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Ferroelectric LCD technology
gives sharp electronic viewfinder image that is visible even at low light
Enhancements over the D7i include external
sync socket, extra-fine JPEG option, and external flash sync socket.
Minolta Corporation is a traditional camera manufacturer of long experience, who made 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 autofocus systems. Their lenses in particular have received high praise for their optical quality.
Last year (2001), Minolta shook up the high end of the prosumer market, by beating everyone else to the punch with the first five megapixel prosumer digital camera. - And it wasn't just "any" five megapixel model either, but the Dimage 7, an electronic SLR design with a remarkably high quality 7x optical zoom lens, a host of advanced image-control functions, and an all-new electronic viewfinder using ferroelectric LCD technology for impressive low light performance.
Now, just over a year later, Minolta has upped the ante again first with the Dimage 7i, which added numerous features, and offered dramatically improved focusing speed and shutter response. Now, they've announced the Dimage 7Hi, which adds an external flash sync socket, higher-speed continuous shooting for full-resolution files, and an extra-fine JPEG image-quality setting. The 7Hi will apparently sell alongside the 7i, for people needing the faster shooting speed, lower JPEG compression, or (most importantly for most users, I think) the external flash sync connector.
The Dimage 7 was an impressive camera when it was introduced, and Minolta's improvements implemented in the 7i version were well-considered, intelligent, and bountiful. With the 7Hi, they've brought the camera fully into the photo studio, with the external flash sync connector, in addition to increasing continuous-mode speed, and offering an extra-fine JPEG mode as an alternative to TIFF or RAW files. Finally, the Dimage 7Hi offers several options for color space, including both normal and "vivid" sRGB options, and Adobe RGB. Overall, some nice tweaks to what was an impressive upgrade, to what was already an excellent camera. Phew. Read on for all the details!
True 5.0-megapixel CCD delivering resolutions as high as 2,560 x 1,920 pixels.
12-Bit A/D conversion.
Digital Hyper Electronic viewfinder with 90-degree variable position.
1.8-inch TFT color LCD monitor.
7.2-50.8mm lens (equivalent to a 28-200mm lens on a 35mm camera) with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/3.5, depending on the zoom setting.
2x digital zoom.
Auto and Manual focus.
Macro option at maximum telephoto or wide angle zoom settings.
Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, and Subject Program shooting modes.
Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, with Bulb setting for longer exposures (up to 30 seconds), up to 1/4,000 under certain conditions.
300 segment Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options, with AE Lock function.
Adjustable ISO with five settings.
Built-in, pop-up flash with three operating modes, a dual-mode flash metering system, and manually adjustable intensity.
External flash hot-shoe for Minolta accessory flash units.
New external flash sync terminal.
Built-in support for wireless TTL flash exposure with certain Minolta flashes. (Very slick!)
High-Speed and Ultra High Speed Continuous Shooting, Interval, Movie, and Night Movie shooting modes.
Digital Effects Control for Exposure, Color Saturation, Contrast Compensation, and Hue (color filter) control, with Bracketing
Adjustable White Balance with seven modes.
Sharpness and Color control via menu options. Color modes include Standard (sRGB), Vivid Color (sRGB), Black & White, Adobe RGB, and Solarization.
RAW, uncompressed TIFF, and JPEG file formats.
Images saved to CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards (16MB card included), Microdrive compatible.
"Storage-Class" USB interface.
USB cable and interface software for connecting to a computer and downloading images.
NTSC or PAL selectable video output signal, with cable included.
Power supplied by four AA batteries or separate AC adapter (available as an accessory).
DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compliant.
Many of our readers are familiar with the recent Dimage 7i, so I put together the following major feature comparison between the Dimage 7Hi and the recent 7i version. See my review of the D7i to see the differences between it and the original Dimage 7. (There could be other differences as well, but these are the ones I'm aware of.)
New custom color space
Adjustable color space, with sRGB and Adobe RGB settings, plus the ability to embed color space settings in JPEG header.
Color space is quite close to sRGB, making images more usable without postprocessing in Minolta's software.
New PC sync terminal for external flash units.
Still has external flash hot shoe as well.
External flash hot shoe.
Longer shutter times.
Maximum 15 seconds in standard mode (Bulb setting to 30 seconds still available).
Maximum of four seconds outside of Bulb mode.
Continuous shooting mode speed
Faster, three frames per second.
Approximately two frames per second.
Expanded JPEG compression levels
Extra Fine, Fine, Standard (Economy setting removed)
Fine, Standard, and Economy
Expanded camera setup controls
More direct control over button functions with an additional Setup menu page.
Expanded white balance options
Two fluorescent settings, up to three Custom settings.
One fluorescent mode, one Custom setting.
Building on the success of both the original Dimage
7 digicam and the very well-received Dimage 7i upgrade to it, Minolta has introduced
the new Dimage 7Hi with a handful of new features that improve an already exceptional
camera. The 7Hi continues with the 5.0-megapixel CCD, ultra-sharp 7x optical zoom
lens, and host of fine-grained user controls. New to the Dimage 7Hi is an external
flash sync terminal, Extra Fine JPEG compression level, faster Continuous Shooting
mode, adjustable color spaces, and longer shutter times. As with the Dimage 7i,
the Dimage 7Hi features extensive creative controls, sophisticated camera functions,
and user-friendly interface that make it appealing to advanced users, but you
can still put it in full "auto" mode and hand it to a novice with confidence.
The camera's ergonomic design looks and feels a lot like a conventional 35mm SLR,
with an elongated lens barrel and a lightweight magnesium alloy body with plastic
outer panels hosting the numerous dials, switches, and buttons. Although the profusion
of controls makes the camera seem complex, the controls are all logically arranged
and actually fairly easy to learn. Minolta has packed a lot of functions into
a very workable layout, with a range of features normally found only on more expensive
A 2/3-inch interline-transfer CCD with five million pixels (4.95 million effective),
provides a maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,920 pixels, among the highest currently
available in a consumer digital camera. 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 equivalency
and may be automatically controlled by the camera or manually selected by the
user. A significant change from the previous Dimage 7i is the 7Hi's color space
flexibility. You can now select between two sRGB options (Standard and Vivid color),
and an Adobe RGB option.
All that sensor resolution would be useless, however, if the lens couldn't resolve
fine detail. The Dimage 7Hi 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 the flexibility for wide-angle interior and landscape shots, as well
as close-up portraits and distant action in sports photography. The manual zoom
ring is a pleasure to use, with a wide rubberized grip and smooth, mechanically-coupled
lens action. The Macro capability lets you capture subjects as close as 9.8 inches
from the lens, which translates to a very small 1.5 x 2.0 inch minimum capture
area. A host of focus controls provide a lot of flexibility, and a new on-demand
manual focus option lets you tweak the autofocus setting without switching from
auto to manual focus mode.
One of the most impressive features, however, is the Digital Hyper Viewfinder,
which debuted on the Dimage 7 model. While technically an Electronic Viewfinder
(EVF) - a miniature version of the larger rear LCD display (complete with information
overlays) - Minolta's implementation incorporates an advanced "reflective ferroelectric"
LCD design, that produces full-color pixels, rather than the separate red, green,
and blue ones of conventional displays. The result is an apparent resolution much
higher than its 122,000 pixels would indicate. Display quality is much better
than I'm 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 tilts up as much as 90 degrees. The high refresh rate in
the EVF we saw in the Dimage 7i was carried over, avoiding some of the display
artifacts seen in the original Dimage 7.
The Dimage 7Hi's exposure system offers three metering options: 300-segment Multi-Segment,
Center-Weighted, and Spot. Multi-Segment divides the image into 300 separate areas,
placing emphasis on the main subject, but integrating luminance values, color,
and autofocus information from across the image to accurately calculate exposure.
Like similar AE metering systems on other cameras, the Center-Weighted and Spot
metering options reduce the emphasis to the central portion of the frame, or a
small spot at the very center of the frame, respectively. Exposure modes include
Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual, plus five Digital
Subject Programs specifically set up for Portrait, 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 7Hi 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, Contrast, and Filter (hue) adjustments.
A Color Mode option offers special color effects and a black and white shooting
mode, which can be adjusted via the Filter Effects setting. 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 (in addition to exposure, this can also bracket any of
the Effects options, including contrast and saturation). A customizable AE / AF
Lock button can be set to lock only exposure, or both exposure and focus. White
Balance is adjustable to one of four preset options (Daylight, Tungsten, Cloudy,
and two Fluorescent settings), along with Auto and Manual options. Shutter speeds
range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds (as high as 1/4,000 second in Programmed and
Aperture Priority exposure modes, with small lens apertures), with a Bulb setting
that permits exposures as long as 30 seconds. Maximum lens apertures are f/2.8
at the wide-angle end and f/3.5 at telephoto. A real-time histogram display mode
helps verify exposure before capturing the image. (There's a histogram display
option in Playback mode as well.)
