DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Saturday, November 2, 2002
Last Updated: Monday, December 9, 2002

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The Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi ($1299) was announced just a few months after the DiMAGE 7i, much to the dismay of the folks who had just bought a 7i. Where the 7i was an improved version of the original DiMAGE 7, the 7Hi improves on the already excellent 7i model even more (confused yet?). The new features in the 7Hi include:

  • Three image-quality settings – extra fine, fine, and standard (no more economy setting). RAW and TIFF modes also available
  • A new built-in flash synchronization terminal allows the DiMAGE 7Hi to be connected to professional studio and location flash systems.
  • DiMAGE 7Hi has a dynamic shutter-speed range from a maximum of 15 seconds to a fast 1/4000 second
  • Improved high-speed continuous-advance drive mode makes it possible to record at a rate of approximately 3 frames per second with full-size images at any quality setting including high quality TIFF or RAW data files. UHS (Ultra High Speed) continuous-advance can capture SXGA size images (1280 X 960 pixels) at approximately 7 frames per second. The standard continuous-advance mode can capture images of all sizes from full-size (2560 X 1920) to VGA (640 X 480) images at a maximum of two frames per second.
  • More white balance settings: five preset, three custom, and one auto.
  • Selectable color space (Adobe RGB or sRGB); ICC profile embedded in images.
  • Additional filter setting to control the overall color of the image. When taking color images, the filter can affect the mood of the picture by making the color cooler or warmer in seven levels
  • New magnesium-alloy body with a professional black finish.
  • New rubber grip

The DiMAGE 7i was an impressive camera. Is the 7Hi even better? Find out now...

Oh, and since this camera is so similar to its predecessor, I will be reusing a whole lot of text.

What's in the Box?

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

  • The 4.95 effective Megapixel Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • Four 1850 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • Lens hood
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Accessory shoe cap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring DiMAGE Image Viewer Utility and drivers
  • 155 page camera manual + 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 7Hi supports the IBM Microdrive, as well.


Yay!

The 7Hi includes four very powerful Sanyo NiMH rechargeables, a welcome change from the throwaway alkalines of the original DiMAGE 7. Minolta estimates that you'll be able to get about 120 minutes / 220 shots per charge, which is an improvement over the 7i.

If you need more juice, Minolta offers the EBP-100 external battery pack (about $260).

As you can see, a battery charger is also included. The 7Hi also includes a lens hood (useful for shooting outdoors) plus a lens cap (with retaining strap) and shoulder strap. There's also a removable cover on the hot shoe.

Speaking of accessories, the D7Hi 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. A close-up diffuser is also available.

You can also attach filters to the lens. I'm not aware of any conversion lens adapters for the 7Hi. 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, v2.1. The good news is that it's now Mac OS X compatible. The bad news is that it doesn't actually work -- it just crashed when I try to use it. On Windows or in OS 9, it's pretty good, and improved over the original version. It's certainly not a substitute for something like Photoshop Elements though.

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

The 7Hi is looking quite professional now, with it's black metal body. I still don't think it feels like a $1300 camera, though. But it should be able to take whatever you throw at it. The new rubber grip is a nice addition as well.

The D7Hi is a large-sized camera and will not be finding its way into your pockets anytime soon. It is easy to hold, with plenty of room for your left and right hands.

The official dimensions of the D7Hi are 4.6 x 3.6 x 4.4 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs in at 530 grams (18.7 oz.) empty.

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

The 7Hi has the same F2.8, 7X optical zoom Minolta GT lens as the other 7-series models. 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 electronic, powered zoom like on the majority of digicams. 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 parts 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).

The DiMAGE 7Hi 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) 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. For non-Minolta flashes, you can use the flash sync terminal (which you'll see in a moment) to do so.

The D7Hi doesn't have an AF illuminator lamp. That red circle with the holes in it is the microphone.

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

The 1.8" LCD is sharper and smoother than on the original D7. It's bright and fluid when you pan around a scene. It's also positioned so that nose smear won't be a problem when you use the electronic viewfinder.

Speaking of which, here's more about that 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. The i+ button in the middle of that switch toggles what is shown on the LCD/EVF.

Other items to the right of the LCD include the Menu button, 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 black 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 the optional 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, covered with even more dials and buttons. To operate these controls, 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, Bracketing, Continuous Advance, High-speed continuous advance, UHS continuous advance, Self-timer, Interval Shooting
  • 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. The shutter speed range in program mode is 8 - 1/4000 secs. Note that this is the only mode in which you can shoot at 1/4000.

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 15 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 (three 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 3 - 84 pictures per "burst", depending on the quality/resolution setting. You can also do continuous shooting in RAW mode (up to 5 shots). High speed continuous will do the same as I just described, but at 3 frames/sec.

UHS (ultra high speed) continuous advance will take anywhere from 32 - 100 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 also have these frames turned into a 640 x 480 movie, with sound, by turning on the UHS movie function in the setup menu.

There are an incredible four types of bracketing on the DiMAGE 7Hi: 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. Like in UHS continuous mode, you can also 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 occasions when the presets don't work.

Getting back to our tour 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)

Here's more about the filter feature, which was first seen on 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.

On the far right of the camera is the new flash sync port. This will let you use non-Minolta external flashes via a standard PC sync cable. Just below that is the AF/MF button, which toggles between auto and manual focus mode. This button could be better located, is it's too easy to bump accidentally.

Here's an angled look at the back and one side of the 7Hi. You can see the CF slot, USB port, and the included CF card.

Here's a closed look at the side of the camera. The door covering the CF slot and USB port is very cheap feeling, especially for a $1300 camera. Also, that darn ring for the camera strap gets in the way of closing the door. Minolta's on their third revision of this body and they still haven't fixed this!

