|First Look: New
by Vivid Light Staff
At a press conference last month Minolta announced a new of digital cameras. We're profiling the three here that are most likely of interest to our readers. But the big question on everyone's lips wasn't answered - when is Minolta going to release a digital SLR? On that point Minolta remains mute, neither ruling it in or ruling it out.
The DiMAGE A1 5.0 Megapixel Digital Zoom w/
Minolta claims the A1 has the world's fastest AF speed among 5-megapixel SLR-type digital cameras. That's kind of a narrow definition, but we will say that the focus on the A1 was both fast and accurate.
It's 28-200mm f2.8-3.5 lens (35mm equivalent) is made up of 16 elements in 13 groups including two AD glass elements and two aspheric elements. In macro mode it will focus down to 8 inches from the lens front at 35mm and to 5 inches from the lens front at 200mm for some serious macro fun. Interestingly the A1 only has an optical zoom. It makes sense given the targeting of the camera. Digital zooms are generally grainy and poor quality when compared to what you can do in post processing with a package like Photoshop or Genuine Fractals.
The autofocus system includes Minolta's predictive autofocus for tracking moving subjects and 3-D predictive focus control. In plain English that means that the A1's focus system attempts to predict where a fast moving subject will be rather than where it currently is so that sharp focus can be maintained. Focus tracking continues after the shutter is pressed so that the lag time between the button press and the shutter tripping doesn't cause image blur.
But the biggest news has to be the introduction of Minolta's Anti-Shake function. Like Image Stabilization from Canon and Vibration Reduction from Nikon Anti-Shake compensates for small movements by the photographer to keep the image in sharp focus. Depending on how good (or bad) your technique is you'll be able to handhold an additional two to three stops with Anti-Shake turned on.
Another unique feature of the A1 is its Digital Hyper Viewfinder. Basically it works like the viewfinder on a digital video camera and eliminates the lag and shake that is present when trying to compose on the LCD screens of many digital cameras. The Hyper Viewfinder can also be tilted 90 degrees, making life easier for those macro photographers who would otherwise spend a lot of time on their bellies in the dirt.
The A1 incorporates Minolta's new CxProcess II image processor. CxProcess II controls the color, contrast, and sharpness while minimizing noise. Sharpness is controlled by balancing resolution with acutance to show fine detail while minimizing hard, unnatural edges. In short CxProcess II provides a more natural looking image and eliminates the flat look that has become associated with many digital cameras. The A1 also has Minotla's new Digital Effects Control firmware (DEC) that allows you to control overall color temperature (cooler or warmer) and to tone the image with sepia, gold, magenta or green.
Street price: $1,200
The DiMAGE Z1 3.2 Megapixel Digital Zoom
A separate 0.75x wide-angle adapter extends the wide-angle capability of the camera out to 28mm and in macro mode you can focus down to 1.6 inches from the front of the lens. An amazing number given the range covered by this lens. Minolta's design team did an impressive job on the optics, which include 10 elements in 7 groups including two elements with three aspheric surfaces. We had a chance to play with the Z1 at the press event. Optically the Z1 captures good image quality out to its 380mm optical limit but at 1520mm the image is noticeably grainy. Still it was great fun to play with and as I watched the camera handed around the table almost everyone immediately zoomed it out to its limit.
Shutter speeds range from 1/1000th to 15 seconds with exposures of up to 30 seconds available on the bulb setting. The Z1 has a 256 segment meter and can be operated in mult-segment, center weighted or spot meter modes using program, shutter priority, aperture priority, or manual mode. You can shoot 1.5 frames per second, capturing up to 10 frames in the buffer.
The Z1 incorporates Minolta's new CxProcess II image processor. CxProcess II controls the color, contrast, and sharpness while minimizing noise. Sharpness is controlled by balancing resolution with acutance to show fine detail while minimizing hard, unnatural edges. In short CxProcess II provides a more natural looking image and eliminates the flat look that has become associated with many digital cameras.
There is a built in TTL flash good to 15 feet in telephoto mode and 20 feet in wide angle mode. If you need more flash power a hot shoe compatible with Minolta's flash units sits atop the camera.
Just remember you'll need to buy a good tripod to go with this camera if you want to use all 1520mm of its reach.
Street price: $400
The DiMAGE Xt Biz
Quite a mouthful. We've always been a fan of this little sucker. It fits easily in a shirt pocket and while it won't rival a D1X for image quality it produces good quality images for such a small package.
The Xt Biz builds on that foundation to target businesses that can use the camera for documentation purposes. That includes law enforcement, real estate, and insurance companies. The Biz has improved audio capture, and when used with the Minolta Biz software can track whether an image has been changed in any way since it was captured. That makes it perfect for law enforcement and insurance applications where the validity of an image can be called into question in a court of law.
There are some cool features for those of who don't spend time in courtrooms as well. Increasingly digital cameras are being used for more mundane business tasks such as capturing whiteboard notes and business card information. The Biz software includes an option that allows you to take an image captured off axis and correct it - so the image will appear as if your were sitting dead center in front of a whiteboard rather than off to the side. The ability to correct images of business cards means that your character recognition software will have a much better chance of capturing the data on the card correctly.
Who'd want to take pictures of a business card? Well each year at PMA alone I wind up with a stack of cards over three inches thick. Those cards have to be carried around, and they have to be transcribed when I return. A time consuming process. The audio annotation is a big deal for many users as well.
Big deal you say? There are a lot of digital cameras that allow you to record audio. That's true. The difference with the Biz is that it allows you to record 15 second captions or annotations that can be up to 10 minutes long. With a 128MB memory card you can record up to 180 minutes of audio!
That means an officer at an accident scene can record what he or she is seeing, they could record video of the scene at 15 frames per second, or I can take a snap shot of a business card and record comments about my conversation with that person and any follow-up that is necessary.
For those working outdoors there is even a waterproof case that seals down to a depth of 100 feet.
The Xt Biz isn't going to be the perfect camera for everyone. But Minolta has carved out a niche for this camera that will be just what a lot of people need. Exactly what Minolta is hoping for.
Street price: To be announced