DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE A2
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 28, 2004
Last Updated: April 28, 2004

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The Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 ($1099 list price) is the 8 Megapixel version of the popular DiMAGE A1 camera from 2003. If you don't know anything about the A1, here's what you missed: it features a unique CCD with image stabilization, which gives you 2-3 more stops than a non-stabilized camera. Simply put, you can handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds than you could with a regular camera. Add a 7X Minolta GT lens, full manual controls (and then some), flip-up LCD display, predictive autofocus, and robust performance, and you've got quite a camera. Three other features new to the A2 include a super high resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF), high resolution movie mode, and support for USB 2.0 high speed.

There are a bunch of great 8 Megapixel cameras out there. How does the A2 hold up? Find out now!

Please note that due to the similarities between the two cameras, I will be reusing a lot of text from the A1 review here.

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE A2 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel DiMAGE A2 camera
  • NP-400 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap
  • Lens hood
  • Accessory shoe cap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • 179 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)
  • CD-ROM featuring DiMAGE Viewer Utility and drivers

The latest trend on high end digital cameras is to not even include a memory card with the camera. Of the 8 Megapixel models out thus far, only the Olympus C-8080WZ and Canon PowerShot Pro1 include one. So unless you have a large CompactFlash collection, be prepared to buy a card -- a big card. I'd recommend a 256 or even 512MB card to start with. The A2 can use Type I or Type II CompactFlash cards, including the Microdrive. It also supports the FAT32 format, so you can use cards larger than 2GB.

The DiMAGE A2 uses the same NP-400 battery as its predecessor. 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 280 pictures, or spend four hours in playback mode, per charge. That's a bit less battery life than on the A1. 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 die.

When 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.

If one battery just isn't enough for you, then consider buying the BP-400 battery pack ($100). It holds two NP-400 batteries, or six AAs (you'll get more battery life with the NP-400s), giving you 560 photos or 8 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.

Another power option is the EBP-100, an 3200 mAh external battery pack ($275, ouch) that I know nothing else about.

Minolta includes a lens cap and lens hood with the camera. I could not find a retaining strap for the lens cap in the box, so you may want to buy one.

Wide conversion lens Tele conversion lens

There are quite a few accessories available for the A2, including conversion lenses (which also work with the A1, by the way). The ACT-100 1.5X telephoto adapter ($170) brings the top end of the zoom up to 300 mm. The ACW-100 0.8X wide-angle adapter ($170) lowers things down to 22.4 mm -- nice. You can also add filters, as the lens is threaded for 49mm attachments, and a 49 - 62mm step-up ring is available too ($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.

Other accessories include two remote shutter release cables ($37-40), an AC adapter ($55), and a carrying case ($40).

DiMAGE Viewer edit screen

Included with the camera is version 2.3.2 of the Minolta's DiMAGE Viewer software. It's not a substitute for something like Photoshop, but it does lets you adjust things like hue, saturation, brightness, and much more. The software is Mac OS X native and, of course, works with modern versions of Windows. The Mac version seemed buggy.

DiMAGE 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!

If you're just looking to connect your camera and transfer files, you'll be pleased to hear that the A2 is Windows XP and OS X compatible -- and you probably won't have to install any drivers.

Also included with the camera is a Windows-only version of Ulead's VideoStudio 7SE. This lets you edit video and create video CDs (VCDs).

An optional software product that you may be interested in is DiMAGE Capture ($99). 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.

Minolta's manuals have always been much better than average, and the A2's is no exception. Expect long, descriptive paragraphs, without a lot of fine print.

Look and Feel

The DiMAGE A2 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 the exception of the cover over the memory card slot). The camera is very easy to hold, with a substantial right hand grip and plenty of room for your left hand as well.

Here's a look at the dimensions and weight of the DiMAGE A2 and how it compares to the competition:

  Dimensions (WxHxD) Volume (bulk) Mass
Canon PowerShot Pro1 4.6 x 2.8 x 3.5 in. 45.1 cu. in. 545 g
Minolta DiMAGE A2 4.5 x 3.4 x 4.5 in. 68.9 cu. in. 565 g
Nikon Coolpix 8700 4.5 x 4.1 x 3.1 in. 57.2 cu. in. 480 g
Olympus C-8080WZ 4.9 x 3.3 x 3.9 in. 63.1 cu. in. 660 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828 5.3 x 3.6 x 6.2 in. 118.3 cu. in. 955 g

As you can see, it's one of the larger cameras, but it's not too heavy.

