The long-awaited Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D gives the Minolta faithful the modern, Maxxum system-compatible digital SLR (dSLR) they've been craving. Its 6-megapixel CCD and midlevel feature set look somewhat old hat at this writing, but the camera's Anti-Shake mechanism, which continuously repositions the CCD to counteract blur caused by camera movement, is unique among dSLRs. Strong performance and thoughtful design round out this decent-shooting camera, which deserves a look from any entry- to midlevel dSLR buyer but especially from those who already own a Maxxum lens or two. Like most dSLRs, the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D is finished in a businesslike matte black, and its angular styling, although conventional, looks good. The body, a hybrid of magnesium-alloy and plastic, is sturdy and well crafted. The grip is nicely contoured and feels secure, and without a lens, the camera weighs about 30 ounces, which is an ounce or two heavier than average for this class.
Similar to the Olympus Evolt E-300, the Maxxum 7D dispenses with a separate status LCD and uses the camera's main LCD to display shooting settings, a design convention we've decided we like. On this Maxxum, the large 2.5-inch LCD has room to display more settings than a typical status LCD--including ISO, color mode, and image parameters, among others--and to display them at large, easily readable sizes. The camera also senses when it's been tilted to vertical and rotates the display orientation accordingly--very handy.
As should be the case with a serious shooter's camera, most important features are controlled via dedicated external buttons, rather than being buried in the menu system. Exposure adjustments and some other shooting settings are controlled with thumb and forefinger command wheels. The white-balance control, a rotating switch surrounding a button that cleverly accesses numerous menu choices, is the quickest and most flexible we've seen. There's also a dial on the camera's top-left side for setting flash or ambient exposure compensation, but those adjustments can also be made using the forefinger wheel, which we found to be more efficient. Overall, control placement and operating efficiency on this camera are among the best we've seen on any dSLR.
You use a four-way pad to navigate the menu system or to control image playback. The menus share their look, their speedy operation, and their sensible layout with Konica Minolta's prosumer digicams. The Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D's biggest claim to fame is its Anti-Shake mechanism for preventing image blur caused by camera movement. This mechanism is in the Maxxum 7D's body--it works by shifting the CCD--so it functions with all Konica Minolta autofocus (AF) lenses, with one oddball exception. This contrasts with the lens-based image stabilization systems of Canon and Nikon, which, by definition, can work only with a certain number of specific and generally pricey lenses that incorporate the technology.
Like film Maxxum SLRs, the Maxxum 7D is compatible with a range of Maxxum system accessories, including all of Konica Minolta's dozens of AF lenses. The camera's APS-C-size sensor makes any lens that's mounted to it capture the same angle of view that a lens of 1.5X greater focal length captures on a 35mm-film camera. The camera will perform TTL flash-exposure control and wireless remote flash control with several current Konica Minolta shoe-mount flashes. It also has a standard PC terminal for triggering studio flashes.
The Maxxum 7D's sophisticated AF system incorporates nine focus points. You can designate the active point yourself or leave all of them active and let the camera decide which to use from shot to shot. You can also set the camera to automatically switch to continuous or tracking AF operation if it detects subject movement.
As expected, extensive exposure options are available on the Maxxum 7D. These include all four standard exposure modes; three light-metering modes (14-segment honeycomb, center-weighted, and spot); ambient exposure compensation either in half-EV increments to plus or minus 3EV or in one-third-EV increments to plus or minus 2EV; flash exposure compensation in one-third-EV increments to plus or minus 2EV; and autoexposure bracketing. The sensor's sensitivity can be set to auto or from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200 in 1EV increments.
The extremely flexible white-balance system includes auto white balance, five manual presets that can be tweaked warmer or cooler, and direct Kelvin temperature settings in 100-degree increments. You can also store three separate custom measurements.
You can capture JPEG files at three resolutions and three compression ratios. You can also capture raw and raw-plus-JPEG files. In raw-plus-JPEG mode, you can save the JPEG at any of the three resolutions, but only the middle (Fine) compression ratio can be used. Images can be saved in three color modes: Natural Color in either the sRGB or the Adobe RGB color space, and the more contrasty and saturated Natural Plus in sRGB only. Separately, image parameters such as in-camera sharpening, contrast, saturation, and hue can be adjusted in five levels each.
You can convert the camera's raw files to RGB images using the included Dimage Viewer application. It has basic exposure and sharpening features, as well as fairly comprehensive white-balance control. Overall, the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D is a very good performer, but the Anti-Shake system gets a qualified thumbs-up. It sometimes allowed us to get sharp results using a shutter speed one to two stops slower than we could manage without it. But it also seemed to work a little less consistently than we're used to with other stabilization systems, including the same basic technology in Konica Minolta's prosumer digicams. In short, it appears to be often worthwhile, but we're not head over heels for it.
The camera's start-up time is 2.1 seconds, a modest annoyance, but otherwise it's very responsive. Shutter delay including autofocus time is 0.4 second with a bright target and falls to 0.55 second with a darker, low-contrast subject. Shot-to-shot time with either raw or JPEG images is only 0.4 second, and 1.8 seconds with flash. In continuous drive mode, we measured slightly less than 3fps, and buffer stall (using a very fast CompactFlash card) occurred after 17 full-size JPEGs, 9 raw images, or 9 raw-plus-JPEG shots.
In our tests, the Maxxum 7D's autofocus system was a notch above average for the camera's class. It's quick and decisive with stationary subjects and, more impressively, also able to track amateur sports action fairly well. It performed well in low light, and an AF-assist lamp comes on when it's really dark. An excellent feature called Direct Manual Focus, which is available if the shutter release is pressed halfway, lets you instantly take manual control of the lens focus ring.
The camera's excellent LCD, at 2.5 inches, is bigger than most, and it's sharp and very good in strong outdoor light. The bright, sharp viewfinder uses a pentaprism rather than the cheaper and slightly darker pentamirror finders on some entry-level dSLRs. It shows about 95 percent of the actual image.
Comparable to nearly all such units in SLRs, the built-in flash has a guide number of 39 (in feet at ISO 100). Overall, the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D's basic image quality appears to be similar to that of other entry- to midlevel 6-megapixel dSLRs; detail capture and noise levels in JPEGs captured at ISO 100 and ISO 200, in particular, look practically the same as what you get from the competition. Images converted from raw with Adobe Camera Raw were a bit smoother and more detailed than out-of-camera JPEGs.
As ISO moves into the 400-to-3,200 range, it looks like Konica Minolta has decided to err on the side of noise reduction and the loss of detail it entails. The images aren't very noisy, but details are progressively more obscured as the sensitivity climbs; several competing cameras show better detail at ISO 800 and above, though some are also noisier. We also noticed that our high-ISO images saved in raw format appeared to have noise reduction applied to them, too. That's somewhat unusual in our experience.
At default settings, our test images showed pleasant, accurate colors and decently balanced saturation, but the shots were slightly too contrasty for our taste. Obviously, the camera's extensive adjustments make it easy to tune these qualities to your preferences. We got a high percentage of good exposures, and the auto white-balance system did a good job in all but the most difficult indoor situations. Digital artifacts, such as color aliasing, strange highlight color casts, and fringing, were almost nonexistent in our test images.