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Minolta Dimage S404

Dimage technology and optics in a compact, stylish four megapixel design

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Dimage S404 Sample Images

Review First Posted: 1/30/2002

I've begun including links in my reviews to a Thumber-generated index page of all my test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images that was extracted from the EXIF headers of the image files, including shutter speed, ISO setting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all* that detail, I'm posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it!

In the case of the S404, I've also made a separate Thumber page for the sRGB-converted files (see the item on "sRGB Conversion" in the first section below.)

NOTE! - This page loads slowly, due to *all* the thumbnail images on it!

Outdoor Portrait:

Great resolution and color, though very high contrast.

The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way. (And why I don't use fill-flash on it either.) The object is to hold highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the Dimage S404 had a little trouble with the harsh lighting. The shot at right has a +0.3 EV exposure adjustment, which brightened the midtones to the point that I considered acceptable, though at the expense of some highlight detail. The overall exposure shows high contrast, which is corrected somewhat (but only a little) with the low contrast option discussed below. I chose the Daylight white balance setting for the main shot, as the Auto setting was slightly warm, and the Manual setting had a yellow cast. Skin tones are a little pale, but nearly accurate. Marti's blue flowers and pants are a bit dark and have just a hint of purple in them, but not to the extent of many cameras - Overall the S404 does a pretty good job on the color here. (These blues are difficult for many digicams, often turning out nearly pure purple.) Resolution is very high, with great detail throughout the frame. Details are also very crisp, with good definition even in the shadows. Noise is minimal in the shadow areas.

To see the full exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files S44OUTDM1.HTM and S44OUTDP0.HTM through S44OUTDP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.

sRGB Conversion
Like Minolta's other high-end Dimage models, the S404 uses a nonstandard internal color space with a wider gamut than the sRGB space used on most computer monitors. As a result, its raw images look less saturated, and the colors are slightly incorrect unless their color space is converted to standard sRGB. The Minolta image viewing utility does this, either one image at a time or in batches. In playing with the S404, I found the results of this conversion a little problematic, actually preferring the raw results out of the camera in some instances. All the direct links on this page are to the sRGB-converted images unless otherwise noted, but I'll in many instances also show examples of what the original file looked like, straight from the camera. (There's also a separate Thumbnail page, with an index to all the sRGB-converted images on it.) To start with, here's a side by side view of the main image above, first as it came from the camera, then after sRGB conversion. - As you can see, the sRGB version had a real problem with the blues in the flowers and Marti's pants, and the boards of the house behind her picked up a pinkish cast. - Her skin tones look a bit nicer though.

 

Saturation Series
It's a little hard to tell from the tiny thumbnails, but the S404's saturation adjustment covers a useful range. I'd like to see it go a little further on the high saturation side, but a modest range is more useful photographically than one that goes too far in either direction.

 

Contrast Series (original camera files)
The S404 also offers a range of contrast adjustments, but frankly, I was hard pressed to see any difference between the three options. The 404 is a somewhat contrasty camera to begin with, so I'd particularly like to see the low-contrast option have more effect.

Low
Contrast
Normal Contrast
High
Contrast

 

 

  Closer Portrait:

Increased resolution, though shadows are very dark.

Original from camera
Converted to sRGB

Results are similar to the shot above, with high contrast again. The S404's 4x lens helps prevent any distortion of the model's features, and produces a very sharp image. The image at right has no exposure adjustment at all. Though the image is a bit dark, with very dark shadows, an adjustment to +0.3 EV lost too much highlight detail. Resolution is even higher in this shot, with excellent detail in Marti's face and hair. Though dark, details are also good in the shadows, with moderately low noise.

 

To see the full exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files S44FACDP0.HTM through S44FACDP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.

 

 

 
Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Normal Flash, +0.3 EV
(original)
Normal Flash, +0.3 EV
(sRGB)

Good intensity, though a color cast from the room lighting.

The S404's flash does a good job of illuminating the subject, with good intensity. The fairly strong incandescent lighting in the room results in a noticeable orange color cast, but color on the model and in the flowers is nearly accurate. The shot at right has a +0.3 EV exposure adjustment, as zero exposure compensation is just a little dim, and a +0.7 EV adjustment is too bright.

 

 

 
Indoor Portrait, No Flash:

Originals from Camera
Converted to sRGB
Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance
Incandescent White Balance
Incandescent White Balance
Manual White Balance
Manual White Balance
Nearly accurate color with Incandescent and Manual settings.

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 S404's Auto white balance had some trouble here, producing a very reddish image. Both Incandescent and Manual white balance settings resulted in nearly accurate shots. The Manual setting was a little greenish, and the Incandescent setting just a touch warm. Overall color looked the most natural with the Incandescent white balance setting, so I chose it for the main series. The blue flowers are very dark and purplish, a common problem on this shot in particular, given the strong color cast of the lighting. The main image has a +0.7 EV exposure adjustment. Following is an ISO series.

