This page has been formatted to facilitate printout of the review.

Use your browser's "Back" button to return to the previous page, or the links at the top and bottom of this page to navigate to related information. If you have difficulty fitting the text on this page onto your printer output, simply resize your browser window to a narrower width and print again.




Remember us when it's time to buy!

Dave here: Have our reviews been helpful to you? (Is this article you're reading right now useful?) Preparing this level of information on as many products as we do is incredibly hard work, not to mention expensive. Things on the Internet may look like they're free, but they're not. (As a lot of big dot.com companies are finding out these days.) Somewhere, somebody has to pay to produce worthwhile content. YOU can help us though, by remembering us when it comes time to make your purchase. Would you consider coming back to our site and clicking-through to one of our advertisers to make your purchase? Every dollar you spend with one of our advertisers helps us directly (in affiliate fees) or indirectly (the advertiser will keep renewing their ad contract with us). To make it easy for you to support us, here's a URL you can visit, to see all our current advertisers, with links to click on that will register your visit to them as having come from our site. It's up to you where you buy, but Mike, Mike, Kim, Yazmin, Marti and I would be really grateful if you'd help us out by choosing one of our advertisers to purchase from.

Thank you for your support!
Dave Etchells, Founder & Publisher


Visit our "Buy Now" Page:
http://www.imaging-resource.com/buynow.htm





Back to Full Minolta DiMAGE F100 Review
Go to Minolta DiMAGE F100 Data Sheet
Go to Minolta DiMAGE F100 Pictures Page
Up to Imaging Resource Cameras Page


Minolta DiMAGE F100

Minolta builds a compact, stylish 4 Megapixel model with sophisticated autofocus.

Review First Posted: 04/18/2002, Updated: 05/29/2003




MSRP $699 US

 

*
4.0 megapixel CCD yields images as large as 2272 x 1704 pixels
*
3x optical zoom lens, with range equivalent to 38-114 mm
*
Unusually sophisticated 5-zone autofocus system
*
Full auto mode plus wide range of manual exposure options

 

Manufacturer Overview
Minolta made a strong showing last year in the consumer digicam market, with its Dimage 5 & 7 rocking the high end of the market when they were introduced in late spring. The innovative design and excellent optics of these models (and the fact that the Dimage 7 was the first five megapixel consumer digicam from any manufacturer) drew notice and high praise from all corners.

This year, Minolta appears to have a few more tricks up their corporate sleeve, the first of which was their remarkable ultra compact Dimage X, which I reviewed a little while ago. Now, they're breaking new ground with the Dimage F100, a compact four megapixel model with some really unusual features, in the form of "intelligent" autofocus that responds to your subjects directly, and a nifty automatic "scene mode." The F100 also takes nice photos, and is very nicely styled, with a compact, all-metal body and fully retracting lens design that makes it easy to take along on outings. While Minolta was a little slow entering the digital fray, they now seem to be more than making up for it with interesting innovations and excellent lens design. Read on for all the details on the new Dimage F100!

High Points

 

Executive Overview

With a new look and a handful of new, "first time on a digicam" features, the Minolta F100 is an attractive new addition to the Dimage line. Packed with a 4.0-megapixel CCD, optional full manual exposure control, and a wide range of other exposure features, the F100 looks like a good bet to become a popular camera. Its sleek, skinny body design is geared for pockets and small purses, and its light weight makes it very portable. The matte, all-silver camera body measures 4.33 x 2.06 x 1.26 inches (111 x 52.3 x 32 millimeters) and weighs only 8.2 ounces (235 grams) with batteries. A small strap secures it to your wrist, though a small camera bag would be ideal for transportation. While the camera is pretty small, it actually fits most hands well thanks to its elongated shape, although there isn't much of a handgrip to speak of. Still, the smooth front makes the camera pocket friendly, as the lens retracts almost completely into the body.

Probably the most exciting new features on the F100 are the Area AF, Subject Tracking AF, and Automatic Digital Subject Program features. The advanced Area AF focus mode actually detects the subject in the frame. In their marketing material, Minolta claims that the camera is programmed to recognize people in photos, based on shape, brightness, and color characteristics. In playing with the camera, I found it could easily be fooled by cluttered backgrounds and bright objects near the subject, but in general it was surprisingly intelligent in selecting the most logical subject for any given photo.

In typical use, the camera's five-area autofocus system automatically locks onto the subject closest to one of the five areas (which are clustered near the center of the frame, located dead center, and up, down, left, and right of center). The feature is great at locking onto people in shots, typically focusing on the subject's head. The Subject Tracking AF feature takes this a step further, locking the focus on moving subjects. As the subject moves across the AF area, the locked focus continuously changes to one of the five areas and "tracks" the subject as it moves. This is great for snapping sharp images of children and sporting events, as you just have to keep the subject framed and the camera does the rest. This is the first time I've seen a tracking autofocus system like this on a consumer-level digicam, and it seems like a very useful addition.

I also liked the new Automatic Digital Subject Program option, by which the camera decides which of several "scene" exposure modes it should use to take the picture. Like many other digicams these days, the F100 offers a range of preset "scene" shooting modes, from Sunset to Sports Action. These scene modes combine a variety of settings, such as exposure compensation, ISO, and white balance into a single preprogrammed selection. They make it easy for novice users to set up the camera for special subjects that would be tricky to photograph otherwise. When left under auto control, the camera assesses the subject and exposure conditions, and automatically selects the best scene mode to shoot with. The F100's automatic scene mode selection seemed to work pretty well, making tricky subjects much easier to photograph. I'll explain more about the F100's various exposure and focus innovations later in the review, but the bottom line is that I think these new features give the F100 a significant edge in the digicam marketplace.

