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DiMAGE Xt Digital Camera review: DiMAGE Xt Digital Camera

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MSRP: $299.00
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The Good Extremely compact; chic styling; generally sprightly performance; new quick-review button.

The Bad Fairly frequent underexposures; skimpy viewfinder coverage; no manual white balance.

The Bottom Line This ultracompact, uniquely designed camera is hard to beat for snapshooting in style.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Image quality 7.0

Review Sections

Intro

The Dimage Xt, the third generation of Minolta's X-series ultracompacts, is a modest upgrade of the Dimage Xi it replaces. Like its predecessor, the Xt boasts a 3-megapixel CCD, a 3X zoom lens, and unique styling. Improvements include a marginally smaller size, a spot meter, and a redesigned control layout. Though these changes aren't dramatic, the Dimage Xt, like its forerunners, is a top choice for a chic, ultraportable snapshot camera. About 5 percent smaller than the Dimage Xi, the Xt weighs only 5 ounces with the battery and the media installed, and its 0.8-inch depth makes it the world's thinnest digital camera with a zoom lens. Like previous Dimage X models, the Xt owes its sleek, easily pocketable shape to a unique lens that's oriented vertically in the unit but "folded" 90 degrees so that it can see out the front of the camera, sort of like a periscope. The lens zooms internally, so it never protrudes from the device. That's generally a plus, but it makes it easy to slide an errant finger over the lens when you're shooting.

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To prevent accidents, Minolta moved the shutter-release and power buttons a little farther apart on the Xt.
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The mode dial lets you switch between shooting, playback, movie capture, and voice recording.
The brushed-aluminum body is finished in a monotone matte silver. We find it less appealing than the original two-tone finish, but that's a matter of taste. For the Xt, Minolta changed the mode selector from a sliding switch to a rotating dial, and the power and shutter-release buttons on top of the unit are farther apart. You'll also find a new quick-review button for instantly accessing the playback mode--a nice addition. As with the earlier Dimage X cameras, the placement of a control on each side of the zoom toggle sometimes caused us to inadvertently change a setting when we wanted to zoom. Still, menu navigation proves fast and easy once you get the hang of the combination zoom/four-way pad.

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The two buttons beside the zoom toggle can be programmed to access exposure compensation; white-balance settings; and ISO, color, and drive modes. When you activate the LCD menu, the three controls together serve as a four-way navigation pad.
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The buttons below the LCD let you activate the menu system, review and delete images without leaving shooting mode, turn the LCD and the current settings on and off, and make flash selections.
Minolta designed the Dimage Xt's feature set for quick and simple snapshooting. Despite its radical physical design, the lens covers a fairly standard zoom range--37mm to 111mm in 35mm-film-camera terms--and opens to an also typical maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/3.6. Programmed Auto is the only exposure mode, and the Xt offers just a handful of choices for more-advanced shooters. These include the new spot meter, exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV, and a range of light-sensitivity settings from ISO 50 to 400. White-balance selections include auto and four presets, but unfortunately, there's no manual option.

You can save shots as uncompressed TIFF files or as JPEG files at any one of four resolutions. Three JPEG compression levels are available. The camera can also make VGA or QVGA copies of your pictures for easy transmission by e-mail. In movie mode, the Dimage Xt will capture 320x240-pixel MPEG video with sound as long as your storage media's capacity allows. You can also record 15-second audio photo captions and 180-minute separate voice memos. The Xt's design makes this model especially well suited to doubling as a voice recorder, which might appeal to business users and students, but its microphone isn't powerful enough to clearly capture speech from someone more than a few yards away. Finally, you can hook up the Dimage Xt to a Windows PC (but not a Mac) via a USB cable and use it for live videoconferencing. The camera can stand upright in the included battery-charging dock, so it's a handy videoconferencing stand, too. The dock will also charge a battery alone.

The Dimage Xt doesn't accept accessories such as supplemental lenses and external flashes, but oddly, it has an underwater housing: the MC-DG200 Marine Case, listed at $249.95. It might be fun in shallow water, but its 100-foot depth rating is pure marketing flummery. This reviewer will march naked down Broadway in the middle of February if anyone can show us a recognizable photograph taken with the Dimage Xt 100 feet underwater. Many snapshot-oriented cameras operate sluggishly, but to Minolta's credit, the Dimage Xt delivers quick performance. Start-up time is very fast at about 1 second, and shot-to-shot time runs a reasonable 2 seconds or so if you're shooting JPEG files. It's a less-pleasing 15 seconds with TIFF files, but that's no worse than what the competition has to offer. In continuous-shooting mode, the Xt can snap eight highest-quality JPEG images at nearly 1 frame per second before pausing to clear the buffer. Even with the flash firing, the continuous-shooting rate is about 0.6fps, which is quite good for a camera in this class.

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The tiny optical viewfinder is reasonably sharp and bright, but it shows only about 81 percent of the actual image.
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The proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery lasted for more than 300 shots with the flash firing on half of them and the LCD on.
The autofocus can lock rapidly and decisively; its performance is above average in good light, a bit below average in low light. Consequently, shutter delay is fairly short outdoors--about 1 second--but a little longer than average indoors. As with all AF cameras, you can greatly decrease shutter delay by prefocusing.

The Xt's lens zooms quickly and smoothly, and you can control its zoom position with relative precision. We were also pleased with the 1.5-inch LCD, which is reasonably sharp, works adequately in both daylight and low light, and shows 100 percent of the actual image. The built-in flash's range extends to nearly 9 feet at ISO 100, which isn't bad for such a small camera. The Dimage Xt's pictures, though not the greatest in the 3-megapixel class, are generally good and rank among the best we've seen from extremely compact (sub-6-ounce) cameras. They're adequately sharp overall, although the Xt appears to be applying moderate noise reduction. The result is a smooth, low-noise image that looks realistic but suffers from some loss of fine, low-contrast details.

Colors are vivid and natural-looking, and the automatic white balance does a good job under a wide range of lighting sources. We were less impressed with ISO 400 shots, which showed more noise than average. Minolta wisely calibrated the automatic ISO setting to use light sensitivities between ISO 50 and 160. You can manually select ISO 200, which produces somewhat noisy pictures, or risk ISO 400.

Flaws in our test images included a few too many underexposures outdoors, and purple fringing occurred with some frequency. Other digital artifacts were rare.

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