DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE F100
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2002
Last Updated: Monday, December 9, 2002

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At first glance, the Minolta DiMAGE F100 ($499) looks like just another small, metal camera. But it has many more advanced features than other cameras in its class, including a subject-tracking autofocus mode, which keeps moving subjects in focus even as they move around the frame. Another unique feature is the Automatic Digital Subject Program Selection, which is similar to "scene modes" on other cameras, except the camera figures out the scene for you (more on this later). Add full manual controls and you've got a powerful camera in a small package.

Does the F100 live up to its spec sheet? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE F100 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.95 effective Megapixel Minolta F100 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card
  • One CR-V3 non-rechargeable battery
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring DiMAGE Image View Utility and drivers
  • 127 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

The F100's bundle is just average. The first issue of note is that it's up to you to provide the rechargeable batteries. Minolta gives you one non-rechargeable CR-V3 which will quickly run out of juice. The F100 can use AA-sized batteries as well -- two of them. So buying a four-pack of NiMH rechargeables is not a bad idea. Using the included Lithium CR-V3 battery that's included, Minolta estimates that you'll take about 220 pictures, or spend 240 mins in playback mode.

My other major "beef" with the bundle is the rather skimpy 16MB memory card included. It's enough to get you started, but when you get serious, you'll find that you cannot hold many 4.0 Megapixel photos on it. So pick up a 128MB card once you get going. The F100 can use Secure Digital (SD) or MultiMediaCards (MMC).

The F100 has a built-in lens cover, so there are no lens cap worries. As you can see, it's a pretty small camera too.

There isn't much to talk about the accessories department. Your only choices (that I know) are a soft case, neck strap, wireless remote control, and AC adapter. No conversion lenses or external flashes here!

Included with the camera is the Minolta DiMAGE Viewer Utility software, v2.0. You can retouch and view photos quite easily with this software. It's still not Mac OS X native, though.

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

Look and Feel

The F100 isn't the smallest digicam out there. It's larger than cameras like the Canon Digital ELPH, and is "wider" like the Sony P-series cameras. Like these other small cameras, the F100 has an all-metal body, and it's very sturdy. The problem with all these metal cameras is that they scratch easily.

The F100 is very easy to hold, with one hand or two. It will fit in almost any pocket.

Here's a look at how the size and mass of the F100 compare to other cameras in its class:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
Minolta DiMAGE F100 4.3 x 2.1 x 1.3 185 g
Fuji FinePix F401 Zoom 3.3 x 2.7 x 1.1 185 g
Canon PowerShot S200 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 180 g
Canon PowerShot S330 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 245 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.4 206 g
Olympus D-40Z 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 190 g
Pentax Optio 330/430 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.2 205 g
Kyocera Finecam S3 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.2 165 g

Despite being slightly larger than the other cameras, the F100 compares favorably in terms of weight.

Let's tour the F100, beginning with the front of the camera.

The F100 has an F2.8, 3X optical zoom Minolta GT lens. The focal length is 7.8 - 23.4 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens is not threaded.

Over towards the upper left of the picture is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 2.9 m at wide-angle, and 05 - 1.7 m at telephoto. As I mentioned, the F100 doesn't support adding an external flash.

When I first saw that little dark window to the left of the flash, I thought "Ohh, an infrared focusing system!" Alas, it was not to be -- it's merely the receiver for the optional remote control. That means that the F100 lacks any autofocus illuminator lamp.

Here's the back of the F100, which is well laid out, with just a few buttons. The camera has an 1.5" LCD display which is bright and fluid. It's useable indoors but as with most LCDs, it's harder to see outdoors.

Above the LCD is a decent-sized optical viewfinder (for a camera of this size). It doesn't have any crosshairs or gridlines, and it also lacks an diopter correction knob, for those without perfect vision.

To the right of the LCD are four buttons (and only one is multi-function!). They include:

  • Macro mode
  • Menu
  • QuickView {record} / Delete Photo {playback}
  • Display - toggles LCD and info on it on/off

The QuickView feature is a fast way of entering playback mode. Up above those buttons are two more buttons. They are for:

  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill-flash, flash cancel) {rec} / Info (shows histogram/exposure info) {playback}
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)

The final item of interest on the back of the camera is the four-way switch, which doubles as the zoom controller. The zoom is pretty slow on the F100, taking about four seconds to go from wide to tele.

The four-way switch is also used for manually selecting the focus point. You hold down the center button and then you can choose one of five focus points (up, down, left, right, center) or just leave it on autofocus.

Here is the top of the F100, with just a few more items of note. On the left, you can see the speaker and microphone.

Continuing to the right, you can see the LCD info display -- a rarity on a camera this small. The info display shows a lot of information but doesn't show shutter speed and aperture like on some other cameras. It's too bad that the display isn't backlit!

On the far right, you can see the mode wheel, with shutter release button inside it. The items on the mode wheel include:

  • Off
  • Auto Record
  • Manual Record
  • Playback
  • Movie Mode
  • Audio Recording Mode
  • Setup Mode

I won't be covering the Audio Recording Mode in this review, so here's a quick summary. You can record audio for up to 30 minutes, regardless of the size of the memory card. That's also the amount of audio that fits on the included memory card.

