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Minolta Dimage 7Hi

Minolta updates their revolutionary five-megapixel electronic SLR with an external flash sync connection, faster continuous mode, an "extra fine" JPEG option, and increased color space flexibility.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 10/15/2002

Executive Overview
Building on the success of both the original Dimage 7 digicam and the very well-received Dimage 7i upgrade to it, Minolta has introduced the new Dimage 7Hi with a handful of new features that improve an already exceptional camera. The 7Hi continues with the 5.0-megapixel CCD, ultra-sharp 7x optical zoom lens, and host of fine-grained user controls. New to the Dimage 7Hi is an external flash sync terminal, Extra Fine JPEG compression level, faster Continuous Shooting mode, adjustable color spaces, and longer shutter times. As with the Dimage 7i, the Dimage 7Hi features extensive creative controls, sophisticated camera functions, and user-friendly interface that make it appealing to advanced users, but you can still put it in full "auto" mode and hand it to a novice with confidence. The camera's ergonomic design looks and feels a lot like a conventional 35mm SLR, with an elongated lens barrel and a lightweight magnesium alloy body with plastic outer panels hosting the numerous dials, switches, and buttons. Although the profusion of controls makes the camera seem complex, the controls are all logically arranged and actually fairly easy to learn. Minolta has packed a lot of functions into a very workable layout, with a range of features normally found only on more expensive pro-digital cameras.

A 2/3-inch interline-transfer CCD with five million pixels (4.95 million effective), provides a maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,920 pixels, among the highest currently available in a consumer digital camera. The 12-bit A/D converter and relatively large pixel size provide a wide dynamic range (detailed highlights and shadows) and fine tonal gradation, with as many as 4,096 levels captured in each RGB channel. The CCD's light sensitivity ranges from ISO100 to 200, 400, and 800 equivalency and may be automatically controlled by the camera or manually selected by the user. A significant change from the previous Dimage 7i is the 7Hi's color space flexibility. You can now select between two sRGB options (Standard and Vivid color), and an Adobe RGB option.

All that sensor resolution would be useless, however, if the lens couldn't resolve fine detail. The Dimage 7Hi features an advanced apochromat 7x zoom GT Lens, based on the same technology used in Minolta's popular Maxxum series SLR lenses. Comprised of 16 glass elements in 13 groups, the GT lens has two anomalous dispersion (AD) and two aspheric glass elements for sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion and glare. The 7.2-50.8mm focal range (equivalent to a 28-200mm zoom in 35mm format) provides the flexibility for wide-angle interior and landscape shots, as well as close-up portraits and distant action in sports photography. The manual zoom ring is a pleasure to use, with a wide rubberized grip and smooth, mechanically-coupled lens action. The Macro capability lets you capture subjects as close as 9.8 inches from the lens, which translates to a very small 1.5 x 2.0 inch minimum capture area. A host of focus controls provide a lot of flexibility, and a new on-demand manual focus option lets you tweak the autofocus setting without switching from auto to manual focus mode.

One of the most impressive features, however, is the Digital Hyper Viewfinder, which debuted on the Dimage 7 model. While technically an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) - a miniature version of the larger rear LCD display (complete with information overlays) - Minolta's implementation incorporates an advanced "reflective ferroelectric" LCD design, that produces full-color pixels, rather than the separate red, green, and blue ones of conventional displays. The result is an apparent resolution much higher than its 122,000 pixels would indicate. Display quality is much better than I'm accustomed to seeing in EVFs, with a remarkably smooth, sharp, and clear image, even in low light, where most EVFs fail miserably. In addition to better quality, the Digital Hyper Viewfinder offers unique flexibility, with a variable position eyepiece that tilts up as much as 90 degrees. The high refresh rate in the EVF we saw in the Dimage 7i was carried over, avoiding some of the display artifacts seen in the original Dimage 7.

The Dimage 7Hi's exposure system offers three metering options: 300-segment Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot. Multi-Segment divides the image into 300 separate areas, placing emphasis on the main subject, but integrating luminance values, color, and autofocus information from across the image to accurately calculate exposure. Like similar AE metering systems on other cameras, the Center-Weighted and Spot metering options reduce the emphasis to the central portion of the frame, or a small spot at the very center of the frame, respectively. Exposure modes include Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual, plus five Digital Subject Programs specifically set up for Portrait, Sports, Night Portrait, Sunset, and Text exposures. These presets use not only aperture and shutter speed settings to best capture the subjects, but also Minolta's exclusive CxProcess image processing to optimize color balance and skin tones.

