D7 Comments

Minolta Dimage 7 Review and Comments

Introduction:

This is a finished review, although I continue to update parts of it.  Unlike other reviews, I may not touch on all aspects of the camera, just those that I found interesting. I'll be abbreviating the camera name as "D7". I'll also make frequent comparisons to the Nikon Coolpix (tm) 990, a popular consumer camera.

Minolta and Dimage are trademarks of the Minolta corporation.

Last revised on January 19, 2002, Revision #35!

I'm sorry, but due to the failure of Photopoint, I have not had time to reconstruct all of the sample albums yet. I have now reconstructed the main D7 samples album.

Look, feel and controls:

I think that the Minolta Dimage 7 owes a lot to the design of the that old classic and almost cult status camera the Sony D770. If you had a D770, (and you liked it!) you would like the Minolta D7. The look and feel is very similar to the D770, from the focus ring to the location of the controls to the autofocus system. The similarity to the D770 is one of the things that attracted me to the D7. Sometimes when I see my D7 sitting there in it's bag, my mind thinks "D770"!

My first impression of the Dimage 7 was that the camera was a lot smaller than I had expected. This is a good thing because the camera is still larger and harder to carry than my previous camera, a Nikon 990. The case feels solid enough, and I'm told that there is some metal on there, but the parts that you touch the most are plastic. I actually like plastic, I feel that it is more resistant to damage from knocks and drops than metal. The controls are all plastic, but the feel of all of them is fine.  I am only a little worried about the "control wheel" which seems poorly made and is used for a number of functions. Because the wheel is so small and stiff (on my camera anyway), and is recessed, it is necessary to put a lot of force on the wheel to turn it, and you can see the wheel flexing.  I can only manage about three clicks per turn of the wheel, which makes for slow going for some of the wheel functions. (I have been told by others that their wheels are not stiff at all, so maybe I just got a bad one.) The shutter release also feels a bit indefinite. After having use the camera for a couple of months, my initial impression that the camera was too light has gone away, and I now feel that it is "just right".

The weight of the camera is low. I think that that is good, I don't like heavy cameras, and for me the "extra stability" of a heavy camera argument does not carry any, excuse the pun, weight. I have large hands, and I find that it is difficult to hold the camera with one hand because the grip is not large enough; my fingers arch over the grip without touching it... it could use another half inch of thickness. Not a big deal, but combined with most of the weight of the camera being on the other side it makes it harder to carry the camera in ready to shoot position. The balance of the camera is actually fine, especially if you prefer the two handed approach with one hand under the lens part or on the zoom ring.

The zoom ring is very nice and rubber coated. I find it easy to work and operate, not stiff at all. It has just the right amount of stiffness for me, not too loose so that you can move it by accident, not too hard to turn. Despite some of the comments that I have heard, I do not personally find the ring to be cheap at all. The lens extends quite far, but it is smooth and there is no play or cheapness to it as on some other cameras with extending lenses.

The focus ring is very light, and this allows it to be worked with one finger which is an advantage; that is the way that it should be. It is close to the camera body, which keeps you from spinning the ring by accident, but if you have fat fingers it may be hard to get them in there to spin the ring. I find the feel of the ring to be fine, it is a lot lighter than a real focus ring would be of course, because it is not actually moving any lenses.

The camera is simply covered with buttons and they are logically arranged but take some getting used to. If you have never used an SLR before I imagine that the controls will be daunting. If you are used to an SLR, you will find the controls familiar.

The 4 way rocker switch is fine as a direction switch, but it has one poor feature that makes it difficult to operate. The switch requires that you press it exactly in the center as an enter key on the menus. Many times I'll hit it just off center, which moves my selection in the menu, meaning that I have to start over. I think that new users will have trouble navigating the menus with this control. I'd like to see a firmware change where either the release button could be used as Enter in addition to the rocker switch, or the right press could be used as Enter as other cameras have done.

In all though, most controls are where you would want them, and now that I am used to the camera I can operate most of them even in the dark or by feel. The main problem with operating in total darkness or by touch is that although the top LCD is illuminated you can't see any of the rotating controls to see how they are set; the ISO/mode settings are the most likely to be needed.

The Electronic Viewfinder:

The D7 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Some have disliked it, some have liked it. I'm very used to it now, and although it could be improved I do like it quite a bit.

My main issue with the EVF is that I can't get it close enough to my eye (I wear glasses) to see the entire thing unless I either smash my nose against the LCD or lay my nose to the side of the camera and sort of look in a bit sideways. No, my nose isn't (overly) large, but I just have to wonder how some people could look through it at all. This is very annoying and I would really like just another quarter or half inch of length on the viewfinder, or one that could be pulled out if needed such as is found on some camcorders. There is no problem if you use the EVF tilted up, perhaps this is the intended mode of operation.

I wear glasses, and can use the viewfinder with my glasses on, with the exception that I can't get close enough to quite see the entire thing without tilting my face because of the above mentioned problem. Although the diopter adjustment on the viewfinder is billed as being only adjustable up to -5, I can still see it with my glasses off and my prescription is -7. I could see how glasses wearers might have trouble with the viewfinder depending on their glasses style and prescription, it is something that prospective buyers should test for themselves.

The EVF is very bright, but the image resolution is only just adequate. With a resolution of only 320x240, while still higher than the average 1.8" LCD panel on the back of most cameras (which is 240x160 in most cases), the image still isn't really sharp enough for use with focusing. Yeah, in manual mode you can use the magnification button, which does work well, but it is an extra step. In addition, the image in the viewfinder is more saturated and contrasty than the image that the camera will take, making it harder to judge your exposure with it at first.  I am however getting very good ad judging the exposure with the EVF, which is a feature that few cameras have.

The EVF is perfectly usable in the brightest sunlight, even at reduced brightness settings, so you can forget all those sunshades and magnifiers needed with other cameras, you will not have any trouble seeing this one.

The "lag" time of the EVF is minimal. I'd estimate it at 1/20 second or less. This means that you can use the EVF for sports activities if you anticipate your shutter release a little bit. The lag time is certainly better than the lag time on the LCD monitors of other cameras, or in particular the CP990, where using the LCD is required if you have a telephoto lens on.. Because the EVF is "looking" through the lens, you are always seeing exactly what your shot will look like which is nice.

Update: I finally got around to actually measuing the EVF delay; how far it "lags" behind the real world. I did this by taping a photocell to the viewfinder and firing off a flash in front of the camera while watching the voltage on an oscilloscope. This gives two pulses, one from the flash light directly, and another one later when the EVF brightens because of the flash. The result was 60ms (0.06 seconds); pretty darn good if you ask me. I had to do this measurement  in low light, so it is possible that the delay would be even less in bright light.

In low light, the EVF is just plain outstanding. It switches to black and white (but your shot will still be in color), and using it is almost like seeing in the dark. The display becomes quite grainy in very low light, but so what, at least you can see something. Combined with the great low light performance of this camera, the EVF makes low light shooting easy. I was surprised to see that the EVF will even show stars at night, and that the camera would autofocus on them.