Autofocus performance is a key area where the Dimage 7Hi shines. Autofocus is
powered by a Large Scale Integration (LSI) chip that rapidly processes image data
through a high-speed 32-bit RISC processor. - A lot of jargon that simply explains
why the 7Hi's AF system is faster than average among high-end "prosumer" digicams.
The autofocus information can be measured in one of three ways: Wide Focus Area
averages readings from a large area across the middle of the frame (indicated
on the LCD by a set of widely spaced brackets); Spot Focus Point reads information
from the very center of the LCD (indicated by a target cross-hair), and Flex Focus
Point lets you move a target cross-hair to virtually any position within the viewfinder,
so you can focus on off-center subjects without having to aim, lock focus, and
then recompose the shot.
The built-in, pop-up flash offers two methods of flash metering. Advanced Distance
Integration (ADI) bases its exposure on the lens aperture, feedback from the autofocus
system (how far the subject is from the camera), as well as on a separate metering
flash. Pre-Flash TTL (through the lens) uses only the small metering flash prior
to the main exposure to gauge how much light is reflected by the scene. The Dimage
7Hi also includes a top-mounted hot shoe for attaching Minolta external flash
units (and any compatible third-party units). New to the Dimage 7Hi is the external
flash sync terminal, offering a standard "PC" style sync jack for connecting to
studio strobes or other external flash devices. Flash modes include Fill-Flash,
Red-Eye Reduction, and Rear Flash Sync, with Flash Compensation available from
-2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. A Wireless flash
mode lets the camera work with certain Minolta-brand wireless flash units. A manual
flash mode fires the onboard flash at full, 1/4, or 1/16 power. Since manual flash
mode doesn't use a pre-flash, it's perfect for driving studio strobes via conventional
Additional Dimage 7Hi features include a Movie (with sound) mode with Night exposure
option; Voice Memo mode; Standard, High Speed, and UHS (Ultra High Speed) Continuous
Advance modes; 2x Digital Zoom; Interval Recording of two to 99 frames in one-
to 60-minute intervals; 10-second Self-Timer; and three Sharpness settings. Six
image quality levels include RAW uncompressed files, and Super Fine (TIFF), Extra
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. (Though a UHS Movie option records a 640
x 480 movie simultaneously with the continuous image sequence.)
Not to be outdone on the output phase of digital imaging, Minolta has incorporated
Epson's PRINT Image Matching technology, which ensures that Dimage 7Hi images
captured in autoexposure mode and output on compatible Epson printers will be
automatically color balanced to provide true-to-life hues and saturation. (PRINT
Image Matching really represents something of a breakthrough in print quality,
allowing faithful reproduction of colors well outside the normal color gamut of
CRT-based color spaces, as well as much more natural rendering of skin tones.)
Powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries (an optional AC power
adapter is available), the Dimage 7Hi delivers an amazingly versatile package
for the serious amateur or prosumer photographer. With the D7i, Minolta really
listened to users of the original Dimage 7, and implemented a surprising range
of meaningful upgrades and enhancements. Now, the Dimage 7Hi has added important
capabilities for the studio photographer (external strobe sync and color space
options) that make the camera suited for even some professional applications.
Released as an update to the well-received Minolta Dimage 7i, the Dimage 7Hi looks very similar externally, though now with an all-black body. The Dimage 7Hi continues with the true 5.0-megapixel CCD, exceptional 7x optical zoom lens, fine-grained image controls, and optional fully manual exposure control present on the Dimage 7i model, but adds a handful of key improvements of interest to studio shooters and professional or semi-professional users.
The Dimage 7Hi is similar in design to a traditional 35mm SLR, but an elongated lens barrel on the left side of the camera gives the camera more of a "T" shape, extending behind and in front of the body and hand grip on the right. The D7Hi's rather bulky body measures a substantial 4.61 x 3.56 x 4.43 inches (117 x 90.5 x 112.5 millimeters) with the lens at its shortest position, but the combination of magnesium alloy chassis and (mostly) plastic body panels make it surprisingly lightweight for its size (approximately 18.7 ounces, or 530 grams without the batteries or CompactFlash card). An accessory camera bag would certainly be the preferred method of carrying and storing the Dimage 7Hi, but the positions of the eyelets for the included neck strap at least let the camera hang level when it's suspended from them. (This last being a detail I wish more camera manufacturers paid attention to.)
The camera's front panel houses the Minolta GT 7x Zoom lens, Self-Timer light, microphone, and the front of the pop-up flash compartment. Encircling the lens are two adjustment rings: a rubberized grip on the front end for actuating the zoom lens, and a ribbed 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 pair of tabs on the outside edge of the lens serve as a mount for 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. An indentation at the top of the hand grip comfortably cradles your middle finger as it curls around the grip. Additionally, a rubbery coating overlays the hand grip providing more friction for a more secure grasp.
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 ejects the card from the camera (the latch must be unfolded from the bottom into a vertical position and then pressed to eject the card). Next to the eject button is a USB jack for direct connection to a computer. On the outside of the CompactFlash compartment, a tiny red light (near the top left corner of the compartment door) indicates when the camera is accessing the memory card. (Do not open the compartment door when this light is on, to avoid corrupting data on your memory card.) At the top of the right panel is one of the two neck strap attachment eyelets. Also visible from this angle is the camera's speaker, on the side of the LCD monitor.
The left side of the camera features a host of controls, including the Function dial, flash sync terminal, Effects dial, Auto/Manual Focus button, and Macro switch (on the side of the lens). The Function dial, located at the top of the panel, controls the Memory settings, Metering mode, Exposure mode, Drive mode (Self-Timer, Continuous Shooting, etc.), White Balance, and ISO. The Effects button lets you adjust Contrast, Exposure Compensation, Color Saturation, and effects Filters in conveniently small increments. Both dials have buttons in the center that activate whatever function you've selected with that dial. The Focus button simply switches back and forth between Auto and Manual focus modes. A Macro switch on the lens barrel activates the Macro shooting mode, when the lens is set to either of its two macro-compatible zoom positions (a small range of telephoto focal lengths or full wide angle). The second neck strap attachment eyelet is at the top next to the Function dial. Also visible on this side, at the edge 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 with which to open the flash, and an external flash hot shoe on top, protected by a sliding plastic cover that is completely removable from the camera body. The hot shoe employs a custom electrode setup and mounting bracket for Minolta accessory flash units, and so isn't compatible with standard hot-shoe flashes. In addition, there are a number of controls that access various camera functions, including the Mode Dial / Main Power switch, 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, a Subject Program button (directly adjacent to the Data panel) selects 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. The Dimage 7Hi's impressive electronic viewfinder (EVF) features a reflective, ferroelectric display that translates into a very clear and bright viewfinder display. The viewfinder also tilts upward almost 90 degrees, offering a variety of 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 lets you 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 viewfinder information overlays and alternating between full-image and index displays in Playback mode; a Menu button, a Four-Way controller for scrolling through and selecting menu options, a Quickview / Delete button; a Digital Zoom button near the bottom of the back panel; and a Spot (AE lock) button located just below the Mode Dial in the upper right corner. Along the bottom edge are two sets of body openings, covered by flexible plastic flaps that fit snugly into place. The left houses the DC In and Video Out jacks, and the right accepts the Remote control connector plug (for the optional remote control unit). The battery compartment is just beneath the LCD monitor, and has a latch to keep the door closed. Most importantly, back-panel access lets you quickly change batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod (many digicams put the battery compartment on the bottom panel, too close to the tripod mount). The battery compartment door is quite stiff, requiring a good bit of pressure to close it enough to flip the latch closed. From my own battery testing though, I've learned that loose battery contacts can waste a lot of battery power. Consequently, I'm pleased whenever I see a battery compartment design that applies plenty of pressure to the contacts.
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 back panel, just slightly to one side of the center of gravity.
(It's also well to one side of the center axis of the lens, a minor issue when
shooting successive images for panorama-stitching.) I was pleased to see plenty
of flat space around the tripod socket, making for more stable support of the
camera when it's so mounted.
As was the case with the original Dimage 7 and again with the 7i, the viewfinder
is one of the most interesting aspects of the Dimage 7Hi. 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
I've long held a hearty dislike of EVFs, for a variety of reasons. For one, resolution is often considerably less than on the rear-panel LCD, and the view doesn't remotely compare to that 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 collect enough light in each frame to make the EVF display usable. Time and again, I've seen EVF-equipped digicams that are capable of taking pictures in conditions far darker than levels at which you can see what you're shooting in the EVF. Without a low-light-capable viewfinder, you're reduced to guessing where your subject is in the viewfinder.
That said, Minolta's EVFs in the Dimage 7, 7i, and now the 7Hi have proven to be exceptions to my thinking. The Dimage 7Hi's EVF works down to incredibly low light levels, and also has surprisingly high resolution under normal lighting. The EVF uses a reflective ferroelectric LCD display, with 122,000 pixels in it, a slight increase from the 118,000 pixels of the original Dimage 7. The 122K pixel rating is deceptively conservative though, since each pixel shows full continuous-tone color, rather than the separate red, green, or blue pixels of conventional LCDs. The resulting display thus looks much smoother and more detailed than conventional EVFs, with none of the red/green/blue pointillist appearance common to the genre.