On top of all these features, the Dimage 7Hi also provides a Digital Effects Control that can be used to adjust Exposure Compensation (-2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments) as well as Color Saturation, Contrast, and Filter (hue) adjustments. A Color Mode option offers special color effects and a black and white shooting mode, which can be adjusted via the Filter Effects setting. The Record menu features a separate Digital Enhanced Bracketing option for taking three bracketed exposures of an image, with three different values adjustable from one-third, to one-half, to full-stop increments (in addition to exposure, this can also bracket any of the Effects options, including contrast and saturation). A customizable AE / AF Lock button can be set to lock only exposure, or both exposure and focus. White Balance is adjustable to one of four preset options (Daylight, Tungsten, Cloudy, and two Fluorescent settings), along with Auto and Manual options. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds (as high as 1/4,000 second in Programmed and Aperture Priority exposure modes, with small lens apertures), with a Bulb setting that permits exposures as long as 30 seconds. Maximum lens apertures are f/2.8 at the wide-angle end and f/3.5 at telephoto. A real-time histogram display mode helps verify exposure before capturing the image. (There's a histogram display option in Playback mode as well.)

Autofocus performance is a key area where the Dimage 7Hi shines. Autofocus is powered by a Large Scale Integration (LSI) chip that rapidly processes image data through a high-speed 32-bit RISC processor. - A lot of jargon that simply explains why the 7Hi's AF system is faster than average among high-end "prosumer" digicams. The autofocus information can be measured in one of three ways: Wide Focus Area averages readings from a large area across the middle of the frame (indicated on the LCD by a set of widely spaced brackets); Spot Focus Point reads information from the very center of the LCD (indicated by a target cross-hair), and Flex Focus Point lets you move a target cross-hair to virtually any position within the viewfinder, so you can focus on off-center subjects without having to aim, lock focus, and then recompose the shot.

The built-in, pop-up flash offers two methods of flash metering. Advanced Distance Integration (ADI) bases its exposure on the lens aperture, feedback from the autofocus system (how far the subject is from the camera), as well as on a separate metering flash. Pre-Flash TTL (through the lens) uses only the small metering flash prior to the main exposure to gauge how much light is reflected by the scene. The Dimage 7Hi also includes a top-mounted hot shoe for attaching Minolta external flash units (and any compatible third-party units). New to the Dimage 7Hi is the external flash sync terminal, offering a standard "PC" style sync jack for connecting to studio strobes or other external flash devices. Flash modes include Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Rear Flash Sync, with Flash Compensation available from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. A Wireless flash mode lets the camera work with certain Minolta-brand wireless flash units. A manual flash mode fires the onboard flash at full, 1/4, or 1/16 power. Since manual flash mode doesn't use a pre-flash, it's perfect for driving studio strobes via conventional slave triggers.

Additional Dimage 7Hi features include a Movie (with sound) mode with Night exposure option; Voice Memo mode; Standard, High Speed, and UHS (Ultra High Speed) Continuous Advance modes; 2x Digital Zoom; Interval Recording of two to 99 frames in one- to 60-minute intervals; 10-second Self-Timer; and three Sharpness settings. Six image quality levels include RAW uncompressed files, and Super Fine (TIFF), Extra Fine, Fine, Standard, and Economy compression settings. Resolution options for still images include 2,560 x 1920; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; and 640 x 480 pixels. Movie resolution is 320 x 240 pixels. (Though a UHS Movie option records a 640 x 480 movie simultaneously with the continuous image sequence.)

Not to be outdone on the output phase of digital imaging, Minolta has incorporated Epson's PRINT Image Matching technology, which ensures that Dimage 7Hi images captured in autoexposure mode and output on compatible Epson printers will be automatically color balanced to provide true-to-life hues and saturation. (PRINT Image Matching really represents something of a breakthrough in print quality, allowing faithful reproduction of colors well outside the normal color gamut of CRT-based color spaces, as well as much more natural rendering of skin tones.)

Powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries (an optional AC power adapter is available), the Dimage 7Hi delivers an amazingly versatile package for the serious amateur or prosumer photographer. With the D7i, Minolta really listened to users of the original Dimage 7, and implemented a surprising range of meaningful upgrades and enhancements. Now, the Dimage 7Hi has added important capabilities for the studio photographer (external strobe sync and color space options) that make the camera suited for even some professional applications.

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