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Minolta Dimage RD3000Unusual 2-CCD design produces a professional-level SLR digicam at an affordable price.
Review First Posted: 5/23/2000
||True SLR with through-the-lens viewfinder|
||2.7 million effective pixels for 1984 x 1360 images|
||Removable lenses: Accepts most Vectis-mount lenses|
||Type II CF slot for Microdrive compatibility|
||ISO to 800, shutter speeds of 30 to 1/2000 seconds|
No doubt about it, the Minolta RD 3000 is a hefty piece of gear, but this larger size accommodates the camera's internal prism system and its two 1/2 inch CCDs that work together to deliver an approximately 2.7 megapixel final resolution. The RD 3000's actual dimensions are 5.9 x 4.6 x 3.9 inches (150 x 117 x 101mm), and while the camera looks as though it ought to be very heavy, it's actually lighter than you'd think at 32.1 ounces (910g). (We expected a lot more heft when we picked it up initially.) With its accompanying neckstrap, we think that most users won't mind the larger size, given the amount of exposure control, lens flexibility, and image quality that it provides. Now let's take a look at the camera.
The front of the RD 3000 is very basic, featuring the Minolta V lens mount, lens release button, white balance sensor, remote control sensor and self-timer light. While the basic camera doesn't come with any lenses, the lens mount accepts most of the Vectis lenses, according to Minolta. Our test model came with a Minolta 22 to 80mm lenses, which we found very simple to remove and snap back into place. Other packages include a variety of lens, bundled with the camera itself. To remove a lens, hold down the lens release button and just turn the lens base until it pops out, the same way most film-based SLR camera lens mounts operate. On the right side of the camera front is the hand grip, whose only feature is a neck strap eyelet. The front of the handgrip is coated in hard rubber, giving you a very firm hold on the camera.
The left side of the RD 3000 holds a PC (flash sync) terminal, internal clock battery compartment, manual fill flash button, exposure compensation button, dioptric adjustment dial, video out terminal and SCSI connector. Our only minor complaint here is with the soft rubber cover that protects the SCSI connector and video out terminal. Since the cover isn't tethered to the camera in any way, it's easily knocked out of place (in fact, we knocked it off several times during our testing and were afraid we'd lose it).
The back panel of the RD 3000 features the SLR optical viewfinder, LCD monitor, small information display panel, CompactFlash slot and several control buttons (including the Menu, Set, QuickView and up and down arrow buttons). The DC power jack is also on the back panel, at the base of the handgrip.
The majority of the exposure controls are on the top panel of the camera, including the Drive, White Balance, Mode, Quality, Counter and Spot buttons. There's also the Program button, shutter button, small command dial, mode dial and the external flash shoe, which is protected by a sliding plastic cover (this cover is also not tethered to the camera but the fit is more secure than the SCSI cover and less likely to slide out of place by mistake). A design feature that we really liked is the lack of reliance on the LCD monitor. All of the exposure choices are controlled by a combination of the buttons on the top panel and the small command dial beneath the shutter button. The only LCD based menu is the Playback menu, so you save a great deal of battery power.
Finally, the RD 3000 features a nice, flat bottom that holds the battery compartment, another strap eyelet and the metal tripod mount. The large amount of real estate on the bottom means that the battery compartment is just far enough away from the tripod mount to provide easy access for quick battery changes while on the tripod or attached to a tripod mounting plate. The large flat bottom surface also makes for a very stable tripod mount, helping to minimize camera shake during long exposures.
While clearly not a pocket-sized digicam, we found the RD 3000 quite comfortable to hold and operate. While the ambient and flash exposure compensation adjustments were a little remote on the lower left-hand side of the camera, most of the controls were readily accessible. Some users could be intimidated by the number of buttons the user interface presents you with, but in actuality the one button/one function design makes for a very easy-to-operate camera. No fiddling around in multiple sub-menus on the LCD screen: You pretty much just press a button and rotate the command dial to select the desired setting.
The RD 3000's prism system provides an SLR optical viewfinder, which features a central autofocus target mark and a small LED display panel which reports exposure settings like shutter speed and aperture, among other information such as a focus indicator and flash signals. A dioptric adjustment dial on the left side of the viewfinder accommodates eyeglass wearers, as does its high eyepoint. Minolta estimates the optical viewfinder to be about 94 to 95 percent accurate in its frame coverage, although we found it to be more on the order of 85-87 percent with the 22-80mm lens furnished with our test sample. While not bad, we'd prefer to see a more accurate viewfinder on a professional camera.
