Whoever worked out this design did it with an understanding of how a modern photographer prefers to proceed, which is with a variety of fine-tuning features that can be used without going crazy.
If there was a downside to it all, we muttered, it was the slow writing speed of the camera. The 7D's buffer was sufficient for about nine high-quality JPEGs, which holds its own in the $1,500 range of DSLRs, but getting those files written to the card took forever—time for plenty of great shots to be missed. Use of the noise-reduction feature did nothing to accelerate the procedure.
The Maxxum 7D Gets Fast
Our test camera was equipped with v.1 firmware, as were all 7Ds up to about last February. Then an upgrade, v. 1.10, was substituted in the shipping product. For existing cameras, it's a free download from the Konica Minolta website, and after about five minutes' copying from a CF card, presto—new camera!
The improvement to writing speed is dramatic. The 7D now qualifies as a fast-writing camera. While some manufacturers are fond of showing how many frames in a row can be shot machine-gun style, for as long as the shutter's held down, it's not all that important for most people. What's useful?
Or, what's more useful: shooting endless bursts without image stabilization, or shooting limited bursts with image stabilization?
The 7D's new speed applies not just to writing the files, but to reviewing them on the camera monitor as well. We could whisk through a large-capacity card at a seriously fast clip. The Canon 20D is the camera best known for such rapid review of its contents. We haven't compared the two side-by-side, but we'd place them in the same league.
Maxxum 5D— The Kid Brother?
As we all know by now, of course, there's another league in digital photography—the under-$1,000 DSLRs, and the new Maxxum 5D is KM's entry. It sells for about half the MSRP of the 7D. Hoping to make this the most useful and most-used camera in its range, KM keeps the anti-shake in.
The 5D is smaller than the 7D, the earlier model having one of the most generously sized bodies available. The 5D would be considered "compact," mostly in relation to the 7D—it's tidy, but still without cramping the user.
One of the ways to reduce the body size is to reduce the number of things upon it. Dials and knobs take up space, so a few that were found sticking out of the 7D have been essentially placed inside the structure of the 5D, accessible through a special menu on the monitor screen. Invoked by pressing an Fn ("Function") button, this menu is separate from the camera's main menu system and provides user control over five sets of operating features. On their own private menu, these features are almost as accessible in the heat of shooting as they'd be through their own knobs on the top deck, though not quite. These adjustments include the autofocus; the exposure-meter pattern, which on the 7D is selected by rolling the collar as described before. It's not quite that facile with the 5D. You have to stop shooting, take your eye from the finder, access the menu, and dial in your choice. You get the same results, but not quite so seamlessly.
Other concessions have been made to cost-reductions, some less apparent than others. The prism used for the optical reflex viewfinder, for example, is composed of mirrors rather than the single hunk of glass more widely associated with SLR design. We'd expect there to be some noticeable difference in performance between the two, though in practice, switching between the two models on assignment, the viewfinder performance seemed about equal for both. The 7D has a "shakeometer" at the side of the viewfinder which, used in conjunction with the anti-shake system, informs you if you're holding the camera steadily enough for the AS to be effective. It's nice, but it gilds the lily—its absence in the 5D is no great loss.
Less obvious to the observer's eye is the construction of the two models—a magnesium frame under the skin of the 7D, a carbon-fiber plastic construction throughout the 5D. At no point did the 5D strike us as flimsy in any way, but you could probably roll over the 7D with a heavier steamroller.
Being a year newer, the 5D has a few features that exceed even the 7D—simply because progress has marched along. The 5D offers white-balance bracketing, for example—like exposure bracketing, a system of taking pictures in rapid succession with slightly modified settings, leaving you to choose the best later, at your leisure.
A "Bigger" Little Brother
Another advance of the 5D is the coverage of its pop-up flash, which extends as wide as the field of an 18mm lens (24mm for the 7D). Probably not altogether coincidentally, Konica Minolta announced an 18-200mm zoom at around the same time as the camera.
The LCD screen in the 5D measures 2.5-inches across, the same size as the 7D's, and the largest in the sub-$1,000 group of DSLRs. It has fewer pixels (115,000 compared to 207,000 for the 7D), meaning that it can't reproduce quite as much detail for the images stored in memory. In practice, however, we found it satisfactory.