Three controls provide access to the camera's primary adjustable features. Digital subject-program selection allows you to set aperture and shutter speed for superior results in five popular formats: portrait, sports action, sunsets, night portraits, or text. A function dial allows adjustment between four modes of pixel resolution, five modes of data compression, four modes of exposure control, five modes of drive options, seven modes of white balance, and five levels of ISO. The digital-effects controller allows image manipulation by compensating for exposure, contrast, and color saturation before the image is saved. As insurance, Minolta provides a fourth control that instantly restores the camera's automatic settings. Changing most settings is a two-handed operation: one hand selects the feature you're adjusting, while spinning a second dial actually changes the setting. The system is reasonably intuitive, but don't plan to make any adjustments with one hand.
To preview and review images, the DiMAGE 7 features a digital viewfinder that pivots for comfortable close-ups or tripod shooting. An eye-sensing switch (triggered when you put your eye up to the camera) automatically turns off the TFT LCD viewscreen to conserve battery power.
In manual-focus mode, the camera also has an electronic magnification feature. At the push of a button, the center of the image is blown up to 4x original size in the viewfinder so you can check the fine details and ensure the image is in focus before snapping the shutter. In autofocus mode, a flex-focusing option allows the focal point to be moved to any part of the image for off-center shooting.
The DiMAGE 7 is so packed with features that it would be impossible to list them all, but here are some highlights:
Despite its ultrahigh resolution and extensive set of features, the DiMAGE 7 has a few flaws. To compose shots traditionally, it uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF), which offers far less detail than a traditional optical viewfinder. The 16 MB CompactFlash card provided with the camera holds only 12 images at the default resolution (or a single uncompressed image). Like many manufacturers, Minolta supplies the camera with a set of inadequate AA alkaline batteries (use of rechargeable Ni-MH batteries is recommended, even by Minolta). Though the image sensor is at the cutting edge of technology, the rest of the circuitry can't quite keep up; saving an uncompressed image to the memory card requires a 40-second wait. In addition, we found the multitude of control buttons that must be manipulated simultaneously to be somewhat awkward and initially intimidating. Finally, zooming the lens is a manual-only operation requiring a twist of the barrel--unlike many cameras, the Minolta lacks a pushbutton zoom.
These minor gripes aside, the manual zoom is actually faster than an electronic zoom and easy to get used to; larger capacity CompactFlash cards are readily available; and the control systems are easy enough to learn even for the novice. Moreover, since the EVF is a tiny monitor, you can view camera settings while composing your shot--something you can't do with a traditional optical viewfinder. Though some controls may be awkward for beginners, the camera operates in fully automatic mode by default, allowing users the opportunity to manually adjust settings as they become comfortable with the controls.
The camera comes equipped with a lens cap, lens shade, neck strap, video cable, USB cable, accessory-shoe cap, 16 MB CompactFlash card, four AA alkaline batteries, and a CD-ROM for DiMAGE image processing software. --Brett M. Nunn and Walt Opie
- 5-megapixel sensor is the highest resolution available in a consumer camera
- Impressive 7x optical zoom lens
- Virtually every function can be controlled manually, including focus
- Movie mode captures short film clips
- SLR-style look and feel
- Generally skimpy set of included accessories
- Adjusting most settings requires the use of both hands simultaneously