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Minolta Dimage 5 Digital Camera

by Marika Buchberger, 1997


stained glass window

Philip Greenspun recently reviewed the Minolta DiMAGE 7. There are such similarities between the two cameras that it's suggested that you read Philip's review first, then come back to this page and read my review. I've deliberately tried to avoid being redundant.

There's not many differences between the Dimage 5 and 7 cameras. I'll quickly list the differences for you here and then get on with the actual review of the Minolta DiMAGE 5 based upon how it functioned when I took the camera to a small church in New Jersey and used it to photograph the church and stained glass windows. Remember, these are differences only, based upon the manufacturer's specifications.

Description Minolta DiMAGE 7 Minolta DiMAGE 5
CCD 2/3 inch-type interline CCD with a total of 5.24 million pixels and a primary color filter 1/1.8 inch-type interline CCD with a total of 3.34 million pixels and primary color filter
Number of Effective Pixels 4.95 million pixels (2568x1928) 3.17 million pixels (2056X1544)
Focal Length 7.2mm - 50.8mm (equivalent to 28mm - 200mm in 35mm format) 7.2mm - 50.8mm (equivalent to 35mm - 250mm in 35mm format)
Viewfinder EVF (Electronic viewfinder) with ferroelectric .19 inch reflective liquid crystal microdisplay with equivalent resolution of 220,000 pixels with automatic monitor amplification and electronic magnification. Magnification of 0.31-2.1x. 90-degree variable position EVF (Electronic viewfinder) with ferroelectric .19 inch reflective liquid crystal microdisplay with equivalent resolution of 220,000 pixels with automatic monitor amplification and electronic magnification. Magnification of 0.38-2.58x. 90-degree variable position
Metering 300 multi-segment, center-weighted and spot 256 multi-segment, center-weighted and spot
Continuous drive advance 1.1 fps (max.) 1.3 fps (max.)
Operating Speed Start-up time: approx. 2.6 seconds; shutter-release time lag: approx. 0.13 second; Capturing interval: approx. 0.9 second; playback loading interval: approx. 0.2 second Start-up time: approx. 2.6 seconds; shutter-release time lag: approx. 0.1 second; Capturing interval: approx. 0.75 second; playback loading interval: approx. 0.2 second
Number of pixels Still images: 2560x1920, 1600x1200, 1280x960, 640x480; Movie: 320x240 Still images: 2048x1536; 1600x1200; 1280x960; 640x480; Movie: 320x240
Storage Capacity (16 MB) Raw: 1; Super fine: 1; Fine: 7; Standard: 15; Economy: 22; Movie: 90 seconds Raw: 2; Super fine: 1; Fine: 9; Standard: 16; Economy: 27; Movie: 71 seconds

stained glass window

Having dispensed with that data, I will now tell about my experience of taking this camera to a little church in New Jersey.

Those of you who have seen my work posted here on Photo.net know that I photograph churches in and around the New York City and New Jersey areas.

The Church of Our Lady of Mount Virgin is located in Garfield, New Jersey. It's an adorable little church with a mostly Italian membership. The church has been going through a renovation which includes cleaning and resetting of the stained glass windows. Monsignor Paul tells me the windows are from Germany.

Arriving in the church, the first thing I notice is that it's well-lit both via the windows and overhead lighting. There appears to be mostly spot lights and high intensity lights and no florescent (thank goodness). It was a sunny day which usually causes problems with washed out images when one photographs stained glass windows. I decided I was going to do close up shots of the windows, using the multi-segment metering mode, figuring I would try to get an "averaged" exposure reading and be able to better control the color saturation. Judge for yourself if I managed to accomplish it. The images were recorded in superfine mode (2048 x 1536) which produces a 24 bit TIF file in color or 8 bit TIF in monochrome. Each image in TIF format was about 9 MB in size.

stained glass window

I set up my Manfrotto tripod, mounted the camera and connected the cable release. Since I use mostly available lighting in my church images, exposures can range anywhere from 1/15 down to 15 seconds (or longer) and none of these speeds can be handheld without some camera shake entering into the picture. I set the camera at ISO 100 and the White Balance at AUTO. The camera's tinker toy built in flash is essentially useless for large interiors such as a church, especially at the lower ISO ratings. No filters were used.

