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Konica Minolta Maxxum 7 Digital 
Could this be the Best Digital SLR Solution? 

by Jim McGee

Minolta, now Konica Minolta, has been noticeably absent from the ongoing digital SLR wars these past few years.

They've been producing some serious digital zoom cameras (see The Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi  & First Look: New Digitals from Minolta ) but long time Minolta shooters kept asking us "When is Minolta going to introduce an SLR?"

Well folks, it's here, and it's worth the wait. In fact that we've given it our 2004 innovation award for its unique anti-shake technology.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Minolta took great pains during its PMA press conference, and in our communications with them since, to convey that much of the information on this new camera is still tentative and subject to change. 

So what follows is a blending of what we know with some (hopefully) educated speculation. 

The new camera is tentatively named the Maxxum 7 Digital and it will be based on the Maxxum 7 film body (the Dynax 7 outside the U.S.). It will be a 6.0 megapixel camera with an APS sized image sensor and it will be fully compatible with the Maxxum system including all Maxxum 35mm lenses. 

But the most important, and innovative feature of this camera is the fact that it uses Minolta's anti-shake technology in the camera body - not in the lenses. 

Every lens is an anti-shake lens on this camera!

Anti-shake is Minolta's version of the technology that Canon calls IS (Image Stabilization) and Nikon calls VR (Vibration Reduction). Depending on the shooting situation anti-shake can provide up to three stops longer shutter speeds while maintaining image sharpness. The usual caveats apply here. How steady you are as a photographer will determine how useful anti-shake is in the real world. But I can tell you my experience with these systems has been overwhelmingly positive. The only downside has been the high cost of IS & VR lenses compared to lenses without IS & VR technology.

Minolta's innovation of putting anti-shake in the camera body means you only buy the technology once. So you don't have to pay for it with every lens.

Once you get past the unique implementation of anti-shake technology we expect to find a good solid camera design. The camera won't ship to consumers until the fall, so obviously we haven't gotten our hands on a production version yet, but we can infer some things based on what we do know after seeing the pre-production version.

The Maxxum 7 body this camera is based on is a well built, solid camera. When we reviewed the Maxxum 7  we found a lot to like. The Maxxum 7 has no bad habits and is intuitive and easy to use. Traits we hope will transfer over to the digital version.

Based on our observations at PMA the Maxxum 7 Digital will have a lot in common with the Maxxum 7 film camera (remember some of these features may change in the production version). It will likely feature Konica Minolta's 14-segment honeycomb pattern metering. On the Maxxum 7 Digital you can choose between pattern, center weighted, and spot metering. We're assuming the camera will have the 7's nine point autofocus system with selectable focus points via the now familiar rocker switch on the back of the camera. A button on the camera back allows you to switch from autofocus to manual focus and of course the camera will feature Minolta's unique eye-start focus system. We would also expect to see the Maxxum 7's autofocus illuminator LED, which automatically projects dual crosshairs onto the subject in low light as a focusing aid, to make the migration to digital.

The left camera dial allows you to dial in Exposure compensation (+/- 3 stops) and flash compensation (+/- 2 stops) while the right dial allows you to choose your shooting mode (AEP, P, A, S, & M) and frame advance mode (single, continuous). 

Shutter speeds on the Maxxum 7 are 1/8,000th to 30 seconds plus bulb and we wouldn't expect Minolta to change the shutter on the digital version. We would also expect that the built-in flash from the Maxxum 7 would be carried over with its 24mm coverage and guide number of 39 (at ISO 100). The Maxxum 7 Digital supports all current Maxxum flash units and flash modes including fill flash, red-eye reduction, flash cancel, wireless/remote off-camera flash, rear-flash sync, high-speed sync flash (HSS with 5400HS, 5600HS D & 3600HS D only). Studio flash is supported via a screw-type PC terminal. 

The LCD is a generous 2" display and the buttons and controls provided appear to be pretty standard fare, so we would expect the camera to be fairly intuitive for experienced digital shooters.

Minolta hasn't announced pricing for this camera yet, which raises some interesting questions indeed.

In this market the vast majority of digital SLR buyers are stepping into these cameras from film based SLRs. They're bringing their lenses along with them so backward compatibility is important, and the majority of those buyers are staying with the brand they already own.

But by including anti-shake technology in the body Minolta is offering an attractive alternative. For many buyers the total cost of going to digital may actually be less if they switch from Canon or Nikon if they see IS or VR lenses in their digital future - provided this camera is price competitive with the 10D and D100.

Also intriguing was the fact that Konica Minolta said some "yet to be announced" features would likely lure buyers away from competing brands.

It seems Konica Minolta has just changed the rules of the game in a very significant way.

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