Review: Minolta DiMAGE S304
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Friday, March 1, 2002
Friday, March 1, 2002
didn't hear a lot about Minolta in the digital camera world until
the arrival of the 5 Megapixel DiMAGE 7 last year (see
our review). The DiMAGE 7 caught a lot of peoples eyes -- and
their checkbooks too. Minolta is now working their way from the
prosumer to consumer-level cameras, with the new DiMAGE X being
the new "entry level" camera. The DiMAGE
S304 (under $500 street) is a midrange camera in Minolta's lineup.
If you want a few more pixels, the 4 Megapixel DiMAGE
S404 (also under $500 street) is also available.
does the S304 stack up against the competition? Here we go!
in the Box?
Minolta S304 has an average bundle. It includes:
3.2 (effective) Mpixel Minolta DiMAGE S304 camera
AA alkaline batteries
featuring DiMAGE Viewer Utility, ArcSoft PhotoImpression, drivers
page manual (printed)
DiMAGE's bundle isn't great. The 16MB CompactFlash card is a bit
skimpy, but what bothers me more is the inclusion of non-rechargeable,
alkaline batteries. The power-hungry S304 will burn through them
quickly, and into the trash they go. My suggestion? Pick up at least
two sets of NiMH rechargeables as soon as possible.
says the S304 will last for about 110 minutes on a set of batteries.
I must also refer you to DP Review's battery
life test page, where you'll see that Minolta cameras have the
shortest battery life of the cameras on the list. I found the battery
life to be mediocre, when I went out and used it.
includes a lens cap with strap, so your lens will be protected.
far as accessories for the S304 go, you can get an external battery
pack, wireless remote control, and since the lens is threaded, you
can use third party filters. I'm not sure what Minolta offers as
far as lens accessories.
may or may not end up using Minolta's DiMAGE Viewer Utility. As
you'll see, the S304 uses a different color space for its photos,
and you must use the utility to convert the color space. The utility
leaves much to be desired in terms of ease-of-use.
S304's manual is above average, with lengthy descriptions and not
too many bullet points or "notes" in micro-type.
DiMAGE S304 is a mid-sized camera, comparable in size to the Canon
PowerShot G2. The metal body gives the S304 strength, and also weight
-- the camera is fairly heavy. It's a little too big to fit in your
average pocked. The camera is easy to hold, though you need to be
careful not to cover the microphone with your left hand when recording
official dimensions of the S304 are 4.5 x 2.5 x 2.3 inches (W x
H x D) and it weighs 335 grams empty.
take our usual 360 degree tour, starting with the front of the camera.
of the standout features of the DiMAGE S304 is its 4X optical zoom
Minolta GT lens (F3.0). It's nice for a camera to have more than
a 3X zoom! The focal range is 7.15 - 28.6 mm, which is equivalent
to 35 - 140 mm. The lens is threaded for 35.5 mm attachments.
the upper right of the photo is the S304's built-in flash. The working
range of the flash is 0.5 - 3.5 m (wide-angle) and 0.9 - 3.0 (telephoto).
External flashes are not supported.
one thing is missing from the front of the camera, it's some sort
of AF assist lamp, for low light focusing.
now is the back of the DiMAGE S304. The 1.8" LCD, like on the
DiMAGE 7, doesn't seem as good as other digicams. Images always
appear blurry to me on it, even in playback mode. It's not terrible,
but certainly not great. The image itself is bright and fluid though.
above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. In my opinion, this tiny
viewfinder is way too small for a camera this big. Even the micro-cameras
have larger ones. In addition, there is no diopter correction feature.
cover those three buttons to the right of the optical viewfinder
when we look at the top of the camera. That leaves us with the four-way
switch and the three buttons below that. The four-way switch is
used for menus, as well as controlling the zoom lens. The lens moves
smoothly, though there's no indication on the LCD as to how far
your zoomed in.
four-way switch serves an additional purpose when in Manual Record
mode. Holding it down will put the camera into focus point selection
mode, where you can choose one of five points for the camera to
menu button is self-explanatory. The QV/Trash button will quickly
put you in playback mode. The trash feature (playback mode) does
just as it says. The display button below will toggle the LCD on
and off, as well as what is shown on it.
on the far right is the release for the CompactFlash slot door.
the top of the S304. I'll cover those three buttons towards the
bottom-center first, left to right:
[record] / Zoom [playback]
(Single-shot, self-timer, continuous shooting, AE bracketing)
compensation [rec] - the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments
more info on those drive modes. Continuous shooting mode will take
photos at the rather sluggish rate of 1 frame/second. The maximum
number of shots that can be taken in this mode depends on the image
size/quality settings, but it ranges from 4 to 25. The AE bracketing
feature will take three shots in a row with differing exposure compensation
values (which you set via the menu).
above that is the LCD info display, which shows things like flash
setting, quality and size, shooting mode, shots remaining, and battery
pressing the small silver button just to the right of the info display,
you can toggle between five shooting modes:
- black and white mode for photographing documents
the lower-right of the picture is the S304's mode wheel. The choices
Record (Minolta calls is Multl-Function Record Mode, but I'll
use the former in this review)
mode locks down most of the manual features of the camera. You can
only change image size/quality, drive mode, exposure compensation,
and the flash setting. You'll have to enter Manual Record mode to
toy around some more.
items of note on the top of the camera are the shutter release button,
and the microphone (far left).
only thing you'll find on this side of the camera is the speaker.
the other side of the camera, where you'll find the CompactFlash
slot as well as the A/V and USB ports. The CF slot is Type I, so
no Microdrives. Here you'll also find the DC in port (for optional
AC adapter), which is under a rubber cover.
complaints about the CF slot which might seem somewhat dumb: One,
the plastic door seems very flimsy; Two, that metal ring for the
strap gets in the way of the door when you're trying to close it.
here is the bottom of the S304. Towards the left, you can see the
compartment which holds the four AA batteries. You can also see
the metal tripod mount, strangely positioned towards the corner
of the camera.
the Minolta DiMAGE S304
powering on the camera, it takes about 4.5 seconds for the lens
to extend and prepare for shooting. Depressing the shutter release
button halfway generally results in locked focus in less than a
second. Despite it's lack of a AF illuminator, the camera usually
locked focus (or claimed to) in low light. Depressing the shutter
release button fully results in a photo with minimal shutter lag.
the post-shot preview is turned off, you can take another photo
almost instantly, giving the S304 excellent shot-to-shot speed.
