Having been one of the many to see the Dimge 7 behind glass at Focus on Imaging I have eagerly awaited its appearance. Back in February all we knew was that the camera was an SLR and would have a 5.24 pixel CCD and a 7x zoom. Now I've finally had chance to have a sneak preview and enough time to take a few grab shots, and I'm suitably impressed.
The camera, although a little sharp around the edges (I prefer a more rounded body), handles really well. Controls are easy to find and there are many creative options. Anyone familiar with Minolta 35mm cameras will instantly grasp the exposure modes. A button pressed and a tweak of a dial allows the user to set Program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual. Then, using the same dial, you can control the shutter speed or aperture with the info displayed on the top-plate LCD panel.
There are also the familiar creative program modes based on subjects such as landscapes, portraits and action. These can be combined with a set of Digital Effects that allow you to select one or a combination of the following: exposure compensation, contrast and colour saturation. Whatever is set can be instantly returned back to program by pressing the P, which us journos have relabelled the panic button.
I had little time to become familiar with the advanced controls and test the focusing to its extremes, but in auto mode the camera performs superbly.
A clever touch is the eye-control borrowed from 35mm technology that detects when your eye is at the viewfinder and switches it on. If the back LCD is on, eye-control will automatically change to the eyepiece finder. The eye finder adjusts through 90 degrees giving you a right angle finder for shooting low down.
The finder is also developed to refresh quickly so you don't get the motion effect that's seen with many LCD finders when you pan. Also, the 220,000 pixels used makes the image crystal clear and a magnifier allows you to check focusing, although I never had time to try this.
Focusing is fast but, like most digital cameras, can hunt around on some subjects. This camera, along with the Dimge 5, has a wide area autofocus along with a useful new addition called Flex Focus Point that allows the user to position the focusing point anywhere within the field of view. The point is controlled from a backplate rocker button. No need to use focus lock with this active.
The few test images I took where on a pre-production sample, but have convinced me that the Dimge 7 is a serious piece of kit. The detail recorded by the new GT lens is stunning and that's not let down by the large 5.24 million pixel CCD.
Minolta have applied expertise gained in designing their pro SLR lenses to create this 7x zoom. It incorporates a couple of aspheric elements and uses special anomalous dispersion glass. Minolta state that each lens is defined by high image quality with minimum chromatic aberration and curvilinear distortion and high resolution, especially in the high frequency area. The lens is claimed to be capable of delivering good images on a sensor far larger than the one used here.
It also helps if the images captured by the lens are processed well and again the camera delivers. It has a wide dynamic range to prevent loss of detail in highlights and shadows and uses 12-bit A/D conversion to achieve this.
The colours I produced where true to life and don't appear to suffer from any noise problems in the shadow areas. The resolution is also remarkable for a camera of this price. It almost appears like the image is created with grain not pixels!
The built-in flash offers a useful close range illumination, but for longer and more advanced flash you can attach one of the Dynax flash guns onto the hotshoe. The camera uses ADI (advanced distance integration), a fancy name for auto flash that calculates the exposure using a preflash to determine subject distance and reflectivity.
In this short test I haven't had time to try the manual CCD sensitivity settings, the movie recording, custom white balance, flash, subject program modes, but I'm impressed with what I have tried and here follows some test pics to show you why.
The 28-200mm is a really useful range for most photographic needs here it's seen at both extremes of the focal length range. 28mm (left) 200mm (right)
The 200mm setting is great for frame filling portraits but the point here is look at the flesh tones - nor posterisation in the highlights and wonderfully smooth tones. Also, for the benefit of the lens, check out the enlarged section of hair, showing actual size. The lens and CCD combination enable every hair to be seen. Watch out split ends!
The close up mode needs to be switched on using a lever on the lens barrel that can be activated when the zoom ring is set at 200mm. It goes as close as 13cm which isn't as good as some of the competition such as Nikon Coopix and Ricoh i700. The camera does have a 49mm filter thread so this can be sorted by attaching a close up lens. The close up is actual size and shows the detail the lens is able to record and the almost grain like structure making it very photo realistic.
A shot taken with the sun just out of frame to check for flare. The GT lens does show some signs of flare, but they are minimal, and the exposure is excellent. Normally this would have caused an underexposed subject with loads of contrast reducing flare. The area enlarged is actual size and shows that there's little noise in the shadow areas and plenty of detail.
The benefit of having an LCD is seeing when a shot is not as well exposed as it could be. In this example the right hand side is how the picture was captured automatically. The camera has overcompensated for the harshly lit scene resulting in slight overexposure. By using the exposure compensation and contrast settings in the Digital Effects Control mode I was able to bring back some life to a shot that could have been ruined. Again with more familiarity of the system I could have gone a stage further and produced an even better result, but at least the one I have, left, can now be enhanced using image editing software.
There is a histogram display so those who understand contrast can retake the image, using the spot meter and manual control, once they've viewed the histogram.