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Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200

Konica Minolta trims a little and adds a little relative to their top-end A2 model, delivering a strong contender in the 8-megapixel derby.

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Page 3:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 12/22/2004

Executive Overview

The DiMAGE line of Konica Minolta digicams is popular and has a reputation for excellent quality, and the higher end models are known for their exceptional features and quality. The previous DiMAGE A1 and A2 digicams were both very impressive, and the newest addition to the line, the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200, also promises to please. Though the A200 is slightly pared down from the A2, it nonetheless offers excellent exposure control and a wide range of features, and maintains most of the features that made the A2 so popular. Some of the A2's extended custom settings have been removed on the A200, but the camera does offer a few design improvements over its predecessor, such as a swiveling LCD monitor and a less complex control layout. The A200 features the same 8.0-megapixel CCD and 7x optical zoom lens that the A2 had, but now boasts an improved movie mode that offers up to 800 x 600 pixels at 15 frames per second, expanded white balance presets, a Portrait sRGB color space option, a lower base ISO option (50 instead of 64), and a 4x interpolated digital zoom option. Not all of the changes are upgrades though, as the A200's maximum shutter speed has been cut to 1/3,200 (and only at f/8; at all other apertures it's 1/1,600) instead of the A2's 1/4,000 second maximum shutter time (which was likewise limited to smaller aperture settings). Other downgrades include a lower resolution EVF, the removal of support wireless control of external flash units and external PC sync terminal, 256-segment metering as opposed to 300-segment metering, and the deletion of Subject Tracking AF.

At its core though, the Konica Minolta A200 still features extensive creative controls (including an option to use the Adobe RGB color space), sophisticated camera functions, and a user-friendly interface that makes it appealing to advanced users, while its simple to use full "auto" mode won't intimidate novices. The camera's ergonomic design looks and feels a lot like a conventional 35mm SLR, with an elongated lens barrel and a lightweight magnesium alloy body with plastic outer panels hosting slightly fewer (and thus less daunting) dials, switches, and buttons than the A2. Old-line SLR users will greatly appreciate the direct-coupled manual zoom control that dramatically improves responsiveness over the "fly by wire" approach used in most current digital cameras. As with the A1 and A2 models, Konica Minolta has packed a lot of functions into a very workable layout, with a range of features normally found only on more expensive professional-level digital cameras.

A 2/3-inch interlaced primary-color CCD with 8.3 million pixels (8.0 million effective), provides a maximum resolution of 3,264 x 2,448 pixels. The CCD's light sensitivity ranges from ISO 50 to 800, and may be automatically controlled by the camera or manually selected by the user. The DiMAGE A200's color space selections include three sRGB options (Natural, Vivid, and Portrait color), in addition to an embedded-profile Adobe RGB option for professional use in a color-managed environment.

The Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 continues with the same advanced apochromat 7x zoom GT Lens that was so impressive on previous models in the line. Comprised of 16 glass elements in 13 groups, the GT lens has two anomalous dispersion (AD) and two aspheric glass elements for sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion and glare. The 7.2-50.8mm focal range (equivalent to a 28-200mm zoom in 35mm format) provides the flexibility for wide-angle interior and landscape shots, as well as close-up portraits and distant action in sports photography. As noted, the manual zoom ring is a pleasure to use, with a wide rubberized grip and smooth, mechanically-coupled lens action. A maximum aperture that ranges from f/2.8-f/3.5 (depending on the focal length setting) is fairly "fast," helpful for low-light and action photography. The Macro capability lets you capture subjects as close as 9.8 inches from the CCD, which translates to a very small 1.5 x 2.0-inch minimum capture area with the lens at the telephoto end of its range. A host of focus controls provides a lot of flexibility, and an on-demand manual focus option lets you tweak the autofocus setting without switching from auto to manual focus mode.

For composing images, the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 offers an electronic viewfinder (EVF), with a resolution of 235,000 dots that's more typical of current competitors (the A2 had a much higher resolution of about 922,000 dots, or 640 x 480 pixels, each consisting of three dots). The camera's 1.8-inch LCD monitor features a tilt/swivel design, making it more flexible for unique or difficult shooting angles. The LCD panel actually lifts off of the rear panel and flips around forward, so that you can then rotate it 270 degrees. Both displays feature full information displays, a histogram option, and two alignment display modes (grid and scale).

The Konica Minolta A200's exposure system offers three metering options: 256-segment Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot. The default Multi-Segment option divides the image into 256 separate areas, placing emphasis on the main subject, but integrating luminance values, color, and autofocus information from across the image to accurately calculate exposure. Like similar AE metering systems on other cameras, the Center-Weighted and Spot metering options place most of the exposure emphasis either on the central portion of the frame, or on a small spot at the very center of the frame, respectively. Exposure modes include Auto, Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual, plus four Digital Subject Programs specifically set up for Portrait, Sports, Night Portrait, and Sunset exposures. These presets use not only aperture and shutter speed settings to best capture the subjects, but also Konica Minolta's exclusive CxProcess III image processing to optimize color balance and skin tones.