The only exception, of course, is when you take a TIFF image (known
as Super fine quality on the S304). That will lock up the camera
for over 40 seconds while the file is written to the CF card.
of image quality, here's a look at the choices available:
on 16MB card
of you who are familiar with the DiMAGE
7 review might have noticed that the S304 does not have a RAW
mode, like its more expensive sibling.
cover the DiMAGE S304's menus now. Keep in mind that many of the
options are only available in Manual Record mode.
mode (Program, aperture priority, manual) - note the lack
of a shutter priority mode
size (2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
(Super fine, fine, standard, economy)
balance (Cloudy, daylight, auto, tungsten, fluorescent, custom)
mode (AF, MF)
(Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800)
mode (Multi-segment, spot)
bracketing (1.0, 0.5, 0.3 EV steps)
playback (2 sec, 10 sec, off)
mode (Color, B&W)
(Hard, normal, soft)
(High, normal, low)
saturation (High, normal, low)
memo (5 sec, 15 sec, off) - record a sound clip with each
quick comments: there's a manual white balance mode that you can
use in those tough lighting situations. As for the manual modes,
there's only aperture priority or full manual -- I wish there was
a shutter priority mode too. There are limited choices for aperture
priority mode: F3.0 and F6.7 at wide-angle, and F3.6 and F8.0 at
telephoto. In full manual mode, you can select from the same aperture
values, plus shutter speeds of 4 - 1/1000 sec. A bulb mode is also
is also a setup menu with the usual settings such as time &
date, power saving, card formatting, and more.
we look at the test photos, I need to bring up the color space issue,
which also came up with the DiMAGE 7, so I will just repeat it here:
The DiMAGE S304 uses it's own proprietary color space (palette)
for some reason. To get the most accurate color, it's been recommended
that you run the images through the DiMAGE Image Viewer Utility
and re-save them with the sRGB color space. To do this, you'll
see an option to convert the color space when you're opening images,
then just re-save them. Of course, this will add even more compression
to the JPEG image. Digital Photography Review explains
all of this far better than I ever could.
let's see those photos. I did not change the color space
on these, so you can see exactly what the camera produces, unedited.
Some of the gallery images will be changed,
so you can see the difference (the images definitely seem more saturated
S304 locks the focal length somewhere in the middle in macro mode,
so I had to back up from the subject quite a bit, and still couldn't
fit the whole thing in. The macro distance on the S304 is 16 - 60
another macro shot I've been doing lately -- the electric shaver.
I couldn't get the camera to focus on it in AF mode, so I ended
up doing it manually. The results from both tests came out pretty
well, as you can see.
I wish it was brighter, this image represents what the skyline looked
like when this photo was taken. I believe this was 4 second exposure
(which is the max -- how are you going to do bulb mode without a
remote shutter release?). One thing that impressed me was how sharp
the buildings were, and even more so, how little noise is in the
the camera did a fine job in the photo quality department. Images
were sharp, colors were accurate (at least after converting the
colorspace to sRGB), and chromatic aberrations (also known as purple
fringing) weren't a major problem. Take a look at the photo
gallery and judge the quality for yourself.
DiMAGE S304 can record 60 second movie clips, with sound. They're
recorded at the usual size of 320 x 240. When filming, the optical
zoom is locked in the position it was when you started filming.
You cannot use the digital zoom, either.
a sample movie:
to play movie (AVI format, 1.9MB)
view it? Download Quicktime.
S304's playback mode is pretty standard, but very well implemented.
The usual features like slideshows, DPOF print marking, "zoom
and scroll", and thumbnail mode are available.
zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in 2X, 2.5X, or 3.2X into
your photo, and then move around in it.
pressing the four-way switch up, you can get a little more information
about your photos.
S304 moves through photos at lightning speeds -- one of the fastest
playback modes I've seen.
there's anything missing, it's an in-camera rotation feature.
Does it Compare?
the most part, the Minolta DiMAGE S304 is one of the best 3 Megapixel
cameras out there. It has a nice 4X optical zoom lens (instead of
the usual 3X), a better than average amount of manual controls,
very good photo quality, and a movie mode with sound. The downsides
are the below average battery life, colorspace issues, and my silly
complaints about the CompactFlash slot cover. If you're looking
for a midrange camera, I'd strongly suggest checking out the S304.
If you like the S304 but want more pixels, don't forget the 4 Megapixel
DiMAGE S404 either.
optical zoom lens
good photo quality
selection of manual controls
fast playback mode
mode with sound
I didn't care for:
like more aperture settings and a shutter priority mode
color comes after changing colorspace to sRGB
issues: flimsy door + wish they could've put in a Type II slot
positioned tripod mount
three Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon
PowerShot G1 and S30,
DiMAGE 5, Nikon Coolpix 885
DSC-S75, and the Toshiba
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the DiMAGE S304 and it's competitors before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a few more opinions?
you're considering this camera, then don't miss reviews from Steves
Resource, and DP
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests
for personal camera recommendations.