For composing images, the F100 features a real-image optical viewfinder as well as a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor, with a detailed information display. The optical viewfinder is a bit less accurate than average, with around 80% frame coverage, while the LCD monitor is pretty exactly 100% accurate.) In Playback mode, the LCD offers an optional histogram display for double-checking exposure. The F100 uses a Minolta GT 3x lens, with a focal range from 7.8-23.4mm, the equivalent of a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera. The telescoping design extends the lens outward from the camera body whenever it's powered on, and likewise retracts it when not in use. A shutter-like lens cover instantly slides out of the way as the lens extends from the camera, eliminating any need for a removable lens cap. Like other Minolta GT lenses I've tested recently, the one on the F100 looks to be of unusually high quality, quite sharp from corner to corner, and with very little chromatic aberration. (Although it does have rather a lot of barrel distortion at its wide angle setting.)

The F100 offers both automatic and manual focus control, with a selectable five-point autofocus system and the new Subject Tracking AF mode mentioned above. You can also manually lock the focus on just one AF area. A Full-Time AF option enables the camera to continually adjust the focus, instead of waiting until the Shutter button is halfway pressed, which should reduce shutter delay somewhat, at the cost of increased power consumption. A digital zoom option enlarges images as much as 2.5x, depending on the file size and quality settings, but like all digital zooms also reduces the overall image quality in direct proportion to the magnification.

Exposure control is varied and flexible, as the F100 offers a full Auto mode, as well as Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes. The preset "scene" modes mentioned above include Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Sports Action, and Macro modes. Available aperture settings range from f/2.8 to f/8.0, depending on the lens zoom setting, while shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to four seconds. A Bulb mode keeps the shutter open for as long as 15 seconds. The F100 has two metering modes, Spot and Multi-Segment (which divides the image into 270 sections, meters them independently, and then makes the exposure decision based on the distribution of light and dark areas), and Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments in most shooting modes. There's also an Auto Exposure Bracketing mode, which captures three images at different exposure settings, useful when determining the best exposure is difficult.

The camera's variable ISO (light sensitivity) option offers an Auto adjustment mode, as well as ISO equivalent settings of 100, 200, 400, and 800. White Balance can be set to one of six modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Custom (manual setting). The F100 also offers image adjustment settings for Sharpness, Saturation, Color, and Contrast. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second countdown before the shutter fires, and works with the optional remote control accessory. There's also a Continuous Advance mode, for capturing a series of images in rapid succession (as fast as 1.2 frames per second, depending on camera settings). The F100's Movie mode captures moving images with sound, at 320 x 240 pixels, for as long as 35 seconds (depending on memory card space). Additionally, an Audio mode records as much as 30 minutes of continuous audio, and a Voice Memo mode records five- or 15-second sound clips to accompany still images. The camera's flash operates in Auto, Fill, Flash Cancel, or Red-Eye Reduction Auto modes, and is effective to approximately 9.5 feet (depending on the lens zoom setting).

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF files, or as JPEG files at three different compression levels. All images and movies are saved to SD (or MMC) memory cards, and a 16MB card comes with the camera. Available image sizes are 2,272 x 1,704, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, or 640 x 480-pixels. A USB cable accompanies the camera, as well as a software CD loaded with an updated version of Dimage Image Viewer and USB drivers for both PC and Mac platforms. The updated software includes better print utilities, a movie editor, and updated image browser, among other features. The F100 connects to a television set via an included A/V cable, allowing image viewing and composition (NTSC or PAL timings). Two AA alkaline or NiMH batteries or a single CRV3 lithium battery powers the camera, and Minolta offers an AC adapter as a separate accessory. (Battery life is a mixed bag with the F100, either short or very long, depending on whether you're using the LCD display or not - see my later comments in the Power section of this review.)

With its range of new automatic features and unusually intelligent focusing modes, the F100 is an exciting new digicam. The 4.0-megapixel CCD delivers high resolution images with good quality -- plenty of pixels for printing to 8x10 inches or larger. Optional full manual exposure control, 3x optical zoom, and flexible, creative image adjustment features make the F100 perfect for a wide range of consumers, and the Automatic Digital Subject Program mode should do a lot to help novices bring home great pictures. The ability to gradually increase the amount of responsibility you take for exposure control makes the F100 very hospitable to novice users who want to learn more, while the wide array of features and options will keep even the most experienced amateurs entertained.

 

Design

The Dimage F100 features a very compact body design, with a long and relatively thin profile. The matte-silver metal body has a modern look, accentuated by minimal external ornamentation. Don't let the F100's size fool you though. The camera has a wealth of exposure features, including full manual exposure control and several nifty automatic features for better focusing and exposure. The 4.0-megapixel CCD delivers sharp, high quality images, great for printing as large as 8x10 inches or more. The F100 also features a high-quality Minolta GT 3x lens, with new Subject Tracking AF and Area AF features carried over from Minolta's film cameras.

Measuring 4.33 x 2.06 x 1.26 inches (111 x 52.3 x 32 millimeters) and weighing just 8.2 ounces (235 grams) with batteries, the F100 will easily fit into a standard shirt pocket. The small size is perfect for travel, as you can just stash the camera in a pocket and go (though I'd recommend a small, padded camera bag for added protection on long excursions). The built-in lens cover slides out of the as soon as you power up the camera, making it quick on the draw, although it does take a few seconds for the lens to extend. (I'd really like to see startup and shutdown happen more quickly.) A wrist strap accompanies the camera, for added security when shooting in precarious situations.

