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First released in 2005, Konica Minolta's Dimage Z5 was one of the first 'super zoom' cameras that I owned, sporting a healthy 35 - 420mm range. Seven years ago a 12X zoom was an impressive achievement, although it's a little tame when compared to the 30X+ lenses which are commonplace these days. Originally priced at £299, the five megapixel Z5 can now be purchased in used condition on eBay for as little as £20.
Design, Appearance & Menus
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There's no getting away from it, the Z5 is a rather ugly camera - a number of slivery plastic protrusions make it appear like a modern camera designed in the 1960s. That said, the elongated grip section is comfortable to hold, and the shutter release button is in an easily accessible location. Although chunky, the build is a little flimsy (undoubtedly down to the choice of plastic rather than metal for the body material) - but then that's one of the reasons why Konica Minolta were able to sell the product fairly cheaply. At 108.5 x 80 x 84 mm, the camera isn't too big to fit into a small bag, and is a little smaller than many of its super zoom contemporaries.
Around the back, the two inch LCD screen performs adequately in bright conditions, and is relatively reflection free. As well as composing your shots via the LCD, the Z5 also has an electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is extremely useful. When you look into the viewfinder you'll effectively be looking at a tiny screen, and although some users report eye-strain with EVF systems, I found it to be perfectly useable for long periods of time.
In terms of the menu system, the Z5 is an easy camera to get to grips with, making it great for anyone who isn't experienced with digital cameras. Even though there are a number of manual options to fiddle around with, the numerous preset scene modes will do all the work for you if you wish. Arguably the Z5's most impressive feature is its super macro mode - here you can focus as close in as 1cm from your subject, and achieve some excellent results.
Optics & Image Quality
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The zoom is quick to navigate through the entire range - and fairly quiet too, although it does protrude a long way from the body at full telephoto. The anti-shake mechanism is really effective, and at maximum zoom gives you significantly less wobble. There is less barrel distortion than you would expect, and similarly purple fringing (another common issue with the cheaper super zoom cameras) is low. In my experience, I have found that the Dimage is quick to focus in all conditions - however, from the perspective of image quality, the Z5 is unfortunately disappointing. In fact, it produces more image noise (throughout the entire ISO 50 - 320 ISO range) than any other camera I have owned. In fairness, ISO 50 is *acceptable* in bright conditions - but as soon as the light fades, things become remarkably poor; even in the brightest daylight ISO 320 is awful. Colours are similarly a little muted and muddy, although pictures are reasonably sharp by default.
Additional Features & Battery Life
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The camera's pop-up flash is powerful enough for most situations, and has a range of around twelve foot. The camera takes SD cards, and comes shipped with a (measly by today's standards) 16mb version. Four AA batteries slot into the underside of the grip, of which you should be using the NiMh variety for best results. The battery life is respectable - and with the aforementioned NiMhs, the two-hundred-and-forty shots quoted by Konica Minolta isn't an exaggeration. The movie mode is similarly effective, allowing you to shoot at 640 x 480 pixels @ thirty frames per second, with the zoom available during recording.
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Overall, the Dimage Z5 is a disappointing camera - It's as if Konica Minolta decided that they would focus all of their efforts on the zoom, and not really bother ensuring that the general image quality is up to scratch. That said, there are a number of points in the camera's favour including ease of use, the excellent anti-shake mechanism, and the fact that it's a comfortable device to hold. I would only recommend this camera for use in bright conditions at ISO 50 - anything else, and you'll be disappointed by the image noise it produces.
I have owned this camera for 2 years now and it takes some great shots. The 12X zoom in conjunction with the anti shake mechanism is a god send. Although a little chunky to take everywhere (ie Pubs and Clubs) its perfect for for everything else. It has a host of features and can be set to be either fully automatic or fully manual. It can be a bit tempromental at times tho