Minolta Dimage 7Minolta unleashes the first 5-megapixel camera, with a tack-sharp 7x zoom lens, and amazingly sensitive electronic viewfinder!
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Page 2:Executive OverviewReview First Posted: 5/23/2001
One of two new models scheduled for release in Summer 2001, the Dimage 7 Digital Camera is a groundbreaking product for Minolta Corporation, and indeed the digital camera field as a while -- integrating many of the outstanding features from Minolta's line of 35mm SLR film cameras with a high-quality 5.24-megapixel CCD, ultra-sharp 7x optical zoom lens, and advanced digital technology never before seen in a consumer class digital camera. Our first encounter with the prototype model was impressive, not only from the standpoint of image quality, but also the extensive creative controls, sophisticated camera functions, and user-friendly interface. 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.
Top on the list of features is a high-quality, 2/3-inch interline CCD with 5.24 million pixels (4.95 million effective), providing a maximum resolution of 2,568 x 1,928 pixels, the highest currently available (May 2001) among consumer digital cameras. The 12-bit A/D converter and relatively large pixel size provide a wide dynamic range (detailed highlights and shadows) and fine tonal gradation, with as many as 4,096 levels captured in each RGB channel. The CCD's light sensitivity ranges from ISO100 to 200, 400, and 800 ISO equivalency and may be automatically controlled by the camera. In support of this advanced chip technology, our test images showed extremely fine detail, even in low-light scenes, and a nice range of tones from bright highlights to deep shadows.
All that sensor resolution would be useless, however, if the lens wasn't capable of resolving such fine detail. The Dimage 7 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 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 maximum flexibility for extreme wide-angle interior and landscape shots, as well as close-up portraits and zoom action in sports photography. The manual zoom ring is a real pleasure to use, reminiscent of interchangeable zoom lenses from our days as 35mm film-based photographers, 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 equivalent to 220,000 pixels. We were amazed by the display quality, much better than we're accustomed to seeing in EVFs, with a remarkably smooth, sharp, and clear image, even in low light (!), where most EVFs fail miserably. In addition to better quality, the Digital Hyper Viewfinder offers unique flexibility, with a variable position eyepiece that can be tilted up as much as 90 degrees.
The Dimage 7's exposure system is like 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 300 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, 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 7 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 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 autoexposure, or both autoexposure and autofocus. 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 permits 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 7'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 a target cross-hair 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 7 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 equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.
Additional Dimage 7 features include a Movie mode, Continuous Shooting, 2x Digital Zoom, Interval Recording of two 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 uncompressed files, and Super Fine, Fine, Standard, and Economy compression settings. Resolution options for still images include 2,560 x 1920, 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 7 files output on compatible Epson printers will be automatically color balanced to provide true-to-life hues and saturation. (PRINT Image Matching really seems to represent a breakthrough in print quality, allowing faithful reproduction of colors well outside the normal color gamut of CRT-based color spaces.)
Powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries (an optional AC power adapter is available), the Dimage 7 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.
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