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I was looking to move into the digital era, and not having a huge amount of money the Minolta S414 was recommended by a friend. All I can say now is that I will never go back to film cameras.
It is hard to know where to start with this camera, but I will start with the heart of the camera, the lens. The lens (Minolta GT) was one of the main selling points as far as I was initially concerned. Its specs and reputation preceded it. I was not disappointed when I finally got my Minolta Dimage S414, the images produced are crisp and accurate, and I have only noticed aberrations in the most difficult of situations. The end of the lens supports a thread that any 35.5mm lens or filter can be attached to, for those wishing to do so.
The camera has three main capture modes; Auto, Manual and Video. The auto mode is very much a point and click orientated mode, the camera making all necessary calculations and adjustments. There are, however, adjustments for image size and quality. There are 6 presets within the auto mode (Macro, Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Text and Macro Text) giving best auto results in these varying situations. The macro mode gives exceptional quality, close-up, images, and is the best that I have seen on the small range of cameras I have been exposed to. The video mode is pretty basic at 320 x 240 pixels but useful for capturing those little one-off moments. Now to my favourite mode, the manual mode (Multi-function). This mode allows you to adjust all the settings for the capture of that perfect image, although you donít have to adjust everything yourself because there is the option of Ďautoí for most settings. Adjustments include: exposure, focus, aperture priority, white balance, sensitivity, and the list goes on. This is one of the best points of the camera allowing you to have full control over the final image.
I have read a few criticisms of this camera and heard a few from other people that have borrowed mine, none of which I think are true problems that cannot be overcome, believe me they are worth overcoming for the price of this camera and the quality images it produces. Firstly people criticise the size and weight, this is personally not a problem for me because I donít have the smallest of hands and it feels good to have something substantial in your hand. Batteries and memory are two more points regularly raised, when I was looking at buying very few cameras had rechargeable batteries or large memory cards, and you might as well go out and buy those which suit your needs. I bought 2 sets of 2100 mAh batteries and a charger, to allow continuous camera use, and I bought a couple of 128 MB cards to allow for my two separate uses of the camera. Another battery life saver is the humble card reader for your pc; this means you donít have to use the transfer mode on the camera (this uses the batteries).
Going back to the lens and its thread, I found a company that makes 35.5mm filters and to improve image quality and to protect my camera I bought 2 filters a skylight filter and a circular polariser. The skylight is a clear piece of glass that protects the camera lens from scratches, and at £5 is cheaper to replace than the entire lens. The circular polariser eliminates some of the inherent problems of digital cameras, such as greying due to UV exposure, and allows image enhancement, deeper sky shades etc. One thing I do have a problem with this camera over is the lens cap, it is held in place by two plastic springs, which have now broken. I will have to find a replacement eventually, but am not too worried as I still have the protection given by the skylight filter.
My final word has to be on build quality, which in the case of the Minolta Dimage S414 is excellent. Although the body is lightweight aluminium it is incredibly tough (unlike some cameras with plastic cases), there are no rattles or vibrations, just smooth operation. The true build quality was demonstrated in an incident I donít plan to repeat. Whilst on holiday I slipped down a flight (6) of concrete steps during which time the camera left my hand and bounced on most of the steps, the result of which was no more than 2 scratches on opposing corners, I hate to think what would have happened if it hadnít been so well built.