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Konica Minolta are the last of the major camera brands to enter the digital SLR market with their first interchangeable lens model. This was a surprising delay considering the same company introduced the first 35mm film SLR with body integrated AF system SLR back in 1985. Maybe they got their fingers burnt when they were also the first company to produce an APS SLR, when that format appeared in the late 90s and flopped a few year later. Being last to join the arena means Konica Minolta have a lot of good acts to follow and may already have lost previously loyal customers to a different brand. The advantage is that they can avoid mistakes others have made and improve on what's out there already. So will the new Dynax 7D give the patient Minolta owners a camera that they've been waiting for? We'll find out soon, but first lets look at the key specifications.
Konica Minolta Dynax 7D specification
- 6.1 megapixel CCD
- 2.5" TFT
- Compact Flash Type I/II and Microdrive compatible
- Eye Level Fixed Glass Pentaprism
- 14 Segment Honeycomb, centre weighted and spot metering
- Anti-Shake system
- ISO 100/200/400/800/1600/3200
- Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual exposure modes
- Exposure and flash compensation
- Shutter speeds: 30sec to 1/4000sec
- File formats: JPEG and RAW
- Flash Guide number 12 (ISO100/m)
- USB 2.0 interfaces
- Lithium-ion battery, optional AC adaptor (AC-1L)
NTSC and PAL video
- Dimensions: 150x106x77.5mm
- Weight: 760g without battery or CF card
- Box contents: Dynax 7D Body, USB-2 Cable, Video Cable (VC-500), Lithium-ion Battery Pack (NP-400), Lithium-ion Battery Charger (BC-400), Wide Shoulder Strap (WS-4), LCD Monitor Protection Panel (MPP-1000) Dimage Viewer CD-ROM, Instruction Manuals, Warranty Card.
Where the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D fits in the market
With a price tag of just over £1600, the Dynax 7D, complete with a standard 17-35mm zoom, fits in the same bracket as the Pentax *ist D and Canon EOS20D. The EOS20D has an edge over the Dynax 7D with the higher resolution 8m pixel CMOS sensor and a faster top speed of 1/8000sec. Canon will sell more bodies because of the huge number of EOS owners already out there and it's hardly likely that an EOS owner would want to change ship for this camera. Similarly there's not much to convince a Pentax owner to move. The bigger LCD is a bonus, but with that you're also getting a heavier and bulkier camera. Both the Dynax 7D and the *ist D cameras have a similarly bright viewfinders which are lacking on models such as the lower priced EOS 300D and the Fuji S2. So if you're out for you first SLR it would be worth the extra, if viewfinder clarity when composing is important. The build quality appears higher too so you do get what you pay for in terms of build, but performance? Well that's another issue we'll cover later.
|Konica Minolta Dynax 7D handling
Existing Minolta owners will approve of this camera...it shares the same design as the current Dynax 7 and feels great to hold. At first glance, the key difference between this and its competitors is the huge 2.5in LCD on the back. This not only provides a superb image preview, but also a system menu and, as there's no small top plate LCD, it's even the main operating mode panel. The advantage here is that Konica Minolta can afford to make the display's numerals bigger, making it perfect for the shorter sighted user, but also for easier viewing in low light. I took it to a concert where the only lighting was pointed at the band and the large LCD panel proved invaluable, allowing me to adjust ISO and exposure without fumbling around. The downside was I was lighting up like a glow worm every time I made any adjustments - hardly inconspicuous!
|The display offers two levels of magnification too, so those who find it more comfortable to read big print novels will really love this camera. On the subject of big, another thing that's appealing is the traditional mode dials. You can set the exposure compensation just like you did using an old manual focus SLR. This is a pleasant change - button modes are fine, but having a dial for exposure compensation makes things much quicker. In fact, I started wishing it had a shutter speed dial too...but where that would normally sit is the exposure mode dial.|
|Positioned under each of the top dials are smaller dials for setting flash compensation and drive modes. These are fiddly to adjust, but are still ideal for those who prefer the good old fashion method of mode adjustment. There are several other switches around the body - it's full of them - that are used to set various options without having to access the LCD. These include the on/off switch, metering pattern, focusing mode, white balance and antishake.|
|The rest of the space is taken up with buttons to set ISO, manual or AF focus, lock exposure, depth-of-field preview, memory function and, as with most digital cameras, there are the delete and play back buttons. This one also has an LCD magnifier and that's a treat to use. Once you've taken a shot press playback and then magnify to zoom into the image, you can then scroll around the whole image with a small frame and press to magnify that section, making it perfect for analysing the shot before you move on.|
Overall handling of this camera is very impressive. It snaps into focus and rarely hunts, which is something Canon owners have always had the luxury of, whereas the Pentax *ist D does tend to hunt in low light or low contrast situations. The mode dials and buttons work well, feel durable and are positioned in suitable places. The depth-of-field is a feature I use a lot and it's perfect for the index finger of the lens supporting left hand to depress while the right hand is adjusting exposure. The hand grip is large, rubberised and allows superb grip. Overall it's a very comfortable camera to hold and use.