The camera has an electronic viewfinder which is not at all clear, difficult to focus, has a slow refresh rate and has problems rendering accurate colors in the images. I will say that the electronic viewfinder at least stays bright under low light conditions. The LCD monitor is also inaccurate in its ability to render colors. This became quite apparent when I was photographing the stained glass as the colors were either not matching or totally lacking and I was therefore guessing my way through this photo shoot. What's also odd is that the camera gives you the option to set color saturation and contrast before taking the picture but if the viewfinder and the LCD monitor are not accurate in rendering the image how could the photographer possible make an accurate decision regarding color saturation and contrast? The auto focus feature is flaky and slow on this camera. On many occasions, the auto focus of the camera indicated the image was in focus when in fact it was not so double-check the best you can to assure that the image is actually in focus.

The camera has a QV (Quick View) button which allows you to review the images at any time. Since you are viewing the images on the same LCD that you used to take the pictures, you will have a hard time judging the quality of the image. Unless the image appears grossly abnormal in the LCD, you really won't know that it's out of focus or blurred until you open the file in Photoshop to get a better look. What's nice about this camera is that you can disable instant playback and just rely upon the QV button to review the images thereby freeing up the camera for immediate use. Simply touch the shutter button and the QV image disappears and the camera goes "live" in about 1 second or so.

The camera operates fairly fast (the above listed times seem accurate) but it also eats batteries just as fast so bring perhaps two spare sets of batteries and be sure to use the rechargeable type. Using super fine mode, I was able to take about 26 images using two sets of batteries in a matter of one and a half hours.

stained glass window

Not only does this camera eat batteries, it gets VERY hot during operation especially near the CF card. If you have to remove the CF card be careful, you could actually burn your fingers handling it. Additionally, the instruction manual warns that when the battery indicator shows the batteries are getting low on power, change them as soon as possible. My advise is that you follow the directions in the instruction manual or risk having the camera LOCK UP on you. Yes, this camera randomly CRASHES during operation (not to be confused with the camera shutting itself off due to low power) and the crashes seemed to occur when the battery indicator warned that the batteries were getting low on power. It froze up COMPLETELY. Everything locked up on this camera and the only way I was able to restart it was by removing the batteries and reinserting them. Luckily, I didn't encounter any problems with the 256 MB Sandisk CF cards during these crashes.

The camera is capable of taking movies at its lowest resolution. While the file generated is an AVI format, it can only be read using Apple's Quicktime player. The 7X optical zoom is actually pretty nice, the zooming ring was a bit stiff for my taste. Manual focusing was pretty tough using the LCD monitor and nearly impossible using the electronic viewfinder. As Philip pointed out in his review of the DiMage 7, Image noise is abysmal (and not just at ISO 800). This camera lacks an orientation sensor so be ready to spend a lot of time in Photoshop rotating your vertical images.

Mixed Emotions: A camera that makes you think, about the wrong things

In my opinion, what makes photography so much fun and so interesting is that it's a cross between art and science. Photography makes you think and forces you to make decisions. Lighting, timing, depth of field, filtration etc., etc. What bothers me about this digital camera is that I was being forced to make decisions about things that I never had to think about in traditional film photography; focusing errors and difficulties, erroneous colors in the viewfinders, hot and overheating camera bodies, crashes and lockups, cheesy flash range, running out of batteries, too hot to handle CF cards. On the plus side, this camera can be fun for snapshots where lighting is very good and the subjects, while they might be moving, their movements would be predictable. Additionally, a good contrast image is what the auto focus seems to like. Low contrast images will send this camera's auto focus into a tizzy whereas the camera will be unable to focus and will then focus on infinity. I will add that the shutter is amazingly quiet and therefore this camera is also very good for taking candid portraits of people and children.

Gallery

stained glass window stained glass window stained glass window

TIF TIF TIF

About the Author

My first exposure to photography was at the ripe old age of about 2. My mother tells me that I broke my father's old Zeiss camera by grabbing the strap and pulling it off the windowsill. (Well dad, why did you leave it there in the first place??) Anyway, by the time I was about 8 or 9, my father introduced me to photography with that same old (repaired) Zeiss camera and I was hooked. By my teen years, I was saving my baby sitting money (we were paid $1.00 an hour back then) to buy my first 35mm camera; Honeywell Pentax SP500, which I still have. That old Pentax was great and is responsible for all the pictures you see in my presentation from my teen years, also posted to Photo.net. In high school I took photography and got into black and white darkroom work. All through the years I've used my camera time and time again. Occasionally, I've been lucky enough to use photography to help others, such as in forensics. I recently earned a Licentiateship with the Royal Photographic Society and I'm now the RPS representative for RPS-Atlantic, the east coast region of the USA.