The two inch, low temperature, polysilicon, color TFT LCD monitor is not available as a viewfinder, but does provide a Quick View feature that lets you review the previously captured image while remaining in Record mode. In fact, this is the only use we could find in Record mode for the LCD monitor. In Playback mode, the LCD lets you display either four or nine thumbnail images in an index display. As noted earlier, we always appreciate cameras that allow you to change exposure settings without resorting to an LCD based menu system. On the RD 3000, the only LCD menu is the Playback menu.
The RD 3000 is equipped with Minolta's V lens mount, which should fit most of Minolta's Vectis lenses. Since the camera body doesn't come with a lens, an entire range of lenses are available as accessories. Our test model was accompanied by a Minolta V 22 to 80mm lens and sunshade. Like many film based SLRs, mounting and releasing the lens was a snap, thanks to the small lens release button on the side of the mount. The focus on our test lens was controlled either automatically or manually, designated by a small button on the side of the lens. We assume that the other Vectis lenses work similarly. You can also operate the manual focus without taking the camera out of autofocus mode by halfway pressing the shutter button and then manually adjusting the focus ring while keeping the shutter button halfway pressed.
While the CCD sensors in the camera are considerably smaller than a 35mm film frame, the mirrors and prisms of the "reflex optics" used in the RD 3000's optical path serve to reduce the effective difference, producing a final focal-length multiplier of only 1.5x. (That is, lenses attached to the RD 3000 will produce an angle of coverage equivalent to that of a lens having 1.5x the focal length, attached to a 35mm camera.) Thus, the 22-80mm lens our evaluation unit was equipped with corresponds to a 33-120mm lens on a conventional 35mm SLR. Available Vectis lenses range from a 17mm wide angle (equivalent to a 25.5 mm wide angle on a 35mm camera) to an 80-240mm zoom (equivalent to a 120-360mm telephoto zoom on a 35mm camera). This is a wonderful range of focal lengths compared to the miserly 3x zooms most of us in the "prosumer" digicam world have to content with, although we would have liked to see a larger maximum lens aperture than the f/5.6 that the 22-80mm lens on our evaluation unit had.
As of this writing, Minolta sells the RD 3000 in three different configurations. The most basic configuration is just the camera body by itself. This assumes that you either already have compatible lenses, or that you want to purchase specific lenses independently. The second configuration is the one we received for testing, which consists of the camera body together with a V22-80mm lens, a 64 MB CompactFlash memory card, and a set of NiMH batteries and charger. The maximum configuration includes all this plus a 17mm wide-angle lens, an 80-240mm telephoto lens, a 50mm macro lens, and a Minolta SF-1 flash. The total price of the complete system with four lenses, batteries, charger, memory card and flash unit is still less than any other professional SLR body alone, as of this writing (May, 2000). (We can imagine this setup being an excellent digital "kit" for a corporate setting, where enough versatility to accommodate a wide range of possible requirements might be needed.)
Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a delay (lag time) before the shutter actually fires. This 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.
Overall, the RD 3000 isn't the fastest camera we've tested: With the provided lens, and shooting at fairly close range, the shutter lag in full autofocus mode was 1.97 seconds. When the lens was focused manually, the lag time dropped to 1.52 seconds, still far from speedy. Only when the camera was prefocused by half-pressing the shutter button did the time come up to par among digicams we've tested, with a delay of only 0.27 seconds. (Apparently, much of the shutter lag time is used for white balance and exposure computation, since manual focusing didn't significantly improve the delay.)
Shot to shot, the RD 3000 is quite fast when left in the Continuous Drive mode, with a cycle time of only 0.695 seconds (1.44 frames per second) when the shutter button is simply held down for a burst of exposures. You can also shoot single frames in Continuous Drive mode, simply by pressing and releasing the shutter when you want to take the pictures. Working this way, the shot to shot time rises to only 0.92 seconds for up to five frames at full resolution. This is quite fast, although after the fifth shot you have to wait for the first image to be cleared out of buffer memory before you can shoot another. This process takes the same amount of time as is normally required between shots in single-frame mode, 23 to 34 seconds depending on quality mode and image content. Actually, while its non-continuous cycle time is rather slow, the RD 3000 does better than many cameras in that it lets you shoot additional pictures in Continuous Drive mode as soon as space is available in the buffer, rather than forcing you to wait until everything is cleared out.