Beyond higher apparent resolution though, the Dimage 7Hi's EVF is remarkably usable at low light levels. Below a certain light level, it switches from a color display to a monochrome one (although the final camera images are still captured in color), apparently as a way of increasing sensitivity and reducing image noise. Whatever the case, the net result is that the EVF on the Dimage 7Hi is at least as sensitive as my own eyes at a given illumination level, making it eminently usable at any light level most users will care to shoot at. Given that it's about as sensitive as the average eyeball, it's fair to say that a purely optical viewfinder wouldn't improve low-light capability a great deal.
The Dimage 7Hi's EVF also features the innovative auto-switching capability first seen in the original Dimage 7. You can choose to have the viewfinder display always appear on either the LCD or EVF, or switch between the two automatically. Inset behind a pair of vertical windows on the right side of the viewfinder, a set of infrared sensors detect your eye as it approaches the viewfinder, switching the view to the EVF and disabling the LCD monitor if you have the auto-switching option enabled. To save on battery power, you can optionally (through the Custom Settings menu) set the Auto mode to simply turn the EVF on and off, keeping the LCD monitor disabled. The auto-on option for the EVF isn't instantaneous, but it's pretty fast. I clocked it at roughly 0.3 seconds (assuming my finger was fast enough on the stopwatch). The only complaint I have about the auto-on feature of the EVF is that it can leave the EVF powered up when the camera is hanging from the neckstrap. In that position, the EVF eyepiece will be pressed against your chest, triggering the infrared eyeball-detector circuit. A minor point, and one for which there may not be any design-based cure, but I thought it worth mentioning, in case it'd prevent a reader from draining their batteries unexpectedly. (Flipping the tilting eyepiece assembly up when carrying it would avoid this problem, if you can just remember to do so reliably.)
mentioned earlier, the electronic viewfinder eyepiece tilts upward 90 degrees,
offering a range of viewing angles. A Diopter Control dial adjusts the viewfinder
to accommodate eyeglass wearers, across a range of -5 to +0.5 diopters. (This
covers a wider range of eyesight than I'm accustomed to seeing in eyepiece adjustments.
It handled my 20/200 vision with no trouble at all.) The viewfinder has a reasonably
high eyepoint, making it quite usable with eyeglasses, but the field of view
is slightly restricted when your eye is further from the eyepiece.
Nothing in this world is perfect, of course, and the Dimage 7Hi's EVF is no exception. The EVF on the original Dimage 7 had several deficiencies, some of which are still present with the 7Hi. As it happened, I did have a Dimage 7 in-house simultaneous with the 7Hi, so I could make some direct comparisons. Here are the main issues:
Eyepiece optics. - Several users previously complained to me of blurriness in the Dimage 7's viewfinder, prompting me to take a closer look. When I did, I found that I sometimes got a slightly blurry view in the eyepiece, the result looking a bit like it arose from a curvature of field problem in the eyepiece optics. (Curvature of field is a common lens aberration, in which the center and edges of the field of view come into focus at different focal distances.) In the Dimage 7Hi, the problem looks less like curvature of field to me than it does a circle of coverage limitation. - I could see the corners of the EVF screen quite clearly if I just moved my eye slightly to one side or the other. With my eyeball centered over the eyepiece though, the corners of the viewfinder appeared slightly obscured. I don't see this as a fatal flaw, but can imagine that some users would find it annoying. (The Dimage 7Hi VF optics are the same in this regard.)
The "crackled glass" effect. This was far and away the biggest complaint I heard from Dimage 7 users. This is evidently a consequence of the ferroelectric LCD's square, tightly 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, closely tiled LCD pixels give a very smooth appearance with most subjects, the pixel data 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" appearance. The D7Hi's EVF seems to be a good bit less prone to this problem than that on the original D7. I don't have any way to quantify the difference, and it's still present to some degree in the 7Hi, but it does seem to be improved.
One thing I did notice with the D7Hi though, was that its EVF seemed to have a much higher refresh rate. On the D7, if you moved the camera quickly (or your subject moved quickly across the field of view), there'd be a very visible "tearing" of the display. This could be a little troublesome for situations like sports shooting, where you might want to pan the camera fairly quickly to follow a fast-moving subject. Making the direct comparison against the original Dimage 7, I found the 7Hi's refresh rate to be dramatically higher.
Blown highlights. - In extended use, the biggest complaint I personally had about the original D7's EVF was that it was very hard to judge what was going on in highlight areas. In landscape shots where I cared about cloud detail for instance, it was very hard to compose for 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 I lay most of the blame for the viewfinder highlights on the EVF system. In the 7Hi, the EVF display seems somewhat less contrasty (and colors are likewise less saturated) than in the original Dimage 7. One result of this is that the 7Hi's EVF seemed to do a much better job of preserving highlight detail, although I'd still say that it's far from perfect in this respect. Overall, if the bulk of the frame was filled with a darker subject (the landscape example mentioned above, for instance), it was still very difficult to see what was going on in the sky. If the scene was more nearly the same brightness though, I didn't have any trouble picking out cloud details.
If the subject was one that allowed a little more time to fiddle with the camera before shooting, I found I could make good use of the spot-metering button to temporarily lock an exposure setting for the sky, reframe my picture to position the cloud details where I wanted them, then release the spot button and let the camera calculate exposure normally for the main subject. Not ideal but workable, IMHO, poor highlight detail is the biggest limitation of Minolta's otherwise excellent EVF design.
Despite the limitations mentioned above, I still like the Dimage 7Hi's EVF better than most others I've tried. That said, I do still prefer optical viewfinders if they're available. With 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.
rear-panel, 1.8-inch, TFT color LCD monitor is also 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, activated by the i+ button on the Display Mode dial.
Through the Setup menu, you can set the number and type of displays available
through the i+ button, with no less than six options available. Most notable
are the Histogram, Grid, and Scale modes. The Histogram setting displays a small
"live" histogram overlaid on the viewfinder image, showing the distribution
of tonal information in the image. This is handy tool for determining any potential
over or underexposure, before capturing an image. The Grid option displays a
20-segment grid over the image area, helping you line up shots. Scale mode displays
a crosshair type scale, which divides the image into quadrants. The histogram
display is a nice feature (although I'd like to see it coupled with the option
to "blink" blown-out highlights), and the grid and scale modes are
very handy framing aids.
In terms of accuracy, both the EVF and rear panel LCD provide very accurate framing, showing almost exactly 100% of the final image area.
Playback mode, the Dimage 7Hi 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 here, for checking on the tonal range of the captured image.
(I'd really like to see an option that blinked blown highlights though, because
a histogram display alone doesn't help much if you've got just a few blown highlights
in a photo.)
with a 7.2-50.8mm, aspherical glass lens, the Dimage 7Hi's lens is equivalent
to a 28-200mm lens on a 35mm camera. This is a very nice range of focal lengths.
The 28mm wide angle setting is particularly welcome, since most digicam lenses
don't go that wide. Likewise, 200mm is a good medium telephoto length, about as
long as most folks can comfortably hand hold without image stabilization. Unlike
most digicams I've worked with, the lens zoom operates by rotating a collar around
the lens barrel, coupled mechanically to the lens elements themselves. I like
the 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. (I will say that the action of the zoom lens feels a little
"cheap" though, with more of a plastic-on-plastic feel, rather than the smooth
lubricated-metal feeling I'm accustomed to in higher-end removable SLR lenses.)
The lens consists of 16 elements in 13 groups, including two AD (anomalous dispersion)
glass elements and two aspheric surfaces. Aperture control can be either manual
or automatic, 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 focuses in on objects
as close as about 5.25 inches (13.3 centimeters) from the lens surface. You can
enter Macro mode in either wide angle or telephoto lens positions. A plastic lens
cap with spring-loaded catches hooks into 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 care not to lose it.
The Dimage 7Hi provides both manual and automatic focus control. The camera's
specification sheet describes the autofocus system as a "Video AF system," which
uses phase-detection focusing technology rather than the much more common contrast-detection
system. The advantage 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 should be able to 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 my testing, I found
that the Dimage 7Hi's AF system was indeed among the fastest I've found on a "prosumer"
digicam, with shutter lags of only about 0.65 seconds in wide-area AF mode. (Switching
to Spot Focus Point autofocus mode, as described below, increased shutter lag
to about 0.83 seconds with the lens set to its maximum telephoto position, but
kept it at 0.64 seconds with the lens at its wide angle setting.)
Dimage 7Hi'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 at all times, continuously
keeping the frame in focus. You can also determine the area of the image the camera
uses to judge the focus, by selecting one of three autofocus options: Wide Focus
Area, Spot Focus Point, and Flex Focus Point. The default option is Wide Focus
area, indicated by a set of four widely-spaced brackets in the viewfinder image.
