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DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE Z2  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 9, 2004
Last Updated: August 11, 2004

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The Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z2 ($450) is an updated version of the DiMAGE Z1, which I wasn't a huge fan of. The is pretty much the same camera as its predecessor, with the following changes:

  • New 4 Megapixel CCD (versus 3.2)
  • New apochromatic (APO) Minolta GT lens
  • New SVGA (800 x 600) movie mode
  • Live histogram in record mode

There are a ton of ultra zoom cameras out there, some of which are very good. How does the Z2 compare? Find out in our review!

Please note that since the cameras are so similar, I will be reusing a lot of text from the Z1 review here.

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE Z2 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 effective Megapixel DiMAGE Z2 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries (not rechargeable)
  • Shoe cap
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap w/retaining strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • DiMAGE Viewer Utility + ArcSoft software CDs
  • 123 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Minolta includes a skimpy 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card with the camera, which is barely enough to start with. I highly recommend picking up a 128MB or larger card right away. The Z2 can use SD or MMC memory cards, though I recommend the former for its superior capacity and performance.

Another purchase you'll need to make is for additional batteries. Minolta includes four alkaline batteries with the camera, which will quickly find their way into your trash can (or should I say, recycling bin). So go buy two sets of NiMH batteries instead -- they'll last longer while saving the environment -- and your money -- as well. Minolta estimates that you can take about 250 photos (with 50% flash use), or spend 300 minutes in playback mode using alkalines. Those are the same numbers that the Z1 had.

The nice thing about these AA-based cameras is that you can use alkalines in emergencies. Try that with a $40 proprietary battery!

Want more battery life, and don't mind carrying around a bulky battery pack? Then check out the Minolta EBP-100 battery pack kit ($275). It holds two lithium-ion batteries, which should provide you with hours of battery power (sorry, I don't have exact numbers).

Minolta includes a lens cap and retaining strap with the Z2. As you can see, this is one of the more compact ultra zooms on the market.

The Z2 supports a couple of accessories, including the battery pack that I just mentioned. The only lens accessory available is the 0.75X wide-angle adapter (model ZCW-100, $120). This brings the wide ends of the Z2 down to 28 mm. It includes the conversion lens adapter, so you don't have to buy that separately. But if you just want to use filters, you can buy it alone for $13 (model ZCA-100). The adapter is threaded for 52 mm attachments.

The old DiMAGE Z1 shown with Program Flash 2500

Since the DiMAGE Z2 is equipped with a hot shoe, you can use a external flash. Keep in mind that you must use a Minolta flash, as its a proprietary hot shoe. Compatible flashes include the Program Flash 2500 (shown above), 3600HS, and 5600HS.

Other accessories include an AC adapter ($55), camera case ($20), and leather neck strap ($25).

Included with the camera is version 2.3.3 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. If you're just looking to connect your camera and transfer files, you'll be pleased to hear that the Z2 is Windows XP and OS X compatible -- and you probably won't have to install any drivers.

Also included is a Windows-only version of ArcSoft VideoImpression 2, which you can use to edit the movie clips you've recorded with the Z2.

The DiMAGE's manual is pretty good as well, with long explanations and not a lot of fine print. Much better than the average camera manual.

Look and Feel

The DiMAGE is a stylish and fairly compact ultra zoom camera. It's made mostly of plastic, and it's build quality isn't fabulous. As was the case with the Z1, the lens seems to rattle in place (which is apparently normal). The camera is easy to hold, and the important controls are easy to reach.

Appearance-wise, the Z2 is almost identical to its predecessor.

