Minolta Dimage S404Dimage technology and optics in a compact, stylish four megapixel design
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Dimage S404 Sample ImagesReview 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!
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.
Contrast Series (original camera files)
Increased resolution, though shadows are very dark.
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.
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.
Portrait, No Flash:
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.
Great resolution and detail, with nearly accurate color.
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.
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.
ISO Series (all sRGB)
Sharpness Series (all sRGB)
Contrast Series (all sRGB)
Saturation Series (all sRGB)
|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.
Great resolution and detail, though a little trouble with color 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.
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.
Great color and saturation.
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)
Contrast Series (all sRGB)
Saturation Series (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.
|Flash Range Test
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.
(WG-18) Resolution Test (all original camera files)
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
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.
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