Minolta DiMAGE S414 review
In the time I've used this camera I've gone from hating it to thinking it's one of the best 4mp cameras I've used, however it has some serious flaws. The worst of these is a manufacturing fault, the use of a low-quality CF physical interface (v. soft & pliable pins), leading to some pins being slowly pushed back 'into the camera' eventually it stops responding to larger cards (probably smaller cards over time), the first time it went back to Minolta (who dealt with the problem very quickly getting the camera back inside 2 weeks), second time I had a high-quality pin interface installed (not by Minolta) & I've not had any problems since. Second up is the battery life, using v. expensive & hard to find 2600mAh cells 1h20m/~200 photos in the most power efficient usage is bad, typically I'm getting 30~40min/45~60 photos with 2100mAh, it gets as bad as 15min/10 photos on 1800mAh cells when in full auto mode.
Talking of full auto mode the artificial image analysis & correction system (AIC&C), which drives the auto settings, is totally unreliable in all but AF, several time I would find that taking the same photo 3 times would give completely different settings for the shot, this of course means a large number of photos with awful image quality. Saying that however, once you get away from the auto settings and start to tell the camera what to do the image quality is amassing, you can get a large amount of light into the camera to keep the ISO (and noise) low, without blurring out 'smoke' & small partial details into a haze. Purple fringing seems to be non-existent in all but the over exposed images, it also seems to deal very well with xeon lights well giving a very hard cold white light that's just tinged blue at the edges (some cameras give an over-exposed blue/green light look), in fact overly bright items seem to be captured very well in general. At least in reasonably bright conditions the AF is stunning (being able to focus on a fast moving object, >25mph, while panning). This all adds up to more-or-less the perfect camera for me, as a lot of my photographs are taken at track days, time trials & motor sport events.
I feel I need to qualify the construction rating as I mention the bad CF physical interface. Besides one bad choice of OE component the build quality is excellent and the camera has stood up to being dropped, banged against walls & generally abused. While it looks battered it still works as well as when I first got the camera.
Please note - My S414 was a very early model brought when it was first released and cost well over 350UKP, compared to 250~300UKP for most other 4MP cameras
Battery life - 1 hour if you're lucky from new 2100mAh Ni-MH rechargeable
Unreliable AIC&C, really needs to be in full manual mode
Physically fragile CF interface (low quality connector use)
Bad QC or lower thresholds on latter cameras? (I've used 2 newer cameras both couldn't achieve the quality of my very early model)
Bad placement of right strap fixing over CF door (which has flimsy feel)
I cover the left of the LCD & imped access to the OVF when holding the left of the camera naturally