DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE S414
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 22, 2003
Last Updated: April 26, 2003

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The Minolta DiMAGE S404 was a popular camera that most people never knew about. But word began to spread about the S404, and the camera became harder and harder to find.

The S404 is gone now, but thankfully, it's been replaced by the even better DiMAGE S414 model. With a 4 Megapixel CCD, 4X optical zoom lens, and full suite of manual controls, the S414 is an excellent value at just $399.

So how does the camera perform? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE S414 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 effective Megapixel Minolta S414 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash memory card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring DiMAGE Viewer Utility and drivers
  • 111 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

After buying the S414, you'll need to lay down some more cash, as the included memory card and batteries are fairly useless.

Minolta includes a measly 16MB CompactFlash card with the S414, which won't hold many photos. I suggest buying a 128MB or larger CF card right away. Note that the S414 does not support Type II cards, so there's no Microdrive compatibility. Thankfully Type I cards have come a long way, and you can now find them in capacities as high as 1GB.

As for batteries, Minolta gives you four alkalines that won't last long. I'd pick up two sets of NiMH rechargeables instead, which are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than alkalines. Using 1850 mAh rechargeable batteries, Minolta estimates that you can take about 160 photos (using the LCD), or spend about 120 minutes in playback mode. That's not great, but not horrible either. By comparison, the Canon PowerShot G3 ($300 more) can take 450 photos, or spend 6 hours in playback mode, using its proprietary battery.

Updated 4/24/03: Minolta includes a lens cap and retaining strap, to help protect that 4X zoom lens.

There aren't a whole lot of accessories for the S414. You can buy an external battery pack ($275), AC adapter ($60), remote control ($20), soft case, and leather neck strap ($25). There are no add-on lenses or flashes available, as far as I know.

Included with the camera is version 2.1.2 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.

I have always been a fan of the manuals included with Minolta cameras, and the one included here is no exception. It's helpful, concise, and not printed in microtype.

Look and Feel

The DiMAGE S414 shares the same body as the S304 and S404, which may or may not be a good thing. The S414's "thick" body is a little too bulky for my taste-- this is one camera meant to travel in bags or around your neck. The large size does make it very easy to hold, though.

The camera body is mostly metal, with a little plastic thrown in for good measure. For the most part, it feels quite solid.

The official dimensions of the S414 are 4.5 x 2.5 x 2.3 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 335 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, those numbers for the PowerShot G3 are 4.8 x 3.0 x 2.5 and 410 grams, respectively.

The S414 has the same F3.0 - F3.6, 4X optical zoom Minolta GT lens as the S304/414. This isn't the fastest lens out there, especially when compared to the F2.0-F3.0 lens found on the PowerShot G3.

Updated 4/24/03:The focal length of this lens is 7.15 - 28.6 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 140 mm. The lens is threaded for 35.5 mm attachments, and while I can't find any conversion lenses, you can attach filters.

Over towards the upper-right of the camera is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.9 - 3.0 m at telephoto. It takes about 8 seconds to recharge the flash.

As I mentioned, the S414 doesn't support adding an external flash.

Just above-left from the lens is the remote control receiver, with the self-timer lamp below that. There's no AF-assist lamp on the S414 (or any Minolta camera for that matter).

Here now is the back of the camera.

The S414 has a 1.8" LCD display, which has decent resolution, but always seems blurry to me. I noticed this on the S304 as well. Like with most LCDs, the one here is quite difficult to see outdoors. One really nice thing about this LCD is that it works great in low light. The camera boosts the sensitivity so you can actually see what you're looking at.

Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. The viewfinder is way too small for a camera of this size, in my opinion. Even some of the micro cameras have larger viewfinders. There is no diopter correction knob either.

The three buttons to the right of the LCD are for:

  • Menu
  • QuickView {record mode} / Delete photo {playback mode}
  • Display - toggles LCD on/off, plus info shown on it (including histogram)

Above those buttons is the four-way controller, which is used for adjusting settings and moving the zoom lens. I don't like the placement of the controller -- it's too far to the left -- thus making zooming more uncomfortable than it should be. It takes 2.5 seconds to zoom from wide-angle to telephoto.

The four-way controller can also be used for manually selecting a focus point. You can choose from center, top, bottom, left, and right.

Over on the far right, you can see the switch that opens the door covering the CF slot.

Here's the top of the S414. Don't mind the lens cap, it's holding the camera up.

On the left side, you can see the microphone.

