Z3 ($549) is the first ultra zoom camera Konica
Minolta to use their exclusive Anti-shake image stabilization
system (unless you consider the A-series ultra zooms,
which I do not). The Z3 also features a 12X optical
zoom lens, which ties the Panasonic FZ15/20 for the
most zoom of any digital camera. Other features include
manual controls, a hot shoe, support for conversions
lenses, a VGA movie mode, and more.
The ultra zoom camera market is quite
crowded these days. How does the Z3 compare? Find out
in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DiMAGE Z3 has an average bundle.
Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 4.0 effective Megapixel Konica
Minolta DiMAGE Z3 camera
- 16MB Secure Digital card
- Four AA alkaline batteries
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Neck strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- DiMAGE Viewer Utility and VideoImpression
- 123 page camera manual + software
manual (both printed)
You'll find a 16MB Secure Digital
(SD) card in the box with the camera, which won't hold
too many 4 Megapixel photos at the highest quality
setting. I highly recommend buying a larger card right
away, with 256MB being a good starter size. The Z3
can use SD or MMC (MultiMediaCard) formats, though
you'll want to use the former due to its superior capacity
and performance. The camera does take advantage of
high speed SD cards (you'll really notice the difference
when the camera saves a sequence of shots to the card)
and one is recommended for the high quality movie mode.
You'll also want to buy some rechargeable
batteries and a fast charger, since Minolta includes
four alkaline batteries with the camera, which will
quickly find their way into your trash can (or should
I say, recycling bin). I recommend buying two sets
of NiMH batteries (2100 mAh or greater), which are
better for both the environment and your pocketbook.
Using the new CIPA battery life standard, Minolta says
you can get 170 shots using alkaline batteries or 320
with 2300 mAh rechargeable. The battery life numbers
for two comparable cameras (the Panasonic FZ3 and FZ15)
are 260 and 240 shots, respectively. I don't have CIPA
battery life numbers for the other stabilized ultra
zoom, the Canon PowerShot S1.
Two nice things about cameras that
use AA batteries is that 1) a set of NiMH batteries
cost much less than a lithium-ion battery and 2) if
you're ever in a jam you can use alkalines to get you
through the day.
Minolta includes a lens cap and retaining
strap with the DiMAGE Z3.
There are quite a few accessories
available for the Z3, including:
||Why you want it
||Brings the wide end of the lens down by
0.75X to 26.3 mm; includes adapter
|Conversion lens adapter
||For attaching conversion lenses and 52
| External flash
|Get much better flash photos and less redeye
||Power the camera without using your batteries
|Protect your investment
Okay, so there's no underwater case...
but what's up there is good enough for most people!
Included with the camera is version
2.3.6 of Minolta's DiMAGE Viewer software for Mac (including
OS X) and Windows. It's certainly not a substitute
for something like Adobe Photoshop, but it does basic
editing fairly well. A handy "variations" tool
shows you how different adjustments will effect your
Minolta also includes Arcsoft VideoImpression
2 for Windows, which you can use to edit those nice
video clips that you can take with the Z3. Mac users
are left out in the cold in this department.
Konica Minolta's manuals continue
to be better than average, with lengthy explanations
and not too much fine print. I still like the little
tidbits about where the phony shutter sound comes from,
as well as the history of the company.
Look and Feel
The DiMAGE Z3 is a midsized, black-colored
camera made mostly of high-grade plastic. It feels
very solid and well-constructed. There's a huge grip
for your right hand and the lens barrel leaves plenty
of room for your left. The important controls are all
easy to reach and are well-designed. One thing I noticed
about the camera is that it shows scratches very easily.
Even my fingernails could scratch the plastic, but
thankfully it rubs right off.
Note found in camera
The camera manual talks a lot about
heat (and even burns!) -- and I wouldn't have noticed
had it not been pointed out to me by a reader. Apparently
the Z3 can overheat which can result in an error message
or a disabling of the Anti-shake system. I never saw
this error personally, but I have read reports from
people who have. Probably not a big deal for most people,
but it's certainly worth mentioning.