By pressing and holding down the center of the Four-Way Arrow controller pad,
the camera switches between Wide Area and Spot Point autofocusing modes (the latter
indicated by a target crosshair in the center of the viewfinder). If you release
the controller pad when the Spot AF target is displayed, you can then use the
four arrow buttons to move the target around the viewfinder area–this is what
Minolta calls Flex Focus Point AF. Wide Area AF bases its focus on the most prominent
subject detail in the portion of the image that falls within the AF brackets.
Spot Focus bases its focus on the very center of the frame, where the target crosshairs
reside. Finally, Flex Focus lets you move the focus point to anywhere within the
frame, by manually moving the target crosshairs around the image area with the
arrow buttons. See the screen shot above right, in which I switch from Wide Area
to Spot Focus, and then move the Flex Focus Point around the screen. As noted
earlier, the Spot Focus Point autofocus mode seems to increase shutter lag at
focal lengths other than wide angle.
The AF/MF button on the camera's left side toggles back and forth between Manual
and Automatic focus modes. In Manual Focus mode, turning a ribbed ring around
the base of the lens barrel adjusts focus. As you focus, a distance readout reports
the current focal distance in meters or feet at the bottom of the LCD monitor
(or EVF), under the MF icon. New on the Dimage 7i model and repeated on the 7Hi,
the Direct MF menu option lets you manually tweak the autofocus selection without
switching over to MF mode. You simply halfway press the Shutter button (triggering
the autofocus system) and then turn the focus ring to adjust the focus. This is
useful when the camera is having trouble focusing on a difficult subject, but
isn't too far off the mark.
The Spot (AE/AF Lock) button, located in the upper right corner of the back panel
(below the Mode Dial), locks the focus for a specific portion of the subject without
having to hold the Shutter button down halfway. Pressing the button also locks
exposure. You can configure this button in the Custom1 Record menu to switch between
AF/AE Hold, AF/AE Toggle, AE Hold, or AE Toggle functions.
In addition to the 7x optical zoom, the Dimage 7Hi offers a 2x Digital zoom button,
located at the very bottom of the back panel, on the right side. By default, pressing
this button activates an instant 2x digital zoom. (Keep in mind that digital zoom
simply enlarges the central portion of the CCD image digitally, rather than magnifying
it optically and, as a result, image resolution is decreased in direct proportion
to the magnification achieved.) In Manual Focus, this button produces a temporary
magnification of roughly 4x as a focusing aid, which I found quite effective for
evaluating the focus setting. Even relatively small movements of the focusing
ring produced very noticeable changes in the magnified display. The manual-focus
focus-assist magnification disappears as soon as you half-press the Shutter button,
or press the magnify button a second time.
A set of 49mm filter threads around the inside lip of the lens accommodates Minolta's
range of accessory filters and conversion lens kits. I really like 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.
I do worry a little about the wisdom of hanging very much weight on the front
of the telescoping lens assembly. I guess it will be fine for relatively lightweight
attachments such as macro adapters and filters, but would be cautious with any
sort of larger accessory lens.
In my testing, the lens of the Dimage 7Hi was really a high point of the camera's
performance. (As was also the case with the original Dimage 7 and 7i.) I've become
so accustomed to seeing optical defects in consumer and prosumer digicam lenses
that I've become a little jaded in my outlook. In particular, virtually all consumer-level
digicam lenses show significant softness in the corners of the images, and quite
a bit of chromatic aberration as well. The lens on the Dimage 7Hi appears to be
immune to these defects to a surprising degree, producing very sharp images corner
to corner, with relatively little chromatic aberration to boot. The 7Hi's lens
also has very little geometric distortion at either end of its focal length range.
I measured only about 0.1% barrel distortion at wide angle, and only 0.35% pincushion
at telephoto. Both numbers are very good, particularly for such a long-ratio zoom
Exposure The Dimage 7Hi offers excellent exposure control, with very fine-grained
adjustment of such image attributes as sharpness, contrast, and color saturation.
While I found the camera's user interface a little confusing at first, with its
myriad buttons, dials, and switches, I liked it a lot once I got the hang of it.
(The combined use of functional dials, selection buttons, and the rotating command
wheel is similar to the design of Minolta's film cameras, and very reminiscent
of the earlier Sony DSC-D770, a camera that developed a significant "cult" following.
While something of a departure for the digicam market, this interface has proven
very popular with users of both Minolta's film cameras, and the (much) earlier
The Mode dial on top of the camera selects the basic operating mode: Record, Playback,
Movie, Setup, or Data Transfer. Within Record mode, you have several exposure
options: Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, and a handful
of preset recording modes that I'll describe in just a bit. These first four 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 Control dial just to the right of the Shutter button. It's definitely a two-handed
process, but quick to execute once you become familiar with the system.
In Program AE mode, the camera determines the best exposure for the current shooting
situation, setting both the shutter speed and lens aperture automatically. Aperture
Priority mode lets you 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
15 seconds, while the camera chooses the best corresponding aperture setting.
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 7Hi's maximum shutter speed requires a little explanation. Like many
shutter systems, the minimum shutter-open time is somewhat dependent on the aperture
setting of the lens, with the shortest exposures only available when the lens
is stopped down a bit. On the 7Hi, the maximum shutter speed of 1/4,000 of a second
is only available when the lens is stopped down to f/8 or smaller. (Although it
also appears to be attainable with an aperture as large as f/5.6, for some zoom
settings.) You thus can't select it in Shutter Priority mode, since the aperture
there is under control of the exposure system. I'd expect to be able to access
the 1/4,000 speed in Manual mode, if I had a sufficiently small aperture selected,
but this seems not to be the case. The 1/4,000 speed is only available when the
camera is controlling the shutter speed itself, and when the aperture is set to
a high enough f-stop. In Program AE mode, this happens automatically in bright
enough conditions. In Aperture Priority mode, the camera will select the 1/4,000
speed if the conditions are bright enough, and you've manually selected
a small enough aperture.
The Dimage 7Hi's default metering mode is a 300-segment evaluative system, which
takes readings throughout the image to determine exposure. Center-Weighted and
Spot metering options are also available via the Function Dial. Spot metering
is useful for high-contrast subjects, as it bases the exposure reading on the
very center of the image, letting you set the exposure based on a small portion
of your subject. Center-Weighted metering also bases the exposure on the center
of the image, but the camera takes its readings from a much larger area in the
middle of the frame. You can also hold or lock the exposure reading for a particular
part of the image by pressing the Spot (AE / AF Lock) button on the back panel.
This control can be set to control either exposure alone or focus and exposure
together. It can also be programmed to act as either a "hold" or "toggle" control.
"Hold" mode does just that, it holds the current setting until you release the
Spot button again. Toggle mode locks and releases the exposure/focus setting with
successive actuations of the Spot button. Halfway pressing the Shutter button
also locks exposure and focus, but only in autofocus mode. When the camera is
in manual focus mode, half-pressing the Shutter button obviously doesn't affect
focus, but (strangely) it doesn't seem to lock exposure either.
The Dimage 7Hi's light sensitivity can be set to Auto, or ISO equivalents of 100,
200, 400, or 800. As with other consumer and prosumer digicams that sport ISO
800 options though, I didn't find the ISO 800 setting to be particularly useful,
as the image noise level was so high. Exposure compensation is adjustable from
-2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments, and an auto-bracketing
option can snap three shots in rapid succession, varying the exposure between
each in steps of 0.3, 0.5, or 1.0 EV units. Exposure compensation is adjusted
using the DEC (Digital Effects Controller), while auto bracketing is activated
by rotating the Function Dial to the Drive position, pressing the center, and
then rotating the Control Dial until the auto bracketing icon appears in the LCD
or EVF display. Exposure step size for auto bracketing is set via the Custom 2
submenu of the record-mode menu system.
White Balance & Color Control The Dimage 7Hi offers unusually flexible control over white balance,
color rendition, and tonal range. Its white balance system offers a total of seven
options, including Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, two Fluorescent settings (new to
the Dimage 7Hi), Cloudy, and Custom, which is the manual setting. The Custom Set
mode determines white balance by snapping a picture of a white card. The camera
then adjusts its color balance to render the white card with a neutral hue, and
saves the setting as the Custom option. As many as three Custom settings can be
saved, very useful if you need to switch back and forth between different lighting
Contrast and Color Saturation controls on the Dimage 7Hi provide a great deal
of flexibility. Both of these parameters are adjustable in seven steps across
a fairly broad range of settings, using the Digital Effects dial on the camera's
left side in conjunction with the Control Dial 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 Control dial to choose the desired setting.
The large number of steps in both of these settings make them really practical
for fine-tuning the camera to match your shooting preferences. If you'd like a
bit less contrast, or a bit more color saturation (my preference in both cases),
it's easy to dial that in using these controls.
