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The Z10 retains the power/viewing-mode switch that we praised on the Dimage Z2. It works well and is placed on the lower left of the camera back where you'd be unlikely to switch it accidentally. Other shared design touches include the very functional four-way control pad and the easily accessible exposure compensation--simply touch the left or right buttons on the four-way controller.
By default, important settings such as white balance, metering, and ISO sensitivity can be accessed only through the menu system. That modest drawback is somewhat offset by the fact that the flash-mode button, which sits on the top of the grip near your right forefinger, can be programmed to control any one of several functions, including the aforementioned white balance and sensitivity as well as drive mode. The menu system itself is clear, logically laid out, and quick to navigate.
The unusual shape of the Konica Minolta Dimage Z10 houses a big 8X zoom lens that covers a range from 36mm to 290mm (35mm-camera equivalent). At its widest-angle setting, the maximum aperture is f/3.2, which is a bit worse than average, but it narrows to only f/3.4 at the zoom's most telephoto position, which isn't bad at all. An optional 0.7X wide-angle converter (ZCW-200) can be attached to the threaded lens barrel.
The Z10's extensive exposure-control system leaves no room for complaint. There's a fully automatic "subject program selection" mode, which tries to guess what kind of scene you're shooting and make the appropriate settings. In addition, you have all four standard exposure modes and five selectable scene modes. You can use the live histogram to determine your own exposure settings or rely on any of the camera's three light-metering modes: multisegment, center-weighted, and spot. Exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV is available, as is a three-shot exposure-bracketing function. White-balance choices are auto, any of five manual presets, and custom. You can set the camera's sensitivity to auto or ISO 64, ISO 100, ISO 200, or ISO 400.
The Z10 saves still images on SD/MMC cards in JPEG format only. You have a choice of four resolutions and three compression levels. Image parameters such as in-camera sharpening, contrast, and color saturation are adjustable.
In movie mode, the camera can record 640x480-pixel M-JPEG video without sound at 15fps (frames per second) or 320x240 clips at 30fps. Video-segment length is limited only by your card capacity.
Like the Dimage Z2 before it, the Konica Minolta Dimage Z10 incorporates a Switch Finder mechanism that lets you view the camera's 1.5-inch LCD in the normal fashion or, by way of a mirror, through the eye-level viewfinder. Although small, the LCD is sharp and easy to see indoors and out when viewed normally in monitor mode. Even though we were viewing the same LCD in viewfinder mode, the image seemed harsher and less sharp, and the system is equal only to mediocre electronic viewfinders on other cameras. The LCD shows 100 percent of the actual image in monitor mode and 98 percent in viewfinder mode.
Konica Minolta touts the speed of the Z10's autofocus system, and it is indeed fast when it has a prominent target in good light. We found, however, that the system is often indecisive, adding a few extra tenths of a second to the focus time. On the other hand, autofocus speed drops only somewhat in low light, meaning the Z10's performance is comparatively good in those conditions. The manual-focus system, which uses the left and right buttons on the four-way controller to set focus distance, is slow, but the magnified LCD image is adequate for judging focus.
Konica Minolta also touts the Z10's fast start-up time, which is a quick 2 seconds. Shot-to-shot time is also 2 seconds (2.2 seconds with flash), which is about average for this camera's class. In good light, shutter delay, including autofocus time, is about 0.8 second when the autofocus system locks on decisively. The delay lengthens to about 1.2 seconds in dim light. In its continuous-shooting mode, the Z10 can fire a slowish 1.5 pictures per second for at least six frames. It also has a continuous mode, called Progressive, which shoots at 1.3fps for as long as you hold down the shutter release and saves the last six images captured before you lift your finger.
The maximum range of the built-in flash is 12.4 feet at ISO 100. At ISO 200, the highest sensitivity the camera can set in its auto ISO mode, flash range is 17.4 feet.Pictures from the Konica Minolta Dimage Z10 compare quite well with the best of the 3-megapixel class. Sharpness and detail are top-notch, though we felt the default in-camera sharpening level was a little too high. Colors are fairly vivid at default settings, and contrast is on the punchy side. Electronic noise is quite low at ISO 64 and ISO 100. At ISO 200, it's visible but not particularly bad; at ISO 400, it's definitely evident but a bit lower than average.
A fair percentage of our test shots were modestly underexposed, which we consider a minor annoyance. We also noted some reddish skin tones in outdoor shots in shade or under overcast conditions, and this appears to be caused by slight white-balance errors. Purple fringing was moderate in our test pictures, and the lens exhibits modest barrel distortion at its wide-angle setting and about the same level of pincushion distortion at the telephoto end.