DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE 7i
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, July 15, 2002
Last Updated: Monday, July 15, 2002

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Last year, Minolta introduced the DiMAGE 7, which became one of the most talked about digicams of 2001. The DiMAGE 7 (see our review)featured a 5 Megapixel CCD, 7X Minolta GT lens, and tons of manual controls. However, it also featured poor autofocus, lousy battery life, a cheap-feeling body (for the price), and a different color space.

Minolta clearly listens to reviewers and users alike, and the end result is the new DiMAGE 7i ($1099). The 7i attempts to fix all the complaints that were brought up about its predecessor. And for the most part, Minolta has done a great job at doing so. The changes between the DiMAGE 7 and 7i are:

  • New autofocus is now twice as fast
  • New faster shot-to-shot speeds
  • New continuous shooting mode -- as fast as 7 frames/sec at 1280 x 960
  • New auto-bracketing mode
  • New controls for brightness, contrast, and saturation.
  • New vivid and solarization color modes
  • Improved audio and video recording capabilities

Find out more about this exciting camera in our review!

Since this camera is so similar to the original DiMAGE 7, some of the content will be the same.

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE 7i has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.95 effective Megapixel Minolta DiMAGE 7i camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • Four 1850 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • Lens hood
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring DiMAGE Image View Utility and drivers
  • 163 page camera manual + 67 page software manual (both printed)

With the exception of the way-too-small memory card, Minolta has gotten their act together in the bundle department. But you will need a bigger memory card, as a 16MB one on a 5 Megapixel camera just does not cut it. I recommend a 128MB card at the very minimum. The DiMAGE 7i supports the IBM Microdrive, as well.


Yay!

Where the original DiMAGE 7 included throw-away AA alkaline batteries, the 7i includes four very powerful Sanyo NiMH rechargeables. And you'll need these 1850 mAh beasts, as the 7i still has its predecessors hunger for power. Minolta estimates that you'll be able to get about 110 minutes / 200 shots per charge. Of course, that's what they said for the DiMAGE 7 too. For a more independent test of battery life, check out this section of the DP Review story on the DiMAGE 7i. That test shows that the batteries last twice as long on the 7i.

As you can see, a battery charger is also included. The 7i also includes a lens hood (useful for shooting outdoors) plus the usual lens cap (with retaining strap) and shoulder strap accessories.

Speaking of accessories, the D7i can use an external flash, including macro ring and wireless flashes. Minolta's 3600HS ($250) and 5600HS ($450) are the "regular" external flashes that work right out of the box. If you want to use another type (non-Minolta) flash, you'll probably want the PC Flash Adapter ($90).

You can also attach filters to the lens. I'm not aware of any conversion lens adapters for the 7i. Two other accessories of note are an external power pack, and an AC adapter.

Included with the camera is the Minolta DiMAGE Viewer Utility software, v2.0. This is a newer version than I last tested, and it's easier to use now. It's still not Mac OS X native, though. You can retouch and view photos quite easily with this software.

A complex camera requires a good manual, and Minolta again delivers. There are even sections on photography basics and Minolta's history. There's lots of text to read, and not too many "notes" in small print.

Look and Feel

One of my big complaints about the original DiMAGE 7 was that it felt "cheap" for a camera that sold for well over $1,000. I'm pleased to report that the D7i is a lot higher quality, with one exception: the grip. Instead of a rubberized grip (the black part you can see in the photos), it's made of cheesy plastic. Otherwise, things are much improved.

The D7i is reminiscent of SLR film cameras, just a little more bulky. It's a large-sized camera and will not be finding its way into your pockets anytime soon. It is very easy to hold, thanks in part to its size.

The official dimensions of the D7i are 4.6 x 3.6 x 4.4 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs in at 525 grams (18.5 oz.) empty.

Let's start our tour of the DiMAGE 7i now, beginning with the front of the camera.

One of the highlights of the DiMAGE 7i is the F2.8, 7X optical zoom Minolta GT lens. The focal range is 7.2 - 50.8 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 200 mm. If you're saying "wow, 28 mm is unusually wide for a digital camera", you're right. The lens is threaded for 49mm attachments, as well.

The lens barrel operates the zoom lens mechanically, a nice feature to have. There is no button to operate it -- just your wrist! There are markings on the barrel for 28, 35, 50, 100, 150, and 200 mm. In addition, there is a switch which locks the camera into macro mode, at either full wide-angle or full telephoto.

