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Minolta Dimage 5 Digital Camera Review

Minolta Dimage 5 Digital Camera Review - Our test of the Minolta Dimage 5 digital camera

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Minolta Dimage 5
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Minolta Dimage 5The Minolta Dimage 5 shares the same body as the much advertised Dimage 7. Minolta have been heavily promoting the Dimage 7 in some newspapers and magazines which you might have seen.

 

The main difference between the two cameras is the Dimage 5's lower resolution of 3.3 megapixels compared to 5.24 on the Dimage 7. This resolution increase helps to cause a 200 jump in price. Another crucial difference is the focal lengths, 28mm-200mm on the 7, 35mm-250mm on the 5. There is 256 Segment metering on the 5, 300 on the 7.

Shown without its lens hood the Minolta is smaller than you might think, the CD in the background gives some indication of its size. Yet sharing many of the features of its more expensive counterpart this is a serious camera.

Main features

  • 3.17 effective million pixels (2056 x 1544)
  • GT Lens with 16 elements in 13 groups; includes two AD glass elements and two aspheric elements. 7.2-50.8mm (equivalent to 35-250mm in 35mm format)
  • Manual zoom
  • Electronic viewfinder (EVF), Variable-position viewfinder from 0 - 90 degrees

What you get in the box

  • Minolta Dimage 5 camera
  • 16Mb CompactFlash card
  • Minolta Lens Hood and Neck strap
  • Video and USB cables
  • 1600mAh NiMH batteries and charger
  • Manual
  • Software CD-ROM

Handling
In designing the Dimage 5 and 7 Minolta have aimed to create SLR-type handling characteristics. The electronic viewfinder, manual zoom, and manual focus ring make the whole user experience more akin to an SLR than some of the Dimage's rivals have achieved. This does not mean SLR users who've never used a digital camera before will feel right at home, the chances are they won't. Yet the Dimage goes further than any non-SLR digital camera has yet, to achieving an SLR feel.

The handgrip is constructed from plastic and does not feel very solid, but is quite easy to hold comfortably. Overall the camera feels quite tough, and nothing creaks or squeaks. The silver finish, and plastic moldings don't give the camera a very serious or professional appearance, something that may bother those of you spending around 700.

Camera LensOne of the best things about this camera is its lens, which is just as well considering what a crucial element of any camera this is. Because it uses manual zoom (grey rubber with numbers) this not only saves battery power, it gives added control. When you've been making do with slow power zooms on consumer digital cameras, it's a pleasure to use a manual like this. The focussing ring (far right of picture) being at the base of the lens also makes manual focussing function easy to control. Conveniently placed on the lens is the macro switch, which can only be used when the lens is fully extended.

Menu system
Because most of the camera's controls are on the body the menus are relatively sparse. This is one of the benefits of the camera, because when you've learnt to use and remember all the settings and shortcuts it is very easy to quickly change them.

Menu Function settings
Menu

Basic. AF mode, Metering mode, Flash mode, Flash compensation, Flash metering
Custom 1. Memory settings, Exp. bracket, Time interval, Time interval frames, AF/AEL button settings
Custom 2. Sharpness, Colour mode, Data imprint, inst.playback

Record  
Basic Setup

Basic. LCD brightness, EVF brightness, Format, Power save, Beep, Language
Custom 1. File # memory, Select folder (New folder)
Custom 2. Reset default, EVF AutoSwitch, Date/Time set, Date format, Video output

Setup

 

Basic Setup

Basic. Delete, lock, index format
Custom 1. Slide show (playback,duration, repeat)
Custom 2. Print (index print, cancel), Copy

Playback  

You can view the menus through either the LCD or the EVF, and they are all controlled by a four-way rocker switch on the back of the camera. Selections are made by pressing the rocker switch in the center.

Camera modes
One of the best points about this camera is its ease of configuration for the large array of settings available. We'd expect this as it's an expensive camera aimed at the serious photographer.

First we'll start with the subject program button, which is separated into five different modes for a variety of conditions and subjects. They are described in the manual as:

Portrait - Optimised to reproduce warm, soft skin tones and a slight defocusing of the background.
Sport action - Used to capture fast action by maximising shutter speeds and tracking subjects with continuos AF.
Sunset - Optimised to reproduce rich, warm sunsets.
Night portrait - For deep, subtle night scenes. When used with flash, the subject and background are balanced.
Text - For the crisp reproduction of black text on white backgrounds.

Also included in the manual are some tips from getting the best of each of these modes, and they could help ease beginner photographers into some more advanced shooting techniques. Generally the manual is very helpful and includes information for the beginner as well as the more advanced photographers, something not all manufacturers include.

Camera ModesThe mode dial (positioned next to the subject program button) is quite simple only having six options, Off, Record, Playback, Movie, Setup and Transfer.

When in Record mode options such as aperture-priority can be set by the collection of dials and buttons on the camera's side. We liked the way the control system worked, by using the dials to change option, and a jog dial by the shutter release to select a setting the camera's functions can be changed quickly.

