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Konica Minolta Dimage Z3 Digital Camera Review
Introduction: The Konica Minolta Dimage Z3 seemed to appear out of nowhere, the camera was announced, and then within what seemed like a couple of weeks it was available in shops! - This is a 4MP digital camera with a 12x Optical zoom (5.83 - 69.9 mm 1:2.8 - 4.5 equivelant to 35 - 420mm on a 35mm camera), and an Anti-Shake CCD. The camera comes with a 16mb SD card and uses 4 'AA' Alkaline batteries. The camera has a 1.5" colour screen, as well as aperture priority, shutter priority, ISO settings, etc. The camera takes SD memory, and records 640x480 videos with sound. The camera is available from around £265 online at amazon.co.uk. The camera's size and weight: Dimensions: 108.5 x 80 x 83.5 mm. Weight: 335 g / 11.8 ounces (without batteries or recording media).

The camera offers very good value for money - especially for a 4mp digital camera with a 12x Optical zoom and "Anti-Shake" - the camera was first annouced in July 04.

Konica Minolta have this to say about their "Anti-Shake" technology:

"Previously a function only on the high-end DiMAGE A-series, the CCD-shift Anti-Shake System is now on the DiMAGE Z3. This system compensates to minimize the effect of camera shake at 2-3 shutter speeds slower than on cameras without an Anti-Shake function*² ;(equivalent to 2-3 exposure increments).

For dim evening shots and telephoto shots, both of which are susceptible to shaking because of their slow shutter speed, you get steady, shake-free images without use of a flash or tripod. Unlike an optical system, Konica Minolta's proprietary Anti-Shake System uses a unique CCD-shift mechanism. This keeps the lens compact and the camera lightweight."

Full specifications and further details can be found on the Konica Minolta Site, and press release.

The Camera: It's relatively compact and made out of plastic -


Front - Camera off. No built in lens-cover - don't lose the lens cap! On the left is the shutter release, and Self-timer lamp.


Front - Camera off, lens cap removed - The manual pop-up flash is at the top.


Back - EVF viewfinder (with diopter adjustments - allows you to focus the EVF viewfinder), 1.5" TFT, On/Off in centre of Play/Photo TFT/Photo EVF control, 4-way control with centre button (strangely there are no symbols on these to give you an idea of what they do), Menu, QV, i+, Wide/Telephoto zoom control.


Top - Flash, Flash socket, shutter release, microphone/speaker, macro, flash button and mode dial.


Bottom, under the camera is the tripod mount which is under the lens. On the left is the battery / memory card compartment.


Left Side (from back) - Under the flap - DC in, USB connection / TV out.


On this side is nothing (just the lens strap holder) - Lens extended.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic


There is no optical viewfinder, as the camera uses an electronic viewfinder. The camera is bigger than the Pentax PC-550.


Size comparison

Specifications / Features:

  • 4.0 million pixels (2272 x 1704)
  • 12x optical zoom (35 - 420 equivalent)
  • AS Anti-Shake system
  • Rapid AF (Auto-Focus)
  • 1.5" Colour TFT with 78,000 pixels
  • Electronic viewfinder (EVF) with 118,000 pixels
  • Super macro mode: shooting from as close as 1cm (normal macro mode from: 10cm)
  • VGA 640/480 30fps movie recording function with sound (unlimited)
  • ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 50, 100, 200, and 400 equivalents
  • PictBridge, EXIF Print, compatible
  • USB 2.0

Full Specifications can be found on the Konica Minolta Site.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Strap
  • 16 MB SD Memory Card
  • USB cable
  • Audio/video cable
  • Lens cap / Lens strap
  • Instruction manual
  • Warranty card

Average box contents - a larger memory card and a case would have been nice.

Features / Options: The camera mode is selected using the dial on the top of the camera:

The modes are: AUTO, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Sunset, Night, Manual, Shutter-Priority, Aperture Priority, Program mode, Video

The buttons on the back of the camera quickly give you access to: i+ (display information, eg live histogram, in record mode - in playback mode you have to push the up button on the 4-way controller for the histogram), QV (quick view), Menu, EV compensation (left / right on the 4-way controller in photo mode). The buttons on the top of the camera give you access to the flash and macro modes.