Let's dive into our tour of the A2 now, beginning with the front of the camera.

The A2 uses the same lens as the A1 as well as the old DiMAGE 7-series cameras - 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 mm attachments, and also supports the two conversion lenses I mentioned earlier.

Directly above the lens is the A2'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.

Just above that "AS/8.0M" label on the camera is the self-timer lamp, and what I think is the infrared transmitter for using a wireless flash.

Those 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.

There's no AF-assist lamp on the A2.

The A2's flip-up LCD display can tilt 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.

Another thing that tilts is the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. It can flip upward 90 degrees, just like the LCD.

I'll have more on both of those in a second.

Here's 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 setup menu.

One of the new features on the A2 is its "super fine" electronic viewfinder (EVF), and it lives up to the hype. This screen, with a whopping 922,000 pixels, is the best EVF I've used. Everything is so sharp, it puts other EVFs to shame. Even better, it's viewable in low light just like the LCD.

The 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". I did find it a little too easy to set off the sensor, though. For example, while wearing a hat, you can turn it on while viewing the LCD. My workaround was to tilt the EVF so that it pointed toward the sky (or just set force the camera to use the LCD).

To 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.

Below that is the button for adjusting exposure compensation. The range is the usual -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments.

To 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 it uses the LCD).

To 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.

Continuing downward, we find three buttons:

  • QuickView {record mode} / Delete photo {playback mode}
  • Menu
  • Anti-Shake {record}

The 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. On a typical (read: non-stabilized) camera, the average person can take a sharp photo at 1/60 second (some folks can do 1/30 sec or slower). The stabilizer will let you get a sharp shot at even slower speeds -- 1/15 sec and maybe even slower than that.

How well does it work? I used the A2's movie mode to demonstrate how this feature greatly reduces camera shake. The first half of the movie is with Anti-shake turned off, while the second half has it turned on. Have a look (592k download).

Below those buttons, under a rubber cover, you'll find two I/O ports:

  • DC-in (for AC adapter, power packs)
  • Remote (for wired remote shutter release cable)

The 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. Above that is the command dial, which is used to adjust manual settings (i.e. shutter speed, aperture).

The 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! Only Minolta flashes are supported, as far as I know. A PC flash sync port on the side of the camera is available for off-cameras and non-Minolta flashes. The camera can sync as fast as 1/250 sec.

Moving to the right, you can find the LCD info display -- which seems to be a rarity these days. The info display shows aperture and shutter speed, 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. Nice.

Below the info display 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 3.3 times, and then move around in the frame. It can only be used in manual focus mode, where you'll find it helpful for making sure that your subject is in-focus.

The next item over is the A2's mode dial, which has the following options:

  • Night portrait
  • Sunset
  • Sports/action
  • Portrait
  • Memory recall - store up to five sets of camera settings that you can easily access on the mode wheel
  • Auto record - point-and-shoot; camera shoots at default settings (though you can change them)
  • Program mode - same as auto mode, except camera remembers the settings you're using
  • Aperture priority - you choose aperture, camera selects appropriate shutter speed; aperture range is F2.8 - F11
  • Shutter priority - you choose shutter speed, camera chooses aperture; shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec (a smaller range than on the A1); Do note that as you turn up the ISO sensitivity that the slowest available shutter speed gets faster (if that makes sense); for example, at ISO 64 it's 30 seconds, while at ISO 400 it's 8 seconds
  • Manual mode - you select both the shutter speed and aperture; same ranges as above; a 30 second bulb mode is also available

In 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. An example of when you'd use it is when you want to use a smaller aperture (for more depth-of-field) without having to use aperture priority mode.

To the north of the mode dial is the microphone, with another command dial and the shutter release button above that.

There's a lot to see on this of the camera. In case you haven't figured it out yet, the A2 (like its predecessors) is a complex camera. Reading the manual is highly recommended.