 

ISO Series
The S404 offers variable ISO (light sensitivity) settings, with options of 100, 200, or 400. As usual among the consumer-level digicams I test, the ISO 400 option is very noisy, the ISO 200 not bad. (Noisy, but usable.) Still, ISO 400 will come in handy for those times when you need a faster shutter speed, and are willing to accept some image noise to achieve it.

ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400

 

 

 
House Shot:

Great resolution and detail, with nearly accurate color.

Originals from Camera
Converted to sRGB
Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance
Manual White Balance

Both the Auto and Manual white balance settings produced nearly accurate results, though the Auto setting seemed slightly bluish and cool. Manual white balance results in a slight yellow cast, but overall color looks more natural. The Daylight white balance setting produced a very warm color cast. Resolution is high, with great detail in the tree limbs and fine foliage. That said, the tree limbs above the house are slightly dark, making detail less noticeable. Details are also reasonably sharp, with just a hint of softness in the corners of the frame.

 

 
  Far-Field Test
Original from camera
Converted to sRGB

Great resolution and detail, but details seem slightly soft.

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 my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this. The S404 captures great detail throughout the frame, though the finest details seem slightly soft (particularly in the fine foliage in front of the house). (A little unsharp masking in Photoshop really crisps things up though.) The S404 picks up some detail in the bright, white bay window area, but it's pretty close to being blown out, and there seems to be a little flare around the edges of the bright trim. The shadow area above the front door fares a little better, showing most of the brick pattern, but there's a fair bit of noise there too. The table below shows our standard resolution and quality series, followed by ISO, Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation series.

Resolution Series
Large / Uncompressed
(original camera file)
Large / Fine
Large / Normal
Large / Economy

Medium / Fine
Medium / Normal
Medium / Economy

Small / Fine
Small / Normal
Small / Economy

Tiny / Fine
Tiny / Normal
Tiny / Economy

ISO Series (all sRGB)
In my ISO series, the S404 did fine with this subject at ISO 100 & 200, but at ISO 400, the combination of maximum shutter speed and minimum aperture setting ended up producing an overexposure. Noise levels are as you'd expect: Reasonable at 100, high at 400.

ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400

Sharpness Series (all sRGB)
This shot shows the effect of the sharpening adjustment on the S404 to good advantage. It provides a very nice range of adjustment, with the "hard" option not being too overdone, and the "soft" option not being too blurred. As usual, the very best results are obtained by using the "Soft" option and then applying fairly strong unsharp masking in Photoshop - 150% at a radius of 0.5 pixels worked very well for me, brought lots of feathery-fine detail.)

Low
Sharpness
Normal
Sharpness
High
Sharpness

Contrast Series (all sRGB)
The effects of the contrast adjustment are much more evident on this subject than they were on the Outdoor Portrait test above. The contrast adjustment does just about what you'd want it too, affecting both ends of the tonal scale, and leaving the middle more or less alone. In dealing with a subject with strong highlights like this though, I'd suggest using both lower contrast and a bit of negative exposure compensation, to help preserve the highlights better.

Low
Contrast
Normal Contrast
High
Contrast

Saturation Series (all sRGB)
The saturation adjustment is also more obvious on this subject, given that its colors were more subdued to begin with. Again, a very useful range of adjustment, from a slight undersaturation, to a slight oversaturation. - About the range I like to see in this sort of exposure control.

Low
Saturation
Normal Saturation
High
Saturation

 

 

 
  Lens Zoom Range

A nice (4x) zoom range.

I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto (4x, in this case), and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. The S404's lens is equivalent to a 35-140mm zoom on a 35mm camera. I'm a big fan of zoom lenses, but really long zooms often sacrifice some optical quality. The 4x zoom on the S404 is nice because it provides a little extra "reach" without losing anything in the image-quality department. Following are the results at each zoom setting.

 

Wide Angle
4x Telephoto
Digital Telephoto

 

 
  Musicians Poster

Great resolution and detail, though a little trouble with color balance.
Originals from Camera
Converted to sRGB
Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance
Manual White Balance

The Manual white balance setting produced the most accurate overall color balance in this shot. Auto white balance resulted in a cool image, and Daylight resulted in a slightly warm image. (The large amount of blue in the composition often tricks digicams.) The Oriental model's blue robe looks about right, with only the faintest purple tints in the deep shadows. (This is a tough blue for many digicams to get right.) Resolution is very high, showing plenty of detail in the embroidery of the blue robe.

 

 
Macro Shot (all sRGB)

Standard Macro Shot
Macro with Flash
About average macro performance.

The S404 captured a slightly large minimum macro area at 4.3 x 3.2 inches (109 x 82 millimeters). Resolution is high, with great detail in the coins, brooch, and dollar bill. Details are sharp, with the exception of slight softness in the corners of the frame. Color balance is slightly warm, but basically pretty good. The camera's flash throttled down very nicely for the macro area, producing just a tiny hot spot on the brooch (due to a specular reflection) and slight falloff in three corners.

"Davebox" Test Target

Great color and saturation.

