flash

The Dimage 5 features a built-in, pop-up flash, which operates in either Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, or Rear Flash Sync modes. To release the flash from its compartment, pull on the two small tabs on either side of the casing and lift up the flash unit. The Flash mode is changed through the Record settings menu. In Fill-Flash mode, the flash fires with every exposure, regardless of lighting conditions. Red-Eye Reduction fires a series of small pre-flashes before firing the flash at full power with the exposure. This reduces the occurrence of red-eye effect. The Rear Flash Sync mode synchronizes the internal flash with an external flash, if connected. The flash is in the Off position when it's closed.

The Dimage 5 is unusual in that it offers two methods of flash metering. Its default mode is called ADI, which stands for Advanced Distance Integration. In this mode, it apparently bases its flash exposure on the lens aperture and feedback from the autofocus system. By determining how far away the target subject is, the camera knows how much flash power is required to illuminate it. As a fallback, a Pre-Flash TTL (through-the-lens) method uses a small metering flash before the main exposure to gauge how much light is reflected by the scene. Used in conjunction with the Spot Focus option mentioned earlier, the ADI flash metering should be much more accurate with small subjects against a different colored background than the pre-flash method.

The Dimage 5 also provides a top-mounted hot shoe for attaching an external flash unit. The shoe design and contact arrangement are set up for Minolta's own dedicated flash units, but we imagine that compatible units are available from the major third-party flash manufacturers (Sunpak et. al.). Minolta's own Program Flash models 3600HS(D) and 5600HS(D) both work with the Dimage 5, and two macro flashes (Macro Twin Flash 2400 and Macro Ring Flash 1200) will work with an accessory macro flash controller.

Subject Program Modes
The Dimage 5 provides five preset exposure modes, including Portrait, Sports, Sunset, Night Portrait, and Text. These are accessed by pressing the Mode Select button next to the small status display panel on top of the camera, which displays an indicator arrow below each mode icon as it's selected. Portrait mode produces better-looking people shots by enhancing skin tones and decreasing the depth of field (to create a slightly blurred background). Sports mode provides faster shutter speeds to freeze action and maintains focus on quickly moving subjects. In Sunset mode, the camera employs slightly slower shutter speeds to let in more of the ambient light, and allows you to record the warm colors of the scene without compensating for them. In Night Portrait mode, the camera uses flash plus a slower shutter speed to allow more ambient light into the image, while the CxProcess feature helps ensure the recording of true black values and preserves the bright colors of artificial lighting. The final preset mode is Text mode, which optimizes the camera for capturing black text on a white background, keeping the contrast level high so the camera doesn't expose for neutral gray.

Continuous Mode
Accessed via the "Drive" setting on the left-side Function dial, the Dimage 5's Continuous mode captures images in rapid succession, at roughly 1.4 frames per second. This is somewhat faster than the roughly 1.1 frames/second that the Dimage 7 could manage, thanks again no doubt to the somewhat smaller sensor on the Dimage 5.


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using an Imaging Resource proprietary test system.

 

Minolta Dimage 5 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
3.15
Time from power-up to first shot. Quite a bit faster than the Dimage 7's 5.1 seconds. (Odd)
Shutdown
2.36
Time to finish writing average large/fine file to the Memory Stick. (Quite a bit faster than the Dimage 7 again, but this makes sense, since the '7 is writing bigger files.)
Play to Record, first shot
1.6
Time until first shot is captured. Very fast.
Record to play
3.1/1.7
First time is for immediate switch after pressing shutter, second is time to display image from quiescent state in capture mode.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.87 - 0.77
Longer time is for telephoto, shorter for wide angle. Average to slightly faster than average, noticeably faster than the Dimage 7.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.19
A good bit faster than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.24
Faster than average.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
1.18

1.53

19.7
First number is for large/fine files, second for small/economy. Last time is for full res TIFF files. Oddly, small/economy files take longer between shots than large/fine. Up to 12 large/fine files this fast. Quite fast for full-res files. Times are in manual focus mode, add ~0.6 seconds per frame for autofocus delay.
Cycle time, continuous mode
0.71
(1.41 frames/sec)
Quite fast. Captures 12 images, then takes 11 seconds for the next

 

Overall, the Dimage 5 is a pretty fast camera. Startup and shutdown times are about average for cameras without telescoping lenses, but shutter lag and shot to shot cycle times are quite fast, with the cycle times particularly so. Oddly, despite the identical lens and electronics, the Dimage 5's shutter lag times are noticeably lower than those of the Dimage 7. (Perhaps a result of the autofocus system having less data to deal with, thanks to the smaller CCD?)