The first thing to talk about is the zoom controller. Like with the DiMAGE 7-series and A1 before it, the A2's 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. As you'd expect, the level of control is far greater than on your typical camera with push-button zoom controllers.

The macro switch locks the lens at either 28mm or 200mm -- the two available macro positions. I'll have more on the macro mode later in the review.

The next item over is the manual focus ring, which works electronically, as opposed to mechanically like the zoom ring. Just rotate it to adjust the focus. More on this in a few paragraphs.

Moving to the upper-right part of the picture (just above the DiMAGE A2 label), you'll find another dial. This one (known as the function dial) controls some of the most commonly-accessed camera settings, including:

  • ISO (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, cloudy, shade, flash, custom) - more below
  • Drive
    • Single-frame - one shot at a time
    • Bracketing - you can bracket exposure, filters, color, and contrast (more on those last three in a minute); camera takes three shots in a row at either ±0.3EV or ±0.5EV
    • Continuous - takes up to three photos at approx. 2 frames/sec
    • High-speed continuous - takes up to three photos at approx. 2.7 frames/sec; each shot is not shown on the LCD as it is taken (unlike regular continuous mode), making it pretty useless for action shots
    • Ultra high speed (UHS) continuous - camera takes VGA-sized images at 7 frames/second; it can keep shooting for a long time; images are shown on LCD making it great for capturing action
    • Interval - take a series of images over time; you choose the number of photos to be taken (2 - 240), the interval between photos (30 sec - 60 min), and the amount of time before shooting begins (0 - 24 hrs)
    • Interval + time-lapse movie - same as above, but a 640 x 480 movie (4 frames/sec) is also created from the stills
    • Self-timer - 2 or 10 second
  • Metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • Custom - you can pick what goes here; choose from image size/quality, flash mode, flash control, sharpness, color mode; press the center button on the function dial while in this mode for a depth-of-field preview
  • Memory set - save up to five sets of camera settings for later retrieval

As you can see, plenty to talk about. The A2 has several white balance modes, including a manual mode where you can shoot a white or gray card 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 else.

Back to the tour now. The items below the function dial include the A2's speaker as well as flash sync port.

Below that is yet another dial (known as the digital effects controller), with the following options:

  • Filter (-5 to +5, in 1-stop increments)
  • Contrast (-5 to +5, in 1-stop increments)
  • Saturation (-5 to +5, in 1-stop increments)

The 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 an example of how the filters work.

You can use bracketing for each of the items on the digital effects controller -- cool!

Manual focus

Back 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 on your subject, even if it's moving -- great for action shots. In manual focus mode, you'll use the focus ring to change the current focus distance. The magnification feature described earlier makes sure that your subject is properly focused.

To 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 card.

Finally, we're done with this side of the A2 and can move on!

Thankfully, there are no buttons on this side of the camera. What you will find here is the CompactFlash slot, which is (still) protected by a flimsy plastic door. The A2 supports both Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards, including the Microdrive.

Under a rubber cover just left of the CF slot is the port for A/V and USB (one port for both). The A2 supports USB 2.0 high speed, which certainly helps when transferring those huge files!

I've 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.

On the bottom of the A2 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.

The included NP-400 battery is shown at right.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE A2

Record Mode

The A2 has a very impressive startup time of 1.6 seconds, due to the fact that the lens doesn't need to extend.

A live histogram is shown in record mode

For the most part, the A2's focusing performance is excellent. In good light it focuses very quickly, usually in 1/2 second. Both the LCD and EVF have a slight pause while the camera locks focus, which may make following a moving subject a little more challenging. In low light, it can take a second or two but most of the time it'll lock focus -- this despite its lack of an AF-assist lamp. The fact that both the EVF and LCD are viewable in low light makes the A2 one of the best low light shooters out there.

Once you've locked focus, you can use the direct manual focus (DMF) feature to manually focus the camera -- just in case the AF wasn't accurate. Just keep the shutter release halfway pressed, and use the focus ring.

But all is not perfect in focusland. I had a fair amount trouble with blurry photos, despite the camera telling me that the focus was locked. This wasn't in weird situations, either -- this is standing in front of my house, taking the same shot that I've done many times before. Things were so bad that I sent my first camera back. The second one (assuming it's a different one) seems to have the same problem. I don't know if all A2s have this issue (here's another report), or if there's some kind of quality control problem (another report) -- but this issue does concern me. I'll have more on this subject a little later in the review.

