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Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2

Konica Minolta updates their top-end electronic SLR with a higher resolution sensor, much-improved electronic viewfinder, a faster 3D autofocusing system, and high-speed USB 2.0 connectivity, among other improvements.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 07/13/2004

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the DiMAGE A2's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the A2's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the A2 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Very good color, hue-accurate and appropriately saturated. The A2 did very well in the color department, producing pleasing, accurate color in most of my test shots. Colors were hue-accurate and neither over- nor under-saturated, although my use of the low-contrast option in the Outdoor Portrait shot reduced saturation there. (I could have compensated with a saturation boost, but don't go that far in tweaking the shooting parameters for my tests.) While the Auto white balance setting did well, I generally found myself preferring the results I obtained with the Manual option, especially under difficult light sources like the household incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test. Skin tones were quite good, and the tricky blue flowers of the Outdoor Portrait came out very nicely as well. While I find myself actually preferring the color from last year's A1 model slightly, the A2 does just fine.

  • Exposure: Higher than average exposure compensation, but live histogram helps zero in on correct exposure. A contrasty tone curve, but contrast adjustment helps. In several of my test shots, the A2 needed more exposure compensation than average, but the good news was that the live histogram overlay in the viewfinder works well for figuring out where you're at, exposure-wise. Its default tone curve is a little contrasty, but its contrast adjustment has a broad range and fine steps, so you can fine-tune the camera's contrast to your liking. (Although I'd really like to see the low-contrast end of the adjustment extend to lower levels.)

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,600-1,650 lines of "strong detail." Not as crisp as the best of the competition though. The A2 performed 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, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,600 lines vertically (although there are enough artifacts at that point that I question whether I should drop back to something like 1,500 lines, per my own, fairly conservative criteria - see my added comments below), 1,650 ins horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until 1,900-2,000 lines, but even there there's some detail faintly visible in the vertical direction. Regular readers of my reviews will know that resolution and sharpness are two only tangentially related parameters though. While all the 8-megapixel digicams that I've tested delivered the same absolute resolution, I did see differences in apparent sharpness. On that score, the A2 didn't fare as well as some others, delivering roughly the same level of sharpness (to my eye, at least) as the Nikon Coolpix 8700. That said though, I think the differences between the models is relatively subtle, and depends a fair bit on the subject content as well.

  • Image Noise: Noise levels lower than most of its 8-megapixel competitors. On a purely numerical basis, the A2's images show lower noise levels than most of its competitors. (Tied with or just slightly better than the Olympus C-8080.) As usual though, the cost for lower image noise is some loss of detail in subject areas of subtle contrast, as well as a rolloff of high spatial frequencies in its images. While the noise levels are low though, the "grain pattern" is on the large size of average, so noise in areas of flat tint may be more evident than that of cameras with more fine-grained noise patterns.

  • Closeups: Excellent macro performance, a small macro area with excellent detail. Flash throttles down for the macro area, but is overcompensates a little. The A2 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.94 x 1.46 inches (49 x 37 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was very strong in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Though the coins and brooch were soft due to the close shooting range and the resulting shallow depth of field (not the camera's fault, a simple fact of optics), detail was still very good. (The tiny dust particles on the smaller coin are even visible.) There was surprisingly little softness in the corners of the frame here, making this one of the better digicam macro modes I've seen. Color balance was slightly warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting, but exposure was good. The A2's flash throttled down a little too much for the macro area, resulting in a slightly dim shot, but it's quite surprising to see a digicam flash that's usable at all for macro shots this close.

  • Night Shots: Very good low-light performance, with accurate color. High image noise at the higher ISO settings, noise-reduction system works well, but doesn't completely remove "hot pixels." Excellent low-light focusing, and the EVF works down to amazingly low light levels as well. The A2's maximum exposure time of 30 seconds and full manual exposure control give the camera excellent low-light shooting capabilities. In my testing, the A2 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all five ISO settings. The A2 offers a Noise Reduction option to decrease the amount of image noise, which did indeed reduce noise levels pretty dramatically, but which did still leave some "hot pixels" here and there. In addition to its excellent low-light capture ability, the A2's electronic viewfinder is usable at light levels down to and even somewhat below the 1/16 foot-candle limit of my test, and its autofocus system can actually focus at light levels that low, despite the camera's lack of an autofocus-assist light. (NOTE though, that with any digicam capable of really low-light focusing like this, you need to have the camera absolutely rigidly mounted, as any camera shake will keep the camera from focusing altogether.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Excellent accuracy from the electronic viewfinder. The A2's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) is very accurate, showing about 100 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. (Just a tiny fringe of the target lines were cut off at the bottom of the frame.) The LCD monitor is also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the A2's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in this regard. (The A2's EVF also deserves special notice because it works down to unusually low light levels, avoiding a common failing of electronic viewfinders.)

  • Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel distortion, moderate pincushion, moderate chromatic aberration, very little softening in the corners. Geometric distortion on the A2 is higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.07 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found only 0.3 percent pincushion distortion there. Chromatic aberration is higher than I'd like, but seemingly average for its class, showing about seven pixels of moderate 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.) - Compared to the other 8 megapixel models I've tested, this amount of chromatic aberration seems fairly common, more or less matching what I saw with the Canon Pro1 and Nikon 8700. The Sony F828 had somewhat less, and the Olympus C-8080 the least of all. The big plus with the A2's lens though, is that there's very little of the softening I'm accustomed to seeing in the corners of the frame, particularly with long-ratio zoom optics.