 

 

The front of the F100 is virtually flat as long when the lens is retracted, with only a few slight protrusions. The shutter-like lens cover protects the lens when not in use, and pops open as the lens extends from the camera body. Once extended, the lens protrudes about two inches from the camera front. Also on the front panel are the flash, optical viewfinder window, remote-control receiver window (just to the left of the flash), and self-timer LED lamp. In an effort to preserve the front panel's smooth face, a small, raised bump on the lower left corner of the front panel provides a minimal grip for your middle finger as you grip the right-hand side of the camera. A slight edge on the bottom of the bump provides a little extra traction to strengthen your grip. Overall, this isn't the most secure camera grip I've seen, but the elongated body helps somewhat.

 

 

The memory card and battery compartments take up the entire right side of the camera (as viewed from the back). Lined up side by side, both compartments feature flat, plastic doors. The SD compartment door simply pops open, and is hinged at the top so that the door can swing upward. By contrast, you have to slide the battery compartment door down first before opening it. The pressure of the closed compartment door keeps the battery engaged. I felt that the battery compartment door didn't latch very well, as it was easy to dislodge it (and kill power to the camera) when handling the camera, particularly when putting it on or off of a tripod. Not a show-stopper problem, but a design issue I'd like to see Minolta correct on future models. Also on this side of the camera, above both compartments, is an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

 

 

The opposite side of the F100 has only a small bump on the side of the lens barrel.

 

 

On top of the camera is a good-sized status display panel, as well as the camera's microphone, speaker, Shutter button, and Mode dial. The status display panel reports enough of the camera's basic settings to let you to shoot without the LCD monitor active (and thus save on battery power) much of the time.

 

 

The remaining camera controls share the back panel with the 1.5-inch LCD monitor and optical viewfinder eyepiece (which is very tiny). The optical viewfinder does not have a diopter adjustment, but has a very high eyepoint. I could actually hold it some distance away from my eyeglasses and see the entire frame just fine, so even people with very thick eyeglass lenses should have no problem using it. Just beside the viewfinder eyepiece are two LEDs that serve as indicators for various camera status information, such as when focus is set or the flash is charging. A series of control buttons line the right side of the LCD monitor, and control Digital Subject Program, Menu, Quickview/Erase, and Display functions. Two more control buttons (Flash/Information and Exposure Compensation buttons) angle down from the top panel. A Four Way Arrow pad in the top right corner controls zoom and navigates through settings menus, with a single button in the center that confirms menu selections. Just adjacent to this arrow pad is a small LED, which lights whenever the camera is accessing the memory card. Finally, a connector compartment in the lower right corner holds the DC In and A/V Out / USB jacks, protected by a flexible plastic flap.

 

 

The F100's bottom panel is nice and flat, and features only the metal tripod mount. (Bonus points to Minolta for using a metal tripod socket, rather than common but much less rugged plastic.) You can also see the bottom of the memory card compartment door. I'm glad to see that both the battery and memory card compartments are accessible while the camera is mounted to a tripod, which makes studio shooting a little easier. (Not a concern for average users, but something I'm always painfully aware of. ;-)

 

Viewfinder

For composing images, the F100 offers both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch TFT color LCD monitor. The real-image optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens, but doesn't show any digital enlargement (which requires the LCD monitor to be active). The optical viewfinder doesn't have any diopter adjustment to accommodate near- or farsighted users, but does have an unusually high eyepoint. - This means that even people with very thick eyeglasses should have no problem seeing the full image area through the eyepiece. (This is a very nice feature for those of us who wear eyeglasses. - Most camera viewfinders I've tested are usable with eyeglasses, but I generally end up having to mash my glasses against the viewfinder eyepiece to be able to see properly. With the F100, I could keep the camera a comfortable distance from my eyeglasses, leaving me less worried about scratching my lenses if a speck of dirt gets between them and the viewfinder eyepiece.) Kudos to Minolta on this front!

Two LED lamps on the left side of the viewfinder eyepiece report the camera's current status. For example, the top LED glows green when focus is locked, or flashes when the AF system is having difficulty focusing. The lower LED lamp lights solid orange when the flash is charged, and blinks while the flash is charging.

The 1.5-inch LCD monitor takes up the lower left portion of the F100's back panel, and automatically activates whenever the camera is powered on. The Display button just to the right controls the image and information display. One press disables the information display, while the second press deactivates the LCD entirely (a third press reactivates the LCD with the information display showing). Included in the information display are the current camera mode, flash mode, file size and quality settings, the number of available images, a set of focus brackets in the center of the display, and the shutter speed and aperture settings.


In Playback mode, the Display button again controls the information display, but also controls access to the 9-image thumbnail view of images stored on the memory card. The Information button (also Flash button) activates a histogram display, which graphs the tonal distribution of the image. This gives you some idea of the tonal range you captured and helps make it easier to see any over- or underexposure. Also in Playback mode, you can digitally enlarge the image as much as 5x, using the Four Way Arrow pad's zoom controls.

As I mentioned earlier, my tests showed that the F100's optical viewfinder is a bit less accurate than average, showing only about 80% of the final frame at wide angle zoom settings, and about 83% at telephoto. (The average digicam optical viewfinder shows about 85% of the final image area, not nearly enough in my opinion.) By contrast, the LCD monitor is pretty exactly 100% accurate, something I'm always happy to see.