You WILL have to use the EVF, like it or not. The camera simply eats batteries if you use only the LCD, and the LCD on the back is a major power drain and is not as sharp. You are almost forced to use the viewfinder at all times because of this.

I have had a bug with the EVF. I don't know if it is just my camera or general. What has happened is that the EVF has "lost it". This always happens in low light, and the symptom is that the EVF goes completely blank, or shows a faint image rolling vertically like an out of adjustment TV set. Even if you now point the camera at bright light, the EVF will not work again until you half press to focus. This only happened when the camera was new.

The only really annoying thing about the EVF is that if you have the camera set for the EVF to come on when you bring your eye up, but you half press to start focusing before the EVF comes on because you are in a hurry before your eye gets in range, the EVF will not come on until you let up on the button no matter how long you leave your eye there. Apparently the EVF proximity sensor does not operate while the camera is focusing.

The best feature of the EVF is that unlike an optical SLR it shows a preview of your actual exposure. If you set your AE/AF button to AE hold or toggle, then you can swing the camera around until your exposure is just right, press the AE hold button, and then swing the camera back to the subject and focus and take your shot. Perfect exposure every time; a photographer's dream come true. This is especially good when you are in manual mode.

Speed of operation:

I find the operating speed to be fine, although someone used to a "pro" film camera might not. The turn on time is the fastest of any camera that I have owned. The focus time is average for a prosumer digital camera (about a second, comparable to the CP990, see the section on the D7 vs. the CP990), and the shot to shot time is almost exactly a second (I measured 5 Fine mode shots at 1.03 seconds each), just like the CP990. The camera buffers up to 5 shots even in low compression JPEG mode (more than other cameras) and so allows you to shoot ahead. At lower resolutions, you can shoot until your card fills up without pause.  RAW and TIFF have no shoot ahead though and are very slow however, to the point of rendering them unusable for most situations. In general, the overall speed is good. This is no Nikon D1H, but it compares favorably to other digital cameras that I have used.  Keep in mind that the camera has to maintain all this speed while dealing with larger images.

The only minor criticism that I can find in the operating speed involves using the control wheel. Because the wheel is recessed too far, it takes a lot of spins to get many "clicks" out of it;I can only get 3-4 clicks per spin. This is a problem for things like the shutter speed which are adjusted by clicking the wheel; there are too many speeds available and too many spins of the wheel are needed to get the one you want. This is minor however.

Auto Focus:

There has been a lot of talk about the autofocus, and the main complaint is the speed. I actually think that the autofocus is excellent for a digital camera at this price. If you are from the 35mm pro world, you will probably find it slow though. The camera almost always focuses in about a second, even in quite low light. In a side by side comparison with the Nikon 990, using one camera in each hand with approximately the same subjects, the D7 was always as fast or even faster to focus. The exceptions to this are in macro mode, where the lens appears to have more focus travel, just as in other cameras, and if you move the camera too much while you are focusing, which is more of a problem at the longest focal lengths. At longer focal lengths, if you move even a little bit, objects are removed from the small focus area in the center and the camera has to start over. At focal lengths less than about 120mm the camera will always focus in 1 second or less, every time.

(UPDATE: Note below the changes with firmware 121 though)

The best feature is that the camera never gives a false indication of focus as some other cameras do. If it is unable to focus, it says so, it does not take a "guess" as some do and hope for the best. You can still take a picture if you like of course, but at least you know.

The continuous autofocus mode is spooky. I *Think* that it works... but sometimes I'm not sure, and I don't use it. When you select it, the focus seems to seek in and out constantly, and still takes just as long to focus when you press the release. The big trick is that you have to half press the shutter continuously to operate it.

What seems to be happening is this...

When the camera does not have focus, it begins seeking in and out with full travel of the lens taking about 1 second per pass. I call this the "acquire" mode. During any pass it may lock on to an object. Once it has locked on, it begins making smaller in and out focus movements (I'm calling this the "targeting" mode), trying to keep the object in focus. If the object does not move too fast, or if you don't rapidly swing to some new thing at a different distance, the camera is able to track quite well. When the camera looses focus in the targeting mode, it begins over with the full in and out focus movements of the acquire mode. This DOES work if you keep pointing the camera in an intelligent way, following a running person while in the targeting mode, for example. It works horribly if you swing the camera around rapidly; the camera just does not have time to lock on and keeps running the full focus cycles if the acquire mode that take about a second. If you swing the camera around so that there is a new subject in the field every second, the camera will never be able to focus and it will stay in acquire mode forever. Once you get the feel for it, it is actually easy to use. The critical time period is about a second or second and a half; you have to keep it pointed at something in that time period. Once you loose focus, if your subject changes faster than that time period (say kids running around like crazy close to the camera, I tried that!), the camera will not be able to refocus. If your subject moves slower than that (like runners at a track at reasonable distance), then the mode works great.

One funny thing about the continuous focus mode is that it may seem to you that the camera can't take a good shot because the focus is constantly changing in the viewfinder. What seems to happen is that the camera is "remembering" the last good focus spot as it moves in and out when in targetting mode. When you press the shutter, the camera quickly returns to that spot and takes the shot. At least my shots with it have been clear.

The "Sports mode" is an interesting way to try continuous focus. The way it works is that you half press, and start to point the camera at whatever you are interested in. The camera will go into continuous focus while you half press, and when it gets focus the little focus indicator will turn White and you can take a picture. If your subject moves, the indicator will turn Red for a second, then White again as it regains focus. You can't take a picture while the indicator is Red. This actually works pretty well on things that are moving around.

The "4 second" auto focus time issue:

There has been some talk about the camera taking "4 seconds" to focus. Here are the facts. This camera uses a different approach to focusing, and you have to understand them to understand the issue.

1) Yes, under some circumstances (discussed below) the camera can attempt to focus for up to almost 4 seconds.

2) Most of the time the camera will focus in one second or less but not always.

3) If the camera takes longer than a second, there is a reason.

What is happening is a difference in how the D7 handles focus of the 120-200 mm range and macro mode. Note that not all cameras have lenses that reach into this range although some do.

Different cameras take different approaches to "can't focus" situations.

When a camera can't get a sure focus in it's short focus cycle (typically about a second), there are several approaches used...

1) Some cameras simply take a guess, and indicate focus lock. This gives the impression of fast focusing, but the guess isn't always correct. The Olympus C2000 was notorious for this, it would indicate focus when there wasn't (usually in low light).  The camera seemed to focus fast, but sometimes your shots were blurry.

2) Some cameras indicate focus lock and try to set an "average" setting that takes advantage of the large hyperfocal distance that digital cameras have. They set an "average" distance of maybe 10 feet, and use a small aperture to increase depth of field. This is like a "fixed focus" camera where the focus of most subjects is pretty good. The tip off that a camera is using this technique is that sometimes in low light the camera will not use the maximum aperture which would make more sense.