Now, let's take a look at the dimensions
of the Z3 and how they compare with the other ultra
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
PowerShot S1 IS
x 3.1 x 2.6 in.
x 3.2 x 3.1 in.
x 3.2 x 3.2 in.
x 3.4 x 3.4 in.
Minolta DiMAGE Z3
x 3.1 x 3.3 in.
Minolta DiMAGE Z10
x 3.2 x 3.7 in.
x 2.9 x 3.4 in.
x 2.6 x 2.1 in.
C-765 Ultra Zoom
x 2.4 x 2.7 in.
C-770 Ultra Zoom
x 2.7 x 3.3 in.
x 3.4 x 4.2 in.
As you can see, the Z3 fits right
in the middle of the pack!
Enough numbers -- let's start our
tour of this camera now!
The Z3 has an F2.8-4.5, 12X optical
zoom lens, which as much zoom power as you can buy
without a conversion lens. I should point out that
Panasonic's FZ-series of cameras also have 12X zooms,
except the maximum aperture remains at F2.8 throughout
the zoom range -- which is great for action and low
light photography. The focal length of the lens is
5.3 - 69.9 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 420 mm.
You can add a wide-angle conversion lens as well as
filters if you'd like.
Konica Minolta uses a different image
stabilization system than other manufacturers. Instead
of shifting an element in the lens to counteract "camera
shake", the Z3 actually moves the CCD itself.
I don't know if one system is better than the other,
but image stabilization is a great feature no matter
how it works. Whether it's a sharper photo indoors
or at full telephoto outdoors, the Anti-shake system
gives you sharper photos at slower shutter speeds than
I've got two examples to demonstrate
how well the system works. First, these photos:
Both photos were taken at 1/15 second,
which is what I normally consider "tripod territory".
The shot on the left was without Anti-shake, while
the shot on the right was with it. I think the difference
in sharpness is pretty obvious.
I've also compiled a short
movie showing the difference Anti-shake makes.
Remember, it doesn't work miracles -- but it sure
Way above the lens is the Z3's pop-up
flash. The flash has a working range of 0.2 - 4.0 m
at wide-angle and 1.2 - 2.5 m at telephoto, which is
not quite as strong as on the FZ15 (the closest competitor,
in my opinion). If you want more zoom power or just
less redeye you can attach an external flash via the
hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.
The only other item worth mentioning
on the front of the camera is the self-timer lamp,
which is to the left of the lens. There's no AF-assist
lamp or focus sensor on the camera, which is impressive
considering Minolta's claim of "world's fastest
The back of the camera looks a lot
like the other DiMAGE Z-series models.
The Z3 has a small (1.5 inch) but
beautiful LCD display. Resolution isn't terribly high,
with just 78,000 pixels. Despite that, everything seemed
plenty sharp to me. Motion is fluid, as well. For the
sake of comparison, the Panasonic FZ3 has a 1.5" LCD,
the FZ15/20 have 2-inch screens, while the Canon S1
has a rotating 1.5" model.
I find it fascinating that on Minolta's
high-end ultra zoom that they're using an electronic
viewfinder instead of the Switch Finder (that I've
often been critical of) used on their other models.
The EVF is a tiny LCD that you use as if it was an
optical viewfinder. Unfortunately EVFs don't come close
to a true optical viewfinder. You can see everything
that's normally shown on the LCD, though. The EVF has
a resolution of 118,000 pixels and shows 100% of the
frame (unlike an optical viewfinder). A diopter correction
knob will focus the image on the screen.
Both the EVF and LCD "gain up" automatically
in low light situations, so you can see what you're
Below the LCD is a switch which moves
the camera between playback, record (LCD), and record
(EVF) mode. The power button is in the middle of all
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). By holding down the center
button you can manually select one of five focus points.
The three buttons below that are Menu,
QuickView/delete photo, and info (i+). Pressing QuickView
sends you to 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
The final item to talk about is the
zoom controller, located at the top-right of the photo.
It takes just 1.5 seconds to move the lens through
the whole 12X zoom range. You can make precise adjustments
to the focal length by quickly pressing the controller.
Up on top of the Z3 is the hot shoe
(only the Panasonic FZ15/20 have this; the FZ3 does
not). Here you can attach a Konica Minolta external
flash -- third-party flashes are not supported. A plastic
cover protects the hot shoe when not in use.
