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Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D

Many may have the impression that the new Konica/Minolta Maxxum 7D is the first digital SLR from this firm. But back before the merger of Konica and Minolta, back in the heady days when some people thought that APS film was a concept that had legs, Minolta introduced their D”mage RD 3000, a 2.7 megapixel digital SLR camera which used the lens series produced for the Minolta APS SLR film cameras. It wasnāt a big success, but neither was APS. It did show that Minolta was already aware that digital SLRs were the cameras of the future.

But for their own reasons Minolta waited and watched before producing a digital SLR in their Maxxum system, known as Dynax in many countries. When I first unpacked the new Maxxum 7D I knew that it had been worth the wait. I donāt usually get gushy about cameras, and in fact have gotten pretty jaded after more than thirty years of testing new cameras for magazines. But in this case I am prepared to gush a bit ö I LOVE this camera! Itās the first new digital camera that has passed through my hands in some time that I would actually go out and buy. It is a wonderful mixture of perfect ergonomics and exceptional image quality, with some important innovations thrown into the mix.

Let me begin with the most important innovation and one that Iāll bet had designers at some other companies slapping their foreheads for not thinking of first. The main problem we face with using long lenses is camera and lens movement. This limits us to using tripods, which are not always convenient or allowed, fast shutter speeds only, or makes us switch to higher ISO settings which donāt produce the best image quality. The first company to pay attention to this problem in SLR cameras was Canon, with their IS system (Image Stabilization) which uses moving components within lenses to solve the problem. Later Nikon introduced a somewhat similar system which they call VR (Vibration Reduction). Other companies have experimented with systems to accomplish the same thing but have not as yet put them into production. The key point to note is that all of these systems work by moving optical components in the lens. This means you must buy lenses with this technology built into them to take advantage of these systems, and you buy a whole new image stabilization module every time you buy a lens. Lenses with image stabilization typically cost several hundred dollars more than optically identical lenses without stabilization.

Minoltaās designers took a hard look at all of this and thought it was being done wrong. They reasoned that it made more sense to build the technology into the camera body. Then no special lenses would be needed and the image stabilization would work with any lens you could mount on the camera. And that is exactly what they have done with the Maxxum 7D, building their Anti-Shake technology into the camera body. Sensors in the body respond to motion and feed data to electronics which calculate the necessary compensation, and the image sensor itself is moved on two axes by two actuators. This compensates for camera motion. As you can see in my two photos on the right, I was able to take needle sharp images with a zoom lens at 300mm at 1/15 second with the Anti-Shake turned on. When I turned the it off, I got very blurry images. The camera is capable of distinguishing from side to side shake and intentional panning, allowing it to produce sharp images of moving subjects. This combined with the excellent automatic focus tracking produces an exceptional combination for action photos.

Because the Anti-Shake system is moving the sensor and not something inside the lens, you do not see the effect of the shake correction through the viewfinder. To me this was an advantage, since I sometimes have a feeling of vertigo from the effect of the image moving in the viewfinder with other systems.

The Anti-Shake system is the biggest news inside the camera, and it certainly is big news. Almost as important is the outside of the camera. On the back you will find a generous 2.5-inch LCD monitor, as large as any camera in its category and price range. With other brands you have to pay more than three times as much to get an LCD monitor this big. This may not sound that important, but believe me when I say that once you use a camera with an LCD this large you will never want to go back. My personal cameraās 1.8 inch LCD now looks tiny to me. Not only does the larger LCD make previewing your images much nicer, it also makes reading the cameraās menus much easier, particularly for those of us with less than perfect eyesight.

In addition to the big LCD monitor, the camera also has a big, bright viewfinder with extensive information visible outside the image area. I didnāt do measurements, but to my eye the viewfinder is brighter than other DSLR cameras in this price range, which are somewhat notorious for not being very bright. This makes working with the camera a pleasure, and also makes manual focusing easier should you be using a lens that does not offer autofocus. I tried one of my old 500mm mirror lenses on the 7D via a T-mount and found it very easy to focus. And then I suddenly realized that I had a 500mm mirror telephoto lens with image stabilization! I always had to use that lens with a heavy tripod in the past. Thank you Konica Minolta!