Operation & User Interface
The Dimage 5's user interface is much more sophisticated than most digital cameras on the market, as it provides significant external control over commonly used settings. As a result, the camera should be more intuitive for film-based photographers who are accustomed to the "tactile" interface of traditional 35mm SLRs. The difference is immediately apparent with the mechanically coupled zoom lens control, which provides much more stability than the motorized rocker switch zooms used by most other digital cameras. The rubber collar grip surrounding the lens barrel is clearly marked with corresponding focal lengths, so you know immediately the zoom setting at which you're operating -- a feature we've missed in standard digicams. Manual focus is more of a "fly by the wire" adjustment, in which a notched focus ring at the base of the lens is used to control the internal motor that actually makes the focus adjustment. In our opinion, the zoom control is much more important, however, given that the majority of users will spend more time in Auto Focus rather than Manual Focus mode.

Aside from Flash adjustments, you can control almost all of the essential camera functions without having to resort to the on-screen LCD menu system. Most of the camera adjustments are made by rotating a dial, pressing a button, and turning a selector wheel. This may sound like a lot of steps, but in practice we've always found external mechanical controls like these are much faster to navigate than LCD menu selections. In addition to the Mode Dial / Main Power Switch on top of the camera, the major interface elements include a set of function dials on the left side of the camera, a selector wheel just to the right of the Shutter button, and the top-panel LED data readout (or, you can refer to the LCD or electronic viewfinder displays.) Initially, we found it a little awkward to have to view the left side of the camera to select specific parameters, but after a few short hours of using the camera, we found ourselves simply counting the clicks on the dials to select the options we wanted. Bottom line, while they're rather unusual in the digicam world, the Dimage 5's controls lend themselves to quick, sure operation when you're in a concentrated (mental) shooting mode.

The sections below will walk you through all of the dials and buttons on the Dimage 5, explaining what each is used for:


Control Enumeration


Shutter Button
Located on the top right side of the camera, this button sets exposure (in automatic exposure modes) and focus (in autofocus mode) when half-pressed, and trips the shutter when fully pressed.


Selector Wheel
This ribbed wheel sits just behind and to the right of the shutter button, conveniently under your index finger. All of the most commonly used camera settings are adjusted by using this wheel in conjunction with one of the function dials on the left side of the camera. It also controls aperture and shutter speed in exposure modes where those parameters are placed under the photographer's direct control. (Aperture or Shutter Priority, or full Manual mode.)


Mode Dial / Main Switch
In the right rear corner of the top panel, this knob turns the camera on or off and selects the main operating modes of the camera. Options include: Record, Playback, Movie, Setup, and Data-Transfer modes.


Data / Status Panel
Not a control per se, this data readout panel displays icons and numbers indicating the status of a wide range of camera control settings.


Pro Auto Button
We called this one the "Help, I'm Lost" button. Pressing it resets most camera options to their default settings, and returns the camera to programmed autoexposure mode. (A handy way to get back to square one, after making multiple settings adjustments.)


Digital Subject Program Button
Just to the right of the status panel, this button cycles through the camera's five "Subject Programs," including Portrait, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, and Text Modes. (We described the operation of these modes earlier, in the Exposure section of this review.)


AF / AE Lock Button
On the back of the camera, just below the Mode Dial is the AF / AEL button. Pressing this locks the focus and exposure settings (much as half-pressing the shutter button does). It can be configured to suit your shooting style via an LCD menu option. Focus and exposure lock can be set together or as separate functions, and it can also be used to toggle the lock on or off. (This would permit locking exposure without requiring you to keep the button held down while you focused, zoomed, etc.)


