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The digital pic

Minolta DiMAGE X digital camera.

The digital pic

Good things do come in small packages, especially digital cameras. The Minolta DiMAGE X is a tiny but elegant digicam whose compact design makes it easy to carry in a shirt pocket.

Weighing only 4.8 ounces, the DiMAGE X is smaller, lighter, and thinner than most digital cameras, but it’s so small that you need to be careful not to stick one of your fingertips in front of the lens. The zoom lens delivers a 35mm equivalent of 37mm-111mm, making it ideal for general snapshooting and modest close-ups. (You can get within 10 inches of your subject.) The zoom control itself is an odd little rocker switch that you click up and down to zoom in and out, but you quickly get the hang of it. A 2x digital zoom is available when you need some extra reach. The built-in flash provides a range of eight to 10 feet, depending on zoom setting, and is particularly effective considering its small size.

Optical performance is amazingly good; Minolta has wrung excellent quality from the camera’s optics and electronics. Images up to 1,600-by-1,200 resolution can be captured in Super Fine (TIFF), Fine, Standard, or Economy modes. Other resolution modes (1,280-by-960, 640-by-480) are available. Using the TIFF option, you can capture 5.3×4-inch 300dpi files, but the image quality is so good that you can easily make larger prints. Storage is via Secure Digital (SD) and Minolta bundles an 8MB card, but you’ll only get one TIFF file on the bundled card, so it’s a good idea to invest in a higher-capacity one. You can record up to 35 seconds of digital video with audio, attach a 15-second audio recording to a photo, or get up to 90 seconds of audio without an image.

The DiMAGE X uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery that slips into the same compartment that holds the SD card. Just slide the door down and you can pop out the battery and insert it into the bundled charger. With charging times at less than an hour, it doesn’t take long before the battery is fully charged and ready to be used again. That’s a good thing, because if you leave the LCD screen on too long, it’ll make lunch of this compact battery. Get into the habit of tapping the Monitor button twice to turn off the screen, and you’ll be able to go all day before running out of power.

The digicam is bundled with a USB cable that originates from a tiny port on one end of the camera. No software is needed for downloading images: On all the new Mac OS and Windows XP computers I tried, the DiMAGE X appeared on the desktop as an external drive, so you can simply drag files onto your hard disk. This works great when downloading images onto a laptop in the field.

The Minolta DiMAGE X packs more fun and image quality into a sub-$400 digital camera than anything else available in its price range.

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