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DCRP Review: Konica Minolta DiMAGE
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 7, 2005
Last Updated: February 25, 2008
The Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 ($799) is a lower cost version of the popular DiMAGE A2 (see our review). The two cameras share the same 8MP sensor, Anti-shake system, and lens, but they differ in many other ways, as you'll see in the review. The DiMAGE A200 is a full-featured camera with an 8 Megapixel CCD, 7X zoom lens, manual controls, hot shoe, and much more. There's a fair amount of competition in the 7-8 Megapixel arena, so read on to see how the A200 performs!
What's in the Box?
The DiMAGE A200 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
As is the case with nearly all 8 Megapixel cameras, Konica Minolta leaves the memory card buying to you (since none is included). The A200 uses Type I and II CompactFlash cards, including the Microdrive. I'd recommend 512MB as a good place to start. The A200 takes advantage of high speed CF cards -- you'll mostly notice the difference when the camera is "flushing the buffer" after you take a bunch of shots in a row. If you do a lot of that, consider buying a fast card.
Where the DiMAGE A2 used the ultra-powerful NP-400 battery, the A200 uses the lower power NP-800. This battery packs 5.9 Wh of energy -- quite a bit lower than the 11.1 Wh number from the A2's battery. The A200 can take a respectable 260 photos per charge (using the CIPA battery life standard) -- a comparable number from the A2 was not available. The only other 8 Megapixel camera with image stabilization -- the Nikon Coolpix 8800 - can take 240 shots per charge.
The usual negatives about proprietary batteries apply here. For one, they're expensive -- an extra battery (which I recommend) will run you nearly $55. Secondly, if you ever run out of juice, you can't just pop in regular batteries like you can on a AA-based camera.
When it's time to recharge, just pop the NP-800 into the included external charger. It takes 90 minutes to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those nice "plug it right into the wall" chargers that I like so much -- you must use a power cable.
For more battery life, Minolta offers the EBP-100 external battery pack ($275). This pack, which holds two special li-ion batteries, will increase battery life by a factor of four. Unfortunately KM does not offer a battery grip for this camera.
The A200 comes with a big ol' lens cap to protect that impressive piece of glass. Unfortunately Minolta didn't bother including a retaining strap for it, so don't lose it!
Another thing that comes with the A200 is a lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. But wait, there's more. A wireless remote control is also included! It can be used for many things, but adjusting the zoom lens isn't one of them, and you'll see why later.
There are many accessories available for the DiMAGE A200, which I've compiled into this handy table:
Included with the camera is version 2.3.7 of Minolta's DiMAGE Viewer software for Mac (including OS X) and Windows. It's certainly not a substitute for something like Adobe Photoshop, but it does basic editing fairly well. A handy "variations" tool shows you how different adjustments will effect your picture.
The software can also be used to process RAW images (I'll tell you why RAW is cool later in the review). As you can see, you can adjust all sorts of image properties using DiMAGE Viewer. As you can also see, the photo I took is blurry!
Konica Minolta also includes ULEAD's VideoStudio 8 SE VCD for Windows, which you can use to edit your video clips. As the name implies, the software can also create Video CDs. Minolta does not provide a Mac equivalent of this software in the box.
Updated 1/9/05: I originally wrote about the full manual being on CD, as that is how my camera bundle was configured. After receiving numerous e-mails from readers, it seems that retail A200's do indeed have the full, printed manual in the box with the camera. I have been pleased with Konica Minolta's manuals in the past: they are much better than average.
Look and Feel
The DiMAGE A200 looks like a smaller and more plastic version of its predecessor. That's not to say that it's not well put-together: it's pretty solid thanks to its metal frame. It certainly doesn't compare to the tank that is the Nikon Coolpix 8800, but it's good enough for me. The camera has a large right hand grip which makes it easy to hold. Since it's a fairly large camera, you'll probably end up putting your left hand around the lens for support.
Here's a look at how the A200 compares to some other cameras in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, it's the smallest and lightest camera in the group!
Now let's take a tour of this camera, beginning with the front.
The A200 has the same F2.8-3.5, 7X Minolta GT lens as the DiMAGE A2. The focal range of the lens is 7.2 - 50.8 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 200 mm. The lens is threaded for 49 mm attachments including the three conversion lenses I mentioned earlier, as well as third-party filters.
Behind the lens is a 2/3" 8 Megapixel CCD mounted on Konica Minolta's exclusive Anti-shake system. This lets you take pictures at slower shutter speeds than you could on a camera without stabilization. This comes in handy when you're taking indoor shots without the flash, or outdoors using the full telephoto power of the lens. Where most cameras with image stabilization shift an element in the lens to compensation for motion, the A200 (and A2 before it) actually shift the CCD instead. How well does it work? Have a look:
Anti-shake on, 1/15 sec shutter speed
Anti-shake off, 1/15 sec shutter speed
If that's not enough evidence for you, how about a movie clip (372 KB)? Be sure to notice the falling leaf!