Display Mode Switch
Also on the back of the camera, just to the right of the EVF eyepiece is the Display Mode switch. This controls the operation of the rear-panel LCD and the EVF displays. Turned fully clockwise, it disables the EVF and enables the LCD screen. Turned fully counterclockwise, it enables the EVF and turns off the LCD. In its middle position, the camera will switch automatically between the EVF and LCD, depending on whether or not your eye is pressed to the eyepiece. (Pretty slick.)


Information Button
Located in the middle of the Display Mode switch, this button controls the amount of information displayed on the EVF and LCD screens while in Record and Playback modes, and it activates the Index display in Playback mode.


Menu Button
While the Dimage 5 relies heavily on external controls, it also has an extensive LCD menu system, with three screens of menus in Record, Playback, and Setup modes. Pressing the Menu button calls up the menu system in Record and Playback modes, or turns it off when you're done.


Five-Way Controller
This rocker control is used to step through selections within the LCD menu system and to interact with various status messages or requests for confirmation that appear on the LCD screen. You navigate the menus by pressing one of the four arrows around the control's periphery, and confirm selections by pressing the center of the control. In Playback mode, pressing the Up arrow calls up the histogram display. In record mode, pressing and holding the center of the control switches the camera between Wide and Spot autofocus modes. Once in Spot AF, rocking the control moves the Spot cross-hair around the frame, converting it to Flex Focus Point mode.


QV / Delete Button
Below the Five-Way Controller, the Quick View / Delete button lets you quickly switch from Record to Playback mode to view just-captured images. When viewing an image, pressing this button prompts the camera to ask if you want to delete it.


Magnify Button
Below and to the right of the Five-Way Controller, this button activates the 2x digital zoom. When activated, the live image on the LCD monitor is enlarged by 2x (to reflect the digital zoom), while the image in the EVF remains the same size, with a shaded border to indicate the crop.


Battery Compartment Latch
Directly below the LCD screen, this latch opens the battery compartment cover. We found it slightly challenging to actuate this latch while simultaneously pressing on the compartment cover to hold it closed, but it's far from the worst battery compartment design we've seen.


Function Dial
Located on the left side of the camera, just below and between the flash head and electronic viewfinder, this dial is the primary interface for controlling the most frequently used camera settings. Options include Image Size, Image Quality, Exposure Mode, Drive (Single-Frame, Continuous, Self-Timer, Bracketing, and Interval), White Balance, and ISO. You change a setting by rotating the dial to the appropriate position, and then pressing the central button while rotating the ridged Selection Wheel. When you press the center button, the corresponding camera option is displayed in isolation on either the LCD or EVF (whichever is in use), so you can see its current value as you rotate the Selection Wheel.


Digital Effects Controller
Below and forward of the Function Dial is the Digital Effects Controller. Its operation is very similar to that of the Function Dial, in that changes are made by rotating the dial, pressing the central button, and scrolling the Selection Wheel. Options include Contrast, Exposure Compensation, and Color Saturation.


AF / MF Button
Just to the rear of the Digital Effects Controller, this button switches the camera between automatic and manual focus operation.


Manual Focus Ring
Surrounding the base of the lens barrel, this ridged ring controls focus when the camera is in Manual focus mode. It isn't directly (mechanically) connected to the optics, but rather commands an internal motor to move the lens elements.


Macro Focus Switch
Located on the left side of the lens barrel, this control engages the macro focusing option. (Note that there's an interlock that prevents it from being engaged unless the lens is zoomed all the way to its telephoto position.)


Camera Modes and Menus

Still Capture Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the red camera symbol, this is the mode for all still-image capture operation. (Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes are selected via the Function Dial.)

Playback Mode: Indicated by the green arrow symbol, enables playback of previously captured images.

Movie Mode: Enables capture of (silent) movie sequences.

Setup Mode: Displays an LCD menu system, allowing configuration of deeper camera operating modes, memory card formatting, menu language choice, etc.

