DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE F300
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 9, 2003
Last Updated: June 20, 2003

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The Minolta DiMAGE F100 (see our review) was one of the sleeper hits of last year. Early in 2003, Minolta introduced the DiMAGE F300 ($599), a 5 Megapixel version. Like its predecessor, the F300 features a 3X optical zoom lens, "tracking" autofocus system, automatic scene modes, and a small (but not too small) metal body. Did I mention full manual controls?

There's a lot of competition in the small 5 Megapixel arena. How does the F300 compare? Find out now...

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE F300 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Megapixel Minolta F300 camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card [updated 6/4/03]
  • One CR-V3 non-rechargeable battery
  • Four NiMH AA rechargeable batteries w/charger
  • Wrist strap
  • Sports case [added 6/4/03]
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring DiMAGE Viewer Utility and drivers
  • 127 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Updated 6/4/03: While my review unit didn't include them, Minolta is shipping the F300 with a throwaway CR-V3 battery, plus four NiMH rechargeables and a charger. Since the camera uses two AAs, you've got two sets of batteries right in the box. With the included Lithium CR-V3 battery, Minolta estimates that you'll take about 260 pictures, or spend 70 mins in playback mode. They don't publish any numbers for NiMH batteries though.

Updated 6/4/03: While Minolta includes a 32MB SD card with the camera, it's still pretty skimpy for a camera with this resolution. You can store only 12 photos at the highest JPEG quality on this card, so I recommend getting a larger card right away. The F300 can use Secure Digital (SD) or MultiMedia (MMC) cards.

The F300 has a built-in lens cover, so there are no lens cap worries. As you can see, it's a pretty small camera too -- not Digital ELPH sized, but still small.

There isn't much to talk about the accessories department. Your only choices (that I know of) are a soft case, wireless remote control ($22), and AC adapter ($50). No conversion lenses or external flashes here!

Included with the camera is version 2.1.1 of the Minolta DiMAGE Viewer software. The good news is that it's now Mac OS X compatible (and it actually works, unlike v. 2.1). It's certainly not a substitute for something like Photoshop Elements, but it does basic editing fairly well. The camera works fine with iPhoto as well.

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 (small) sections on photography basics and Minolta's history.

Look and Feel

As I mentioned, the F300 is a smaller camera, but not what I'd call a "micro camera" like a DiMAGE Xi. It's a lot closer to Sony's P-series cameras. The F300 has a very solid-feeling metal body, though it can scratch easily.

The official dimensions of the F300 are 4.4 x 2.1 x 1.3 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 185 grams empty.

Let's take a tour of the F300 now, starting with the front of the camera.

The F300 has the same F2.8 - F4.7, 3X optical zoom Minolta GT lens as the F100. 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 - 3.4 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto (an improvement over the F100). Minolta claims a flash recharge time of 6 seconds. As I mentioned, the F300 doesn't support adding an external flash.

Contrary to popular believe, that reddish item to the left of the flash is not an AF-assist lamp. It's a receiver for the optional remote control.

Here's the back of the F300, which is well laid out, with just a few buttons. The camera has a high resolution 1.5" LCD display which is bright and fluid. As with most LCDs, it can be difficult to see outdoors. I also noticed that it gets quite grainy in low light situations.

Above the LCD is an average-sized optical viewfinder. It doesn't have any crosshairs or gridlines, and it also lacks an diopter correction knob, for folks without perfect vision.

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

  • Macro mode + Digital Subject Program manual selection {record mode}
  • Menu {record/playback mode}
  • QuickView {record} / Delete Photo {playback} - QuickView feature is a fast way of entering playback mode.
  • Display - toggles LCD and info on it on/off

Up above those buttons are two more, which 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)

Another 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 F300, taking nearly 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.

At the lower-right, under a plastic cover, you'll find the I/O ports for USB, A/V, and power (for optional AC adapter).

Here's the top of the F300. On the left side, 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 also too bad that the display isn't backlit!

