The Konica Minolta Dimage Z5, like compact megazoom cameras from Kodak, Panasonic, and others, targets the budget-minded photo enthusiast who wants a superbroad zoom range, manual controls, SLR-like viewing, and tons of extra features--without the expense and the size of a digital SLR.
With a 12X zoom, image stabilization, macro focus down to 0.4 inch, and a medium-res 10-frame-per-second ultra-high-speed burst mode, the 5-megapixel Z5 stacks up well against the competition, specwise. However, mediocre image quality and a large, coarse, and rather dim electronic viewfinder limit this diminutive digital's appeal as an SLR substitute. This upgrade from the Konica Minolta Z3 has the same space-age styling but offers 1 million more pixels. Its plastic-and-metal-bodied miniature-SLR-like form factor is balanced well enough to allow either one- or two-handed shooting; we preferred to support the camera in our left hand and wrap our right-hand fingers around the handgrip, which houses the four-AA-cell power supply. With batteries loaded, the 4.3-by-3.1-by-3.3-inch camera is just half an ounce shy of one pound.
The handgrip hosts a large knurled mode dial, a rocker switch for the zoom, a large shutter-release button canted at a 45-degree angle on the front edge, and a pair of buttons for activating close-up and flash options. The designers also managed to tuck a microphone and a speaker onto the top of the handgrip, and you can assign the flash button to a different function. Atop the viewfinder hump is a flip-up built-in flash and a cover that slides off to reveal a proprietary shoe for attaching compatible external flash units.
The back panel is remarkably clean for a camera that offers so much user control, but that's because setting many functions requires a visit to the menu system. To the right of the 2-inch LCD are a menu key, a four-way cursor pad with an embedded OK button, a QuickView button that trashes the currently displayed image when pressed a second time, and an info button that cycles among the display information options, which include a live histogram. When all the data is on the screen at once, the LCD and the EVF--both with 114,000 pixels of resolution--get fairly crowded, as they can display 26 different indicators. You can switch between the LCD and the EVF or shift into picture-review mode (on the LCD only) with a small switch just under the LCD. A power switch is the only other adornment on the back panel.
You'll spend a lot of time navigating the menus. Some functions assigned to buttons or cursor keys on other cameras, such as activating the self-timer or turning the antishake mechanism on or off, are hidden away in menus. You can adjust EV with the left and right cursor buttons or tap the center OK button and use the same keys to move the focus zone to one of five areas in a horizontal row (but not up or down). The flash function button can be reassigned to control one of the following alternate functions: drive options, white balance, focus mode, color mode, or ISO speed. The menus are a snap to navigate, as they're divided into 10 pages, each with four or five functions, and organized under playback, recording, and setup. The Konica Minolta Dimage Z5's 12X zoom provides a useful 35mm wide-angle perspective on the short end and a 420mm telephoto view (both 35mm-camera equivalents) that's almost overkill unless you're heavily involved with wildlife or sports photography. This lens also focuses as close as 0.4 inch in supermacro mode.
The long reach and the ultra-close-up capabilities are a perfect match for Konica Minolta's Anti-Shake mechanism, which counters camera movement by dynamically readjusting the position of the sensor, allowing you to take photos at two to three shutter-speed increments slower than would otherwise be required. We successfully took 420mm tele shots at 1/125 second and 1/250 second instead of the roughly 1/500 second that would normally be necessary. We also grabbed some close-up pictures without a tripod at 1/6 second.
The Z5 has two Anti-Shake modes. One activates when you press the shutter release partway; you can actually see the steadied image in the viewfinder. The other mode kicks in only during exposure. Both use a lot of power (a thermometer appears on the screen when the system is overheating), but you can switch off Anti-Shake when you don't need it.
The camera's shooting modes include automatic, programmed, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure, along with portrait, sports-action, landscape, sunset, and night-portrait scene modes. There's also a three-shot exposure-bracketing option. In auto mode, the camera can optionally select the best scene mode on its own when you press the shutter release halfway down. An icon indicating the chosen mode appears in the viewfinder.
Metering options includes 256-segment evaluative measurements and center-weighted metering. Shutter speeds range from 2 seconds to 1/1,000 second (from 4 seconds to 1/1,000 second in manual mode), and apertures from f/2.8 to f/8 (wide) or f/4.5 to f/8 (tele). You can choose from manual focus, single or continuous autofocus, and a full-time autofocus option that eats power but reduces focus time for sports and other fast-moving subjects.
The built-in flash is good out to 16.7 feet at ISO 320 in the wide-angle lens position and to 10.5 feet with the lens cranked out to the telephoto position. Movie buffs will like the 640x480-pixel film clips, limited only by the capacity of your SD memory card, at either 15fps or 30fps. The Konica Minolta Dimage Z5's high-speed burst modes proved to be the highlight among the decent but not spectacular performance figures. The camera has three burst modes in all. We tested the normal continuous-advance mode at full resolution, which yielded 3 frames in 1.6 seconds, and at 640x480 resolution, which yielded 27 shots in 13.5 seconds (both clocking roughly 2fps). The ultra-high-speed continuous-advance mode captures up to 20 images at 1,024x768 resolution and about 10fps. A progressive-capture variation grabs 1,024x768 shots at a 10fps clip over a much longer period. We held down the shutter release for more than a minute while the camera chattered away like a machine gun. When you release the shutter button, only the last 20 images are saved.
Once you finish playing with the various burst modes, you'll find the Z5's other performance figures acceptable but not exceptional. Time to first shot was 3.5 seconds, and thereafter we were able to squeeze off images at brisk 1.3-second intervals (4 seconds with flash). Shutter lag was OK at 0.7 second under high-contrast lighting and 1.1 seconds under low-contrast illumination, which isn't that bad when you consider that this camera doesn't have a focus-assist lamp.
Though coarse and a bit on the dim side, the EVF display was commendably large and quite usable for manual focus, showing very little ghosting with moving subjects.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutter lag (typical)||Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|
Automatic white balance delivered extremely warm results under incandescent illumination, and our pictures occasionally had an orange tinge when we set white balance manually. For the most part, the red-eye-reduction preflash minimized red pupils, but it sometimes left behind a slight orange residue.