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Minolta DiMAGE 7i

Minolta updates their revolutionary 5 megapixel electronic SLR with numerous enhancements, keeps the excellent lens.

Review First Posted: 6/15/2002




MSRP $999 US

 

*
5.0-megapixel CCD delivers uninterpolated images as large as 2,568 x 1,928 pixels.
*
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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Numerous enhancements improve operating speed, viewfinder display quality, exposure range and more.

 

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, with the Dimage 7i, a substantial upgrade to the original Dimage 7. The list of added features and improvements is long and impressive, but the most salient are a dramatic improvement in autofocus speed and shutter delay, the addition of high-speed sequence and movie modes, and a significant change in the camera's native color space. Many of the 7i's improvements are impressive enough in themselves, but viewed collectively the effect is that of an almost entirely new camera. Perhaps more to the point the upgrades aren't just changes for the sake of change itself, but the obvious result of listening carefully to the Dimage 7's existing community of users. Overall, an impressive upgrade to what was already an excellent camera. Read on for all the details!


Highlights


Many of our readers are familiar with the original Dimage 7, so I put together the following feature comparison between the Dimage 7i and its predecessor. (There could be other differences as well, but these are the ones I'm aware of.) The sheer length of this list will give you some idea of the extent of the improvements Minolta has made in the Dimage 7's design:

 

Feature Dimage 7i Original Dimage 7
New custom color space
Color space is quite close to sRGB, making images more usable without postprocessing in Minolta's software.
Custom color space had a very wide color gamut, but images had to be processed through the Dimage Viewer utility for acceptable color.
Autofocus Speed
2x faster, quite fast now
Somewhat slower than average
Shutter lag
(Related to AF speed)
0.64-0.78 (wide-tele) for full AF, down to 130 msec for prefocus
1.00-1.26 (wide-tele) for full AF, down to 170 msec for prefocus
Continuous shooting mode speed
1.62 frames/sec (spec is 2 fps) in large/fine mode
0.95 frames/sec (spec was 1.1 fps) in large/fine mode
Ultra high speed continuous shooting mode
7.14 frame/second (spec is 7.5 fps) at 1280x960 resolution
n/a
Variety of movie functions
  • Audio added
  • Night Movie Mode
  • UHS continuous-advance movies
  • Time lapse movies
Single movie mode only, no audio
Macro capability at both telephoto and wide angle lens positions.
Macro operates over slight zoom range at telephoto end, at single wide-angle focal length. (No change in minimum macro coverage though.)
Macro available only at telephoto end of the lens' range.
Direct Manual Focus
Manual focus ring optionally active in both MF and AF modes. - Useful for making small tweaks to autofocus-determined focus setting.
Manual focus ring active only in MF mode.
Maximum shutter speed
1/4,000
(Only in conjunction with small lens apertures. 1/2,000 otherwise.)
1/2,000
TTL flash operation
TTL metering for Macro Twin Flash T2400 and Macro Ring Flash R1200. Wireless TTL flash operation for Program Flash 5600HS [D] and 3600HS [D] units.
Non-TTL flash metering.
Manual Flash Power Control
Three levels of flash power, manually selectable: Full, 1/4 power, and 1/16 power. (Very handy for use with studio strobes "slaved" to camera flash, because no pre-flash!)
Auto flash only
Improved Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
122,000 pixels, seemingly much faster refresh rate. (Little or no "tearing" of display with camera or subject movement.)
118,000 pixels, slower refresh rate.
Alignment aids in the viewfinder
Two new optional display overlays, grid and scale help with subject centering and alignment.
n/a
Real-time Histogram
Small (optional) window shows "live" histogram overlaid on top of VF display. (Larger histogram still available in Playback mode.)
Post-capture histogram in playback mode only.
Enhanced Quick-View mode
Enlarged playback of recorded images available in Quick View as well as normal playback. Magnification of 1.2-4.0x in 0.2x increments.
Magnification in normal playback mode only, Three steps of 2.0, 2.5, 4.0x.
Various color modes
Color, vivid color, black & white, solarization.
Color, black & white only.
"Filter" option added for color adjustment
"Filter" option on Digital Effects control provides 7-step range of adjustment of overall image color, along blue-yellow color axis. (Handy for matching color temperature of lighting.)
n/a
Folder names
Standard or date names
Standard only
Text Input
"Electronic keyboard" for text entry for folder naming or image imprinting.
n/a
Voice Memo
Attach voice annotation to captured images.
n/a
Sound effects
Optional shutter click sound, etc.
n/a
Improved ergonomics
New grip, slightly deeper (?) with contoured recess for finger. Much more secure grip on camera. Slightly repositioned shutter button. Redesigned zoom ring on lens gives better grip there too.
n/a