Data-Transfer Mode: Activates the Dimage 5's USB port for downloading images to a host computer.

Still Picture Shooting Menu Basic Options

Recording Mode Menu -- Custom 1

Recording Mode Menu -- Custom 2

Playback Mode Menu -- Basic

Playback Mode Menu -- Custom 1

Playback Menu -- Custom 2

Setup Mode Menu -- Basic

Setup Mode Menu -- Custom 1

Setup Mode Menu -- Custom 2

Data-Transfer Menu


Image Storage and Interface
The Dimage 5 uses CompactFlash Type I or Type II memory cards for image storage; a 16MB card comes standard with the camera. Third-party upgrades are available separately to memory capacities as high as 512MB using Flash Memory, and as large as 1GB (1,000 MB) with the IBM MicroDrive. (Check Minolta's website for compatibility info, it's likely that only the second-generation, 512MB and 1GB MicroDrives are supported.) The CompactFlash slot is on the right side of the camera, covered by a hinged plastic door that opens easily and latches securely. The card inserts with the electrodes going in first, and the front of the card (indicated by an arrow) facing the front of the camera. A small button beside the slot ejects the card by popping it up slightly, allowing you to pull the card the rest of the way out (put the eject button into a vertical position first by pulling up on the bottom edge).

Although individual CompactFlash cards cannot be write-protected or locked against erasure or manipulation, the Dimage 5 allows you to lock individual images or groups of images through the Playback menu. Once protected, images cannot be erased or manipulated in any way, except through card formatting. The Playback menu also allows you to delete images in the LCD display, format the number of images in the Index display, create a custom slide show, set images up for printing on DPOF compliant printers, and copy images to camera memory or a new CF card.

Four image resolution settings are available: 2,048 x 1,536, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480 pixels. Files may be saved in any one of three JPEG compression levels, as well as uncompressed TIFF (indicated on the camera LCD as "SuperFine"), and a compact RAW format. Both settings are changed via the left-side Function dial and the Selection Wheel next to the Shutter button. The number of remaining images that can be stored on the memory card is reported on the lower right corner of the Data Panel, in addition to the selected Resolution and Compression settings.

The table below summarizes the compression ratios and number of images that can be stored on the included 8MB memory card with each Resolution / Quality (JPEG Compression) combination.

 

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16MB Memory Card
Raw
Uncompressed Super Fine
Fine
Standard
Economy
Full Resolution 2048x1536 Images
(avg size)
2
6.3 MB
1
9.4 MB
9
1.7 MB
16
1.0 MB
27
0.6 MB
Approx.
Compression
1.4:1 1:1 5:1
10:1
16:1
UXGA Resolution 1600x1200 Images
(avg size)
N/A
2
5.7 MB
15
1.1 MB
26
0.6 MB
41
0.4 MB
Approx.
Compression
N/A
1:1
5:1
10:1
14:1
SXGA Resolution 1280x960
Images
(avg size)
N/A
4
3.7 MB
23
0.7 MB
38
0.4 MB
54
0.3 MB
Approx.
Compression
N/A
1:1
5:1
9:1
12:1
VGA Resolution 640x480
Images
(avg size)
N/A
16
0.9 MB
57
0.3 MB
81
0.2 MB
104
0.15 MB
Approx.
Compression
N/A
1:1
3:1
5:1
6:1

 

A USB cable and interface software accompany the Dimage 5 for quick connection and image downloading to a PC or Macintosh computer. We clocked the Dimage 5's download time at 34.6 seconds for a 9,475K file, a speed of 273 KBytes/second. This isn't terribly fast, most USB-equipped digicams manage about 300K/second, with some going as high as 600K. If you purchase a really large memory card for the Dimage 5 (something we expect a lot of owners will do), you'll probably want to get a USB card reader, which should be able to move the data about twice as fast.