Konica Minolta Dynax D7 modes and features
The range of modes will satisfy everyone from point & shoot to advanced. There are factory settings that can be reset if you stray from the safe zone, but those who do want to stray can find all kinds of customisations to make the camera suit their needs.
Taking you on a tour around the body we by-pass the previously mentioned exposure and flash compensation dials and start with the menus:
Konica Minolta Dynax D7 menu system
Pushing the rear input control dial left or right flicks through the images stored on the card, while up shows various information about the photo including a histogram, highlights, and exposure information, and down rotates the image.
|You can choose from single or continuous frame shooting or the self timer with 2 or 10 second delays. There's also exposure bracketing which can be set in 1/3 or 1/2stop increments with a bracket of three or five frames.
The only other item on the top plate is the white balance switch with plenty of options to ensure you get accurate colour. Set the white balance yourself and the back LCD illuminates with large symbols and captions showing you the preset white balance modes, each can be set in seven levels accuracy from +3 to -3.
The metering dial offers Spot metering, centre-weighted and 14 segment Honeycomb pattern and houses an AE lock button. Next to this is an AF/MF button to disengage autofocus if you need to act quick. This is perfect for action shots when the camera struggles to focus and you only have seconds to respond. No fumbling around the front of the body to find the manual switch.
The ISO button activates the LCD and lets you choose between Auto, ISO100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600. If you go into the custom menu you can add 3200 to this range.
The card compartment is in the handgrip and is easy to access, unlike the Pentax *ist D. It also has a useful sliding cover for the USB 2.0 cable so if you do use this method of transfer you're not going to lose the plastic cover found on some cameras.
Anti shake system
The Dynax 7D has an innovative feature that was first introduced on Konica Minolta's consumer digital cameras such as the A1 and Z3. Where other brands incorporate a camera shake reduction system in their lenses, this one is built in to the camera so all the lenses of the existing Dynax range will work with it. You can turn this on or off as you please and when on you see a series of five indicators down the right of the viewfinder.
As soon as you pick up the camera and focus this will be five indicators and as you hold the camera they will go out so you're left with one. At that moment you're holding the camera as steady as you can and the system will adjust to compensate for any movement it detects. As the only indication is the display it's a bit unearthing wondering whether it will work. Also in a quiet room the sizzling sound the system makes is a bit odd. None of this is a bother though when you see the results. In the example below, an enlarged section from a shot of a guitar, I hand held the camera at 1/5sec. Left is without the Anti shake system and right is with it switched on. That's impressive. Now, how do I get an anti-subject-movement button!
|Konica Minolta Dynax D7 battery life
The specifications quote 400 frames for the NP-400 battery. I managed to shoot managed to shoot 290 using a more drain intensive Microdrive, many long exposures and flash on several shots, plus the fact I was constantly checking the LCD so it wasn't bad at all. And the good thing is the battery only takes about two hours to full charge.
Konica Minolta Dynax D7 image quality
There are two things a camera needs to deliver - image sharpness (combining lens quality, CCD resolution and image processing) and exposure accuracy. A digital camera throws in a few other things too such as noise and colour balance. Let's first test noise levels. We took the photo (right) of a Leica camera using natural light from a window at every setting throughout the ISO range. The images below are cropped from the indicated area of the photo so you see the effect at full 1:1 magnification. Our results show that the camera is very good at curbing noise, even at ISO 1600, and it's only at ISO3200 where problems occur. We then set the Noise Reduction (NR)system on to shows what happens at ISO3200 with NR applied. Not bad! We'd confidently use this camera at ISO800 giving two extra stops of light in low light situations.
