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Minolta Dimage 7Hi

Minolta updates their revolutionary five-megapixel electronic SLR with an external flash sync connection, faster continuous mode, an "extra fine" JPEG option, and increased color space flexibility.

Review First Posted: 10/15/2002




MSRP $1299 US

 

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5.0-megapixel CCD delivers uninterpolated images as large as 2,568 x 1,928 pixels.
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Tack sharp 7x optical zoom lens covers a 28-200mm equivalent focus range.
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Ferroelectric LCD technology gives sharp electronic viewfinder image that is visible even at low light levels.
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Enhancements over the D7i include external sync socket, extra-fine JPEG option, and external flash sync socket.

 

Manufacturer Overview
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!


Highlights


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.)

 

Feature Dimage 7Hi Dimage 7i
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.

 


Executive Overview
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 pro-digital cameras.

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 slave triggers.

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.


Design
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.


Viewfinder
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 information display.

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.)

As 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:

  1. 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.)

  2. 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.


  3. 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.

The 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.

In 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.)


Optics
Equipped 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.)

The 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 lens.


 

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 Sony camera.)

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 conditions quickly.

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.



Flash
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.

The 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
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot 3.2
Time from power-up to first shot. Fairly fast.
Shutdown 2.4
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 1.4
Time until first shot is captured. Pretty fast.
Record to play (high/low res) 1.5/1.4
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
(Area mode)
0.64/0.65 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)
0.64/0.83 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 0.184 Very fast.
Shutter lag, prefocus 0.055 Blazingly fast, as fast as high-end pro SLRs in this mode.
Cycle Times 1.16/12.3

1.34/1.85

2.67/15

1.9/9.8

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
0.8
(1.25 frames/sec)
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
0.140
(7.14 frames/sec)
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 Focus mode.

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.


Control Enumeration



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.


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 extent.)


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 dial.


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 control.



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

Still Capture Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the red camera symbol, this is the mode for all still-image capture operation. (Programmed, 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.)

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

Movie Mode: Enables capture of movie sequences with sound.

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

Computer Connection Mode: Activates the Dimage 7Hi's USB port for downloading images to a host computer.


Still Picture Shooting Menu Basic Options


Still Picture Shooting Menu Advanced-1 Options


Still Picture Shooting Menu Advanced-2 Options


Movie Shooting Menu Options


Playback Menu Basic Options


Playback Menu Advanced-1 Options


Playback Menu Advance 2 Options


Setup Menu Basic Options


Setup Menu Advanced-1 Options


Setup Menu Advanced-2 Options

Custom Options



Computer 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

The 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
Resolution/Quality
16MB Memory Card
Raw
Uncompressed
(Super Fine)
Extra Fine
Fine
Standard
Full Resolution 2560x1920 Images 1 1 3
6
10
Approx.
Compression/KB
1.4:1
10.6 MB
1:1
14.7 MB
3:1
5.1 MB
6:1
2.6 MB
10:1
1.5 MB
UXGA Resolution 1600x1200 Images
N/A
2
7
14
23
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
5.8 MB
3:1
2.1 MB
5:1
1.1 MB
9:1
675 KB
SXGA Resolution 1280x960
Images
N/A
4
11
21
33
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
3.7 MB
3:1
1.4 MB
5:1
742 KB
8:1
477 KB
VGA Resolution 640x480
Images
N/A
15
35
47
64
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
922 KB
2:1
432 KB
3:1
329 KB
4:1
250 KB

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
128MB Memory Card
Raw
Uncompressed
Extra Fine
Fine
Standard
Full Resolution 2560x1920 Images 12 8 25
49
83
Approx.
Compression/KB
1.4:1
10.6 MB
1:1
14.7 MB
2:1
8 MB
5:1
3.2 MB
9:1
1.6 MB
UXGA Resolution 1600x1200 Images
N/A
21
62
117
189
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
5.8 MB
2.5:1
2.2 MB
5:1
1.1 KB
8:1
696 KB
SXGA Resolution 1280x960
Images
N/A
33
94
172
268
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
3.7 MB
2.5:1
1.4 MB
5:1
762 KB
8:1
485 KB
VGA Resolution 640x480
Images
N/A
122
296
389
499
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
922 KB
2:1
457 KB
3:1
340 KB
4:1
250 KB


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...

 

 

Video Out

The 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.


Power

The 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:

 

Operating Mode
Power
(mA @6.0v)
Est. Minutes
(Four 1600 mAh AA cells)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
925 mA
83
Capture Mode, w/EVF
773 mA
99
Capture Mode, EVF off
565 mA
136
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
974 mA
79
Half-pressed w/EVF
853 mA
90
Memory Write (transient)
1026 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
1397 mA
n/a
Sleep
~0 mA
(indefinite)
Image Playback
617 mA
125


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:

Test Results

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!


Conclusion

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!

 

<<D7Hi Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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