Minolta DiMAGE A1 ($899) is a lot more than a simple "add
a few new features and slap a new name on the box" upgrade to
its predecessor, the DiMAGE 7Hi. Minolta has designed a revolutionary
new CCD with image stabilization built in. This works differently
than your typical optical image stabilization (like on the Panasonic
FZ-series), in that the CCD, rather than the lens elements, are moving
to counteract the movement caused by "camera shake". Minolta
calls this system Anti-Shake, and you can get a good idea about how
it works on this
page. The Anti-Shake system lets you take sharp pictures at shutter
speeds that would be blurry on other cameras.
I mention that the A1 also has a 5 Megapixel sensor, 7X optical
zoom lens, full manual controls, and a hot shoe? Sounds impressive
to me. How does it perform? Find out now.
in the Box?
DiMAGE A1 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll
5.0 (effective) Mpixel DiMAGE A1 camera
lithium-ion rechargeable battery
page camera manual + software manual (both printed)
featuring DiMAGE Viewer Utility
first thing you'll want to do after buying the A1 is pick up
a larger memory card. The included 16MB card holds a grand total
of TWO images at the highest quality (JPEG) setting. The A1 can
use both Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards, including the
Microdrive. The camera supports the FAT32 format, so cards larger
than 2GB can be used. I'd consider 256MB to be the minimum-size
card for this camera.
big difference between the A1 and the 7Hi is the battery situation.
While the 7Hi used four AAs, the A1 uses a proprietary lithium-ion
battery known as the NP-400. This battery has a whopping 11.1
Wh of energy -- beating out Olympus' BLM-1 for the "most
powerful battery" award. All that juice translates into
impressive battery life. Minolta estimates that you can take
about 330 pictures, or spend five hours in playback
mode, per charge. Do note the usual disadvantages of proprietary
batteries like this one: price ($45 a pop) and the fact that
you can't "bail yourself out" with AAs when your rechargeables
you're ready to charge the NP-400, just snap it into the included
charger. It takes about 2.5 hours to fully charge the battery.
This isn't one of those "plug it right into the wall" chargers
that I like so much -- there's a power cable.
+ included lens hood + optional battery pack
one battery just isn't enough for you, then consider buying the
BP-400 battery pack ($120). It holds two NP-400 batteries,
or six AAs (you'll get more battery life with the former), giving
you 660 photos or 10 hours of playback time per charge! In addition
to the extra battery life, there's also a shutter release button,
used when the camera is held vertically.
other power options are the EBP-100 and EP-2 external battery
packs ($275 and $120 respectively). Unfortunately, that's all
I know about those two products.
includes a lens cap and lens hood (shown in previous picture)
with the camera. I could not find a retaining strap for the lens
cap in the box. As you can see, the A1 is quite a handful (if
you excuse the pun).
are quite a few accessories available for the A1. Unfortunately,
conversion lenses are not available. You can, however, add filters.
The A1's lens is threaded for 49mm attachments, and a 49 - 62mm
step-up ring is also available ($15). Like external flashes?
You can choose from three regular flashes (2500, 3600HS, and
5600HS) as well as a ring flash or two. The camera works with
wireless flashes -- just follow the easy instructions in the
manual. A PC sync cable adapter is also available.
accessories include a remote shutter release cable ($37), AC
adapter ($60), and a carrying case.
with the camera is version 2.2 of the Minolta's DiMAGE Viewer
software. It's certainly not a substitute for something like
Photoshop Elements, but it does basic editing fairly well. The
software is Mac OS X native.
Viewer can also be used to view, edit, and convert images saved
in RAW format. One the great things about RAW mode is that you
can do a virtual re-shoot of your photo. For example, the photo
above was taken at auto white balance, and just didn't look right
(too yellow). All I had to do was change the white balance to
tungsten and it was fixed instantly!
you're just looking to connect your camera and transfer files,
you'll be pleased to hear that the A1 is Windows XP and OS X
compatible -- and you probably won't have to install any drivers.
optional software product that you may be interested in is DiMAGE
Capture ($110). As you can see, this you control your camera
from you Windows PC over the USB connection (no Mac version is
available). Images are saved directly to your computer, and virtually
all camera functions can be controlled with the software.
manuals have always been much better than average, and the A1's
is no exception. Expect long, descriptive paragraphs, without
a lot of fine print.