In addition to these subtle color and tonal adjustments, the Dimage 7Hi also offers
a handy new Filter setting on the Effects dial. Depending on the color mode selected
through the Custom Settings menu, the Filter option adjusts the overall color
cast of the image, again in seven steps. The color range here varies from rather
blue to rather yellow, exactly the color axis that you'd want to adjust to compensate
for different color temperatures in your lighting. When Natural or Vivid Color
modes are in use, the Filter effect adjusts from -3 to +3. Positive adjustments
warm the image, while negative adjustments produce a cooler color balance. In
Black and White mode, the Filter effect tones the image in eleven steps, cycling
from neutral to red, green, magenta, blue, and back to neutral (zero position).
New to the Dimage 7Hi is the ability to select its working color space, through
the Color Mode option of the record menu. The Dimage 7Hi offers the Natural and
Vivid sRGB color modes mentioned above, as well as an Adobe RGB setting, Black
and White mode, and a Solarization mode. Adobe RGB color space has a much broader
gamut or range of reproducible colors than does sRGB, the color space used by
most digital cameras and computer monitors. Adobe RGB images will look rather
dull when displayed on monitors tuned to the sRGB standard, but when used in a
color-managed work environment, they can capture and reproduce a much greater
range of colors. For its part, Solarization partially reverses the tones in an
image, and the Exposure Compensation adjustment controls the intensity of the
effect. You can also choose, through the camera's Setup menu, whether or not to
embed the selected color profile as images are recorded. The record menu also
offers a Sharpness adjustment, for controlling the amount of in-camera sharpening
applied to an image.
Subject Program Modes
The Dimage 7Hi provides five preset exposure modes, including Portrait, Sports,
Sunset, Night Portrait, and Text, accessed by pressing the Mode Select button
next to the small status display panel on top of the camera (an indicator highlights
each mode 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 lets you
record the warm colors of the scene without compensating for them in the white
balance system. In Night Portrait mode, the camera also uses a slower shutter
speed to allow more ambient light into the image, however it also records 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 The Dimage 7Hi features a range of continuous shooting modes, all accessed
via the "Drive" setting on the left-side Function dial. In addition to the standard
Continuous Advance mode, the Dimage 7Hi also offers Interval, High-Speed Continuous,
and UHS Continuous Advance modes. (Note that the Drive setting also access the
Self-Timer and Auto Exposure Bracketing modes.) In standard Continuous Advance,
the Dimage 7Hi captures approximately two frames per second, for as long as the
Shutter button is held down (numbers are for small/basic images). Depending on
the resolution and quality settings, as well as the amount of memory card space,
the maximum number of frames and the frame rate will vary. (It's good for three
shots in rapid succession in large/super fine mode, or five to seven shots at
the large/extra fine setting.)
High-Speed Continuous mode captures approximately three frames per second, much faster than on the previous Dimage 7i, which captured around two frames per second.
UHS Continuous Advance mode captures a much more rapid burst of images, though resolution is automatically forced to 1,280 x 960 pixels. Images are captured at a maximum of seven frames per second (7.14 fps in my own tests), though again, quality settings and available memory space may limit the speed and number of images in the series. If the UHS Movie function is activated in the record menu, the camera also records a 640 x 480 movie clip, with audio, simultaneous with the 1,280 x 960 image series. I did notice one quirk with the UHS Movie mode, in that images were prone to streaking if they included very bright objects. - This looks like a charge transfer efficiency problem in the CCD, when run in this high-speed mode. I didn't see this behavior in any of the Dimage 7Hi's other modes.
Interval mode captures a series of images at specific intervals over time, providing a built-in time-lapse capability. The Dimage 7Hi captures a maximum of 99 images in the sequence, with frame intervals ranging from one to 60 minutes.
As I mentioned, the Drive setting also accesses the Self-Timer and Auto Exposure Bracketing modes. The Self-Timer counts down from 10 seconds between the time the Shutter button is fully pressed and the shutter actually fires. An LED lamp on the front of the camera blinks to indicate the time. Auto Exposure Bracketing mode captures a series of three images (one at the metered exposure, one underexposed, and one overexposed). You can set the exposure variation between exposures to 0.3, 0.5, or 1.0 EV. The Effects dial must be turned to the Exposure Compensation position for an exposure series. If the dial is set to Filter, Contrast, or Color Saturation, the Bracketing series will bracket the effect selected. (Another slick capability.)
Movie and Sound Recording
The Dimage 7Hi has a Movie mode that records moving images with sound, for as long as 60 seconds per movie. The amount of recording time appears in the LCD or EVF monitor display. Movies are recorded at 320 x 240-pixel resolution. Through the Record menu, you can set the movie mode to Auto, Standard, or Night. Night mode records black and white movies in low lighting situations. The Auto setting tells the camera to automatically decide between Standard and Night modes, based on the exposure conditions.
A Voice Memo mode records either five or 15 seconds of audio to accompany still images. The mode must be enabled before image capture. A microphone icon appears in the LCD/EVF display. Immediately after image capture, the camera begins recording audio for the specified time.
The Dimage 7Hi features a built-in, pop-up flash, which operates in either Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Rear Flash sync, or Wireless modes. (Wireless flash sync is a new option on the Dimage 7Hi.) To release the flash from its compartment, pull on the two small tabs on either side of the casing and lift up the flash head. 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 for the exposure itself. This makes your subjects' pupils contract and reduces the occurrence of the redeye effect. The Rear Flash Sync mode fires the flash at the end of the shutter time, rather than the beginning. If you have moving objects in a relatively brightly lit environment, this will produce a sharp image of your subject, with a "motion trail" following behind it. The flash is in the Off position when it's closed. The Wireless mode lets the camera work with wireless remote flash units, with four channels available through the settings menu, so different camera/flash setups working in the same area won't interfere with each other. (Minolta makes two flash units that support the D7Hi's wireless capability, the Program Flash 5600HS [D] and 3600HS [D].)
The Dimage 7Hi is also 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, as well as on the light reflected back from a pre-flash. 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 bases the exposure determination solely on a small metering flash before the main exposure. Used in conjunction with the spot autofocus 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.
For use with studio strobes and conventional slave triggers, the Dimage 7Hi has a manual flash power option. This lets you set the flash power to Full, 1/4, or 1/16 power manually. In this mode, the flash fires only once, at the moment of exposure. The single flash prevents false triggering when working with conventional slave triggers.
Dimage 7Hi also includes 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 I imagine that compatible models 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 7Hi, and two macro
flashes (Macro Twin Flash 2400 and Macro Ring Flash 1200) will work with an
accessory macro flash controller.
New on the Dimage 7Hi is an external flash sync terminal (the so-called "PC" style), which accommodates just about any third-party flash unit. This makes the Dimage 7Hi much more appealing to photographers who already have an existing strobe system for the studio.
I had a chance to play a bit with a couple of Minolta's dedicated flash units while I was testing the Dimage 7Hi, and must say I was impressed. I only shot with the 5600 model (a conventional hot-shoe mounted unit, but with the added capability of wireless control) in a fairly small area, so didn't test the maximum range over which the wireless TTL control would work with the D7Hi. (I'm sure it has some maximum range over which it's effective, but don't know what that is.) That said though, the camera/flash combination worked exceptionally well. Very slick, given that no extra controller or other hardware is needed to establish the wireless link between the flash and the camera. This has to be one of the neatest flash arrangements I've seen yet on a digicam.
For closeup work, the T2400 macro twin flash is a very capable setup too. - A large ring mounts to the front of the lens, and serves as a support mount for a pair of tiny flash heads. The little flash heads are powered by a flash controller that looks just like a normal hot-shoe flash unit, but has two sockets on its front instead of the flash tube. The ring has multiple mounting points around it for the little flash heads, so you can direct the light to come from top, bottom, or either side with equal ease. The flash controller also lets you set the power ratio between the two heads, so you can have a "main" and "fill" light on your macro subject. Very flexible, very slick (if not a little odd-looking). Highly recommended if you intend to do any really extensive macro work. (This should be a great solution for people selling tiny objects (coins, jewelry?) on eBay, looks like a sure winner for dentists looking to document their work, entomologists wanting really good bug pictures, etc, etc.)
Color Space This is probably as good a place as any to talk about the Dimage 7Hi's color space. The original Dimage 7 used a proprietary color space with a much wider color gamut than the sRGB space used by most digicams. (As well as by most computer monitors, consumer-grade printers, etc.) The result was it could capture a much broader range of colors than other cameras, but this also meant that the raw JPEGs straight out of the camera looked rather flat and dull when viewed on a typical computer monitor. To get the full color to appear, you needed to run the image files through Minolta's Dimage Viewer software utility, and convert their color space back to sRGB. (Or whatever other working space you wanted to use. - Many graphics professionals work in the so-called "Adobe RGB" space popularized by Photoshop(tm), which is supported by many graphics programs and printers, and also offers an expanded color gamut.)
While the expanded color gamut was a real boon to graphics professionals and others interested in breaking free of the constraints of sRGB, for the average amateur it amounted to just one more step to go through before they could fully enjoy their photos. Worse, if someone wasn't aware of the color space issue, they'd probably write off the Dimage 7 as having rather flat, undersaturated color.
With the Dimage 7i, Minolta stepped back closer to the mainstream in the color space department, adopting a color space that was much closer to sRGB, to the point that files from the 7i could be used in an sRGB environment without special processing.