 

Optics

The F100 is equipped with a 3x Minolta GT, 7.8-23.4mm lens, the equivalent of a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera. A shutter-like lens cover automatically moves in and out of place when the camera is powered on or off, eliminating the need for a removable lens cap. When the camera powers on, the lens telescopes outward about two inches into its operating position, retracting again when the camera is shut off (or after the camera has been left in Playback mode for a while). Aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/8.0 (the actual maximum lens aperture depends on the lens focal length, varying from f/2.8 at wide angle to f/4.7 at telephoto), and can be manually or automatically controlled. Focus also features either manual and automatic control, and ranges from 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity in normal mode. A distance readout appears on the LCD monitor in manual focus mode, with the actual focus distance controlled by the up and down arrows of the Four Way Arrow pad (pressing the center of the pad switches the up and down arrows back to controlling the zoom lens). Macro mode changes the focus range for closer, smaller objects, focusing from 0.7 to 2.0 feet (0.2 to 0.6 meters). The 20 cm minimum focusing distance doesn't sound all that close, as many cameras focus much closer than this. The F100's lens operates in telephoto mode when macro focusing though (most cameras force you to wide angle), so the net result is somewhat better than average macro shooting, with a nice working distance that helps the flash work well too. The minimum macro area I measured for the Dimage F100 was a very respectable 2.3 x 1.8 inches (59 x 44 mm).

In addition to the F100's 3x optical zoom, the camera also features as much as 2.5x digital zoom (enabled through the settings menu). As always, I feel a need to remind readers that digital zoom compromises image quality because it only crops out and enlarges the central portion of the CCD image. Thus, it trades off resolution directly for magnification, the more you enlarge the image digitally, the softer it gets. (Digital zoom is useful though, when you're shooting at a lower resolution setting to begin with - with its 2272 x 1704 pixel CCD, the F100 can deliver the full 2.5x digital magnification with no loss of quality when you're shooting 640 x 480 images.)

The F100 offers a few unique AF options, including Single Shot, Manual, Full-time AF, and a sophisticated Subject Tracking system, some of which use Minolta's new Area AF system to automatically detect the subject. The camera's large central autofocus area (indicated by a set of white brackets on the LCD screen) is made up of five separate AF regions, arranged dead center, and above, below, left and right of center. When you press the shutter button halfway, one of these five regions will lock onto the subject. When in Auto mode, the focus "box" selected by the camera illuminates in red, and you can watch it track the subject as you move the camera around. Tracking AF is also available as an option when the camera is in Manual mode, but the "focus box" doesn't appear on the LCD screen. (This may be because the model I tested to write this review was only a prototype. I'll update the information here after I've had a chance to test a production model.)

In Single-Shot mode, the camera simply locks focus when the Shutter button is half pressed, basing focus on one of the five focus areas. You can specify one of the five focus areas as the only active area by pressing and holding the center button of the Four Way Arrow pad. This displays the AF Area selection screen, where you can use the arrow keys to select a focus area and then press the center of the arrow pad again to confirm the selection. The camera will then base its focusing only on that AF area. In Full-time AF mode, the F100 continuously adjusts the focus, rather than waiting for you to half-press the Shutter button.

I mentioned Manual focus mode above, noting that a distance scale appears on the LCD screen to help you gauge focus. The up/down arrow keys alternate between focus and zoom lens operation when you press the button in the middle of the In addition to the distance scale, the F100 zooms the LCD display by about 2x whenever you adjust the focus manually, as an aid to telling when you've achieved correct focus.

A major new feature of the F100 is Minolta's Subject Tracking AF, which made its debut on several of Minolta's film cameras a little while ago. Subject Tracking AF works with all five AF Areas, locking a moving subject to one of the frames, and then "handing it off" to an adjacent frame as it moves. This should be great for catching shots of an active toddler or a child's first little league game, as you just have to worry about keeping the subject somewhere near the middle of the frame, not whether or not focus is set. For best results, frame the subject in the focus brackets that appear on the LCD display, and halfway press (and hold) the Shutter button. As the subject moves, the active AF area will appear in red. The AF tracking isn't lightning fast, but Minolta says it's sufficient to track a subject moving at 9mph (14.5 km/h) toward or away from the camera, or 3.4 mph (5.4 km/h) from left to right, at a distance of 12 ft (3.5m) at the wide angle lens position, or 33 ft (10m) at the telephoto position. To translate this to the real world, 9 mph is about the speed of a child running, (well, a small child, anyway) while 3.4 mph corresponds to a brisk walk. The tracking ability is more effective with the lens at its wide angle position than at telephoto, and also benefits from plenty of light and a contrasted subject. It appeared to work pretty well in actual use though, and seems like a useful camera feature for most users.

I mentioned Minolta's "intelligent" AF system that supposedly can recognize and focus on people in preference to background objects. I had a hard time confirming that this was the case, as opposed to the camera simply selecting the closest object in its field of view. It did in some cases seem to show a tendency to focus on people's heads, though I found that it could easily become confused in low contrast situations, or if there was a bright object (a CRT, for example) in the frame with the subject. Also, if I moved the camera too rapidly, the tracking system would lose its "lock" on the subject and possibly end up acquiring a different element in the scene as its "subject." Despite its limitations though, I thought that the F100's intelligent autofocus capabilities were a significant step forward for consumer digicams.

Like other Minolta GT lenses I've tested recently, the one on the Dimage F100 seems to be of unusually high quality for a consumer digicam. It's very sharp across the frame, with little or none of the corner softness I've come to expect from consumer-level digicam lenses. It also shows almost no chromatic aberration, another common consumer lens failing. It did have higher than average barrel distortion at its wide angle setting, about 1.05 percent. (Most digicams show 0.8% or less barrel distortion, and amount I still consider too high.) I also found the zoom control rather slow to operate, it taking s good four seconds to rack from telephoto back to wide angle. On the plus side though, the F100's lens provided pretty fine-grained zoom control, with fairly small steps between its "preferred" focal length positions. (As near as I can tell, the F100's lens has about 13 actual focal length steps along its zoom range, more than most cameras I've tested.)

