Minolta's Dimage S414 is a subtle improvement on its popular predecessor, the Dimage S404, but it retains key specs such as 4-megapixel resolution, a 4X (35mm to 140mm) zoom lens, and flexible exposure options. But while the S414's feature set is a fairly good deal for the price, the camera can't quite match a variety of similarly priced competitors in image quality and performance. Compact yet comfortable enough for big hands, the S414's solid aluminum body nevertheless weighs almost a pound when equipped with four AA batteries and a CompactFlash card.
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Minolta clumps the most frequently used shooting controls on the camera's top bevel; the exposure-compensation button is distinguishable by a slight ridge.
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The five-way navigation switch is large enough that you don't accidentally press and select when you mean to move left or right.
We do have some minor quibbles, however. The mode dial needs a little more resistance; it's too easy to accidentally switch modes and, worse, turn the camera on and off. Plus, having to go through the menus to select exposure modes gets awkward.
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Minolta includes black-and-white text capture as one of the S414's scene modes.
Budding photographers will appreciate the program, manual, and aperture-priority exposure modes, as well as the real-time histogram for getting immediate feedback on exposure. These aren't as broadly implemented as on higher-end cameras--you can choose between only two f-stop settings in aperture-priority mode, for instance, and there's no shutter-priority mode--but the features provide enough to please advanced beginners. Point-and-shoot users will enjoy the reliable automatic settings and preset scene modes, while more-advanced shooters can fine-tune their images with contrast and sharpness adjustments, as well as exposure bracketing.
The S414 offers a movie mode with sound, though it's limited to a maximum of 60 seconds of 320x240-pixel video. You can also record 5- or 15-second voice memos.
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You can run the camera for a while off the bundled alkaline batteries, but you'll get far more juice from a set of rechargeable batteries.
Though the lens may be sluggish, the S414 is otherwise average. It starts up in slightly less than 6 seconds, and there's no perceptible shutter lag (except that accounted for by the slow autofocus). Shot-to-shot time is between 3 and 4 seconds, fairly average for a camera in this class, and it takes a respectable 7 seconds to save a best-quality JPEG file; you can start shooting before the save has completed, however. But saving a high-resolution TIFF file runs 28 seconds--that's slow, even for TIFF. At the lowest resolution, we shot 50 frames at 1.3 frames per second with no pauses; at higher resolutions, the continuous-shooting mode can capture at the same speed for the first eight shots, after which it will slow considerably. Then it takes an additional 27 seconds to finish writing the data.
A set of AA alkaline batteries lasted for one testing session (that's about 20 shots, with heavy LCD use), but we got more than 200 images from rechargeable batteries under similar circumstances. Furthermore, according to the on-battery indicators, the alkaline batteries still had plenty of juice in them when the camera declared they were used up. So we highly recommend factoring a set of rechargeable batteries and a charger into the cost of the camera.
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The Dimage S414 produces nice, saturated colors.
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Images from the S414 are a bit soft compared with really good 4-megapixel shots.
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We saw very little image noise at ISO settings of 64 and 100, but at ISO 200, it became noticeable in the flat color patches shown here.