Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 and Z5

If you‚re interested in a unique camera with a tremendous optical zoom and lots of good, common-sense features, and can live with the relatively bulky body a big optical zoom lens necessitates, Minolta‚s DiMAGE Z series will almost certainly be of interest to you. We‚re actually reviewing three of them in this issue of Digital Camera Magazine, the DiMAGE Z3/Z5 here and the slightly newer DiMAGE Z20 on page 40. Since they are quite similar in design and concept, read the Z20 review first as I will compare the Z3 to that camera rather than repeating everything I said about the Z20: its uniquely styled body that looks like a SLR but isn‚t; the relatively cumbersome overall shape due to the big lens; the „switchfinderš that uses one and the same LCD for external viewing and as the basis for an electronic viewfinder; the excellent ergonomics; and the amazing range that covers extreme close-ups all the way to massive zoom.

What does the Z3 offer over the Z20?
So what‚s the difference between the Z3 and the Z20? At first sight they look identical down to the smallest design element. But they are not. For starters, even though the older Z3 has only four megapixel compared to the Z20‚s five, it is a higher end camera with a number of features that were left out in the Z20 for cost reasons. Like a 12X zoom instead of „onlyš 8X, a flash shoe, a pop-up flash instead of a built-in flash, Minolta‚s excellent „Anti-Shakeš feature, and a somewhat tighter and slightly more compact body. On the other hand, the Z3 same dinky 1.5-inch LCD and fewer megapixel.

In terms of design, it‚s as if Minolta had assembled two design teams and told them, „Look, guys, we have finalized the design of the Z series down to almost the last detail. The overall shape and design are final. Button and control placement is final. Functionality is final. Here‚s a spec sheet. Do not mess with it. However, we want you to be creative and differentiate those cameras!š Not an easy task.

So while Team A came up with the silver Z20 with its dark-gray rubber inserts, Team B made the Z3 matte-black and gave it a slightly more compact body. They shaved almost half an inch off the depth of the camera by using a zoom that motors out of the body of the camera instead of being entirely internal as with the Z20. As soon as you turn on the Z3, its massive 12X optical zoom lens extends another inch and an eighth. I don‚t generally like lenses that motor out, but in this case getting a more compact body in return may be worth it. Unlike the Z20 which has an internal flash, the Z3 has a manual pop-up flash and an external flash shoe. The pop-up doesn‚t have quite the range of the Z20‚s internal (26 versus 39 feet max), but it cuts down on red-eye by being farther away from the lens. However, I much prefer pop-up flashes that open automatically. Else, you‚ll inevitably miss shots because you forgot to open the flash.

As for the controls, it‚s interesting how two cameras can have them in exactly the same places, but they‚re all different nonetheless. The Z20 has a zoom rocker whereas the Z3 has a knob that you push left and right. The Z20 has four individual navigation buttons whereas the Z3 uses a single ring. The Z20‚s buttons are generally large whereas the Z3‚s are small. The Z20‚s diopter adjustment is on the side where you can easily get to it. The Z3‚s is a scroll wheel right next to the eye piece that‚s next to impossible to operate while you‚re looking through the viewfinder. Even the toggle between LCD and electronic viewfinder is different. Instead of the dramatic flapping action that covers the LCD in the Z20, the Z3‚s simply winks out when you switch to electronic viewfinder mode. Overall, the Z3‚s controls are more elegant, but not as handy to use as the Z20‚s.

Both cameras use SD cards, but more differences here. While the Z20‚s card sits in an unprotected slot on the left and there is an additional 14.5 MB of internal storage, the Z3‚s card slot is at the bottom of the camera, protected by a plastic door. Both cameras use four AAs, but the Z3 places them inline instead of staggered, which makes for a much smaller bridge between the powerbulge and the lens/LCD part of the camera.

As stated above, compared with the Z20 you get both more and less with the Z3. There is audio, the pop-up flash, the flash shoe, the anti-shake feature, the massive 12X zoom, and a more compact and arguable better looking body. On the other hand, no internal memory to tide you over between cards, a full megapixel less, a weaker internal flash, and an autofocus mechanism that didn‚t work nearly as well as that of the Z20. When trying to focus in long zoom and digital zoom, the camera would often either not be able to focus at all, or first focus right, then move on until the image was blurry. Our review sample was brand-new but I wonder if something was wrong with it. The Z5 (see below) did not have this problem.

As is, those attracted to the DiMAGE Z3‚s awesome 12X optical zoom and higher rent looks will face a tough decision as in some areas the Z3 offers less than its cheaper sibling. The logical alternative is to go with the (more expensive) Z5. Ah, the price of progress.

Model-Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3/Z5
List price-Z3: seek best/Z5 US$549
Sensor res-4.0/5.0 megapixels
Image dimensions-2272x1704/2560x1920
ISO-auto, 50/100/200/400
Lens focal length-5.8-70 mm (35-420 mm equiv.)
Shutter-1/2000 to 15 seconds
Exposure compensation-+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Storage-SD Card (16MB card inc.)
Autofocus-Video AF: 5-point or spot
LCD screen-1.5/2.0 inch (78/114k pixels)
Flash modes-5 modes
Viewfinder-Electronic „switchfinderš
Battery-4 AA
Weight-11.8/12.0 ounce w/o batteries
Dimensions-4.3 x 3.1 x 3.3 inches
Included-DiMAGE Viewer, cables, strap

Enter the new DiMAGE Z5
If you want the big 12X zoom and the terrific anti-shake feature of the Z3 but can‚t quite figure out why it has to come in a 4-megapixel package that, depending where you get it, costs more than the lesser DiMAGE Z20, the new DiMAGE Z5 is for you. It offers the same massive 12X optical zoom, has the anti-shape feature and all the other goodies of the Z3, but that‚s not all. It is a 5-megapixel camera and, perhaps even more importantly, it replaces the wimpy little 1.5-inch LCD of the Z3 with a higher resolution 2.0-inch display. The new and larger LCD makes a huge difference. You no longer have to squint to see what‚s on the screen.

As far as design goes, the Z5 is almost identical to the Z3. It differs in minor design elements only. The ring around the big zoom lens is glossy instead of matte, the dials and buttons are metallic or gray instead of black, and the on/off-mode switch combo of the Z3 has been separated into two separate controls. Everything else is the same, including the Z3‚s few shortcomings: The flash still doesn‚t pop up automatically, but most serious users will likely use an external flashlight anyway. And the diopter adjustment is still right next to the eye-piece where it‚s almost impossible to adjust. Other than that, the resemblance to the Z3 is only good news. The Z5 is very fast, the massive zoom dazzles and the super-macro amazes. The camera is simple to use, yet powerful. Unless you can find the Z3 at a big discount and don‚t mind the lower megapixel count, the Z5 is the way to go.



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