At the lower-left of the photo is
the mode dial, which has the following options:
| Automatic mode
||Point-and-shoot mode, many menu options
||More on this later
||Still automatic but with full menu access
|Aperture Priority mode
||You pick the aperture, the camera picks
the appropriate shutter speed. Choose from
a range of F2.8 - F8
|Shutter Priority mode
||You choose the shutter speed and the camera
picks the correct aperture. You can choose
from a number of speeds ranging from 15 sec
- 1/1000 sec.
|Full Manual mode
||You pick the aperture and shutter speed.
See above for values. A bulb mode is also
available for exposures as long as 30 seconds.
Pick the situation and the camera uses the
I should add that there's a feature
called Automatic Subject Program Mode which is only
used in Automatic mode. This chooses between normal
auto shooting and one of four scene modes, depending
on the subject. If you want to choose the scene yourself,
you can do so on the mode dial.
Above the mode dial are three buttons,
which includes the shutter release. The two buttons
just above the mode dial adjust:
- Macro (Off, macro, super macro)
- Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye
reduction, fill flash, slow sync, flash cancel)
The flash button's function can be
customized in the record menu to change other camera
settings, if you wish.
Between the macro/flash buttons and
the shutter release are both the microphone and speaker.
You need to watch where you place your fingers while
recording sound on the Z3!
On this side of the camera, under
a rubber cover, are the Z3's I/O ports. These include
USB + video out (one port for both) as well as the
DC-in port (for optional AC adapter).
Nothing to see here.
We conclude our tour with a look at
the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a metal
tripod mount as well as the memory card slot and battery
compartment. I'm not thrilled with the placement of
the memory card slot and especially the fact that the
cover is so easy to open (and potentially bust off).
Also, you probably won't be able to swap memory cards
while the camera is on a tripod. The cover over the
battery is better constructed and doesn't open quite
The included 16MB SD card is shown
Using the Minolta DiMAGE
It takes about 3.1 seconds for the
Z3 to extend the lens and "warm up" before
you can start taking pictures.
The Z3 features
a live histogram in record mode
Konica Minolta likes to tout the autofocus
speeds on the Z3 and the camera lives up to the hype.
Under the most favorable conditions the AF lag was
less than 0.2 seconds -- twice as snappy as most cameras.
Even if it has to "hunt" a bit, it's still
fast. Unfortunately, the Z3 doesn't fare as well in
low light. I found its low light AF performance to
be below average, due in part to the lack of an AF-assist
Shutter lag wasn't a problem at fast
shutter speeds and was barely noticeable when you start
approaching "tripod speeds".
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.
To delete a photo after it is taken,
you must first enter QuickView mode and then delete
Now, here's a look at the resolution
and quality choices on the DiMAGE Z3:
||Approx. File Size
||# images on
16MB card (included)
See why I recommend buying a larger
memory card? The DiMAGE Z3 does not have a RAW or TIFF
mode. The Panasonic's offer a TIFF 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
The DiMAGE Z3 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. I did find menu navigation to be a bit sluggish,
for some reason. The record menu options are:
- Drive mode
- Single-frame - for normal
- Continuous - takes two to
five shots (depending on image quality setting)
at 2272 x 1704 in a row at 2.5 frames/sec;
at lower resolution frame rate drops to 2.2
fps but total number of shots increases; the
LCD and EVF don't "black out" between
shots, allowing you to follow a moving subject
- UHS continuous advance -
take up to fifteen shots at 10 frames/sec (wow!);
image resolution is 1280 x 960
- Progressive capture - takes
pictures at 2.5 frames/second until you let
go of the shutter release button. When you
do so, the last six photos are saved. This
is handy when you're waiting for something
- UHS progressive capture -
takes pictures at 10 frames/second until you
let go of the shutter release, then saves the
last fifteen; same 1280 x 960 resolution as
regular UHS mode
- 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 bracketing 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, sensitivity)
- redefines the function of the flash button on the
top of the camera
- Focus mode (Single AF, continuous
AF, manual) - see below
- Full-time AF (on/off) - camera
is constantly trying to focus; puts extra strain
- 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,
- Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 50, 100,
- Digital zoom (on/off) - using this
will reduce the quality of your photos
- Color mode (Natural, vivid, black
and white, sepia)
- Sharpness (Soft, normal, hard)
- Contrast (Low, normal, high)
There are three focus modes on the
DiMAGE Z3. Single AF is your everyday "press the
shutter release halfway and then the camera tries to
focus" mode. Continuous focus mode will always
be focusing the lens, even when you're not halfway
pressing the shutter release. This reduces AF lag and
is also useful for those times when your subject is
in motion, at the expense of your batteries. 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.