Let's take a look at the dimensions of the Z2, and how they compare with the other ultra zoom models:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S1 IS 4.4 x 3.1 x 2.6 in. 35.5 cu. in. 370 g
Fuji FinePix S5000 4.4 x 3.2 x 3.1 in. 43.6 cu in. 337 g
Kodak EasyShare DX6490 3.9 x 3.2 x 3.2 in. 39.9 cu in. 310 g
HP Photosmart 945 4.8 x 3.4 x 3.4 in. 55.5 cu in. 389 g
Minolta DiMAGE Z2 4.3 x 3.1 x 3.2 in. 42.7 cu in. 305 g
Olympus C-765 Ultra Zoom 4.1 x 2.4 x 2.7 in. 26.6 cu in. 280 g
Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom 300 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 5.5 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 78.5 cu in. 518 g
Toshiba PDR-M700 4.3 x 2.7 x 2.6 in. 30.2 cu in. 298 g

While it's not the smallest or lightest camera of the bunch, the Z2 is still right up there.

Enough numbers -- let's start our review of this camera now!

The DiMAGE Z2 has a brand new Minolta GT lens. This F2.8-3.7, 10X optical zoom model has a focal range of 6.3 - 63 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 380 mm. The new lens is a little slower at the telephoto end (F3.7 vs F3.5), but it's still one of the faster ultra zoom lenses out there. As I mentioned in the previous section, the camera supports an optional wide-angle conversion lens as well as filters. The lens is not stabilized like the Canon S1 and Panasonic FZ1/FZ10. This feature comes in real handy with big zoom cameras like this.

Directly above the lens is what Minolta calls Rapid AF -- basically a passive autofocus sensor. This helps the camera focus quickly in good light. I've seen mixed results in terms of low light focusing on other cameras with these AF sensors. One thing that always helps with low light focusing is an AF-assist lamp, which the Z2 does not have.

Continuing upward, we find the built-in flash. The working range has changed a bit since the Z1: it's now 0.23 - 6.1 m at wide-angle and 1.3 - 4.6 m at telephoto. As I mentioned before, the camera supports several Minolta external flashes.

To the upper-left of the lens are the self-timer lamp and microphone.

Using the LCD

Using the Switch Finder

Like the Z1, the DiMAGE Z2 has a rather unusual form of viewfinder. It's not an optical viewfinder, nor is it an electronic viewfinder. You're actually looking at the LCD reflected in a mirror. This feature, known as the Switch Finder, allows for traditional use of the LCD (on the back of the camera) and also for viewing as a viewfinder. As I said in the Z1 review, I don't like it. It's not the quality of the image that bothers me -- in fact, it's great. Rather, I worry that the mechanical nature of this device means that it could easily fail, leaving you stuck with only an LCD, only a viewfinder, or even worse, neither. And it can fail, based on e-mails I've received and forums I've read. Naturally your mileage may vary, but don't say I didn't warn you.

One other note about the Switch Finder -- there is a diopter correction knob to focus what you're looking at on the screen.

The LCD itself is excellent -- bright and very fluid. At 1.5 inches, it's quite small, but it makes up for it in resolution (113k pixels) and especially its refresh rate. You haven't seen a camera LCD until you've seen one running at 60 frames/second -- it's wonderful. The camera also amplifies the image on the screen in low light, which is very handy. The LCD brightness can be adjusted in the setup menu.

Below the LCD is a switch which moves the camera between playback, record (LCD), and record (viewfinder) mode. The power button is in the middle of all that. Switching between the LCD and viewfinder is bizarre the first time you do it, with a noticeable "thunk" when the mirror moves.

To the right of the LCD is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, manual controls, and adjusting exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments).

The three buttons below that are menu, QuickView/delete photo, and info. Pressing QuickView shoves you into playback mode, where you can review photos. The i+ button toggles what is shown on the screen -- it's basically the same as the display button on other cameras.

To the right of those is the DC-in port, which is where you'll plug in the optional AC adapter or external battery pack.

The final item to talk about is the zoom controller, located at the top-right of the photo. It takes just 1.6 seconds to move the lens from wide-angle to telephoto. Though it seemed a little unresponsive, you can make precise adjustments to the zoom by quickly pressing the buttons on the controller.

Now let's cover the top of the Z2. As I discussed back in the first section of the review, the camera has a proprietary hot shoe, so don't try to stick your Canon flash on it!

