Nothing much has changed from a design point of view. The main visual difference (compared to the DiMAGE 7) is the hand grip (dark grey moulding) which now reaches further around the rear of the camera, is more round in shape and has a shallow finger indentation on the front. When I first saw pictures of the DiMAGE 7i I was excited because the grip looks as though it is made from a soft rubber (ideal), unfortunately it is a lightweight plastic with a rubber-like pattern stamped it. This is a real disappointment, had the grip been made of a soft rubber it would have created a professional feel to the camera, instead it simply feels like a marketing ploy.
It's also worth noting that just like other Japanese manufacturers Minolta now has to conform to JCIA standards for reporting megapixel count. This is why the label on the DiMAGE 7i reads '5.0 megapixels' (the effective pixel count) and why the previous DiMAGE 7 read '5.2 megapixels' (the total CCD pixel count).
Side by side
Here's the DiMAGE 7i besides the newest competition, Nikon's 5 megapixel, 8x zoom Coolpix 5700. From a design point of view the Coolpix 5700 looks at least five years ahead. Beside the 5700 the DiMAGE 7i looks boxy and angular with little time spent on integrating the various parts of the camera into the body.
It does look as though Minolta read my comments on the DiMAGE 7's hand grip. The 7i now has a more rounded design which fits more snugly into your hand. Unfortunately, as noted above it's still not made of rubber or rubber coated, something you would expect from this class (and price) of camera.
Metal or plastic?
This argument was pretty much settled in my DiMAGE 7 review, the camera itself is made from a single piece of diecast magnesium alloy. On the outside is attached the barrel grip, lens, LCD viewfinder assembly, main LCD, dials, flash and compartment doors. I've taken the trouble of highlighting the areas of the DiMAGE's exterior which are actually exposed metal from the substructure seen above:
It does appear as though Minolta has taken some action to improve build quality. Some of the gripes I had about the DiMAGE 7's build quality such as poorly aligned buttons and a not-so-flush fitting pop-up flash are notably better with the 7i. However there were still a few complaints which stand:
- A rubber coating on the hand grip would give the entire camera a more professional feel.
- Details like the battery and compact flash compartment door feel flimsy.
- The zoom mechanism doesn't move smoothly, it's stiff and feels as though you're cranking plastic against plastic.
These comments are made when comparing the camera to other similar cameras such as Fujifilm's FinePix S602Z, Olympus E-20, Nikon Coolpix 5700 etc.
Top status LCD 'data panel'
The status LCD on the top of the camera is a good size and provides plenty of detail about current camera settings, available storage space and exposure information.
The LCD has a backlight which automatically comes on if you half-press the shutter release in a dark environment, it appears to use the metered light value to determine whether or not to use the backlight.
A diagram indicating all possible status LCD settings is shown below.
Diagram reproduced from the DiMAGE 7i manual.
Rear LCD Monitor
The DiMAGE 7i's 1.8" LCD has a good matte anti-reflective coating, it's also set back from its surround which saves it from 'nose smear'.
Minolta seem to have solved the 'LCD softness' issue of the DiMAGE 7. The image on the 7i is now much sharper and it's even easier to see the current focus point.
The DiMAGE 7i's LCD provides a 100% frame view.
One thing the DiMAGE 7i does very well is maintain an image on either the LCD monitor or EVF in low light situations. It automatically increases CCD sensitivity to continue to provide a bright image, in extremely low light it will push sensitivity one more step and switch to a black and white view to provide an image in almost completely dark situations.
A diagram indicating all possible LCD monitor (or EVF) information overlay is shown below.
|a. Flash mode indicators||o. Camera sensitivity (ISO) display|
|b. Flash signals||p. Manual focus indicator|
|c. Mode indicator||q. Focus signals|
|d. Flash compensation display||r. Frame counter|
|e. Sharpness display||s. Drive mode indicators|
|f. Contrast compensation display||t. Macro mode indicator|
|g. Color saturation compensation display||u. Battery condition indicator|
|h. Exposure compensation display||v. Image quality indicator|
|i. White balance indicators||w. Image size indicator|
|j. Exposure mode/ Digital subject program indicators||x. Digital zoom (Electronic magnification) indicator|
|k. Metering mode indicators||1. Focus frame|
|l. Shutter speed display||2. Spot metering area|
|m. Aperture display||3. AF sensors|
|n. Camera shake warning||4. Flex Focus Point|
Diagram reproduced from the DiMAGE 7i manual.