|Though the A2's control layout and design tend to differ from those of the typical prosumer camera, for the most part, they're intelligently laid out.|
We love the lens's manual zoom ring and also appreciate the one-touch manual white balance, as well as the EVF's ability to tilt between 0 and +90 degrees. Most of the Konica Minolta Dimage A2's crucial shooting features have dedicated controls, and the thumb and forefinger wheels for adjusting values are well placed. Because the A2 has dozens of features, its menus are extensive, but they're well organized and clearly labeled, and you can navigate them easily with the four-way pad.
On the other hand, we wish Konica Minolta had redesigned the left-mounted dial that sets white balance, ISO speed, and several other features. Its inefficient three-step operation requires you to twist the dial to the desired function, highlight a setting by pressing a button and scrolling with a second dial, then press again to make the selection. And unlike the flip-and-swivel LCDs of several of its megazoom competitors, such as the Nikon Coolpix 8700, the Konica Minolta Dimage A2's LCD tilts between -20 and +90 degrees--that's all.
To help manage this camera's bewildering array of features, you can store five sets of global settings. A simple two-step procedure will pull up any of your designated setups. The Konica Minolta Dimage A2 offers a daunting list of features. The A2's most prominent among them is the camera's 7X apochromatic GT zoom lens, which covers a multipurpose range of 28mm to 200mm (the 35mm-film equivalent) and opens to a variable maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/3.5. The A2's unique Anti-Shake image-stabilization system, which works by shifting the CCD rather than using the more typical arrangements that combine gyro sensors with movable lens elements, is also big news.
Like the A1, the A2 can capture TIFF, JPEG, and RAW files, but the A2 can also capture RAW+JPEG simultaneously, a work-flow enhancement hitherto available on only a handful of pro dSLR cameras. You can choose among six image resolutions and three JPEG compression levels. The included Dimage Viewer software generates RGB images from your RAW files, and it offers decent RAW-conversion controls on Windows and Mac machines. Konica Minolta boosted the A2's maximum MJPEG video resolution from the A1's 320x240 pixels to 544x408 pixels at 30 frames per second (fps). This camera can also record clips with sound up to six minutes long.
The A2's comprehensive exposure-control options include all four traditional exposure modes; four scene modes; manual light-sensitivity settings up to ISO 800; multisegment, center-weighted, and spot light-metering systems; exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV; a live-image histogram; and exposure bracketing. White-balance controls include auto, six presets with tweakable color temperatures, and the ability to save up to three custom measurements.
Equally comprehensive are the in-camera image adjustments. The A2 supports Adobe RGB and sRGB color spaces. There are 3 levels of sharpening, 11 levels of contrast and color saturation, and a plethora of color filter effects. You can bracket saturation, contrast, and filter effects in three-shot sequences. There's also the same long-exposure noise-reduction function, which works by dark-frame subtraction, as we've seen in many high-resolution cameras.
The A2's lens accepts 49mm screw-on accessories, including new 0.8X wide-angle and 1.5X telephoto converters. There's a PC terminal for studio flashes and a nonstandard hotshoe for Minolta external flashes. The A2 can perform wireless multiflash exposure control with compatible Minolta off-camera flashes. The Konica Minolta Dimage A2 betters the A1's already excellent performance, and the new 922,000-pixel electronic viewfinder is a big part of that improvement. It's the first we've seen, in fact, that we could stand to use on a regular basis. The EVF looks far smoother and sharper than any other we've tried, and it responds gracefully to changes in scene illumination and metering. The 1.8-inch LCD is reasonably sharp and easy to see outdoors, though like the Olympus C-8080WZ's, it can only tilt, not swivel. Both the EVF and the LCD show virtually 100 percent of the actual image.
The A1's quick, quiet, and decisive autofocus system was among the best in the consumer digicam class, and the A2's system is even faster. Not only is it quick, the autofocus also does a decent job tracking moving subjects. You manually focus via a ring on the lens, and the camera can help you judge focus by magnifying the monitor image to twice its original size. This, plus the sharp, new EVF, makes the A2's manual focus system easily the best we've seen on a consumer digital camera. The manual zoom ring isn't as smooth and precise as those on the best interchangeable SLR lenses, but it's much better than any power zoom mechanism. In our tests, the A2's Anti-Shake function lowered the minimum shutter speed required for sharp pictures by about one f-stop.
The excellent AF system helps the A2 achieve impressively short shutter delays: 0.4 seconds in good light and only 0.6 seconds with dimly lit subjects. Start-up time is relatively quick at 2.2 seconds. Shot-to-shot time for both JPEG and RAW images individually is only 1 second, although the camera must pause for about 20 seconds after capturing three consecutive RAW shots. Unfortunately, the combination RAW+JPEG shot-to-shot time exceeds 30 seconds, rendering this otherwise very useful feature largely superfluous. The A2 also retains the A1's ho-hum continuous-shooting capabilities, recording a subpar maximum of three full-resolution photos at 3fps.
The flash's maximum range is a modestly disappointing 8.8 feet at ISO 100. On the plus side, the A2's NP-400 rechargeable lithium-ion battery cranked out an impressive 880 shots on a single charge, which should be more than enough juice to get you through a day's worth of heavy shooting. The Konica Minolta Dimage A2's photos look very good, but they're not outstanding. At ISO 64, absolute detail-resolving power, as well as image noise, ranks a notch below that of some 8-megapixel competitors at their lowest ISO sensitivities (usually ISO 50). But at ISO 100 through ISO 400, the A2 does a fine job of balancing detail and suppressing noise, and it competes head-to-head with its rivals. By ISO 800, this camera's pictures, like those we've seen from other consumer digital cameras, are extremely noisy.
The colors in our test shots looked just a tad drab at the A2's default settings, but the camera offers so many color adjustments that you can season to taste. We also noted a slight tendency to overexpose, but again, you can counteract this easily with the A2's many exposure controls. In our test photos, the camera produced accurate, pleasing skin tones. In general, the A2's automatic and preset white balance tend to be cool, but when you set them manually, it becomes reasonably neutral.
The lens displayed only slight barrel distortion at its wide-angle position and also slight pincushion distortion when zoomed to its longest telephoto setting. Other aberrations and artifacts were unusually low.