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Minolta DiMAGE S414

DiMAGE technology and optics in a compact, stylish four megapixel design.

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Review First Posted: 07/31/2003

Executive Overview
Updating the already well-respected DiMAGE S404 is the DiMAGE S414, featuring the same 4.0-megapixel CCD and excellent 4x Minolta GT lens. The S414 also offers the exceptional exposure, tone, and color-adjustment flexibility that are characteristic of the high end DiMAGE digicams. The S414 appears virtually identical to its predecessor, with an all-silver, slightly bulky (yet still reasonably compact) metallic body. The camera's dimensions of 4.47 x 2.54 x 2.30 inches (113.5 x 64.5 x 58.5 millimeters) prevent it from fitting into most shirt pockets, though most coat pockets and purses should easily hold the camera. Weighing 15.9 ounces (452.3 grams) with batteries and CompactFlash card, the S414 has a comfortable heft. It's not so light as to feel flimsy, nor so heavy as to be unwieldy. What's new on the S414 are enhanced Color Mode and Filter settings through the exposure menu, and a host of expanded LCD display options, including a live histogram. The S414 also features the super high-speed CPU found in the high-end DiMAGE 7Hi, and a quick 32-megabyte internal memory buffer. The end result is faster image processing and shot to shot cycle times, seemingly without any loss in battery life.

The S414 offers both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.8-inch color LCD monitor for composing images. A wide range of LCD display modes include the live histogram display, and Grid and Scale settings for easy subject alignment. (Playback mode also features an optional histogram display for checking exposure after the fact.) The S414 uses a Minolta GT 4x lens, with a focal range from 7.15-28.6mm lens, the equivalent of a 35-140mm lens on a 35mm camera. Featuring a telescoping design, the lens extends outward from the camera body about a half-inch whenever powered on, and likewise retracts when not in use. A plastic lens cap protects the lens surface from scratches, and includes a tether that attaches it to the camera body to prevent accidental loss. The S414 allows both automatic and manual focus control, with a five-point selectable focus area for the autofocus system. A Full-Time AF option causes the camera to continually adjust the focus, allowing you to "track" moving subjects.

Exposure control is virtually identical to that on the S404, with the S414 offering a full Auto mode, as well as Program AE, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes. A handful of preset "scene" modes set up the camera for specific shooting situations, and include Macro, Portrait, Landscape, Night, Text, and Text with Macro modes. Available aperture settings range from f/3.0 to f/8.0, depending on the lens zoom setting, while shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to four seconds. A Bulb mode is available for longer exposures, as long as 15 seconds. The S414 has two metering modes, Spot and Multi-Segment (the latter of which divides the image into 270 sections). Exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. There's also an Auto Exposure Bracketing mode, which captures three images at different exposure settings, useful when determining the best exposure is difficult.

The camera's ISO setting offers an Auto adjustment mode that varies the ISO as needed to suit the shooting conditions, as well as manually-set ISO equivalent settings of 64, 100, 200, and 400. White Balance can be set to any of six modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Custom. The S414 also offers a wide range of image adjustment settings for Sharpness, Color, and Contrast, and a new Filter setting includes Warm and Cool color balance adjustments. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second countdown before the shutter fires, and also enables operation via the optional remote control accessory. There's also a Continuous Shooting mode, for capturing a rapid succession of images. The S414's Movie mode captures moving images with sound, at a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. Additionally, the S414's audio capabilities include a Voice Memo mode, which records five- or 15-second sound clips to accompany images.

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF files, or as JPEG files at one of three different compression levels. All images and movies are saved to CompactFlash Type I memory cards, and still images can be recorded at 2,272 x 1,704; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480-pixel resolution sizes. A USB cable accompanies the camera, as well as a software CD loaded with DiMAGE Image Viewer and USB drivers for both PC and Mac platforms. The S414 connects to a television set for image viewing and composition via the AV cable packaged with the camera. Four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries power the camera, and Minolta offers an AC adapter as a separate accessory. (Minolta's External High-Power Battery Pack Kit is also available, which uses a lithium-ion battery pack to power the camera.)

The S414's four-megapixel CCD, full manual exposure control, tack-sharp 4x optical zoom, and flexible, creative image adjustment features provide the flexibility demanded by many enthusiasts, while its full auto mode and several scene presets make it accessible for novices. From novices who want to start out with full automatic control and gradually step into more manual control to more advanced consumers looking for high quality in a portable digicam, the S414 is a viable option for a wide range of users. (About the only true "enthusiast" feature it lacks is provision for an external flash unit.) The S404 was a huge success before it, so with its handful of useful improvements, the S414 should likewise be well-received.

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