Confused by Apertures and Depth of Field? - Do you know how to use "Front Focus" or "Back Focus" to get *all* your subject in focus? Visit our free Photo Lessons area and click on the lessons "Focusing Up Close" and "Selective Focusing Outside!"

 

Exposure

Confused by White Balance? Visit our free Photo Lessons area and click on the lessons "White Balance Indoors" and "White Balance Outdoors!"

The F100 has a broad range of exposure modes and features, providing an unusual level of flexibility in this area. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main operating mode, with options of Auto, Manual, Playback, Movie, Audio, and Setup. Within the recording modes, however, a range of exposure modes and controls can be found in the LCD menu system. Put simply, Auto mode does exactly what you'd expect, placing the camera in control of just about everything, from aperture and shutter speed to white balance and ISO.

A new feature to Minolta digicams (and possibly the first on any digicam), is an Automatic Digital Subject Program Selection option. What this means is that the camera automatically adjusts the exposure settings depending on the type of subject or scene it thinks is being photographed. When the camera is in Auto mode, it automatically determines if the subject fits into Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, or Sports Action. An icon in the LCD monitor lights to inform you which mode has been selected. (You can also manually specify which "Scene" mode you want to use by pressing the Digital Subject Program Selection button until the correct icon lights. The mode remains in effect until changed.) The automatic system activates when the Shutter button is halfway pressed. You can adjust the flash mode and exposure compensation, depending on the mode selected. This could be a great tool for novice photographers, who may not yet know a lot about photography, but still want the best exposure possible. (Remember that you might need a tripod for some shots, as the camera may use a slower shutter speed. The LCD monitor will flash a camera shake warning, or shaky-hand symbol, in such cases.) My assistant Stephanie reported good results with the auto program selection, but my own experience with it was rather spotty. - I'll revisit this topic once we can test a production model of the F100.

The Manual record mode setting on the Mode dial provides the full range of exposure features, letting you select from Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure control options (set through the Record menu). In Program AE, the camera controls both shutter speed and aperture settings, while you maintain control over Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Metering Mode, Contrast, etc. Aperture Priority mode means that you control the lens aperture setting, while the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter Priority works just the opposite, as you set the shutter speed from 1/1,000 to four seconds while the camera picks the aperture. Finally, Manual exposure mode puts the user in charge of the exposure completely, and increases the shutter speed range to include a Bulb setting, for shutter times as long as 15 seconds. In all three manual adjustment modes, if the camera's internal metering system disagrees with your shutter speed and/or aperture choice, the exposure settings will turn red on the display.

Two exposure metering options are available through the settings menu in Manual record mode, Spot and Multi-Segment (default). Spot metering mode takes the exposure reading from a very small area in the center of the frame, which works well with high-contrast subjects. (A good example is a backlit portrait shot, where the subject's face is in shadow. Spot metering will let you expose just for their face, without the meter being confused by the surrounding brighter background.) Alternatively, Multi-Segment metering divides the image into 270 areas which are measured for both brightness and color. This information is then combined with the distance reading from the autofocus system to determine the best overall exposure. An Exposure Compensation button on top of the camera lets you adjust the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. In situations where you're not sure what the best exposure is, the Auto Exposure Bracketing mode automatically takes three shots at different exposure settings. Activated through the LCD menu, this mode snaps one image at the normal exposure, one image that's overexposed slightly, and one that's underexposed slightly. You can set images to vary by 0.3, 0.5, or 1.0 EV steps, by pressing the right and left arrow keys while in the mode. An ISO setting adjusts the camera's sensitivity to light, offering an Auto setting as well as 100, 200, 400, and 800 ISO equivalents. I was somewhat disappointed that the higher ISO settings produced very high noise levels when shooting with longer exposure times. Minolta recommends exposures of no more than eight seconds at the higher ISOs, as the camera's internal noise reduction system has trouble reducing the image noise with longer exposure times.

White Balance choices include Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Custom to correct the overall color balance. The Custom setting bases the color balance on a white card held in front of the camera. The F100 also provides an extensive array of image adjustment controls, including Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, and Color (which offers Neutral Color, Vivid Color, and Black and White options). You can instantly check the most recently captured image by pressing the Quick View / Erase button in any record mode, and most of the Playback mode options are available.

Flash

The F100's onboard flash operates in one of four modes: Auto, Fill, Flash Cancel, and Redeye Reduction Auto. A Flash button at the top of the camera's back panel controls the flash mode, and the corresponding icon appears in the LCD monitor. Auto mode lets the camera decide when to fire the flash, based on existing light levels and the amount of backlighting, while Fill mode fires the flash with every exposure (regardless of lighting conditions). Flash Cancel simply disables the flash. Redeye Reduction Auto fires two small pre-flashes before the full flash, reducing the red reflection in the subject's eyes (known as the Redeye Effect). Minolta estimates the F100's flash as effective from 1.6 to 9.5 feet (0.5 to 2.9 meters), depending on the lens zoom setting.

A feature I appreciated is that the exposure compensation adjustment also controlled the flash power. This means you can adjust the brightness of the flash, rather than being stuck with whatever it puts out, as on some cameras.

