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Minolta Dimage X Digital Camera Review

Minolta Dimage X Digital Camera Review - Minolta Dimage X review

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Minolta Dimage X
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According to Minolta Minolta Dimage Xthe Dimage X is 'the smallest, lightest and thinnest 2.0 million pixel digital camera in the world.' (in digital cameras with 3x optical zooms, as of 14.12.200) More of this on Minolta's web site, which we won't reproduce here.

We do, however, have a sneak preview of this new product as we managed to obtain an early sample. There may be slight differences seen when the camera hits the shelves and we'll update this review with any differences we find when we receive a production model.

Features

  • CCD: 1/2.7-type interline complementary-colour CCD with a total of 2.11 million pixels (1.96 million effective pixels)
  • A/D conversion: 12 bits
  • Camera sensitivity: Auto (ISO 100-200 equivalent)
  • Focal length: 5.7-17.1mm (35mm equivalent: 37-111mm)
  • Lens: 9 elements in 8 groups (includes 3 aspheric elements)
  • Maximum aperture: f2.8-f3.6
  • Minimum focus distance 25cm from front of camera
  • Optical real-image zoom viewfinder
  • 3.8cm TFT colour LCD with 110,000 pixels
  • Shutter speeds: 2-1/1000s
  • Video Autofocus system
  • Multi-segment metering with 256 segments
  • Self-timer
  • Movie recording (recording time: 35sec max at 15fps with mono audio)
  • Audio captions and voice memos of 15sec and audio recording of 90sec
  • Image quality modes: Economy, Standard, Fine (JPG) and Super fine (TIFF)
  • Resolutions: 1600x1200, 1280x960, 640x480
  • USB 1.1 connection
  • NTSC, PAL AV output
  • Lithium-ion battery

Handling
With dimensions of 84.5(w) x 72(h) x 20(d) this is a very portable camera, fitting snugly into most peoples hands. The steel body feels strong and is of high quality. It would be interesting to know how strong the internal lens mechanism is because if it's anything like the body this camera might well be able to withstand the occasional drop.

The image below shows how the Dimage X compares in size to one of the best ultra compact 3 megapixel digital cameras available, the Pentax Optio 330.

Minolta Dimage X

The lens is placed in the far top left corner of the body, and if you're not careful your hand can easily obstruct the shot. An advantage of the camera's design is that the entire lens system remains inside the cameras body at all times. This means when zooming in or out the external appearance of the lens and camera remains the same. Minolta have achieved this through the use of a prism that folds the optical path. The entire depth of this zoom system is only 17.9mm. Using such an unconventional lens system, it will be interesting to see what effect this has on the cameras image quality.

When I first held the camera I thought it might be a cross with an MP3 player like those made by Fuji. It's not of course, but I have also heard comments from others along similar lines. This could be an added bonus for those people planning on taking candid photos, as the camera doesn't look a typical compact.

Many people will at first find the square shape odd, I certainly did. However on holding and using the camera over time I grew to love the handling characteristics such a shape offers, though these will differ depending on hand sizes. In order to get a firm grip on more traditionally shaped compacts like the Pentax Optio 330, or Sony DSC-P5 I felt my hands were being a little cramped. With this thin and square design my fingers could stretch out and maintain a steady grip.

Menu system
The menu is navigated through the jog up/down button in combination with the zoom buttons placed either side of it. This system works well and the user interface is typical of the current, easy to use, systems present on most modern digital cameras.

The good:

  • The cameras RISC processor means that all menus and most functions are very fast to use.
  • The continuous burst mode is also quite impressive for such a small and basically simple point and shoot camera. Test results at this early stage showed approximately 2.1fps for up to 17 frames at 1600x1200 resolution.
  • The inclusion of voice annotation and memos will be welcomed by many.
  • The cameras start-up time is impressive at 1.8 seconds, made possible by the cameras lens system and RISC processor. It is nice to see manufacturers placing emphasis on this aspect of performance, as many digital cameras simply take too long to start-up, so hats off to Minolta!
  • As Minolta say in their press release the zoom is indeed quiet.