In real life I work for an attorney, the work is interesting.

Text and picture copyright 2002 Marika Buchberger

Readers' Comments


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Scott Allen , June 07, 2002; 11:02 A.M.

While the electronic viewfinder ("EVF")does suffer from poor resolution, it makes the camera usable in brightly lit outdoor scenes where it is impossible to use the LCD monitor. Furthermore, the batteries can be made to last longer by using the EVF rather than the LCD monitor. Issues related to battery life and the camera getting hot are easily resolved by purchasing two or three sets of 1800mah NImH batteries and a charger. I have never noticed my Dimage 5 getting hot and it has never locked up. Don't waste money buying alkaline,nicad, or 1500mah NImH batteries for use in this camera.

Peter Wauters , September 18, 2002; 09:53 A.M.

I've been using the Dimage 5 for more than 6 months now and I must say that this review really misses the mark... completely ! I'm convinced that the camera used for this shot must have been defective : after 4000+ pics taken, my Dimage 5 NEVER EVER locked up, with one set of 1800mah NimH batteries, i can make about 80 pics in superfine mode, and I never experienced any excessive heating of the camera during operation. Sure, this camera isn't perfect; I could complain about the slow AF, inaccurate EVF/LCD (though not as dramatic as described in this article), the poor customer support Minolta offers its D5 users etc... But even with its shortcomings, I've always had (and still have) the impression that the Dimage 5 is good value for money. In the mean time I had the opportunity to compare this camera to several other models (some even so-called "prosumer" 5 MP's)

Marika Buchberger , September 29, 2002; 03:23 P.M.

Peter,

I thought the same thing however when I took the camera back to Minolta here in New Jersey, they went over the camera and said nothing was wrong with it. The camera was not defective. I also tried numerous CF cards so it was not them either. This camera gets hot, especially when it has to write heavily to the CF card as during the writing of a TIF file. Also, Minolta did acknowledge that this camera would sometimes lock up.

Phil Askey's review of the camera (page 17 of the review) http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minoltadimage5/page17.asp indicates that one of the "cons" of the camera is that it gets hot by the CF card area. In fact, if you read some of the postings in the Minolta Forum at Phil Askey's site, you will find that a few people have also noticed the lock up problem. Minolta indirectly acknowledges that the problem exists which is why they advise people to replace the batteries IMMEDIATELY when the low battery indicator starts to blink.

Hope you're enjoying the camera.

Craig Lucas , October 11, 2002; 11:49 A.M.

I must say I agree with most of what was said in this review. I havn't had much experience with other digital cameras, so I had assumed that these problems were normal. I have also found however, that sometimes I've checked the LCD after a shot, and seen that though a little under exposed the shot is acceptable. Then once downloaded to the PC it is so dark as to be unusable. Too late to go take it again!! I really don't like the electronic viewfinder. Unfortunately most digital cameras in this price range have them, or else are not TTL viewing. Manual focus is a complete waste of time as it's complete guess work. As for the Locking up, I've not used a single piece of computer equipment that doesn't lock up at some time or another!!

al wade , December 16, 2002; 07:40 P.M.

as far as the heating problem i found that a faster card all but elliminated the heat, i wondered if it wasnt from a drive anyway. the only lock ups i have experienced were in moscow at night in the cold at 7 degree's and 10 mph winds, it would seem to be overly slow writing to slower cards though, why i did it i dont know but i started buying the quicker memory cards and it reacted alot better, and was a joy on long shots. i sold my 7 for going to the 5 and havent been sorry, like someone said i carry four changes of batteries in nimh and use the eye viewer rather than back panel,and have never had to replace them in one shoot, beginning of next one yes especially in superfine mode, and flash sparingly. i did two sets of 30 shots portfolio with aux lighting in the same night, without a complaint except the auto focus which will screw up on you and go out of focus rather than set more so on night shots with far of lighting. it wouldnt set small christmas light focus either in af, so i use manuel in everything past dusk with it and still love it.

Image Attachment: PICT0009.TIF

Marika Buchberger , January 03, 2003; 05:58 P.M.

Al,

I'm interested in knowing which compact flash card you used.

Marika


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