In Photo mode the menu is different depending which mode you are in, they are accessed by pressing the MENU button. Rather than laboriously going through and listing all the menu options available and where they are located, I will simply list/explain the main options this camera has so that you are aware of the different features and options.

The menu system in Photo mode is split into three main sections: 1,2,3 (in P,A,S,M): 1. Drive mode (single, self-timer, continuous, progressive, bracketing), Image size, Quality, White Balance, Key Function (you can program the flash button to be a drive mode button for example). 2. Focus mode, Full-time AF, Flash mode, Flash Compensation, Metering mode. 3. Sensitivity, Digital Zoom, Colour mode, Sharpness, Contrast.

The menu system in Photo mode has one section (1) in AUTO/Portrait/Sports/Landscape/Sunset/Night - Drive mode (single, self-timer, continuous, progressive, bracketing), Image size, Quality, Auto DSP, Digital zoom.

The menu system in Video mode has 2 sections: 1,2 - 1. Quality, Frame rate, White balance, Movie mode (night / standard). 2. Focus mode, Colour mode, Digital zoom.

There is also a setup menu split into: 1,2,3,4: 1. LCD Brightness, Power Save, Instant Playback, Lens accessories, Language. 2. File memory (set this so that the camera gives every photo a different number and doesn't start from 1 every time you wipe the cards memory), Folder name, Noise Reduction, Date/Time, Date imprint. 3. Reset Default, Audio Signals, Focus Signals, Shutter FX, Volume. 4. Video output, Transfer mode, Anti-shake, Self-Timer.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit in the 16mb provided memory: (an extra memory card is recommended if you intend to go on holiday or are going to be away from a computer for more than a day!)

Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality / (Average file size)
FINE STANDARD ECONOMY
2272 x 1704 6 (2mb) 14 (1mb) 27
1600 x 1200 14 (1mb) 33 -
1280 x 960 20 65 -
640 x 480 73 118 -
Movie 320x240/15fps 58seconds

You can fit an average amount of images on the provided 16mb, depeding on the size and amount of compressions used - although a larger memory card is definitely recommended. There is an average choice of image size and compression levels available, although no RAW or TIFF mode.

Speed, ease of use: Very easy to use, simply switch the camera on, and start taking photos. The screen updates are very quick and smooth - which is very impressive. The camera is fairly quick in use. The camera is a good size, especially as it has a 12x Optical zoom lens - the right hand grip is very good. The menus are slightly more difficult to pick up and use when compared to other cameras I've used, but it doesn't take too long to get the hang of things - one thing that I find a little bit odd is the 4-way controller isn't labelled, and the i+ button isn't used to display the histogram in playback mode like on other Minolta cameras. The EVF is clear, but you have to be very close to the camera to use it, as someone who wears glasses I find this quite difficult - although this can be solved using the diopter adjustments and taking my glasses off. The 1.5" screen is a bit small and low resolution, it also shows images as being much more contrasty and bright than they appear when you look at them on your computer. The continuous shooting mode seems very quick, eg in 25 seconds I was able to capture 64/65 photos when taking 640x480/1280x960 photos with a shutter speed of 1/40, and in 14 seconds I was able to capture 33 photos when taking 1600x1200 photos with a shutter speed on 1/40. In 55 seconds I was able to capture 118 photos when taking 640x480 photos with a shutter speed of 1/50.

Battery usage: Seems okay - I managed to get about 100 photos from 4 Alkaline batteries that came with the camera, high power Ni-Mh batteries should last even longer.


LCD display in photo mode: Shutter speed, Aperture (displayed when shutter is half-pressed), Flash, Mode, Picture size and compression, Live Histogram, 6 remaining pictures. Anti-shake on - this is shown by the green hand on the right.

LCD display in photo mode: When the shutter is half pressed, the screen will display the shutter and aperture settings (as long as you are not in AUTO mode). The screen is clear, and updates very smoothly - the colours appear accurate - although slightly more colourful than they appear when viewed on the computer.. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, it also shows the picture size and compression quality, the battery level (when low), current mode, plus other things - it's also possible to enable a live histogram by pressing the I+ button.

