Minolta Dimage F300A compact, stylish camera with a full five-megapixel sensor and clever autofocus system.
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Page 2:Executive OverviewReview First Posted: 05/22/2003
Nearly identical in shape, size, and design to the preceding Minolta DiMAGE F100, the F300 sports a larger, 5.0-megapixel CCD for capturing higher quality images. The F300 features the same 3x optical zoom lens, full manual exposure control, and exposure features as the F100. But it adds a Center-Weighted metering mode, a high-speed Continuous Advance mode, different ISO equivalents, and extended Movie mode capabilities, among a few other minor adjustments. Like the F100 before it, the F300 has a sleek, skinny body tailored for larger pockets and small purses, and its light weight makes it very portable. The matte, all-silver camera body measures 4.37 x 2.07 x 1.28 inches (111 x 53 x 33 millimeters), just a hair larger than the F100. With batteries and memory card, the F300 weighs only 8.3 ounces (236 grams). A small strap secures the camera to your wrist, although 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.
For composing images, the F300 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. Built into the F300 is 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 turned on, and retracts it when powered off. 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 F300 looks to be of unusually high quality, quite sharp from corner to corner, and with very little chromatic aberration. (Although it does have more barrel distortion than average at its wide angle setting.)
The F300 offers both automatic and manual focus control, with a selectable five-point autofocus system and the Subject Tracking AF mode that debuted on the F100. In typical use, the 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 focus on moving subjects. As the subject moves across the frame, the locked focus continuously changes to whichever of the five AF regions is most appropriate, tracking the subject as it moves. This is great for snapping sharp images of children and sporting events. You just have to keep the subject framed and the camera does the rest. You can also manually lock the focus on just one AF area. A Full-Time AF option enables the camera to continually adjust focus, instead of waiting until the Shutter button is halfway pressed. That should reduce shutter delay, although at the cost of increased power consumption. A digital zoom option enlarges images as much as 4x, 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, with a full Auto mode, as well as Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes. The preset "scene" modes include Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Sports Action, and Macro modes. An Automatic Digital Subject Program option puts the camera in charge of which scene exposure mode it should use to take the picture. The camera assesses the subject and exposure conditions, and automatically selects the best scene mode to shoot with. (Sounds crazy, but it seemed to work well on the F100, and I'm glad to see it offered again here.) 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 lets you keep the shutter open for as long as 15 seconds by holding down the shutter button. The F300 has three metering modes, Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Segment (the latter of which divides the image into 270 sections, meters them independently, and then makes the exposure decision based on the overall distribution of light and dark areas). 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 64, 100, 200, and 400. White Balance can be set to one of six modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Custom (the manual setting). A Custom Recall setting lets you recall the previously-used Custom white balance, without having to reshoot a gray or white card, a handy feature. The F300 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. Two Continuous Advance modes capture a series of images in rapid succession. Frame rates are as fast as 1.2 frames per second, depending on camera settings, in the normal mode, while a UHS Continuous Advance mode captures a maximum of 11 frames in one second at a reduced resolution of 1280 x 960 pixels. The F300's Movie mode captures moving images with sound, at 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels, for as long as 20 minutes (depending on file size and memory card space). A Night Movie mode optimizes the camera for darker shooting conditions. Additionally, an Audio mode records as much as 30 minutes of continuous audio, and a Voice Memo mode records 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 rated as effective to approximately 11 feet, depending on the lens zoom setting. (In my own tests, I rated the flash range at about 10 feet, but the lens was set a bit towards the telephoto end, which reduces flash range somewhat, due to the reduction in maximum effective aperture as the lens focal length is increased.)
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 32MB card is shipped in the box with the camera. Available image sizes are 2,560 x 1,920; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; or 640 x 480 pixels. The UHS Continuous Advance mode, however, captures 1,280 x 960-pixel resolution images. A USB cable accompanies the camera, as well as a CD loaded with an updated version of DiMAGE Image Viewer and USB drivers for both PC and Mac platforms. The updated software includes improved print utilities, a movie editor, and an updated image browser, among other features. The F300 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 power the camera, and Minolta offers an AC adapter as a separate accessory.
With its range of new automatic features and unusually intelligent focusing modes, the F300 is an exciting new digicam. The 5.0-megapixel CCD delivers high resolution images with good quality -- plenty of pixels for making 8x10 or larger prints, even with significant cropping of the image. Optional full manual exposure control, a sharp 3x optical zoom, and flexible, creative image adjustment features make the F300 perfect for a wide range of consumers, while 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 F300 very hospitable to novices who want to learn more, while the wide array of features and options will keep even the most experienced amateurs engaged. All in all, a very sophisticated camera in a compact package.
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