Shutter lag was very brief, even at slower shutter speeds.

Shot-to-shot 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.

The fast shot-to-shot speed even includes photos taken in RAW mode. That's not the case in RAW+JPEG or TIFF mode, though. Expect the camera to be locked up for 15 and 26 seconds, respectively, while the images are saved to the memory card.

To delete a photo after it is taken, you must first enter QuickView mode. Then delete away!

Now, here's a look at the many resolution and quality choices on the DiMAGE A2:

Quality Resolution Approx. File Size # images on 128MB card (optional)
RAW 3264 x 2448 11.6 MB 10
TIFF 3264 x 2448 23.0 MB 5
3264 x 2176 (3:2) 20.4 MB 5
2560 x 1920 14.2 MB 8
2080 x 1560 9.3 MB 12
1600 x 1200 5.5 MB 21
640 x 480 1.0 MB 122
Extra Fine 3264 x 2448 7.7 MB 15
3264 x 2176 (3:2) 6.9 MB 17
2560 x 1920 4.8 MB 25
2080 x 1560 3.2 MB 37
1600 x 1200 1.9 MB 62
640 x 480 420 KB 296
Fine 3264 x 2448 3.9 MB 30
3264 x 2176 (3:2) 3.5 MB 34
2560 x 1920 2.5 MB 49
2080 x 1560 1.7 MB 72
1600 x 1200 1.0 MB 117
640 x 480 320 KB 389
Standard 3264 x 2448 2.3 MB 53
3264 x 2176 (3:2) 2.1 MB 59
2560 x 1920 1.5 MB 83
2080 x 1560 1.0 MB 121
1600 x 1200 656 KB 190
640 x 480 240 KB 520

Something not listed up there is a RAW+TIFF mode which is new to the A2. You get one RAW image (at 3264 x 2448) plus a fine quality JPEG at the size of your choosing. Do note that there's a performance penalty when you use this 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 A2 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:

  • Image size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Flash mode (Fill-flash, redeye reduction, rear flash sync, wireless)
  • Flash control (ADI, pre-flash TTL, manual flash control) - see below
  • AEL button (AE hold, AE toggle, Spot AE hold, Spot AE toggle) - define how this button works
  • Reset - returns record menu items to their default values
  • Interval set - for interval shooting
    • Interval (30 sec - 60 mins)
    • No. of frames (2 - 240)
    • Start time (0 - 24 hrs)
  • Bracket set (0.3, 0.5EV) - choose the interval used in exposure bracketing mode
  • Data imprint (Off, YYYY/MM/DD, MM/DD/hr:min, Text, Text + ID#) - print stuff on your photos
  • Imprint to (Image + EXIF, EXIF only)
  • Instant playback (Off, 2, 10 sec)
  • Voice memo (on/off) - add a 15 second voice clip to your photo
  • Color mode (Natural, vivid, Adobe RGB, Embedded Adobe RGB, black & white, solarization) - quite a few options here
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, hard)
  • Noise 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 chosen shutter speed before you can take another shot.
  • Monitor amplification (Auto, normal) - when set to auto, the LCD/EVF turn up the gain so you can see what you're shooting.
  • Manual 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.
  • Magnification button (Digital zoom, flex digital magnifier) - what this button activates
  • DSP set (DSP, memory recall) - see below
  • Tracking AF (on/off) - follow moving subjects while in continuous AF mode
  • AE lock (on/off) - when on, the exposure is locked when you halfway press the shutter release button
  • Spot AE area (on/off) - when on, the focus point is in the center of the frame; otherwise it's multi-point
  • Direct MF (on/off) - described a little earlier
  • EVF mode (30 fps, 60 fps) - use the 30 fps for best EVF resolution; resolution is lowered in 60 fps in exchange for better refresh rate

Some 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 slave flashes.

Data 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.

The 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 menus.

