Many of the latest high-end digital cameras have essentially been improved versions of earlier models -- Sony’s DSC-F717 and Fujifilm’s FinePix S602 Pro spring immediately to mind. Minolta’s new Dimage 7Hi is also an update of an earlier model, the 7i, which itself followed the original Dimage 7. Fortunately the 7i was a fine camera, which bodes well for an improved version.
The most striking difference with the 7Hi is its smart new rubber-coated black finish. Serious photographers will also welcome the standard PC Sync terminal for external lighting. The 7Hi’s other improvements include a significantly increased buffer (allowing up to nine full-resolution images to be stored in Burst Mode), along with selectable colour spaces which can even be embedded as ICC profiles within actual images. The core features remain the same: at the heart of the 7Hi lies a 5 megapixel (MP) charge coupled device (CCD) sensor, delivering 2560x1920 dpi files with sufficient detail to make great-looking 13x10-inch colour inkjet prints. The finest Jpeg mode produces 3MB files, but the middle setting looks good at 2MB. Jpegs are Exifprint (Exif 2.2) compliant and uncompressed Tiff and RAW modes are also available.
Images are composed with either the 1.8-inch screen or electronic viewfinder. The latter is coarse compared to its rivals but can be adjusted upwards by 90 degrees, although the screen can’t be flipped out. On the up side the display can be overlaid by a grid or measurement lines and there’s also a live histogram option.
The best feature of the 7i, and now the 7Hi, is without a doubt their 7x optical zoom with an equivalent range of 28-200mm. The 28mm end is also much wider than virtually any other digital camera. Better still, the zoom is operated by a mechanical ring rather than the usual electrical buttons, which makes for a more responsive experience. The 25cm closest focusing distance may sound disappointing, but since it unusually works with the lens fully zoomed in you can actually get decent macro results.
While the 7Hi takes great photos in automatic mode, it excels when it comes to manual control. There’s the usual Program, Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority modes along with five presets. Shutter speeds range from 15 seconds to 1/4000, with a 30-second bulb option.
Movie mode captures up to 60 seconds of 320x240 video at 15 frames per second (fps) with sound. More exciting is the time-lapse mode which records images at set intervals and can even turn them into a 4fps high-resolution movie.
The 7Hi takes four AA batteries and Minolta supplies a set of NiMH cells and a recharger. On the down side the supplied 16MB CompactFlash card is simply mean at the price -- you’ll have to purchase more memory from day one -- although the slot can take IBM’s Microdrive.
The 7Hi’s optical quality was very good with sharp corners and virtually no colour fringing. Overall image quality was also impressive but, viewed at 1:1, revealed more electronic noise than its rivals while ultimate resolving power was slightly lower too.
The biggest problem with the 7Hi, though, is its $2700 price tag and lack of memory. It’s $300 more than the Nikon 5700 and $700 more than Sony’s F717. Its two closest rivals offer fewer features but slightly higher image quality.
The bottom line is the 7Hi is the best-featured professional digital camera we’ve tested -- it handles beautifully too. Ultimately the choice between this Dimage, the Nikon 5700, Sony F717 and indeed Minolta’s earlier 7i, boils down to budget and personal preference.
In brief: Minolta Dimage 7Hi
Minolta’s Dimage 7Hi is the best-featured high-end digital camera on the market, but it’s also costlier than its rivals. Many photographers will be satisfied by the cheaper Nikon 5700 and Sony F717 which, under the closest examination, have slightly higher image quality. That said, the 7Hi is excellent and many people will buy it based on its superb lens and handling alone.
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