 


Executive Overview
Building on the success of last year's Dimage 7 digicam (this is being written in early June, 2002), Minolta has introduced the updated Dimage 7i with a host of new features that improve an already exceptional camera. The 7i continues with the 4.95-megapixel CCD, ultra-sharp 7x optical zoom lens, and a variety of features that were "firsts" in a consumer digicam when they debuted last year. Updates include an optional real-time histogram display, a new UHS Continuous Advance mode for ultra high speed image sequences, a Night Movie mode, audio recording capability, and a dozen more improvements. (See the full list on the previous page of this review.) Extensive creative controls, sophisticated camera functions, and a user-friendly interface make the Dimage 7i appealing to advanced users, but you can put it in full "auto" mode and hand it to a novice with confidence. The improved 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 set up 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.

One significant change from the original Dimage 7 is the 7i's color space: It's now much closer to standard sRGB, meaning that images taken directly from the camera are much more vibrant and usable than those from its predecessor. You still need to run them through the Dimage Viewer utility to get the best color possible, but for many users, just bumping the color saturation control a notch or so will be acceptable for routine use.

All that sensor resolution would be useless, however, if the lens wasn't capable of resolving fine detail. The Dimage 7i 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. (I was unusually impressed with the lens on the original Dimage 7, and this appears to be the same design. - It has about the best corner to corner sharpness of any I've seen on a prosumer-level digicam, particularly impressive given the long 7x zoom ratio.) 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 Dimage 7i'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 other AE metering systems, 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 7i 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 with 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 (this can also bracket any of the Effects options). 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 Fluorescent), along with Auto and Manual options. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four 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 up to 30 seconds long. Maximum lens apertures are f/2.8 at the wide-angle end and f/3.5 at telephoto. A new real-time histogram display mode lets you verify exposure before capturing the image. (There's still a histogram display option in Playback mode as well.)

Autofocus performance is a key area where the Dimage 7i shines over its predecessor, with AF speeds almost twice as fast. The Dimage 7i's Autofocus is powered by a Large Scale Integration (LSI) chip that rapidly processes image data through a high-speed 32-bit RISC processor. The autofocus information can be measured in one of three ways: Wide Focus Area averages readings from a large area across the middle of the image area (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 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), which 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, and Pre-Flash TTL (through the lens), which uses only the small metering flash prior to the main exposure to gauge how much light is reflected by the scene. The Dimage 7i also includes a top-mounted hot shoe for attaching Minolta external flash units (and any compatible third-party units). Flash modes include Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Rear Flash Sync, with Flash Compensation available from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. A Wireless flash mode enables the camera to work with certain Minolta-brand wireless flash units. New to the 7i is a manual flash mode that 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 slave strobes.

Additional Dimage 7i features include a Movie (with sound) mode with Night exposure option, Voice Memo mode, Standard and UHS Continuous Advance modes (up to 7.5 frames/second at 1280x960 resolution), 2x Digital Zoom, Interval Recording of two to 99 frames in one- to 60-minute intervals, 10-second Self-Timer, and three Sharpness settings. Five image quality levels include RAW uncompressed files, and Super Fine (TIFF), 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 incorporated Epson's PRINT Image Matching technology, which ensures that Dimage 7i 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 a breakthrough in print quality, allowing faithful reproduction of colors well outside the normal color gamut of CRT-based color spaces.)

Powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries (an optional AC power adapter is available), the Dimage 7i delivers an amazingly versatile package for the serious amateur or prosumer photographer. It looks to me like Minolta has really listened to users of the original Dimage 7, and implemented a surprising range of meaningful upgrades and enhancements.


Design
Released as an update to the well-received Minolta Dimage 7, the Dimage 7i looks very similar externally, but hides a wide range of enhancements within the nearly identical body. The Dimage 7i continues with the true 4.95-megapixel CCD, exceptional 7x optical zoom lens, subtle image controls, and fully manual exposure control present on the Dimage 7 model, but adds a panoply of improvements too numerous to list here. See the concise list at the head of this review, and details in the individual review sections below to see how they impact various aspects of camera performance.

The Dimage 7i 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 D7i's rather bulky body measures a substantial 4.6 x 3.6 x 4.5 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 18.5 ounces, or 525 grams without the batteries or CompactFlash card). An accessory camera bag would certainly be the preferred method of carrying and storing the Dimage 7i, but the positions of the eyelets for the included neck strap at least let the camera hang level when it's suspended from them.




The camera's front panel houses the Minolta GT 7x Zoom lens, Self-Timer light, microphone (a new feature on the 7i), 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 - part of Minolta's improved ergonomic design on the 7i.


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, 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 7i'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, the viewfinder is one of the most interesting aspects of the Dimage 7i. 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 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 and now the 7i have proven to be exceptions to my thinking. The Dimage 7i'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 7i'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 7i 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 7i'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 7i's EVF is no exception. The EVF on the original Dimage 7 had several deficiencies, some of which are still present with the 7i. While I didn't have a Dimage 7 in hand to make direct A/B comparisons with, there does seem to have been noticeable overall improvement in several areas though. 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 7i, 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.

  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 D7i's EVF seemed slightly less prone to this problem than that on the original D7. Again, it's hard to tell, because I didn't have a D7 on hand to compare it to directly. - And I wouldn't expect much difference given the relatively slight increase in pixel count between the two models.

    One thing I did notice with the D7i 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. Again, I couldn't compare directly with a D7, but the EVF display on the 7i certainly seemed much more stable in this respect.


  3. Blown highlights. - In extended use, the biggest complaint I personally had about the 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. With the D7i, it seemed that the display was a little less prone to this, but again it was a hard to say precisely, without having a D7 to compare it to directly. If the bulk of the frame was filled with a darker subject (the landscape example mentioned above, for instance), it was still nearly impossible 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 7i's EVF better than 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. 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 7i 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 7i'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. A new feature on the Dimage 7i is the ability to enter Macro mode in either wide angle or telephoto lens positions. The previous Dimage 7 only allowed macro focusing at the maximum telephoto setting. 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 7i 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. - This was a promise of the original Dimage 7 that was never fully realized, as its AF speed was actually rather slow. I'm happy to report though, that Minolta has dramatically sped up the AF system on the 7i, with the result that it's now one of the fastest-focusing "prosumer" cameras I've tested. (Given, of course, adequate light.)

The Dimage 7i'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 allows you to 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. (And yes, for the sharp-eyed among you, this is actually a shot from my earlier D7 review - The displays are almost (but not quite) identical.)

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. A new feature on the Dimage 7i is the Direct MF menu option, which lets you manually tweak the autofocus selection without switching over to MF mode. You simply halfway press the Shutter button and turn the focus ring to adjust focus. This is useful when the camera is having trouble focusing on an object, 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 Custom 1 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 7i 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 quality is usually degraded in the form of lower resolution and increased noise.) In Manual Focus, the 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 7i was really a high point of the camera's performance. (As was also the case with the original Dimage 7.) 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 7i 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 7i'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 7i 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 quite a bit 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. 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 controls the basic operating modes: 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 four 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 7i'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 7i, 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 avialable 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 7i's default metering system is a 300-segment evaluative mode, 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 mucy 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 7i's 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 particlarly 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 7i offers unusually flexible control over white balance, color rendition, and tonal range. Its white balance system offers a total of six options, including Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, 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.

