DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE Xi
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 17, 2002
Last Updated: January 30, 2003

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One of the most innovative cameras of 2002 was the Minolta DiMAGE X (see our review). Packing a 3X optical zoom in a small, ultra-thin camera is nothing short of an engineering marvel. The DiMAGE X was a good 2 Megapixel camera, but fell short in several areas, including photo quality.

At the end of 2002, Minolta began shipping the DiMAGE Xi ($449), which is very similar to the original "X", but with a 3.2 Megapixel CCD, and a few other enhancements.

How does the perform versus the original DiMAGE X, as well as the competition? Find out in our review! Oh, and I'll be reusing a good deal of text from my DiMAGE X review, to save some time.

What's in the Box?

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

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel DiMAGE Xi camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • NP-200 Li-ion battery (rechargeable) w/charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • 95 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)
  • DiMAGE Viewer Utility + DiMAGE Software CDs

The DiMAGE Xi's 16MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card is twice as large as the one included with the original DiMAGE X. It'll be a good card to start with, but you'll probably want to buy a larger one soon after your camera purchase. The Xi works with both SD and MultiMedia (MMC) cards.

Like most ultra-small cameras, the Xi uses a small, proprietary battery. Long time readers of this site know that I'm not a huge fan of these expensive batteries ($30 a pop), but they are really unavoidable on cameras like this. This particular lithium-ion battery, known as the NP-200, has 2.8 Watt/hours of power. That's not a lot of juice, so don't expect it to last for too long per charge. Minolta estimates that you can take about 170 photos, or spend 110 minutes in playback mode, on a single charge.

Minolta includes an external battery charger with the camera. Just pop in the battery, plug the whole thing into the wall, and charge away. It takes 80 minutes to recharge the NP-200.

The Xi has as built-in lens cover, so there is no need to worry about lens caps.

The accessory line-up has expanded a bit since the DiMAGE X. You can now buy the MC-DG110 Marine Case ($250), which lets you take your camera up to 30 m underwater. Other options include a regular camera case ($14), AC adapter ($50), and metal chain neck strap ($20).

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.

The DiMAGE's manual is pretty good as well, with long explanations and not a lot of fine print. There's even a little section on Minolta's history.

Look and Feel

As I mentioned, the engineering behind the DiMAGE X and Xi is very impressive. Minolta has managed put a 3X optical zoom lens into a camera less than an inch thick. What they've done is put a prism at the back of the lens, and then put all the moving parts and additional optics down the camera body. The CCD sensor is actually on the bottom of the camera. This page explains it visually better than I can describe it in words.

The Xi has an all-metal body, which feels very solid. Do watch out though, as metal cameras can scratch easily. It fits into your pocket better than almost any camera out there. The official dimensions are 3.3 x 2.8 x 0.8 inches (WxHxD) and it weighs just 130 grams empty.

The DiMAGE Xi has the same F2.8, 3X optical zoom as its predecessor. The focal range of the lens is 5.7 - 17.1 mm which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. Obviously, there are no lens accessories for this camera available.

One thing you really have to watch out for with the DiMAGE Xi is your finger. It's very easy to put your finger near that lens and thus into the picture!

Moving to the left, you can see the optical viewfinder, followed by the flash. The X's flash has a working range of 0.25 - 3.2 m at wide-angle and 0.25 - 2.5 m at telephoto. These numbers are an improvement over the DiMAGE X.

Like the DiMAGE X, there is no autofocus-assist lamp. This feature greatly aids in low light focusing, and it's a shame Minolta didn't put one on the Xi.

Here's the back of the DiMAGE Xi. The camera has an average-sized (for a small camera) 1.5" LCD display. The LCD is bright and fluid, and the brightness is adjustable via the setup menu.

The optical viewfinder, found at the upper-left, is very small, and lacks a diopter correction feature.

The switch above the LCD toggles the camera between playback and record/movie mode.

The four buttons below the LCD are for:

  • Display - toggles LCD on/off
  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill-flash, flash cancel, night portrait) / Delete photo
  • Menu
  • Enter - for menus

Up at the top-right of the photo, you can see the four-way switch, which controls the menus, exposure compensation, and the zoom. The exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments. The lens moves slowly but smoothly, though there's no indication on the LCD of the current zoom setting. It takes about two seconds to go from wide-angle to telephoto.