Continuing to the right, you can see the LCD info display -- a rare sight these days. 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!

The button to the right of the info display controls the digital-subject-program feature. These are basically scene modes, and are only available in auto record mode (except for macro). The scene modes are:

  • Macro
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night Portrait
  • Text
  • Macro & Text

Below the info display are three more buttons. They are:

  • Flash setting (Auto, fill-flash, flash cancel, auto w/redeye reduction, fill-flash w/redeye reduction) {record mode} / Zoom & Scroll {playback mode}
  • Drive (Single-frame, self-timer/remote control, continuous shooting, bracketing) - more below
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)

Continuous shooting mode will let you take anywhere from 6-53 shots in a row, at a rate of up to 1.6 frames/sec. The number of shots depends on the image size/quality; the larger the image, the fewer shots in a row you can take.

Bracketing mode will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure compensation setting. You can choose the increments (0.3, 0.5, 1.0EV) in the setup menu.

To the right of those buttons is the mode wheel, which has the following choices:

  • Off
  • Auto Record
  • Multi-function (manual) Record
  • Playback
  • Movie Mode
  • Setup Mode
  • PC Connect - for transferring photos to your PC

The Auto Record mode is essentially point-and-shoot. 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.

The final item on the top of the S414 is the shutter release button.

The only thing to see on this side of the camera is the speaker.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the CompactFlash slot, as well as the I/O ports.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a Type I slot. That surprises me, given the size of this camera.

The I/O ports include A/V, USB, and DC-in (for optional AC adapter).

The door covering all of this is plastic and very flimsy. Also, the metal ring for the neck strap can get in the way when you're trying to close the door.

The included 16MB CF card is shown.

Last but not least, here is the bottom of the camera. Down here is the battery compartment (which holds four AAs) and the metal tripod mount. Strangely, the tripod mount is located all the way in the corner.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE S414

Record Mode

The S414 takes about 4.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting -- about average. Press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks focus in under a second. If you're trying to focus in low light or on a low contrast subject, it may take a little longer. The S414 did a decent job of focusing in low light, though it would've been a lot better with an AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag is noticeable, even at faster shutter speeds. At slower shutter speeds, it's very noticeable. The fake shutter sound doesn't help matters either, as it plays before the shutter is actually opened.


The S414 can display a histogram in record mode

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 under two seconds. As the photo is being written to the memory card, you have the option to delete the photo.

Taking a photo in 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 S414:

Quality Resolution Approx. File Size Images on 16MB card
TIFF 2272 x 1704 12 MB 1
1600 x 1200 5.7 MB 2
1280 x 960 3.7 MB 3
640 x 480 1.0 MB 13
Fine 2272 x 1704 2.0 MB 6
1600 x 1200 1.0 MB 12
1280 x 960 720 KB 17
640 x 480 320 KB 34
Standard 2272 x 1704 1.2 MB 11
1600 x 1200 650 KB 19
1280 x 960 460 KB 26
640 x 480 240 KB 42
Economy 2272 x 1704 750 KB 17
1600 x 1200 430 KB 27
1280 x 960 330 KB 33
640 x 480 190 KB 48

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 S414 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 F3.0 - F8.0), camera picks appropriate shutter speed
      • Full manual - You select both shutter speed and aperture. Shutter speed range of 4 - 1/1000 sec, with 15 sec bulb mode available. ISO is locked at 100.
    • Image size (2272 x 1704, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
    • Quality (TIFF, Fine, Standard, Economy)
    • White balance (Custom, auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent)
    • Focus mode (AF, MF) - more below
    • Camera sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400)
  • Custom Settings 1
    • Full-Time AF (on/off) - whether or not the camera is always focusing
    • Metering mode (Multi-segment, spot)
    • Exposure bracketing (1.0, 0.5, 0.3EV)
    • Digital zoom (on/off)
    • Instant playback (Off, 2, 10 sec)
  • Custom Settings 2
    • Color mode (Vivid color, natural color, black and white, sepia, solarization)
    • Sharpness (Hard, normal, soft)
    • Contrast (High, normal, low)
    • Filter (Warm, off, cool)
    • Voice memo (on/off) - turns on ability to attach 5 or 15 second sound clips to photos
    • Date imprinting (on/off)

Strangely enough, the S414 has fewer controls the than DiMAGE F300, which was introduced at the same time. There is no shutter priority mode, no center-weighted metering, and no control over flash strength.