With the Dimage 7Hi, Minolta has further moved to embrace standard color space definitions, but this time they've also included an option for a space with a larger color gamut than that supported by sRGB. The 7Hi has three color space options (plus black & white and sepia), two based on sRGB, the third being the broader-gamut "Adobe RGB" space. The two sRGB spaces are the default one, with normal color rendering, and a "vivid" sRGB option, which boosts color saturation a fair bit.
This increased color-space flexibility will come as a welcome addition for many pros and advanced amateurs who want to use their cameras in a color-managed environment. The Adobe RGB space avoids many of the color limitations of the sRGB space, which are most evident in highly-saturated reds. Working in Adobe RGB lets you maintain detail in bright reds and greens that can't be properly represented in sRGB space. Switching to Adobe RGB for your photography does involve a fair degree of commitment though, as you'll need to set up your entire workflow to support it, including both screen rendering on your computer's CRT or LCD, and printing to your printer. - Computer monitors are built to the sRGB standard, and require software support (as in Adobe Photoshop or other high-end image manipulation package) to portray Adobe RGB images properly. Likewise, most consumer-grade photo printers assume sRGB as the starting point, again needing color management to properly output Adobe RGB files. (Many professional photo printers are set up to work in Adobe RGB by default though, so check to see what your printer's default color space is.)
Shutter Lag/Cycle Times When you press the shutter release on a digital camera, there's usually
a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and
autoexposure mechanisms to do their work and can amount to a significant delay
in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported by manufacturers or reviewers,
and can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, I routinely measure
shutter lag and cycle times using a custom electronic test setup I designed and
built for the purpose.
Minolta Dimage 7Hi Timings
Power On -> First shot
Time from power-up to first shot. Fairly fast.
Time to finish writing average large/fine file to the CF card. Fairly fast. No lens to retract though, so you can put the camera away as soon as you turn it off.
Play to Record, first shot
Time until first shot is captured. Pretty fast.
Record to play (high/low res)
First time is for immediate switch after pressing shutter, second is time to display image from quiescent state in capture mode. Top numbers for high res, bottom for low. Pretty fast.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
Longer time is for telephoto, shorter for wide angle. Very fast, much more so than most competing models.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
(Focus Point mode)
Note that the Focus Point AF mode slows the camera's response when the lens is set to telephoto focal lengths.
Shutter lag, manual focus
Shutter lag, prefocus
Blazingly fast, as fast as high-end pro SLRs in this mode.
First row is for large/fine files. First number is for first 6-7 shots, until buffer fills. Second is after buffer fill, with fast CF card. Second row is small/economy (~21 shot buffer capacity). Third row is time for TIFF files with fast card. (3 shot buffer capacity). Fourth row is for RAW format files. (5 shot buffer capacity) Overall, very good speeds and buffer capacities.
Cycle time, continuous mode
Continuous mode can capture 7-9 frames at this speed, before having to wait for the memory card. Once the buffer is full, you can snap additional shots as the buffer memory empties. With a fast card, it empties in 30 seconds or so, but can take over a minute with a slow one.
Cycle time, UHS continuous
Ultra High Speed continuous mode forces the resolution to 1280x960, but the frame rate is pretty amazing. Maximum sequence length is also a pretty amazing 80-90 frames.
Overall, the Dimage 7Hi is a pretty fast camera. The 7Hi uses the same faster autofocus system we first saw in the Dimage 7i, so shutter lag is quite a bit faster than average, even in full autofocus mode. Manual focus is also a good bit quicker than average, and prefocus shutter delay is positively blazing. Shot to shot cycle times are also very good, helped by the roomy buffer memory that can handle 6-8 high resolution images at a time. Compared to the 7i, the 7Hi now supports TIFF capture with it's buffer memory as well, allowing rapid-fire acquisition of up to 3 uncompressed TIFF images before you have to wait for the buffer memory to clear. The newly-added RAW file format also takes advantage of the buffer, allowing up to 8 shots to be captured quickly in that mode. With an appropriately fast memory card, buffer clear times are quite good. Of all the prosumer digicams I've tested, the D7Hi is one of the best suited for sports and other fast action, with its faster than average shutter response, short cycle times, excellent continuous mode recording options, and long, sharp lens.
Operation & User Interface The Dimage 7Hi'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 Dimage 7Hi should be more intuitive for film-based
photographers who are accustomed to the "tactile" interface of the traditional
35mm SLR. The difference is immediately apparent with the mechanically-coupled
zoom lens control, which provides much more direct control 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. Manual focus
is more of a "fly by the wire" adjustment, in which a ridged focus ring at the
base of the lens is used to control the internal motor that actually makes the
adjustment. In my 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
Apart from the overall flash operating mode, 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 the control wheel. This may sound like a lot of steps, but
in practice I've always found external mechanical controls like these much faster
to navigate than LCD menu options. In addition to the Mode Dial / Main Power Switch
on top of the camera, the major interface elements include a pair of function
dials on the left side of the camera, a Control dial 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, I found it a little awkward to
have to view the left side of the camera to select specific parameters, but after
a few hours of using the camera, I found myself simply counting the clicks on
the dials there to select the options I wanted. Bottom line, while they're rather
unusual in the digicam world, the Dimage 7Hi's controls lend themselves to quick,
sure operation for experienced users in the heat of concentrated shooting sessions.
Shutter Button: Located on the top right-hand side of the camera, this
button sets exposure and focus (in autofocus mode) when half-pressed, and trips
the shutter when fully pressed.
Control Dial: This ridged 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 Computer Connect modes. A
button on the dial unlocks it for turning.
Pro Auto Button: Just in front of the Mode dial, on the right, this button
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.)
Subject Program Button: Just to the right of the status display panel,
this button cycles the camera through its five "Subject Programs," including Portrait,
Sports, Sunset, Night Portrait, and Text Modes.
Spot Button: On the back of the camera, just below the Mode Dial, the Spot
button locks exposure and/or focus, depending on how you've set it up. An LCD
menu option configures the button to match your shooting style. Focus and exposure
lock can be set together or as separate functions, and the button can be programmed
to either toggle the lock on or off, or only hold the settings while it's depressed.
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 your eye is pressed to the eyepiece.
(Or, if configured through the LCD menu, the Auto position turns the EVF on or
off depending on when it's in use, and never activates the rear-panel LCD. This
mode is good for conserving battery life.)
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. The available information screens are controlled via an option on the Setup-mode
Menu Button: While the Dimage 7Hi does make considerable use of external
controls, it also has an extensive LCD menu system, with three screens of menus
in both Record and Playback modes. Pressing the Menu button calls up the menu
system, and dismisses it when you're done.
Five-Way Controller: In the center of the back panel's controls (to the
right of the LCD monitor), this rocker control steps through selections within
the LCD menu system and interacts 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 button in the center of the control. (I really like the separate
button in the middle of this controller. It makes selecting menu items much more
certain than rocker controls that rely on you pressing the control in the middle
to make a selection. I frequently end up inadvertently pressing such controls
slightly unevenly, changing the menu selection, rather than confirming it. A separate
button as on the 7Hi avoids this problem.) 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 crosshair around the frame, converting
it to Flex Focus Point mode.
QV/Delete Button: Below the Four-Way Controller, the QuickView 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 Four-Way Controller, this
button can be configured (via an LCD menu option) to either toggle the 2x digital
zoom, or to magnify the center of the image by 4x for manual focusing. In Playback
mode, this button initially magnifies the image 2x, after which the up/down arrows
on the Five-Way Controller increase or decrease magnification in steps of 0.2x,
up to a maximum of 4x.
Battery Compartment Latch: Directly below the LCD screen, this latch opens
the battery compartment cover. It was 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 I've seen. (And from my own
battery testing experiments, I've come to appreciate the value of having very
tight contact between the battery terminals and the batteries themselves. Very
tight contact reduces contact resistance, increasing battery life to a surprising
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 Memory,
Metering, Exposure Mode, Drive, 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 Control dial. 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 Control
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 to select a function, pressing
the central button, and scrolling the Selection Wheel. Options include Exposure
Compensation, Contrast, Color Saturation, and Filter (a hue adjustment).
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 ribbed
ring controls focus when the camera is in Manual focus mode. This is a "fly by
wire" control, in that it isn't directly (mechanically) connected to the optics,
but rather commands an internal motor to move the lens elements.
Zoom Control Ring : A rubberized ring around the middle of the lens barrel,
this controls the optical zoom, moving the lens from wide angle to telephoto positions.
Unlike the zoom controls on most digicams I've tested, this collar on the 7Hi
is directly connected to the lens elements, providing very precise, sure-footed
Macro Focus Switch: Located on the left side of the lens barrel, this
control engages the macro focusing option.
Diopter Control Dial: Practically hidden on the left side of the optical
viewfinder, this tiny dial adjusts the viewfinder display to accommodate eyeglass
wearers. It varies the eyepiece diopter setting over an unusually broad range.