The DiMAGE A2 also a substantial setup menu, with the following options:

  • LCD/EVF brightness (-5 to +5, in 1-stop increments)
  • Shortcut help - tells you the shortcuts to change things like digital zoom, LCD brightness, etc. without going through the menus (you use the function dial button and another button instead)
  • Transfer mode (Data storage, PTP, computer control) - PTP is for connecting to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer; computer control is used with the optional DiMAGE Capture software
  • EVF auto switch (Auto EVF/LCD, EVF auto on) - if the latter is chosen, the LCD will always remain off
  • Video output (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language (Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese)
  • Custom set (Image size, quality, flash mode, flash control, color mode, depth-of-field preview) - choose what happens when you press the button on the function dial while the CUST item is selected
  • File # memory (on/off)
  • Folder name (Standard, date)
  • Select folder
  • New folder
  • Date/time set
  • Reset defaults
  • Audio signals (Off, 1, 2) - the next three change the various sounds the camera makes
  • Focus signal (Off, 1, 2)
  • Shutter FX (Off, 1, 2)
  • Volume (0 - 3)
  • Power save (1, 3, 5, 10 min)
  • Anti-shake (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
  • Full-time AF (on/off) - camera constantly tries to focus; puts extra strain on battery but speeds up focusing
  • Grip sensor (on/off) - turning this on makes sure that the full-time AF only works when the camera is being held
  • Control dial set - these next two define what control dial changes shutter speed and aperture while in the manual modes
  • Manual exposure
  • Delete conf (yes, no) - when "yes", deleting a photo takes one less button-press

Well that was exhausting. Let's continue now with photo quality tests.

I had a heck of a time getting the A2 to take our standard macro test shot. I think it took me 10+ tries before I got a decent shot. Even then, it was a little soft. The A2's white balance handled my quartz studio lamps well.

The A2's macro mode is somewhat unique in that you can take shots at short distances to the subject at both the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom range. At wide-angle, the minimum distance to the subject is 30 cm -- not great. At telephoto, the distance actually drops down to 25 cm -- very unusual for this to happen. The telephoto end is the sweet spot, where you can fill the frame with a 52 x 39 mm subject. Do note that the lens is locked at either the wide or tele positions in macro mode.

The A2 produced a very nice, though slightly soft, rendition of the SF skyline. Even though it's a bit overexposed, there's no yucky purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) to be seen. With full manual controls, taking shots like this are a piece of cake. Just bring your tripod!

Using that night shot, here's a look at how changing the ISO sensitivity affects image noise:

ISO 64
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

ISO 800
View Full Size Image

Noise levels are pretty low for a while, but once you hit ISO 400, look out! ISO 800 is a real mess, though you may be able to clean it up with some of the modern noise reduction tools out there now.

Great news, no redeye! There's a bit of flash reflection, but nothing else. The A1 performed just as well.

The A2's lens produces moderate barrel distortion at the wide-angle setting. There's no vignetting (dark corners) to be seen, which is good news.

When it wanted to, the A2 produced very nice photos. They're softer than I'd like (at default settings) and a bit noisy, but overall, pretty good. Exposure and color are both accurate, and purple fringing levels are low. These two shots illustrate show what the A2 can do.

However, both A2's that I tested had an problem with VERY soft, out-of-focus images. This is despite having the camera signal that the photo is properly focused (and before anyone asks, the DMF feature was off). Here's a real world example showing how bad the photos look when this problem occurred:

View Full Size Image

Sony DSC-F828
(crop downsized a bit so the sizes match)
View Full Size Image

Here's a more controlled example. I set up the A2 on a tripod in front of my house and took the same picture four times. Three out of four times the shot was out-of-focus, again with the camera saying that focus was locked.

Reference shot
View sharp version
View blurry version
Roof peak (sharp shot, then blurry shot)
Flowers (sharp then blurry)
House number (sharp then blurry)

The fact that I got the blurry version three out of four times is unacceptable from a camera in this class. I do believe that both cameras I tested were lemons (assuming they were different ones and not just the first one sent back) and that most A2s work just fine. But, there were quite a few people, both reviewers and end users, that had problems with their A2s, so I fear that there may be a quality control problem of some sort. When it works, the A2 has a lot going for it, so you may have to play the exchange game if you get a bad one like I did (twice!).

The 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.

