Minolta DiMAGE Z1 review
Attractive, pretty well made, Excellent features, very good handling, very good movie mode, Image quality, right out of the camera, is pretty good for prints & for on screen viewing. After sharpening, using unsharp mask in Photoshop or other software, it increases to excellent. I Have made jaw dropping 11" x 14" prints of flowers after upsizing the 3.2 MP file to 14.5 MP (300 PPI @ 11 x 14)) & sharpening. The sharpest aperature is wide open at F2.8. As the lens is stopped down, depth of field increases, but sharpness decreases. Don't stop down below 5.6. Sharpness is just barely acceptable at the F8.
Some people have complained that the camera crashes. It does not. It powers down after 1 minute of non-use to save power & it can be brought back up again by just pushing any button. The delay can be changed in the menu. I set mine to 5 minutes, because the default of 1 minute setting was so short to suit me. When all else fails, read the instructions people.
Very distant shots do not come out as well as intermediate distance or close ups do, because sometimes the camera does not chose infinity focus for distant shots when there are closer objects in the picture. I have to watch what the focus locks in on. The very nice included Dimage viewer software can read the EXIF information & I found that often the camera set the distance to foreground on distant shots. Upsizing the file in 5% increments worked very well for close ups, even though it increases noise somewhat. For portraits, upsizing should be done in one step, because the contrast increases if you upsize in 5% increments. The 10X zoom covers most needs & a 28 mm wide adapter is available. The digital zoom works better than I expected. Pictures look very good at the 2X position & are worse but not as bad as I expected at 4x. The camera uses AA batteries, a plus in my opinion. If your batteries go dead, you can use alkalines.
Some reviewers said the battery life is bad with this camera. That is not true. I had serious problems initially. I corrected the problem by purchasing better NiMH AA batteries & a large battery charger that shuts off only when the batteries reach full charge. Sometimes it takes overnight to fully charge the batteries. My small charger has no indication of battery charge & I evidently wasn't leaving them in long enough. The battery life is great with the 2300 NiMH batteries, but I think the most of the problem was me not charging the batteries fully.
Can show pictures on TV. Accepts large auto zooming flash to extend flash range (No other brand camera in this price range will) A big flash will extend flash from 17 feet to well over 40 feet even at full telephoto. I completely light a large church hall shot with my 28 mm & 24 mm adapter lenes. Setting the camera contrast to low & the camera sharpness to high improved shadow detail while greatly reducing noise, compared to the default setings, contrast was very good after sharpening & the colors looked more accurate than with the default settings, which at times can be a little too vivid. The camera produces very accurate brilliant color. The camera does a great job of balancing existing light with either the built in or a large flash. It does a much better job on portraits than my SLR does.
I found that knowing the best settings for sharpening in Photoshop really made a difference in the quality of enlargements. For 8 x 10's @ 200 PPI I got the best results with unsharp mask using Amount 150, Radius .8 & Threshold 0. If I upsize the file to 200 PPI @ 8.5" x 11" the radius has to be increased to .9. For my 11" x 14" flower shots that I upsized to 14.5 MP I used Amount 150, Radius 2.0 & Threshold 3. If you are willing to spend some time in Photoshop, the camera can make some amazing enlargements. The camera has less in-camera sharpening applied because better results are obtained for enlargements if most sharpening is done after upsizing the file. Other cameras may make sharper pictures right out of the camera, at the expense of lower quality enlargements. Most 3.2 MP cameras can't make really good 11" x 14" prints. This one can. I am very pleased with the quality of the pictures. I showed some of my 11" x 14" prints to two Pros & their jaws almost dropped out. They couldn't believe they came from a 3.2 MP camera. People that complain about blurry pictures probably just mash the button. If they read the manual they would learn that they have to press the button half way to focus before they take the shot. SLR's have focus priority, so will focus first & then take the picture. With EVF cameras you have to wait until the focus locks on. After it locks on you can follow action & push the button the rest of the way when you want to take the shot.