Directly above the lens is the A200's pop-up flash. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 3.8 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 3.0 m at telephoto (at auto ISO) -- same as on the A2. The Coolpix 8800 blows the A200 away in this department. As I mentioned, you can add a Minolta-branded external flash via the hot shoe you'll see in a moment. The flash is released manually -- just grab it and pull it up.
The only other thing to mention here is the self-timer lamp and remote control receiver, which are located to the upper-left of the lens. There's no AF-assist lamp on the DiMAGE A200. The camera is also lacking the "grip sensor" from the A2, but most people probably won't notice.
The LCD on the A200 is totally different than the A2, and that's a good thing. Where the old one just tilted, the A2's flips out and rotates 270 degrees. The screen packs a fairly typical 134,000 pixels, and everything is nice and sharp. The refresh rate is excellent as well. In low light, the screen switches to black and white and "gains up"' so you can still see your subject (Minolta is one of the best at this feature).
Rotating LCDs may sound gimmicky but they come in very handy when shooting over crowds or doing ground-level shots. The screen can also be put in the traditional position (see below) or it can be closed altogether.
Another big difference between the A2 and A200 is with regard to the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The A2's EVF was spectacular, with a resolution of 922,000 pixels. Unfortunately the A200 didn't get that nice screen; instead, you get a screen with a pretty average 235,000 pixels. That doesn't mean it's bad -- it just looks bad next to the A2. Low light visibility is just as good as with the LCD. Something else that got yanked on the A200 is the flip-up feature that the A2's EVF had... I miss that. A diopter correction knob will focus the image on the EVF.
Just below the EVF are two buttons. The button with the green hand on it turns the Anti-shake system on and off, while the other button switches between the LCD and EVF. An example of a situation in which you'd turn off Anti-shake is when you have the camera on a tripod.
At the top right of the photo are the i+ and AE Lock buttons. The former is used for toggling the info shown on the LCD/EVF, while the latter is self-explanatory (I hope).
While the item below those buttons looks like a zoom controller, it's not (you use your hand as the zoom controller on the A200, as you'll see). Instead, this operates the digital zoom (groan) as well as the "zoom and scroll" feature in playback mode.
Below the phony zoom controller is the Function button, something clearly lifted from Canon's cameras. Pressing this button opens the handy Function menu, which has the following options:
The next item to see is the four-way controller. This is used for menu navigation, adjust the exposure/flash compensation (the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) and white balance (Auto, custom 1/2, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1/2, shade, tungsten, flash), rotating images, and selecting a focus point. The focus point options are pretty nice. You can select from wide area, spot area (where you can choose one of eleven focus points), or flex focus point, in which you can position the cursor almost anywhere in the frame and the camera will focus on that spot.
The final items on the back of the A200 are the playback mode / delete photo and menu buttons.
On the top of the A200 you'll first notice the hot shoe. As with all Minolta digital cameras, the hot shoe only supports Minolta-branded flashes. A plastic cover protects the shoe when it's not in use.
The item to the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial, which has the following options:
I should add that you can set the camera to use the scene positions on the mode dial for the memory recall option, for ever easier access to those favorite settings.
Just to the right of the mode dial is the microphone. Below that is the Drive button, which has the following options:
Above that button is the power switch, with another mode dial around it. This dial switches between movie, playback, and still recording mode. Above that is the command dial, which is used for adjusting manual settings. Finally, above that is the shutter release button.
Two of the nicest features carried over from the DiMAGE A2 can be seen in this photo. The first is the manual zoom ring. Instead of pressing buttons to adjust the zoom, you just twist the lens. Markings on the lens barrel show the current focal length. This is also how you engage macro mode (more on this later).
Manual focus (not the greatest screenshot since the digital enlargement feature is being used here)
To the right of that is the manual focus ring. Unlike the mechanically-linked zoom ring, the focus ring is electronic. When manual focus mode is activated you just rotate the dial slowly to choose a focus distance. The focus distance is shown on the LCD, and the frame is enlarged as well. An added twist is that you can now scroll around in the zoomed-in area of the frame!
To the right of the focus ring is the speaker. To the right of that is the AF/M button, which switches between auto and manual focus. Below that is the Shift button, which is used for things like Program Shift and resetting the focus point. I don't like how these two buttons are flush with the camera body.
Below those buttons, under a rubber cover, are the camera's I/O ports. These include DC-in (for optional AC adapter) and USB + A/V out (one port for both). The old A2 also had a flash sync port, but that was removed on the A200.
