DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE Xt
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 3, 2003
Last Updated: October 15, 2003

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The DiMAGE Xt ($499) is the latest addition to Minolta's unique and popular DiMAGE X series. The DiMAGE Xt is very similar to its predecessor, the DiMAGE Xi (see our review), with its most notable feature being its new "vertically-oriented" design.

In case you don't know the rest of the story, the DiMAGE Xt has a 3.2 Megapixel CCD, and innovative 3X optical zoom lens, which actually runs down the body, instead of towards the back (if that makes any sense).

If you're ready to learn more about this camera, and if its right for you, read one. First, a little disclaimer: since this camera is so similar to the DiMAGE Xi, I'll be reusing a lot of that text here.

What's in the Box?

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

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

The DiMAGE Xt is bundled with a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card. 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 Xt works with both SD and MultiMedia (MMC) cards.

Like most ultra-small cameras, the Xt uses a small, proprietary battery. Long time readers of this site know that I'm not a huge fan of these expensive batteries ($40 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. Minolta estimates that you can take about 200 photos, or spend 120 minutes in playback mode, on a single charge -- an improvement over earlier models.


Battery charging method #1

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.


Battery charging method #2

Another way to charge the battery is just to pop the whole camera in the charger. Do note that it takes 120 minutes to charge the battery this way. I'm not sure why Minolta offered two ways to do the same thing, and had one way be slower than the other.

The Xt has as built-in lens cover, so there is no need to worry about lens caps. As you can see, it's a very small camera.

The accessory line-up has expanded a bit since the DiMAGE X. You can now buy the MC-DG200 Marine Case ($200), which lets you take your camera up to 30 m underwater. Other options include a regular camera case ($14), AC adapter ($50), and a camera case ($10).

Included with the camera is version 2.1.3 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.

The DiMAGE's manual is pretty good as well, with long explanations and not a lot of fine print. Much better than the average camera manual.

Look and Feel

The most obvious difference between the DiMAGE Xt and its predecessor, the Xi, is the look and feel. While the Xi (and original DiMAGE X) was square, the Xt is more rectangular, as you can see above.

The engineering behind the DiMAGE X series 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 Xt has an all-metal body, which, as you might imagine, 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 3.5 x 2.6 x 0.8 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs just 120 grams empty (slightly less than the DiMAGE Xi).

Let's begin our tour of this camera now.

The DiMAGE Xt 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 Xt is your finger. It's very easy to put your finger near that lens and thus into the picture.

Moving to the left of the lens, you can see the optical viewfinder, self-time lamp, and the flash. The Xt's flash has a working range of 0.15 - 3.2 m at wide-angle and 0.15 - 2.5 m at telephoto. These numbers are a slight improvement over the DiMAGE Xi.

Down toward the bottom is the Xt's microphone.

Like with the DiMAGE X and Xi, there is no autofocus-assist lamp. This greatly aids in low light focusing, and it's a shame Minolta continues to ignore this valuable feature.

Here's the back of the DiMAGE Xt. The camera has an average-sized, high resolution 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 (forgivable on such a small camera).

Above the LCD is the mode dial. There are just four options on it: record, playback, movie/audio recording, and setup. I'm not covering the audio recording feature in this review, so here's just a quick summary: you can record up to 3 hours of continuous audio on the Xt, though the 16MB SD card can only hold about 30 minutes.

To the right of the mode dial is the four-way switch, which is also used for adjusting exposure compensation (±2EV, 1/3EV increments) and operating the zoom lens. The lens moves from wide-angle to telephoto in just two seconds, though there's a bit of a delay between the time you press the button and the moment the lens actually moves. Instead of adjusting exposure compensation, you can choose other functions for the left/right buttons to control in the record menu.

Below the LCD there are four buttons. They are for:

  • Menu
  • QuickView / Delete Photo - QuickView is a way to review the last shot taken
  • Display - Toggles LCD on/off
  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill-flash, flash cancel, night portrait)

Just to the right of those buttons is the speaker.

The only things to see up here are the power and shutter release buttons.

