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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 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 9/13/2001

Executive Overview
One of three new models scheduled for release in Summer 2001, the Dimage S304 Digital Camera is a high-end consumer digicam with a 3.3-megapixel CCD, 4x optical zoom lens, and Minolta's exclusive CxProcess image processing technology. It incorporates many of the high-tech features of the more advanced Dimage 7 and Dimage 5 models, including a high-resolution Minolta GT lens and an advanced 12-bit Analog / Digital converter -- providing wider dynamic range (more detailed highlights and shadows) than conventional 10-bit processors.

The S304 sports a smaller point-and-shoot style body than the Dimage 7 and 5, though it is still a bit too large (and heavy) to carry in an average size pocket or purse. It measures 4.7 x 2.4 x 3.2 inches (113.5 x 64.5 x 58.5mm) with the lens retracted, and weighs approximately 16 ounces (450 grams) with the batteries and card installed. The silver-tone body is made of a sturdy aluminum alloy, with a telescoping 7.15-28.6mm (4x) zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-140mm lens on a 35mm camera) that extends an additional 0.8 inch from the body at maximum telephoto.

The camera's external controls are distributed evenly throughout the top and back panels, providing quick and easy access to the camera's main Mode dial, which includes Auto-Recording, Multi-Function, Playback, Movie-Recording, Setup, and Data-Transfer settings; five Flash modes; Self-Timer (with optional Remote Controller) and Drive selector, with Single-Frame, Continuous, and Bracketing functions; Exposure Compensation adjustment, and Digital Subject Program selections, including Macro, Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, and Text settings -- each of which is programmed to select the best aperture and shutter speed settings for shooting specific subjects. The Multi mode setting also offers three additional exposure options: Program, Aperture Priority, and Manual. Finally, LCD menu options let you adjust contrast, sharpness, and color saturation.

The Auto Exposure mode offers fairly limited exposure control, with fixed metering, white balance, and sharpness settings. However, you can use any of the external controls mentioned above and set the image size and compression ratio through the camera's on-screen menu. The Multi exposure modes offer a wider range of exposure adjustments, which vary slightly with the three exposure options mentioned above. All three options allow you to choose from five White Balance settings (Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Custom); a choice of five ISO equivalency ratings (Auto, 100, 200, 400, and 800); two Metering options (Multi-Segment and Spot); and three Focus options (Manual, Full-Time Auto, and Autofocus).

The Dimage S304's multi-segment metering system divides the image into 256 segments, placing emphasis on the main subject, luminance values, color, and autofocus information to accurately calculate exposure. The spot metering option reduces the emphasis to a specific spot in the center of the frame. The Exposure Bracketing setting, which is also accessible in Auto Mode, records three consecutive exposures of the same scene -- one at the metered exposure, one overexposed, and one underexposed. The degree of exposure variance between images, can be adjusted in the Multi mode, Custom 1 menu. Options include +/- 0.3, 0.5, or 1.0 exposure equivalents (EV).

The camera's Autofocus system is powered by a Large Scale Integration (LSI) chip that rapidly processes image data through a high-speed 32-bit RISC processor. In Multi-Function mode, you can select between Manual and Autofocus options. Manual Focus is controlled with the Up and Down Arrow buttons of the Five-Way Controller, and reads out distance settings at the bottom of the LCD monitor in metric units. Autofocus has two options: Normal and Full-Time Autofocus, the latter of which continuously focuses on the image in the viewfinder, rather than waiting until you press the Shutter button halfway. Also in Multi-Function / Autofocus modes, you can choose between Wide Focus Area, which is indicated on the LCD monitor by two large brackets in the center, or one of five Spot Focus areas. In both Auto and Multi modes, a 2x Digital Zoom is available as a default option, accessed by zooming past the optical zoom range (or you can choose to turn it off through the on-screen menus).

The camera's 1.8-inch interline-transfer CCD records still images at one of four resolution settings -- 2,048 x 1,536, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480 pixels -- and stores them at one of four Quality settings: Super Fine (uncompressed TIFF), Fine, Standard, and Economy (Compressed JPEGs). Movies are recorded as motion JPEG files at 320 x 240 pixel resolution (304 x 240 effective pixels). Additional features include Voice Memo, Date Imprint, and Instant Playback options in Auto mode, plus Color or Black-and-White settings, and Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation adjustments in Multi mode (Custom 2 menu).

In addition to standard Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) technology, which allows you to set the number of prints you want made in the camera's onboard menu system, Minolta has also incorporated Epson's new PRINT Image Matching technology, which ensures that all S304 files output on compatible Epson printers will be automatically color balanced to provide true-to-life hues and saturation.

Powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries (an optional AC power adapter is available), the Dimage S304 delivers a very versatile package for the serious amateur photographer.

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