At the back of the lens barrel (not seen here), there's a wheel for manual focus. This is an electronic, rather than mechanical dial. It tells the camera to adjust the focus, rather than physically moving the lens itself.

The pop-up flash (shown in the photo at the top of this page) is raised manually. The flash range depends on focal length and ISO setting, but is roughly 0.5 - 3.8 m (wide-angle) and 0.5 - 3.0m (telephoto).

Like the Sony DSC-F707, the DiMAGE 7i uses a "double flash" trick (known as TTL Flash Metering) to ensure proper exposure. The first flash is used to illuminate the subject, while the camera judges the correct exposure to use. The second flash is the one that actually lights up the subject for the picture. There camera also uses info from the autofocus system (Advanced Distance Integration, or ADI) to ensure "optimum flash exposure". All of this happens in a fraction of a second!

If you want to add your own flash, there's a hot shoe (proprietary, I believe) on the top of the camera (I'll have a closer look in a bit). Minolta's Program Flash 3600HS and 5600HS, as well as the Ring Flash 1200 and 2400 are compatible. I'm not sure about non-Minolta flashes - my guess is that they will not work.

There is no AF assist lamp on this camera, so focusing in low light isn't going to as good as it could be.

The last item of note on the front is a microphone -- a new feature on the D7i.

The back of the camera shows the numerous buttons and switches available, and there's more where that came from.

The 1.8" LCD has been improved since the D7 -- it's a bit sharper now. It's also bright and fluid (when you pan around a scene). It's also positioned so nose smear (from using the viewfinder) won't be a problem.

Just above that is the fabled Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). The EVF is like a little LCD that you look into, in place of a regular optical rangefinder. The advantages are that you can see 100% of the frame (no parallax error) and all the exposure info is shown. The disadvantages are difficulty in viewing in bright or dim light and increased power consumption. While the EVF here is bright and fluid like the main LCD, it's also lower resolution. You can tilt the EVF up to 90 degrees, so you can look straight down into it -- a nice touch. (By the way, if your sunglasses are polarized like mine are, you possibly will not be able to use the EVF with them on.)

When light levels in a room get low, the image on the LCD and EVF turns to black & white. This leads to a much more visible image than it would be if it were in color. The camera also uses this B&W mode to help focus in lower light. Don't worry, though -- the image is still recorded in color.

The switch just to the right of the EVF controls whether the EVF or LCD are used. The default is auto, which uses a nifty sensor (which detects if you're using the EVF) to switch between the LCD and EVF.

Other items to the right of the LCD include the Menu button, new and improved four-way switch, and the Quickview/Delete and Magnification buttons.

The Quickview feature will quickly put you in playback mode. The magnification button (it's that square, poorly-labeled silver button at the lower right) lets you zoom in as much as 4X into photos, in both record and playback mode. In record mode, this is useful for confirming proper focus.

The four way switch does double duty as the "flex focus point" controller. When activated, you use the switch to move cross hairs around the LCD to the area that you want the camera to focus on.

At the top right is the Spot AE metering button. Pressing this will let you choose something in the frame to use to set the exposure. This button is customizable via the menu system. More on that later.

Just below the LCD is the compartment for the 4 AA batteries. To the lower right of that, under rubber covers, are the ports for DC in, A/V out, and a (wired) remote control.

Here's a look at the top of the camera, with yet more controls. At the center of the photo, you can see the hot shoe. There's a plastic cover on it when it's not in use. To the right of that is the LCD info display. A nice feature with this is that it's backlit -- a feature not seen enough on digital cameras. The backlight turns on when the scene is dark -- no button needs to be pressed.

The three items to the right of the info display are the mode wheel, "digital subject program button" (AKA scene mode), and a "return to default settings" button (which Minolta calls the Pro-Auto button).

The "scene mode" has the following choices:

  • Portrait
  • Action shots
  • Sunset
  • Night Portrait
  • Text

The mode wheel has the following selections:

  • Off
  • Record
  • Playback
  • Movie Mode
  • Setup
  • PC Connect

On the top of the grip, you'll find the shutter release button, as well as a dial for changing manual settings.

One dumb think about the PC Connect option on the mode wheel -- you have to then use the four-way switch to "start USB", before your computer recognizes the camera.

Here's one side of the camera, featuring yet more dials and buttons. The way most of these controls work is similar to the Olympus E-10. You first select what option you want. Let's use Drive as an example. You then hold the button down, while using that dial I just pointed out on top of the camera, to change the setting.