If you read the DiMAGE Xi review, you'll notice that Minolta has moved the microphone away from the top of the camera (where your finger could inadvertently cover it). They've also changed the on/off switch a bit, as before it felt too much like the shutter release button.

Nothing at all to see here.

Here's the other side of the camera you'll find the I/O ports, SD/MMC memory card slot, and battery compartment. The USB port (top) is normally covered with a plastic slider. The DC-in port (for optional AC adapter) can be seen at the bottom.

A sturdy mirrored door covers the memory card and battery compartments -- quite an improvement over the cheapo door on the older models.

Finally, here is the bottom of the DiMAGE Xt. You can see the contacts for the battery charger, as well as the plastic tripod mount. The tripod mount is neither centered nor inline with the lens.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE Xt

Record Mode

Like its predecessor, the DiMAGE Xt has an incredibly fast startup time of about 1.5 seconds. Autofocus speeds are just okay -- about half a second in good light (on subjects that are easy to focus) and a second or so if the AF has to "hunt" a bit. Despite not having an AF-assist lamp, the Xt did a pretty good job focusing in dim light. Shutter lag is short, but still noticeable, especially when the camera is using a slower shutter speed.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good. If you turn off the instant playback feature, you can take another shot in under 2 seconds. It'll be more like 3.5 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 Xt:

Quality Resolution File Size Images on included 16MB card
TIFF 2048 x 1536 9.1 MB 1
1600 x 1200 5.5 MB 2
1280 x 960 3.6 MB 3
640 x 480 950 KB 14
Fine 2048 x 1536 1.6 MB 9
1600 x 1200 990 KB 14
1280 x 960 660 KB 22
640 x 480 210 KB 69
Standard 2048 x 1536 820 KB 17
1600 x 1200 520 KB 27
1280 x 960 360 KB 39
640 x 480 130 KB 100
Economy 2048 x 1536 440 KB 32
1600 x 1200 290 KB 47
1280 x 960 210 KB 69
640 x 480 90 KB 150

As you can see, the DiMAGE Xt has a TIFF mode, which is rare on a point-and-shoot camera. Note that the camera will be locked up for 20 seconds while the TIFF is recorded (which isn't that bad, compared to some cameras).

The Xt saves images with a name of PICT####.JPG (or .TIF), where #### = 0001-9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase/replace memory cards.

The DiMAGE Xt has the same simple and easy to navigate menu system as the Xi. The menu items include:

  • Basic Settings
    • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous shooting, self-timer)
    • Image size (see chart)
    • Quality (see chart)
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent)
    • <> Key function (Exp. compensation, white balance, drive, sensitivity, color mode) - define what the left/right buttons on the four-way controller do.
  • Custom Settings 1
    • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
    • Metering mode (Multi-segment, spot)
    • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - reduces noise in photos with 1 sec or slower shutter speed
    • Auto reset (on/off) - whether camera saves settings when powered off
  • Custom Settings 2
    • Color mode (Color, black & white, sepia)
    • Voice memo (on/off) - add a 15 second sound clip to each photo
    • Date imprint (on/off) - prints the date/time on your photos
    • Digital zoom (on/off)
    • Instant playback (on/off)

Continuous shooting mode will let you take images consecutively at a maximum rate of 1.3 frames/second. You can take 5-20 shots in a row at 2048 x 1536, depending on the quality setting. You cannot shoot in TIFF mode, however.

The DiMAGE Xt also has a setup menu, which is accessed via the mode dial. The interesting setup options include:

  • LCD brightness
  • File number memory (on/off)
  • Folder name (Standard, date form)
  • Language (Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish)
  • Audio signals / Shutter FX - mess around with beeps and phony shutter sounds; You can even record your own sounds.
  • Power off (1, 3, 5, 10, 30 mins)
  • Video output (NTSC, PAL)
  • Transfer mode (Data storage, remote camera) - see below

The "remote camera" option is new to the DiMAGE Xt. It allows people with Windows-based PCs to use the camera for videoconferencing, using software like Microsoft NetMeeting. Being a Mac guy, I did not try it.

Let's move on to photo quality now!

The DiMAGE Xt has an automatic macro mode -- you don't turn it on like with most cameras. You can get as close to your subject as 15 cm, regardless of the focal length (a rare feature). The shot above came out pretty well, though the colors aren't terribly saturated.