One of the first things any new digicam owner will need is a larger memory card for their camera: The cards shipped with the units by the manufacturers should really be considered only "starter" cards, you'll definitely want a higher capacity card immediately. - Probably at least a 32 megabyte card for a 1.3 or 2 megapixel camera, 64 megabytes or more for a 3, 4, or 5 megapixel one. (The nice thing about memory cards is you'll be able to use whatever you buy now with your next camera too, whenever you upgrade.) To help you shop for a good deal on memory cards that fit the Dimage 5, we've put together a little memory locater, with links to our price-comparison engine: Just click on the "Memory Wizard" button above to go to the Minolta memory finder, select your camera model , and click the shopping cart icon next to the card size you're interested in. You'll see a list of matching entries from the price-comparison database. Pick a vendor & order away! (Pretty cool, huh?)
Video Out
The Dimage 5 provides a video output jack with an accompanying video cable. The signal timing can be set to NTSC or PAL via the Setup menu. An adapter cable terminating in a male RCA plug is included with units shipped to the U.S. European models will presumably include cabling appropriate to PAL systems. The Video output duplicates the contents of the LCD in all modes, permitting it to be used as an auxiliary viewfinder.


Power
The Dimage 5 is powered by four AA Alkaline or NiMH batteries (four alkaline batteries are shipped with the camera). We suggest investing in several sets of rechargeable NiMH batteries and a battery charger, so you'll always have a set of charged batteries available. Like the Dimage 7, the Dimage 5 is notably power-hungry: One downside of electronic viewfinders is that they require all of the display and signal-processing circuitry to be active, so there is limited advantage in turning off the rear-panel LCD. On our evaluation unit, however, we did observe a solid 30-percent power reduction when using the EVF vs the LCD, and putting the EVF into "auto-on" mode dropped power to about half of the level with the main LCD running. The camera also appears to enter a low-power mode when its controls are left undisturbed for an extended period. We didn't measure power consumption in this mode, but it did seem that we could leave the camera "on" for long periods of time without noticeably draining the batteries. An AC adapter is available as an optional accessory.

With those comments as a preface, here are the power-consumption numbers we measured for the Dimage 7 in the lab, along with estimated run times, based on a set of (true) 1600 mAh NiMH cells:

 

Operating Mode
Power
(mA @6.0v)
Est. Minutes
Capture Mode, w/LCD
850 mA
90
Capture Mode, w/EVF
640 mA
120
Capture Mode, EVF auto-on
440 mA
175
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
880 mA
87
Half-pressed w/EVF
670 mA
114
Continuous Autofocus w/LCD
850 mA
90
Memory Write (transient)
900 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
1260 mA
n/a
Image Playback
670 mA
114

 

(The following is largely copied from the Dimage 7 review, since the two cameras were essentially identical in their power characteristics.)

So, like the Dimage 7, the Dimage 5 is clearly a heavy power user, but the numbers above don't seem to support the level of negative comment we've seen out there about the Dimage 7's power consumption. (Unfortunately, no other sites have done any power-consumption measurements, so the battery life discussions are all based on anecdotal evidence.) As mentioned above, there do appear to be several instances of individuals getting literally only a dozen shots or so per charge on a set of batteries, and this clearly is abnormal. Given the concern over power and reports of exceedingly short battery life, this might be a good point to make a brief mention of batteries and chargers...

We've been working on testing batteries and chargers as sort of a background task for quite a while now. (Every few days, toss a set of batteries in the little battery-testing gadget Dave cobbled together.) We've found some interesting things. First, just because a battery *says* it's 1600 mAh (for instance) doesn't mean that it *is* 1600 mAh. Digicams definitely aren't a place to cheap-out on batteries, so it pays to get a good brand. We've tested (in alphabetical order) GP, Kodak, Maha, and Nexcell, all of which appear to be good manufacturers. Out of kindness, we won't mention the brands we tested that didn't measure up. We recommend the higher capacity batteries from each of these vendors. (But not some of the same companies' lower-capacity models.)

