Minolta DiMAGE S414 review
I bought the Minolta S414 last June, and since then I have used it almost daily under every imaginable condition. I am proud to say I succeeded in getting nearly 100 photos accepted at www.railpictures.net with this camera, and these photos combined have been viewed individually over 12,000 times, according to the site's counters. I have had at least 1,000 photos rejected however, and most often the reason was "image too dark." For this reason I call the S414 my "sunny day" camera. On a nice day the S414 takes very crisp, brilliant photos.
It certainly is a feature packed camera, considering I bought it for the ridiculously low price of $89 USD in an open box from a leading chain store. If you find it at such a low price I would not hesitate to recommend it. I would recommend this camera to any serious amateur if it cost no more than $150 USD as of 12/16/2004.
I typically use manual focus and I am pleased with its speedy performance. Focal distances are provided on screen. I had to learn how to guess-timate in meters to get accurate focuses. AF works well, all things considered. Again, it has to be a reasonably bright day.
I did get some excellent night shots with and without a tripod.
Even with a second set of batteries I only get about four hours continuous use. That is frustrating, but the time can be extended of course if you refrain from using the LCD. I have a bad habit of stopping what I'm doing to admire my shots.
I discovered this camera was ranked as the 149th most popular at C/Net reviews some months after I bought it, which surprised me. I think it was a G3 wanna-be, but never came close. But with plenty of light and some practice it will take very nicely saturated photos. With a tripod it will take nice photos of motionless subjects in very low light.
Very good image quality and better than average noise levels up to ISO 200, visible but not awful noise at ISO 400 - better than most at the time it was made and even now.
Live histogram is great. It's amazing to me that this camera has this useful feature, yet some of brand new 6-8 megapixel cameras still do not.
Macro mode is excellent, considering the caliber of the camera.
You could do a lot worse than the Minolta S414, even now in December 2004. Unfamilarity with photography basics and with the camera's menu system will make it difficult for novices to get the best results possible. Advanced users will be frustrated by the presence of advanced features "in name only" as they ultimately present only limited creative possibilities.
If you are adept at guessing distances in meters, you can thumb your way through menus quickly, and you're familiar with things like EV and fill flash and choosing optimum contrast and sharpness settings on your own this camera's output will impress you, within reason.
The S414 can be turned on inadvertently much too easily, because the on/off control is on the program mode wheel. When you get on location and open your carrying bag, you may find the camera was turned on by simple jostling en route and the batteries are depleted. Power drain for this camera is fairly rapid, by the way, especially when compared to more recent cameras. Bring several sets of four NiMH AA's!
This camera has a sharp but fairly slow f3.0 - f3.7 lens, and only two selectable apertures apiece are available at wide and telephoto. As a result, this is a fine camera for bright days only for the most part.
I find the S414's continuous mode too slow to be practical for fast subjects, but panning helps.
Too many exposure and shutter selections are buried in the menus. Last second changes are out of the question.
Zooming is awkward if impossible without holding camera away from eyes.
I found the snaps which hold the lens cap on the lens to to be too fragile. Do not accidentally leave the cap on the lens when you turn off the camera like I did one afternoon. When the lens retracted it broke my cap, and now whenever I get an e-mail from Minolta saying a replacement cap is available it's already sold out when I go to the site to order a new one.