Let's move on to the setup menu
now. The items here include:
- LCD/EVF brightness (-5 to +5 in
1-step increments) - one setting for each
- 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, Chinese)
- 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
- Focus signal (Off, 1, 2) - the
focus confirmation sound
- Shutter FX (Off, 1, 2) - fake shutter
- Volume (1-3)
- Video output (NTSC, PAL)
- Transfer mode (Data storage, PictBridge)
- Self-timer (2, 10 secs)
- Anti-shake (Display + exposure,
exposure only, off)
I want to quickly mention those Anti-shake
options. Display + exposure activates the system when
you halfway press the shutter release and stays on
until the picture is taken. This helps you frame the
photo steadily. The exposure-only option activates
Anti-shake right when the photo is taken. While Konica
Minolta doesn't say anything about why you'd use this
second option, it resulted in better stabilization
on the Panasonic cameras that I reviewed. You can also
turn the whole system off, which is advisable when
you're using a tripod.
Enough of that, let's move on to our
photo tests now!
The Z3 did a pretty good job with
our macro test subject, though you can spot some noise/grain
on the figurine. Colors look good with nice saturation
levels and the subject is sharp.
There are two macro modes on the Z3:
regular and super. In regular macro mode you can get
as close to your subject as 10 cm at wide-angle and
1.2 m at telephoto. Switch to super macro mode and
the minimum distance drops to just 1 cm. The catch
about super macro mode is that the lens is fixed near
the wide end of the focal range and cannot be changed.
The Z3 took a well-exposed, sharp
photograph of the usual night scene, though I was dismayed
by the noise levels (which will be a recurring theme
in this section). The noise seems to have a diagonal
component to it... which I can't explain. I was using
the latest firmware (1.02) for these photos. There
wasn't any purple fringing to see here, which is always
Since we're starting out pretty noisy
you can assume that things be pretty bad at high ISO
settings. Using the same scene as above, here's what
ISO 100 isn't much worse than ISO
50, but then at 200 things get worse. ISO 400 is a
real mess... I'm not sure even the best noise reduction
software can clean that up.
Minolta has got redeye reduction down
on the Z-series cameras. There's very little redeye
to see here -- mostly just flash reflection. Why can't
everyone else figure out how to do this?
There's fairly mild barrel distortion
on the Z3 at the wide end of the lens. I don't see
any real evidence of vignetting (dark corners) here.
Photo quality on the DiMAGE Z3 is
a mixed bag. Colors were good and exposure was fair,
though images tended to be a bit overexposed. Do note
that the photos in the gallery were
taken before the 1.02 firmware upgrade that fixed this
issue was available, so this shouldn't be a problem
anymore. Purple fringing levels were surprisingly low
for an ultra zoom camera.
The real issue here is noise: the
Z3's images have more than I would expect from a 4
Megapixel camera, and it eat away at the detail in
your photos. On the whole, images have a soft and fuzzy
look similar to a frame grab from a video.
For a great example as well as a comparison
against Panasonic's ultra zoom offerings, I again bring
up these three photos:
That should answer any questions you
have about how the photo quality compares between those
three stabilized ultra zooms!
As always, don't just take my words
as gospel when it comes to photo quality. Have a look
at our gallery, print some
photos, and decide if the Z3's photo quality meets
The DiMAGE Z3 has a first-rate movie
mode that's one of the best on the market. You can
record "fine quality" 640 x 480 video (with
sound) at 30 frames/second until the memory card is
full. A "regular quality" 640 x 480 mode
as well as a smaller 320 x 240 size are also available.