DiMAGE A1 is fairly large camera, so don't expect to be storing
it in your pockets. It's well-built, with a metal frame and sturdy
parts (with one exception that you'll see later). The camera
is very easy to hold, with a substantial right hand grip and
plenty of room for your left hand as well.
official dimensions of the camera are 117.0 x 85.0 x 113.5 mm
/ 4.6 x 3.4 x 4.5 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions),
and it weighs 560 g / 19.8 oz empty.
dive into our tour of the A1 now, beginning with the front of
of the hallmark features of the DiMAGE 7 series was its 7X zoom
lens, and it's used once again on the A1. This is an F2.8-3.5,
7X optical zoom Minolta GT lens. The focal range is 7.2 - 50.8mm,
which is equivalent to 28 - 200mm. The lens is threaded for 49
above the lens is the A1's pop-up flash. The flash has a working
range of 0.5 - 3.8 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 3.0 m at telephoto
(at auto ISO). The flash has a recharge time of approximately
5 seconds. As I mentioned, you can add a Minolta-branded external
flash via the hot shoe you'll see in a moment. The flash is released
manually -- just grab it and pop it up.
above that "AS" label on the camera is the remote control
metal things on the grip are called the grip sensor. This tells
the camera that you're holding the camera, which turns on full-time
autofocus (assuming you've turned on this option). This feature
helps preserve battery life, by not constantly focusing when
you're not ready to shoot.
no AF-assist lamp on the A1. That's not a huge problem, as the
camera focuses very well without one.
of the new tricks on the A1 is the flip-up LCD display. It can
flip up 90 degrees, and you can also pull it out toward you.
It's nice, but not quite as good as screens that rotate as well.
thing worth noting is the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. It can
tilt upward 90 degrees, just like the LCD.
have more on both of those in a second.
the LCD in the more traditional position. The screen is 1.8" in
size, which is typical for cameras like this. The resolution
is fairly high, with 118,000 pixels. Images are sharp, and motion
is fluid, except in low light, when the camera turns up the gain,
so you can see what you're looking at. That's a tradeoff I'm
willing to live with. You can adjust the LCD brightness in the
EVF is located just above the LCD. It's basically a small screen
that you look at, as if it was an optical viewfinder. The EVF's
resolution is excellent, with 235,000 pixels, and it's just as
bright and smooth as the LCD. Also like the LCD, the EVF boosts
the gain when you're in low light, making the screen actually
usable in low light (unlike most EVFs). There's a diopter correction
knob that you can use to focus the image on the EVF.
EVF has an eye sensor, which turns on the screen when your eye
is up against it. This only works while the display mode switch
is set to "auto".
the right of the EVF is the power/mode switch. In addition to
turning the camera on and off, this switch also moves between
record, playback, and movie mode.
that is the button for adjusting exposure compensation. The range
is the usual -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments.
the lower-left of that button is the aforementioned display mode
switch. You can choose the EVF, LCD, or automatic (uses the EVF
when your eye is near it, otherwise uses the LCD).
the right is the four-way controller, which is used for menu
navigation as well as the "flex focus point" feature.
This lets you select a spot in the frame for the camera to focus
on -- a feature most useful when your camera is on a tripod.
downward, we find three buttons:
[record] / Delete photo [playback]
QuickView feature is the fast way to playback mode. Turning on
Anti-Shake activates the image stabilizer, and you'll know it's
on when the button turns green. I was able to take pictures at
1/15 sec with no blurring -- something you can't do on a non-stabilized
camera (unless you have a very steady hand).
those buttons, under a rubber cover, you'll find two I/O ports:
(for AC adapter, power packs)
(for wired remote shutter release cable)
final items on the back of the camera can be found at the top-right
of the photo. The AE Lock button locks the exposure for as long
as you have the button held down.
that is the command dial, which is used to adjust manual settings
(i.e. shutter speed, aperture).
first thing to see on the top of the camera is the hot shoe.