The second thing we've discovered is that a good charger is possibly even more important than your choice of batteries. (!) Even some rather expensive chargers won't bring a set of batteries anywhere near to a state of full charge. Thus, the wrong charger can turn your 1700 mAh batteries into a set of 800 mAh ones! We're working on a whole "power solutions" area for the site, to share our findings, but for now can just say that our favorite charger is the Maha C204 (shown above). The Quest Q2 and Alltek AT-5798 units also do a good job, although our test sample of the Q2 developed a bad circuit after only a little use. So... Get a couple of sets of 1700 mAh batteries and a good charger, and you should easily get an hour plus of continuous operation of the Dimage 7 per charge.

We mentioned external power packs above: Given the type of camera this is, you're going to want to use it for extended periods. What to do, besides turning it off quickly? Apparently knowing our penchant for such things, we've gotten a lot of questions from readers about external battery packs with this camera. The problem is that most NiMH-based packs don't work, as the Dimage 7 apparently needs a higher voltage at its external power terminal than these packs deliver. (The camera's power terminal is labeled "6 volts", most such packs don't come up to that voltage when subjected to high loads.) As we've found with several other cameras, the solution is a LiIon battery pack, which has a higher output voltage. Maha makes one (shown above), sold under their PowerEx brand. Running about $60, this unit provides 1400 mAh of power at a terminal voltage (under moderate load) of a bit over 8 volts. In our testing, the Dimage 7 ran just fine from this pack. The PowerBank's capacity should be enough to give you an extra hour to hour and a half of continuous running in maximum-power mode. (With the LCD enabled in capture mode.) Combine that with a set of the 1700 NiMH cells internally, and you'll be good for a full 3 hours or so of nonstop operation. - Easily all day if you're judicious about turning the camera off when not in use. One note - Maha makes both NiMH and LiIon versions of the PowerBank, make sure you get the LiIon model for the Dimage 7. (Model number MH-DPB140LI.) Click here for more information, or to order online. Highly recommended for this camera!


Software
The Dimage 5 ships with Dimage Image Viewer Utility, which allows you to open, sort, and delete thumbnail images, perform color matching, adjust tonal curves, set white and black points, and correct individual RGB channels. Dimage Image Viewer is required to open and process RAW image files. The Dimage Image Viewer Utility is also essential to convert the Dimage 5's proprietary (wide gamut) color space into conventional sRGB for compatibility with most desktop printers. This need for an extra step to obtain optimum color from the Dimage 5 is a little annoying, but we highly endorse it, as it sidesteps the (severe) limitations of the sRGB color space.

Like the other recent high-end Minolta cameras (the Dimage S304 and Dimage 7), the Dimage 5 captures images in its own proprietary color space. The good part of this is that the D5 can capture a broader range of colors than conventional cameras based on the sRGB standard. The downside though, is that most computer software and consumer-level printers assume sRGB as the default color space. This means that you'll need to convert essentially all your images from the D5's color space to the sRGB standard. (Losing some colors in the extreme reds and blue/greens in the process.) The Dimage Image Viewer utility program can batch-convert images from the Dimage 5's color space to sRGB and several others. The process isn't terribly onerous, and we support Minolta's efforts to break out of the limitations of sRGB. It is an additional step however, that potential owners need to be aware of.


In The Box
The Dimage 5 Digital Camera ships with the following accessories:


Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Dimage 5's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the Dimage 5 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Throughout out testing, the Dimage 5 produced good color and image quality. The default color out of the camera is a little flat, but running the images through the Dimage Image Viewer utility program and converting them to sRGB makes a quite noticeable difference. The camera's White Balance system handled our test lighting very well, with the Manual setting resulting in the best color balance in many cases. Even with our difficult Musicians poster, which often tricks digicams with its overwhelming blue, each of the white balance settings tested produced good results with only slight color casts. Both the Manual and Incandescent white balance settings produced good results under the very tough incandescent lighting of our no-flash Indoor Portrait test. Color balance looked good on our Davebox target, as the Dimage 5 distinguished the subtle tonal variations of the pastels on the Q60 target well, and reproduced the large color blocks of the MacBeth chart with good saturation. Skin tones looked about right in our Outdoor and Indoor portraits, though the camera captured the blue flowers with a strong purple tint in each shot. Overall, however, the Dimage 5 performed quite well. (Actually, we found ourselves preferring the unmodified (albeit sRGB-converted) color out of the Dimage 5 better than that of its big brother the Dimage 7.)

