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Design

The S404 follows the more traditional compact camera design, lens in the center with the viewfinder window above it and flash to the right. The S404 is notably 'chunkier' than some of its counterparts, mostly due to the larger hand grip which contains four AA batteries. The body itself is made from a very slightly champagne coloured aluminium alloy. The two plastic body pieces are the battery and CF compartment doors (which are unforunately not a good colour match for the body). Buttons are also plastic.

Overall design is basic but functional, the thicker designed hand grip makes the camera easier to hold and there's sufficient empty space on the right rear of the camera to ensure you're not blocking or accidentally pressing any of the rear controls. The silver / grey finger grip on the front of the camera is plastic, not rubber. Build quality is fairly good, although some of the seams did appear a little questionable, it's not quite up to finish of its more expensive competition (G2, DSC-S85).

Here's the four megapixel S404 beside one of the competition, Canon's G2. Size wise the S404 sits a little lower and is thinner at the right hand edge. Surprisingly when you put these two cameras side-by-side the G2 is just as thick as the S404 at the hand grip (left side). From a weight point of view the S404 is slightly heavier due to its use of 4 AA batteries (the G2 uses a lighter-weight Lithium-Ion pack).

Again, despite it's 'visual bulk' (the way it looks and feels at first touch) I found the S404 a comfortable camera to hold, the grip filling my palm nicely and the shutter release button just falling under my finger without having to release the grip to press.


Top status LCD 'data panel'

The status LCD on the top of the S404 is smaller than we saw on the DiMAGE 5 / 7 but still provides plenty of information about current settings and exposure details. What's gone is a readout of the currently metered exposure. The status LCD is combined with the camera's SCENE exposure modes, when the small silver button is pressed the camera cycles through each SCENE mode (indicated by the arrow below the icon). This LCD has no backlight.


Rear LCD Monitor

The S404's 1.8" LCD is mounted behind a protective plastic cover. Unfortunately Minolta haven't carried over the very good anti-reflective coating used on the DiMAGE 5/7. This can make the screen somewhat difficult to see in bright sunlight. The screen, while high enough resolution did seem to provide a 'soft' live view image, this is the same effect I saw on the DiMAGE 5 / 7.


Viewfinder

The S404's viewfinder is the typical compact camera 'optical tunnel' with a fairly narrow view (doesn't fill the eye's field of view). Looking through the viewfinder you'll find two center of frame composition brackets (similar to the ones found on the LCD monitor). There are no parallax correction lines. There is no dioptre adjustment.

The lights beside the viewfinder indicate:

Green Steady Good AF Lock
Green Blinking Quickly Can not focus
Orange Blinking Slowly Shake warning (slow exposure)
Orange Steady Flash charged and will fire with exposure


Battery Compartment

The battery compartment can be found in the based of the cameras hand grip. The compartment has a small locking clip, once this is flipped to the open position the compartment can be opened by pulling it towards the front of the camera. As you can see the S404 takes four AA batteries. The camera is supplied with four Alkaline AA batteries (sadly), my recommendation is to get a decent set of NiMH rechargeable batteries and a charger.

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