Contrast and Color Saturation controls on the Dimage 7i 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 7i 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, also 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).

Through the Color Mode option of the record menu, the Dimage 7i offers the Natural and Vivid Color modes listed above, as well as a Black and White mode and a Solarization mode. Solarization partially reverses the tones in an image, and the Exposure Compensation adjustment controls the intensity of the effect. 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 7i 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
New to the Dimage 7i are several 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 7i also offers Interval 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 7i captures a maximum of 40 consecutive frames at 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 five or six shots at the large/fine image quality setting.)

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.

Interval mode captures a series of images at specific intervals over time, providing a built-in time-lapse capability. The Dimage 7i 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 7i 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 7i 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 7i.) 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 with the exposure. 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 D7i's wireless capability, the Program Flash 5600HS [D] and 3600HS [D].)

The Dimage 7i is unusual in that it offers two methods of flash metering. Its default mode is called ADI, which stands for Advanced Distance Integration. In this mode, it apparently bases its flash exposure on the lens aperture and feedback from the autofocus system, 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 7i 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 7i 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 units are available from the major third-party flash manufacturers (Sunpak et. al.). Minolta's own Program Flash models 3600HS(D) and 5600HS(D) both work with the Dimage 7i, and two macro flashes (Macro Twin Flash 2400 and Macro Ring Flash 1200) will work with an accessory macro flash controller.
I had a chance to play a bit with a couple of Minolta's dedicated flash units while I was testing the Dimage 7i, 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 D7i. (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 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 litle 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 7i'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 has stepped back closer to the mainstream in the color space department. They still use a proprietary color space in the 7i, but it's one that's much closer to sRGB. The result is that most images look just fine straight out of the camera, even viewed on an sRGB computer screen. If you want the absolute maximum in color quality though, you'll still want to go through the conversion process to map the color onto whatever color space you're using.

I have to admit that when I first looked at the images from the Dimage 7i, I had a hard time seeing any visible differences between the raw JPEGs and ones that had been converted to sRGB for onscreen viewing. As an aid to my readers in seeing just what the differences are, I've prepared the samples below. The first sample is a before/after sample, showing the MacBeth chart from my "Davebox" test target. There are two images there, one exactly as it came from the camera, the other converted to sRGB. Roll your mouse over the image to switch back and forth between the two. (As you can see, there's really precious little difference between the two.)

The second image (below) shows the color differences (significantly amplified) between an sRGB image of the Davebox and the original from the camera. I prepared this by subtracting the original camera image from the sRGB version channel-by-channel in Photoshop. I then took the resulting file and cranked the white point way up in Photoshop, setting it to a brightness level of only 8. (Yes, the maximum difference between the two images was only 8 brightness units, out of a possible range of 255.) This image shows the contaminant colors that Dimage Viewer subtracted from the original camera file to map it into sRGB color space. Thus, a brighter, more saturated yellow was made by subtracting a little blue from that color swatch, blue being the complement of yellow. (This is only one crude way of looking at the result. - A full discussion of color theory is obviously beyond the scope of this review.)

 

 



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, Imaging Resource now measures shutter lag and cycle times using a proprietary electronic test setup.