Camera Modes and Menus
Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the red camera symbol, this is
the mode for all still-image capture operation. (Programmed, Aperture Priority,
Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes are selected via the Function Dial,
with five preset scene modes available via the Digital Subject Program button.)
Indicated by the green arrow symbol, enables playback of previously captured images
Enables capture of movie sequences with sound.
Displays an LCD menu system allowing configuration of deeper camera operating
modes, memory card reformatting, menu language choice, etc.
Mode: Activates the Dimage 7Hi's USB port for downloading images to a host
Still Picture Shooting Menu Basic Options
Mode: Controls AF mode operation. Options are Single, to focus once when
the Shutter button is pressed, or Continuous, to engage the autofocus system
continuously. (NOTE that the Continuous option is only active when the shutter
is half-pressed. The camera never autofocuses unless your finger is on the
Image Size: Sets the pixel resolution of captured still images. Choices are 2,560 x 1,920; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; and 640 x 480.
Quality: Specifies the compression level of still images. Options are RAW, Super Fine (TIFF), Extra Fine, Fine, Standard, and Economy. RAW is a proprietary format, for use with Minolta's Dimage Viewer software only. (It captures the data directly from the CCD, and losslessly compresses it.
Flash Mode: Choose from Fill-Flash, Redeye Reduction, "Rear F-sync," and Wireless. Rear F-sync is apparently a slow-sync option that combines slower shutter speeds with the flash. The "Rear-F" likely refers to what is commonly known as rear-curtain sync, in which the flash fires just before the shutter closes, rather than just after it opens. With rapidly moving subjects, this produces motion blurs that trail the sharp, flash-exposed image, rather than preceding it. The Wireless setting allows the flash to work with wireless and remote slave units, with four available channels (set in the next menu option below). Wireless operation with Minolta's excellent 5600HS[D] flash unit is very smooth.
Wireless Channel: Sets the wireless channel, from one through four.
Flash Control: Selects the flash metering method. Options are ADI Flash, which uses distance information from the autofocus system together with a pre-flash to determine flash exposure, or Pre-flash TTL, which uses only the preliminary metering flash to gauge exposure before the shutter opens. You can also set the flash power to Full, 1/4, or 1/16 manually, which results in the flash emitting only a single burst of light, handy for use with conventional slave flash triggers.
Still Picture Shooting Menu Advanced-1 Options
AF/AEL: Controls the function of the AF/AEL button on the camera's back
panel. Options are as follows:
AF/AE Hold: Locks focus and exposure while you hold down the button.
AF/AE Toggle: Toggles the AF/AE lock on and off with successive presses.
AE Hold: Locks only the exposure when the button is held. (AF activated by Shutter button.)
AE Toggle: Toggles exposure lock on and off with successive presses.
Mag Button: Controls function of the Magnify button on the camera's rear panel in Record mode. It can either toggle the 2x digital zoom on and off, or activate a 4x electronic magnification, to aid focusing in manual focus mode. The 4x magnification remains active until you press the Mag button again, or until you press the shutter button. It returns when the shutter button is released, until finally canceled via the Mag button.
Interval: The Dimage 7Hi also has a built-in intervalometer, that lets you snap photos at preprogrammed intervals. This control sets the interval between exposures anywhere from one to 60 minutes, in one-minute increments.
Frames: The second half of the intervalometer control, this option sets the number of frames to be acquired, from two to 99.
Interval Mode: Sets the type of Interval capture to Still Image or Movie.
UHS Movie: Turns the UHS Movie option on or off. If on, the camera captures a 640 x 480 movie with sound during the UHS Continuous Advance image sequence. (This is a simultaneous capture: You end up with both the individual frames of the UHS sequence, as well as a 640x480 movie file.)
Still Picture Shooting Menu Advanced-2 Options
Imprint: Imprints information on captured photos. Options are Year/Month/Date,
Month/Day/Hr:Min, Text, or Text with a numeric ID string. Selecting either
Text option brings up a "virtual keyboard" display, with a complete
alphabet and numbers, including a variety of special symbols and accented
Color Mode: Selects the color mode. Choices are Natural (sRGB), Vivid (sRGB), Adobe RGB, Black and White, and Solarization. Note that the two sRGB modes and Adobe RGB are completely different RGB color spaces. (Use the sRGB modes unless you're working in a color-managed environment that supports Adobe RGB.)
Sharpness: Selects between varying degrees of in-camera sharpening: Low ("Soft"), Normal, or High ("Hard").
Exposure Bracket: Sets the size of the exposure step between shots in Auto Exposure Bracketing mode. Options are 0.3, 0.5, and 1.0 EV.
Inst. Playback: Optionally enables an immediate playback of each photo, for either two or 10 seconds after capture.
Voice Memo: Turns the Voice Memo mode on or off, which lets you record either five or 15 seconds of sound to accompany still images.
Movie Shooting Menu Options
or disable audio recording for movies.
Movie Mode: Options are STD Movie, Night Movie, or Auto Select. Night movie mode switches to a monochrome recording mode to achieve much higher light sensitivity with less image noise. (It's a pretty significant boost, making the 7Hi's Night Movie mode one of the most effective I've seen for low light levels.)
Playback Menu Basic Options
Lets you delete the current photo, all photos, or only marked photos.
Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even protected ones). There is an option to cancel, in case you select "Format" accidentally.
Lock: "Locks" captured images to prevent accidental erasure. (NOTE: Protects against "delete" operations, but not against card reformatting.) You can lock the current image, marked images, all images, or remove protection.
Index Format: Lets you choose between four- or nine-image thumbnail image displays.
Playback Menu Advanced-1 Options
Show: Initiates a slide show of photos on the memory card.
Playback: Chooses whether to play all photos or only marked ones in the slide show.
Duration: Set the duration for each "slide" in the slide show, from one to 60 seconds, in one-second increments.
Repeat: Chooses whether or not to repeat the slide show after all photos have been displayed.
Playback Menu Advance 2 Options
Set up photos for DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) printing on a compatible
standalone printer. This selection lets you choose whether to print the current
photo, all photos, or only marked photos.
Index Print: Chooses whether or not to include an index print of all photos in your DPOF order.
Cancel Print: Deletes all print orders on the card.
Copy: Makes a duplicate copy of either the current photo or of all marked photos.
Setup Menu Basic Options
Brightness: Adjusts LCD backlight intensity in five steps (arbitrary units).
EVF Brightness: Adjusts EVF brightness in five steps. (Useful to preserve night vision when shooting in low light, or for being able to see the display clearly when in bright sun.)
Audio Signals: Turns the camera's beep sounds off, or activates "electrical" (option 1), or "mechanical" (option 2) camera sounds.
Shutter FX: Turns on an automatic audio confirmation when images are captured (or turns it off). Option 1 uses the AF signal from the Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 7, and the shutter sound from the Dynax/Maxxum 9 SLR. Option 2 uses an electronic AF signal and the shutter sound from the Minolta CLE.
Volume: Adjusts the camera's playback volume. Choices are 1 (Low), 2 (Normal), and 3 (High).
Language: Sets language for menus. Options (at least for models sold in the US) are English, French, German, or Spanish.
Setup Menu Advanced-1 Options
Memory: Chooses whether or not to number images sequentially across memory
cards. If set to "yes," the Dimage 7Hi will remember the last number
used to name a file, even if a different card is inserted. (A common feature,
but very handy to prevent accidentally overwriting images when they're copied
to your computer.)
Folder Name: Selects the folder naming scheme as either Standard or Date format.
Select Folder: As an aid to organizing large numbers of photos, the Dimage 7Hi lets you set up separate folders on the memory card. If you have more than one folder defined, this menu selection lets you choose which you want to use to save photos in.
New Folder: Creates a new folder to save photos on the memory card.
Display Mode: Controls the number of Record mode displays available through the i+ button. Options are Standard display, Focus Frame, Histogram, Grid, Scale, and Image only. Enabled display types will appear in rotation in Record mode with successive presses if the i+ button.
Direct MF: Turns Direct MF on or off. When enabled, you can "tweak" the focus the camera has determined automatically by rotating the manual focus ring while the shutter button is half-depressed.
Setup Menu Advanced-2 Options
Default: Resets all menu choices to their factory default values. (Convenient
for getting back to "square one" after making a number of settings
EVF Auto Switch: Changes the behavior of the EVF and LCD when the Display Mode switch is in the "auto" position. Options are:
Auto EVF/LCD: Switches between EVF and LCD. (One turns off as the other turns on.)
EVF auto ON: EVF comes on when your eye is at the eyepiece, but doesn't switch back to the LCD when you pull your eye away. - Helps conserve battery power.
Date/Time Set: Sets the camera's date and time.
Date Format: Choose between YYY/MM/DD, MM/DD/YYYY or DD/MM/YYY date formats.
Video Output: Select either NTSC or PAL timing for the video output signal.
Power Save: Sets idle delay before the camera enters low-power mode. Options are 1, 3, 5, 10 minutes.