As I mentioned, you can choose from many Minolta flashes, and
can even control your flashes wirelessly! A PC flash sync port
on the side of the camera is also available.
to the right, you can find the LCD info display -- which seems
to be a rarity these days. The info display shows current settings,
shots remaining, battery capacity, and more. As you can see,
it's also backlit -- it lights up whenever you press a button
on the camera.
that are two buttons. The "i+" button toggles the information
shown on the LCD and EVF. The magnification button has two functions.
If the 2X digital zoom is turned on, pressing the button activates
it. If you've got the "flex digital magnifier" feature
turned on, you can enlarge your image by 2 or 8 times, and then
move around in the frame. This feature is only available in manual
focus -- where it is most useful.
next item over is the A1's mode dial, which has the following
recall - store up to five sets of camera settings that you
can easily access on the mode wheel
record - point-and-shoot; camera shoots at default settings
(though you can change them)
mode - same as auto mode, except camera remembers the settings
priority - you choose aperture, camera selects appropriate
shutter speed; aperture range is F2.8 - F11
priority - you choose shutter speed, camera chooses aperture;
shutter speed range is 30 - 1/16000 sec (!)
mode - you select both the shutter speed and aperture; same
ranges as above; a 30 second bulb mode is also available
program mode, you can use the "program shift" feature
by using either of the command dials. This lets you scroll through
various shutter speed / aperture combinations. It's useful when
you want to use a smaller aperture (for more depth-of-field)
without having to use aperture priority mode.
the north of the mode dial is the microphone, with another command
dial and the shutter release button above that.
a lot to see on this of the camera. In case you haven't figured
it out yet, the A1 (like its predecessors) is a complex camera.
Reading the manual is highly recommended.
first thing to talk about is the zoom controller. Like with the
DiMAGE 7-series, the zoom is controlled manually, by rotating
the lens barrel. The 35mm-equivalent focal range is shown on
the lens barrel, and there are marking for the macro position
as well. The level of control is far greater than on your typical
camera with pushbutton zoom controllers.
macro switch locks the lens at either 28mm or 200mm -- the two
available macro positions. More on macro mode later in the review.
next item over is the manual focus ring, which works electronically
(as opposed to mechanically, like the zoom ring). More on this
in a second.
to the upper-right part of the picture (just above the DiMAGE
A1 label), you'll find another dial. This one (known as the function
dial) controls some of the most commonly-accessed camera settings,
(Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800)
balance (Auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, cloudy, shade,
flash, custom) - more below
- one shot at a time
- you can bracket exposure, filters, color, and contrast
(more on those in a minute); camera takes three shots
in a row at either ±0.3EV or ±0.5EV
- takes photos at approx. 2 frames/sec; I was able to
take 3 shots in a row
continuous - takes photos at approx. 2.8 frames/sec;
each shot is not shown on the LCD as it is taken (unlike
regular continuous mode); it took 3 shots in a row for
- take a series of images over time; you choose the number
of photos to be taken, the interval between photos, and
the amount of time before shooting begins
+ time-lapse movie - same as above, but a 640 x 480 movie
(4 frames/sec) is also created from the stills
- 2 or 10 second
(Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
- you can pick what goes here; choose from image size/quality,
flash mode, flash control, sharpness, color mode
set - more below
you can see, plenty to talk about. The A1 has several white balance
modes, including a manual mode, where you can shoot a white or
gray card, in order to get perfect color in any lighting. You
can save up to three manual WB values for later use. By using
the command dial on the back of the camera, you can fine-tune
any of the white balance modes (except for auto and manual).
