Minolta Dimage S304Minolta packs Dimage technology & optics into a compact 3.3 megapixel prosumer camera!
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Dimage S304 Sample ImagesReview First Posted: 9/13/2001
|We've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for our test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISO setting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all* that detail, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it!|
|NOTE: The Dimage S304's default color space is a proprietary one, which gives it a larger color gamut relative to that of cameras using the sRGB standard. The result though, is that it's unmodified images look somewhat flat and undersaturated when viewed on a monitor conforming to sRGB standards. ALL of the images below have been processed through Minolta's Dimage Viewer program, to convert them to the sRGB space. (This is the only modification made though.) For those readers interested in seeing the original camera images, without the Dimage Viewer processing applied, we've provided a second, "Raw" Thumbnail page, with links to all the original files.)|
|Outdoor Portrait: (1189 k)
The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why we set it up this way. The object is to hold highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the Dimage S304 performed pretty well. The shot at right has no exposure compensation adjustment, as we felt that even a +0.3 EV lost too much highlight detail. We shot with the Auto (1384 k), Daylight (1394 k), and Manual (1388 k) white balance settings, choosing the Auto setting for our main shot (Daylight produced similar results and Manual was much too warm). Overall color looks good, though the blue flowers have a strong purple tint (these blues are often difficult for digicams to reproduce correctly). Overall color is slightly flat as well. Resolution is high with lots of detail, and detail is preserved well in the shadows, albeit with a fairly high noise level. The table below shows an exposure series from zero to +1.3 EV, followed by contrast and saturation series.
Exposure Compensation Settings:
The Dimage's contrast adjustment is a very useful tool. Here, we shot at an exposure compensation of +0.3, and tried low, normal, and high contrast settings. (Overall, the best result for this subject would likely have been low contrast, with no exposure compensation, but we didn't happen to shoot that combination.
We also like the Dimage S304's saturation adjustment. Here, we again shot at an exposure compensation of +0.3, and tried low, normal, and high saturation settings. The High setting boosted color a fair bit, without going overboard on the flesh tones. Overall, we liked the "high" saturation setting quite a bit, but the brighter color doesn't fix the purple hues of the blue flowers.
|Closer Portrait: (1397 k)
Results on this test are similar to the wider portrait above, only more detail is visible with the close-up shot. The S304's 4x zoom lens helps prevent any distortion of the model's features, which is crucial in close-up portraits. Resolution is much higher in this shot, with sharp, crisp details in the model's face and hair. Color again looks good, though slightly flat. Detail is also strong in the shadow areas, with moderately low noise. Our main shot was taken with no exposure adjustment, which still produces slightly washed-out highlights. The table below shows the results of a range of exposure settings from zero to +0.7 EV.
Exposure Compensation Settings:
|Indoor Portrait, Flash: (1342 k)
The S304's built-in flash does a good job of illuminating the subject, although we found we needed a bit of positive exposure compensation here. The shot at right was taken with +0.7 EV of flash boost, producing a nice balance between room lighting and the flash. We liked the fine control the S304 gave over flash brightness. We also liked the fact that the flash is pretty well color-matched with incandescent lighting, making for a good color balance between typical indoor room light and the flash output. Thanks to the warm lighting overall though, the blue flowers here are even more purplish than in the outdoor photo.
Exposure Compensation Settings:
Portrait, No Flash: (1205 k)
This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting, and the S304's white balance system did quite a good job with it. The Auto white balance setting produced a very warm, almost sepia-toned image, but both the Incandescent and Manual settings gave very nice results. We chose the Incandescent setting for our main shot for this category, feeling that the slightly warm cast was a good representation of the original room lighting. The manual setting resulted in a much cooler, slightly greenish cast that is perhaps more accurate in terms of color neutrality, but didn't preserve the "mood" of the shot as well. Below is our standard exposure series (from zero to +1.3 EV), followed by an ISO series.
Exposure Compensation Settings:
The S304's ISO adjustment extends all the way to a setting of 800, but noise is so severe at that level that it really isn't usable. Even at ISO 400, noise is quite prominent. (Image noise is an area we'd like to see improved on the S304 overall.)
|House Shot: (2110 k)
We chose the Auto (2110 k) white balance setting for our main selection, as it produced the most accurate color and white value. The Manual (2117 k) setting produced similar results to the Auto setting, though with a hint of warmth. Daylight (1938 k) white balance produced a much warmer image. Resolution is very high, with a lot of fine details visible in the tree limbs and house front. Details are slightly soft throughout the frame, but there's very little additional softening in the corners. (Most digicams tend to lose sharpness in the very corners of the frame, something the S304 seems not to do as much.) Overall a nice result.
Far-Field Test (2160 k)
This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.