Self-Timer / Remote Control Mode

Through the Drive setting of the Record menu, you can set the camera's drive mode to Self-Timer / Remote Control, Continuous Advance, and Auto Exposure Bracketing. When set to the Self-Timer / Remote Control mode, the F100 provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is fully pressed and when the shutter actually opens. A small LED lamp on the front of the camera lights to indicate that the timer has started, and then blinks a couple of seconds before the shutter fires. This mode also works with the optional remote control accessory, which allows you to control the camera as far as 16 feet (five meters) away. The camera automatically changes the AF mode to Single Shot whenever you select the self-timer option, so the camera will lock focus on the subject when you trip the shutter release to begin the self-timer countdown.

Continuous Advance Mode

Continuous Advance mode captures a rapid series of images for as long as the Shutter button is held down (or as long as the memory card has available space). While shot-to-shot cycle times will vary with the image resolution and quality settings chosen, the maximum speed is approximately 1.2 frames per second (with the shutter sound switched off in the Setup menu). In my own tests, I found that the F100 could grab frames as fast as 1.54 frames/second when using its smallest image size. (640x480) The actual number of images you can capture in a series depends on the image size and quality settings, and ranges from approximately four frames in large/fine mode to 156 frames in small/basic mode.

Recording Movies and Sound

Through the Movie record mode (set via the Mode dial), the F100 records moving images with sound for as long as 35 seconds. (Movie length also depends on the amount of memory card space available, or course.) Resolution is set to 320 x 240 pixels, and the amount of available recording time appears on the LCD monitor. Movie mode also works with the accessory remote control. Flash and digital zoom are disabled in this mode, but Exposure Compensation and Macro mode can be adjusted. No menu functions are available in this mode.

Indicated on the Mode dial with a microphone symbol, Audio mode records a maximum of 30 minutes of continuous sound, regardless of memory card size, at approximately 8KB per second. If you have a small card or less memory available on a longer one, the maximum recording time may be shorter. As with Movie mode, the amount of recording time available appears in the LCD monitor.

You can also record short clips of sound to accompany still images, through the Voice Memo option. In Auto mode only, this option appears in the Record menu and records either five or 15 second clips, also as selected in the Record menu.

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it.

 

Minolta Dimage F100 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
5.9
Rather a long time, even for a camera with a telescoping lens. - The F100's lens is a little leisurely in its movements.
Shutdown
6.9
Time required to retract lens, even slower than when its extending. If you've just snapped a shot being saved as a TIFF file though, shutdown could take as long as ~40 seconds.
Play to Record, first shot
1.82
Pretty fast.
Record to play (max/min res)
1.4 - 4.6
0.8 - 2.5
Top numbers JPEG large/fine, bottom set JPEG small/normal. First number of each set is for switch after camera done processing an image. Second number is for immediate switch to play after snapping the shutter. Pretty fast overall.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
(wide/tele)
1.161/1.17
First number for telephoto, second for wide angle. Rather slow at wide angle - normal range is about 0.8-1.0 for wide angle, 1.0 - 1.3 for telephoto. (Frankly, all digicams are way too slow on shutter lag!)
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.77
A bit slower than average. (Average is about 0.5 seconds.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.12
A good bit faster than average. (Average is around 0.3 seconds.)
Cycle Time
2.09/5.75 L/F
(~16 sec to clear buffer)

1.95 S/B

Very good cycle times. Buffer holds ~4 frames in large/fine resolution mode, depending on subject, ~150 in small/basic. After buffer full, large/fine cycle time extends to 5.57 seconds. Buffer clears completely in about 16 seconds.
Cycle Time, TIFF
(Uncompressed format)
37.6
Rather slow. Camera controls locked out during TIFF memory writes.
Cycle time, continuous mode
0.65 - 0.88
~4 frame burst in large/fine, 150 frames in small/basic. For some reason, delay between first and second shot is longer than subsequent ones. (That's the 0.88 figure.)

 

The F100 was generally a pretty responsive camera, with very good cycle times, at least when it was writing to its buffer memory. The autofocus speed was a little disappointing, particularly when the lens was at its wide angle setting, where most cameras are generally faster. The F100 showed nearly identical shutter lag at wide angle as at telephoto, both numbers being about 1.16 seconds. (This is about an average lag time for telephoto mode shots, but the average is still way too long IMHO.) Prefocus shutter delay was very good though, at only 0.12 seconds. If you remember the trick of half-pressing and holding the shutter button before critical exposures, you should have no trouble catching the action with the F100.

 

Operation and User Interface

Although all the combinations of record modes, drive modes, and exposure modes may seem complicated at first, the F100's user interface makes sense and is pretty easy to navigate once you get used to it. Most exposure options are controlled externally, by way of the Mode dial, Digital Subject Program button, Exposure Compensation button, and Quick View / Erase button. You can also control the flash mode externally, as well as the shutter speed and aperture when in any of the manual modes. The availability of the QuickView button makes double-checking images a snap without having to change over to Playback mode. Special exposure features are all adjustable through the LCD menu system, which is fairly extensive but uncomplicated. Menu screens are set up as subject tabs, which you can quickly navigate across with the Four Way Arrow pad. The top status display panel is also a plus, as it reports a lot of camera settings, enabling you to operate the camera with the LCD monitor disabled. (This saves a lot of battery power, see my discussion of that topic under the "Power" section later in this review.) You'll spend some time flipping through the instruction manual to understand the camera settings, but I doubt it will take too long to get the hang of it, no more than an hour or so for the average user.

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button
: Centered in the Mode dial, this shiny black button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed. When fully pressed, it fires the shutter.


Mode Dial
: This notched dial is on top of the camera, on the right side. Turning the dial selects the camera's operating mode, with the following options available:


Flash Mode / Information Button
: Located at the top of the back panel, and slightly angled down from the top, this button controls the flash function in any record mode (except for Movie), cycling between Auto, Fill, Flash Cancel, and Redeye Reduction Auto.

