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DCRP Review: Konica Minolta Maxxum
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 23, 2005
Last Updated: March 25, 2008
At first glance, the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D ($1599, body only) looks like just another digital SLR. But look inside and you'll find a feature that makes it stand out from the crowd. That feature is KM's exclusive Anti-shake system, which has also been seen on several of their consumer cameras. This system puts the CCD sensor on a movable plane that can shift to compensate for motion. Other companies offer stabilized lenses, but since the Anti-shake system is on the sensor, it works with every lens you attach to the camera. Stabilizers like this help reduce the blurring effects of "camera shake", often seen in low light situations or when shooting at long telephoto distances. It won't work miracles, but it certainly helps.
Other features on the Maxxum 7D include a 6.1 Megapixel CCD, full manual controls (most of which activated by dials on the camera), a hot shoe, and the type of performance and quality that you'd expect from a digital SLR.
If you're ready to learn more about the Maxxum 7D (also called the Dynax 7D outside North America), I'm ready to tell you. Read on!
What's in the Box?
The Maxxum 7D has a typical (average) digital SLR bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
As with most digital SLRs, you're going to need to buy more than just the basic package before you can use the camera. The first thing to get is a lens. The Maxxum 7D can work with any Minolta Maxxum AF lens, though the Anti-shake feature will not work on certain macro lenses. Also keep in mind that there is a 1.5X crop factor on the 7D: thus, a 17 - 35 mm lens has the same field-of-view that a 25.5 - 52 mm lens would have on a 35 mm camera.
Something else you'll need to buy is a memory card, as Minolta doesn't give you one. The Maxxum uses CompactFlash Type I and II cards, and I'd suggest 512MB as a good starting point. More serious photographers should start with 1GB. The Microdrive (and its equivalents) also work, though I haven't had great experiences with those.
The Maxxum uses the same NP-400 lithium-ion battery as the DiMAGE A2. This battery packs a whopping 11.1 Wh of energy, which translates into 600 photos per charge using the CIPA battery life standard (400 photos with 50% flash use). The similarly-priced, but Anti-shakeless Canon EOS-20D lasts for 67% longer. Even so, 600 photos is way more than you'll get with any fixed-lens digicam.
The usual negatives about proprietary batteries apply here. For one, they're expensive -- an extra battery (which I recommend) will run you nearly $45. Secondly, if you ever run out of juice, you can't just pop in regular batteries like you can on a AA-based camera. The only AA-based digital SLR is the Pentax *ist DS.
When it's time to recharge, just pop the NP-400 into the included external charger. It takes 150 minutes to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those nice "plug it right into the wall" chargers that I like so much -- you must use a power cable.
Optional battery grip / Image courtesy of Konica Minolta
If you want more battery power, consider the VC-7D Vertical Control Grip ($200). This takes two NP-400 or six NiMH AA batteries, for double the battery life. You also get duplicate controls for shooting portrait-style shots.
Digital SLRs allow for nearly infinite accessories. First, there's lenses... as I said, any Maxxum AF lens will work with the 7D. Second, there are flashes: the camera works with Minolta flashes via the hot shoe (or even wirelessly) or third-party flashes via the flash sync port or hot shoe w/adapter. To power your camera without using the battery, you can pick up the AC-11 AC adapter ($60). To take pictures without putting a hand on the camera, there's the RC-1000S and RC-1000L (one's short, one's long) remote cable releases for under $40. Other options include various focusing screens and an angled viewfinder ($120).
DiMAGE Viewer for Mac OS X
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.
DiMAGE Viewer RAW conversion for Mac OS X
The software can also be used to process RAW images (I'll tell you why RAW is cool later in the review). As you can see, you can adjust all sorts of image properties using DiMAGE Viewer.
DiMAGE Master for Mac OS X
An optional software package known as DiMAGE Master is also available for under $150. This is pretty hardcore RAW conversion software that really deserves its own review (though that's not going to happen, at least not on this site). Instead of going on and on about it, I'll just do a laundry list of things it can do:
Here's one thing DiMAGE Master doesn't do very well: RAW conversion. I was shocked to see some horrid artifacts in my photos when I converted them. More on this later.