Here's the other side of the camera with the lens fully extended. The only thing to see here is the memory card slot, which is protected by a fairly flimsy plastic door. The A200 can use Type I or Type II CompactFlash cards, including the Microdrive.
Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The tripod mount is located in the center of the body. The door covering the battery compartment is fairly sturdy.
The included NP-800 battery is shown at right.
Using the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200
It takes about 2.5 seconds for the A200 to "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That seems a little slow for a camera that doesn't need to extend its lens first.
You'll get a live histogram in record mode
Focus times were about average, with typical delays of 0.6 - 0.8 seconds before focus is locked. If the camera has to "hunt" to lock focus these times can easily exceed one second. Like its predecessor, the A200 focuses very well in low light for a camera without an AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed is good for an 8 Megapixel camera, with a delay of two seconds before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off. That delay jumps to four seconds in RAW mode -- pretty impressive compared to some of the competition.
You can delete a photo right after it is taken by pressing the Delete photo button.
Now, here's a look at the many image size and quality choices available on the DiMAGE A200:
RAW images contain unprocessed image data that is as close to perfect as you'll get out of the camera. As an added bonus, you can edit many properties of the image (such as white balance, sharpness, and color saturation) after the photo is taken without any loss in quality. The catch is that you must process each RAW image on your computer before you can convert them to other formats and share them with friends.
The A200 can shoot RAW images alone, or a RAW image plus a separate JPEG.
The camera saves images with a name of PICT####.JPG, where #### = 0001-9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase/replace memory cards.
Okay, now we can move on to the menus!
The DiMAGE A200 uses the standard Konica Minolta menu system. The record menu is divided into three "tabs", each with its own set of options. Note that most of the options below are locked up in the auto and scene modes. I did find menu navigation to be a bit sluggish, for some reason. The record menu options are:
Hopefully everything up there makes sense!
A setup menu is also available, and you get to it from the record or playback menu. Here are those items:
I want to quickly mention those Anti-shake options. Display + exposure activates the system when you halfway press the shutter release and stays on until the picture is taken. This helps you frame the photo steadily. The exposure-only option activates Anti-shake right when the photo is taken. While Konica Minolta doesn't say anything about why you'd use this second option, it resulted in better stabilization on the Panasonic cameras that I reviewed.
Well, enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
Updated 1/9/05: The quality of the A200's macro mode depends on your situation. If you want to get right up close to your subject, then the camera isn't that great, with focus distances of 21 cm at wide-angle and 13 cm at telephoto. Picking up the close-up lens lowers the distance to a more reasonable 8 cm. By comarison, you can get as close to your subject as 3 cm at wide-angle on the Coopix 8800. However, if you don't mind shooting from further back, the A200 can capture roughly the same area as the Coolpix 8800. Since I do most of my macro shooting from up close, I prefer the Coolpix in this area. So it really depends on your needs.
So I took the usual macro test shot at wide-angle and did some heavy duty cropping. The results are pretty good, though everything seems washed out (like there's grime on a window). Colors are saturated, though, and the subject is sharp.
On the other hand, the A200 did a great job with the night test shot. You can practically see the furniture in the offices! With full control over the shutter speed, the camera was able to take in plenty of light (too bad the bulb mode is limited to 30 seconds, though). Everything is nice and sharp, and purple fringing is nonexistent. Noise levels are comparable to other cameras in this class.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images. You can click on the thumbnail to see the full size images.
Like the other 8 Megapixel cameras, the A200 didn't perform well above ISO 200. If you want to shoot at ISO 400 or 800, I'd recommend buying a D-SLR instead.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the A200's lens. You can also see some vignetting (dark corners) here, but I didn't spot any of that in my real world photos, thankfully.
There was no redeye to be found in our flash test -- yay!
Since I had both the Coolpix 8800 and DiMAGE A200 at the same time, I decided to break out my new comparison scene once again. You can click on the links above to see the original (and unrotated) images from the two cameras, or you can just look at my crops below. Photos were taken with 600W quartz studio lamps at F4.5 on both cameras with image stabilization turned off (since I was using a tripod).
Coolpix 8800 at ISO 50
DiMAGE A200 at ISO 50
Coolpix 8800 at ISO 400 (its highest option)
DiMAGE A200 at ISO 400
DiMAGE A200 at ISO 800 (its highest value)
After comparing those, I'd say that the Coolpix has slightly better color accuracy, while the A200 has slightly better sharpness (after my experiences with the A2, I can't believe I'm saying that). At high ISOs, the DiMAGE does a bit better than the Coolpix, in my opinion. As I said a few paragraphs ago, even the cheapest D-SLR will run circles around both of these cameras at the high ISO sensitivities.