Playback mode: Pressing up on the 4-way controller will display additional information about the picture, eg size, compression, white-balance, ae, ISO, shutter speed, aperture size - you can also view the pictures histogram. Scrolling through the photos is fast. The zoom can be used up to 6.0x, there are in between steps, every 0.2x, this feature is quick.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size (and medium size) versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the gallery!

Inside:

Camping Restaurant - Te Anau Cafe - Dunedin

Inside: The camera has quite a powerful flash. Red eye was not noticable on most photos. Great colours and details - excellent skin colour, and excellent true to life colours - especially when using the flash. When not using the flash the camera would struggle with the white balance often getting the colours wrong. The camera also tends to automatically set the ISO to 200 when using the flash which creates noisier images.

Noise: [A small paragraph about noise:] Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue / red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise.

The camera has 5 modes for ISO: Auto, 50, 100, 200 or 400. (In Auto the camera seems to have additional ISO modes as well) To choose the ISO setting, you need to take the camera out of AUTO mode - This photo was taken with flash, actual pixels shown below from area next to the camera/frog:


Picture, Flash on.

ISO50 - 100% ISO100 - 100%
ISO200 - 100% ISO400 - 100%

Noise levels at ISO50/100, are quite low - which means you get quite smooth images. ISO200/400 still displays fairly acceptable noise levels. The camera also has built in noise reduction for photos that are taken with a 1second shutter speed or longer. The camera occassionally uses other ISO levels when sensitivity is set to AUTO, eg: ISO64, ISO80, ISO125 etc although only 50/100/200 and 400 can be manually chosen.

Outside: (courtesy of New Zealand)

Sperm whale tale (12x Optical zoom) Milford Sound Yellow-eyed penguins

Good natural looking colour, low noise, good detail - no signs of vignetting in the corners. Most pictures taken on the 'FINE' setting - this creates a 4mp image which is around 2mb in size - I did notice jpeg artifacts in the images. Images are a bit soft and could do with a slight sharpen. Some of the photos were over-exposed meaning highlight detail was missing (eg the clouds above in the middle), also the white balance would sometimes be a bit "off". Other minor issues: contrast and saturation was generally fairly low which may not be to everyone's tastes - this may mean that you could be spending a while adjusting the images to get the best out of them.

Image Quality issues: Surprisingly Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing isn't really an issue on this camera - I only noticed it in about 2 or 3 photos out of about 500+ - Konica Minolta have done an extremely good job in getting rid of purple fringing, which is normally a huge problem for ultra zoom digital cameras.

Dark lines - I noticed this in about 2 of the early photos I took - this has apparently been sorted by firmware 1.02e, my camera had firmware 1.01e, so this should not be noticable again - if your camera suffers from this then you can get the firmware update from http://www.konicaminoltasupport.com/

Zoom: The main feature of this camera is the 12x Optical zoom - the camera has a built in 4x Digital zoom which can be switched on and off - the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software to blur the image so that it does not look pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image. If you need to crop an area of your image, or enlarge an area, you can get better results using an image manipulation program on your computer. I've included examples below simply to show what these features do - and whilst the digital zoom looks acceptable at the size shown (the last photo), if you printed the images out or viewed the full size versions in the gallery you would easily notice the negative effect digital zoom has on image quality.

Wide-angle 12x Optical zoom Full 12x Optical + 4x Digital

The digital zoom is seperated from the optical zoom with a line - When using the digital zoom the magnification level does appear on screen.

When using the optical zoom, it's very quiet, and VERY quick (perhaps too quick), it has about 11 or more steps between wide and telephoto, depending on how skillful you are at taping the zoom control. The amount of optical zoom is not displayed on screen numerically. Using full telephoto zoom does not cause any camera blur problems due to the Anti-Shake system. You can also use the optical zoom while recording videos, this is VERY quite and the zoom moves much more slowly.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, the lens is at full wide angle, and you can zoom in - you can also use the digital zoom - when in Super Macro mode the camera zooms in slightly. The camera can focus down to 10cm in normal macro mode - In Super Macro mode it can focus as close as 1cm.