At the lower-right of the picture is the Z2's mode wheel. Items on it include:

  • Auto - point-and-shoot, most settings locked up
  • Movie mode - more on this later
  • Program mode - still point-and-shoot, but with full access to menu options
  • Aperture priority mode - you choose aperture, camera selects appropriate shutter speed; aperture range is F2.8 - F8, and will vary with focal length
  • Shutter priority mode - you choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. shutter speed range of 15 - 1/1000 sec
  • Full manual mode - you choose both shutter speed and aperture
  • Night portrait - these next five are scene modes
  • Sunset
  • Landscape
  • Sports/action
  • Portrait

Above the mode dial are two buttons and the speaker. The buttons are for macro mode (including super macro) and flash setting (auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill-flash, slow sync, flash cancel).

On this side of the camera, Minolta has hidden the SD/MMC card slot and USB port. The sliding plastic door is nice, since you can't snap it off like on some other cameras. It is a little tight in there, making it hard to get the card out at times.

Like the Z1, this camera supports USB 2.0 full speed, which is marketing speak for "just as slow as USB 1.1". If you don't have USB 2.0, don't worry -- it'll still work.

The included 16MB Secure Digital card is also shown.

Nothing to see here... move along.

Finally, here is the bottom of the DiMAGE Z2. Here you'll find the battery compartment as well as a metal tripod mount. The door over the battery compartment has a lock, so it doesn't accidentally spring open. The door itself is on the flimsy side.

The tripod mount is located inline with the lens.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE Z2

Record Mode

It takes the Z2 about 2.6 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting. That's about the same as on the DiMAGE Z1.

The live histogram is new to the Z2

Focusing speeds on the Z2 were good, ranging from about 0.4 seconds for easy subjects at wide-angle to a second for more difficult subjects. Low light focusing was not great, so it appears that Rapid AF only helps in good lighting. At least you can see what you're shooting at, since the LCD gives you a bright, albeit grainy, view of the subject.

Shutter lag was low, even at slower shutter speeds where it often occurs

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay 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.

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

Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the DiMAGE Z2:

Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 16MB card
2272 x 1704 Fine 1.9 MB 7
Standard 1.0 MB 14
Economy 520 KB 27
1600 x 1200 Fine 770 KB 14
Standard 440 KB 27
Economy 280 KB 47
1280 x 960 Fine 550 KB 22
Standard 300 KB 39
Economy 190 KB 69
640 x 480 Fine 160 KB 69
Standard 120 KB 100
Economy 80 KB 150

The DiMAGE Z2 does not have a RAW or TIFF mode. Neither does most of the competition.

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 Z2 uses the standard Konica Minolta menu system. The menu is divided into three "tabs", each with its own set of options. Note that most of the options below are locked up in the auto and scene modes. The menu options are:

  • Drive mode
    • Single-frame - for normal shooting
    • Self-timer
    • Continuous - takes up to five shots in a row at 2.5 frames/sec
    • UHS continuous - takes fifteen 1280 x 960 shots in one second
    • Progressive capture - takes pictures at 2.5 frames/second until you let go of the shutter release button. When you do so, the last five photos are saved. This is handy when you're waiting for the action to occur.
    • UHS progressive capture - same as above, but resolution is 1280 x 960 and camera saves the last twelve images
    • Bracketing - camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure; you can choose 0.3, 0.5, or 1.0EV as the bracket interval
  • Image size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Auto DSP (on/off) - essentially an automatic scene mode feature; available in auto record mode only
  • White balance (Auto, custom, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash) - custom mode lets you shoot a white or gray card in order to get perfect color in any light
  • Flash key function (Flash mode, drive, white balance, focus mode, color mode) - redefines the function of the flash button on the top of the camera
  • Focus mode (Auto, manual) - see below
  • Full-time AF (on/off) - camera is constantly trying to focus; puts extra strain on batteries
  • Flash mode (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow sync, flash cancel) - for changing the flash mode when you've redefined the flash button
  • Flash compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) - adjust the flash strength
  • Metering mode (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using this will reduce the quality of your photos
  • Color mode (Natural, vivid, black and white, sepia)
  • Sharpness (Hard, normal, soft)
  • Contrast (Low, normal, high)