3) Some cameras just beep and say that they can't focus. You can press again and try again.

The Minolta D7 has a combined approach.

If the focal length is less than about 120mm, the camera will always give focus/no focus within one second, no matter what. However at longer focal lengths the camera will make more passes.

When the focal length is between (about)100 and (about)  125mm, the camera will make up to two passes of the focus mechanism if needed, although it can lock on on the first pass. Above 125mm the camera may make  up to two additional passes, trying to focus. I have not fully characterized the focal lengths involved. This seems to be built into the firmware that as soon as you exceed a certain focal length the camera attempts to make more passes, each one taking about a second. This is why sometimes the camera will lock on right away, and sometimes it starts to slow down. Below 100mm the camera will always give a focus/no focus in one second.

At longer focal lengths other cameras might have quit after the first focus pass and would use one of the first three techniques. If the Minolta has to make three passes, this can take up to 2.6 seconds at full telephoto. You can see it doing this if you watch through the viewfinder. Then after all three passes, it will indicate focus or no focus. I don't know if it uses information from all three passes in "guessing" or not, but it usually seems to indicate a clean focus/no focus that is accurate.

When the Minolta can't focus, it uses the hyperfocal technique. If the flash is off the camera will set the focus to infinity. If the flash is on, the focus will be set to 3.0m to 3.8m (according to the manual). I can confirm that the infinity setting is used when the flash is off, and this works great at night for distant shots.

One problem with this several pass technique is that at telephoto (150-200mm) range, camera shake can move your subject out of the focus area between passes. Because you are using telephoto, the contrast is reduced slightly also, making it harder for the camera to focus.

 In macro mode the camera is set to 200mm, so  the camera will use several passes all the time, and the passes are longer, adding up to as long as 3.5 seconds. The focus time is comparable to the CP990 (in my testing the time was both faster and slower than the CP990 in macro mode).

Let me emphasize that the camera does NOT take 4 seconds to focus all the time. It can only take that long in macro mode. The longest that it can take in non-macro mode seems to be about 2.6 seconds, still a long time.

I decided to measure the focus time myself, because I felt that the camera focused faster than some of the published times. Measurements of half press focusing were done in low light (exposures of 1/6 second at F3.5). These are just half press times, not the entire picture taking cycle.

Times were accurate to 1/30 second. To time these short intervals without including human reaction time I used the high speed mode on the Nikon 990 to film the LCD of the camera focusing at  exactly 30 FPS, looking for the first frame where the Red focus bracket appears. I tested the CP990 frame rate to double check it against a digital stopwatch; it fired off exactly 30 frames in one second. Unfortunately, I can't measure times longer than 2.7 seconds this way. Also unfortunately, in my test setup (USAF chart) the camera would not take any long focus cycles at 200mm, all times were about a second. In my experience it usually takes longer to focus on real subjects at 200mm

I found it almost impossible to measure the camera focus times at 150mm and over focal lengths. This was because of several things. First, the times were highly variable.  Second, the time seemed to depend on where I was pointed on the test chart. Lastly, if the previous trial had been recently, then the camera would lock on quickly in under a second, every time. If it had been a while ago, then the camera would take a long time. I have no idea what is happening, maybe the camera "remembered" the last good focus, or maybe starting out in good focus made the next trial go faster, but it makes measuring times highly suspect for the longer focal lengths; all you can really do is sort of form an impression. For example, I could get trial after trial of short times, or trial after trial of long timings by just adjusting when I took the shot. I have no idea how the "big" test sites came up with times for the camera. I don't know why some of these times are faster than the published times but I'm pretty confident in them due to the way in which they were measured.

Individual focus time trials. All times +/- 0.03 seconds.

28mm     0.97, 0.73, 0.73, 0.83, 0.70 seconds

50mm     0.87, 0.90, 0.90 seconds

100mm  1.17, 1.27, 1.23 seconds

150mm  0.97, 0.90, >2.0, 1.53, 2.6, 0.90 seconds

200mm  (all times about a second for >10 trials, not measured)

 

UPDATE with firmware 121

I did a new focus time test with the new firmware. This time I figured out a way to measure the focus time with an oscilloscope, so the times are accurate to about 0.05 seconds.

There are a couple interesting things. First, the times did change vs. the old firmware. The wide end is actually a lilttle slower, and the telephoto end is a lot faster. Second, the telephoto end no longer shows such high variation, sometimes taking 2.5 seconds.

Here is what I got...
28mm   1.05 seconds
35mm   1.10 seconds
50mm   1.10 seconds
75mm   1.43 seconds
100mm  1.44 seconds
125mm  1.41 seconds
150mm  1.43 seconds
200mm  1.35 seconds


Bryan

As you can see, the camera is actually pretty fast at short focal lengths, but starts to have trouble at 150mm and higher focal lengths. There is just something funny about how the focus operates at these higher focal lengths, and all I can really say about it is that it is not consistent and sometimes takes a long time.

Autofocus tips:

You may be tempted to try to zoom while you focus because it is so easy to operate the zoom to frame your shot. Don't do it though, this drives the AF system crazy. I catch myself doing it all the time.

The camera only uses vertical features to focus. If there is no vertical component in your subject (like a wall top) the camera might not be able to focus. This is not unique to the Minolta, every digital camera and camcorder that I have owned has been this way. It is probably done this way for speed.

Contrary to early reports, the camera does not use phase contrast focusing.

 

Operation:

The D7 has a few operational quirks and features that are interesting.

One interesting and very important thing that you need to be aware of is that unlike most other cameras the D7 will NOT take a picture if you do not hold the release down throughout the focus process until focus is achieved. Other cameras will respond to a quick "stab" of the release, but the D7 will not. If you stab the release, the camera starts to focus then stops when you let the release back up. Focusing starts all over if you press again. I think that this feature has lead to the rumors of the second shutter press not working when shooting continuous shots. Why this feature was designed in, I don't know. It could be some hardware requirement, but I can't imagine what that would be. It could be a "let the user abort the shot" feature. It could be an oversight. It would be nice if this was changed in a firmware update. Personally I feel that this is a genuine bug.

That being said, there is still something else wrong with the shutter release operation. Aside from the fact that the camera requires you to hold the release down until the picture is taken, it also seems to have a short period after you let up on the release (either after a single shot or a continuous sequence) during which it will not take another shot if you press the release, even if you keep holding it down in frustration. This is very annoying, because you don't know when this short period is over, and if you press during this period, the camea will not take a picture no matter how long you hold the release down... it just ignores it. I REALLY think that there should be a firmware change to at least pay attention to the release when the camera wakes up from whatever it was doing that it could not take a picture and finds that the release is pushed down. This would make the camera feel like it had continuous shooting. Other cameras have this short period during which another picture can't be taken, but they don't ignore the shutter release button when they leave this period.

