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Conclusion - Pros

  • Delivers pleasing 'film like' images with average resolution
  • Unique Anti-Shake feature which moves the CCD to compensate
  • Flexible selectable colour space (sRGB, sRGB Vivid, Adobe RGB)
  • Optionally embedded ICC profile for Adobe RGB
  • Improved camera design, softer grip rubber, stronger build feel
  • Big 7x optical zoom provides a lot of flexibility, especially useful 28 mm wide angle
  • Lens is good quality, very little CA, fast (F2.8 - F3.5) for its reach
  • Fairly fast operation, fairly good startup and shot to shot times
  • Good auto focus speed and low light performance (despite the lack of AF assist lamp)
  • Improved AF points and flex focus points
  • Excellent range of image parameter adjustment, good latitude and fine steps
  • Excellent range of white balance options including fine tuning of presets
  • Well implemented manual focus (nice 2x or 8x live view zoom button, focus ring)
  • Five user memories
  • Improved ergonomics including addition of a second control dial
  • Customizable 'CUST' control position
  • Automatic switching EVF
  • EVF and LCD provide 100% frame view, high gain B&W mode in low light
  • Impressive selection of live view overlays (live histogram, grid, scale etc.)
  • Flip-up LCD, good anti-reflective coating
  • Most camera controls / settings on exterior case of camera
  • Browsing images in play mode is very fast
  • Program AE has "program shift"
  • Relatively good macro ability (considering the lens zoom)
  • RAW file format (improve DiMAGE Viewer now provides more flexibility)
  • Excellent new Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery and charger included
  • Wide range of accessories including battery pack and flashes
  • Excellent battery life


Conclusion - Cons

  • Lower resolution that we would expect for the money
  • Noise increases at slower shutter speeds and especially long exposures
  • Moiré visible near resolution limits
  • Image processing artifacts in JPEG images (dots, moiré, etc.) not in RAW converted
  • Indicated Infinity in Manual Focus mode leads to out-of-focus infinity subjects (here)
  • Can not magnify a RAW / TIFF files
  • Shutter release lag slightly slower than expected
  • Average buffer size, average continuous shooting speed
  • No blinking highlights in histogram playback mode
  • Unrequired separate play mode, should have shooting priority play mode via QV button
  • Poorly positioned tripod mount
  • No AF assist lamp (although not absolutely essential with the this AF system)


Overall conclusion

Here's my rating of the Minolta DiMAGE A1: (5 megapixel prosumer)

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Construction 8
Features 10
Image quality 8
Lens / CCD combination 8
Ease of use 7.5
Value for money 7.5

There's little doubt that the DiMAGE A1 is the most feature rich and flexible prosumer digital camera currently available. Indeed it has a range of flexibility beyond that of most digital SLR's. It's a camera designed as a photographers tool, and one which can fit a wide variety of roles with the ability to deliver output suited to almost any specific photographers requirements.

Build and design are excellent, control placement is very good and you can access the majority of camera settings from buttons on the outside of the camera (so no shuffling through the menus to set ISO or white balance), additionally the CUST position on the function dial can also be customized. Minolta has proven that it listens to owners and reviewers and has implemented several fixes and new features which was clearly based on that feedback.

The DiMAGE A1 is also unique in its Anti-Shake implementation, the novel ideal of stabilizing the CCD sensor instead of a lens element means that the camera is no larger or heavier and that the lens design can remain the same. And it works, Minolta's Anti-Shake system provides you with at least a stop (sometimes two) of slower shutter speeds in a hand held situation.

As a package the DiMAGE A1 is hard to beat, a high quality wide angle zoom lens, Anti-Shake, a strong metal body with good ergonomic design, powerful Lithium-Ion battery, excellent feature set, fully customizable and yet smaller and lighter than any digital SLR with an equivalent zoom lens. On this basis alone the DiMAGE A1 would cruise to one of my 'Highly Recommended' ratings.

Unfortunately it's not as easy as that, I put a lot of weight for my final conclusion on image quality. And that's where this otherwise unbeatable package is let down, the DiMAGE A1 delivers just average (or below average depending on your opinion) resolution with a good smattering of moiré at resolution limits and some other artifacts which are clearly issues with the camera's internal processing, as they don't appear in RAW converted images. I truly hope that Minolta can address these issues and improve resolution either in a firmware update or in their next camera and receive the Highly Recommended rating such a package would deserve.

Recommended

So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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