The levels are -2 to +4 for fluorescent, and -3 to +3 for everything
I hinted at before, you can save up to five sets of your favorite
camera settings to memory for later retrieval. This is a very
handy feature, and I'm glad to see it become more popular on
cameras (even lower-end models).
to the tour now. The items below that dial include the A1's speaker,
and a standard flash sync port.
that is yet another dial (known as the digital effects controller),
with the following options:
(-5 to +5, in 1-stop increments)
(-5 to +5, in 1-stop increments)
(Low, normal, high)
filter feature isn't something you see everyday. In color mode,
a higher filter number will "warm" the colors, while
a lower number will "cool" them. In black and white
mode, each value (0 to 10 in this case) has a different color
tone. For example, choosing filter level 4 will give you a greenish-monochrome
image. The back inside cover of the manual has a nice example
of how the filters work.
case you missed it, the auto bracketing feature lets you bracket
for each of those bullet points above -- even filters.
to our tour again. Below the digital effects controller is the
focus switch. It moves between single, continuous, and manual
focus. In continuous AF mode, the camera will keep focusing,
as long as the shutter release button is halfway pressed. This
is used in situations where your subject is moving. In manual
focus mode, you'll use the focus ring to change the current focus
distance. The magnification feature helps make sure you subject
is properly focused.
the left of that switch is the manual white balance button. This
is what you'll press when you want to shoot that white or gray
there are no buttons on this side of the camera. What you will
find here is the CompactFlash slot, which is protected by a flimsy
plastic door. If you remember the old DiMAGE 7-series, one of
the minor annoyances was that that strap holder was always in
the way when you were trying to close the door. That's no longer
A1 supports both Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards, including
the Microdrive. The bundled 16MB card is shown.
also shown the lens at it's full telephoto position, so you can
see how far it sticks out from the camera body. The view of the
other side of the camera showed the lens at full wide-angle.
we reach the end of our tour. Down here you'll find the metal
tripod mount and the battery compartment. The tripod mount is
neither centered, nor inline with the lens. The battery compartment
has a fairly sturdy door (with a lock) over it.
included NP-400 battery is shown at right.
the Minolta DiMAGE A1
A1 has a very impressive startup time of 1.5 seconds, due to
the fact that the lens doesn't need to extend.
ads don't lie: the A1 focuses very quickly, especially on "easy" subjects.
Subjects that are more difficult to focus on will take closer
to a second to be locked. Despite not having an AF-assist lamp,
the A1 focused very well in low light. Being able to see what
you're looking at on the EVF and LCD are a big help.
you've locked focus, you can use the direct manual focus (DMF)
feature to manually focus the camera -- just in case it's not
perfect. Just keep the shutter release halfway pressed, and use
the focus ring. The continuous AF mode will let you track a moving
subject across the frame.
lag was very brief, even at slower shutter speeds. The good focusing
and shutter lag make the A1 great for action photography.
live histogram is shown in record mode
speed is excellent, with a lag of a little over a second before
you can take another shot, assuming instant playback is turned
off. If you're using instant playback, you can half-press the
shutter release to go back to shooting immediately.
delete a photo after it is taken, you must first enter QuickView
here's a look at the many resolution and quality choices on the
images on 16MB card
couple of things to talk about regarding that chart. First, you
can see that Minolta gives you some nice JPEG options -- the
file sizes in Extra Fine mode are huge!
touched on the RAW mode in the first section of the review. There's
no performance penalty for shooting in this mode. The same goes
for TIFF mode -- you can just keep shooting until the buffer
fills up. On most cameras, the camera is locked up for 20 seconds
or longer while the TIFF is saved to memory. Good job Minolta!
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.
DiMAGE A1 has an attractive and easy to use menu system, which
stands as a contrast to the rest of the camera, which can be
challenging to use. The main menu is divided into four tabs.
The available options include:
size (see chart)
mode (Fill-flash, redeye reduction, rear flash sync, wireless)
control (ADI, pre-flash TTL, manual flash control) - see below
button (AE hold, AE toggle, Spot AE hold, Spot AE toggle) -
define how this button works
- returns record menu items to their default values
set - for interval shooting
set (0.3, 0.5EV) - choose the interval used in auto bracketing
imprint (Off, YYYY/MM/DD, MM/DD/hr:min, Text, Text + ID#) -
print stuff on your photos
to (Image + EXIF, EXIF only)
playback (Off, 2, 10 sec)
memo (on/off) - add a 15 second voice clip to your photo
mode (Natural, vivid, Adobe RGB, Embedded Adobe RGB, black & white,
solarization) - quite a few options here
(Soft, normal, hard)
reduction (on/off) - reduce noise in exposures one second or
slower. Note that noise reduction will lock up the camera for
the same number of seconds as the shutter speed before you
can take another shot.