If you remember the DiMAGE A2 debacle, then you'll be pleased to hear that the major image softness problems are gone on the A200. Of course, not everyone had those problems on the A2, but I digress. Photos on the A200 were well-exposed and colorful, and noise and purple fringing levels under control. Minolta doesn't apply too much in-camera sharpening to the images, so personally I'd crank it up a notch in the record menu. With 8 million pixels are your disposal you can make some pretty huge prints from these photos.
Don't just take my word for it, though. View our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the A200's photo quality meets your expectations!
The A200's movie mode is very good, with only a 15 minute time limit keeping it from greatness. You can record at three sizes: 320 x 240, 640 x 480, and even 800 x 600! You can choose between 15 and 30 frames/second at the lower resolution -- you can only use 15 fps in the 800 x 600 mode. I figure that most people will use the 640 x 480 / 30 fps mode. With a 256MB memory card, you can hold about 5 minutes of video at the 800 x 600 setting. At the 640 x 480 / 30 fps setting, you can store about 4 minutes.
The A200 offers a "night movie" mode, which brightens the scene in low light. A movie editing feature lets you trim material off the beginning or end of the clip. You can also make still image clips from the movie, a feature exclusive to Minolta cameras I believe.
The Anti-shake system works just fine in movie mode. And, since the lens is manually operated, you can zoom in and out to your heart's content while filming.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format.
Here's a sample movie for you. Thanks Amtrak once again!
Click to play movie (14.3 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The A200 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 10X (in 0.2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This is useful for checking that your subject is in focus.
You can easily rotate photos by pressing the "down" button on the four-way controller. You can also downsize images for e-mailing, and copy images from one memory card to another.
One other feature that I appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. However, press "up" on the four-way controller and you'll see much more, including a histogram.
The camera moves between photos very quickly, moving from one image to the next virtually instantly.
How Does it Compare?
While I was hesitant to recommend the old Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 due to image quality issues, I have no qualms about doing so for the new DiMAGE A200 -- it's an excellent 8 Megapixel camera. I do, however, wish that the camera retained some of the A2's features, but Minolta had to cut the cost of the camera somehow. Image quality on the A200 is very good, except at high ISOs where too much detail is lost. Color and exposure were both good, and purple fringing was not a problem. The camera excelled in our redeye test, as well. One of the big selling points of the A200 is its Anti-shake image stabilization system, and it works as advertised. If you're frustrated by blurry indoor or telephoto shots, then you should be thinking about a stabilized camera. Camera performance is above average in most areas. Focusing can be a bit slow at the telephoto end or in low light, but the camera will lock focus. For added flexibility you can manually select a focus point nearly anywhere in the frame. As you'd expect from a camera in this class, the A200 has full manual controls, and you can also save up to five sets of camera settings to a spot on the mode dial.
The A200 is well put-together, though it's not quite as "tank-like" as its main competition, the Nikon Coolpix 8800. It's easy to hold, and the controls aren't nearly as intimidating as they were on the A2. I love the manual zoom and focus rings, too. The flip-out LCD is sharp and motion is fluid, and it is visible in low light conditions. The same goes for the electronic viewfinder, but I do miss the high resolution, tiltable screen from the A2. Other nice features on the A200 include its movie mode and support for add-on lenses and an external flash. And finally, the camera supports RAW and RAW+JPEG recording, with very little delay between shots. Konica Minolta includes software that takes full advantage of the RAW format.
I do have a few complaints to mention, though. Images could be a little sharper, though that's easy to correct in the record menu. For those who want to get super-close to their subjects, steer clear of this camera, as the closest focus distance is 13 cm. The bulb mode is also a little disappointing, with its 30 second limit. I don't care for the buttons on the left side of the camera, which are flush to the body and are hard to find when you're not looking at that side of the camera. Last, but not least, a memory card would've been a nice find in the box.
Overall, the A200 gets my enthusiastic recommendation. The Coolpix 8800 (see our review) is also a good choice for those who want more manual controls, better build quality, closer focusing, and more zoom power. Do note that its lens starts at 35 mm, though. Ultimately the decision is yours, so read both reviews and try them in person if possible!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other big zoom, high resolution cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot Pro1, Nikon Coolpix 8800, Olympus C-8080WZ (only 5X zoom), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 (only 5MP), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828.
Also consider these digital SLRs: Canon Digital Rebel, Nikon D70, Olympus EVOLT E-300, and the Pentax *ist DS. Remember that comparable lenses cost a lot of money!
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DiMAGE A200 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read other reviews at Steve's Digicams, Megapixel.net, and Imaging Resource.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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