Another point about the outside of the camera is the arrangement of the controls, a mix of knobs, buttons, and two control wheels that many find easier and more intuitive than cameras which only use wheels and/or buttons. Since the camera has a very strong resemblance to its film-eating brother, the Maxxum 7, users of that camera can make the transition to the Maxxum 7D without having to relearn control placement and operation. Other Maxxum cameras have similar control layout, so the Minolta user can make the transition to digital painlessly. Since I have done a lot of photography with Maxxum film cameras in the past the transition caused no problems. But even if you come to the Maxxum 7D from some other system, the simple logic of control placement and operation will not take long to learn. And buying into the Maxxum system lets you use all of the exceptional Maxxum lens system. Maxxum lenses have consistently tested out better than the competition in optical quality in independent lab tests.

Although it is obviously impossible to fully test in a month or so, the feel of the Maxxum 7D is one of solidity and high build quality. I felt like I could knock this camera around in the course of my professional work without having to worry about breaking something. The fit to my hands was excellent, giving me a good, solid hold on the camera in normal shooting. One piece of advice I will give you if you are considering this camera; buy the optional VC-7D Vertical Control Grip. This will let you work with the camera for hours when shooting vertical photos without ending up with a sore arm or hand. It makes the camera handle as well vertically as it does horizontally. I simply would never buy a digital SLR that didnāt have a built-in vertical grip or offer it as an option. As well as providing a secure and comfortable hold and camera controls for vertical shots, the VC-7D also allows you to put two camera batteries into its battery chamber for extended operation without recharging. It also comes with a battery holder that allows you to run the camera from six AA cells if you wish. It also provides something else I consider an essential, places to connect the camera strap so the camera can be hung from one end, a much better way to carry a camera (particularly with a flash on top) than the conventional way of hanging the camera from two ends of the camera top.

OK, but what about image quality? I compared shots taken with the Maxxum 7D to shots taken with other current 6-megapixel cameras and found sharpness just about the same. The Maxxum photos tended to show more color saturation and a bit more contrast than other cameras at their factory default settings. I was pleased with the relatively low noise levels at higher ISO equivalent settings. Available light photos that I made as 1600 and 3200 were remarkably good. Available light photos with relatively slow zoom lenses were really helped by the Anti-Shake system. I liked the fact that I could set the white balance directly in Kelvin units if I wanted. This allows very fine-tuning of color balance. Although I did most of my test shots at the factory default settings, the camera offers extensive control over color saturation, tone, and sharpening. Iām sure that you can adjust this camera to produce the image look you want no matter what that is.

Remember in the old days of mechanical cameras that many of them flipped the mirror up when you started the self timer to cut down on vibration? The Maxxum 7D does this as well, the first digital SLR that I am aware of with this feature. Just set the self timer for two seconds and when you press the shutter button the mirror flips up. Iām sure that two seconds ought to be plenty of time to damp any vibration in a camera this substantial.

As I said at the beginning of this report, Iāve gotten somewhat bored after years of testing new cameras, but the Konica/Minolta Maxxum 7D snapped me out of my ennui. I had a ball working with this camera, and the great images it made for me. It may have taken a while for Konica/Minolta to make their first digital Maxxum, but it was certainly worth the wait. This camera represents a rethinking of what a digital SLR should be in many ways. I think it is the most exciting new SLR camera in quite a few years.

Whatās Hot:
š Superb handling and control layout ergonomics
š Brilliant sensor-based image stabilization system
š Superb skin tones
š Generous 2.5-inch LCD
š Very bright viewfinder
š Sturdy build quality

Whatās Not:
š 6 megapixels is a bit wimpy for the asking price
š Overly long company name (I had to list something here!)

Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Compact digital 6.1 megapixel SLR camera measures 5.9 x 4.2 x 3.1 inches, weighs 27 ounces without battery and uses a 23.5x15.7mm CCD imager. Maximum image size is 2000 x 3008 pixels and images can be saved in RAW or JPEG mode. The camera has a pop-up flash and a shoe. Images are stored on CF cards (MicroDrive possible). Menus are displayed on a 2.5-inch LCD with 207k pixels, viewfinder is a eye-level pentaprism. Computer connectivity is via USB 2.0. The camera uses a NP-400 Li-Ion battery, shutter speed ranges from 1/4000 to 30 seconds, maximum ISO sensitivity is 3200, and it comes with DiMAGE Viewer software. Camera body usually sells in US$900-1100 range.

Entry-level SLR scale rating: 9.7

öBob Shell



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