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

  • Off
  • Auto Record
  • Multi-function (manual) Record
  • Playback
  • Movie Mode
  • Audio Recording Mode
  • Setup Mode

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, except that the camera analyses the scene and knows which one to use, automatically. You can pick a scene yourself, if you don't agree with the camera's 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 what Minolta calls multi-function record mode. More on this later in the review.

A quick summary of the Audio Recording Mode: you can record audio for up to 3 hours, though the included 16MB card can only hold 30 minutes. Files are saved in AVI format.

There's not much to see on this side of the camera, so 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 doors covering these aren't very sturdy, so be careful with them.

Let's open up those doors to see what's inside.

The SD/MMC card slot is on the left, with the battery compartment on the right. The F300 uses two AA or one CR-V3 battery.

The included battery and SD memory card are shown as well.

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 inline with the lens.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE F300

Record Mode

The F300 takes a sluggish five seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting. Focusing speeds are pretty average as well. Expect to wait for just a bit under a second in good light, and a little more than a second when the light isn't so good. In low light, the F300 had some trouble focusing, due in part to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag is noticeable, even at faster shutter speeds (though it's a slight lag). At slower shutter speeds, it's very noticeable. The fake shutter sound doesn't help matters either, as it plays before the photo is actually taken.

On the other hand, shot-to-shot speed is excellent. Assuming you have the post-shot review feature turned off, you can take another photo in just over one second. You can't pause or delete a photo as it's being written to the memory card, but pressing the "QV" button will quickly move you to playback mode to do so.

Taking a photo in Super Fine (TIFF) mode will, unfortunately, lock up the camera for over 35 seconds while it writes the image to the memory card.

Speaking of which, let's take a look at the image quality and resolution choices available on the F300:

Quality Resolution Approx. File Size Images on 16MB card
Super Fine
(TIFF)
2560 x 1920 15 MB 1
2048 x 1536 9.5 MB 1
1600 x 1200 6.0 MB 2
640 x 480 1.0 MB 14
Fine 2560 x 1920 2.5 MB 5
2048 x 1536 1.6 MB 9
1600 x 1200 1.0 MB 14
640 x 480 200 KB 69
Standard 2560 x 1920 1.3 MB 11
2048 x 1536 850 KB 17
1600 x 1200 550 KB 27
640 x 480 150 KB 100
Economy 2560 x 1920 650 KB 22
2048 x 1536 450 KB 32
1600 x 1200 300 KB 47
640 x 480 100 KB 150

See why I recommended a larger memory card?

Files are named using a simple convention: PICT####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and replace memory cards.

Let's look at the menu system now.

The F300 has the same menu system as other Minolta cameras. It's not pretty, but it gets the job done. Most of the items below are only available in the multi-recording mode. Here goes:

  • 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 15 - 1/1000 sec), camera picks appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range improved over F100.
      • Full manual - You select both shutter speed and aperture. Adds bulb mode with maximum exposure of 15 secs. ISO is locked at 100.
    • Drive mode
      • Single shot
      • Self-timer / Remote Control
      • Continuous - takes pictures at up to 1.5 frames/sec (with Shutter FX off). At highest resolution, fine quality, you can take up to 5 shots. At lower quality/resolutions, you can take more.
      • UHS continuous advance - takes 11 shots in one second at 1280 x 960. New feature on F300. TIFF mode not available for either of these continuous shooting modes.
      • Bracketing - takes three shots at either ±0.3, 0.5, or 1.0 EV
    • Image size (2560 x 1920, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480)
    • Quality (Super fine, Fine, Standard, Economy)
    • White balance (Custom, auto, daylight, cloudy, 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
    • Flash compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) - new feature
    • Metering mode (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot) - center-weighted option is new
    • Camera sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400)
  • 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 (on/off) - turns on ability to attach 15 second sound clips to photos
    • Date imprinting (on/off)
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - remember, using digital zoom reduces photo quality
    • Instant playback (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec) - amount of time that images are shown on the LCD after they are taken

As you can see, the F300 has a full suite of manual controls.