The D7 flash operates in Fill Flash mode at all times. This means that if you pop it up, it will fire all the time, even in sunlight. There is no way to have the flash popped up and not fire. This is actually a "feature"!

There has been some comment about the camera getting hot during operation, and the manual even mentions to be careful not to be burned! by removing a hot CF card. In actual use, I don't find that the camera gets more than even warm for me, and the batteries have not been more than warm when removed.  I have cycled several sets of batteries through the camera in a row without the camera becoming what I would call "hot". My theory is that this only happens with batteries that have lower voltage, close to the 4.5 volt lower limit that the camera can use, and that the voltage converter is right under the hot spot. If your camera is getting hot, suspect the batteries or the contacts.

 

Exposure and metering:

I have now taken enough shots with the camera (about 2000) to be able to say a little bit about the metering. Because the metering is a menu selection, it is hard to change and I have used the multi-segment metering most of the time.

The first thing that I have noticed is that the multi-segment metering is not as good as the Matrix metering on Nikon cameras. The main situations that have caused problems are landscape shots, and shots of flowers. On Landscape shots, the camera always underexposes the shots which results in well exposed sky and underexposed ground. This happens even if the sky takes up less than half of the frame. While fans of properly exposed skies may rejoice, I don't like it, and have been using +0.7 EV compensation on outdoor shots. The Nikons, on the other hand, have a tendency to let the sky go, and expose the ground correctly, probably because of the database of scenes available to the Nikon matrix meter function. Unfortunately, Sky or Ground is a choice that must be made in many cases because of the limited dynamic range of digital cameras. One work around is to point the camera more at the ground, lock the exposure by half pressing, then re-frame and shoot.

 

Indoor shots, and shots of uniform subjects are usually perfectly exposed for my taste. I have had some trouble with overexposing of flowers of uniform color, especially Yellow, and I wonder if the camera is using all the color channels when metering; it might just be using the Green channel for speed.

The most important thing that you should do about exposure with the D7 is... pay attention to what you see in the viewfinder!  Yes this sounds obvious but unless you have used an EVF before you many not realize that the EVF does a good job of showing you what your picture is going to look like; it is a real time preview. Pay attention, if it looks too dark in the EVF... it is going to be too dark! You can actually use the EVF to set the exposure yourself in manual mode, it is that good. In combination with the AE hold button, you can be sure to get a good exposure each time if you pay attention to what it looks like in the EVF.

Another important factor has to do with exposure lock. On most other cameras, half pressing locks the exposure. This allows you to point the camera at a subject and take the exposure from that, then swing back to your main subject. The D7 ONLY does this at the default settings! If you set any metering besides multi-segment, or if you set manual focus, the D7 DOES NOT lock the exposure when you half press. I've runied a number of shots because of this, thinking that I was spot metering on a good spot and then locking the exposure.

You need to do two things to work with this "feature".

1) Learn how to use the AE lock button. I suggest setting it for AE hold, but if you think that you can avoid making a mistake AE toggle might be good too.

2) Learn how to pay attention to the D7's "exposure locked" indication, which is that the exposure information in the viewfinder will turn Black (I do wish that a better color had been used).

Image quality:

Look at the D7 samples album also (now reconstructed after photopoint failure)

Resolution:

The camera produces very nice images. However, don't expect the images from this camera to be dramatically better than images from a high quality 3 Mpixel camera such as the Nikon 990, you will have to look closely to see the differences. For example, I've taken several controlled comparison shots with the CP990, and was actually disappointed with the first results. Just looking on the screen, there was very little obvious difference between the two cameras, other than the color from the CP990 looking better! Higher resolution was not immediately evident, but if you think about it it would be hard to see. The D7 has 10 pixels across an object that a 3 Mpixel camera can put 8 pixels. A 20% resolution increase is very hard to see on natural objects such as trees, grass, flowers, leaves. On man-made subjects, especially text and lines, the difference is more obvious.

On closer examination, the D7 does have higher resolution. Edges are a little crisper, small marks spots and details a little more apparent. On prints, the increased resolution can be seen on 8x10 and larger. However, although a lot of people will buy this camera because it has more pixels, I think that they may be expecting too much and will be disappointed in the actual resolution increase. Still, it does not hurt!

There are a number of compression modes available. I find that it is very hard to tell "Standard" from "Fine", and that there is no advantage to "RAW" if you are going to convert it to JPEG.

Here is an album with a series at the different compression levels. (sorry, not reconstructed yet)

Color:

Right out of the camera, D7 shots look pretty good, but maybe a little dull and flat. This sort of thing has been very typical with higher end cameras that use their own color spaces; the D7 shots will look a bit lifeless if you view them on your sRGB monitor without converting them from the larger color space first; some information is being truncated. Setting the saturation control to +1 helps the out of the camera shots quite a bit. Here are some saturation examples. (sorry, not reconstructed yet)

As has been discussed elsewhere, the reason that the shots are a bit flat is that the D7 has a larger color space than sRGB which is used on most computer systems. When you use JPEG on the D7, it saves it's shots as JPEG without converting to sRGB. You can convert to sRGB later with the Minolta viewer utility, however there is a problem with doing this on JPEG files in that some information has already been lost by being forced into the 8 bit JPEG format. Ideally we would all use RAW, and convert to sRGB JPEG later, but shooting RAW is very tedious because of the long save times for each shot (between 23 and 47 seconds each depending on which flash card you are using). I've tried it a bit, but you would really have to have time on your hands to wait even 20 seconds between shots.

In addition, the Minolta viewer utility has a few quirks, and people are using various alternatives.  The viewer's main problem is that it introduces too much contrast. Another problem is that it is horribly slow. You have time to go away, prepare and consume at least one cup of coffee while the viewer converts a directory of shots. While it is working, the viewer just "locks up", there is no indication of progress or that it is even working. Even on a GHz+ state of the art system, you aren't going to be happy with the speed.

The viewer re-JPEG compresses the files, but if you use the default setting of very high quality in the viewer your JPEG files will bloat up to sometimes as high as 4MB each. There are no settings that correspond to the camera compression levels, just a slider. I find that setting the slider to about "10" is pretty close to a "Fine" shot on the camera, and "20" is close to "Std".

There is nothing to stop you from accidentally running the viewer color conversion twice on a shot and ruining it either, so you need some kind of a system involving new directories if you want to convert all of your shots.

The results of the conversion are interesting. In most cases, colors appear more saturated, and closer to their natural colors, but everything is too contrasty. It does a really super job on the Blue sky, and any Green plant materials which are simply outstanding. Skin tones are very good. However, some subjects have had problems. The conversion seems to accentuate Yellow quite a bit, and some flower shots became an unnatural oversaturated hue. The routine has a special problem with Yellow-Orange colors that converts them to Yellow. Blue flowers are shifted to Purple, but the effect is no worse than the reproduction of Blue flowers with any digital camera that I have ever owned. Because the effect of the color conversion is not always good, you almost have to convert each shot and decide which is better. I wonder how much of the problem might be due to truncation of data during the original JPEG save, and how RAW files will look. I will be checking this out.

