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Minolta Dimage S304

Minolta packs Dimage technology & optics into a compact 3.3 megapixel prosumer camera!

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 9/13/2001

Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the S304's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the S304 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the S304 produced accurate color during most of our testing. The raw images from the camera appear a little flat, with lower saturation, but running them through the Dimage Image Viewer software to convert to the sRGB color space brightens them up to produce generally good color. The camera's White Balance system handled most of our test lighting well, with the Auto setting produced the most accurate results most of the time. For our difficult Indoor Portrait (without flash), the Incandescent setting produced the best results, though the Manual white balance option came in as a close second. The S304 performed well on our Davebox target, distinguishing the tough tonal variations and reproducing the large color blocks well (if not with somewhat weak saturation). The blue flowers of the bouquet featured in our Outdoor and Indoor portraits had a strong purple tint, a surprisingly common failing among digicams (these blues are difficult for many cameras to get right).

The S304 performed very well on our "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 650 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. We found "strong detail" out to 900 lines horizontally, and 850 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,200 lines.

Optical distortion from the S304's lens was lower than average at the wide-angle end, where we measured approximately 0.55 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as we couldn't even find one pixel of pincushion or barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration was very faint, showing only about two or three very light pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. Overall, the S304's lens appears to be of very high quality.

The S304 generally performed well in the low-light category, and captured clear, bright, usable images at light levels as dark as 1/16 foot-candle (or 0.67 lux) at all four ISO settings. Color was excellent (although there was a bit of a magenta cast), as was overall brightness (even at the ISO 100 setting). Noise was significantly higher at the 800 ISO setting (as you might expect), though noise levels were considerably lower at the 400, 200, and 100 ISO settings. Even at ISO 100 though, noise levels were much higher than we've become accustomed to seeing in recent high-end consumer digicam models. We recommend Mike Chaney's Qimage Pro for readers interested in a software application that does an excellent job of removing image noise without disturbing the underlying image detail.

The S304's optical viewfinder was a bit tight, showing approximately 80 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and approximately 84 percent accuracy at telephoto. There was also strong evidence of a shifted CCD sensor, as images framed with the optical viewfinder were markedly slanted, sloping down toward the lower left corner. The LCD monitor performed much better, showing approximately 98 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto settings. Given that we generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S304's LCD monitor did an excellent job.

The S304 also performed pretty well in the macro category, capturing a slightly large minimum area of 4.03 x 3.02 inches (102.28 x 76.71 millimeters). This is a larger minimum area than we've come to associate with high-end consumer cameras, but still not bad. Color and resolution were both good, though the gray background has a pinkish cast. Details were reasonably sharp on the coins and brooch, with just a faint hint of softness in the corners of the image. The dollar bill details were also nice and sharp, with good color and definition. The S304's flash did a reasonably good job of throttling down for the macro area, though the brooch causes a bright reflection and coverage is uneven (illuminating the upper left corner the most).

All in all, the S304 performed well throughout our testing. We'd like to see more vibrant color, but accuracy is good (apart from the always-difficult blues in the model's pants and blue flowers on our outdoor portrait shot) and the adjustable saturation settings provide some flexibility in this regard. Resolution and detail were very good in our tests, with the camera picking up a nice level of detail even in distant subjects. Combined with excellent low-light and macro shooting capabilities, the S304's flexible exposure options can tackle just about any subject.

The Dimage S304 packs a lot of functions into a very compact package. Minolta has managed to take the majority of features found on the higher end Dimage 5 and 7 models, and reworked them for a smaller camera size. While this puts more emphasis on the LCD monitor and menu system than we generally like to see, you can still access most basic functions with one of the many well-placed external control buttons. Add to that a sharp 4x zoom lens, advanced image processing, and a 3.3-megapixel CCD, and you've got an excellent camera for business users or serious amateurs who want quality and control at a reasonable price.

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