The Auto Record mode is essentially point-and-shoot. This is the mode where you can use the Automatic Digital Subject Program Selection feature. Basically, this is like the "scene modes" found on other cameras. The difference is that the camera analyses the scene and knows which one to use, automatically. You can pick it yourself, if you don't agree with its choice. The choices are:

  • Programmed AE (automatic)
  • Portrait
  • Sports action
  • Landscape
  • Sunset
  • Night Portrait

If you want to use the manual features of the camera, you'll want to switch to (guess what) manual mode. More on this and the other modes later in the review.

There's not much to see on this side of the F100. Let's try the other side.

On the other side of the camera, you'll find two slots: one for the SD/MMC card, and the other for the batteries. The quality of the doors covering these slots makes me wonder if they will break off if pushed too hard.

Let's flip open those doors now.

And there you have it -- one SD/MMC slot plus one battery compartment for two AAs or one CR-V3!

Last but not least, here is the bottom of the camera. The only thing down here is a metal tripod mount, located off center, and not in line with the lens.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE F100

Record Mode

The rather slow moving lens isn't going to help the F100 win any awards for startup time. It takes over five seconds before you can start shooting.

The F100's autofocus system isn't terribly fast either, though it did a good job focusing on the tougher subjects around the house, even in dim light. It almost always took a full second for the camera to lock focus, when the shutter release was pressed halfway. It was slightly faster in continuous autofocus mode, but not by much.

Pressing the shutter release fully results in a photo being taken after a short, but noticeable lag.

Shot-to-shot speed is a happier story: you can take another shot after a second or so of waiting. There's no way to delete a photo as it is being recorded to the memory card.


The LCD in record mode

Taking a photo in Super Fine (TIFF) mode will, unfortunately, lock up the camera for 20 seconds while it writes the image to the memory card. It takes just as long to load the image in playback mode, too.

Speaking of which, let's take a look at the image quality and resolution choices available on the F100:

Quality Resolution File Size Images on 16MB card
Super Fine
(TIFF)
2272 x 1704 12MB 1
1600 x 1200 5.6MB 2
1280 x 960 3.6MB 3
640 x 480 900KB 15
Fine 2272 x 1704 2.0MB 7
1600 x 1200 1.0MB 15
1280 x 960 600KB 23
640 x 480 200KB 82
Standard 2272 x 1704 1.0MB 14
1600 x 1200 500KB 29
1280 x 960 300KB 45
640 x 480 100KB 150
Economy 2272 x 1704 500KB 29
1600 x 1200 250KB 56
1280 x 960 150KB 82
640 x 480 50KB 226

The file sizes are lower here than on the DiMAGE 7i (the last Minolta camera I reviewed) at the same resolutions.

Let's look at the menu system now.

The F100 has an easy to use menu system chock full of options. It's not pretty, but it works efficiently. The menu choices include:

  • Basic Settings
    • Exposure Mode
      • Program - Camera picks shutter speed and aperture
      • Aperture priority - You pick aperture (range of F2.8 - F8.0), camera picks appropriate shutter speed
      • Shutter priority - You pick shutter speed (range of 4 - 1/1000 sec), camera picks appropriate aperture
      • Full manual - You select both shutter speed and aperture. Adds bulb mode for exposures as long as 15 seconds (tripod required). ISO is locked at 100.
    • Drive mode
      • Single shot
      • Continuous - takes pictures at up to 1.5 frames/sec (turn off Shutter FX to speed it up). At highest resolution, fine quality, you can take up to 4 shots.
      • Self-timer / Remote Control
      • Bracketing - takes three shots at either ±0.3, 0.5, or 1.0 EV
    • Image size (2272 x 1704, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
    • Quality (Super fine, Fine, Standard, Economy)
    • White balance
      • Custom set/recall - for manual white balance
      • Auto
      • Preset
        • Cloudy
        • Daylight
        • Tungsten
        • Fluorescent
  • Custom Settings 1
    • Focus mode (AF single, tracking AF, manual) - more below
    • Full-Time AF (on/off) - whether or not the camera is always focusing
    • AF sensor display (on/off) - shows the selected focus area on LCD
    • Metering mode (Multi-segment, spot)
    • Camera sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800)
  • Custom Settings 2
    • Digi FX ctrl
      • Color mode (Natural color, vivid color, black & white)
      • Sharpness (Hard, normal, soft)
      • Contrast (High, normal, low)
      • Saturation (High, normal, low)
    • Voice memo (Off, 5 sec, 15 sec) - turns on ability to attach sound clips with photos
    • Date imprinting (on/off)
    • Digital zoom (on/off)
    • Instant playback (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec) - amount of time that images are shown on the LCD after they are taken

Besides saying "wow, that's a lot of manual controls for a small camera!", I wanted to talk about the focus modes -- single, tracking, and manual. AF single is just your normal everyday focus.

Tracking AF is one of the F100's unique features. When you press the shutter halfway, the camera will lock the focus on the subject. But as the subject moves, whether left or right, or toward or away from the camera, the F100 will keep it in focus. Note that the subject can't be moving faster than 9 mph toward/away from the camera, or 3.4 mph left or right -- so this won't work for auto races.