ISO3200 with Noise reduction
Auto white balance tended to be a bit hit and miss. Here's an example of when it couldn't cope. The same camera shot in low light (the only illumination was a household reading lamp. The shot is suffering from an extreme yellow cast and under exposed. The good thing about digital is that you can usually correct colour problems like this and the shot on the right shows what happened after about five minutes of Photoshop colour correction and curves adjustment. Fine for the occasional shot but if you have loads to do you'll be frustrated. It would be much better if the camera got it right first time.
|Auto White Balance and Auto ISO||The rescued version took about 5 minutes to correct|
Okay so now I knew that the AWB wasn't effective so the obvious thing to do would be to switch to manual WB, set tungsten and take advantage of the seven level correction. Well you would think so! Here's what happened. Same camera, same lighting, ISO 100. Three shots: Left is tungsten +3 middle is 0 and right is -3.
This still hasn't been able to record a shot without a colour cast. the 2500k manual setting didn't work either. Maybe too tight a challenge, but we do like to go to the extremes!
So it's a major plus point for noise but a let down on colour balance in awkward lighting. But how about general conditions? Below are a sample of shots taken in different situations.
The flash illuminates well for the size and its small guide number 12 isn't going to light a large interior, but is fine for outdoor fill in and close range shots. Those two require more power can buy an optional Program 5600HS(D) or 3600HS(D) flashgun and tap into the Dynax system's versatile wireless remote system.
|Auto flash didn't do the job in this low light scene, but you have do the versatility to put things right using manual (right)..||By setting manual exposure and adjusting the flash compensation you can deliver a more balanced shot.|
To test flash evenness a grey cloth was photographed at about 1 meter from the camera. The left shot shows the evenness of cover. There's just a touch of fall off at either side and certainly nothing to worry about. To show this, we pulled the Curves in Photoshop and dramatically increased contrast (right). This shows the illumination darkens at both sides and the tube creates a faint strip across the middle. If it's hard to see on the even grey subject you certainly won't see it on a normal flash scene.
Konica Minolta Dynax D7 samples
I was very impressed with the spot metering. It's extremely accurate and while shooting the photographs at a concert I was able to meter from the performer's shirt or face and the readings were accurate.
The 14 segment metering was a little more disappointing though. I'm unsure why, but on several occasions shooting scenes that were not difficult lighting and I had to re shoot under or over exposing by up to 1.5 stops. Maybe the camera is so sophisticated it's making decisions that are right in its eyes. But not what I'm used to. I've never used exposure compensation so much. Having said that all the photos could be edited to deliver brilliant results, but that's not the point. Ideally you don't want to spend more time editing. The good thing about digital is that you can preview the shot before you move on and the 2.5in LCD made the job even better. I became familiar with the metering and could adjust to cope.
Focusing throughout the test period couldn't be faulted. It never let me down, never searched around and always delivered spot on results. I didn't get chance to shoot fast moving subjects so the predictive AF cannot be vouched for but I know from experience with the Dynax 35mm SLRs this works well and I have no question that this camera won't be the same.
If you're an existing Dynax owner you won't be disappointed. The Dynax 7D locks into your existing system and offers a quality you're used to. The focusing is fast and precise, the viewfinder superb.
The camera is without doubt superbly built. It balances well in the hand, holds well, feels sturdy and controls are easy to adjust. Like most digital cameras there are arguably too many modes and custom settings you'll never use, but we are all different so what doesn't appeal to one will be the most used by another. Having the custom settings stored in memory is great, also the very large LCD screen to make easy access of all the modes.
I really enjoyed using this camera and, apart from the exposure discrepancies, which are easily solved providing you have time to check the image preview, it delivered some excellent material in all situations. The Anti shake is a useful addition and being built into the body means you don't have the expense of a system in every lens you buy. It's not something I'd rave about though - in most cases I'd feel more comfortable resting it on a solid surface when a tripod or monopod wasn't an option. Having said that we did only have a 17-35mm to try it with, so maybe my view would be different when shooting with a 300mm.
In summary the main positive points of the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D are:
Excellent build quality and finish
Fast and precise focusing
Superb LCD menu selection
Large clear viewfinder
Anti shake helps
Conventional exposure compensation dial
Negative points are:
LCD not discrete
Metering prone to under-exposure
White balance a bit hit and miss
Card Format takes nine clicks
This following review of the Dynax 7D is submitted by ePHOTOzine member Gary Wolstenholme. Gary works in a photographic retail environment and spends all day with cameras of comparison price and specifications. Here's what he thinks of Minolta's first venture into interchangeable lens Digital SLR world.