You can also get a better look at the manual focus ring in this shot.

The top dial has the following options:

  • Memory (Memory 1, 2, 3, Store Memory) - you can store three different sets of settings for easy retrieval
  • Metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • Program Mode (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Full Manual)
  • Drive (Single Frame, Continuous, Self-timer, Bracketing, Interval Shooting, UHS continuous advance)
  • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Custom)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800)

The exposure modes include Program, Aperture and Shutter priority, as well as Full Manual. The Program mode chooses the best settings for you, and you can use "program shift" (by halfway pressing the shutter release and turning the dial) to try other shutter/aperture combinations as well.

In Aperture priority mode, you choose from a range of F2.8-F8 in wide-angle, and F3.5-F9.5 in telephoto. Shutter priority mode gives you a range of 4 sec - 1/2000 sec speeds to work with. Full manual mode lets you choose both shutter and aperture settings. There is also a "bulb mode" available in full manual mode, which lets you keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release button is held down (up to 30 seconds). A tripod and remote shutter release cable is basically a requirement for bulb mode.

The Drive selections of note are continuous shooting (two types!), bracketing, and interval shooting.

In regular continuous shooting mode, you can take up to give full size, Fine quality images, as fast as 2 frames/sec, depending on what settings you're using. You can take anywhere from 4 - 40 pictures per "burst", depending on the quality/resolution setting. You cannot use the RAW or Super Fine modes.

UHS (ultra high speed) continuous advance is a new feature on the D7i, which will take anywhere from 15 - 39 frames, at a rate of 7 frames/second. The catch (there always is one) is that images are saved at 1280 x 960. You can see a few samples in the photo gallery.

There are an incredible four types of bracketing on the DiMAGE 7: exposure, contrast, color-saturation, and filter (more on these in a second). The camera will shoot three photos at different settings, so you can take the best shot possible. (You use the digital effects control dial to select which type of bracketing you want.) It will take one step up and one setup down from the current setting.

The interval shooting mode lets you take photo(s) at an interval of your choosing. The choices range from 1 minute to 60 minutes. You also choose the number of frames, from 2-99. You'll want an AC adapter to pull this off, as the batteries won't last long enough to do any good. A new feature on the D7i is the ability to make a movie of the interval shots taken. It will be played back at 4 frames/second.

The usual white balance choices are available, as well as a custom white balance for those times when the presets don't work.

Getting back to the photo of the camera now, the next dial is the digital effects control. Here you can change exposure, flash, contrast, and color-saturation compensation, plus change the "filter".

Exposure and flash compensation are both the same item on the digital effects dial. You use the dial on the top of the camera to change exposure compensation, and up/down on the four-way switch for flash compensation. Both are -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments.

Contrast and color-saturation compensation are fairly self-explanatory Here you can choose from -3EV to +3EV in 1EV increments.


Illustration of filter feature (from manual)

The filter feature is new to the D7i. When in color mode, you can use it to tweak how "warm" or "cool" an image's colors look. In black and white mode, you can change the tone. The image above should make all of this easier to understand.

The last item on this side of the camera (finally!) is the auto/manual focus switch. In manual focus mode you just turn that dial around the lens barrel to focus the lens. The current focus distance is shown on the LCD and EVF. You can use the magnification function to make sure your subject is in focus. One thing that I noticed on both the D7 and D7i is that you can easily bump the AF/MF button without knowing it.

Finally, no more buttons! On this side of the camera, you'll find the CompactFlash slot and USB port.

This is a Type II slot, so the Microdrive is fully supported!

In my opinion this whole area is poorly designed. The CF card is harder to eject than it should be, the door is flimsy and plastic, and the darn camera strap ring is always in the way when you want to close the door. This is one thing that hasn't changed for the better since the original DiMAGE 7.

You can also catch a glimpse of the D7i's new speaker on the left side, in the background.

Last but not least, here is the bottom of the camera. The only thing down here is a metal tripod mount, located right in the middle of the camera (not in line with the lens).

Using the Minolta DiMAGE 7i

Record Mode

Since it doesn't have to extend its lens, the DiMAGE 7i starts up in under three seconds.

The D7i's autofocus has been dramatically improved. On the old model, it was slow and often didn't lock focus at all. Not anymore -- the camera locks focus on some of my most difficult subjects (drink glasses, speaker covers) in less than a second. Despite not having an AF illuminator, the D7i does a pretty good job at low light focusing. You can use manual focus point selection (using the four-way switch) to choose the area of the frame that you want the camera to focus on, as well.