Along with the camera you'll find full, printed manuals for both the camera and the accompanying software. Minolta's manuals continue to be well above average, with lengthy explanations and a minimum of fine print.
Look and Feel
The Maxxum 7D is a pretty standard-looking digital SLR, and quite a change from the Olympus EVOLT E-300 that I just looked at. Build quality is excellent, with a metal frame underneath metal and high-grade plastic panels. There's a large, rubberized grip for your right hand which makes the camera easy to hold steadily.
The 7D is a button and dial-lovers dream -- it's covered with them. While I like how it's easy to change all these things, it can be intimidating to newcomers. Also, some of the dials are easy to bump accidentally, as I learned when I shot a full set of images in spot metering mode.
Now, here's a look at how the Maxxum 7D compares to some other cameras in terms of size and weight:
While not quite the biggest of the bunch, the 7D is the heaviest. It never felt like a burden, though.
Now let's take a tour of the Maxxum 7D, beginning with the front.
As I said in the previous section, the Maxxum 7D supports all Maxxum AF lenses. Just remember the 1.5X crop factor when shopping for lenses!
Behind the lens is an APS-C-sized, 6.1 Megapixel CCD mounted on Konica Minolta's Anti-shake system. I've already told you how it works, so let me show you how well it works:
Anti-shake on, 1/3 sec shutter speed
Anti-shake off, 1/3 sec shutter speed
This is just one example. If you take a lot of flashless indoor photos, it'll definitely help out. Unfortunately I didn't have a telephoto lens to use, so I can't really say how well it helps at long telephoto distances. Remember, Anti-shake doesn't work miracles -- it's just something to give you a little more flexibility (like 2-3 stops worth).
To the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. To the lower-right of that is the focus mode switch, with available options of:
To the lower-left of the lens mount (hard to see here) is the depth-of-field preview button. The red panel above that is the self-timer lamp.
Directly above the lens mount is the 7D's built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 1.0 - 4.3 m at ISO 100 and F2.8. For more flash power, you can use the hot shoe or flash sync port to attach an external flash -- but more on that later.
The built-in flash is also used as an AF-assist lamp. When the flash is up, the camera will fire the flash rapidly to help it lock focus. The catch is that if you do this, you'll get a flash picture too -- I can't figure out how to use the AF-assist function without taking a flash photo as well.
If you're using an external flash, the AF illuminator on the flash will be used instead.
The Maxxum 7D has an unusually large 2.5" LCD display. With 207,000 pixels, the screen is quite sharp. In case you're new to digital SLRs, the LCD is only used for menus and reviewing shots -- you cannot do a "live preview" on the screen before the shot is taken.
One cool feature on the 7D is that current camera settings are shown on the LCD when you're shooting. This is due to the fact that there's no LCD info display on the top of the camera. When you put your eye against the viewfinder, the screen turns off. As an added bonus, when you're shooting vertically the information on the screen rotates too.
Directly above the LCD is a large optical viewfinder, which shows 95% of the frame. You can change the focus screen inside if you desire, and a useful angle finder is also available for purchase. Below the field-of-view is a line of green text showing current camera settings, including flash setting, aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and shots remaining. On the right side of the screen is the "Anti-shake meter", which shows how much the camera is shaking. The more bars it shows, the more likely your photo will be blurry. A diopter correction knob on the side of the viewfinder adjusts the focus.
Okay, it's time to start talking about the numerous buttons and dials on the back of the camera. I'll start on the left with the power switch, which does just what it sounds like. To the left of the LCD are five buttons:
Moving to the opposite side of the LCD, you'll find two more buttons. The MSET button is used for storing your favorite camera settings into memory, and it can also be a custom button if you desire. The ISO button adjusts the sensitivity, with a range of 100 - 3200. An Auto option is also available.
To the right of those two buttons is the Anti-shake switch. Why would you want to turn it off? One example is when you're using a tripod -- it's not needed in those situations.
The four-way controller above all that is used for several things. As you'd expect, it's used for menu navigation. In addition to that it's also used for setting the focus point. You can switch between wide focusing or you can choose one of nine focus points yourself. When you're happy just rotate the ring around the controller to the lock position.