Needless to say, an in-camera option for sRGB conversion to JPEG would be a VERY popular firmware addition.

One alternative to the Minolta Viewer is Qimage Pro. The Minolta viewer installs two .ICC profiles (the file ending in "r" is for RAW files, "j" for JPEG files). You can associate these profile with Minolta files in Qimage. Qimage can batch convert your Minolta files to sRGB or your favorite color space, and can imbed the color profile in the file for later work in other programs. Qimage is MUCH faster than the Minolta program, and the results are similar but not identical. However, the Qimage results are "not right", and I'm working on that at the moment. The Minolta viewer may do some contrast and leveling adjustments also.

Here is an album with original and color corrected samples. (sorry, this was very nice and a LOT of work, but has not been reconstruced yet.)

 

The color correction issue:

As mentioned, the D7 shoots in it's own color space, with 12 bits of data for each color. When the camera saves out a JPEG file, it is still in that color space, but compressed to 8 bits per color (that is all that the JPEG standard allows). The resulting images are a bit flat looking, because you view them on devices (monitors, printers) that have their own color spaces. (usually some type of RGB or sRGB). Now the problem, what should you do to improve the color? If you run the Minolta viewer, you can convert the images to a color space of your choice. sRGB is a pretty good match for a lot of devices, but you could convert to a special color space such as one for your monitor. The Minolta utility also embeds a color profile right in the file, so if you have a program that is smart enough such a Adobe Photoshop it can convert the file again to another space.

  So, why not convert everything to say your monitor's color space so that the shots look great on the screen? Or covert everything to sRGB? Well, for one thing, there is loss when you do the conversion. If you were to convert all your shots to the monitor color space, then convert them later when you get a new monitor or to the color space for a printer, there will be loss of color information, especially if you convert from a space with more colors to one with less.

The second problem is that the Minolta utility appears to pull a couple of tricks to get the shots to look good after the conversion. For example, if you use Qimage Pro to convert a shot from Minolta color space to sRGB, you will find the shot a lot more lifeless than if you use the Minolta viewer to make the same conversion. Apparently the viewer is also boosting the saturation and doing some kind of level equalization, but we just don't know exactly what is done to duplicate it.

What you really need is a program that is a viewer, editor and printer program and is fully color space aware, that will keep your shots in their original condition, and convert them on the fly as needed; to your monitor's color space for viewing, to your printer's color space for printing, and also automatically make any brightness and saturation adjustments that are needed to compensate for the conversion. Unfortunately, it takes a while to convert a shot, and any such program will be slow on today's hardware.

One such program is Adobe Photoshop, but it is hard to imagine firing up Photoshop just to take a quick look at some pictures, or giving up all the nice features of printing programs. Another very popular program that I use is Qimage Pro.

What I have been doing lately (January 2002) is the following. I don't convert the files at all. I use default settings on the camera, they have grown on me. For shots for the web, I use "Colorfix". For printing, I use Qimage with a custom color profile.

Here is a new section about color correction options.

 

Lens quality and Chromatic Aberration:

The Lens on the D7 is simply outstanding in all respects. There is very little chromatic aberration on any subject, comparable to the best add on lenses for cameras with removable lenses. Sure, there is a tiny bit, but you have to try a Nikon 995 or Olympus 3030 or Sony 707 before you say that there is too much. The zoom range of the lens is very wide, and you really don't need to carry any extra lenses with you with the D7 with the 28mm to 200mm range. The lens is very close to vignetting at the 28mm zoom level, and in fact I can detect some slight darkening at the corners on photos of white paper at 28mm, but this isn't visible on shots of natural subjects. Because of this, I suspect that a lot of filters are going to vignette at wide angle.

Noise:

The D7 has been called noisy, but there are several factors to consider. First, notice the noise difference between these two cropped and enlarged sections of my D7 sharpening series shots . You can plainly see a difference in noise in between the two shots, (and check the originals, it is more apparent there) but the only difference between the two shots was that the first was set at the "soft" sharpening setting, and the second on "hard". There is no more detail visible on the "hard" shot, it is just noisier and has accentuated edges.

 

The sharpening routine used in-camera by the D7 seems to be responsible for much of the visible noise. Unfortunately, the Normal sharpening setting is quite aggressive, and there are some who think that it is too aggressive (including me). The Normal sharpening has the effect of accentuating noise up to the point where it is visible on your shots, and it also has an unfortunate tendency to generate very dark noise pixels that almost look like holes in the picture an contribute a lot to the perception that a picture is noisy.

In order to really see this, look at the following three crops enlarged from ISO 800 shots with the three different sharpening levels. (The effect is easier to see with the increased noise at  ISO 800, that is why I picked it.)

  Soft ISO 800

 

  Normal ISO 800

 

 Hard ISO 800

You can plainly see that the sharpening level has a large effect on the amount of visible noise in this camera, and that the Normal sharpening setting is perhaps a bit too strong.  You can also see the little what I like to call "black hole" types of noise pixels that the sharpening is introducing in the hard setting shot that are not actually present in the original shot. These black holes are visually distracting.

In addition, the sharpening has the unfortunate side effect of giving the JPEG routine more to do by making the sharp noise transitions hard to compress, resulting in much larger file sizes (if you care about that). For example, the ISO 800 series above, the file size for "soft" was 2469KB, "Normal" was 2950KB and "Hard" was 3330KB, a difference of almost a megabyte between Soft and Hard.

If you are concerned about noise, you might consider the soft setting. It does not actually soften your shots (see sharpening below), it just applies less sharpening. I don't know if it applies a small amount of sharpening or not, but my feeling is that it does apply a small amount, perhaps as a reaction to how many complaints there were to the Nikon 990 soft setting which showed us the real softness of the image. Using the soft setting, noise from the camea is not bad at all. and the pictures are still "sharp" with more of a film look. I like it.

Also, consider how you are looking at the pictures when looking for noise. If you are looking full size at a very small section of the picture, you might be looking at noise that will not be visible when the picture is printed or viewed to fit on a monitor screen. That 5Mpixel shot is pretty big, and there are a lot of pixels, and you don't need to be so concerned about noise on the pixel to pixel level as you might be on a 2 Mpixel camera.

Here is an album of an ISO 800 test, showing the reduced noise at soft sharpening, and how a resampled shot looks

Sharpening:

The Dimage 7 manual says this about sharpening

               Hard - increases the sharpness of the image, accentuating details.
               Normal - no filter applied
               Soft -softens the details of the image.

While that seems pretty clear, the photos show a different story.

These are sections of much larger test chart shots, enlarged 500%. The white balance on these shots was set wrong on purpose so that you can see the sharpening halos mentioned below


    Hard

  Normal

 

Soft

Note the following things about these enlargements.

