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DCRP Review: Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 12, 2004
Last Updated: March 24, 2008

The DiMAGE Z3 ($549) is the first ultra zoom camera Konica Minolta to use their exclusive Anti-shake image stabilization system (unless you consider the A-series ultra zooms, which I do not). The Z3 also features a 12X optical zoom lens, which ties the Panasonic FZ15/20 for the most zoom of any digital camera. Other features include manual controls, a hot shoe, support for conversions lenses, a VGA movie mode, and more.

The ultra zoom camera market is quite crowded these days. How does the Z3 compare? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE Z3 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

You'll find a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card in the box with the camera, which won't hold too many 4 Megapixel photos at the highest quality setting. I highly recommend buying a larger card right away, with 256MB being a good starter size. The Z3 can use SD or MMC (MultiMediaCard) formats, though you'll want to use the former due to its superior capacity and performance. The camera does take advantage of high speed SD cards (you'll really notice the difference when the camera saves a sequence of shots to the card) and one is recommended for the high quality movie mode.

You'll also want to buy some rechargeable batteries and a fast charger, since Minolta includes four alkaline batteries with the camera, which will quickly find their way into your trash can (or should I say, recycling bin). I recommend buying two sets of NiMH batteries (2100 mAh or greater), which are better for both the environment and your pocketbook. Using the new CIPA battery life standard, Minolta says you can get 170 shots using alkaline batteries or 320 with 2300 mAh rechargeable. The battery life numbers for two comparable cameras (the Panasonic FZ3 and FZ15) are 260 and 240 shots, respectively. I don't have CIPA battery life numbers for the other stabilized ultra zoom, the Canon PowerShot S1.

Two nice things about cameras that use AA batteries is that 1) a set of NiMH batteries cost much less than a lithium-ion battery and 2) if you're ever in a jam you can use alkalines to get you through the day.

Minolta includes a lens cap and retaining strap with the DiMAGE Z3.

There are quite a few accessories available for the Z3, including:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Wide-angle lens ZCW-300 $108 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.75X to 26.3 mm; includes adapter
Conversion lens adapter ZCA-300 $12 For attaching conversion lenses and 52 mm filters
 External flash 2500
3600HS
5600HS

$109
$159
$299

Get much better flash photos and less redeye
AC adapter AC-1L $55 Power the camera without using your batteries
Camera case CS-DG1000
CS-W20
$12
$20
Protect your investment

Okay, so there's no underwater case... but what's up there is good enough for most people!

Included with the camera is version 2.3.6 of Minolta's DiMAGE Viewer software for Mac (including OS X) and Windows. It's certainly not a substitute for something like Adobe Photoshop, but it does basic editing fairly well. A handy "variations" tool shows you how different adjustments will effect your picture.

Minolta also includes Arcsoft VideoImpression 2 for Windows, which you can use to edit those nice video clips that you can take with the Z3. Mac users are left out in the cold in this department.

Konica Minolta's manuals continue to be better than average, with lengthy explanations and not too much fine print. I still like the little tidbits about where the phony shutter sound comes from, as well as the history of the company.

Look and Feel

The DiMAGE Z3 is a midsized, black-colored camera made mostly of high-grade plastic. It feels very solid and well-constructed. There's a huge grip for your right hand and the lens barrel leaves plenty of room for your left. The important controls are all easy to reach and are well-designed. One thing I noticed about the camera is that it shows scratches very easily. Even my fingernails could scratch the plastic, but thankfully it rubs right off.


Note found in camera manual

The camera manual talks a lot about heat (and even burns!) -- and I wouldn't have noticed had it not been pointed out to me by a reader. Apparently the Z3 can overheat which can result in an error message or a disabling of the Anti-shake system. I never saw this error personally, but I have read reports from people who have. Probably not a big deal for most people, but it's certainly worth mentioning.

Now, let's take a look at the dimensions of the Z3 and how they compare with the other ultra zoom models:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S1 IS 4.4 x 3.1 x 2.6 in. 35.5 cu. in. 370 g
Fuji FinePix S5100 4.4 x 3.2 x 3.1 in. 43.6 cu in. 337 g
Kodak EasyShare DX7590 3.9 x 3.2 x 3.2 in. 39.9 cu in. 350 g
HP Photosmart 945 4.8 x 3.4 x 3.4 in. 55.5 cu in. 389 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 4.3 x 3.1 x 3.3 in. 44.0 cu in. 335 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z10 4.3 x 3.2 x 3.7 in. 50.9 cu in. 300 g
Kyocera Finecam M410R 4.2 x 2.9 x 3.4 in. 41.4 cu in. 309 g
Nikon Coolpix 4800 4.2 x 2.6 x 2.1 in. 22.9 cu in. 255 g
Olympus C-765 Ultra Zoom 4.1 x 2.4 x 2.7 in. 26.6 cu in. 280 g
Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom 300 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 4.3 x 2.7 x 3.3 in. 38.3 cu in. 290 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ15 5.0 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 71.4 cu in. 520 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20

As you can see, the Z3 fits right in the middle of the pack!