In Playback mode, this button controls the image information and histogram display.


Exposure Compensation Button
: Directly to the right of the Flash Mode / Information button, this button activates the Exposure Compensation feature in any image record mode (except Manual exposure mode). In Manual exposure mode, pressing this button switches the arrow pad's left and right keys control between the aperture and shutter speed settings.


Digital Subject Program Button
: The top one of a series of buttons lining the right side of the LCD monitor, this button controls the Digital Subject Program mode of the camera. Pressing it repeatedly cycles through the following modes:


Menu Button
: Next in line under the Digital Subject Program button, the Menu button activates the settings menu in any camera mode (except for Audio, Movie, and Setup). Pressing this button also dismisses the menu screen.


Quick View / Erase Button
: Just below the Menu button, this control activates the Quick View image review mode when pressed in any image record mode.

In Playback mode, this button erases the current image (with an option to cancel).


Display Button
: The final button in the series on the right side of the LCD monitor, this one controls the image and information display in Auto and Manual record mode as well as in Playback mode. In Record mode, pressing the button once removes the information display, while a second press shuts off the LCD monitor entirely. A third press activates the LCD monitor with the information display.

In Playback mode, this button also turns the information display on and off.


Four Way Arrow Pad
: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, this keypad features four arrow buttons (one pointing in each cardinal direction) and a single button in the center. In any settings menu, these arrows navigate through menu options and screens. Pressing the center of the button confirms menu selections.

In Auto, Manual, and Movie record modes, the up and down arrows control the optical and digital zoom. When manual focus is activated, the up and down arrows can control either the focus or the zoom. (Pressing the center button alternates between the optical zoom and manual focus options.) In Manual, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority exposure modes, the right and left buttons control exposure settings. Pressing and holding the center of the pad activates the AF Area Selection screen, letting you choose the autofocus area using the arrow keys. When you first enter Auto Exposure Bracketing mode, the left and right buttons control the EV step size that each shot will vary by.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrows allow the user to view the different parts of the enlarged image.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Auto: The first setting on the Mode dial (after the Off position), this mode sets up the camera to capture still images. The camera automatically determines aperture and shutter speed, as well as white balance, color, metering, and ISO. It also controls the Digital Subject Program mode, unless the user specifies a scene. The settings menu offers the following adjustment options:

Manual: Enables still image capture, though now with increased exposure options. Pressing the Menu button pulls up three screens of options.

Playback Mode: Reviews all captured images and movies on the SD card. Users can view a histogram of each image, enlarge images as much as 5x, or view several images at a time in the nine-image index display mode. Pressing the Menu button offers the following options:

 

Movie Mode: Indicated by the movie camera icon on the Mode dial, this mode sets the camera for capturing moving images with sound. Movies are captured at the 320 x 240 resolution, with a maximum record time of approximately 35 seconds per movie. There is no settings menu available in this mode.

Audio Mode: Records as much as 30 minutes of continuous audio, with no image(s). No settings menu is available.

Setup Mode: Displays the following Setup menu:

 


 

 

Image Storage and Interface

The F100 stores images to SD memory cards, and will ship with a 16MB card. I definitely recommend picking up a larger capacity card to handle the 2,272 x 1,704-pixel maximum resolution size and TIFF option. Memory cards are cheap enough these days that you really shouldn't restrict your shooting options by not carrying enough memory capacity with you.

While SD cards cannot themselves be write-protected, the F100's "Lock" function prevents images from being erased or manipulated in any way. However, formatting a SD card erases all files, even locked ones.

Four image resolutions are available on the F100, including 2,272 x 1,704, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, or 640 x 480 pixels. (Movies are captured at the 320 x 240-pixel size.) Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF files, via the Superfine quality setting, or as compressed JPEG files (Fine, Normal, or Economy compression levels).

The table below outlines the approximate number of images that can be stored on a 16MB SD card, and the corresponding image compression levels.

 

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16MB Memory Card
Hi
Fine
Normal
Basic
Full
Resolution
2,272x1,704
Images
(Avg size)
1
12 MB
7
2.0 MB
14
1.0 MB
29
0.5 MB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 5:1 10:1
21:1
High
Resolution
1,600x1,200
Images
(Avg size)
2
5.6 MB
15
1.0 MB
29
0.5 MB
56
0.25 MB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 5:1 10:1
20:1
Standard Resolution
1,280x960
Images
(Avg size)
3
3.6 MB
23
0.6 MB
45
0.3 MB
82
0.15 MB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
5:1
10:1
19:1
Low
Resolution
640x480
Images
(Avg size)
15
0.9 MB
82
0.2 MB
150
0.1 MB
226
0.05 MB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
5:1
9:1
13:1

 

The F100 comes with a USB cable and interface software for downloading images to a computer. It's a true "storage class" USB device, which means it will show up on your computer desktop automatically in Windows Me and XP, or in MacOS 8.6 or later. The F100's USB connection is pretty speedy too, as I clocked its transfer rate at 466 KBytes/second. (This is about in the middle of the range of USB speeds I've measured for digicams, which seem to range from under 300KB/s to almost 600KB/s.)

A minor point about the F100's computer interface, but one that may be significant for Mac users: I've sometimes encountered cameras based on SD memory cards (Minolta's Dimage X was one) that would behave oddly when plugged into a Mac computer with a card larger than ~32 megabytes in them. - The Dimage X seemed to go into an infinite loop of folders within folders under these circumstances. I'd thought that this was a problem with the Mac OS not properly recognizing the DOS-based directory structure of the SD memory cards. It appears that this wasn't the issue though, or at least not all of it: The F100 showed no such behavior when I plugged it into my G4 with a 64 MB memory card inserted, suggesting that Mac users can plug away with impunity, regardless of the size memory card they're using.