The night test shot was mediocre. Being a point-and-shoot camera, you're at the mercy of the camera's brain when it comes to choosing a shutter speed. While the Xt chose the longest shutter speed -- 4 seconds -- it's still not long enough to nicely capture the skyline and bridge. Noise levels were very low, though.

While not as bad as other small cameras, there is definitely some redeye on the DiMAGE Xt. Having the flash close to the lens is usually the cause. The solution is to fix it in software. Note that I enlarged the crop slightly so you can see the detail.

The distortion test shows several things For one, it shows moderate barrel distortion (look at how the lines curve as you get further from the center). Another thing that may be hard to see is vignetting, or darkened corners. You can see a real life example of this here. Finally, there's some blurriness in the corners. I guess all three of these issues are tradeoffs for that unique lens design.

Image quality on the DiMAGE Xt is much the same as on the Xi. Color and exposure are nice, but there's still this softness to them, reminiscent of a video capture. It's certainly not bad, but not as good as a camera with a "regular" lens. For people who are interested in website photos and small prints, the image quality is fine. Perfectionists and fans of larger prints may want to look elsewhere.

Don't just take my word for it, though -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself!

Movie Mode

The DiMAGE Xt has a better movie mode (known as XR -- Extended Recording Mode) than the other two DiMAGE X models. You can now record movies until the memory card is full -- do note that the included 16MB card only holds 41 seconds. There are two resolutions to choose from: 320 x 240 and 160 x 120. Sound is recorded as well.

As with most cameras that record sound with movies, the optical zoom is disabled during filming. You can, however, use the digital zoom.

Here is a sample movie for your enjoyment. You may want to turn the volume down before you press play.


Click to play movie (4.5MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DiMAGE Xt's playback mode is pretty standard. Basic options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 6X into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature has been nicely improved since the DiMAGE Xi.

Another helpful feature for some is the E-mail Copy option. This will create a 640 x 480 or 160 x 120 version of a photo, perfect for sharing.

One thing I appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.

Unfortunately, the Xt doesn't give you any information about exposure settings in playback mode. The camera takes about 1.5 seconds to move between photos.

How Does it Compare?

The Minolta DiMAGE Xt is a small update to their DiMAGE Xi, adding just a few features here and there, along with an even more unique design. In terms of photo quality, the Xt isn't going to win any awards, with above average barrel distortion, vignetting, some fuzziness in corners, and a "video capture" look -- but then again, most cameras don't have the Xt's one-of-a-kind lens design. Everyday shooters and those people who do smaller prints won't mind, but as I said earlier, enthusiasts may want to find a more traditional camera if photo quality is your number one priority. The DiMAGE Xt is a point-and-shoot camera, with no manual controls at all. The movie mode has been improved, the microphone moved away from your fingers, and the Xt can now be used for videoconferencing (at least on Windows). Like its predecessors, the Xt's startup and shot-to-shot speeds are excellent. But the DiMAGE Xt's biggest selling point is undoubtedly its ultra-thin body, and if that's what you're after, this camera is worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Generally good photo quality with accurate color, no purple fringing
  • Even smaller body, with same unique 3X zoom lens
  • Fast startup, shot-to-shot speeds
  • Improved movie mode: record until card is full, with sound
  • Much more sturdy door over memory card/battery compartment
  • Optional underwater case
  • TIFF mode
  • Can be used for videoconferencing (Windows only)

What I didn't care for:

  • Some vignetting, fuzzy corners in images; images often have "video capture look"
  • Higher than average barrel distortion
  • Some redeye
  • No manual controls -- not even white balance
  • No AF illuminator
  • Small optical viewfinder

Other ultra-small 3 Megapixel cameras include the Canon PowerShot A70 and S230, Casio EX-Z3 and QV-R3, Fuji FinePix A303 and F410, Kyocera Finecam S3L, Nikon Coolpix 3100 and 3500, Olympus Stylus 300, Panasonic DMC-LC33, Pentax Optio 330GS/S, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72 and DSC-P8, 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 Xt 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 Xt 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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