Connections

The standard connections for an external power supply, USB and video out are provided as well as a connector for an optional remote control cable.

Unfortunately no power supply is provided in the box, although the manual recommends you buy one for transferring images to the computer.

Connections

On top of the camera next to the internal flash is a Minolta accessory shoe, which is compatible with several Minolta flash units. We've tested a macro flash unit with the Dimage 5 which you can read about here.

Strap Lug

Something we found annoying is that the camera strap lug is adjacent to the CompactFlash and it gets in the way when trying to close the cover.

Viewfinder and LCD screen
Viewfinder and LED screen The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on this camera has some big advantages over traditional compact viewfinders. Information on camera settings is displayed on it, and it acts just like an SLR showing if the correct focus has been achieved. Although it operates like an SLR viewfinder the quality is much worse as it is relying on electronics rather than simply looking through the lens. So if you are used to SLRs be prepared for potential disappointment.

Even though it takes some getting used to, we liked the EVF, though wouldn't want to look through it for long periods, as it becomes a strain on the eye. The varying 90 degrees adjustment makes it invaluable, for situations where the subject is low to the ground. However, as we foundwhen testing Minolta's Macro flash, there can be a problem. When you have a flash unit attached to the flash shoe it's impossible to get your head up close to the EVF when it's inan upright position.

The LCD is more comfortable to use, and is sunken into the casing to protect it from scratches. It also has some coatings to prevent excessive reflections when using it in bright sunlight. Using the dial positioned next to the EVF you can choose which of the two systems you use, or select automatic changing. In this clever mode the EVF automatically activates when you move your eye close to theviewfinder. If you want to get the most battery performance available we'd recommend using the EVF as ittakes less power.

Battery-life
Not using Li-ion batteries the Dimage 5's battery life was never going to be very good, but we didn't expect it to be quite as poor as it turned out. Luckily Minolta (UK) include a set of high capacity 1600mAh NiMH energizer batteries and charger. These will give you about one hour use if you restrict the use of the LCD and use the electronic viewfinder instead. Most people who intend to use the camera a lot will almost certainly want to carry at least one spare set of batteries.

Extra features
It's nice that Minolta have included a lens hood with the camera, Sony for example charge around 30 for this as an optional extra for their DSC-F707 camera!

It's commendable also that there is such great choice of image shooting options available, with both RAW and TIFF being included with the standard JPG setting. Storage times for the RAW and TIFF images are long though, taking 29.5 and 35.4 seconds respectively. The reason they take so long is these files are not compressed like JPGs and you therefore fit less onto a *memory card.

*One way round the problem of storage space when using such large files is to use a IBM Microdrive, these are available in sizes up to 1Gb, and prices start at around 200 for the 340Mb model.

Image quality
Generally we've been happy with the quality of photographs produced by the Dimage 5. The lens is excellent, definitely one of the best lens's seen yet on a consumer digital camera. Pictures are therefore sharp and show very few of the defects cameras with lower quality lens's often show, such as barrel distortion or soft edges. Although three megapixel cameras are lacking in resolution in the current age offive megapixel and greater CCD's, the Minolta still gave a good impression. Just as well considering its 700 price tag!

The extra quality provided by RAW mode (unprocessed image data) is welcomed, though we found the software for it a little troublesome. Most people will want to use the JPG mode, to save storage space, and to speed up processing time, but for those wanting the best quality available RAW is great.

Colour performance was good, though a little undersaturated in some cases. This can be quickly fixed using the supplied image viewer utility.

Generally we saw more noise than some of Minolta's competition exhibits in this price range, but not enough to seriously affect image quality in the majority of cases.

Colour Performance

Sample Pictures

Sample Pictures
This shot demonstrates the power of the 250mm zoom lens in getting close up to a subject. The bird was abouttwo and a half meters away and it was a pretty nervous, so short of climbing up the tree the zoom was essential. Also notable is the lack of fringing, a common failing of digital cameras on scenes like this. Colours are slightly under saturated, but nothing a tinker in the Dimage Image Viewer Utility couldn't quickly sort out. Metering is also well achieved here, and throughout most of our test shots.

Sample Pictures
Taken at around 6pm the Minolta failed to get an accurate focus lock on the building as you can see from the slightly blurred appearance. Noise is also noticeable, partly increased by the use of ISO 250.

Again the Minolta shows off its high quality optics through the low amount of fringing, there is some visible on the top of the sword however. As we found throughout testing the camera, it is capable of capturing great amounts of detail, and the lens sharpness is a testament to Minolta engineering. Sample Pictures

Verdict
We've shown that the Dimage 5 has a lot of good points, however it has a large helping of failings too. What you must decide is if those failings are important to you, and whether the good points out weigh them. This is one of the few consumer digital cameras that offers a great zoom lens, great configurability and SLR like usability. Others include the Fuji Finepix 6900 or the considerably more expensive Dimage 7, Canon Powershot Pro 90 IS and Sony DSC-F707.

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Photographs taken using the Minolta Dimage 5

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