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Not content with having produced the popular and award-winning Dimage 5, 7 and 7i cameras, Minolta have now added the 7Hi to their range. Just like the lower-end models it is based on the same body and lens. There are a substantial number of differences in appearance, performance and features however and these justify the 7Hi's reign as the current Minolta king.
Minolta Dimage 7Hi Features
- 5 megapixel CCD
- 7.2mm-50.8mm GT lens. (35mm equiv. 28-200mm). f/2.8-3.5
- Electronic viewfinder with 220,000 pixels
- 1.8 TFT monitor, 118,000 pixels
- Shutter speed range: 15-1/4000s
- Bulb mode (max. 30sec)
- Wide, spot and flex focussing points
- Digital subject programs (E.g. Portrait, sports)
- Three custom white balance settings
- RAW, Super fine, Extra fine, Fine, Standard image quality modes
- ISO100, 200, 400, 800, Auto
- Digital Enhanced bracketing: Contrast, colour, exposure
- Weight: 530g
- Dimensions: 117x90.5x112.5mm
- Price: Around 970
Minolta mention in the Dimage 7Hi literature that it is aimed at the professional and serious amateur market. The Dimage 7Hi is obviously not a totally new camera and it would have made little sense for Minolta to start again from scratch when the Dimage 7 series has already proved very successful. The natural progression was to add more features and improve performance with this new model. The main features that have improved or been added over predecessors are:
- Built in Synchro terminal and new wireless/remote function for studio flash
- Faster autofocus system
- Higher speed continuous advance (up to 3fps in TIFF mode)
- Advanced white balance settings
- Selectable colour space options
- Further image quality settings
- Undo function for camera settings
- Improved LCD and viewfinder
- Black finish and improved grip
Handling and controls
It's no SLR but the Dimage 5/7 series has always had one of the best handling bodies of the more serious digital cameras. The body of the camera is constructed from magnesium alloy, giving it a very strong and rigid feel but also ensuring it is light. It is also reasonably compact, but not small enough to fit in a large coat pocket.
There are a large number of controls placed over the 7Hi's body. For most people, this will be a boon, as it allows you to change almost any setting quickly without having to resort to the main menu.
The way it works is you select one of the two main dials on the left of the body, you then turn this dial to the desired setting you want to change, such as ISO. Then pressing the button in the centre of the dial, you use your other hand to simultaneously move the dial by the shutter-release, causing the ISO setting to change. In this way, you can change many of the camera's settings without having to turn the main LCD or Electronic Viewfinder on.
The back of the 7Hi is very similar to its predecessors, with the obvious exception that everything has turned a shade darker!
Although the 7Hi body shape makes it a pleasure to shoot with, it's not so convenient to carry.
The lens offers a good 7x optical zoom, 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) range and is very versatile. It's quite fast, at f2.8-f3.5 and is an advanced apochromatic (APO) lens, meaning it's very high quality. The lens is zoomed manually, which gives far more precise control than any electronic zoom system. It also allows you to zoom in or out far quicker. Manual focussing can be performed via a focus ring at the base of the lens. Whilst in the manual focus mode, you can enlarge the central portion of the viewfinder, making it easier to check if the subject is in focus or not.
The menu system hasn't changed a great deal from the other Dimage cameras, which is no bad thing.
When in record mode it is possible to have a histogram overlaid as shown to the left.
Surrounding the image is the usual information covering shutter speed and aperture setting and the current drive, focussing and image quality modes.
Inside this playback mode the menu allows you to delete or lock images or set up a slide show.
You can quickly view the images stored on the memory card, or view a histogram and EXIF information on the settings used when the photograph was taken.
As well as the comprehensive settings available on the outside of the camera via mode dials, the Record menu has a wide number of settings to change.
These range from the basic, such as image size and quality, to the less common, such as Data imprint or Voice memo on/off.
Being aimed at professionals and serious amateurs it's not all that surprising that the setup menu hosts a wide variety of settings.
Features such as the bracketing, colour profiles and manual shift can be set up here. There is also provision for the basic settings such as Volume, Language and LCD/EVF brightness.
Like almost all high-end digital cameras, the Dimage 7Hi has four exposure modes: Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual.
Slightly more complicated, is the range of drive modes available, these are:
- Single-frame advance
- Bracketing - Takes a series of images with different exposure, contrast or saturation.