This is our ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this. The S304 picks up a lot of fine detail throughout the frame, with clear, distinct details in the house front and tree limbs. The fine foliage details, usually a tough area for digicams, show excellent clarity as well. As we noted in other shots, the S304 seems to have an excellent lens, as the image is very crisp from corner to corner, losing very little sharpness in the corners. The rather extreme dynamic range of this shot tricks the S304, as the camera loses practically all of the highlight detail in the sunny bay window trim. The shadow areas under the porch and in the shade of the small tree (front right) show stronger detail however, with the brick and shrubbery patterns clear and distinct, although there is a fair bit of noise in the shadows. The table below shows our resolution and quality series, followed by ISO, contrast, sharpness, and saturation series.
|Lens Zoom Range
We've received a number of requests from readers to take shots showing the lens focal length range of those cameras with zoom lenses. Thus, we're happy to present you here with the following series of shots, showing the field of view with the lens at full wide angle, the lens at full 4x telephoto, and the lens at full telephoto with 2x digital zoom enabled. The S304's lens covers a range equivalent to a 35 - 140mm zoom on a 35mm film camera. Following are the results at each zoom setting.
Poster (1795 k)
For this test, we shot with the Auto
(1786 k), Daylight (1795 k), and Manual
(1795 k) white balance settings, choosing the Manual setting as the most
accurate. The Auto setting resulted in a cool color balance, with pale
skin tones, while the Daylight setting resulted in a much warmer image.
- Manual seemed just right. Overall color and skin tones look good, with
an accurate blue value on the Oriental model's robe (the blue is only
slightly purplish in places, a common problem among digicams). Resolution
is high, with good detail visible throughout the frame.
Macro Shot (1900 k)
The S304 performed pretty well in the macro category, capturing a slightly
large minimum area of 4.03 x 3.02 inches (102.28 x 76.71 millimeters).
Color and resolution are both good, though the gray background has a pinkish
cast. Details are sharp on the coins and brooch, slightly less so on the
bill itself: It looks like the camera focused on the brooch, leaving the
bill slightly soft. We were again impressed by how well the S304's lens
held sharpness into the corners, a particularly tough task at macro distances.
There's just a slight softness in the texture of the background in the
corners, but nothing like what we're used to seeing from digicams on this
test. The S304's flash (1930 k) did a reasonably
good job of throttling down for the macro area, though coverage is uneven
and the brooch causes a bright reflection.
"Davebox" Test Target (1287 k)
We shot samples of this target using the Auto
(1287 k), Daylight (1291 k), and Manual
(1291 k) white balance settings, choosing the Auto setting for our main
shot. Manual produced very accurate results as well, though with a slight
magenta cast in the highlights, and the Daylight setting resulted in
a warm image. Exposure is a little too bright, judging from the loss
of detail in the highlight areas and the almost washed out tonal distribution
of the Q60 target. Color is accurate, though the large color blocks
are slightly weak in saturation. The shadow areas show strong detail,
with moderately low noise.
The S304 performed very well in the low-light category, and captured clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (or 0.67 lux) limit of our test at all four ISO settings. Color is excellent, as is overall brightness (even at the ISO 100 setting). Noise was extremely high at the 800 ISO setting (as you might expect), and while noise greatly reduced at the lower ISO settings, there was still much more of it than we'd like to see. Minolta should definitely consider adding some form of noise reduction to the S304, at the very least an in-camera dark-frame subtraction. (We refer interested readers to Mike Chaney's Qimage Pro software for a program that does an excellent job of removing noise of this sort of noise without overly disturbing the underlying picture information.) The table below shows the best exposure we were able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all of our sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.
|Flash Range Test
In our testing, we found the S304's flash bright and effective as far as 14 feet from the test target. Intensity remained high throughout the test series, with no falloff all the way out to the 14 foot limit of our test. We'd therefore say that Minolta's 3 meter (9.8 feet) flash range rating is actually quite conservative. Below is our flash range series, with distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.
|ISO-12233 (WG-18) Resolution Test (1281 k)
The S304 performed very well on our "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600-700 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. We found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines though, and "extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,200 lines.
Optical distortion on the S304 is better than average at the wide-angle end, where we measured an approximate 0.55 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end did quite a bit better yet, as we couldn't find even one pixel of pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is almost nonexistent, showing only about two or three very faint pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) As we said before, the S304's lens is very impressive. (Minolta should go into the business of supplying lenses to other digicam manufacturers, as Canon has - Minolta certainly has the optics technology well in hand!)
Resolution Series, Wide Angle
Resolution Series, Telephoto
Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity
The S304's optical viewfinder is a rather tight, showing approximately 80.40 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and approximately 83.85 percent accuracy at telephoto. There's also strong evidence of a shifted CCD sensor (perhaps a prototype foible?), as images framed with the optical viewfinder are severely rotated, sloping down toward the lower left corner. The LCD monitor performed much better, showing approximately 98 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto. Given that we generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S304's LCD monitor does an excellent job. Flash distribution is a bit uneven at the wide-angle lens setting, with significant falloff in the bottom corners of the frame. At telephoto, flash distribution is excellent, with only faint falloff at the corners.