1) Both Normal and Hard show bad "sharpening halos" around bight/dark transitions. These are seen as a dark line near the inside of the edge of a bright area, and a light line inside of a dark area; look inside the little "p"s for example. These halos are produced during the software sharpening process that accentuates edges by making the edge transitions more severe. You can clearly see that there is plenty of sharpening in the Normal position, and that it is not "no filter" as the manual states.

2) Soft images don't show any less detail. There is no active "blurring" going on.

3) I don't think that ANY digital camera made actively blurs images other than the normal anti-aliasing filter. Never heard of it, what would be the purpose?

4) I actually think that there is still some small amount of sharpening on Soft,you can still see traces of it in the still overly bright center of the "p" for example. Because it isn't possible to get unsharpened RAW images from the Minolta viewer, proof of this will have to wait for another utility that can read the Minolta RAW format.

White balance:

Most people will operate the D7 in Auto White Balance. The camera does a very good job in auto, but it does have one difference from some other cameras that offer an Auto setting that you should be aware of.


The way that Auto White balance (AWB) works is that the camera is allowed to shift the tone of any scene to make the tones more neutral. This works well on mixed color scenes, but obviously there has to be some limit in how "far" the camera is allowed to adjust the color, or you could get some funny effects. For example, if unlimited AWB shifting was allowed the camera might render a field of green grass as snow White; that would be bad.


Instead, when the camera is designed, the designers place limits on how far the AWB is allowed to go in any color direction. These design limits are probably mostly determined by real world shooting problems. For example, the maximum shift towards the Blue and Green are probably determined by test shots under vs. types of fluorescent lighting, and the shift to the Red by shots under incandescent lighting.


The decision on how far to go with AWB is always a trade off. Probably the situation where the average user is most likely to experience the trade off is in shots under incandescent lighting. This is because if cameras are allowed enough latitude in AWB to deal with incandescent lighting, then they will also have a problem with popular shots such as sunsets that are supposed to be Red, rendering those scenes pale.

 
The D7's designers have given it enough AWB latitude to deal with the incandescent lighting situation. Other cameras have dealt with this situation in different ways. For example, the Nikon Coolpix 990 also had enough  AWB latitude to deal with incandescent lighting like the D7 does, and renders such shots as the D7 does; perfectly balanced. The updated Coolpix 995 has been changed to NOT have enough latitude, which helps on sunset shots, but there have been complaints about how it now deals with incandescent lighting and some users have suggested that Nikon change the AWB back rather than make people select the indoor White balance preset all the time. It is a trade off


What this means for the D7 is that when you shoot a sunset you should use one of the presets, cloudy works well, or the "sunset" mode.

 

High ISO:

High ISO is tied into the discussion of noise; the main thing that makes high ISO hard to look at is the increased noise. There is also some loss of dynamic range, but it is hard to notice on a properly exposed shot. I think that the high ISO ranges on the D7 are perfectly usable for the right application, even ISO 800.

If you are going to shoot high ISO, and sometimes you just HAVE to in order to get the shot, turn the sharpening down to Soft to reduce the noise. You can always resharpen it later yourself if needed with something less aggressive. You can also hide noise quite well by resampling down a little bit, you have pixels to spare for most applications like printing a 4x6 or 5x7 shot. For example, you can resample down to 1800 pixels across, which will still give you 300 DPI at 4x6, but will hide most of the high ISO noise. The above sample was resampled down to 1024x768, and I think that it looks pretty good. There are of course several programs out there that can help with this (Qimage!), but the point is that I am not afraid of using high ISO when I have to, and I actually think that the ISO 800 on the D7 is usable if you remember to turn off the sharpening.

Try this, take your your high ISO shots at the reduced 1280 pixels across  in camera setting which is larger than the sample above, it will be almost noise free. On this setting the camera resamples your picture down in the camera for you. You now have a 1.3 Mpixel almost noise free ISO 800 camera! It was only a year ago that people would have KILLED for a 1.3 Mpixel camera that did ISO 800. Plenty of people including me printed nice 8x10s from their Nikon 900 1.3 Mpixel cameras that only used ISO 80. For viewing on the screen, and 4x6 prints, these shots will be fine.

 

ISO 800 samples album

Also consider B&W mode at ISO 800. It looks like Tri-X film.

Macro Mode:

There are macro shots in the samples album

As you can see, the D7 can take very nice macro shots. Because the closest macro is at the full zoom level on the lens, the distance to your subject is a very comfortable 13cm. Contrast this to the CP990 which requires you to approach within 1 cm of the subject. At 13cm, there is a little more room for operator movement during the exposure. At 1cm, even a 1mm movement is 10% of the distance to the subject, and really difficult to hand hold. I find more of my D7 macros turning out than with the CP990.

The field covered by the D7 lens at closest macro is about 5cm across. Most people will find that this is plenty close enough for typical subjects, however you could add screw on macro lenses if you like. The larger depth of field provided by the D7 in macro mode also helps keep the subject in focus. Also, I find that I can take many shots that would have been "crouch down and try not to block the light" with other cameras while standing up with the D7. In addition, the macro shots are very flat, unlike some other cameras that show severe barrel distortion on macro.

My only complaint about the macro mode on the D7 is how the range works. On many cameras, the macro range is continuous with the regular focusing range, in other words you could have the camera set in macro mode, and still swing it up and take a picture of a house, the camera would just take longer to focus with the additional lens travel for macro focus. On the D7, you have to set the lens to full telephoto and "lock" a switch which locks the lens into macro mode. This also limits the focus range to a point that appears to have it's maximum focus distance at the minimum distance for the normal range (there may be some overlap, but not much). The problem is when you want to photograph a subject that is right on the borderline for the two ranges, about a foot and a half, I'd guess. I find myself having to switch back and forth from macro mode quite a bit while trying to guess which range to use, or while trying to frame a shot (the zoom is disabled so you have to move in and out to frame).

Using with a telescope:

Well, this section will be short! In a nutshell, you can't. The reason for this is that the lens on the D7 is physically large, and there is extreme vignetting holding the D7 up to any eyepiece. I tested with all the wide angle eyepieces that I own, but could never get more than a very small circle in the center of the frame, covering maybe 10 arc minutes.  In addition, the D7 lens extends several inches at full telephoto needed for minimum vignetting, and although the lens seems strong in comparison to others, I would think twice before hanging the camera from the lens threads with the lens extended.

It will be possible to take shots of planets through a telescope, because they are so small and will fit in the small field of view. The Moon and terrestrial shooting with telescopes is going to be right out though.

I don't know enough about teleconverters to know which are going to work on the D7. I'm sure that most will have to be operated at full telephoto though.

Filters:

Using filters with the D7 may present a special challenge. The lens is very close to vignetting at all points between about 50mm and 35mm (35mm equivalent) settings. In fact, the maximum vignetting does not occur at full wide, but at a point between 28 and 50mm. I can detect some very minor vignetting at some focal lengths in that range with the proper target. Because of this anything that you put on the lens is going to cause trouble. I have heard that some low profile (expensive) 49mm filters work.