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

US and Japanese versions of the F100 include an NTSC video cable for connecting to a television set. European models will doubtless support PAL timing and connections, given the Video Output option in the Setup menu. All images that would normally appear on the LCD are routed to the external video display so that the television screen becomes an enlarged version of the LCD monitor and can be used both for image playback and composition.

Power

The F100 utilizes two AA batteries for power, either alkaline or NiMH types, or accommodates one CRV3 lithium battery pack. I strongly suggest picking up a couple of sets of rechargeable NiMH batteries, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. A battery indicator in the status display panel reports the current charge level of the batteries. When battery power gets too low, a red battery icon flashes in the LCD monitor and the camera eventually shuts itself off. The F100 offers an Auto Power Save option through the Setup menu, which lets you specify how long the camera sits inactive before shutting itself off. Additionally, the inclusion of the status display panel on top of the camera means that you can easily operate the camera with the LCD monitor switched off, as several camera settings are reported there. Working without the LCD monitor active drastically increases the amount of operating time for a set of batteries. An AC adapter is available as a separate accessory, recommended if you plan to spend much time reviewing images via the LCD monitor or downloading to a computer. (Really though, in terms of bang for the buck, just get a few extra sets of high-power NiMH rechargeable batteries, and a good charger. Read my review of NiMH batteries for current information on who's cells have the most capacity, and my review of the Maha C-204 charger for a look at my favorite charger.)

 

Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@ 3 v)
Estimated Minutes
(1600mAh, 2.4v
2 NiMH Cells)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
1241 mA (high!)
62 min
Capture Mode, no LCD
16.5 ma (low!)
77 hours (!)
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
1218 ma
63 min
Half-pressed w/o LCD
880 ma
87 min
Memory Write (transient)
(couldn't measure)
Flash Recharge (transient)
(couldn't measure)
Image Playback
683 ma
112 min

 

The Dimage F100 is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to power consumption. With the LCD on, battery life is painfully short, even when using high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries. On the other hand, with the LCD off, the F100's power consumption is among the lowest of any cameras I've tested. The conclusion? High-capacity rechargeable NiMH AA cells are cheap enough these days that you should buy several sets, and always pack along a couple of sets of spares. Doing that, you'll get reasonable amounts of run time on outings, albeit with the hassle of having to deal with a few sets of spare batteries, and swapping them in and out of the camera. If you can manage to avoid using the LCD except when absolutely necessary though, you'll find that the a set of good-quality batteries will easily last you for a full day's shooting.

Included Software

Packaged with the F100 is a software CD containing an updated version of the Dimage Image Viewer Utility for both Windows and Macintosh platforms. The Dimage Image Viewer Utility allows you to download images from the camera, view them, and organize them. With the latest version comes a more effective image browser utility, an extended meta data display, better printing utilities, and a movie viewer with correction tools. Also included are the necessary USB drivers for connecting the camera. Overall, this is a pretty capable software package, with a lot of image adjustment power built in.

In the Box
Included with the Dimage F100 digital camera are the following items:


Test Results

Shoot really compelling product photos for eBay or the web! Visit our free Photo Lessons area and lessons on taking great product shots.
Like the look of this guitar? Get free photo lessons here!

Since the test model I had to evaluate for this review was a preproduction prototype, I can't draw any firm conclusions at this point. I will say though, that the image quality looked pretty good, particularly for a preliminary version. Minolta said that it would be OK to post images shot with our test model, and at least one web reviewer has done so. Looking at the images I shot with the evaluation unit though, I felt that there were some obvious white balance problems, and so felt that it wouldn't be in anyone's interest for me to post samples at this time. Apart from minor white balance issues though, the images looked pretty good. Overall, I found myself liking the F100 quite a bit - It was very compact, yet easy to hold and operate. I'd really like to see better battery life with the LCD on, but you can literally leave the camera on all day with no noticeable decrease in battery life, if you just leave the LCD off.

Resolution was pretty good, as was Macro performance. The latter was particularly nice in that the F100's macro mode sets the lens to the telephoto position, providing a good bit more working distance than you get with many cameras.

Stay tuned for my testing of a production model, after which I'll be able to make some more concrete comments about image quality.

Conclusion

Although final judgment will have to wait until I can test a production unit, the F100 looks like a very nice little camera. Apart from some minor white balance issues in the prototype model I tested, color was very vibrant, and seemed quite accurate as well. The 4 megapixel CCD and excellent Minolta "GT" lens produced sharp, high-quality images. The unusually sophisticated Autofocus (AF) modes for the most part worked well (if not infallibly), providing more consistent focusing with off-center subjects than you'd normally experience with the typical single-point digicam AF system. Exposure control is also very versatile, with controls that let you tweak color saturation, brightness, contrast, and sharpness. I thought Minolta hit the size Vs comfort balance just about right: The F100 is small enough that it could be called "pocket sized," but was big enough that even hamfisted Westerners like myself can hold it and manipulate the controls easily. The very high eyepoint on the viewfinder is a boon to eyeglass wearers too.

As noted, we'll have to wait for a production model to form a final opinion, but the early evidence is that the F100 is a very well-constructed and nicely-performing little camera. Stay tuned!

<<DiMAGE F100 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this product? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the Minolta DiMAGE F100, or add comments of your own!



Site Map | About Us | | Advertising | Privacy Policy | Usage Policy | Home

Imaging Resource © 1998 - 2014. Material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted or otherwise used without the prior written consent of .