Some people said you can't use filters. That is not true. You have to purchase al 52 mm fliter adapter (inexpensive) or purchase a 28 mm wide angle lens kit, which includes the filter adapter & a carrying bag. A nice flower petal shade is available on the internet & it comes with a adapter for filters & accessory lenses. You can't use a shade with the wide angle lens & the manual says not to use filters with the wide angle accessory lens. They can be fitted between the adapter & accessory lenes, but will cause vignetting.
The Minolta wide adapter is very sharp but has significant barrel distortion, but this can be corrected easily with a free plug-in I found on the web that works with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements & many other programs (by Richard Rosenman). Simply slide a scroll bar to fix it. Correcting severe distortion can degrade corner sharpness somewhat, so it should only be done when necessary. Distortion with the 28 mm wide adapter is much worse close up. On some distant shots it is not visible at all. You should not zoom the lens or quality will deteriorate. I recommend the Raynox .66X PRO wide adapter. It has a wider angle (I get 24mm equivalent) very sharp, has no distortion & it can be zoomed 6X. It has 72 mm threads but vignetted when I tried to use filters, even thin ones. It has a nice clip-on lens cap that is better than the Minolta cap.
Either wide adapter will partially block the built in flash, causing a dark crescent at the bottom of the picture . When using the Minolta .75x wide adapter It can be completely eliminated in a 4 x 6 print by just printing the top of the photo. This option is a simple selection with their Dimage viewer editing software, but the vignetting will still be visible in enlargements because the shape of the enlargements are closer to the sensor shape. You can't do this cropping trick with the Raynox lens because it is larger. A large flash fixes the problem completely with either accesory lens. Sony's flashes designed for their Alpha series SLRs will work on the Z1 even though they don't say so. Sony bought out Konica Miolta & they just relabeled the older Konica Minolta flashes. I was disappointed to find that the camera does not support the focus aid light on my large flash (Neither will the Z5). The Camera has problems focusing in very dim light & has poor manual focus. The Flip mirror has never given me any problems. I have had the camera over three years. All SLRs have swinging mirors & they don't break. The View finder washes out in bright light, but this goes away when the focus locks on. Noise becomes a problem at ISO 400. Prints are fine at 4 x 6 size, but it you try to sharpen the picture you will see it. If you set the ISO to auto, the ISO will then range from 50 to 200 & it works pretty well. You will get noise in the shadows at ISO 200 that is visible in enlargements. Setting the ISO to 100 reduces noise in the shadows. The Lens cap pops off easily, but it has a teather, so at least you can't lose it. Use care when closing the battery door. If you don't press it firmly down before you slide it, you could damage it. The cover for the memory card has a detent at the fully closed position. Some people complain that it opens too easily. I have not found it to be a problem. They probably just forget to close it. I often do. Sometimes the fully auto setting sets too low a shutter speed in my opinion. The camera seems to prefer to shoot at low ISO settings, when possible, to limit noise. If you set the camera to shutter priority & set the ISO manually, the camera can't do this to you.
The compact Chinese .5X wide angle lenses advertised on the web are really .75X, like the KM lens, not .5X & they work as well as the KM. If you purchase one, buy one without filter threads, because the lens will be larger, the longer length will cause a larger dark crescent with the built in flash that now can't be fully cropped of when printing just the top of the picture for a 4x6 & any filters will just vignette the picture. The only solution I found to permit filter use with my .5X Chinese accessory lens with threads was to purchase a 62mm to 77 mm step up ring, modify the ring by grinding the inside corners & using regular 77mm filters. That is a lot of work. I prefer to use my KM lens or the .66X Raynox & simulate filter effects in Photoshop instead. Accessory lenses are not really designed for filter use.
The only true .5X sold is the Raynox .5X. This lens is very unsharp in the corners. However, If you set the camera to F5.6 in aperature priority, sharpen the file & print only to 4x6, the picures are very good, otherwize not. That lens must be set to macro mode to focus properly. The lens also has severe barrel distortion, which you can remov in processing software. Often you don't see it in distant shots.