What a difference a colour can make. The DiMAGE 7Hi looks far better in black, gone is the slightly 70's silver body replaced with a matt black finish with a mottled effect paint. Other than the colour and an improved rubber grip there is only one other external difference and that is the addition of the PC Sync flash terminal on the left side of the camera above the AF/MF button. Overall the 7Hi feels much more like a professional tool, the black metal body, rubber grip and manual zoom ring adding to the overall feeling of much improved quality.

Side by side

Here we can see three five megapixel digital cameras which mark the top of each manufacturers prosumer range. The DiMAGE 7Hi (7x wide angle optical zoom, $1300) beside the Sony DSC-F717 (5x optical zoom, $1000) and Nikon Coolpix 5700 (8x optical zoom, $1200). Stiff competition but there's no doubting the 7Hi has a much richer feature set and can now at least keep up with these cameras from a looks and ergonomics point of view.

In hand

Minolta picked up on my comment about the 7i's hollow plastic hand grip, the 7Hi now has a soft rubber hand grip which not only helps to provide better stability but also makes the camera feel more professional.

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, the camera 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 7Hi manual.

Rear LCD Monitor

The DiMAGE 7Hi'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'. Unlike the original DiMAGE 7 the 7Hi's display is sharp clear and easy to see.

The DiMAGE 7Hi's LCD monitor provides a 100% frame view.

One thing the DiMAGE 5/7 series do very well is maintain an image on either the LCD monitor or EVF in low light situations. They automatically increase CCD sensitivity (for video display purposes) 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 7Hi manual.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

The DiMAGE 7Hi uses the same 'Ferroelectric LCD' used on the DiMAGE 7 and 7i. This type of display is capable of producing full 24-bit colour at each pixel location. However, as the EVF only has 71,000 pixels of resolution it means that the image can look more blocky than other electronic viewfinders (notably the excellent unit used on the Sony DSC-F717, Fujifilm S602 Zoom and Nikon Coolpix 5700).

Another annoyance I found with this viewfinder is softness of the corners of the frame, with the center pin sharp the corners are blurred. On a positive note however Minolta appear to have addressed the hue difference between the LCD and EVF which I identified in the 7 and 7i reviews, the only noticable difference now is that the EVF produces more saturated colour than the LCD.

The EVF also has two other unique features, firstly it can be tilted through 90 degrees, and so can be used easily from above. Secondly it has a proximity sensor which allows the camera to automatically switch from the LCD to the EVF (or just switch the EVF on or off) when your eye meets the viewfinder eyepiece. There is also some dioptre adjustment.

Battery Compartment

The battery compartment is mounted horizontally on the left side of the camera directly below the CCD imager and LCD. The compartment is held closed by a latch, flip it up and the door pops open to reveal four AA battery slots. The compartment door and latch are made of plastic. Minolta includes a Sanyo branded AA battery charger and four 1850 mAh batteries.