Konica Minolta's bargain-priced 3-megapixel offering is the Dimage E323, a well-designed, solidly built compact equipped with a 3X zoom lens. A metallic finish of silver and blue lends the camera a touch of style, but this Dimage is basically the workaday version of its svelter and hipper X-series siblings. Of course, there's nothing wrong with workaday, and the E323 is a solid performer with a simple interface and very good image quality for its class. This model is the wrong choice if you want a lot of manual flexibility, but if you're looking to just point and shoot, the Dimage E323 is a fine deal. Solidly constructed and weighing a light 7 ounces with batteries and media loaded, the Konica Minolta Dimage E323 feels natural in the hand. The company didn't skimp on the build: the buttons are sturdy and responsive; the zoom travels smoothly; and the four-way controller offers individual keys instead of a rocker pad, which can be mushy and inaccurate. The E323's simple, straightforward layout uses the available space efficiently, keeping buttons to a minimum.
Even though you have to turn on the LCD menu to activate the movie, continuous-shooting, and scene modes, Konica Minolta made the process as convenient as possible by placing those options at the top. We willingly suffered a little menu surfing in exchange for the E323's nearly ultracompact design. The menus themselves are clearly labeled; each function bears a recognizable icon and a pop-up plain-text description.
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The E323 takes SD/MMC media.
Two scene modes are relatively unusual: Cosmetic is intended to soften skin tones, and Slim lets you change an image's horizontal or vertical proportion with the digital zoom. Cosmetic does indeed slightly soften the focus and reduce contrast, giving your subjects that Cybill Shepherd effect. As for Slim, well, it's a marginally interesting idea, but we imagine most E323 buyers won't have much use for it. Chalk one up for the marketing department.
We'd have appreciated a way to turn off the digital zoom, which engages automatically when you enter the yellow-shaded portion of the zoom scale. Since that color coding and a blinking light beside the viewfinder are your only indicators, unintentional activation is too easy.
For those times when you want, as the box says, to supersize your prints, you can snap 6-megapixel shots with the E323's interpolation option, a feature we don't see as much as we used to. We don't recommend that you count on this setting extensively, but it could be a benefit if you don't want to touch an image-editing program before, say, uploading pictures to a photo-sharing Web site.
The E323 can record JPEG stills at two levels of compression and soundless movies at 320x240 or 160x120 resolution. Maximum clip length depends on the space available on your SD/MMC media. The Konica Minolta E323 performs like a pocket-friendly snapshot model should. The LCD is accurate and viewable in sunlight, and the Dimage earns high marks for its reasonably fast 3.5-second start-up and its extremely brief--nearly nonexistent when you prefocus--shutter lag. The fairly quick autofocus is very respectable for a sub-$300 camera. Though AF accuracy decreases predictably in scenes with lower light or contrast, you won't miss too many daytime photo ops with the E323 around. The shot-to-shot delay in daylight is about average at slightly more than 2 seconds, but the flash's approximately 7-second recycling time is on the lengthy side. Flash coverage is good to almost 10 feet at the wide-angle setting.
You can choose from two approximately 1-frame-per-second continuous-shooting modes. Both store pictures in the Continuous Advance folder, which you'll have to select specifically to see those photos in review mode. The Best Select option takes four sequential shots and immediately displays them; you then either save them all or keep just your favorite. In Standard mode, the E323 shoots sequences of up to a respectable 9 frames at the highest resolution and lowest compression settings, and as many as 99 frames with a low resolution and standard compression. Overall, the Konica Minolta Dimage E323 turns out good-looking images that compare very well with those from other 3-megapixel compact cameras. Our test photos were properly exposed whether we shot in ambient lighting or with the flash, and colors came out pleasing and natural. The automatic white balance served us well in nearly every situation, in some instances achieving more accuracy than the specific presets. One unfortunate exception is scenes under tungsten light, in which the camera produced a strong, unpleasant yellow cast. To be safe, switch to the Indoor white-balance preset when you're shooting in artificial light.
Our shots were generally sharp, with good detail in both shadows and highlights. Shadows in low-light photos exhibited luminance and chrominance noise, but it was modest; you'd get a good deal more from some other cameras in this class. But the E323's images do have one shortcoming: they're prone to chromatic aberration. Evident purple fringing on most of a scene's very bright areas was fairly common in our test pictures. But in small prints, the problem usually won't be very noticeable, so it's not a deal-breaker for snapshot photographers.