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Minolta Dimage RD3000

Unusual 2-CCD design produces a professional-level SLR digicam at an affordable price.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 5/23/2000

Executive Overview
As soon as you cast eyes on it, there's no doubt about the RD 3000's intended audience: This clearly isn't a toss-in-your-pocket digicam for casual family outings! It should be quite at home in a studio on a tripod though, where its size and mass matters less than it's smooth tonal gradations, interchangeable lenses and SLR (single lens reflex) viewfinder system. Belying its physical bulk, it's actually lighter than it seems, weighing in at 32.1 ounces or 910 grams. The large body accommodates a prism system that gives you the benefit of an SLR viewfinder and dual half inch CCDs that result in a 2.7 megapixel final resolution. The camera accepts nearly the full range of Minolta's Vectis lenses and offers two external flash connections: a hot shoe on top of the camera and a PC sync terminal on the side. A design feature we particularly liked is the amount of non-LCD exposure control. What we mean is that all of the exposure settings are controlled by buttons on the camera body instead of an LCD menu system. In fact, the only time the LCD is used is for quick image review in Record mode and for viewing captured images and a short menu in Playback mode. This makes changing settings a lot faster and greatly extends battery life. A small status display panel on top of the camera reports all the exposure settings, memory card information and battery power.
As we mentioned, the camera's prism system makes the SLR optical viewfinder possible, meaning there's no need to use the LCD monitor for composing images. What we particularly enjoyed on this viewfinder is the internal information display that reports the exposure settings (aperture and shutter speed) as well as focus and flash indicators, among other camera information. (A feature common in professional SLR cameras, but rare in the "prosumer" digicams we've generally tested in the past.) A diopter adjustment dial on the side of the viewfinder is a plus for eyeglass wearers, although we'd like a higher eyepoint to provide more room between eyeball and viewfinder. As far as optics go, the RD 3000 accepts most of Minolta's Vectis lenses, meaning a range of lenses are available for it, with varying focal lengths and other characteristics. Our test model came equipped with a Minolta 22-80mm lens, which we found very easy to attach and detach from the camera body. The RD 3000 utilizes a lens release button, similar to many standard SLR designs, which makes changing lenses quick and uncomplicated. We assume that all of the Vectis lenses feature the Auto/Manual focus button we found on our test unit, allowing you to change the lens focus control. A useful feature for an autofocus camera is the way you can override the autofocus system on the RD 3000 by turning the focus ring while halfway pressing the shutter button. Interchangeable lenses means a lot of flexibility, a real benefit for serious users.
When it comes to exposure, the RD 3000 gives you complete control. The Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and full Manual exposure modes let you determine exactly how much control you want. A nice feature here is the Program Reset button, which returns all the exposure settings to their defaults, regardless of the exposure mode you're in. While available apertures will depend on the lens used, shutter speeds range from two to 1/2000 seconds in Shutter Priority and from 30 to 1/2000 seconds in Manual mode. White balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Tungsten or Custom, to match just about any light source. The camera's default sensitivity setting is ISO 200, but you can switch to 800 for low light situations. (We found image noise at the ISO 800 setting to be quite a bit lower than we expected, comparing with that of the best prosumer digicams at ISO ratings of 400 or lower.) You also have two choices for metering, a 14 segment honeycomb pattern that averages the entire image or spot metering, which reads the direct center of the image. Exposure compensation can be adjusted in any exposure mode from +3 to -3 in 1/2 EV increments. (A minor quibble: We really like to see 1/3 EV resolution for exposure compensation settings.
There is no built in flash on the RD 3000, but the camera does offer a hot shoe and PC sync terminal for connecting up to two external flash units. When shooting with an external flash in Program or Aperture Priority mode, a Slow Sync option is available by pressing the Spot button simultaneously with the shutter button. When using a Minolta dedicated flash unit, you can also adjust the flash compensation level from +3 to -3 EV in 1/2 EV increments, a nice feature. A Continuous Drive mode lets you take up to five exposures at 1.5 frames per second, depending on the amount of card memory and image information to process. This mode is accessed by pressing the Drive button, as are the 10 second Self-Timer and Remote Control modes. The remote control is sold as a separate accessory and lets you fire the shutter immediately or after a two second countdown.
All images are saved at the 1984 x 1360 resolution size, with options for Super (TIFF), Fine, Normal and Economy quality settings. Images are stored on a CompactFlash card (the larger Type II cards are accepted, including the IBM Microdrive), and all the standard write protection and delete functions are available through the Playback menu. You can also review images on a television set, thanks to the included NTSC video cable and output jack (we assume European models are PAL compliant). For connection to a PC or Mac, the RD 3000 is equipped with a SCSI interface and the accompanying Digital Desktop software allows you to download and organize images, perform minor corrections and enhancements and view groups of images in a slideshow format. Additional filters and plug-ins are available separately to increase your creative options.
We see the RD 3000 as being well suited to the professional studio photographer, or other users interested in the combination of extended tonal range, subdued color handling, and lens/exposure flexibility it offers. Although a great deal larger than most consumer digicams, the RD 3000's exposure features and versatile design easily outweigh its size. In particular, its understated color saturation handles skin tones beautifully, an area that's often problematic for the typical prosumer (or even some professional) digicams, due to inappropriately high color saturation. While we would by no means confine it to that market, the RD 3000 seems like an excellent choice for digital portrait photography. It should be useful to anyone wanting the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and full-manual exposure control in a digicam. (Minolta's recently created "bundles", including the camera and a *full* array of Vectis lenses for less than the cost of any competing pro SLR digicam body alone makes a particularly appealing offering for photographers in this segment of the market.)

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