Manual focus

Continuous focus mode will focus the lens even when you're not halfway pressing the shutter release. This reduces AF lag and is also good when your subject is in motion. Manual focus mode lets you use the four-way controller to focus the lens. A guide is shown on the LCD displaying the current focus distance, and the camera will enlarge the center of the image so you can verify that your subject is in-focus. I wish camera companies would start putting manual focus rings on their cameras!

Let's move on to the setup menu now. The items here include:
  • LCD brightness
  • Power save (1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
  • Instant playback (Off, 2, 10 sec) - how long photo is shown on LCD after it is taken
  • Lens accessory (None, wide converter)
  • Language (Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish)
  • File # memory (on/off)
  • Folder name (Standard, date) - choose the naming system for folders
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - used to reduce noise in exposures 1 second or longer
  • Date/time set
  • Date imprint (on/off) - print the date on your photos
  • Reset to defaults
  • Audio signals (Off, 1, 2) - menu beeps
  • Focus signal (Off, 1, 2) - the focus confirmation sound
  • Shutter FX (Off, 1, 2) - fake shutter sound
  • Volume (1-3)
  • Video output (NTSC, PAL)
  • Transfer mode (Data storage, PictBridge)

Let's move on to photo quality now!

The DiMAGE Z2 recorded a very nice and smooth version of our famous macro subject. My only complaint is that Mickey's cloak really isn't that fluorescent in real life. The camera has two macro modes: regular and super. In regular macro mode, you can get as close to your subject as 7 cm at wide-angle or 120 cm at telephoto. If that's not close enough for you, then try super macro mode, which lowers the distance to an impressive 3 cm. Note that the lens is locked at the 1.7X zoom position while in super mode.

The night shot portion of my DiMAGE Z1 review was controversial, to say the least. The test photo (using my standard test methodology) had worse purple fringing than any camera I had tested in six years. Thankfully I did find (and publish) some workarounds to the problem.

Konica Minolta has resolved this problem on the Z2. Purple fringing levels are very low -- light years ahead of where things were on the Z1. I don't know if its the new lens or the new CCD, but everyone's happy again.

The Z2 took in plenty of light, thanks to its full control over shutter speed. You can keep the shutter open for as long as 15 seconds. The image is a little soft, but is low on noise.

Using that same shot, let's have a look at the effect of the ISO sensitivity on noise levels.

ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

As you can see, noise levels are pretty low at ISO 50 and 100. ISO 200 isn't bad, and even ISO 400 could be usable with noise reduction software.

I got the same redeye test results here as I did on the Z1 -- there's really none to speak of. Just a little flash reflection!

The distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle, and no vignetting (dark corners).

Overall I'd rank the Z2's image quality as "good, but not great". It does a fine job with exposure and color, but there were two things that bothered me a bit. First was the above average levels of purple fringing. This phenomenon is fairly common on ultra zoom cameras, though the Z2 may be a bit worse than some of the best ones out there. The second issue was that images seemed a bit soft, with a fuzzy quality reminiscent of a video frame grab. Obviously this one is subjective, which is why I encourage you to view the gallery and evaluate the photo quality with your own eyes.

I should add that things like noise and purple fringing tend to disappear when you downsize images or print them at smaller sizes, so if you're doing either of those, I wouldn't worry too much about my complaints.

Movie Mode

The DiMAGE Z2 has one of the best movie modes out there. Konica Minolta has gone beyond 640 x 480: now we've got 800 x 600! The catch is that the frame rate is limited to 15 frames/second at that resolution. But if you go down to 640 x 480, you have access to the smooth 30 frames/sec frame rate. Sound is recorded in both cases. You can record for as long as there is space on your memory card. Lower resolutions (320 x 240 and 160 x 120) are also available at both 15 and 30 frames/second.

