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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good image quality, good resolution and colour balance (after being run through Image Viewer Utility)
  • Good 4x lens, proved to be sharp with little distortion (if a little slow; F3.0 - F3.6)
  • Virtually no chromatic aberrations (though some blooming)
  • Good control over internal processing algorithms (colour, sharpness, contrast)
  • Good set of manual controls (if limited by just two apertures)
  • Solid build quality, aluminium body
  • Excellent image quality, superb metering, good colour (better than 990)
  • Fairly fast processing, good shot to shot times
  • Browsing images in play mode is very fast
  • Five selectable AF points, AF is relatively quick, better-than-some low light AF ability
  • Quick Review mode
  • Good low light LCD brightness, camera boosts ISO to maintain LCD image
  • Voice memo's can be attached to images
  • USB connectivity


Conclusion - Cons

  • Auto Focus system sometimes misses but is convinced of an AF lock
  • Flat area noise at ISO 100
  • Multi-Segment metering can sometimes need negative EV compensation
  • Requirement to run images through Image Viewer Utility to get the best colour
  • After conversion to sRGB reds can take on an orange tinge
  • Badly positioned tripod mount
  • Bayer interpolation / sharpening algorithm can sometimes seem a little 'primitive' (pixelated)
  • Average macro ability
  • Flash skin tone can be a little yellow
  • LCD screen needs an anti-reflective coating
  • No histogram display


Overall conclusion

Here's my rating of the Minolta DiMAGE S304: (3 megapixel prosumer)

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Construction 8
Features 8.5
Image quality 8.5
Lens / CCD combination 8.5
Ease of use 7.5
Value for money 8

The DiMAGE S304 was overshadowed at the time of announcement by its "bigger brothers" the DiMAGE 5 and 7. However the S304 is really a very strong camera in its own right. If I had been working in Minolta's marketing department I would have suggested announcing the S304 on its own, there are very few people talking about this camera, yet it's just as capable as some of the best from Nikon, Sony or Canon.

Minolta have put together a camera which provides a good range of both basic point-and-shoot and manual control it produces good coloured (once run through the Image Viewer) and sharp images from its 4x optical zoom lens. Unfortunately for Minolta the S304's directly comparable competition is Nikon's very strong Coolpix 995. From a features, build and control point of view the 995 has it, but that's not to say that those thinking of a 995 shouldn't give the S304 a long, serious look. Especially considering the price difference between the two.

Wanting to give the S304 a Highly Recommended I really had to drop it down to a Recommended for its occasionally "flaky" autofocus, flat area noise and the requirement to run your images through Minolta's Image Viewer Utility to get colour-matched colours.

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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