The DiMAGE 7 takes its layout from the SLR-like school of design, it's not the most attractive digital camera to date with lots of angular edges and elements which look as though they don't really belong. The lens in particular doesn't seem to "blend" into the body in the same way as we've seen of other fixed lens 'SLR-like' digital cameras, the main body itself, which extends only to the right, is quite thin and the hand grip doesn't add much to this. I found that the camera got especially hot around the compact flash compartment (just under your hand) which was surprising.

As far as I know this is the first digital camera to have its battery compartment located on the left side under the CCD/LCD construction. This has the consequence of making the camera feel heavier on the left than the right, this added to the narrow grip doesn't help the comfort level when holding the camera). I'm also concerned as to what effect a set of hot NiMH batteries would have on the CCD directly above them (although in use the right side of the camera seems to generate far more heat).

My first impression when I picked it up was that the plastic hand grip's flat front face loses some comfort / stability which would have been there had it been a more rounded shape (and rubber coated), it's also a little small for my hands (I'd consider I have regular "Caucasian adult male hands").

Metal or plastic?

This debate has been raging since the camera's announcement and first product photos. We can now bring you some detailed information on the DiMAGE 7's body make-up.

As you can see from the image on the left, the main body is made from a single piece of diecast magnesium alloy. Obviously the inside of the case contains the electronics and imager. 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:

As you can see a good deal of the exterior of the camera is metal, maybe a little less than Fujifilm's 6900Z but still this ensures the camera is stiff, doesn't have any creaks or obvious chassis strength problems.

Build quality?

My major complaint is with the overall finish and build quality of the camera, it really doesn't give you the impression (or the satisfaction) of being $1500 worth of digital camera. Here are my list of gripes concerned with finish and build:

  • Lightweight plastic hand grip, bad shape (flat faced) and plastic. A rubber, rounded grip would have helped a great deal.
  • Some of the buttons aren't fitted centrally in their location.
  • Details like the battery and compact flash compartment door feel flimsy.
  • The 'rubber grommet' covers for connectors didn't stay in place.
  • The zoom mechanism doesn't move smoothly, it's stiff and feels as though you're cranking plastic against plastic.
  • The fly-by-wire manual focus ring wasn't fitted properly and rubbed against the left side of the case.

These details are considered with both lower priced (Fujifilm 6900Z) and directly competitive (Olympus E-10; superb build quality) digital cameras.

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 7 manual.

Rear LCD Monitor

The DiMAGE 7'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'.

My only slight criticism would be that it didn't seem as sharp as those seen on other digital cameras, which is odd because it has a similar resolution (112,000 pixels). All in all it was quite easy to use the LCD in all sorts of light (including direct sunlight). The DiMAGE 7's LCD provides a 100% frame view. Kudos for that.

One thing the DiMAGE 7 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 7 manual.