Manual focus lets you use the four-way switch to focus the image. A scale on the LCD shows the approximate distance to the subject. The image is enlarged on the LCD so you can make sure your subject is properly focused.

There is also a traditional setup menu, accessible via the mode wheel. Some of the interesting items include:

  • LCD brightness
  • Language (Japanese, English, Deutsch, Français, Español)
  • Audio signals - which sounds are played when navigating menus
  • Shutter FX - choose your phony shutter sounds. Turn off to increase continuous shooting rates.
  • Volume (1 - 3)
  • Video output (NTSC, PAL)

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 F100 is different than on most other cameras, as the lens is locked in the full telephoto position. That required me to be further way from our 3" tall subject than usual. But that didn't stop the F100 from taking a great picture. The colors look great (have a look at the reds!) and the subject is focused well. The focal range in macro mode is 20 - 60 cm.

I ventured back to the top of Twin Peaks on a unusually clear San Francisco night (if you've ever been up there, you know what I mean) to take a night test shot. The F100 produced a pretty darn good image. It's not super sharp like other cameras I've used up here (where you can literally read the signs along Market St.), but for a small camera, it's quite good. I'm pretty confident that the F100 would do well in less challenging low light situations. By the way, the noise levels are quite low in this shot (taken at ISO 100).

The F100 didn't fare as well in our redeye test, even with the redeye reduction feature turned on. As you can see, redeye is pretty obvious, especially in the left eye (well, subject's right eye). The fact that the flash is pretty close to the lens usually means that redeye will be worse than a camera with a pop-up flash. Note that the shot above was blown up a bit so you can see the detail.

It is unclear whether or not the F100 is one of those Minolta cameras that uses a non-standard color space. The EXIF data says sRGB, but after running the image below through the DiMAGE Viewer Utility, I'm not sure -- there's a noticeable difference between the two! The F100 supposedly has the same image processing system as the DiMAGE 7i, which does not require using the utility software for best color accuracy. I wish I had a more definitive answer... I suppose F100 owners can decide for themselves if they want to run their photos through the utility or not. I sure think the picture on the right (below) looks better!


Before DiMAGE Viewer Utility

After DiMAGE Viewer Utility (sRGB)

Aside from that issue, the F100's photo quality was most impressive. My photos turned out to be sharp, with very little noise. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) were not a problem either, even on my challenging "hallway shot" at Stanford. But don't take my word for it -- check out the gallery and judge for yourself!

Movie Mode

The F100 has a fairly standard movie mode. You can record a movie for up to 35 seconds, with sound. The included 16MB card can hold a total of 41 seconds of video.

You cannot use the optical zoom during filming, which is usually the case with digicams that record sound with movies. You can use the digital zoom, but it will degrade the quality of the video.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a long, somewhat boring sample movie showing the long takeoff run of a 777-300 (the first I've seen in person) at SFO.


Click to play movie (7.9MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

While it's not fancy, the DiMAGE F100'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, audio captions, and a thumbnail mode.

The only real "advanced" feature is the ability to copy an image from one SD/MMC card to another. You can copy the full size image, or use the "e-mail copy" mode to downsize the image to 640 x 480 first.

The zoom and scroll feature is here, via the magnification button. You can zoom in as much as 5X into your image and then move around in it. This feature comes in hand for checking the focus on an image. It's not the most robust implementation of this feature, but it works well.

If you more information about your image, you can press the "i+ button" on the back of the camera. You can see above the information it will give you. THis includes a histogram.

The camera moves through the images on the LCD fairly quickly. It takes about one second to move between photos.

How Does it Compare?

While I'm a bit confused about the whole color space issue, I'm very happy with how the Minolta DiMAGE F100 performed. It offers a small, metal body that is generally well put together (aside from the SD/battery covers), many manual controls, decent performance, and nice picture quality. I think the photo quality looks better if you run it through the DiMAGE Viewer Utility and convert the image to sRGB, though. Other issues I had were the average bundle and lack of an AF illuminator. Even with those issues, the F100 is one of the nicer small cameras out there, and one I recommend checking out. Priced at well under $500, it's a great value.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality (but better after processing in DiMAGE Viewer Utility), no chromatic aberration problems
  • More manual controls than typical small camera
  • LCD info display, a rarity on smaller cameras
  • Small, well designed metal body
  • Impressive Subject Tracking autofocus and automatic "scene mode" features
  • Sound in movie mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Small 16MB memory card and non-rechargeable batteries included
  • No AF illuminator
  • Flimsy doors covering SD/MMC and battery compartments
  • Pictures look best after processing with DiMAGE Viewer Utility
  • Playback, movie modes a bit dated

Other small 4MP cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S40, Fuji FinePix F401 and F601 Zoom (both use SuperCCDs but produce 4MP+ pictures), Kodak LS443, Konica KD-400Z, Kyocera Finecam S4, Nikon Coolpix 4300, Olympus D-40Z, Pentax Optio 430RS, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE F100 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 F100 from Steve's Digicams 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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