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DCRP Review: Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 7, 2005
Last Updated: March 25, 2008
The DiMAGE Z5 ($500) is an update to 2004's DiMAGE Z3 from Konica Minolta. For the most part, the new features aren't earthshaking. They include:
Everything else is the same as the Z3. That means that there's a 12X optical zoom lens, Minolta's exclusive Anti-shake image stabilization system, full manual controls, a hot shoe, and a VGA movie mode.
Ultra zoom cameras are all the rage right now. How did the Z5 do in our tests? Find out now in our review!
Please note that due to the similarities between the Z5 and the Z3, I will be recycling large parts of the Z3 review here.
What's in the Box?
The DiMAGE Z5 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, holds a grand total of 4 photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a larger SD card right away, with 256MB or even 512MB being good "starter sizes". The Z5 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. I recommend buying two sets of NiMH batteries (2300 mAh or greater), which are better for both the environment and your pocketbook. Using the CIPA battery life standard, Minolta says you can get 240 shots using alkaline batteries and a whopping 420 with 2500 mAh rechargeables. That's a decent improvement in terms of battery life when compared to the "old" Z3. Probably the closest competitors to the DiMAGE Z5 are Panasonic's DMC-FZ5, which can take 300 shots per charge, and the upcoming Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1, which can take 260 shots.
Two nice things about cameras that use AA batteries (like the Z5) 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. The Panasonic and Sony cameras mentioned above use expensive lithium-ion batteries instead of AAs.
Minolta includes a lens cap and retaining strap with the DiMAGE Z5.
There are quite a few accessories available for the Z5, including:
Not bad, not bad...
Included with the camera is version 2.3.7 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.
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 Z5 is a midsized, black-colored camera made mostly of high-grade plastic which looks a whole lot like its predecessor. 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. Just like with the Z3, the Z5 shows scratches very easily. Even my fingernails could scratch the plastic, but thankfully it rubs right off.
The manual has the same note about the camera overheating that the Z3 did. Basically the thing can heat up, resulting in an error which disables the Anti-shake system until the camera cools down. For what its worth, I haven't actually heard of this actually happening to anyone, but it's worth a mention.
Now, let's take a look at the dimensions of the Z5 and how they compare with the other ultra zoom models:
As you can see, the Z5 fits right in the middle of the pack! I threw the DiMAGE A200 in there as well, but it's really a different beast altogether. It has more resolution, more manual controls, and it costs a lot more too.
Enough numbers -- let's start our tour of this camera now!
The Z5 has the same F2.8-4.5, 12X optical zoom Minolta GT lens as the DiMAGE Z3. This is about the most zoom you'll find on a digital camera without resorting to conversion lenses. Both Panasonic and Sony offer similar lenses on their ultra zooms, with the best one being found on the Panasonic DMC-FZ20 (F2.8 through the whole zoom range). The focal length of the lens is 5.9 - 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 (like Panasonic and Sony). Instead of shifting an element in the lens to counteract "camera shake", the Z5 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 without using the flash 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 1/20 second, which is what I normally consider "tripod territory" (unless you have hands of stone). The shot on the left was taken with Anti-shake, while the shot on the right was without it.
I've also compiled a short movie showing the difference Anti-shake makes. Remember, it doesn't work miracles -- but it sure helps. You will notice that image stabilizers tend to cause a "drifting" effect while taking movies.
Way above the lens is the Z5's pop-up flash (you have to raise it manually). The flash isn't as powerful as it was on the Z3, with a working range of 0.2 - 3.6 m at wide-angle and 1.2 - 2.2 m at telephoto. The Panasonic FZ5 does considerably better than the Z5 in this area (no word yet on the Sony DSC-H1). 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 is no AF-assist lamp on the DiMAGE Z5.
The back of the Z5 has changed a bit since the Z3. The biggest change is the new 2.0" LCD display -- a whole lot larger than the 1.5" screen on the Z3. The resolution is average, with 114,000 pixels. The screen is sharp, bright, and motion is fluid.