Manual focus

Manual focus lets you use the four-way switch to focus the image. The focus distance is shown at the lower-right on the LCD screen. Unfortunately, the S414 does not enlarge the image so you can check the focus -- a handy feature.

The filter feature lets you adjust the color in an image, either in the "warm" or "cool" direction.

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)
  • Display mode (Standard, focus frame, histogram, grid, scale, image only) - what is shown on the LCD
  • File # memory (on/off) - camera maintains the file numbers
  • 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.

The S414 has a rather strange macro mode, which limits your flexibility (the DiMAGE F300 had it too). The lens is locked near the telephoto end, so you must get fairly far back from your subject. This does help to limit the effects of barrel distortion. The focal range is 16 - 60 cm.

With that out of the way, I can report that the S414 did a really nice job with the test shot. The colors are very saturated (especially red), and the subject is sharp.

Twin Peaks is open again, so we're back to the standard night shot. The S414's manual controls allowed me to take a pretty nice photo, with low noise and fairly good detail. Despite the apparently lack of a noise reduction feature (at least one you can turn on and off), the test shot displays very little noise for a 4 second exposure.

The S414 turned in a good performance in the redeye test. You can see the reflection of the flash, but there's no red to be seen. There wasn't any noise to speak of in this shot, either. Note that this crop was enlarged a bit so you can see the detail.

Our distortion test shows very little barrel distortion on the S414. Another thing that often pops up is vignetting (dark corners), and there's none of that either.

The DiMAGE S414's photo quality was very good, with nice color, and good sharpness. Images weren't too noisy, either, though I did see a few "jaggies" on straight lines. I also had some trouble with poor exposure on some shots -- more than I'm used to seeing -- but most of the time, the photos were acceptable. Purple fringing was not a problem.

On the DiMAGE S304, there were issues with the non-standard color space the camera used. I do not believe that this is still a problem with the S414, as it uses the sRGB color space (at least according to the EXIF data).

Have a look at the photo gallery to decide for yourself if the S414's quality is right for you!

Movie Mode

The DiMAGE S414 has a pretty mediocre movie mode. You can record up to 60 seconds of video, with sound, at a rather small resolution of 284 x 211. The included 16MB CF card can only hold about 51 seconds of video.

You cannot use the optical zoom during filming, which is usually the case with digicams that record sound with movies. YOu cannot use the digital zoom, either.

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

I recorded a sample movie at Yosemite, but it was taken with the camera in the portrait position, so you'll have to crane your head to see it. If you don't want to do that, check out the less exciting movie below:


Click to play movie (1.6MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

While it's not fancy, the DiMAGE S414'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 CompactFlash card to another. You can copy up to 23MB of data.

The "zoom and scroll" feature is here, via the magnification button. You can zoom in as much as 3.5X 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 up on the four-way controller. You can see the information it will give you above.

The camera moves through the images on the LCD very quickly. The next image shows up almost instantly

How Does it Compare?

If the Minolta DiMAGE S414 cost as much as the Canon PowerShot G3, I'd quickly dismiss it. However, it costs $300 less, and even though it's not nearly as nice of a camera as the G3, it's still an exceptional value for the price. The S414 has a (rather slow) 4X optical zoom lens, very good picture quality, quite a few manual controls, and low redeye. It's far from perfect though. It's missing an AF illuminator, shutter priority mode, and diopter correction. The shutter lag time was longer than average, and the TIFF recording time was agonizing. I'm not a huge fan of the (bulky) body design either, for reasons listed below. If you want a lot of pixels and a good-sized zoom for under $400, the S414 is worth a look. But if you can afford something like the PowerShot G3, I'd pass on the S414.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, sharp images
  • Lots of manual controls
  • LCD info display
  • Great value
  • Histogram in record, playback modes
  • No purple fringing, low noise, little redeye
  • Nice playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF illuminator
  • Too much shutter lag
  • Flimsy door covering Type I CompactFlash slot (a camera this large should have Type II!)
  • Poorly placed four-way controller and tripod mount
  • Tiny optical viewfinder, no diopter correction
  • Saving a TIFF file locks up the camera for 35 seconds
  • Below average movie mode
  • Apparently doesn't support conversion lenses
  • Small 16MB memory card and non-rechargeable batteries included

Some competitive 4 and 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot G3 and S45, Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom (I suppose), Nikon Coolpix 4500, Olympus C-4000Z and C-5050Z, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1. Do note that I've left out some of the "big zoom" models from this list.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE S414 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?

Check out the review of this camera over at Steve's Digicams.

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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