|The camera feels very solid, but not heavy, and the contoured rubber grip is very well designed. This makes the camera feel very secure and comfortable to hold, even with a large telephoto lens attached to the camera. The photographic controls are laid out on the right hand side of the camera, most of which are within easy reach of my thumb so all the most common functions can be executed quickly and easily. The digital menu controls are kept out of the way over to right of the huge 2.5” screen, which displays both exposure information as well as the images taken.|
|The multi-point auto-focus is fast and responsive although I found the focus points furthest from the centre were too near to the corners of the frame for my taste. I found I had to focus, lock, and recompose much more than I have with Nikon and Canon cameras, which makes it difficult to use continuous servo AF. This should not be a problem for existing Dynax users though.|
When using the ‘Honeycomb’ evaluative metering system I found that the camera persistently underexposed by up to a stop. I found myself having to leave the exposure compensation dial on +0.3 just to make sure there was enough shadow detail in the image. This was the same with all three of the lenses I tried on the camera.
|The viewfinder is clear and bright, which makes for easy focus confirmation, information is displayed in green on black. Apart from the usual exposure information, the right side of the viewfinder has 5 green lights running vertically beside the frame. This indicates how much camera shake is detected and is necessary because the effect of the AS cannot be seen through the viewfinder like it is when you use an Image Stabilised lens.|
I found this system quite distracting at first, constantly checking the ‘shake-o-meter’ in an attempt to guess whether I could safely take a sharp photo.
After a while it became easier to judge with some consistency, although I would still get the occasional wild blurry photo despite my best efforts.
When the Anti-Shake does work, it really does work exceptionally well, sometimes allowing me to get a sharp shot at ridiculously low shutter speeds (see the examples below). All the shots were taken hand held without using anything to steady myself.
1/2sec F8 ISO 400 - Minolta 28-80 F3.5-5.6 @ 28mm
1/5sec F8 ISO 400 – Minolta 28-80 F3.5-5.6 @ 35mm
1/20sec F5 ISO 800 - Minolta 28-80 F3.5-5.6 @ 35mm
1/60sec F5.6 ISO 800 - Minolta 28-80 F3.5-5.6 @ 75mm
1/4sec F5 ISO 800 - Minolta 28-80 F3.5-5.6 @ 28mm
1/30sec F5.6 ISO 800 - Minolta 28-80 F3.5-5.6 @ 80mm
1/10sec F4.5 ISO 800 - Minolta 28-80 F3.5-5.6 @ 35mm
1/10sec F8 ISO 100 – Minolta 75-300 F4.5-5.6 @ 230mm
1/25sec F10 ISO 400 – Minolta 75-300 F4.5-5.6 @ 300mm
As you can see from these images and their respective exposure times, the Anti-Shake system can produce some stunning results in difficult situations, the last two images were taken a full 4 stops below what is considered safe. All this makes impressive reading, although each one of these images took 3-4 attempts on average, which is fine if critical timing isn’t an issue. Much of the softness in the images can be attributed to the cheap plastic zoom lenses available to me at the time. No amount of technology can redeem images taken with poor lenses.
Also in response to being asked about the compatibility of older Sigma lenses with this camera I tried an old Sigma 28-105 F3.5-5.6 UC lens on the camera. It appeared to function properly although all the images taken with it were too soft to give a fair impression of the cameras capabilities.
The image quality this camera can produce is as good as I would expect from a 6 million pixel digital SLR although the low noise at high sensitivities deserves special mention. There was no visible noise in any of the images I took with this camera up to ISO 800.
The Konica Minolta Dynax 7D is a very capable camera and brand loyal Minolta users will not be disappointed.
Unfortunately I do not feel the camera offers enough extra for it’s money to tempt general or casual photographers over from other manufacturers like Nikon or Canon. I’m afraid to say that if I were shopping for a 6 million pixel DSLR and my budget was enough to accommodate this camera, I would feel my money would be much better spent on a Nikon D70 or a Canon 300D and some decent glass and/or some memory. It’s like paying three-four hundred pounds for a system that is less effective than a £20 monopod.
I do feel this camera does fit the niche in the market the Olympus E1 is aimed at very well indeed. If you need a lightweight camera for travelling this camera is certainly worth considering. This camera could be very capable when teamed up with a travel zoom (e.g. a 24-200 or similar). The low noise at higher sensitivities and the Anti-Shake would make a for a very flexible, lightweight camera system.
In summary the main positive points of the Minolta Dynax 7D are:
Low noise at high sensitivities
Anti-shake performs well in most circumstances
Negative points are:
Honeycomb metering system persistently underexposes.
Price – there are cheaper, equally capable 6MP DSLR’s available. A monopod is cheaper and more effective.
· The ‘shake-o-meter’ is distracting and difficult to master.
Discuss this review and other digital SLRs here.