Above the LCD is the Z5's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. 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 in terms of resolution. You can, however, see everything that's normally shown on the LCD, and there's no parallax error to worry about. The EVF also has a resolution of 114,000 pixels, which isn't great compared to other EVFs out there these days. A diopter correction knob will focus the image on the screen.
Low light visibility is better than average for both the EVF and LCD, though I seem to recall that other Minolta cameras do a little better in this area.
Below the LCD you'll find the power button, and a switch that moves the camera between playback and record mode (using either the LCD or EVF).
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.
The first thing to notice on the top of the DiMAGE Z5 is its hot shoe. This hot shoe only supports Minolta external flashes -- other brands will not work since the contacts are different. Compatible flashes include the Minolta 2500, 3600HS, and 5600HS. A plastic cover protects the contacts when there is no flash attached.
At the lower-right of the photo is the mode dial, which has the following options:
The shutter speed range has changed since the Z3, and not for the better. Now the slowest shutter speed available is 4 seconds (versus 15), and there's no bulb mode anymore, either.
Above the mode dial are three buttons, which includes the shutter release. Between the macro/flash buttons and the shutter release are both the microphone and speaker. Watch those fingers, as they can easily block one or both of those.
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.
On this side of the camera, under a rubber cover, are the Z5's I/O ports. These include USB + video out (one port for both) as well as the DC-in port (for optional AC adapter). The Z5 supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed protocol, which is just as slow as the old USB 1.1 from years past.
Nothing to see here. By the way, the lens is at the full telephoto position here.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a metal (I think) tripod mount, the SD/MMC card slot, and the battery compartment. While the door covering the battery compartment is sturdy, the one protected the SD slot could easily be broken off if you're not careful. You may or may not be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod -- it really depends on the mount on the tripod.
Using the Minolta DiMAGE Z5
The Z5 starts up even faster than its predecessor, making you wait just 2.4 seconds before you can start snapping pictures.
The Z5 features a live histogram in record mode
Just like with the DiMAGE Z3, focusing speeds on the Z5 are excellent in good lighting. The camera focuses almost as quickly as your finger presses the shutter release button. Even at the telephoto end of the lens, the camera still focused in half a second or so. Panasonic's latest ultra zoom (the FZ5) also focuses very quickly, though I couldn't tell you which is faster. The one area in which the Z5 isn't so hot is in low light: the camera had a lot of trouble locking focus.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed is very good, with a delay of about 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot, assuming the instant playback feature 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 Z5:
See why I recommend buying a larger memory card?
The DiMAGE Z5 does not have a RAW or TIFF mode. The Panasonic cameras 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 Z5 uses the standard Konica Minolta menu system, and only a few things have been moved around since the Z3. The menus still seem a little slow to me, just like on the old model. Note that most of the options below are locked up in the auto and scene modes. The record menu options are:
I should mention those Anti-shake options since they are important. 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.
There are three (okay, four) focus modes on the DiMAGE Z5. Single AF will lock the focus when you halfway press the shutter release button. Continuous AF will continue focusing, even with the shutter release pressed. The full-time AF feature will be focusing even before you press the shutter release button. 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:
Enough of that, let's move on to our photo tests now!
The DiMAGE Z5 did a pretty good job with our usual macro test subject. Colors are accurate, though the background has a slight yellowish cast (it's a white wall), which is undoubtedly a white balance issue (tinkering around some more probably would've solved that problem). The figurine is nice and smooth, with just a little "grain" to it.
There are two macro modes on the Z5: 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 in one spot (probably 2X or 3X) and cannot be changed.
The Z5 took a "tack sharp" photo of the famous SF skyline. Playing around with the white balance might not be a bad idea here either, as the colors seem a little brown to me. Anyhow, noise levels are respectable and there is no purple fringing to be found. The longest shutter speed available on the Z5 is just 4 seconds -- down from 15 seconds on the Z3, which is disappointing.
Using that scene, let's see how the camera does at higher ISO sensitivities The Z5 lacks an ISO 400 option, instead topping out at ISO 320.