While Konica Minolta doesn't come right out and say it, you may need a fast SD card in other to use those high res movie modes. If recording stops prematurely, odds are that your memory card is too slow.

The included 16MB SD card won't hold many seconds of movies. K-M says 13 seconds at 800 x 600 (15 fps) and 640 x 480 (30 fps). Slower frame rates and lower resolutions will allow for longer movies. The bottom line: buy a larger memory card!

The Z2 is one of very few cameras that actually let you use the zoom lens during filming. I wouldn't recommend doing so, unless you like the sound of an eighties-vintage dot matrix printer as background music for your movies. Along those lines, if you're filming in a quiet environment you may also want to turn off continuous autofocus, as it adds some background noise as well (sounds like a quite typewriter or something).

Another neat feature is the ability to do a frame grab from a movie. When the movie is paused, just press "up" on the four-way controller and you can save a frame at the same resolution of the movie.

Here's a sample movie taken at the 800 x 600 resolution:

Click to play movie (9.5MB, 800 x 600, 15 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Z2 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 6X (in 0.2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around.

By entering the picture info screen (shown below), you can rotate photos (by pressing the "down" button). You can also downsize images for e-mailing, and copy images from one memory card to another.

One other feature that I appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.

By default, the Z2 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, with roughly a 1/2 second delay between photos.

How Does it Compare?

The Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z2 is a good ultra zoom camera, though definitely not my favorite of the bunch (which would be the Olympus 765/770 and Panasonic FZ10). It has a sleek, modern design, though it's got a real "plastic feel" and the lens rattles. Along those lines, the interesting Switch Finder gives you a nice screen to look at, but if the Z1's track record is any indication, the whole mechanism can fail.

Photo quality is generally good, though expect above average purple fringing and noise which sometimes gives images a soft, fuzzy look. This won't be an issue if you're just printing 4 x 6's, though. The horrid night shot problems I had with the Z1 are thankfully now a thing of the past. The redeye test performance was just as good as it was on the Z1.

Two standout features on the Z2 include a first-rate movie mode, which offers resolutions of 640 x 480 and 800 x 600, though the latter has a 15 fps frame rate. The other nice feature is the super macro mode, which lets you get as close to your subject as 3 cm. The camera also supports a wide-angle conversion lens and an external flash (though Minolta only). The Z2 offers a full suite of manual controls for enthusiasts as well as fully automatic modes for the beginner.

A few other complaints, if I may: the Z2's bundle leaves something to be desired, with a skimpy memory card and no rechargeable batteries. Low light focusing was not very good, though I do like how the LCD is still viewable. And speaking of the LCD: it's beautiful to look at, but is a little on the small side.

As I said at the start of the section, the Z2 isn't my favorite ultra zoom camera, but it's good enough to get my recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Full manual controls
  • Hot shoe (though limited to Minolta flashes)
  • Supports wide-angle conversion lens
  • Fabulous movie mode: 800 x 600 and 640 x 480!
  • High quality (but small) LCD
  • LCD still usable in low light situations
  • Good redeye test performance
  • Many burst mode options
  • Nice macro mode
  • Histograms in record and playback mode
  • Can grab frames from movies

What I didn't care for:

  • Above average purple fringing; images seem fuzzy/noisy at times
  • Low light focusing wasn't great; no AF-assist lamp
  • Lens rattles, plastic body feels a bit cheap
  • Continued concerns about durability of switch finder
  • Camera bundle not great

Other ultra zooms worth a look include the Canon PowerShot S1 IS (image stabilizer), Fuji FinePix S5000, HP Photosmart 945 (EVF usable in low light), Kodak EasyShare DX6490 (EVF usable in low light), Kyocera Finecam M410R, Olympus C-765/770 Ultra Zoom, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 (image stabilizer).

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE Z2 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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

Want a second opinion?

Read a different opinion over at Steve's Digicams.

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.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.