Finally, at the lower-right, you can see the speaker.

Looking at the top of the DiMAGE Xi, you can really get a feel for just how thin this camera is. Over on the left is the microphone (rather poorly placed -- make sure you don't cover it with your fingers while filming movies!). At the center, you'll find the on/off button. Just to the right of that is the shutter release button.

Here's another illustration of the thinness of this camera. At the bottom, under the rubber cover, you'll find find a USB and A/V port (it's a single port for both).

Here's the other side of the camera, with 16MB SD card and battery shown. The plastic door that covers these slots seems rather flimsy, especially compared with the rest of the body.

You can also see the port for the optional AC adapter, up at the top.

Here's the bottom of the Xi, complete with plastic tripod mount. It is neither in the middle of the camera, nor inline with the lens.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE Xi

Record Mode

The DiMAGE Xi starts up in just 1.5 seconds -- one of the fastest times I've seen. In good lighting, autofocus speeds were good -- less than one second. In lower light, when the AF system has to hunt, it will be slower. Despite having no AF-assist lamp, the Xi did a respectable job at focusing indoors and in low light.

Like with many cameras, shutter lag depends on the shutter speed being used. If you're in good lighting, or using the flash, the lag is minimal. In lower light situations, it will be noticeable, so you need a steady hand, or better yet, a tripod, to keep things from becoming blurry.

Shot-to-shot speed is good. If you turn off the instant playback feature, you can take another shot in about 1.5 seconds. It'll be more like three seconds if instant playback is on, but you can half-press the shutter release to go back to shooting immediately.

Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the DiMAGE Xi:

Quality Resolution File Size Images on included 16MB card
Super Fine
(TIFF)
2048 x 1536 9.2 MB 1
1600 x 1200 5.5 MB 2
1280 x 960 3.5 MB 3
640 x 480 910 KB 15
Fine 2048 x 1536 1.6 MB 9
1600 x 1200 950 KB 15
1280 x 960 610 KB 23
640 x 480 170 KB 82
Standard 2048 x 1536 800 KB 18
1600 x 1200 480 KB 29
1280 x 960 320 KB 45
640 x 480 90 KB 150
Economy 2048 x 1536 400 KB 36
1600 x 1200 250 KB 56
1280 x 960 170 KB 45
640 x 480 50 KB 226

As you can see, the DiMAGE Xi has a TIFF mode. You probably don't need to use this, as the differences between a TIFF and Fine quality JPEG are very hard to notice.

The Xi saves images with a name of PICT####.JPG (or .TIF), where #### = 0001-9999. By turning on the File # Memory (in the Setup 2 menu, which is only found in playback mode), the camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase/replace memory cards.

The Xi's menus has few new items compared to the original DiMAGE X. I'll highlight new or updated items in bold. The menu choices are:

  • Basic Settings
    • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous shooting, self-timer, movie, audio recording)
    • Image size (see chart)
    • Quality (see chart)
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent)
    • Auto reset (on/off) - whether camera saves settings when powered off
  • Custom Settings
    • Digital zoom (2X, 4X, off)
    • Instant playback (on/off)
    • Voice menu (on/off)
    • Sensitivity (Auto, ISO 50, 100, 200, 400)
    • Date imprint (on/off) - prints the date on your photos

The biggest new feature is ISO sensitivity that you can set. Before, the camera chose the ISO setting automatically, which isn't always a good thing. Kudos to Minolta for adding this.

The audio recording feature has been improved. You can now record continuously for up to 30 minutes.

Continuous shooting mode will let you take images consecutively at a maximum rate of 1.6 frames/second. You can take 6-23 shots in a row at 2048 x 1536, depending on the quality setting. You cannot choose TIFF mode, though.

There's also a basic setup menu, where you can adjust LCD brightness, auto power off settings, beep noises, and set the date/time.

Let's move on to photo quality now!

The DiMAGE Xi doesn't have a true macro mode -- you don't turn it on or off. But you can still get as close as 25 cm to your subject in the standard shooting modes. The Xi produced a good quality macro shot, with accurate colors. The image is just a tiny bit soft, but certainly gets thumbs up from me.