Enough numbers -- let's start our tour of this camera now!

The Z3 has an F2.8-4.5, 12X optical zoom lens, which as much zoom power as you can buy without a conversion lens. I should point out that Panasonic's FZ-series of cameras also have 12X zooms, except the maximum aperture remains at F2.8 throughout the zoom range -- which is great for action and low light photography. The focal length of the lens is 5.3 - 69.9 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 420 mm. You can add a wide-angle conversion lens as well as filters if you'd like.

Konica Minolta uses a different image stabilization system than other manufacturers. Instead of shifting an element in the lens to counteract "camera shake", the Z3 actually moves the CCD itself. I don't know if one system is better than the other, but image stabilization is a great feature no matter how it works. Whether it's a sharper photo indoors or at full telephoto outdoors, the Anti-shake system gives you sharper photos at slower shutter speeds than non-stabilized cameras.

I've got two examples to demonstrate how well the system works. First, these photos:

Both photos were taken at 1/15 second, which is what I normally consider "tripod territory". The shot on the left was without Anti-shake, while the shot on the right was with it. I think the difference in sharpness is pretty obvious.

I've also compiled a short movie showing the difference Anti-shake makes. Remember, it doesn't work miracles -- but it sure helps.

Way above the lens is the Z3's pop-up flash. The flash has a working range of 0.2 - 4.0 m at wide-angle and 1.2 - 2.5 m at telephoto, which is not quite as strong as on the FZ15 (the closest competitor, in my opinion). If you want more zoom power or just less redeye you can attach an external flash via the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.

The only other item worth mentioning on the front of the camera is the self-timer lamp, which is to the left of the lens. There's no AF-assist lamp or focus sensor on the camera, which is impressive considering Minolta's claim of "world's fastest focusing times".

The back of the camera looks a lot like the other DiMAGE Z-series models.

The Z3 has a small (1.5 inch) but beautiful LCD display. Resolution isn't terribly high, with just 78,000 pixels. Despite that, everything seemed plenty sharp to me. Motion is fluid, as well. For the sake of comparison, the Panasonic FZ3 has a 1.5" LCD, the FZ15/20 have 2-inch screens, while the Canon S1 has a rotating 1.5" model.

I find it fascinating that on Minolta's high-end ultra zoom that they're using an electronic viewfinder instead of the Switch Finder (that I've often been critical of) used on their other models. The EVF is a tiny LCD that you use as if it was an optical viewfinder. Unfortunately EVFs don't come close to a true optical viewfinder. You can see everything that's normally shown on the LCD, though. The EVF has a resolution of 118,000 pixels and shows 100% of the frame (unlike an optical viewfinder). A diopter correction knob will focus the image on the screen.

Both the EVF and LCD "gain up" automatically in low light situations, so you can see what you're looking at.

Below the LCD is a switch which moves the camera between playback, record (LCD), and record (EVF) mode. The power button is in the middle of all that.

To the right of the LCD is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, manual controls, and adjusting exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments). By holding down the center button you can manually select one of five focus points.

The three buttons below that are Menu, QuickView/delete photo, and info (i+). Pressing QuickView sends you to playback mode, where you can review photos. The i+ button toggles what is shown on the screen -- it's basically the same as the display button on other cameras.

The final item to talk about is the zoom controller, located at the top-right of the photo. It takes just 1.5 seconds to move the lens through the whole 12X zoom range. You can make precise adjustments to the focal length by quickly pressing the controller.

Up on top of the Z3 is the hot shoe (only the Panasonic FZ15/20 have this; the FZ3 does not). Here you can attach a Konica Minolta external flash -- third-party flashes are not supported. A plastic cover protects the hot shoe when not in use.

At the lower-left of the photo is the mode dial, which has the following options:

Option Function
Automatic mode Point-and-shoot mode, many menu options are locked
Movie mode More on this later
Program mode Still automatic but with full menu access
Aperture Priority mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. Choose from a range of F2.8 - F8
Shutter Priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 15 sec - 1/1000 sec.
Full Manual mode You pick the aperture and shutter speed. See above for values. A bulb mode is also available for exposures as long as 30 seconds.
Night scene Scene modes. Pick the situation and the camera uses the right settings.
Sunset
Landscape
Action
Portrait

I should add that there's a feature called Automatic Subject Program Mode which is only used in Automatic mode. This chooses between normal auto shooting and one of four scene modes, depending on the subject. If you want to choose the scene yourself, you can do so on the mode dial.