The RD 3000 is quite fast when starting up, taking only 3.9 seconds from power on to the first picture captured. Likewise, it switches from playback to record modes in only 3.0 seconds to the first picture. Switching to playback from record mode takes longer, about 6.75 seconds until a rather blocky low-resolution version of the image is displayed, 12 seconds for the full-resolution image to appear. Shutdown can be either zero seconds or several minutes, depending on your reckoning. If your main concern is to simply put the camera away, the time required is zero, since there's no lens to retract. On the other hand, if you want to shut the camera down so you can remove the memory card, you could wait as long as two minute, if you've just shot a rapid-fire sequence of images in Continuous Drive mode.
User Interface and Control Enumeration
We found the RD 3000's user interface very straightforward and quick to understand. With all the exposure settings controlled by various buttons and command dials, there is no reliance on an LCD menu system. All of the controls are spread out around the camera body, so one-handed operation isn't possible (not to mention the camera's larger size), but operation is exceptionally clear once you learn what the buttons do. Some of the buttons serve multiple purposes, but a quick read of the manual should clear up any questions. The only really obscure function is the process by which you change the ISO setting. This requires you to push both the Exposure Compensation and Spot buttons simultaneously, while rotating the command dial. Once learned, this isn't at all difficult, but remembering the combination was enough of a challenge to send us back to the manual several times. Playback is the only mode that requires the LCD and features a small menu of playback options.
Status Display Readout (above): As noted throughout this review, most of the user interaction with the RD 3000 is governed by the LCD status readout on the top of the camera. The image above (courtesy Minolta) shows all the data displayed on this readout. We won't bother repeating the information already shown in the callouts above, but the bottom line is it makes it very easy to set virtually any option on the camera, never requiring the power-hungry color LCD screen on the back of the camera for routine exposure control.
Shutter Button: Located on the top right of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed. Halfway pressing the shutter button while turning the manual focus ring on the lens allows you to manually focus the image without explicitly taking the camera out of autofocus mode.
Command Dial: Located just beneath the shutter button, this dial selects various camera settings when turned in combination with the exposure buttons. For example, when the Exposure Compensation button is pressed and the command dial turned, you can adjust the exposure compensation from +3 to -3 in 1/2 EV increments. In Aperture and Shutter Priority exposure modes, turning the command dial adjusts either exposure variable. In Manual exposure mode, turning the command dial alone adjusts the shutter speed and turning the command dial while pressing the Manual Fill Flash button adjusts the aperture setting.
Program Reset Button: Located on the top right side of the camera, this button returns the exposure mode to Program when set to Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes. Once pressed, this puts the camera in Program exposure mode, sets the focus and white balance to Auto, returns the drive to single shooting, deactivates the self-timer and sets the exposure and flash compensation at 0.0 EV.
Mode Dial: Located just beside the Program Reset button, this locking dial controls the camera's power and operating mode with the following positions:
Spot Button: Located to the left of the mode dial, this button activates the spot metering mode, which bases the exposure on the very center of the image frame. When an external flash is connected in either Program or Aperture Priority modes, pressing the Spot button with the shutter button activates the Slow Sync flash mode which uses a slow shutter speed with the flash to capture more ambient light. Holding the Spot and Exposure Compensation buttons down together while turning the command dial adjusts the camera's ISO value to either 200 or 800.
Counter Button: Located on the top left of the camera, this button displays the amount of remaining CompactFlash space when pressed in Record mode.
White Balance Button: Located to the left of the Counter button, pressing this button while turning the command dial sets the camera's white balance to Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Flash or Custom.
Mode Button: Located beneath the White Balance button, pressing this button while turning the command dial lets you select from among the following exposure modes:
Drive Button: Located to the right of the Mode button, pressing this button while turning the command dial selects from among the following camera drive modes:
Quality Button: Located on the top left of the camera beneath the Mode button, pressing this button while turning the mode dial sets the image quality to either Super (TIFF), Fine, Normal or Economy.
Diopter Adjustment Dial: Located on the left side of the optical viewfinder, this dial adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.
Manual Fill Flash Button: Located on the lower left side of the camera, pressing this button in record mode with an automatic flash unit attached to the accessory shoe forces the flash to fire ("fill flash"). Pressed in conjunction with the Exposure Compensation button while turning the command dial sets the flash compensation from +3 to -3 in 1/2 EV increments. In Manual exposure mode, pressing this button while turning the command dial sets the aperture value.