amplification (Auto, normal) - when set to auto, the LCD/EVF
turn up the gain so you can see what you're shooting.
exposure (Exposure, display priority) - only in "M" mode;
exposure priority shows what the photo will look like on the
EVF/LCD. Monitor amp. is disabled; Display priority shows the
image regardless of the exposure setting.
button (Digital zoom, flex digital magnifier) - described earlier
set (DSP, memory recall) - see below
AF (on/off) - follow moving subjects while in continuous AF
lock (on/off) - when on, the exposure is locked when you halfway
press the shutter release button
AE area (on/off) - when on, the focus point is in the center
of the frame; otherwise it's multi-point
MF (on/off) - described a little earlier
of those flash control options sound a little confusing. ADI,
or advanced distance integration, uses distance information from
the autofocus system, as well as a pre-flash, to judge flash
exposure. Pre-flash TTL just uses the pre-flash. Manual flash
control lets you choose the flash strength yourself (full power,
1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16). Manual flash control can also be used with
imprint not only lets you print the data on your photos (and
in the EXIF headers), but data and text as well. You can have
serial numbers or any other text you choose right on your picture.
This is a rarely encountered feature.
DSP set item lets you redefine the digital subject program (scene
mode) spots on the mode dial to be used for the memory recall
feature. Basically it saves you a trip to the menu.
DiMAGE A1 also
a substantial setup menu, with the following options:
brightness (-5 to +5, in 1-stop increments)
help - tells you the shortcuts to change things like digital
zoom, LCD brightness, etc. without going through the menus
mode (Data storage, computer control) - use the latter with
auto switch (Auto EVF/LCD, EVF auto on) - if the latter is
chosen, the LCD will always remain off
output (NTSC, PAL)
(Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish)
set (Image size, quality, flash mode, flash control, sharpness,
color mode) - choose what the CUST item on the function dial
# memory (on/off)
name (Standard, date)
signals (Off, 1, 2) - the next three change the various sounds
the camera makes
signal (Off, 1, 2)
FX (Off, 1, 2)
(0 - 3)
save (1, 3, 5, 10 min)
(Display + exposure, exposure only) - when the anti-shake system
is activated: when you halfway press the shutter release, or
when the picture is actually taken
AF (on/off) - camera constantly tries to focus; puts extra
strain on battery
sensor (on/off) - turning this on makes sure that the full-time
AF only works when the camera is being held
dial set - these next two define what control dial changes
shutter speed and aperture while in the manual modes
conf (yes, no) - when "yes", deleting a photo takes
one less button-press
that was exhausting. Let's continue now with photo quality tests.
its predecessors, the DiMAGE A1 has a rather unconventional macro
mode. You must lock the lens at either the wide-angle or telephoto
position (there's a little "play" on the latter), making
it a little hard to get the perfect shot. The minimum distance
from the CCD to the subject is 30 cm at wide-angle and 25 cm
at telephoto (usually the latter is much further) -- this is
no Coolpix. Note that the distances I usually publish are from
the end of the lens, rather than the CCD.
though things are a little different, I was still able to take
a very nice macro test shot, as you can see above. Color is accurate,
and the subject is sharp. The only negative thing that I noticed
was a little bit of noise on Mickey's ears.
A1 produced an excellent night shot. I was most impressed with
the amount of detail in the image -- you can practically see
furniture inside the offices. Noise and purple fringing were
both low, though I did spot a hot pixel or two. Full manual controls
will let you take long exposures just like this -- just remember
that night shot, here's a look at how changing the ISO sensitivity
affects image noise:
you can see, noise starts pretty low at ISO 100, but it begins
to ramp up quickly at ISO 200. At ISO 800, it's too noisy to
be terribly useful.
at those sleepy eyes! Too many hours of writing are the cause.
Anyhow, there's no redeye to be seen here -- just a little flash
A1's wide-angle lens produces moderate barrel distortion, as
you'd expect. There's no vignetting (dark corners) to be seen,
which is good news.