Next up is the metering dial, with the AE lock button inside it. The metering options are standard: multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot. This is the dial that I accidentally bumped -- I sure wish it had a lock of some sort.
The AF/MF button does just as it sounds -- it allows you to switch between auto and manual focus.
The final item on the back of the camera is the command dial, which is used for adjusting manual settings.
If you think we're done with buttons and dials, I have bad news. We're just getting started!
The dial on the left side of the photo is for adjusting exposure compensation. The dial actually supports two different EV intervals. If you turn toward the yellow half, you're moving in 1/2EV steps. On the gray half, it's 1/3EV steps. Sounds like overkill to me, but I'm sure somebody appreciates this. A ring underneath the exp. compensation knob (not easily seen here) adjusts the flash exposure compensation from -2EV to +2EV in 1/2EV increments.
In the center of things is the Maxxum's hot shoe. By default this supports only Minolta's flashes, though there are some ways around that. You can purchase an off-shoe adapter which turns the hot shoe into a flash sync port, or another adapter which converts the Minolta-only shoe into a standard one. There is also a flash sync port on the side of the camera that you'll see a bit later. The camera can sync with the flash as fast as 1/125 with Anti-shake and 1/160 sec without it.
If you want to shoot without cables or hot shoes then you'll appreciate the ability to use wireless flashes with the 7D. This only works with the 3600HS and 5600HS flashes, though. The manual explains in detail how to set it all up. I should add that the camera also supports high speed flash sync -- as fast as 1/4000 sec.
The item to the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial, which has the following options:
As you can see, you can put your favorite camera settings right on the mode dial. Underneath the mode dial is another "ring", which adjusts the drive modes. You can choose from the following:
The continuous advance mode lets you take up to 12 extra fine JPEG or 9 RAW/RAW+JPEG shots in a row at 3.1 frames/second -- pretty nice. Lowering the image resolution or quality will allow you to take a few more photos sequentially. One thing that wasn't so impressive were the write times after each burst sequence. It took nearly two minutes to write nine RAW+JPEG images to my SanDisk Extreme II CompactFlash card. Ouch!
The bracketing feature will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure or flash exposure compensation setting.
The next item on the top of the camera is the white balance dial. The options are auto, preset (sunlight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash), custom, or color temperature. For the preset options you can fine-tune the color: fluorescent allows for -2 to +4, while everything else is -3 to +3. The custom option lets you use a white or gray card as a baseline for white, allowing for perfect color in any lighting. If that's not enough, you can manually set the color temperature between 2500K and 9900K.
The final items on the top of the camera are the shutter release button and secondary command dial.
On this side of the 7D you'll find the I/O ports. These include (from top to bottom):
On the opposite side is where you'll find the CompactFlash slot and USB + A/V port (one port serves both functions). Both of those are behind a plastic door of average quality, and you can slide open a smaller door for easier access to the USB + A/V port.
The USB connection is a little weird. My PowerMac reports the connection as USB 2.0 High Speed, but as originally reported by Digital Photography Review, things aren't quite what they seem. It took 76 seconds to transfer about 71.7 MB worth of files from camera to computer, which works out to 0.9 MB/sec. I then repeated the same test using my USB 2.0 card reader and it took just 9 seconds to do the same thing -- or 8MB/second. All-in-all, a little disappointing for such an expensive camera.
Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The tripod mount is located inline with the lens. The door covering the battery compartment is sturdy.
The included NP-400 battery is shown at right.
Using the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
It takes a little over one second after hitting the power switch before the Maxxum 7D can take a photo -- not bad at all.
Autofocus speeds were excellent, at least with the 17-35 lens that I had. Focusing times were typically 0.3 - 0.5 seconds, and slightly longer if the camera has to hunt to lock focus. Low light focusing was also very good, since the built-in flash is used as the AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds, just as you'd expect from a D-SLR.
Shot-to-shot speed is also excellent, with a delay of roughly one second between shots. Unless you're superman, the camera will probably be ready to take the next shot before you are.
You can delete a photo right after it is taken by pressing the delete photo button.