You can choose between 15 and 30 frames/second for
any of those resolutions. The included 16MB memory
card holds just 9 seconds of video at the highest quality
sitting, so consider a larger card a requirement if
you like videos.
The DiMAGE Z3 is one of the very rare
cameras that lets you use the zoom lens during filming.
Konica Minolta has designed the camera's lens to move
very slowly and quietly in movie mode, and the microphone
placement is as far from it as possible. You do need
to keep an eye on your fingers, as the microphone is
close to a comfortable resting post for them.
The Anti-shake system works just fine
in movie mode.
The Z3 offers a "night movie" mode,
which brightens the scene in low light. 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 an exciting sample movie for
you. Because the camera was set to continuous AF, the
focus drifts in and out a few times and I apologize
for that. Be warned that this is a huge download!
to play movie (21.7 MB, 640 x 480, fine quality,
30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The Z3 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. This is useful
for checking that your subject is in focus.
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 Z3 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
The camera moves between photos very
quickly, moving from one image to the next virtually
How Does it Compare?
The Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 is a
good ultra zoom camera that could be better. Panasonic
still has the lead in this market, in my opinion. The
Z3 has a 12X optical zoom lens, which is as big as
they come. It's not as "fast" as the lenses
on Panasonic's cameras but it's competitive with other
ultra zooms. Minolta's Anti-shake system works to reduce
the effects of "camera shake" in both stills
and movies. The camera offers a full suite of manual
controls and it has a first-rate movie mode as well.
In good light, the Z3's autofocus speeds are stunning
-- this is one of the fastest-focusing cameras I've
seen. The Z3 has a hot shoe for an external flash (Minolta
brand only) and also supports a wide-angle conversion
lens. While small and low resolution, the EVF and LCD
on the camera "gain up" in low light, so
you can see what you're looking at. The Z3's body is
easy to hold and everything's in the right place.
I wasn't as thrilled with the Z3's
photo quality, however. Noise levels were above average,
giving images a fuzzy, soft look without a lot of detail.
High ISO shots were especially bad. On the other hand,
colors were accurate and purple fringing was not an
I have a few other complaints about
the Z3. The body is made of plastic and feels well
built for the most part, though the flimsy door over
the SD card slot is sure to bust off, and the camera
body scratches easily. Low light focusing was quite
poor, due mostly to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.
Though it's not the best ultra zoom
camera, the many positives of the Z3 outweigh the negatives,
and the camera earns my recommendation. Despite the
noise and softness, images downsized or printed at
smaller sizes will look fine. Those who make big prints
(larger than 8 x 10) or view the images on-screen will
likely be disappointed. Low light focusing is a big
issue as well, so if you do a lot of that, skip the
Z3. As far as stabilized cameras go, the Panasonic
DMC-FZ20 is still my pick, but the Z3 isn't too far
What I liked:
- 12X optical zoom lens
- Anti-shake image stabilizer
- Blazing AF performance in good
- Full manual controls
- Supports wide-angle conversion
lens and external flash
- EVF and LCD "gain up" in
- Good redeye test performance
- Excellent macro and movie modes
- Many continuous shooting options
- Can use optical zoom in movie mode
- Histograms in record and playback
What I didn't care for:
- Images seemed soft and noisy
- Poor low light focusing; no AF-assist
- Lens is on the "slow" side
- EVF and LCD are small, low resolution
- Plastic body scratches easily;
SD card slot cover ready to break off at any moment
- Camera bundle is not great
I'm going to break my list of other
cameras to look at into two parts. First, these are
the other cameras with image stabilization: Canon
PowerShot S1, Nikon
Coolpix 8800, and the Panasonic DMC-FZ3, DMC-FZ15,
If you're willing to give up the very useful stabilization
feature, these cameras are also worth your time: Fuji
FinePix S5100, HP
Photosmart 945, Kodak
EasyShare DX7590, Nikon
Coolpix 4800, and the Olympus
C-770 Ultra Zoom.
As always, I recommend a trip to your
local camera store to try out the DiMAGE Z3 and its
competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality
turned on? Check out our photo
Want a second opinion?
Read another review over at Steve's
Feedback & Discussion
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