When you fully press the shutter release button, the photo is taken without delay. You can take another shot almost instantly, thanks to the D7i's hefty amount of buffer memory. You can also review your photos for 2 or 10 seconds, and delete them before they are saved to the memory card.


You'll see the same thing on the EVF as you would on the main LCD. Note the histogram as well.

Taking a photo in RAW or Super Fine mode will, unfortunately, lock up the camera for 15-20 seconds while it writes the image to the CF card.

Speaking of which, let's take a look at the image quality and resolution choices available on the D7i:

Quality Resolution File Size Images on 16MB card
RAW 2560 x 1920

9.4MB

1
Super Fine
(TIFF)
2560 x 1920 14.1MB 1
1600 x 1200 5.6MB 2
1280 x 960 3.6MB 3
640 x 480 960KB 11
Fine 2560 x 1920 2.1MB 5
1600 x 1200 1.0MB 11
1280 x 960 660KB 15
640 x 480 270KB 27
Standard 2560 x 1920 1.1MB 8
1600 x 1200 600KB 16
1280 x 960 410KB 21
640 x 480 200KB 31
Economy 2560 x 1920 650KB 13
1600 x 1200 380KB 22
1280 x 960 290KB 26
640 x 480 150KB 35

See why I recommend a larger memory card? RAW image mode saves the raw CCD data, which must be processed in the Image Viewer first before you can do anything with it. Images recorded in Super Fine mode are recorded as TIFF files. Of course, the TIFFs are larger than RAW files, so I don't know why you'd use that.

While most of the controls on the DiMAGE 7i are dials on the camera body, there are still many options available via the menu system. These include:

  • Basic Settings
    • AF mode (single, continuous) - whether camera is always trying to focus, or just when you press shutter release halfway
    • Image size (2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
    • Quality (RAW, Super fine, Fine, Standard, Economy)
    • Flash mode (fill, red-eye, rear flash sync, wireless)
    • Wireless channel (1-4) - for those using wireless remote flashes
    • Flash control (ADI, pre-flash TTL only, full power, 1/4 power, 1/16 power) - the last three are new on the D7i
  • Custom Settings 1
    • Spot AF/AEL (AF/AE hold, AF/AE toggle, AE hold, AE toggle) - customize the function of the Spot AE button
    • Magnification button (digital zoom, electronic magnification) - a fancy way of turning the digital zoom on/off
    • Interval (1-10, 15, 20, 30, 45, 60 mins) - chooses the interval for interval mode
    • Frames (2-99) - chooses the total number of frames that will be taken in interval mode
    • Interval mode (Still image, movie) - whether the interval mode saves images as separate photos or as one movie
    • UHS movie (on/off) - if this is on, the camera will put those pictures taken in UHS mode into a movie
  • Custom Settings 2
    • Data imprint - print the date or any text on your photos. This is a rare feature!
    • Color mode (Vivid color, natural color, B&W, solarization) - updated for the D7i
    • Sharpness (hard, normal, soft)
    • Exposure bracketing (0.3, 0.5, 1.0EV) - sets the increment for bracketing mode
    • Instant playback (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec) - amount of time that images are shown on the LCD after they are taken
    • Voice memo (Off, 2 sec, 15 sec) - turns on ability to attach sound clips with photos

The usual setup items are also available by switching the camera's mode wheel to "setup". Some of the interesting items include:

  • LCD and EVF brightness (1-5)
  • Various sound settings (beep, phony shutter sound)
  • Display mode (Standard, focus frame, histogram, grid, scale, image only) - choose what shows up on the LCD/EVF when you press the Display button repeatedly
  • Direct AF (on/off) - when this is on, you can make manual focus adjustments after the camera has locked focus (only works in single AF mode)

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of talking about menus. Let's talk about photo quality instead.

Macro mode on the D7i is a bit different than on most cameras. You must set the focal length at either full telephoto, or full wide-angle. At the telephoto end, you have a bit of "play" in the focal length. The focusing range is 30 - 60 cm at wide-angle, and 25 - 60 cm at telephoto.

The shot above (cropped down) was taken at the wide-angle setting. The photo came out exceptionally well, too. The colors are nicely saturated and the subject is in perfect focus (unlike some situations where the "nose" is blurry and the rest is sharp).

