Minolta Dimage F300A compact, stylish camera with a full five-megapixel sensor and clever autofocus system.
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Page 3:DesignReview First Posted: 05/22/2003
The Dimage F300's compact body design is nearly identical to the preceding F100 model. Its long and relatively thin profile is modern with a metallic grey metal body, accentuated by fairly minimal external ornamentation. Don't let the F300's size fool you though: The camera has a wealth of exposure features, including full manual exposure control and several nifty automatic features for better focusing and exposure. The 5.0-megapixel CCD delivers sharp, high quality images, great for printing as large as 8x10 inches or more with excellent detail. The F300 also features an unusually high-quality Minolta GT 3x lens, with the same useful Subject Tracking AF and Area AF features as Minolta's more advanced film cameras, in addition to full manual exposure control.
Measuring 4.37 x 2.07 x 1.28 inches (111 x 53 x 33 millimeters) and weighing just 8.3 ounces (236 grams) with batteries and memory card installed, the F300 will easily fit into a standard shirt pocket. Its small size is perfect for travel. You can just stash the camera in a pocket and go (although I recommend a small, padded camera bag for added protection). The built-in lens cover slides out of the way as soon as you power up the camera, making it quick on the draw, although it does take a few seconds for the lens to extend. A wrist strap accompanies the camera, for added security when shooting in precarious situations.
The front of the F300 is virtually flat when the lens is retracted, with only a few slight protrusions. The shutter-like lens cover protects the lens when not in use, and pops open as the lens extends from the camera body. Once extended, the lens protrudes an inch and a quarter from the camera front. Also on the front panel are the flash, optical viewfinder window, remote-control receiver window (just to the left of the flash), and self-timer LED lamp. In an effort to preserve the front panel's smooth face, a small, raised bump on the lower left corner of the front panel provides a minimal grip for your middle finger as you grasp the right-hand side of the camera. A slight edge on the bottom of the bump provides a little extra traction to strengthen your grip, providing more traction than I would have expected based on its appearance. Overall, this isn't the most secure camera grip I've seen, but the elongated body and rubber surface on the rear help somewhat.
The memory card and battery compartments take up the entire right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear). Lined up side by side, both compartments feature flat, rigid plastic doors. The SD compartment door simply pops open, hinged at the top so the door swings upward. By contrast, you have to slide the battery compartment door down first before opening it. The pressure of the closed compartment door keeps the batteries engaged, although I felt that the battery compartment door didn't latch all that well. It was easy to dislodge (and kill power to the camera) when handling the camera, particularly when putting it on or off of a tripod. Not a show-stopper problem, but a design issue I'd like to see Minolta correct on future models. Also on this side of the camera, above both compartments, is an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.
The opposite side of the F300 has only a small bump on the side of the lens barrel.
A good-sized status display panel is located on top of the camera, as well as the camera's microphone, speaker, shutter button, and mode dial. The status display panel reports enough of the camera's basic settings to let you to shoot without using the LCD monitor (saving battery power).
The remaining camera controls share the back panel with the 1.5-inch LCD monitor and optical viewfinder eyepiece (which is very tiny). The optical viewfinder does not have a diopter adjustment, but does have a very high eyepoint. I could actually hold it some distance away from my eyeglasses and see the entire frame just fine, so even people with very thick eyeglass lenses should have no problem using it. Just beside the viewfinder eyepiece are two LEDs that show a variety of status information, such as when focus is set or when the flash is charging. A series of control buttons line the right side of the LCD monitor, and control Digital Subject Program, Menu, Quick View/Erase, and Display functions. Two more control buttons (Flash/Information and Exposure Compensation buttons) angle down from the top panel. A Four Way Arrow pad in the top right corner controls zoom and navigates through settings menus, with a single button in the center that confirms menu selections. The combination is very effective, with no chance of accidentally pushing one of the direction arrows when you actually meant to press the center button, and vice versa. (This is a common problem with cameras that use a single "rocker toggle" control to serve both arrow-key and enter-button functions.) Just adjacent to this arrow pad is a small LED, which lights whenever the camera is accessing the memory card. Finally, a connector compartment in the lower right corner holds the DC In and A/V Out / USB jacks, protected by a flexible plastic flap.
The F300's bottom panel is nice and flat, featuring only the metal tripod mount. (Bonus points to Minolta for using a metal tripod socket, rather than the more common but much less rugged plastic.) You can also see the bottom of the memory card compartment door. I'm glad to see that both the battery and memory card compartments are accessible while the camera is mounted to a tripod, which makes studio shooting a little easier. (Not likely to be a concern for typical users, but something I'm always aware of, given the amount of studio shooting I do while testing cameras.)
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