The CF slot itself is Type II, so you can use your IBM Microdrive with the camera.

In the background, you can see the speaker.

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 7Hi

Record Mode

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

The 7Hi has the same AF system as the 7i, which was a major improvement over the original D7. Press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks focus in under a second. Low light focusing is not great, but I've seen worse. 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 D7Hi's whopping 64MB of buffer memory. Photos in RAW or TIFF format don't lock up the camera like on old the older models, either. You can also review your photos for 2 or 10 seconds, and delete them before they are saved to the memory card.


The D7Hi has a histogram in record mode

Minolta changed the image quality choices a bit on the 7Hi. They got rid of the Economy quality, and added an Extra Fine mode. Here's a look:

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

9.6MB

1
Super Fine
(TIFF)
2560 x 1920 14.2MB 1
1600 x 1200 5.6MB 2
1280 x 960 3.6MB 4
640 x 480 1.0MB 15
Extra Fine 2560 x 1920 4.0MB 2
1600 x 1200 1.7MB 7
1280 x 960 1.3MB 11
640 x 480 530KB 36
Fine 2560 x 1920 2.1MB 5
1600 x 1200 1.0MB 14
1280 x 960 680KB 21
640 x 480 280KB 48
Standard 2560 x 1920 1.1MB 10
1600 x 1200 620KB 23
1280 x 960 420KB 33
640 x 480 200KB 65

See why I recommended 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.

The file numbering system is simple. It's PICTxxxx.JPG, where xxxx = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained when you erase or replace a memory card.

While most of the controls on the DiMAGE 7Hi 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, Extra Fine, Fine, Standard)
    • 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, manual) - in manual mode, you can set the flash power to full, 1/4, or 1/16
  • Advanced 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
  • Advanced 2
    • Data imprint - print the date or any text on your photos. This is a rare feature!
    • Color mode (Vivid [sRGB], Natural [sRGB], Adobe RGB, B&W, solarization) - this has changed from 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)
  • Folder naming (Standard, date-based)
  • 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 MF (on/off) - when this is on, you can make manual focus adjustments after the camera has locked focus (only works in single AF mode)
  • Ctrl dial [M] (shutter speed, aperture) - choose what is controlled by the control dial in manual mode
  • Manual shift (on/off) - when turned on, you can move through sets of shutter speed and aperture combos while in manual mode
  • Bracketing (DEC control, exposure) - if DEC control is chosen, bracketing will be for whatever is selected on the digital-effects switch. Otherwise it'll always be exposure bracketing.
  • Color profile (Not embedded, embed) - a new feature on the 7Hi. Embeds the color profile in the image, which is saved with a .JPE extension. Must be processed in DiMAGE Image Viewer.

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 DiMAGE 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 was taken at the wide-angle setting. The image turned out nicely, with perfect color and good sharpness.

The 7Hi did a good job with the night shot test. It was a long exposure (6 seconds) and the noise levels are still pretty low. I didn't notice any bad pixels either.

The only red in the redeye test comes from me being sick! There's none of the annoying phenomenon that plagues flash shots on many other cameras. The redeye reduction feature did the trick!

The image quality on the 7Hi is much like it was on the 7i: very good, but noisier than the Sony DSC-F717, which I still think is the best 5 Megapixel camera in terms of resolution. The Minolta GT lens produces sharp images, with little-to-no chromatic aberrations (purple fringing). Colors look nice as well. Have a look at the photo gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

In addition to two interval and continuous shooting movie features, there's a standard movie mode on the 7Hi as well. You can record up to 60 seconds of video, with sound. They are saved in QuickTime format at 320 x 240.

You can use the zoom lens during filming, as you'd expect since it's manually controlled. If you're using continuous autofocus mode, sound will not be recorded. Sound is recorded in single AF mode.

The D7Hi 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 video in very low light levels.

Here's a somewhat exciting sample movie for you.


Click to play movie (1.4MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

While it's not fancy, the DiMAGE 7Hi's playback mode does its job well. The basic features we're all used to by now are here: slide shows, 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 the enlarged area.

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, including a histogram.

The camera moves through the images on the LCD very quickly, especially considering their size.

How Does it Compare?

I have two main complaints about the Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi. The first is that there's still a bit too much noise in the sky and shadows. I'm sure DiMAGE 7i owners would agree with my second issue: Minolta should've skipped the 7i and gone straight to the 7Hi, considering how close they were released. Aside from that, the 7Hi is a very good camera, offering high resolution, sharp photos. It has a sharp 7X zoom lens, tons of manual controls, support for external flashes via hot shoe, wireless, or PC sync cable, and robust performance. The new extra fine compression mode is nice as well. I would've also liked to see some kind of low light AF-assist system -- the Sony F717 does a whole lot better in that regard. I'd strongly consider the 7Hi against the F717 and Nikon Coolpix 5700. I hope this helps in your decision!

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Every manual control imaginable
  • Robust performance in AF, shot-to-shot, and playback mode areas
  • Sharp 7X zoom lens
  • Backlit LCD info display
  • Many 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:

  • Images a bit noisier than competition
  • Challenging to master
  • CF slot area still cheesy
  • Lowly 16MB CompactFlash card included
  • An AF illuminator would really help
  • Playback mode could use a few more features (image rotation, resizing)

Other cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot G3 (a 4MP camera), Nikon Coolpix 5000 and 5700, Olympus E-20N, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707 and DSC-F717, and the Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom (uses 3.3MP SuperCCD).

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE 7Hi 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 7Hi from Steve's Digicams, Digital Photography Review, and 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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