Originals from Camera
Converted to sRGB
Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance
Manual White Balance

The Manual white balance setting produced the best overall color in this shot, though the Auto setting resulted in good color as well. (Daylight white balance resulted in a slightly warm color balance.) The large color blocks look accurate, with good saturation. Exposure is just a hint bright, though the S404 distinguishes the subtle tonal distributions of the Q60 chart well. The shadow area of the charcoal briquettes appears dark, but has strong detail with low noise. Following are ISO, Contrast, and Saturation series.

 

ISO Series (all sRGB)
ISO 64
ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400

 

Contrast Series (all sRGB)
The variable-contrast option here produces very similar results to what we saw above with the far-field house shot...

Low
Contrast
Normal Contrast
High
Contrast

 

Saturation Series (all sRGB)
- Likewise the Saturation adjustment, but the already-bright colors of the MacBeth chart make it a bit harder to gauge the effect.

Low
Saturation
Normal Saturation
High
Saturation

 

 

 
Low-Light Tests (all sRGB)

Good low-light capabilities, but very high noise at the lowest light levels/longest exposures.

The S404 features a Manual exposure mode with a Bulb shutter setting for long exposures up to 15 seconds. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels as low as 1/16 foot-candle (0.067 lux) at the 200 and 400 ISO settings, but only as low as 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) at the ISO 64 setting, and as low as 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) at the ISO 100 setting. Color is slightly pinkish in most shots. Noise is very high at the ISO 400 setting, and moderately high at ISO 200. (The instruction manual actually states that ISO 400 and 200 are not recommended for shutter times longer than eight seconds.) The table below shows the best exposure obtained 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.

1fc
11lux
1/2fc
5.5lux
1/4fc
2.7lux
1/8fc
1.3lux
1/16fc
0.67lx
ISO 64 Click to see S44LL0603.JPG
4 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL0604.JPG
10.6 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL0605.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL0606.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL0607.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
ISO 100 Click to see S44LL1003.JPG
2 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL1004.JPG
6.5 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL1005.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL1006.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL1007.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
ISO 200 Click to see S44LL2003.JPG
1 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL2004.JPG
2.8 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL2005.JPG
10.6 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL2006.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL2007.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6
ISO 400 Click to see S44LL4003.JPG
1/ 2 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL4004.JPG
1.4 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL4005.JPG
4 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL4006.JPG
9.2 secs
F 3.6
Click to see S44LL4007.JPG
14.9 secs
F 3.6

 
Flash Range Test (all sRGB)

Bright and effective all the way to 14 feet.

The S404's flash maintained bright intensity all the way out to 14 feet from the test target, with only a slight decrease at the 13 and 14 foot distances. Interestingly though, it looks like the camera automatically selects an ISO of 200 when the flash is in use, to stretch its range a bit. (I'm not sure how I feel about this - I like the extra range, but don't like the camera changing settings on me like this...) Below is our flash range series, with distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see S44FL08.JPG
Shutter: 1/ 91
Aperture: F 3.6
Click to see S44FL09.JPG
Shutter: 1/ 91
Aperture: F 3.6
Click to see S44FL10.JPG
Shutter: 1/ 91
Aperture: F 3.6
Click to see S44FL11.JPG
Shutter: 1/ 128
Aperture: F 3.6
Click to see S44FL12.JPG
Shutter: 1/ 128
Aperture: F 3.6
Click to see S44FL13.JPG
Shutter: 1/ 128
Aperture: F 3.6
Click to see S44FL14.JPG
Shutter: 1/ 128
Aperture: F 3.6

 
ISO-12233 (WG-18) Resolution Test (all original camera files)

Good resolution and detail.

The S404 did quite well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. Detail remained strong out to about 1,050 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred at about 1,250 lines.

Overall, the S404 appears to have a really excellent lens: Optical distortion is surprisingly low at the wide-angle end, as I measured an approximate 0.46 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto setting fared even better, showing only about one pixel of barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is also very low, showing only about two or three lightly-colored pixels 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.) The only other distortion I noticed were slightly soft corners in a few shots (generally a bit more at telephoto than wide angle, the opposite of most lenses), though it didn't extend too far into the frame.

Resolution Series, Wide Angle
Large / Uncompressed
Large / Fine
Large / Normal
Large / Economy

Medium / Fine
Medium / Normal
Medium / Economy

Small / Fine
Small / Normal
Small / Economy

Tiny / Fine
Tiny / Normal
Tiny / Economy

Telephoto
Large / Fine

Sharpness Series
Low
Sharpness
Normal
Sharpness
High
Sharpness

 
Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity (all original camera files)

A bit tighter than average optical viewfinder, but almost 100 percent accuracy on the LCD monitor.

The S404's optical viewfinder was somewhat tight, showing a frame accuracy of only 81 percent at the wide-angle and telephoto lens settings. The LCD monitor fared much better, showing a frame accuracy of approximately 95 percent at wide angle, and about 99 percent at telephoto. Since I normally prefer to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S404 did a great job in this respect. Flash distribution at wide angle is somewhat uneven, with quite a bit of falloff at the corners of the frame. At telephoto, the flash is even but a little dim.


Wide Angle, Optical

Telephoto, Optical

Wide Angle, LCD

Telephoto, LCD

 

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<<Reference: Datasheet | Print-Friendly Review Version>>

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