The bad:

  • There is no manual white balance setting provided.
  • Deleting images is a little more complicated than it really needs to be.
  • There is no histogram function as provided by competing cameras such as the Pentax Optio 330.
The table below gives a run down of the options available in the cameras menus.

Basic: Drive Mode (Single, Continuous, Self-timer, Movie, Audio rec.), Image size, Quality (Super Fine, Fine, Standard, Economy), White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluoresnt). Custom: Digital Zoom (On, Off), Inst. Playback (On, Off), Voice memo (On, Off), Folder name (Std. form, Date form). Setup1: LCDbrightness (11 settings), Power off (1 min, 3 min, 5 min, 10 min, 30 min), Audio signals (On, Off), Date/Time set, Date format.

Rec menu  
Basic: AudioCaption, Delete, Lock, Print, Index print No. Setup1: Same as Record Setup1. Setup2: Format, Video output (NTSC, PAL), Language (Japanese, English, Deutsch, Francais, Espanol).
Play menu  

Battery-life

With the camera we had being a pre-production model it's not fair to criticise this aspect of performance yet. Minolta do claim 120 frames on one charge, based on their method of LCD monitor on, full-size images, standard image quality, no instant playback, no voice memo, Flash used with 50% of the frames.

We're very glad to see Minolta are using a Lithium-ion battery which is small and light enough for a spare to be carried with little inconvenience.

Viewfinder and LCD screen
The viewfinder is very basic with no focus markings. There is a light adjacent to it showing a green when the camera has achieved correct focus and redwhen the camera is busy. Coverage of the viewfinder is poor at approximately 80%.

The LCD screen can be adjusted for brightness and does an average job of resisting finger prints. It is also nicely recessed to help protect it against the dreaded scratch. Coverage on the LCD is good at approximately 98%.

One drawback of this camera is it lacks a basic LCD for basic battery, flash and shot remaining status. Minolta can be forgiven for this though due to the camera being such an ultra compact design.

Connections
Typical for a compact camera connections are limited, with only a USB 1.1, Audio Visual in and out, and DC 4.7V power input.

Image quality
It'sunlikely that image quality in the final modelwill be drastically different to that shown here and at this stage image quality looks promising, and we have quite high hopes for the production model.

Waiting for a late train (is there another kind?) I took the shot wondering how detailed the building in the distance to the right of the Settle sign would be. The original showed an impressive amount of detail for a 2 megapixel ultra compact camera.

Another thing that quite impressed me with this shot was how well the camera coped with the dramatic contrast between the sunlit snow and the darker shadow areas. You can still make out a lot of details in the shadowy bricks by the railway tracks.


Another slightly rushed shot (it was freezing cold!) and the camera shows its metering system works as it is supposed to. Detail in the plant is good, and achieving limited depth of field effects is simple enough.

The shot of this tree shows another good point of how the camera lens maintains its sharpness from corner to corner. There is a tiny amount of purple fringing occurring, but not enough to be of any real concern in this shot at least.

With a minimum focus distance of 25cm the X will not win any prizes for macro performance. However good results can still be acheived.

Verdict
We'll leave properly assessing this camera's performance until we obtain a production model. At this stage it looks like a great little product. Combining one of the smallest bodies with great looks, and quite a unique lens system it's sure to appeal to many people looking for a super-portable digital camera.

The price seemsalmost asattractive as the camera at a penny under 400. For a camera that boasts some unique features and styling many people will not be able to get one soon enough. One aspect of this camera which we don't like which effects its cost of ownership is the type of memory cards it uses. Which are typically more expensive than the more commonly used CompactFlash or SmartMedia alternatives.

This camera is ideal for those wantingsomething of a style statement in their camera, that will still allow good prints at 6x4in. In terms of pockatability it's hard to beat and, combined with its very fast operation times, is sure to be a hit.

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