If you're familiar with the DiMAGE A1 then you'll see that other than labels nothing visible has changed. The DiMAGE A2 has a solid magnesium alloy body and soft black rubber hand grip. Build quality is very good and the camera feels robust and professional, perhaps the only disappointments come from the Compact Flash compartment door and pop-up flash both of which use a fairly lightweight plastic.
At the front of the camera you will note the grip sensor which activates AF in full-time AF mode. At the back of the camera are a fairly straightforward control layout and the tilting LCD monitor.
Side by side
Below you can see the DiMAGE A2 with the current eight megapixel competition, it comes in as a moderate middle weight being 252 g (8.8 oz) lighter than the heaviest, the Sony DSC-F828 and 142 g (5 oz) heavier than the lightest, the Nikon Coolpix 8700. Size wise the DiMAGE A2 is larger than both the Nikon and Canon but similar in proportions to Olympus's C-8080 Wide Zoom.
(inc. batt & CF)
|Nikon Coolpix 8700||8 mp, 8x zoom||113 x 78 x 105 mm (4.4 x 3.1 x 4.1 in)||512 g (1.1 lb)|
|Canon PowerShot Pro1||8 mp, 7x zoom||118 x 72 x 90 mm (4.6 x 2.8 x 3.5 in)||640 g (1.4 lb)|
|Minolta DiMAGE A2||8 mp, 7x zoom||117 x 85 x 114 mm (4.6 x 3.4 x 4.5 in)||654 g (1.4 lb)|
|Olympus C-8080 WZ||8 mp, 5x zoom||124 x 85 x 99 mm (4.9 x 3.3 x 3.9 in)||724 g (1.6 lb)|
|Sony DSC-F828||8 mp, 7x zoom||134 x 91 x 156 mm (5.3 x 3.6 x 6.1 in)||906 g (2.0 lb)|
The DiMAGE A2 has a fairly deep and comfortable hand grip which has a nice soft rubber coating, the shape and design of the grip is almost perfect. Around the back of the camera is a small molded 'hook' which is placed perfectly for your thumb.
The data panel on the top of the camera provides plenty of detail about current camera settings, available storage and exposure. The LCD has a backlight which automatically comes on if you half-press the shutter release in a dark environment, the camera appears to use the metered light value to determine whether or not to use the backlight (makes you wonder why others don't implement this feature, it's so obvious).
A diagram indicating all possible status LCD settings is shown below.
Diagram reproduced with permission from the DiMAGE A2 manual.
The tilting LCD monitor has a double hinge system which is very similar to the Olympus E-10/E-20, you can tilt the LCD downwards by approximately 20 degrees and upwards up to 90 degrees. The images below show the limits of movement apart from one more which would be to push the hinge flat against the body achieving a full up facing tilt of 90 degrees. The LCD itself is bright and sharp with a very good anti-reflective coating. As per the 7 series the A1's LCD live view switches into a black and white 'high gain' mode in very low light (although this can now be disabled if you prefer), I still wonder why other manufacturers haven't implemented this feature, it's really very useful.
The DiMAGE A1 had an impressive 235,000 pixel LCD electronic viewfinder, which now appears to have been implemented by several other manufacturers in their prosumer cameras. Konica Minolta, not satisfied to be using last years technology have gone one better and describe the LCD in the DiMAGE A2's electronic viewfinder as having 922,000 pixels (just short of a megapixel), which sounds unbelievable until you look through it and realize it could indeed be true. This is one of the smoothest (no visible break between adjoining pixels) yet sharpest electronic viewfinders I've ever used.
Electronic Viewfinders are a matter of taste, many other reviewers simply hate them. I personally recognize them as the only alternative to a true pentaprism TTL viewfinder on a digital camera such as this. Thanks to the high gain black & white mode in low light you can still continue to use the A2's EVF in low light situations.
Just like the 7 series and A1 the A2's viewfinder also has two other unique features, firstly it can be tilted through 90 degrees, and so can be used easily from above. Secondly it has a proximity sensor which allows the camera to automatically switch from the LCD to the EVF (or just switch the EVF on or off) when your eye meets the viewfinder eyepiece. There is also some dioptre adjustment.
The A2 is powered by a single Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (1500 mAh, 7.4 V) which fits inside the hand grip. This is likely to provide longer life, it is easier to carry and store and reduces the overall size of the camera. The battery compartment door is held closed by a small latch, once open the battery stays in place thanks to a second spring loaded latch.
Battery / Charger
As you can see from the image on the left below Minolta's new NP-400 Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (1500 mAh, 7.4 V) appears to be based on the same OEM piece as Olympus used for the BLM-1 (1500 mAh, 7.4V) and Canon used for the BP-514 (1390 mAh, 7.4V). The biggest difference is capacity (1500 vs. 1500 vs. 1390 mAh).