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Minolta Dimage S414 review:

Minolta Dimage S414

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The Good Solid body; easy to use; fairly broad feature set for the price.

The Bad Sluggish autofocus.

The Bottom Line A mixed performer with good features, the Dimage S414 delivers a solid but unremarkable point-and-shoot photo experience.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 6.0
  • Image quality 7.0

Intro

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.
The camera retains the simple control layout of the S404; clearly labeled and easily accessible buttons and dials enable easy operation by users at any experience level. While shooting, you select frequently used options via dedicated buttons on the top of the camera, where there is also a small status LCD in which you can check your current settings and battery life. Responsive one-touch controls let you display information such as the histogram and the quick-review mode. The rest of the features live in logically organized menus that you navigate in the bright 1.8-inch LCD.

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.

Like its predecessor, the S414 provides a broad set of features for the money. Minolta improved on the S404 by removing the saturation-adjustment feature and adding Vivid, Natural, and Solarization to the camera's list of color modes, along with Black And White and Sepia. There's a new filter setting for tweaking the red/blue balance of images as well. Other enhancements include useful focusing-screen features, such as grid and scale views.

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.

Minolta did not really improve the S series' major weakness; the S414 still suffers a bit from sluggish autofocus, especially in dim light and with moving subjects. The automatic focus-selection system also randomly focuses on subjects that don't even fall within the designated focusing area. Unfortunately, the manual focus and the LCD provide no assistance with this problem. Though the LCD is bright and readable, its resolution is a little too low for judging image focus. Take more than one shot or employ the continuous-shooting mode to be sure you don't miss a moment. Zooming the lens from wide to telephoto also feels somewhat slow.

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.

Though it doesn't match the best 4-megapixel cameras in image quality, the S414 takes better than average photographs suitable for most mainstream uses. Its automatic white balance under tungsten lights generates a color cast that's slightly too orange, but its preset and manual white-balance options work very well. We also give the S414 high marks for low noise; we didn't see any significant noise until we set light sensitivity to ISO 200. And blooming and purple fringing rarely occurred, even in the lighting situations most likely to produce such flaws.

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Images from the S414 are a bit soft compared with really good 4-megapixel shots.

On the other hand, images look a tad softer than we'd like. Plus, the camera's default metering gives you slightly underexposed shots with clipped highlights and a compressed midrange. As a result, photos are a little too high-contrast and dark relative to pictures from competing models. This holds true for flash shots as well.

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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.

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