Movie Mode

The movie mode has improved quite a bit since the A1 was reviewed. You can record movies at the unusual resolution of 544 x 408, at 30 frames/second, with sound. Not quite VGA quality, but still better than average. Minolta says that you can record for up to 6 minutes, regardless of how big your memory card is. Well, that wasn't true for me, as I recorded almost 10 minutes to my 1GB CF card. You can also record at 320 x 240, and for both resolutions you can choose from 15 or 30 frames/sec. When you use the lower resolution and/or frame rate, the maximum recoding time jumps to 15 minutes.

Since the zoom is mechanically operated, you can use it during filming.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format.

Here's a sample movie for you. Do note that I rotated it so it will display properly. Anti-shake was activated during filming.

Click to play movie (12.8 MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The A2 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. Direct printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer is also supported.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 10.2X (in 0.2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around.

You can rotate an image by pressing down on the four-way controller. An image copy feature lets you transfer photos from one memory card to another in 29MB increments. The delete feature lets you delete one, all, or a group of photos (the latter being quite useful in my opinion).

By default, the A2 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 with breathtaking speed -- it's basically instantaneous.

How Does it Compare?

When working properly, the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 is an impressive 8 Megapixel camera. The problem is, both of the A2s that I tested had problems taking sharp photos. But more on that in a second.

The A2 usually takes good photos, though not the best of the 8MP bunch, as they're soft and a bit noisy. Minolta does have purple fringing under control, unlike most of the competition. In terms of performance, the A2 is excellent. It starts up, shoots, and plays back photos very quickly. In low light the camera focuses very well, despite not having an AF-assist lamp. And, since both the LCD and electronic viewfinder are usable in low light, you can actually see what you're taking a picture of. Speaking of the EVF, it's excellent -- by far the best one I've used. The A2's lens covers a nice range of 28 - 200 mm, and there are conversion lenses available if that's not enough. The A2 is one of a very select group of cameras that has an image stabilizer, which reduces the effects of camera shake in both stills and movies.

If you like manual controls then you'll love the A2. It goes way beyond the "basics" like shutter speed and white balance. You can fine-tune white balance, bracket for color saturation, and store up to 5 sets of camera settings on the mode dial. Along with all those controls comes complexity -- this isn't an easy camera to use, so expect to read the manual.

That's nice and all, but none of it matters if the camera can't take a sharp picture. Too many times my A2 produced ultra-soft, out-of-focus images when it shouldn't be. I've provided my evidence of this earlier in the review, and I'll mention again that both DP Review and Luminous Landscape had AF problems. I'm not sure if I just had bad luck with my two review cameras or if there's a quality control problem, but it is reason for concern. Hopefully Konica Minolta will straighten things out soon.

Other complaints that I have about the A2 are just like those I had for the A1. The door covering the memory card slot is cheap and plastic. The macro mode isn't as good as the competition (though you can shoot pretty close in telephoto mode), and its price makes it harder to justify versus buying a digital SLR. The A2 does not include a memory card, so be sure to factor that into the purchase price. You'll need a big one.

I'm hesitant to recommend the A2 based on my experiences, but since many people have had no problems, you may have better luck than I did. If you do get a properly working model, you'll find that it's quite a camera.

What I liked (when the camera is working properly):

  • Good photo quality
  • 7X optical zoom lens
  • Image stabilization system
  • Full manual controls (and plenty of them)
  • Hot shoe + flash sync port
  • Very good low light AF performance, even without AF-assist lamp
  • LCD/EVF are useful in low lighting conditions
  • Excellent quality EVF
  • Good redeye test performance
  • Backlit LCD info display
  • Can store favorite settings to spot on mode dial
  • Excellent battery life
  • LCD and EVF can flip up for easier viewing
  • No performance penalty while shooting in RAW mode
  • High resolution movie mode
  • Fast image viewing in playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Too many out-of-focus shots; bad luck or bad quality control?
  • Complex; not easy to just pick up and use without reading the manual first
  • Images slightly noisy and soft
  • No memory card included
  • Flimsy plastic door over CF slot
  • Competition from D-SLRs

Other cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot Pro1, Nikon Coolpix 8700, Olympus C-8080WZ, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828. Don't write off the Canon Digital Rebel or Nikon D70 either.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE A2 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a few more?

Don't miss other A2 reviews at Steves Digicams, DP Review, and Luminous Landscape.

Buy it now

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.

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