Macro - Timex Watch Actual Pixels (100%)
Super Macro Mode- Timex Watch Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is good, the super macro mode is VERY good, although due to the long lens, the flash / light could be obstructed by the lens. The images look a bit soft when viewed at 100%.

Movie: 640x480 - 320x240 - 30fps / 15fps (with 8khz / 16bps mono sound) - you can use the optical zoom / digital zoom with sound. The movie is recorded as a .MOV file. Length is only limited by the memory card size.


Screengrab (resized) - Download 640x480/30fps movie - Click here. (4mb MOV) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is good - the VGA mode is also good, 30fps is also good. The only problem seems to be that the camera does not maintain sharp focus, even during this short 4 second video - perhaps by changing the focusing mode it may be possible to get better results.

Conclusion

Image: Image quality is generally good - the images have good colour, good detail (although they could do with a slight sharpen), fairly low noise (When using ISO50/100), but seem a bit soft occassionally - there is very little purple fringing, which is very impressive for an ultra zoom digital camera, I have only noticed it on 2 or 3 out of about 500+ photos. Image compression is a little strong, even on the high quality setting - a slight sharpen will easily show you the JPEG jaggies. The macro mode / super macro mode is very good. The flash didn't cause any problems in any of the pictures I took - in fact when using flash the colours seemed more vibrant and rich - when not using flash the camera seemed to struggle to get the white balance correct - the camera also had a tendancy to overexpose images - required the EV to be stepped down to 0.5 or 0.7 to compensate. The movie mode is very good letting you use both sound and the very quiet optical zoom at the same time.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is fairly compact, and stylish considering the zoom power, however it has an average screen that is quite small by todays standards - but it updates very smoothly. The camera is easy to use, the menu systems easy to use. The 12x optical zoom and anti-shake technology are VERY good, as is camera handling and design. The camera has a lot of impressive features and abilities such as the VGA movie mode, and super macro. The camera is quick in use and has a quick and quiet zoom.

Alternate ultra zoom digital cameras: 6x Optical Zoom: Fuji S3000/S3500, 8x Optical Zoom: Olympus Camedia C-725, Konica Minolta Dimage Z10, HP 945, Nikon 4800, 10x Optical Zoom: Olympus Camedia C765/C770, Fuji S5000/S5500, Konica Minolta Z1/Z2, Canon S1 IS, Kodak DX6490, Kyocera Finecam M410R, 12x Optical Zoom: Panasonic FZ3(IS), FZ10(IS), FZ20(IS). See www.amazon.co.uk, www.kelkoo.co.uk or www.dealtime.co.uk for latest prices.

Summary: This 4mp digital camera has a large 12x Optical zoom lens with Konica Minolta's Anti-Shake technology, VGA recording lets you use the zoom with sound, and it's got an impressive super macro mode. It's features are very impressive, the design, handling and speed on the camera are also impressive. The only problem is that image quality (white balance, saturation, exposure etc) is a bit hit and miss - sometimes you get a great photo, but more often than not you will need to edit the photo in something like Adobe Photoshop to get the best out of it. Purple fringing is very low, which is impressive for a camera with such zoom power. For £265 online at amazon.co.uk the camera offers very good value for money. The camera is good, but could definitely be better - have a look at the photos in the gallery and see what you think for yourself.

What I like:

  • 12x Optical Zoom Lens
  • Anti-Shake CCD Technology is very good
  • Quick turn-on, continuous shots, focus etc
  • Very good movie mode (VGA/30fps with zoom and sound)
  • Very good macro / super macro mode
  • New design looks better than the Z1/Z2 design

What I don't like:

  • Small low resolution overly bright screen
  • Auto white balance could be better
  • Slightly soft and overly compressed images
  • Over-exposes images
  • Manual flash pop-up
  • Movie mode autofocus not the best

Remember to have a look at the full size (and medium size) versions of these photos in the gallery!