Now, here's a look at the many image size and quality choices available on the Maxxum 7D:
As you'd expect on a camera of this caliber, the 7D supports the RAW image format. RAW images contain unprocessed image data that is as close to perfect as you'll get out of the camera. As an added bonus, you can edit many properties of the image (such as white balance, sharpness, and color saturation) after the photo is taken without any loss in quality. The catch is that you must process each RAW image on your computer before you can convert them to other formats and share them with friends.
The Maxxum can shoot RAW images alone, or a RAW image plus a separate "fine" quality JPEG.
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.
Okay, now we can move on to the menus!
The Maxxum 7D uses a slightly revised version of the usual Konica Minolta menu system. It's a nice change from the confusing menu systems found on some other D-SLRs. There are four submenus: record, playback, custom, and setup. I'll cover three of the four here, starting with the record menu:
Hopefully everything up there makes sense!
The next submenu is the custom menu, which has four tabs worth of options. And here they are:
The last menu I'm going to cover is the setup menu, which thankfully doesn't have too many options. They include:
Well that's just about enough menus for one day. Let's move on to photo quality now. Before we do that I should mention that photos were taken at the default settings -- this becomes important later.
The Maxxum 7D and the 17 - 35 mm lens I was using did a great job with our macro test shot. The colors look good and the subject is nice and sharp (which is in contrast to most of the photos I took with the camera). The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you are using. For the 17-35, it's roughly 30 cm. Minolta offers dedicated macro lenses if that's what you're into.
The night shot wasn't quite as good, but is still nice overall. The camera took in plenty of light, as you'd expect, and there was no purple fringing to be seen. In what will be a recurring theme, the photo is on the soft side. The wide-angle lens only adds to this, as the edges are a little blurry. In a minute I'll show you some solutions to the soft image issue.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images. You can click on the thumbnail to see the full size images.
As you'd expect from a D-SLR, you'll get usable images all the way up through ISO 1600. As it turns out there is an ISO 3200 mode, but I didn't know about it until it was too late.
Since there's no kit lens included with the 7D, there will be no distortion test.
There was no redeye to be found in our flash test -- just a little flash reflection.
When I first started shooting with the Maxxum 7D, I was disappointed with just how soft the images turned out. Now, there are many people who like them like this -- they prefer to do the sharpening themselves. I'm not one of those people <grin>. I like my photos a little sharper straight out of the camera, hence my disappointment. So I did a little investigating and found some ways to sharpen things up a bit.
This, as you may recognize, is a standard photo that I put in all my galleries. When I shot it the first time and saw the results, I figured it must've been a focusing error because it was just too soft. So I went back weeks later and got the same result. But then I turned up the sharpness one stop and was a happy man. See the difference yourself (these were taken at the same time):
Default sharpness -- too soft!
View Original Image
I don't know about you, but I find photo #2 to be much more appealing. I have another example as well, which expands on this:
|Sharpness: JPEG vs. JPEG|
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
|Conclusion: As my previous example showed, shooting with +1 sharpness makes a noticeable difference (view the full size images for the best comparison).|
|Sharpness: JPEG vs. RAW (times two)|
Default sharpness, original JPEG
View Full Size Image
Default sharpness, RAW converted to JPEG with DiMAGE Viewer
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Default sharpness, RAW converted to JPEG with DiMAGE Master
View Full Size Image
|Conclusion: No noticeable difference between JPEG and RAW converted with DiMAGE Master; DiMAGE Viewer produces very soft RAW conversions; DiMAGE Master introduces jaggies; There are some color differences as well (the master conversion seems too green).|
There's just one more thing that I want to touch on regarding RAW conversion, and I hinted at it way back at the start of the review. You already saw that DiMAGE Viewer's RAW conversions are very soft. Well, DiMAGE Master doesn't have that problem, instead exchanging for another issue. Let's call this issue "what did you do to my lawn?!"
This is your lawn in JPEG mode (with default sharpness, so it's pretty soft)
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And this is your lawn after being converted from RAW using DiMAGE Master
View Full Size Image
As you can see, DiMAGE Master will destroy your front lawn, and quite possibly other details in your photos. My advice is to stay away from it until there's a software update.