I was very pleased with the DiMAGE A1's photo quality. Noise
levels were tad bit higher, but really no worse than other cameras
in its class. However, do watch out for noise at Auto ISO, especially
with flash shots.
Colors were accurate, images were sharp, and exposure was good.
Purple fringing, often an issue on "big zoom" cameras,
was not a problem here.
ultimate judge of quality is your eyes -- please visit our photo
gallery and decide if the quality is acceptable to you. You
are also welcome to have the photos printed.
DiMAGE A1's movie mode has improved since the 7Hi, but it's not
nearly as nice as the one on the DiMAGE Z1. You can record 320
x 240 videos, with sound, until the memory card is full. There's
actually a border around the video, so the actual video resolution
is a little lower than advertised. The frame rate is a healthy
24 fps, so videos are not choppy. The included 16MB CF card holds
a great total of 19 seconds of video, so a larger card is helpful
for movie making.
the zoom is mechanically operated, you can use it during filming.
are saved in QuickTime format.
a last minute sample movie that I shot in my backyard. Oops!
to play movie (2.9MB, QuickTime format)
play it? Download QuickTime.
A1 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options
include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail
mode, and zoom and scroll.
zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much
as 8X (in 0.2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around.
This feature is well-implemented.
useful features that I couldn't find were image rotation and
resizing. There were two nice features that were available though:
copying and deleting marked frames. The copy feature lets you
transfer photos from one memory card to another in 15MB increments.
The delete feature lets you delete one, all, or a group of photos
(the latter being quite useful in my opinion).
default, the A1 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.
camera moves between photos with breathtaking speed -- it's basically
Does it Compare?
a lot to like about the Minolta DiMAGE A1. It's a worthy upgrade
to the already-nice DiMAGE 7Hi, and it's also one of the best "prosumer" cameras
out there. The most important thing about a camera is photo quality,
and the A1 does not disappoint, with photo quality that is competitive
with the competition. Then there's performance, where the A1
performs better than average, even in low lighting conditions.
The "monitor amp" feature makes both the LCD and EVF
useful in dim lighting. The A1 has a sharp 7X zoom lens, which
gives you great flexibility, with 28mm wide and 200mm tele ends.
Full manual controls (and then some), support for external flashes,
and the optical DiMAGE Capture software will make serious shooters
very happy. The A1's body is very well built (except for the
CF slot door), and it feels like a professional camera. And did
I mention the stellar battery life?
nice? Well, I haven't mentioned the biggest new feature of them
all: Minolta's new Anti-shake system, the world's first stabilized
CCD. In situations where you'd normally get blurry images, the
A1 will still take sharp pictures. Throw in the manual controls
and tracking autofocus modes and you've got a great camera for
shooting sporting events.
are few and far between. The biggest thing (that also plagued
the 7-series) is that the A1 is a complex piece of machinery.
A full read-through of the manual is a requirement before can
take advantage of all its features. The second complaint is the
flimsy plastic door over the memory card slot. Finally, the included
16MB is way too small, and the A1's price is a little on the
you're looking for a serious digital camera with all the
trimmings, you'll want to take a close look at the DiMAGE A1.
good photo quality
optical zoom lens
manual controls (and plenty of them)
shoe + flash sync port
good AF performance, even without AF-assist lamp
are useful in low lighting conditions
redeye test performance
LCD info display
easy to hold (for the most part)
store favorite settings to spot on mode dial
and EVF can flip up for easier viewing
modes have no performance penalty
image viewing in playback mode
I didn't care for:
not easy to just pick up and use without reading the manual
16MB card included with camera
plastic door over CF slot
average macro mode
cameras worth considering include the Canon Digital
Rebel and PowerShot
FinePix S7000, HP
Photosmart 945, Nikon Coolpix 5400 and 5700,
Olympus C-750UZ and C-5060WZ, Panasonic
Lumix DMC-FZ10, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717 and DSC-F828.
always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try
out the DiMAGE A1 and its competitors before you buy!
to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo
a second opinion? How about a few more?
miss other A1 reviews at Steves
Review, and Imaging
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due
to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for
a personal recommendation.