The Dimage 5 performed nicely on our "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 700 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. We found "strong detail" out to at least 950 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,200 lines.

Optical distortion on the Dimage 5 is high at the wide-angle end, where we measured an approximate 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as we measured an approximate 0.29 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is very low, showing only about two or three faint pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. Apart from the higher-than-average barrel distortion of the lens at wide angle, the very low chromatic aberration and high sharpness indicate that it's a very high quality piece of optics.

With its full manual exposure control, the Dimage 5 had no trouble shooting in our low-light test, but produced rather noisy images at the lowest illumination levels. The Dimage 5 captured clear, bright, usable images down to about 1/16 foot-candle (or 0.67 lux) at all four ISO settings, which is commendable. Color was very nice for the most part, though the Auto white balance setting had some trouble at the 1/16 foot-candle light level, and produced a pink cast. The only major flaw in the Dimage 5's performance was very high noise at the 1/16 foot-candle light level (even though we were careful to insure that the camera was at a low room temperature before shooting). Noise decreased dramatically with the higher light levels, but we were surprised at the camera's lack of a noise reduction system. Even at ISO 100, noise is very high at the 1/16 foot-candle setting. (We refer interested readers to Mike Chaney's Qimage Pro software for a program that does an excellent job of removing noise of this sort without overly disturbing the underlying picture information.) In our opinion, noise at ISO 800 is so high that the setting isn't really very usable at any light level. Despite this drawback, the Dimage 5 performed well here. We would like to see a noise reduction system in place in future generations of Dimage cameras however.

The Dimage 5's electronic optical viewfinder (actually an EVF or Electronic ViewFinder) and LCD monitors produced markedly good accuracy during our testing, showing approximately 98 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and approximately 100 percent accuracy at telephoto. At the telephoto end, however, both viewfinders were actually slightly loose, as the outside edges of our standard lines of measurement were just barely out of the frame. Still, given that we generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the Dimage 5 did an excellent job.

Also impressive was the Dimage 5's macro capabilities, as the camera captured a very tiny minimum area of just 1.63 x 1.22 inches (41.37 x 31.03 millimeters). Color, resolution, and detail were all excellent. The brooch and coin details were fairly soft due to a limited depth of field, but the details of the dollar bill were outstanding. The Dimage 5's flash also performed surprisingly well at this very close range, illuminating the subject with even distribution. Though the flash exposure was a little too bright, the overall performance was better than many digicams we've seen.

With great color and image quality throughout our testing, we were very pleased with the Dimage 5's performance. Resolution is great, as is color accuracy and exposure. The macro and low-light capabilities of the Dimage 5 are quite impressive, though again, we'd like to see better noise control in the low-light area. Despite this slight drawback, the Dimage 5 came through our testing with flying colors.


Conclusion
We found a great deal to like about the Dimage 5, just as we did with the Dimage 7 that we tested before it. The Dimage 7 has proven to be a somewhat controversial camera, as it seems to polarize people to a fair extent. - People seem to love it or hate it, with little neutral ground. (For more extensive comments on some of the features of the Dimage 5/7 design, see the conclusions section of our Dimage 7 review.) We believe the Dimage 5 will prove to be a very popular camera, although we think Minolta will need to reduce its price somewhat for it to compete adequately in the field - Despite its excellent capabilities, $999 (it's list price when this was written in early September, 2001) will be a very tough price point to hold for it. Assuming that the price comes into line though, we think the Dimage 5 will be a very appealing camera for people who don't need the 5 megapixel resolution of the Dimage 7. It has all the control and flexibility the Dimage 7 offers, the same great optics, and (to our eyes, at least), arguably better color. If you've found yourself yearning for a Dimage 7 but can't quite float the finances for it, the Dimage 5 could be just your cup of tea.

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