Okay, bottom line: shoot in JPEG mode with the sharpness turned up a notch (again, my recommendation, your mileage may vary). The RAW processors KM offers each leave something to be desired, so you may want to give Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in a spin. Based on some brief fooling around that I did with the plug-in, it provides sharp images without any compromises. If you want to play with the original RAW images yourself, here they are: Default sharpness, +1 sharpness.
Okay, enough about all that -- I hope it was useful for some people. Other image quality things to mention are all positive: the camera exposes images well, there's very little purple fringing, and noise is well under control.
Now, view our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own, and decide if the quality meets your expectations. Remember that all the photos in there were taken at default settings, and hence default sharpness, so they're going to be soft.
No digital SLRs have movie modes.
The Maxxum 7D has a pretty standard playback mode which is not really any different from KM's consumer cameras. 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 isn't terribly impressive. You cannot zoom into RAW images, and JPEGs can be blown up by 2.4 - 4.7 times, depending on the image resolution.
You can easily rotate photos by pressing the "down" button on the four-way controller. Another feature that I appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera 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?
There's a lot to like about the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, and I'm not quite sure where to begin, so I'll start with its design. The 7D is extremely well-built and offers plenty of dials and switches, as well as a large 2.5" LCD display. At first all those knobs seem a little intimidating, but I like how easy it is to change things in this way. At the same time, I wish some of them had locks, as I screwed up the metering on more than one occasion. The 7D is sturdy and easy to hold, thanks to a large, rubberized right hand grip. The camera enjoys full compatibility with all Maxxum AF lenses. But the real bonus here is the Anti-shake system: almost any lens you attach to the camera will have image stabilization, since it's the CCD that's stabilized and not the lens. And this system will help reduce the effects of camera shake when you're taking pictures indoors without the flash, or outdoors with a telephoto lens (though I didn't get the chance to test the latter).
Speaking of taking pictures, the photo quality was a bit of a weak point at first, but I quickly found a workaround for that issue. While some will disagree with my assessment that the 7D's images were too soft, I found that bumping up the in-camera sharpening by one stop made things a lot more tolerable. Otherwise image quality was just as you'd expect from a digital SLR: smooth and noise-free, even at high ISOs. And, as expected, camera performance is excellent in all areas, including in burst mode. The one exception is the speed at which the 7D reads and writes to the memory card -- it takes quite a while. Along those lines, real USB 2.0 High Speed support would've been nice.
The Maxxum has all the usual manual controls plus a few other nice things like time-lapse shooting and white balance by color temperature options. RAW and RAW+JPEG modes are supported, and you can choose from the sRGB or Adobe RGB color spaces. Finally, I like the info display on the LCD, and how it rotates when you turn the camera, and shuts off when you're using the viewfinder.
There are a few negatives to note, though. The 7D's weakest point (besides the soft images at default settings) is its price. With the body alone costing $1600, the Maxxum is expensive compared to other 6 Megapixel D-SLRs (you can buy the 8MP Canon EOS-20D for the same price). At the same time, none of the competition offers image stabilization built into the camera -- the question is, does that make it worth the extra dollars? I leave that question to you and your wallet. Another negative are the RAW conversion options provided by Konica Minolta, free and otherwise. The included DiMAGE Viewer Utility produces RAW images that are very soft, while the optional DiMAGE Master software destroys fine detail like grass. Your best option for RAW conversion at this point is Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop CS. Another possible negative to some folks is that using the AF illuminator requires you to take a flash picture.
All things considered, the Maxxum 7D gets my enthusiastic recommendation. It was a real joy to use, and I was satisfied with its photo quality after increasing the sharpness a notch. If you've got a collection of Maxxum lenses laying around, you probably already have a Maxxum 7D. If you're new to D-SLRs the decision is more difficult, as the competition is fierce in this area. There are cameras that are just as good or better in this class, and some cost hundreds of dollars less. None of them offer anything like the Anti-shake system, though.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other digital SLRs to consider include the Canon Digital Rebel and EOS-20D, Nikon D70, Olympus E-1 and EVOLT E-300, and the Pentax *ist DS.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Maxxum 7D and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read other reviews at Steve's Digicams, Digital Photography Review, and Luminous Landscape.
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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