Exposure Compensation Button: Located just below the Manual Fill Flash button, pressing this button while turning the command dial sets the exposure compensation from +3 to -3 EV in 1/2 EV increments. When pressed with the Manual Fill Flash button while turning the mode dial, this button adjusts the flash compensation level from +3 to -3 EV in 1/2 EV increments. Pressing the Exposure Compensation and Spot buttons in conjunction while turning the command dial sets the camera's ISO values to 200 or 800.
Lens Release Button: Located on the front of the camera, on the side of the lens, this button releases the lens for quick removal.
Quick View Button: Located on the camera's back panel, to the left of the LCD monitor, this button provides an eight second review of the previously captured image on the LCD monitor.
Menu Button: Located on the right side of the LCD monitor, this button pulls up the Playback settings menu in Playback mode.
Set Button: Located just beneath the Menu button, this button confirms menu selections in the Playback menu. When the Playback menu is dismissed, pressing the Set button alternates between single image and index display mode.
Up and Down Arrow Buttons: Located on the right side of the Menu and Set buttons, these buttons navigate through captured images and through the Playback menu.
Camera Modes and Menus
Record Mode: Accessed by turning the mode dial to the Record position (either 1 or 2), this mode sets up the camera to record images in one of four exposure modes. The secondary Record position does the same but also enables an automatic Quick View feature which displays the just-captured image on the LCD monitor for eight seconds, as soon as it has been saved to the memory card. The following exposure modes are available in both Record modes:
Playback Mode: Accessed by turning the mode dial to the Play position, this mode allows you to review captured images. Pressing the Menu button calls up the following settings menu:
Image Storage and Interface
The RD 3000 utilizes CompactFlash cards for image storage, which come in a variety of sizes from eight to 64MB. The card slot accommodates Type II CompactFlash cards, which means the RD 3000 can handle not only larger semiconductor-based cards, but IBM's 340 megabyte Microdrive as well. The Microdrive makes it practical to used the camera's uncompressed TIFF "super fine" format if you wish, allowing 44 images per card. Of course, the fine-quality JPEG option really introduces very little in the way of artifacts, and gives the Microdrive a capacity of approximately 217 images, a very healthy number.
A small light next to the card slot indicates whether or not the card is in use. The caution is to not open the slot when the light is on because the camera is writing to the card. Individual images can be write protected through the Playback menu, which protects them from accidental deletion (except from card formatting). All images are saved at 1984 x 1360 resolution with Super (TIFF), Fine, Normal and Economy quality settings. The Counter button on top of the camera lets you know how much space is available on the CompactFlash card when pressed in record mode. As we noted earlier, we really like that the camera displays remaining capacity in megabytes, as well as images remaining at the currently selected quality setting. Additionally, through the Playback settings menu, you can see all the card's information (total amount of space on the card, amount of space remaining, number of recorded frames and the number of available frames for each quality setting). This is particularly useful for gauging your shooting.
Following are the compression ratios for each quality setting and the number of possible images for a 64MB card:
(64 MB card)
The RD 3000 can interface to a host computer via a SCSI-II interface, and a SCSI cable is included in the box with the camera. The provided Digital Desktop software package provides a user interface through which you can download images and control the camera. We measured transfer times for a 7.9 megabyte image file of 23.8 seconds, a data transfer rate of 333.67 kilobytes per second. This is quite fast for a digital camera, but slower than we expected for a SCSI interface. (Some USB-interfaced cameras are faster.) Overall, unless you have a compelling need to actually control the camera from the host computer, we strongly recommend that you simply purchase a USB or parallel-port card reader, and download images directly from the card, rather than via the camera's SCSI interface.
US models of the RD 3000 are compliant with the NTSC video
format (we assume European models are set up for PAL). By connecting to a television
set, you can review captured images or record them to video tape. The camera's
LCD panel automatically turns off once connected to the television.
The RD 3000 utilizes four standard AA Ni-MH or Ni-Cd batteries
for power. Although the LCD monitor is barely used in Record mode, the RD 3000
goes through batteries pretty quickly under continuous shooting conditions.
(On the other hand, the camera's power consumption when turned on but not being
actively used for picture-taking is virtually nil: You can leave it powered-up
for hours with no fear of draining your batteries. Overall though, we definitely
suggest keeping a couple freshly charged sets of spares around for those times
when the AC adapter is inconvenient. A small battery power indicator is displayed
in the status display panel briefly when the camera is powered up, letting you
know approximately how much power is left. Additionally, the internal clock
uses a CR2025 3V lithium battery. The AC adapter is supplied with the camera,
but the battery charger and rechargeable batteries are sold as accessories (and
are included in some "bundles" with the camera).