I want to explain the various focus modes -- single, tracking, and manual.

Single AF is just your normal everyday focus -- press the shutter release halfway, lock the focus, take the picture.

Tracking AF is one of the F300'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 F300 will keep it in focus. Of course, the subject can't be moving too quickly.


Manual focus

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)
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - eliminates noise in long exposures (1 sec or longer)
  • 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.

The F300 has the same annoying macro mode as its predecessor. The lens is locked at the telephoto position in macro mode, which means you must get far away from your subject. The advantage of having the lens in this position is that it minimizes the effects of barrel distortion (more on that in a bit). The focal range in macro mode is 20 - 60 cm.

The other thing that bugs me is hard to describe: I don't know if it's the noise or what, but the test shot has a kind of "video capture look" to it. Enlarge the photo and see if you agree.

While not the most exciting spot I frequent, the F300 did a pretty nice job with this night shot. The camera employs a noise reduction system, which helped keep overall noise levels low. Full control over shutter speed and aperture will allow you to take shots like this (hopefully better).

The redeye test turned out decently, though the image is quite noisy (as you can hopefully see in this small area). The flash on the F300 is relatively far away from the lens considering the size of the camera.

Our new distortion test shows some pretty noticeable barrel distortion at the wide-angle setting. I'd say this is a little more than I'm used to seeing, though I've only been doing this test for a little over one month. Something else that sometimes pops up during this test is vignetting, or dark corners. I don't see any of that here.

One thing I've discussed in previous reviews is the relationship between sharpness and noise. Generally speaking, cameras with aggressive in-camera sharpening will tend to have more noise in their images. The DiMAGE F300 is one such camera. Images are very sharp, but they have a noticeable grain to them. Obviously this won't matter in most cases, but its worth pointing out. This shot illustrates what I'm saying.

Aside from that, color was generally good, as was exposure. Purple fringing did not appear to be a problem.

Have a look at the photo gallery to decide for yourself if the F300's quality is right for you!

Movie Mode

The movie mode has been improved since the F100. You can now record up to 3 minutes of video at 320 x 240, or 20 minutes (!) at 160 x 120. The 16MB card can't actually hold that much video though, so you'll need a larger card.

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.

There's also a "night movie" feature, which cranks up the sensitivity (and therefore the noise) so you can film in low light.

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

Here's a lovely sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (4.0MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

While it's not fancy, the DiMAGE F300'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 6X 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 very quickly. The next image shows up almost instantly.

How Does it Compare?

The Minolta DiMAGE F300 is another one of those cameras that I like, but at the same time don't think is the best of the pack (I'd give that award to the Canon PowerShot S50). The F300 offers full manual controls, sharp, well-exposed images, an above average movie mode, and a unique tracking autofocus system. I really like having t an LCD info display as well. Negatives include higher-than-average noise in images, a very slow moving lens, shutter lag, and the lack of an AF illuminator. Don't write off the F300 -- it's definitely worth your consideration if you're in the market for a small 5 Megapixel camera.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality, sharp images
  • Full manual controls
  • LCD info display, a rarity on smaller cameras
  • Small, well designed metal body
  • Impressive Subject Tracking autofocus and automatic "scene mode" features
  • Good movie mode (3 mins w/sound)

What I didn't care for:

  • Higher than average noise in images (side effect of ultra-sharp images)
  • No AF illuminator
  • Flimsy doors covering SD/MMC and battery compartments
  • Slow moving lens
  • Too much shutter lag
  • Saving a TIFF file locks up the camera for over 35 seconds

Other small, full-featured 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot S50, Fuji FinePix F601Z (I suppose), Konica KD-500Z, Kyocera Finecam S5, Nikon Coolpix 5000, Olympus C-50Z, Pentax Optio 550, and the Sony DSC-P92, -P10, and -V1.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE F300 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?

None yet.

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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