Above the mode dial are three buttons, which includes the shutter release. The two buttons just above the mode dial adjust:

The flash button's function can be customized in the record menu to change other camera settings, if you wish.

Between the macro/flash buttons and the shutter release are both the microphone and speaker. You need to watch where you place your fingers while recording sound on the Z3!

On this side of the camera, under a rubber cover, are the Z3's I/O ports. These include USB + video out (one port for both) as well as the DC-in port (for optional AC adapter).

Nothing to see here.

We conclude our tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the memory card slot and battery compartment. I'm not thrilled with the placement of the memory card slot and especially the fact that the cover is so easy to open (and potentially bust off). Also, you probably won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod. The cover over the battery is better constructed and doesn't open quite so easily.

The included 16MB SD card is shown at right.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE Z3

Record Mode

It takes about 3.1 seconds for the Z3 to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.


The Z3 features a live histogram in record mode

Konica Minolta likes to tout the autofocus speeds on the Z3 and the camera lives up to the hype. Under the most favorable conditions the AF lag was less than 0.2 seconds -- twice as snappy as most cameras. Even if it has to "hunt" a bit, it's still fast. Unfortunately, the Z3 doesn't fare as well in low light. I found its low light AF performance to be below average, due in part to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag wasn't a problem at fast shutter speeds and was barely noticeable when you start approaching "tripod speeds".

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming instant playback is turned off.

To delete a photo after it is taken, you must first enter QuickView mode and then delete it.

Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the DiMAGE Z3:

Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on
16MB card (included)
2272 x 1704 Fine 2.1 MB 6
Standard 1.0 MB 14
Economy 570 KB 27
1600 x 1200 Fine 1.0 MB 14
Standard 660 KB 23
Economy 390 KB 41
1280 x 960 Fine 680 KB 23
Standard 420 KB 38
Economy 300 KB 53
640 x 480 Fine 320 KB 50
Standard 240 KB 67
Economy 160 KB 100

See why I recommend buying a larger memory card? The DiMAGE Z3 does not have a RAW or TIFF mode. The Panasonic's offer a TIFF mode.

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

The DiMAGE Z3 uses the standard Konica Minolta menu system. The menu is divided into three "tabs", each with its own set of options. Note that most of the options below are locked up in the auto and scene modes. I did find menu navigation to be a bit sluggish, for some reason. The record menu options are:


Manual focus

There are three focus modes on the DiMAGE Z3. Single AF is your everyday "press the shutter release halfway and then the camera tries to focus" mode. Continuous focus mode will always be focusing the lens, even when you're not halfway pressing the shutter release. This reduces AF lag and is also useful for those times when your subject is in motion, at the expense of your batteries. Manual focus mode lets you use the four-way controller to focus the lens. A guide is shown on the LCD displaying the current focus distance, and the camera will enlarge the center of the image so you can verify that your subject is in focus.

Let's move on to the setup menu now. The items here include:

I want to quickly mention those Anti-shake options. Display + exposure activates the system when you halfway press the shutter release and stays on until the picture is taken. This helps you frame the photo steadily. The exposure-only option activates Anti-shake right when the photo is taken. While Konica Minolta doesn't say anything about why you'd use this second option, it resulted in better stabilization on the Panasonic cameras that I reviewed. You can also turn the whole system off, which is advisable when you're using a tripod.

Enough of that, let's move on to our photo tests now!

The Z3 did a pretty good job with our macro test subject, though you can spot some noise/grain on the figurine. Colors look good with nice saturation levels and the subject is sharp.

There are two macro modes on the Z3: regular and super. In regular macro mode you can get as close to your subject as 10 cm at wide-angle and 1.2 m at telephoto. Switch to super macro mode and the minimum distance drops to just 1 cm. The catch about super macro mode is that the lens is fixed near the wide end of the focal range and cannot be changed.

The Z3 took a well-exposed, sharp photograph of the usual night scene, though I was dismayed by the noise levels (which will be a recurring theme in this section). The noise seems to have a diagonal component to it... which I can't explain. I was using the latest firmware (1.02) for these photos. There wasn't any purple fringing to see here, which is always nice.

Since we're starting out pretty noisy you can assume that things be pretty bad at high ISO settings. Using the same scene as above, here's what happens:


ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image


ISO 400
View Full Size Image

ISO 100 isn't much worse than ISO 50, but then at 200 things get worse. ISO 400 is a real mess... I'm not sure even the best noise reduction software can clean that up.

Minolta has got redeye reduction down on the Z-series cameras. There's very little redeye to see here -- mostly just flash reflection. Why can't everyone else figure out how to do this?

There's fairly mild barrel distortion on the Z3 at the wide end of the lens. I don't see any real evidence of vignetting (dark corners) here.