I also tried a low profile 49mm to 52mm step up ring, with 52mm filters, but there is still some vignetting even from just the ring, and it is very bad up to 50mm focal length with the filter on. What I settled on is a 49mm to 62mm step up ring, and 62mm filters; they all seem to work find.

Infra Red Sensitivity:

All digital cameras contain an Infra Red (IR) blocking filter. This is because CCDs are very sensitive to near Infra Red, and without the filter the camera would be unable to take pictures in sunlight due to the spurious IR response. While good IR blocking is the sign of a quality digital camera, photographers can take advantage of the small amount of IR light that still penetrates the filter to take some IR pictures, just like in the days of IR sensitive film. Note that we are talking about Near IR, which is just outside of the visible spectrum, and not "heat" or "body radiation" which is much much longer wavelength light and requires special cooled detectors ( the detectors have to be cooler than the heat that you want to detect). Using an IR filter on your camera will not let you "see" people by body heat, for example, that takes special equipment.

The D7 appears to be fairly sensitive to IR. Not so much that it will ruin your photos, but enough so that you can take a few IR shots with reasonable exposures if you like.

Movie mode

Unfortunately, the movie mode is totaly unusable.  Aside from the fact that there is no sound, which makes the movie mode a novelty at best, the camera is put in continuous focus mode in movie mode. This causes the image to move in and out of focus once per second, even in good light, rendering your "move" unwatchable as the focus moves in and out.

Batteries and Power:

One of the biggest features of the D7 is both a blessing and a curse, and that is that Minolta used a standard battery format and expects/allows you to buy and use your own batteries. In a nutshell, the camera uses a lot of current, and having the right batteries for the camera is absolutely essential. Since Minolta leaves it up to the user to acquire their own batteries (in the USA), people are having trouble with battery life. If you use the wrong batteries or charger, you will be very disappointed, and may even risk corrupting your flash card and loosing your pictures. You need to make some minimal effort to make sure that your battery system is up to snuff.

Executive summary:

For those that done't want to read the rest of this section, and it is kind of thick, here is the "executive summary". There are two points.

1) You should only use known good 1500 mAH or greater NiMH cells that are properly charged. Nothing else will work. These cells must have been cycled at least 2 times, newly charged cells from the package don't count. Read point 1) over until it sinks in.

2) If you are having trouble with limited battery life or excessive heating of the camera, there IS something wrong with your battery system.

Lecture mode on....

* YOU CAN'T USE ALKALINE BATTERIES. Not at all. Not ever, even in an "emergency". Not any brand. Not the rechargable alkalines. Not even for a short time. I know that in the USA they gave you a set of alkalines in the box, but you can't use them. Alkalines will last anywhere from 0 seconds to a few minutes, and when they die you may loose something.

* Unless you want to run the camera from an external battery pack, you have to have good NiMH batteries and manage them correctly.  No other type of batteries will do.  Not Alkaline. Not "Renewal (tm)" rechargable alkaline, not NiCd. Not high capacity NiCd. (exception, non-rechargable lithium AA batteries can be used on a trip or in an emergency. There are no rechargable AA lithium cells at this time.)

Lecture mode off...

 

I've now moved the battery information off into a separate section here.

Saving Power

Even with good batteries, you should practice power management on the the camera if you can. Power saving tips are...

* Don't use the rear LCD if you can help it. This is a very bright LCD and draws as much current as the rest of the camera  (see below).

* Use the EVF when you can, it draws half of the current of the LCD.

* Set the EVF to turn on only when you bring your eye near it, if you can stand to run the camera that way.

* Don't use continuous focus, try to use single focus when you can, continuous focus does drain the batteries.

* Set the power save time to 1 minute if you can stand it. Better yet, just get in the habit of turning the camera off when you can. The camera draws almost no current in standby, you can leave it turned on for days. Current draw in standby is so low that I actually don't turn my camera off, I just let it go to sleep, even overnight.

* Don't bother messing with your shots on the camera, get a bigger card and sort them out later.

If you follow all of this advice, the camera will last you for hours of shooting. I've used mine for over a hundred shots over the course of an 8 hr day on one battery set (The camera "slept" through most of that though!). See this link. My feeling is that for almost continuous use, not going into sleep mode and without the flash, that the camera would last for about 1.5 hours using the EVF, and that you should be able to get over 100 shots. A lot really depends on your shooting style, if you fire off shots like crazy you will get a lot of shots, if you wait 10 minutes between shots but don't allow the camera to "sleep" you will get only a few.

Power consumption, the technical stuff:

"Jake", has measured the D7 power consumption using a 4.8V source (He actually used NiMH batteries, so these numbers reflect what the camera actually uses when operating on batteries). The results are very interesting. Reproduced here with permission.

Record mode with Flash: (short time, while charging flash capacitor)
               LCD 1.25 Amp.
               EVF 1.17 Amp.
               LCD and EVF off 1.00 Amp.
Record mode with Flash: (charged flash capacitor)
               LCD 1.08 Amp.
               EVF 0.76 Amp.
               LCD and EVF off 0.533 Amp.
Record mode (flash off):
               LCD 0.98 Amp.
               EVF 0.71 Amp.
               LCD and EVF off 0.524 Amp.
Playback mode:
               LCD 0.80 Amp.
               EVF 0.51 Amp.

No Display (no eye near EVF):
               4.6V: 0.56 Amp. (at 4.4V the camera switches off)
               6.0V: 0.45 Amp 16 MB CF card inserted
               6.0V: 0.78 Amp - (short) during autofocus)
               6.0V: 0.45 Amp - during writing RAW to 16MB CF.
               6.0V: 0.45 Amp - 1GB MD inserted and in idle (MD sleeps)
               6.0V: 0.55 Amp - during writing RAW to 1GB MD
               4.6V: 0.69 Amp - during writing RAW to 1GB MD

Sleep mode <0.00004 Amps (thanks Jacques B.)

This shows a couple of interesting things.

* The camera can draw over an Amp at times. The peak current with the flash charging was 1.25 Amps.

* We can get the current draw of various components by subtraction.

LCD screen at brightness 3   = 0.46 Amps

EVF screen at brightness 3   =  0.19 Amps

Just being in record mode      = 0.52 Amps

Keeping the flash charged      = <0.02 Amps

Charging the flash                 = 0.47 Amps

Saving to Microdrive             = 0.20 Amps

Microdrive asleep                  = very small

Saving to CF card                  = very small

Focusing                               = 0.25 Amps

 

You can see several things, and can predict what their effect should be on battery life. Predicting actual battery life is hard, because I doubt that the camera can drain a set of batteries completely, for example, a set of 1800mAH batteries will probably provide less than 1800 mAH of power to the camera for several reasons, but mainly because the camera shuts off before the batteries are completely drained. We can make some relative statements about life though.