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ISO 100 is decent, ISO 200 is usable, but by ISO 320 details are really starting to get destroyed.
Just like with the DiMAGE Z3, redeye is not a problem on the Z5. There's just a little flash reflection to be found here. You have to thank that pop-up flash for this!
There's mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the DiMAGE Z5's 12X zoom lens. I don't see any real evidence of vignetting (dark corners) here, either.
Overall, the photo quality on the DiMAGE Z5 is quite similar to that on the Z3. Photos are well exposed, with accurate color, and very little purple fringing. The biggest issue, however, is softness. At default settings, the photos from the Z5 are much softer than most people would like to see. Here's a little crop showing what I mean:
As you can see, that's pretty soft, and the noise levels aren't great either. Details such as leaves, grass, branches, and roof tiles look especially bad because of this.
One workaround that helps quite a bit is to turn the sharpness up a notch. The same photo looks like this with hard sharpening:
That's a lot nicer. The bottom line here is that you can get good images out of the Z5 if you turn the in-camera sharpening up a notch. I do think the Panasonic cameras have the edge in this area, and they don't require any tinkering, but for those folks who are sold on the Z5, it's important to note this workaround.
With that in mind, have a look at our photo gallery. Keep in mind that, as always, the photos in the gallery were taken at the camera's default settings, so they're going to be on the soft side.
The DiMAGE Z5 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 or 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 Z5 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 is active during movie recording.
The Z5 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. And finally, you can use the movie editing feature to trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of your clip -- in fact, I did this for the sample below.
I have a very exciting sample movie for you. Here you'll see one of the disadvantages of continuous autofocus in movie mode: the focus tends to drift. Enjoy!
Click to play movie (12.6 MB, 640 x 480, Fine Quality, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The Z5 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 4X (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 Z5 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 Z5 doesn't really break any new ground when compared to its predecessor, the DiMAGE Z3. While an extra megapixel of resolution is always nice, the more useful new features include a larger LCD display and improved battery life. Something that changed for the worse is the shutter speed range. While the Z3 could keep the shutter open for as long as 15 seconds, the Z5 limits you to 4 seconds. There are other areas that weren't touched at all, namely low light focusing and image softness, both of which are issues on this camera.
The DiMAGE Z5 looks just like the Z3 -- a futuristic-looking, black-colored ultra zoom camera. It has the same 12X zoom Minolta GT lens and useful Anti-shake system as its predecessor, as well. The lens is nice, though Panasonic still has the edge in this department, as even their bottom-end ultra zoom's lens is faster. Camera performance on the Z5 is excellent in all respects, from startup to focusing to playback. The only performance-related area in which the Z5 fails is low light focusing, where it is quite poor. That's too bad, as both the LCD and EVF are visible in those conditions. The Z5 features a full set of manual controls, including manual focus, and it also supports a hot shoe (Minolta brand only) -- the Panasonic DMC-FZ5 lacks both of those abilities. Another area in which the Z5 really shines is in the movie mode department: you can record VGA size videos at 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. You can even use the zoom lens while filming!
The Z5 has a few negatives worth mentioning, though. My biggest complaint (besides those mentioned earlier) is that the images produced by the camera are too soft at default settings. An easy workaround for this is to turn up the sharpening to "hard" in the record menu. Noise levels are also a bit higher than I'd like to see. Aside from those two things, photo quality was good. The camera fared well in our redeye test, as well. The camera's electronic viewfinder doesn't pack a lot of pixels when compared to other ultra zoom cameras out there. The bundle included with the camera isn't worth writing home about. And finally, that little plastic door over the memory card slot is way too easy to open and bust off.
The DiMAGE Z5 gets my recommendation, though only with the in-camera sharpening turned up a notch. If Konica Minolta could work on the image softness and low light focusing on their next ultra zoom camera, I think they could have a real winner on their hands. For now, the Panasonic FZ-series cameras still lead the pack.
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, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ4, DMC-FZ5, DMC-FZ15, and DMC-FZ20, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1. 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, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z20, 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 Z5 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
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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