- Continuous advance - Takes multiple images whilst the shutter-release button is held.
- High-speed continuous advance - As above, but higher speed at approx. 3fps.
- UHS continuous advance - As above but faster, taking 1280x960pixel images at 7fps.
- Interval - Takes a series of pictures over a specified interval.
There is also a digital-subject program setting, which has been designed to optimise the camera for various popular photographic conditions. The modes available in this are:
- Portrait - Should result in soft skin tones and slight blurring of the background.
- Sports action - This can be used for any events where there is fast action. It works by ensuring the fastest shutter speed possible and enables continuous AF.
- Sunset - Simply helps achieve rich warm sunset photographs.
- Night portrait - Subject and the background are balanced when using the on-camera flash.
- Text - Probably not the most used of settings, this allows you to take sharp high contrast photographs of black on white text.
Viewfinder and LCD screen
Just as with the other Dimage models based on this body, the 7Hi has a flexible electronic viewfinder. On this model it has been slightly improved, as has the LCD monitor with more accurate colour rendition. The electronic viewfinder provides a respectable level of detail, but many people accustomed to an SLR might have a bit of a shock.
The LCD monitor doesn't appear massively improved from previous models but it is still reasonably sharp. It also updates very quickly, which is just as well considering the high speed nature of the rest of the camera.
Most of the connections are grouped together at the back, hidden under rubber flaps. From left to right these include, Power in and Audio/Video out and a Remote Control terminal. The USB connection is located behind the door covering the memory card slot. Lastly, on the left hand side of the camera, there is a covered flash-sync terminal.
Minolta didn't do too well with their first Dimage cameras on battery life performance, but thankfully things have improved since then. Having the same requirement of four AA batteries as the other cameras, the 7Hi performs best when fed with some high-power NiMH types. Even though things have improved, I wouldn't feel confident going on a days shooting trip without at least one spare set of batteries.
The lower end Minolta Dimage 7i is already a well regarded camera in terms of image quality so the 7Hi has a solid foundation. Aimed partly at the Pro market, potential buyers of this camera may have very high expectations. Whilst many of the improvements Minolta include do offer a tangible benefit to Pro photographers, this camera still isn't a complete alternative to a Digital SLR.
The lens on the 7Hi has already had its quality confirmed on the other Dimage models and really is one of the best lenses available on a camera of this type. Besides being hard to fault in terms of image quality, it is also easy to zoom and has a versatile focal range.
Five megapixels of resolution help to create images that are full of detail and combined with the other electronics the 7Hi produces vibrantly colourful images. With so many options available to determine the image quality produced, it's possible to tweak the preferred type of image produced. Though there are some failings of the camera, such as minor noise at the lowest ISO settings, that is most noticeable in mid-tone areas. This noise is by no means enough to spoil a photograph, but the more critical of photographers might prefer to spend more money on a Digital SLR without it and remove the problem.
The 1:1 crop below shows to some extent the detail the 7Hi is capable of capturing. Though shooting the RAW mode would provide higher quality than the JPG reduced example here.
Again we have a 1:1 crop of the above image shown below. Although the level of detail in this crop is good, it's evident that the 7Hi still has some way to go before competing with Digital SLRs like the Canon D60.
In the above shot, some detail in the darkest areas hasn't been captured and there is also some of the noise mentioned previously. Again it's not enough to ruin the shot by any means, but is worth mentioning.
The 7Hi coped very well with the tricky metering here and the image is full of detail, even to a degree in the darkest and lightest parts.
Yet another shot with a 1:1 crop below showing the kind of detail the 7Hi is capable of capturing.
Based largely on the cheaper 7i, many people may not need the advanced features that the 7Hi offers. If you feel you do need those features, the 7Hi is a very good performer, offering fast operation, excellent configuration options, handling and image quality. There isn't anything majorly wrong with this camera, and providing you don't want, or can't afford a Digital SLR, it is one of the best digital cameras available on the market today.
In summary the main positive points of the Minolta Dimage 7Hi are:
Excellent image quality
Good range of menu options
Speed of operation
Good handling body
Class leading lens
Improved TFT and EVF
Fast focussing (For a consumer digital camera)
Negative points are:
Body isn't at a pro level of toughness
Image noise levels are often only just within tolerable limits
Power consumption performance still has room for improvement