I had so much fun using the D7i that I took two different night shots:


Taken from Treasure Island


Taken from Yerba Buena Island

Aside from the plants in the frame, I was pretty happy with these photos. Both were taken in program mode and are 3-4 second exposures. The noise level is fairly low, but it's still noticeable. You may also spot dead pixels in the bottom half of the photos. But overall, I'm impressed with the results. (Now if only that bright light wasn't there in the bottom photo...)

The D7i also turned in a good performance in our new redeye test. Note that the shot above was blown up a bit so you can see the detail.

On the original DiMAGE 7, Minolta used a non-standard color space in their image processing algorithm. This required you to run the photos through the DiMAGE Viewer Utility in order to get more accurate color. The good news is that you no longer have to do that on the D7i, as the color space is much closer to the accepted sRGB standard than before.

On the whole, I was very happy with the D7i's photo quality. The noise levels (especially in the blue sky) were a bit higher than they should be, but that's really my only complaint.


Patch of sky from DiMAGE 7i

Patch of sky from Sony DSC-F707

Hopefully the crops above show you the noise difference. If I'm not mistaken, both cameras use the same CCD. Anyhow, the D7i's lens gives you nice, very sharp images, with nicely saturated colors. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) were not a problem, which says a lot about the quality of this lens. Don't take my word about the photo quality, check out our extensive photo gallery and judge for yourself!

Movie Mode

The movie mode has been improved on the DiMAGE 7 with the addition of sound recording. You can record up to 60 seconds of video.

Movies are saved at the unusual resolution of 308 x 240 -- kind of like reverse letterbox.

You can use the zoom lens during filming, as you'd expect. The only catch is that if you're using continuous autofocus mode, sound will not be recorded. Sound is recorded in single AF mode.

The D7i has a unique "night movie" feature as well. In this mode, the movie will be in black & white, but you will be able to get quality video in very low light levels. This is similar to what some camcorders do.

One thing that I noticed is that you need to prefocus your movie carefully before you start filming. I recorded several out of focus movies.

Here's a quick sample movie for you. It was pretty windy outside when this was taken.


Click to play movie (1.3MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

While it's not fancy, the DiMAGE 7i's playback mode does its job well. The basic features we're all used to by now are here: slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, and thumbnail mode. The only real "advanced" feature is the ability to copy an image from one CF card to another. There's no rotation or resizing available.

The zoom and scroll feature is here, via the magnification button. You can zoom in as much as 4X into your image and then move around in it.

If you more information about your image, you can press "up" on the four-way switch. You can see above the information it will give you. Unlike on the original D7, you can now scroll through your images in this extra info mode.

The camera moves through the images on the LCD very quickly, especially considering their size. It's almost instantaneous.

How Does it Compare?

Minolta has done an excellent job in designing the DiMAGE 7i. Its predecessor, the DiMAGE 7, was a good camera but had many annoyances than made it less desirable than other 5 Megapixel cameras, such as the Sony DSC-F707. That is not the case with the D7i -- it's a fabulous camera that I truly enjoyed using. Rather the pros and cons here, just take a look at the bullet points down below.

Now for the inevitable comparison between the DiMAGE 7i and the Sony DSC-F707. Minolta has closed the gap with Sony, leaving buyers with a tough choice. The D7i has a longer zoom lens than the Sony, but its images are a bit noisier. The Sony has the fancy Hologram AF focusing system and Nightshot gimmicks, but Minolta's low light shooting and movie making abilities are very good too. The DiMAGE wins big in the storage department, with its CompactFlash Type II support. You really can't go wrong with either camera -- so I advise you to personally try those two and the other cameras that I've listed below.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality
  • Even more manual controls than original D7
  • Great low light focusing, even without an AF illuminator
  • Robust performance in AF, shot-to-shot, and playback mode areas
  • Most impressive 7X zoom lens
  • Backlit LCD info display
  • Very nice continuous shooting modes
  • Support for lens filters and external flashes
  • Includes 1850 mAh NiMH batteries
  • Sound in movie mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Difficult to learn & use
  • Some parts (grip, CF slot area) still cheap feeling on this expensive camera
  • Lowly 16MB CompactFlash card included
  • EVF resolution isn't great
  • Images a bit noisier than competition
  • Playback mode could use a few more features (image rotation, resizing)

Other cameras to check out include the Nikon Coolpix 5000 and 5700, Olympus E-20N, Sony DSC-F707, and the Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom (I suppose).

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE 7i and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

You'll definitely want to read reviews of the DiMAGE 7i from Steve's Digicams and Digital Photography Review. If you want more opinions, check out Imaging Resource.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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