Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3; First Z-Series Digicam With IS Plus New High Tech Features Page 2

Konica Minolta's proprietary CxProcess II technology allows for very fast image processing. Using a high-speed SanDisk ULTRA card, I was able to shoot six full resolution JPEGs in 2.5 seconds before a pause to allow the buffer (temporary storage bank) to clear. The advanced, high-sensitivity 4-megapixel CCD combines with the processor to produce clean colors, pleasing skin tones, and a wide dynamic range that holds detail in both highlight and shadow areas.

Performance Evaluation
In terms of responsiveness and overall speed, the DiMAGE Z3 is no slouch. Powering up takes only 3 seconds, quite fast for a camera with such a wide range zoom lens. Touch the shutter release button and focus is confirmed almost instantly in outdoor photography. There's virtually no shutter lag, making the Z3 great for capturing a fleeting moment without the frustration produced by slower cameras. Indoors, focus acquisition was not as quick, taking up to one second, depending on the lighting conditions. A focus-assist beam feature would accelerate low-light autofocus performance, but this camera with a powerful zoom lens was primarily intended for outdoor photography.

Although the DiMAGE Z3 includes a wide range of user selectable features, I was happy with the results produced by Auto White Balance and the default levels for sharpness, contrast and color saturation. My images exhibit pleasing color tone, gentle contrast, natural-looking sharpness and moderately vivid colors. All of these factors can be easily tweaked in camera or using image-editing software. The post-processing approach is preferable, because the software allows for greater control and provides a preview of the exact effect that any adjustment will produce.

The test sample tended to overexpose mid-tone scenes slightly, especially in bright light. A --0.3 compensation setting solved that problem while a +0.3 setting was often adequate for lighter-toned subjects such as ball players in white uniforms. Flash exposure compensation is available too, for varying flash intensity; I generally set this control to -0.3 as well, or to -0.7 outdoors for a more subtle effect.

Thanks to the high-tech image processor, the DiMAGE Z3 is capable of a fast framing rate, great for recording a series of action shots. Keeping a moving subject properly framed for a series of images is a challenge, but my success ratio improved with a bit of practice. (At f/7.1 at 1/500 sec; 141mm equivalent; ISO 100.)

Final Assessment
Resolution is about average for a 4-megapixel camera, with high definition of intricate detail at ISO 50 and 100, moderately high at ISO 200 and acceptable at ISO 400. JPEG compression is a bit aggressive even in the Large/Fine capture mode. Consequently, some artifacts (such as jagged edges) are noticeable at 100 percent magnification on a monitor. Still, my best images made for very good to excellent 8.5x11" ink jet photos at 240dpi after increasing image file size from 11MB to 15MB in Photoshop.

Digital noise is well controlled at low ISO, but by ISO 400, the colored specks obliterate some fine detail. This is also typical with many cameras. Fortunately, I rarely needed to shoot at high ISO with the DiMAGE Z3 because its Anti-Shake system produced sharp images at surprisingly long shutter speeds. An automatic noise reduction system kicks in during 1/30 sec and longer exposures, so the colored specks are less visible in images made at night.

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(1): In its default settings, the DiMAGE Z3 produces images with moderate but pleasing contrast, sharpness and color saturation. Especially at ISO 50 in Large/Fine JPEG capture mode, overall image quality is also high. (ISO 50; HOYA polarizer held in front of lens to remove glare.) (2): After I set a minor exposure compensation factor, the 256-segment evaluative metering system was surprisingly effective, even with difficult, high-contrast scenes such as this. The vast majority of my images are well exposed requiring little or no adjustment in image-editing software. (At f/5.6 at 1/320 sec with -0.3 exposure compensation; exposure not adjusted in post-processing.) (3 & 4): In ISO 400 images, digital noise is visible at high magnification as confirmed by the small portion of this photo enlarged for greater visibility. (At f/4.5 at 1/400 sec; 420mm equivalent.)

At a street price of $499, the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 offers exceptional value, considering its powerful high-grade lens, Anti-Shake function, superb autofocus system, advanced image processor and great versatility. The combination will especially appeal to those who want to shoot sports, wildlife, and stage performances without using a tripod. If you fall into that category, and if you cannot justify the higher price of a digital SLR plus a long zoom lens with image stabilizer, this DiMAGE camera may be a suitable alternative.

PROS
· Highly effective Anti-Shake system compensates for camera shake.
· Superb and powerful lens; Through The Lens viewing and data readouts with EVF.
· Great versatility with numerous easy to use features; accepts accessory HS(D) and (D) series flash units but not filters.
· High-speed autofocus, framing and image processing.
· Excellent results in default settings for white balance, color saturation, contrast, and sharpness; high resolution and minimal noise at ISO 50 and 100.

CONS
· Focus acquisition remains reliable in low light, but is not as quick.
· Overexposes mid-tone subjects slightly in bright light.
· Some JPEG artifacts visible at 100 percent magnification; obvious digital noise at ISO 400; purple fringing (chromatic aberration) around high contrast edges.

Contact
Ulead Systems
(310) 896-6388
www.ulead.com

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