Memory Recall: Specifies whether the Function Dial or Digital Subject Program button is used to recall saved camera settings.
Control Dial (M): Places the Control Dial in charge of either Shutter Speed or Aperture in Manual exposure mode. By default, the dial controls shutter speed, while aperture is adjusted through the Exposure Compensation setting.
Manual Shift: Activating this function lets you sort through a range of equivalent exposure settings while in Programmed exposure mode, simply by pressing and holding the Spot AE button while turning the Command dial. (Very handy for achieving much the same result as you would with aperture- or shutter-priority modes, while retaining the convenience of fully automatic exposure metering.)
Bracketing: If set to DEC Control, the bracketing function will bracket the function selected via the Digital Effects dial. If set to Exposure, Auto Exposure Bracketing only brackets exposure, regardless of the switch position.
Color Profile: You can choose whether or not to embed the selected color profile in the file, to ensure accurate color reproduction. Choices are Embed or Not Embedded. (Choose "Embedded" if you have a color-managed workflow.)
Delete Confirmation: Designates whether the "Yes" or "No" option is automatically highlighted on the delete confirmation screen.
Transfer Menu Options The Dimage 7Hi connects directly to a computer as a "storage class" device. This means that on a supporting operating system (Mac OS 8.6 or later or Windows ME or 2000), no additional driver software is needed. What's a bit unusual about the interface is that you need to go to this menu, select the USB option, and hit "enter." The camera then says "Initializing USB Connection," at which point it will show up on the computer's desktop. No big deal but with most cameras, you simply put in the computer-connect mode and plug them in. I'm not sure why the Dimage 7Hi's USB connection has to be "initialized."
Image Storage and Interface
Dimage 7Hi uses CompactFlash Type I or Type II memory cards for image storage,
and a 16MB card comes with the camera. Third-party upgrades are available separately
to memory capacities as high as 1 GB using either Flash Memory the IBM MicroDrive.
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
connector edge going in first, and the front of the card facing the front of
the camera. A small button beside the slot ejects the card by popping it up
slightly, letting you pull the card the rest of the way out (put the eject button
into a vertical position first by pulling up on its bottom edge).
Although individual CompactFlash cards cannot be write-protected or locked against
erasure or manipulation, the Dimage 7Hi lets you 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 lets you delete images shown 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: 2,560 x 1,920; 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. RAW format saves the data
exactly as it comes from the CCD, before any processing has been done to it.
It is losslessly compressed, which means that it holds all the information that
a TIFF file would, but it's somewhat more compact. The downside of RAW files
is that they are a proprietary format, and must be processed to JPEG or TIFF
images on the computer before third-party applications can recognize them. The
number of remaining images that can be stored on the memory card appears in
the lower right corner of the status display panel, in addition to the selected
Resolution and Compression settings.
The tables below summarize the compression ratios and number of images that
can be stored on the included 16MB memory card with each Resolution / Quality
(JPEG Compression) combination, as well as on a 128MB card, a more useful size
with a camera of the D7Hi's resolution. (Note the large size of the 640x480
files: If you're planning on shooting small images for the web or email, you'll
definitely want to re-save these at a higher JPEG compression ratio.)
Image Capacity vs
16MB Memory Card
SXGA Resolution 1280x960
VGA Resolution 640x480
Image Capacity vs
128MB Memory Card
SXGA Resolution 1280x960
VGA Resolution 640x480
A USB cable and interface software accompany the Dimage 7Hi for quick connection
and image downloading to a PC or Macintosh computer. It appears as a "storage
class" USB device, meaning that no driver software is needed for Mac OS versions
8.6 or later or for Windows Me, 2000, and XP. Given the 7Hi's speed at shooting
(and therefore obviously powerful data processing circuitry), I was a little
surprised to find that it wasn't very fast at all when downloading files to
the computer. Connected to my 500MHz PowerMac G4, I measured its transfer
rate at only 258 KB/second. This is less than half the speed of the fastest-downloading
cameras I've tested in the past. (Given the 7Hi's voracious appetite for memory
space, I'd highly recommend a fast card reader as an accessory item.)
Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it
when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time
to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos
due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few
things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen
with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff
happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images
can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though.
Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph
in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by
DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now,
so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then
it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for
Windows or PhotoRescue for
Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the
PDF manual and quickstart
guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you
need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when...
PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital
photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of
the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.)
OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Dimage 7Hi 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.
Dimage 7Hi uses four AA-type batteries for power, or the optional AC adapter.
Usable battery types include NiMH or alkaline, and I highly recommend
picking up two good sets of rechargeable NiMH batteries. This is definitely
a camera that you'll want to pack along extra batteries for, and a natural candidate
for use with an external power pack.
Here are the power-consumption numbers I measured for the Dimage 7Hi in the lab, along with estimated run times, based on a set of (true) 1600 mAh NiMH cells:
(Four 1600 mAh AA cells)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
Capture Mode, w/EVF
Capture Mode, EVF off
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
Memory Write (transient)
Flash Recharge (transient)
The Dimage 7 and 7i had reputations as rather power-hungry cameras, and the 7Hi very much follows in their footsteps. Still, I don't think it's quite as bad as some people have made out. With a high-capacity set of NiMH AA cells, you should be able to get 80+ minutes of run time in its worst-case power consumption mode. Use the EVF instead of the rear-panel LCD, and your continuous run time stretches to about an hour and 40 minutes. Use the auto-off feature for the EVF, and you should be able to leave the camera in capture mode for a couple of hours on a freshly charged set of batteries. (And in "sleep" mode, the camera consumes only the barest trickle of electricity.)
I'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 I cobbled together.) I've found some interesting things. First, just because a battery *says* it's 1800 mAh (for instance) doesn't mean that it *is* 1800 mAh. Digicams definitely aren't a place to cheap-out on batteries, so it pays to get a good brand. Read my "Battery Shootout" article for the full scoop on which batteries tested out the best. (I'll be updating that article every few months, as of this writing in early October, 2002, the Maha 1800s were still on top, but some newly-released 1850s look like they'll finally surpass them.)
The second thing I 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 1800 mAh batteries into a set of 900 mAh ones! I'm hoping to expand the Battery Shootout article into a whole "power solutions" area for the site, to share my findings, but for now can just say that my 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 1800 mAh batteries and a good charger, and you should easily get an hour plus of continuous operation of the Dimage 7Hi (in worst-case power consumption mode) per charge.
Finally, I 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 7Hi apparently needs a higher voltage at its external power terminal than these packs deliver. (The camera's power terminal is labeled "6 volts," such packs usually don't come up to that voltage when subjected to high loads.) As I'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 my testing, the Dimage 7Hi 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 1800 NiMH cells internally, and you'll be good for a full three hours or so of nonstop, worst-case operation. Easily all day if you're judicious about turning the camera off when not in use, or if you just set the "sleep" timer to a fairly short interval. One note: Maha makes both NiMH and LiIon versions of the PowerBank, make sure you get the LiIon model for the Dimage 7Hi. (Model number MH-DPB140LI.) Click here for more information, or to order online. Highly recommended for this camera!
In the Box
The software they didn't include...
(But that you should)
Few people realize just how *much* you can improve your digicam
images through clever processing in Photoshop. Greatly (!) increased
sharpness, reduced noise, and even ultra-wide dynamic range (light-to-dark
range) by combining multiple exposures. Fred Miranda and uber-Photoshop
expert Fred Miranda has packaged some of his Photoshop magic in
a collection of powerful and affordably priced "actions." Check
out his site, the results are pretty amazing!
The Dimage 7Hi ships with the following complement of accessories and software:
Lens Shade DLS-7
Video Cable VC-100
USB Cable USB-100
CompactFlash Card (16MB in the US)
Four AA alkaline batteries
CD-ROM with Dimage Software
Coming (very?) Soon! - As I "went to press" with this article, we'd been having an unrelenting string of cloudy days, preventing me from shooting my outdoor test photos. I've got most of the indoor and studio shots done, but will wait until I have the full set before I post the pictures page and my full analysis of the Dimage 7Hi's imaging performance. Stay tuned!
Throughout its evolution, I have continued to be impressed with the Dimage 7, 7i, and now 7Hi. The new Dimage 7Hi is a nice upgrade to the 7i, adding the benefits of faster continuous shooting speeds, a PC sync terminal, and adjustable color space options to an already great camera. The Dimage 7Hi performs very well, with category-leading autofocus speed, excellent, fine-grained control over color and tone, and full manual control. The long-ratio zoom lens and fast shutter response make it a nearly ideal camera for amateur sports shooting. As an added bonus, the Dimage 7Hi integrates beautifully with Minolta's dedicated flash units, with built-in wireless TTL flash metering capability and full control over the flashes' zoom heads. (Minolta's very flexible twin-headed macro flash system deserves special mention here as well, as one of the most flexible macro lighting systems I've seen.) All in all, the new Dimage 7Hi demands serious consideration from anyone shopping at the high end of the "prosumer" digicam market, and its new flash sync and color-space options suit it to even some professional applications. Highly recommended!