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Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D Review

DT Editor's Choice

Highs

  • Sturdy; nicely-featured 6.1MP D-SLR

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 9.0

Lows

  • Poor LCD screen; very accurate images don't have real "pop"
The new 6.1-megapixel Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D is part of a fast-growing D-SLR trend.

Summary

The new 6.1-megapixel Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D is part of a fast-growing D-SLR trend. Companies typically introduce loaded models at high prices then follow-up with slightly stripped down editions for less. Witness the original Nikon D70 and the new D50 Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras, the Olympus E1 and  Evolt E-300, the original Pentax *ist D and the new *ist DS2. Depending on the company you’ll save hundreds. In the case of the Maxxum 5D, it’s $400 less than the 7D for the body only ($799 versus $1,199) and close to that including a lens. The 5D comes with a 18-70mm zoom while the 7D gets a 28-100mm lens selling for $899 and $1,289 respectively. Now we’re big fans of saving money–as long as the value and quality is still there. After shooting with the Maxxum 5D we found saving cash is a very good thing. Now is this the D-SLR of your dreams? Click on, my friends, click on…

Features and Design

The Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D is a bruiser of a camera, weighing in at 20.8 ounces for the body only, six ounces less than the 7D. The 7D has a magnesium body accounting for the extra weight. When you add the things you’ll need such as a lens, CompactFlash card and battery it tips the scales at 33.4 ounces. Remember: D-SLRs are commitments so expect to buy a bag in order to carry all the goodies around.

The black-bodied camera is made of carbon fiber and plastic. Although slightly less intimidating than its more expensive sibling, it still reeks of heavy-duty photo firepower. There’s no mistaking this for a Canon Digital ELPH. There’s a nice grip with a conveniently placed shutter button as well as a control wheel to make manual adjustments. The front is fairly plain but the key thing to note is the “AS Anti-Shake” logo–and of course the slot for interchangeable lenses. The built-in Anti-Shake CCD is one of the key selling points of this D-SLR since it acts as an image stabilizer, letting you shoot at slower shutter speeds without blur. And it works with all Minolta AF lenses so you don’t have to buy expensive glass with built-in image stabilization as offered by Canon and Nikon. The front also has the Depth of Field preview button.

The top of the 5D has that analog (35mm SLR) feel with dials used to adjust white balance and the various modes including Program Auto Exposure settings such as Portrait, Landscape and so on. In the old days the dials were used to wind the film and change shutter speeds–thank God for progress! You’ll also find an ISO button, a self-timer/burst button as well as a cap for the hot shoe and the flash that has to be manually raised. It’s on the rear of the 5D that you’ll see the biggest differences with the 7D. Many of advanced settings such as a Spot AF button and a Focus Area switch are gone. However, there’s still plenty to play with. There’s a 2.5-inch LCD to read the very clear menus and review your shots, the optical viewfinder with eye sensor that shuts off the LCD when you bring the camera to your face and the Anti-Shake on/off switch. The 5D’s LCD is rated 115k pixels while the 7D is 207k, a huge difference. There are also keys for Fn, +/- and AEL that stand for Function and Auto Exposure Lock. The +/- lets you adjust exposure compensation, enlarge the playback image and more.

By pressing the Fn button you can access features that show this camera is for serious hobbyists such as advanced metering and focus modes as well as overall color tone (natural, B&W, two types of Adobe RGB).

One side of the camera has the CompactFlash card slot while on the opposite side you’ll find a key to switch between auto and manual focus.

The camera is supplied with a neck strap, body cap, a Lithium Ion battery and charger, two CDs with DiMage Master Lite, Kodak EasyShare software and instruction manuals in various languages. There’s also a 148-page printed owner’s manual but no Quick Start guide, something a camera this intimidating needs for first-timers and film converts. Like all D-SLRs, no memory card is supplied so budget for a 512MB or 1GB high-speed card. A 1GB SanDisk Ultra II such as the one I used is $129 on the company site but a web search will find better prices. After charging the battery, attaching the 18-70mm kit lens that equals 27-105mm in 35mm terms, loading the card and setting the resolution to RAW+JPEG it was time to fire away.