Photo quality on the DiMAGE Z3 is a mixed bag. Colors were good and exposure was fair, though images tended to be a bit overexposed. Do note that the photos in the gallery were taken before the 1.02 firmware upgrade that fixed this issue was available, so this shouldn't be a problem anymore. Purple fringing levels were surprisingly low for an ultra zoom camera.

The real issue here is noise: the Z3's images have more than I would expect from a 4 Megapixel camera, and it eat away at the detail in your photos. On the whole, images have a soft and fuzzy look similar to a frame grab from a video.

For a great example as well as a comparison against Panasonic's ultra zoom offerings, I again bring up these three photos:

 

Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 (firmware v 1.02)
View Full Size Image

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20
View Full Size Image

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3
View Full Size Image

That should answer any questions you have about how the photo quality compares between those three stabilized ultra zooms!

As always, don't just take my words as gospel when it comes to photo quality. Have a look at our gallery, print some photos, and decide if the Z3's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The DiMAGE Z3 has a first-rate movie mode that's one of the best on the market. You can record "fine quality" 640 x 480 video (with sound) at 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. A "regular quality" 640 x 480 mode as well as a smaller 320 x 240 size are also available. You can choose between 15 and 30 frames/second for any of those resolutions. The included 16MB memory card holds just 9 seconds of video at the highest quality sitting, so consider a larger card a requirement if you like videos.

The DiMAGE Z3 is one of the very rare cameras that lets you use the zoom lens during filming. Konica Minolta has designed the camera's lens to move very slowly and quietly in movie mode, and the microphone placement is as far from it as possible. You do need to keep an eye on your fingers, as the microphone is close to a comfortable resting post for them.

The Anti-shake system works just fine in movie mode.

The Z3 offers a "night movie" mode, which brightens the scene in low light. Another neat feature is the ability to do a frame grab from a movie. When the movie is paused, just press "up" on the four-way controller and you can save a frame at the same resolution of the movie.

Here's an exciting sample movie for you. Because the camera was set to continuous AF, the focus drifts in and out a few times and I apologize for that. Be warned that this is a huge download!


Click to play movie (21.7 MB, 640 x 480, fine quality, 30 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Z3 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 6X (in 0.2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This is useful for checking that your subject is in focus.

By entering the picture info screen (shown below), you can rotate photos (by pressing the "down" button). You can also downsize images for e-mailing, and copy images from one memory card to another.

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

By default, the Z3 doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. However, press "up" on the four-way controller and you'll see much more, including a histogram.

The camera moves between photos very quickly, moving from one image to the next virtually instantly.

How Does it Compare?

The Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 is a good ultra zoom camera that could be better. Panasonic still has the lead in this market, in my opinion. The Z3 has a 12X optical zoom lens, which is as big as they come. It's not as "fast" as the lenses on Panasonic's cameras but it's competitive with other ultra zooms. Minolta's Anti-shake system works to reduce the effects of "camera shake" in both stills and movies. The camera offers a full suite of manual controls and it has a first-rate movie mode as well. In good light, the Z3's autofocus speeds are stunning -- this is one of the fastest-focusing cameras I've seen. The Z3 has a hot shoe for an external flash (Minolta brand only) and also supports a wide-angle conversion lens. While small and low resolution, the EVF and LCD on the camera "gain up" in low light, so you can see what you're looking at. The Z3's body is easy to hold and everything's in the right place.

I wasn't as thrilled with the Z3's photo quality, however. Noise levels were above average, giving images a fuzzy, soft look without a lot of detail. High ISO shots were especially bad. On the other hand, colors were accurate and purple fringing was not an issue.

I have a few other complaints about the Z3. The body is made of plastic and feels well built for the most part, though the flimsy door over the SD card slot is sure to bust off, and the camera body scratches easily. Low light focusing was quite poor, due mostly to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.

Though it's not the best ultra zoom camera, the many positives of the Z3 outweigh the negatives, and the camera earns my recommendation. Despite the noise and softness, images downsized or printed at smaller sizes will look fine. Those who make big prints (larger than 8 x 10) or view the images on-screen will likely be disappointed. Low light focusing is a big issue as well, so if you do a lot of that, skip the Z3. As far as stabilized cameras go, the Panasonic DMC-FZ20 is still my pick, but the Z3 isn't too far behind.

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

I'm going to break my list of other cameras to look at into two parts. First, these are the other cameras with image stabilization: Canon PowerShot S1, Nikon Coolpix 8800, and the Panasonic DMC-FZ3, DMC-FZ15, and DMC-FZ20. If you're willing to give up the very useful stabilization feature, these cameras are also worth your time: Fuji FinePix S5100, HP Photosmart 945, Kodak EasyShare DX7590, Nikon Coolpix 4800, and the Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE Z3 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?

Read another review over at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

 

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