Flash Performance

The S304's flash appeared to produce very similar results to the DiMAGE 7, quite powerful (maybe a little too much for closer subjects) with a very slight blue cast on distant walls. The S304 has no flash power output control.

Images re-saved to sRGB colour space [info]

Skin tone test: Not a bad performance, a little too much flash power for my liking, you can't change it. Skin tones are a little too yellow. Wide angle white wall: At full wide angle (35 mm equiv.) flash doesn't cover whole wide angle and also leaves a shadow near the bottom of the frame. Slight blue cast. Color patch test: A commendable performance, good balance, good power and nice colour (after being run through the Minolta Image Viewer)

Night exposures

The S304 allows a maximum exposure of 4 seconds in manual exposure mode, this can be extended to up to 60 seconds in Bulb mode, but of course that means holding the shutter release button down without wobbling the camera. I'm not sure why Minolta didn't allow exposures of up to 16 seconds because the S304 is easily capable. Yes, there are 'hot pixels' but no where near as many as we see from most 3 megapixel digital cameras, these could easily be removed later (dark frame subtraction).

Images re-saved to sRGB colour space [info]

ISO 100, 4 secs, F3,4
ISO 100, Bulb (9 secs), F3.4
ISO 100, Bulb (14 secs), F3.4

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

There's no doubting the quality of the S304's lens. For a compact lens with a large zoom range it exhibitted very little lens distortion. We measured 0.8% barrel distortion at full wide angle (this is a very low figure) and no pincushion distortion at telephoto. Kudos Minolta.

Barrel Distortion, 0.8% @ wide angle Pincushion Distortion, 0% @ telephoto

Purple Fringing (Chromatic Aberrations)

The S304's lens shows its quality once more, exhibiting hardly any chromatic aberrations. Even in circumstances which would produce strong fringing of cameras with lesser lenses the S304's lens copes well. The shot below was about the only one I could find which had a hint of a purple fringe. More obvious is the white glowing 'blooming' effect, this is thankfully less distracting than chromatic aberrations.

Images re-saved to sRGB colour space [info]

Hard pressed to find evidence of chromatic aberrations in "every day" shots
Our now standard chromatic aberration test shot

Overall Image Quality / Specific Issues

On the whole the S304 was a more than capable performer, colour balance was good (once images are run through the Image Viewer application) as is tonal balance and dynamic range. Resolution is on par with other 3 megapixel digital cameras (as you'll see later in this review), although Minolta's bayer decoding algorithm did produce 'dashed line' bayer artifacts at higher frequencies.

Metering wise I found that the S304's segment metering system tended to lend too much weight to the center portion of the frame, in a couple of shots which had a dark central subject I had to force a negative exposure compensation of a stop (-1.0 EV) to stop the surrounding detail being blown out.

AF Misses

The S304's auto focus system, while feeling quicker than the DiMAGE 5 or 7 still suffered from the occasional 'auto focus miss' at or near to the telephoto end of the zoom. On several occasions I took shots which the camera told me were in focus (a solid black dot on the LCD monitor before taking the shot) and which looked fairly sharp on the LCD monitor but turned out to be out of focus when I viewed them at full size later.

The three shots below are a perfect example of this, all taken within seconds of each other the only one in focus is the second shot. The image you see below is actually a crop from the larger image (each around 1.5 MB).

Taken at 12:09:21 Taken at 12:09:28 Taken at 12:09:34

Flat Area Noise

Although not distracting the S304 does have some visible 'flat area noise'. As the name implies this kind of noise is most visible on what should be flat / smooth surfaces, it generally takes a fairly random 'speckled' look. It is slightly more than we'd expect to see. Below you can also see that there is little difference after running the image through the Image Viewer Utility. Again, this is not a huge issue for most but worth noting.

Original (straight from camera)
Converted to sRGB by Image Viewer Utility