Minolta Dimage 7i Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot 2.66
Time from power-up to first shot. Pretty fast.
Shutdown 3.19
Time to finish writing average large/fine file to the CF card.
Play to Record, first shot 1.23
Time until first shot is captured. Quite fast.
Record to play (high/low res) 1.44/1.3
1.3/1.3
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. All are pretty fast.
Shutter lag, full autofocus 0.78/0.64 Longer time is for telephoto, shorter for wide angle. Both times are a good bit faster than average.
Shutter lag, manual focus 0.22 Faster than average (average is about 0.5 sec)
Shutter lag, prefocus 0.13 Faster than average (average is 0.2-0.3 sec)
Cycle Time, max/min resolution 1.05-3.16
1.24 - 1.24
18.5
First row is for large/fine files. First number is for first 7-8 shots, until buffer fills. Second is aftger buffer fill, with fast CF card. Second row is small/economy. Cycle time doesn't seem to vary, buffer isn't a factor. Third row is time for TIFF files with fast card. All times are quite fast.
Cycle time, continuous mode
0.61
(1.62 fps)
Time shown is for first 5-6 shots, until buffer fills then must wait for 13-14 seconds for buffer to empty before snapping next series of 5-6 shots.
Cycle time, UHS continuous
0.14
(7.14 fps)
Time is for first ~27 frames, until buffer fills, then must wait ~20 seconds for it to clear before shooting next sequence. VERY fast, but resolution does drop to 1280x960.


Overall, the Dimage 7i is a pretty fast camera. Minolta has dramatically improved autofocus speed, so shutter lag is quite a bit faster than average, even in full autofocus mode. Manual focus and prefocus times are also a good bit quicker than average. Shot to shot cycle times are also very good, helped by the roomy buffer memory that can handle 7-8 high resolution images at a time. With an appropriately fast memory card, buffer clear times are quite good, as are TIFF write times. (18.5 seconds is still a long time, but other cameras and the original Dimage 7 took even longer.) Of all the prosumer digicams I've tested, the D7i 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 7i'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 7i 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 notched 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.

Aside 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 a selector 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 set 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 to select the options I wanted. Bottom line, while they're rather unusual in the digicam world, the Dimage 7i's controls lend themselves to quick, sure operation for experienced users in the heat of a concentrated shooting session.


Control Enumeration



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


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


Menu Button: While the Dimage 7i 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 7i 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 magnifies the displayed image from 1.2x to 4.0x, in steps of 0.2x.


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 Contrast, Exposure Compensation, 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. 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 7i 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 7i's USB port for downloading images to a host computer.


Still Picture Shooting Menu Basic Options


Still Picture Shooting Menu Custom1 Options


Still Picture Shooting Menu Custom2 Options


Movie Shooting Menu Options


Playback Menu Basic Options


Playback Menu Custom1 Options


Playback Menu Custom2 Options


Setup Menu Basic Options


Setup Menu Custom1 Options


Setup Menu Custom2 Options



Computer Transfer Menu Options
The Dimage 7i 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 most cameras you simply put in the computer-connect mode and plug them in. I'm not sure why the Dimage 7i's USB connection has to be "initialized."


Image Storage and Interface

The Dimage 7i 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 512 MB using Flash Memory, and as large as 1GB (1,024 MB) with the IBM MicroDrive. (Check Minolta's website for compatibility info, it's likely that only the second-generation, 512MB and 1GB MicroDrives are supported.) The CompactFlash slot is on the right side of the camera, covered by a hinged plastic door that opens easily and latches securely. The card inserts with the 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 7i 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. 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 table below summarizes the compression ratios and number of images that can be stored on the included 16MB memory card with each Resolution / Quality (JPEG Compression) combination. (Note the large size of the 640x480 files: If you're planning on shooting small images for the web or email, you'll definitely need to re-save these at a higher JPEG compression ratio.)