As noted above, the RD 3000 features a SCSI interface for connecting to a computer.
An accompanying software CD holds the Digita Desktop software package, provided
in English, French and German and compatible with Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0
and Macintosh OS 7.6.1 to 8.6. The Digita Desktop allows you to download images
from the camera and organize them into folders and groups which can be played
back in a slideshow format. There's also a nice sprinkling of correction tools
that allow you to crop, lighten, rotate, etc. A variety of filters are available
separately, to give you more creative options for manipulating your images.
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the RD 3000's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the RD 3000 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
We found the RD 3000 to be a very interesting camera: It clearly isn't a camera aimed at the casual shooter, but rather at the professional photographer, and probably one doing studio work. As such, some of its characteristics are different from what you might find on a consumer-oriented product. The most salient of these is probably its color handling, which some viewers will find to be undersaturated. On an objective scale, the color is in fact undersaturated, but that may be a benefit in many situations: In particular, the RD 3000 produced beautiful skin tones, with none of the "hotness" many consumer digicams (and even high-end professional SLRs) tend to produce: We could see the RD 3000 making an excellent camera for studio portraits. Saturation adjustments in the computer using Photoshop(tm) can significantly compensate for the lower overall saturation of the images in those situations where you want the brighter color. By contrast, the problem of over-saturation is not so easily dealt with, as detail is lost in high-contrast, high-saturation subjects that can't be recovered once it's gone. Overall, accurate color is the ultimate objective, but we'd generally take under-saturation rather than over-saturation any day, if we had to choose.
Where the RD 3000 really shone is in its unusually low image noise, excellent shadow detail, and overall tonal range. We were consistently impressed with the clean shadows in our test shots, and the amount of detail preserved there. Resolution was also very good, and the camera is almost entirely free of colored artifacts in areas of high spatial frequency and detail. (Thanks to its two-chip CCD design.) We called the RD-3000's resolution at about 750-800 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and 700 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. At in areas of very fine parallel lines, we saw a slight checkerboard pattern, probably an effect of the interpolation scheme used. This only appeared in our resolution test shots though, and not in any of our "real" test subjects.
The RD-3000 did exceptionally well in our low-light tests, in fact turning in about the best performance to date (Mid-May, 2000) of any camera we've tested, including even the Nikon D1 professional SLR. Color balance and noise were exceptionally good all the way down to the lowest limits of our testing, a light level of only 1/16 of a foot-candle. (For comparison, typical city night scenes have about 1 foot-candle of illumination.)
Minolta's spec sheet for the camera rates the through-the-lens "SLR" viewfinder of the RD 3000 at about 95% accuracy, but we didn't find it to be that accurate, at least with the lens we had on our test unit: Our own measurements showed about 85% frame coverage at wide angle, and 87% at telephoto. Not bad, but we'd like to see better, particularly on a high-end SLR like the RD-3000.
Macro performance will be entirely dependent on the lens you use with the camera, and the 22-80mm zoom we had with our test unit didn't focus all that close. The minimum coverage area it could achieve was only 5.95 x 4.08 inches (151.18 x 103.63 mm), not terribly impressive by today's standards. On the other hand though, Minolta does sell a purpose-built 50mm macro lens in its Vectis line that would undoubtedly do much better.
At the bottom line, the RD 3000 offers detailed images with exceptional tonal range and noise performance, albeit with somewhat muted color saturation. Photographers opinions of it will probably depend a lot on their approach to color: Fuji Velvia shooters (a very highly saturated transparency film) will probably dislike its color. On the other hand, the significant body of photographers generally fed up with todays infatuation with hyper-saturation will probably breathe a sigh of relief, and buy it for its excellent tonal range and understated color handling. Not a camera for everyone, but if you appreciate a wide tonal range and subtle color, you'll find a lot to like!
Given its bulk, feature set and price, the RD 3000 clearly isn't a camera intended for the casual picture-snapper. On the other hand, its options for interchangeable lenses, excellent tonal range, and understated color handling make it well suited for professional use, particularly for portraiture or other situations where smooth skin tones, good shadow detail and low image noise are important. Full manual exposure control, a very clean user interface (thanks to all those buttons), and dual flash connections lend versatility that we think many serious users will appreciate.
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