The night test shot turned out pretty well, but not great. The colors are a little too brown with the auto white balance (I didn't try other settings). You can't set the shutter speed, so you're at the mercy of the camera's brain to pick a good one. The slowest shutter speed available is 2 seconds.

Noise and purple fringing (chromatic aberration) levels were low in this shot, which is good.

The redeye test turned out nicely, which surprises me, considering the size of this camera. The DiMAGE X performed just as well. Note that this shot was slightly enlarged and brightened so you can see the details.

The shot above is a totally new test I'm trying out. This board is shot at the wide-angle setting under natural light from about 2 feet away (give or take). The image is then auto-leveled in Photoshop. The purpose of this test is to a) illustrate distortion (barrel and edge) and b) show any vignetting that may occur. By the way, the red dot is actually on the paper, it was not added in Photoshop.

What can you gather about the DiMAGE Xi from this test? Well, for one, it definitely has vignetting, which is when the corners of an image are darkened. You can see some of this in the photo gallery as well. You can also see the barrel distortion that is typical of a camera at its widest setting.

This test is a work-in-progress, so don't take it as gospel. If you have suggestions about how this test could be improved, let me know. I'm also trying to get a color comparison test going, but I need more consistent lighting first.

Image quality on the DiMAGE Xi is good, overall. There is some vignetting, as I just discussed. Sometimes, the edges do look a little fuzzy. There's also the same "video capture" look that the original DiMAGE X had. Those are the tradeoffs that you get with this ultra-compact lens. But for most folks, they are trade-offs that you can live with.

The images produced by the Xi have vibrant, accurate colors, with very little noise. Purple fringing was rarely a problem, and exposures were good overall. Don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the photo gallery and judge the photo quality for yourself!

Movie Mode

The DiMAGE Xi can record movie clips at 320 x 240 for up to 35 seconds. Movies are saved in Quicktime format.

Like its predecessor, sound is recorded with the movie. Be sure not to cover the microphone with your left finger. The zoom lens is disabled during filming, but you can use the digital zoom if you want.

Here is a sample movie for your enjoyment:


Click to play movie (3.9MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DiMAGE Xi's playback mode is fairly basic. There's no slide show feature, but there is image protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode.

The only real advanced features are audio captions and zoom and scroll. Audio caption mode lets you add a 15 second sound clip to each image. Zoom and scroll mode lets you zoom in 4X into your image and scroll around. The scrolling is rather sluggish -- not nearly as nice as I've seen elsewhere (e.g. Canon PowerShot cameras).

Information shown with each image is extremely basic: just date/time, filename, and the resolution and quality settings. No exposure info or histograms are available, though most point-and-shoot cameras don't show this.

How Does it Compare?

Although it's not quite as good in terms of photo quality and features as larger 3 Megapixel cameras, the Minolta DiMAGE Xi is still a very good camera considering just how small it is. The engineering that went into designing this camera is amazing -- the Xi is truly a take-anywhere camera. Photo quality is good, though there is some trouble with vignetting at times, and photos still have a bit of a "video capture" look to them. The features are fairly limited as well -- this is a point-and-shoot camera. Performance, especially startup times, were very good. There's some shutter lag when the lighting isn't great, but I've found that to be fairly common with digital cameras. And Mac users take note -- the included software doesn't work with the latest versions of Mac OS X. Even with its shortcomings, the DiMAGE Xi is still worth a look, if you're in the market for an ultra-small camera.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality with accurate color, no purple fringing
  • Incredibly small body with a 3X zoom lens
  • Fast startup, shot-to-shot speeds
  • Sound in movie mode
  • Optional underwater case
  • TIFF mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Some vignetting in images; images often have "video capture look"
  • No AF illuminator
  • Small optical viewfinder
  • Flimsy door covering SD/MMC and battery compartment
  • Poorly placed microphone

Other ultra-small 3 Megapixel cameras include the Canon PowerShot S230 and S30, Casio EX-Z3 and QV-R3, Fuji FinePix A303 and F401, Konica KD-310Z, Kyocera Finecam S3x/S3L, Nikon Coolpix 3500, Olympus Stylus 300, Pentax Optio 330RS/GS/S, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P7 and DSC-P71, and the Toshiba PDR-3310. A long list, yes, but there are lots of cameras to consider in this class!

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE Xi and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out the review of the DiMAGE Xi over at Steves 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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