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D
Image Courtesy of Konica Minolta

Performance

The Maxxum 5D is ready to go the moment you turn it on. And when you do it’s like getting behind the wheel of a sports car and turning the ignition key; you just know you have a lot of extra power under the hood. Although heavy, the camera feels just right with a nice grip for your right hand while your left steadies the body and adjusts the zoom lens. Very nice. Initially I shot at the default settings in Auto and used the LCD to review my photos in the field. It was here I noticed the limitations of the screen for at only 115K pixels, it’s not the most detailed (you can zoom up to 4.7x to check the focus though). Another thing that’s hard to miss is camera noise–not digital but aural. When you click the shutter, you know it as the roof mirror flaps. And when you fire a burst (3 fps maximum) you might consider a pair of Shure E4c noise-canceling headphones! That’s a bit of an exaggeration but this is one loud camera. And here’s another difference between the 7D; the 5D can save only five frames in RAW versus nine for the 7D simply because it has less memory for storage (64MB versus 128MB).

Using a camera like the Maxxum 5D in Auto is like driving a Porsche 911 with an automatic transmission. It works fine but oh, can it do a lot more. The 5D has a number of Program AE setting like those found on point-and-shoot cameras (Portrait, Landscape, High-Speed Shutter, Sunset and Night Portrait). They’re nice but keep turning the mode dial and you’ll get to Manual where the Photo Gods offer their wares. You can adjust shutter speed (30-1/4000th of a second plus bulb), aperture, ISO (up to 3200) and more white balance settings than you thought possible. There are also advanced exposure, focus and metering adjustments as well as lots more. This one will keep you fiddling with the menu for hours on end, just to see the camera’s capabilities.

The quality of the images I shot in bright early Fall light was excellent, with very accurate colors and fine detail when viewed on a PC monitor and turned into 8.5×11 prints. I too played with the camera’s manual adjustments, especially pushing the ISO indoors. Is there grain at 3200? Of course but it really didn’t become too noticeable until 800 on my prints. The Anti-Shake mechanism did a very solid job, letting me take indoor shots at high ISOs without much blur at all. The battery did its Energizer Bunny thing and just kept going–it’s terrific.

Overall I was happy with photo quality and even after a long evaluation period barely drilled as deeply into the feature set as was possible. As previously noted, these features will keep photo enthusiasts entertained for a long, long time. Dare I say it? I actually was happy shooting away in Auto with excellent shot-to-shot time, little lag and very fast focusing. Yet something kept nagging at me as I packed the camera away…

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D
Image Courtesy of Konica Minolta

Conclusion

If you owned an older Minolta camera and have a collection of Minolta A-mount lenses, choosing this $899 D-SLR is a no-brainer; it’s an excellent D-SLR. The brain buster occurs for folks with a clean slate and are surveying the ever-growing D-SLR landscape, some of the better 7- and 8MP digicams or the wild card 10.3MP $999 Sony DSC-R1 due November 20th. Although I really liked this camera, I was just slightly disappointed by the overall quality since I love my eye candy. Yes it took very nice photos indoors and out and some of the prints were lovely. Yet they weren’t as good as the 8-megapixel Canon Rebel XT. I even tweaked saturation levels and it really didn’t help that much. Even though that camera is nowhere near as sophisticated as the 5D and is less solidly built, I’d opt for pure picture firepower. It’s amazing to say but 6MP really doesn’t stand out in 2005–especially if you like large prints as I do or have reviewed many 7- and 8-megapixels cameras. Safe to say, most D-SLR owners like large prints for their walls, friends and family. And I have my eye on the DSC-R1, the updated version of the DSC-F828 with a 24-120mm lens. Although non-interchangeable this is a good, convenient focal length. I vividly remember getting sick and tired of swapping lenses on my old classic Nikon F2 and buying one of the first point-and-shoot 35mm cameras with a 35-105mm zoom. Although it didn’t have the cachet of a Nikon, that Olympus IS1 did the job. I hate to punt but if you’re a true photo enthusiast without Minolta lenses in the closet the 8.2-megapixel Canon EOS20D is the best bet for D-SLR buyers. At $1,299 for the body only, it’s no bargain but it is a great camera, generally considered the finest “non professional” D-SLR. Then again I might wait for that 10-megapixel Sony. Choice is really a terrible thing…

Pros:

  • Very sturdy, hefty build
  • Accurate color, fine detail
  • Extensive manual adjustments
  • Excellent battery life (550 shots per CIPA standard)
  • Uses affordable CF cards

Cons:

  • Images don’t “sing”
  • Fairly step learning curve for beginners
  • Much, much heavier than a point-and-shoot
  • Also much more expensive
  • LCD could be better