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16MB Memory Card
Raw
Uncompressed
Fine
Normal
Economy
Full Resolution 2560x1920 Images 1 1 5
8
13
Approx.
Compression/KB
1.4:1
10.6 MB
1:1
14.7 MB
5:1
2.9 MB
8:1
1.8 MB
12:1
1.2 MB
UXGA Resolution 1600x1200 Images
N/A
2
11
16
23
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
5.8 MB
4:1
1.4 MB
6:1
928 KB
8:1
928 KB
SXGA Resolution 1280x960
Images
N/A
3
15
21
26
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
3.7 MB
4:1
1.0 MB
5:1
727 KB
6:1
593 KB
VGA Resolution 640x480
Images
N/A
11
27
32
35
Approx.
Compression/KB
N/A
1:1
922 KB
1.6:1
577 KB
1.8:1
492 KB
2.1:1
444 KB


A USB cable and interface software accompany the Dimage 7i 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 7i'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 281 KB/second. This is less than half the speed of the fastest-downloading cameras I've tested in the past. (Given the 7i's voracious appetite for memory space, I'd highly recommend a fast card reader as an accessory item.)


One of the first things any new digicam owner will need is a larger memory card for their camera: The cards shipped with the units by the manufacturers should really be considered only One of the first things any new digicam owner will need is a larger memory card for their camera: The cards shipped with the units by the manufacturers should really be considered only "starter" cards, you'll definitely want a higher capacity card immediately. - Probably at least a 32 megabyte card for a 1.3 or 2 megapixel camera, 64 megabytes or more for a 3, 4, or 5 megapixel one. (The nice thing about memory cards is you'll be able to use whatever you buy now with your next camera too, whenever you upgrade.) To help you shop for a good deal on memory cards that fit the Dimage 7, we've put together a little memory locater, with links to our price-comparison engine: Just click on the "Memory Wizard" button above to go to the Minolta memory finder, select your camera model , and click the shopping cart icon next to the card size you're interested in. You'll see a list of matching entries from the price-comparison database. Pick a vendor &

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 7i 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 7i 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, though.

Here are the power-consumption numbers we measured for the Dimage 7i 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
880 mA
87
Capture Mode, w/EVF
725 mA
106
Capture Mode, EVF off
541 mA
142
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
977 mA
79
Half-pressed w/EVF
838 mA
92
Memory Write (transient)
1078 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
1302 mA
n/a
Sleep
0.1 mA
(weeks)
Image Playback
592 mA
139


The original Dimage 7 had a reputation as a rather power-hungry camera, and the 7i very much follows in its 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 a solid 90 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 stretchs to about an hour and 45 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 June, 2002, the Maha 1800s were still on top.)

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 7i (in worst-case power consumption mode) per charge.

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 7i apparently needs a higher voltage at its external power terminal than these packs deliver. (The camera's power terminal is labeled "6 volts", most such packs don't come up to that voltage when subjected to high loads.) As 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 7i 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 3 hours or so of nonstop, worst-case operation. - Easily all day if you're judicious about turning the camera off when not in use. One note - Maha makes both NiMH and LiIon versions of the PowerBank, make sure you get the LiIon model for the Dimage 7. (Model number MH-DPB140LI.) Click here for more information, or to order online. Highly recommended for this camera!

 

 

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 7i ships with the following complement of accessories and software:

 




Test Results

Coming (very?) Soon! - Read the Picture Analysis Page for the full story!


Conclusion

It's no secret that I was greatly impressed with the original Dimage 7, when I first reviewed it back in May of 2001. In the intervening time, it's generally aged well, but other products have appeared on the market that offer it strong competition. The new Dimage 7i is a significant upgrade to the original though, more than meeting the competition in a wide range of areas. To my mind, the big story with the Dimage 7i is still the lens, clearly one of the best I've seen on a prosumer digicam. The rest of the camera performs to a very high level as well, with category-leading autofocus speed, excellent, fine-grained control over color and tone, and noticeable improvements to what was already one of the best electronic viewfinders in the industry. As an added bonus, the Dimage 7i 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.) No product is perfect though, and the Dimage 7i is no exception: There are still issues with the difficulty its EVF has in showing highlight detail, and the camera does consume quite a bit of power. (A couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH cells and/or an external LiIon battery pack are strongly recommended accessories.) All in all though, the new Dimage 7i demands serious consideration from anyone shopping at the high end of the "prosumer" digicam market. Highly recommended!


<<D7i Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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