You can see that the LCD is roughly 50% of the camera power budget in record mode. If you didn't use the LCD or the EVF at all (what good would that be?), the camera would last twice as long as if you used the LCD all the time. The EVF draws about half of the current that the LCD does, so if you used just the EVF, and kept it on all the time, the camera would last 50% longer. The most power savings is by turning the EVF off when you aren't using it, and the camera will last between 50% and 100% longer depending on how much you use it. Even better is letting the camera go to sleep or turning it off when you aren't using it.

Saving to a Microdrive draws about as much current as the EVF does. For JPEG shots this time is negligible, but for larger RAW and TIFF shots that take 20 to 30 seconds, this time could add up over a hundred shots or so. Focusing also draws as much current as the EVF, but unless you use continuous focus this will not make much difference.

One very interesting thing was that changing the EVF or LCD brightness setting did not change the current draw at all. The backlight must be constant and they just adjust the brightness of the LCD which lets more or less light through. This means that you can't save any power by turning the brightness down on the LCD or the EVF.

Jake also notes that the camera stops working with the Microdrive when the combined battery voltage falls to only 4.5 volts (they start at 4.8). He also reports that at 4.5V you start having trouble with flash card writes (at least with the card that he tested). This trouble is the usual "Red LED stays on" problem, and may account for a lot of the reported crashes.

 

  

Conclusion:

Much of what people think of the Dimage 7 is going to come down to mainly what they think of the autofocus system and the viewfinder. The viewfinder is a new approach, and you will have to get used to it. I think that anyone can get used to it and grow to like it, if they can get over the initial "hey, this is different from my SLR" reaction.  The autofocus system, while not horrible, is merely average. It is comparable to the autofocus system on the Nikon 990.  It is acceptable and even maybe good at short focal lengths, but at longer focal lengths the focus time can be much too long; but there aren't many cameras to compare to. Focus at long focal lengths is also erratic, focusing in less than a second one time, in 2.5 seconds the next, and not locking on at all the next time; it is very sensitive to user motion.  If you are able to work around the focus, then then is a great camera. When the camera does focus, which is almost all the time, the focus is good. Low light focus performance is very good for a camera without a focus assist light; it sure beats my CP990. If you need to shoot sports exclusively at full telephoto, or are thinking that this is a replacement for a pro digital camera, then maybe another camera is for you.

If you can get past the autofocus issue, and are looking at the D7 as an upgrade from a prosumer type camera such as the Canon G1 or the Nikon Coolpix series, then the D7 is a terrific camera. The size, weight and feel are good for a compact SLR type camera, it you like lightweight cameras as I do.  If you require a big heavy "brick" camera to stabliize yourself during shooting then you will find the D7 too light. The resulting images are outstanding, noise is acceptable even at high ISO, and dynamic range actually appears quite good.  The D7 is absolutely great in low light, producing clear noise free shots on multi second exposures. The lens is the best that I have seen on any digital camera without a removable lens, with the exception of some very slight vignetting at wide angle. If you are willing to take the time, you can get some very accurate color out of this camera. The EVF is completely visible good in all lighting conditions, and gives an accurate preview of what your exposure will be like which is an advantage over an optical SLR. The EVF could be a little higher resolution for manual focus, but manual focus is easy and quick even with one hand.

The battery life is really not a problem if you have quality batteries and a good charger and carry a change of cells. I have only been changing my cells once per day, for example. Many of the early reports of trouble seem to have been from people trying to use brand new unconditioned cells, or old cells that they had around, or alkaline batteries. Most report that their battery life is much better now.

In conclusion, if you can stand the autofocus system, or if you are already used to today's slower focus on digital cameras, this is a very nice camera, I really like using mine.

 

Usage update, September 19, 2001

I've had the camera for almost two months now, and I feel that I can now give some more usage comments. In short, I like it a lot, more so than when I first got it. I'm really beginning to appreciate some of the unique features of the D7 that have yet to appear on other cameras. Minolta has really put a lot of thought into this camera, and I have to admit that I didn't appreciate everything at first.

* First of all the lens. The lens is just great, from the chromatic aberration free images at all focal lengths, to the low distortion at all focal lengths, to the large aperture at 200mm to the easy to operate zoom to the nice wide 28mm. If there was any drawback at all I'd say that it was that you can see internal reflections in the lens during nighttime shots, and an occasional Sun reflection. I'm not sure that there is much that can be done about this with so many lens elements. No lens on any digital camera with a fixed lens is as good in my opinion. Some have more zoom, but not as little chromatic abberation. A very few can match the 28mm focal length, but not in combination with a 200mm setting.

* Next the EVF. You don't really appreciate being able to see a preview of your exposure until you try it. You can set your manual exposure completely with just the viewfinder. You don't appreciate all the information shown on the screen at all times until you try to use a camea that does not have it. You don't appreciate being able to use the EVF in full sunlight until you try to squint at a camera with an LCD.  You don't appreciate the through the lens view until you have a parallax problem with another camera. You don't appreciate the low light performance of the EVF until you try a camera with an optical viewfinder. Yes, the resolution of the EVF could be higher, but I find that I can focus very well with the EVF, using little clues like a sort of moiré pattern that appears when you are in focus.

* Autofocus. I find the autofocus to be fine. The autofocus is especially good in low light, it will still lock on even in conditions where you have a hard time seeing by eye. It is no worse than other cameras as long as you give it something to lock on to and don't bounce around too much.  For "action" shots I just use manual focus, I'm usually far enough away from the "action" that one fixed setting will do.

* Image quality. This camera just takes great pictures. I no longer use the Minolta viewer, and instead use - contrast and + saturation. This is only needed in bright Sunlight. As for noise, what noise? I don't know where all this talk of noise comes from, yes you can see some noise on your shots if you look closely, but since it does not appear on prints and full screen views on my 19" monitor I don't really care. The camera has an undeserved reputation for noise in my opinion, I'd rather have some noise than have the camera artificially smooth flat areas.

* Feel. The size, weight and feel are just right for me. Not too heavy, but heavy enough. I would feel funny with a smaller camera, and larger would just be a pure pain. The two handed grip is the one that I use most often, and the feel is just right with your left hand on the lens to operate the zoom. One handed operation is not as good, but this is an SLR after all, and you would not hold an SLR that way. The controls are fine, but my control wheel still bothers me as being too stiff; I wish that it was easier to turn. I may have a defective one or really fat fingers. I find that I'm now used to the controls and can operate the camera in the dark.

* Little touches. There are a number of things that aren't appreciated at first, but add up to a nice experience with the camera. The backlit LCD panel on top with plenty of info is great at night. The EVF is great in the Sunlight. The manual zoom and focus are great. The standard size filter ring is great. Most controls are on the outside of the camera and just where you would want them. The quick review button with easy delete is fantastic. Manual focus is really nice. The remote release is nice, and less money than other remotes. The amount of control over the image is unprecedented. And of course the lens, nobody has matched this yet.