On top of all these features, the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 also provides Color Saturation, Contrast, and Filter (hue) adjustments, through the camera's Function menu. The Digital Effects adjustments are particularly notable for their fine gradations and wide range, allowing you to customize the camera's color and tonal response to precisely match your personal preferences. A Color Mode option offers special color effects and a black and white shooting mode, which can be adjusted via the Filter Effects setting. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. An Auto Exposure Bracketing option for taking three bracketed exposures of an image automatically, features two different values adjustable to either 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments. In addition to exposure, this feature can also bracket white balance. A customizable AE Lock button can be set to lock only exposure, or both exposure and focus. White Balance is adjustable to one of seven preset options (Daylight, Tungsten, two Fluorescent settings, Cloudy, Shade, and Flash settings), along with Auto and Manual options. Shutter speeds range from 1/3,200 to 30 seconds (1/1,600 to 30 in Shutter Priority and Manual mode; 1/3,200 is only available at f/8), with a Bulb setting that permits manual control of exposures as long as 30 seconds. Maximum lens apertures are f/2.8 at the wide-angle end and f/3.5 at telephoto. A real-time histogram display mode helps verify exposure before capturing the image. (There's a histogram display option available in Playback mode as well.)

The Konica Minolta A200's autofocus system can determine focus in several ways: Wide Focus Area looks at a large area across the middle of the frame (indicated on the LCD by a set of widely spaced brackets) and chooses a point of focus that is indicated with a red rectangle (except in Continuous AF mode); Spot Focus Area reads information from eleven user-selectable rectangular areas arrayed roughly across the center of the screen, and Flex Focus Point lets you move a target cross-hair to virtually any position within the central 80% of the viewfinder, so you can focus on off-center subjects without having to aim, lock focus, and then recompose the shot.

In Manual Focus mode, a rectangular area is outlined in white. With a press of the Four-way's center button, the outline turns blue and the rectangle can be moved around the screen with the arrow pad. When the focus ring is turned (a fly-by-wire-type ring around the lens body, close to the camera) the display is zoomed in to show only the rectangular area to make focusing easier. A small map appears on the right of the screen indicating what is being displayed relative to the rest of the image.

The built-in, pop-up flash operates in Fill-Flash, Fill-Flash with Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Sync, and Rear Flash Sync modes, with Flash Compensation available from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. A top-mounted hot shoe lets you attach Konica Minolta external flash units (and any compatible third-party units). A manual flash mode fires the onboard flash at full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 or 1/16 power. Since manual flash mode doesn't use a pre-flash, it's perfect for driving studio strobes via conventional slave triggers.

Additional Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 features include a Movie (with sound) mode with Night exposure option; Standard, High Speed, and Ultra-High Speed Continuous Advance modes; 2x standard or 4x interpolated Digital Zoom; two- or 10-second Self-Timer; and three Sharpness settings. Four image quality levels include a RAW uncompressed setting, and a choice of Extra Fine, Fine, or Standard JPEG compression settings. The DiMAGE A200 also allows both RAW and JPEG files to be recorded simultaneously for each image captured. Resolution options for still images include 3,264 x 2,448; 3,264 x 2,176; 2,560 x 1,920; 2,080 x 1,560; 1,600 x 1,200; and 640 x 480 pixels. Movie resolution options include 800 x 600, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240 pixels, with frame rates of either 15 or 30 frames per second (the 800 x 600 resolution is restricted to 15 frames per second only), and recording times of up to 15 minutes per video segment possible, depending on resolution, frame rate, and memory card speed.

Powered by one NP-800 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (an optional AC power adapter is available), the DiMAGE A200 represents a versatile package for the serious amateur or prosumer photographer. Its manually operated zoom control is useful, fast, and precise. USB and A/V cables also accompany the camera, for connection to a computer or television set, as does a wireless remote control. A selection of software including the latest DiMAGE Viewer for both Macintosh and Windows-based computers, and Ulead VideoStudio 8 SE for Windows-based computers also accompanies the camera.

When it comes time to print your photos, the Konica Minolta A200 supports the PictBridge protocol (when its USB interface is set to "PTP" mode), for printing directly to compatible photo printers, without having to resort to using a computer
. The extent of PictBridge support varies greatly between cameras, and the A200's support is more robust than many. Provide that it's connected to a printer that offers an equivalent level of support and control, you can select paper size, bordered or borderless, print quality, and date imprint options directly from the camera's menu system. To my mind, PictBridge printing is one of the most important developments in the digital camera field in the last year or so, and the A200's implementation of it is better than most.

 

 

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