  • Shutter lag and cycle time: Very fast shutter response, great cycle times. The DiMAGE A2 is a very fast camera overall, and one of the only two 8 megapixel models currently on the market with usable speed when shooting in RAW mode. (The other being the Canon Pro1.) Its shot to shot cycle time in single-shot mode is the fastest of any of the 8-megapixel models currently on the market.) On the downside though, the A2's buffer capacity is a relatively modest (even paltry by current standards) 3 frames, and TIFF-mode files aren't buffered at all. Likewise, while RAW and JPEG files are both buffered, the RAW+JPEG mode isn't buffered, greatly reducing its usefulness. (Reduced buffer capacity and lack of buffering for TIFF images is an area in which functionality was unfortunately lost relative to the earlier A1 model, apparently a consequence of the increased size of the 8 megapixel images.) I'd like to see a deeper buffer memory, but apart from that, the A2 looks like a really excellent choice for sports and other action photography. (One note though: Be sure to buy a good, fast CF card for use with the A2. I found little advantage with 80x vs 40x cards, but the A2 very definitely makes good use of a card with at least 40x speed.)

  • Battery Life: Good battery life, but a notch down from that of the A1. The previous A1 had about the best battery life of any prosumer camera model on the market, but the A2 comes in a fair ways below that standard. Worst-case battery life isn't bad, at roughly two hours and twenty minutes of run time (capture mode, with the rear-panel LCD turned on), but it's no longer best-in-class. A big help though, is that the eye-sensing EVF eyepiece can be set to turn on the EVF's display only when your eye is actually pressed against the eyepiece. In this mode, run time is nearly 6 hours, excellent by any standards.



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The Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 is the latest in a long line of impressive digicams from Minolta (now Konica Minolta, since last year's merger), and carries the tradition proudly in to the 8-megapixel arena. Minolta was the first manufacturer to break the 5-megapixel barrier, doing so in dramatic fashion with their original DiMAGE 7. They've made good use of their investment in the body and (excellent) optics developed for the DiMAGE 7, turning them into a complete line of cameras, including the 7, 7i, 7Hi, A1, and now the A2. The lens amazed me when it first came out, as nothing then on the market could touch it for corner to corner sharpness and low chromatic aberration. Now, some three years later, the competition has caught up somewhat, as several other 8-megapixel digicams now have excellent glass. That said, the lens on the A2 is still notable for how well it holds sharpness into the corners of the frame, across its full zoom range. Relative to other 8-megapixel contenders, the A2's images look a little softer overall, perhaps in some part a consequence of the lens design, but more likely the result of the camera's relatively strong anti-noise processing: The A2 shows some of the lowest image-noise figures of any of the current 8-megapixel models (only the Olympus C-8080 matches it), but this comes at the usual cost of some of the subtle detail in its images. - There's no free lunch: All the current 8MP cameras use the same sensor chip, so the fundamental noise levels are going to be the same. All the manufacturers can do is to attempt to reduce or otherwise "shape" the noise response with their image processing. Bottom line, with a given level of noise coming from the sensor, you can choose to emphasize image sharpness or reduce image noise, but not both.

While the competition has somewhat caught up with the capabilities of the A2's now three-year-old lens, there are a number of areas in which the A2 is unique or nearly so. One such area is speed: Its shutter lag is arguably the fastest on the market (see my comments above for the relevant qualifications and limitations on that statement), and its shot to shot cycle times are the fastest of any 8-megapixel prosumer camera, bar none. With the Canon PowerShot Pro1, it's also the only 8-megapixel prosumer camera that buffers RAW-mode files, meaning it's one of only two models that are actually usable in RAW mode for anything other than landscapes and still lifes. Its paltry 3-shot buffer is the only fly in the "speed" ointment, but if you can live with the constraint of 3-shot bursts, nothing matches the A2's raw speed at the 8-megapixel resolution level.

Another area in which the A2 rises above the competition is in its anti-shake image stabilization system. It's hard to overemphasize the benefit of image stabilization on a camera with a long-ratio zoom lens. A sharp lens and an 8-megapixel sensor are worthless if you can't hold the camera steady enough to take sharp photos. - And with 8 megapixels of resolution, it takes surprisingly little shake to produce visible blurring. I don't have any way of quantitatively evaluating the A2's anti-shake system, but my gut sense is that it provides about a three-stop advantage when it comes to handholding a camera. - That means you'll be able to get equally sharp images with the A2 as with a competing model, shooting at 8 times the shutter speed. (Sharp photos at 1/30 second at maximum telephoto, vs ~1/250 second without the A2's anti-shake.) That's a huge advantage that's hard to convey in mere words, but equally hard to overstate: Get out and shoot with/without anti-shake, and you'll quickly become a believer.

Finally, the A2 carries forward the long tradition of its forebears, offering unparalleled creative control, in the form of very fine-grained, broad-ranging adjustments for color saturation, contrast, hue, and image sharpening. This is a bit of a subtle point, but it means that you can really adjust the camera to uniquely suit your own photographic preferences.

Taken as a package, the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 is tough to beat, and is clearly at or near the top of the heap relative to the other 8-megapixel "enthusiast" cameras on the market. A powerful photographic tool, and an easy choice as a "Dave's Pick." Highly recommended.

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