Minolta Dimage XG

Last year I bought a 3 megapixel Sony Cybershot digital camera, and took more than 6,200 pictures with it in that year. I liked the camera — it produced pretty good pictures and wasn’t very big — but lately I’ve been on a kick to see just how small and lightweight I can get the various gadgets that I feel the need to carry around, and the Cybershot just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

So I wanted a camera in as small a form factor as I could find that would take pictures comparable to the Sony camera, as well as do video and audio recording. After a lot of research online I happened across what I think is the perfect mix of features, size and cost with the Minolta Dimage Xg.

First, the camera is certainly diminutive enough. Its physical dimensions are a bit larger than a credit card but only .8 inches thick and weighing only 4.2 ounces. With the Cybershot I could never just stick it in a pocket and go — the Dimage Xg practically begs to be taken everywhere.

The downside of this is that it does use a proprietary 750 ma battery (which, unfortunately, can’t be charged while in the camera — it requires a separate battery charger). I picked up a second battery for $40 and the batteries aren’t much bigger than a compact flash card, so it’s not much of a burden to carry around a spare if necessary.

An upside compared to the Sony product is that the Dimage Xg uses SD cards rather than crappy Memory Sticks (which are the most fault-prone flash memory I’ve ever used). SanDisk finally came out with a 1 gigabyte SD card a few months ago which can be had for about $250-$300. I picked up a 512 mb SD card when I purchased the camera, but will likely add a couple 1 gb cards later as I use them in many of the portable devices I own so I can put them to multiple uses.

As I said, the ability to record video was very important to me. The Sony camera I had would record 320×240 video at 15 frames per second. I ended up using that a lot more than I thought I would — I have a mid-range digital camcorder, but I found many times when something happened I wanted to record and the digital camera was with me a lot more often than the camcorder.

The Dimage Xg records video at 320×240 at up to 30 frames per second. That eats up a lot of space — about 22-24 minutes per gigabyte, so it will also let you lower the frame rate to 15 frames per second or lower the resolution to 160×120. Personally, I’m sticking with the 30 fps second video and just buying more memory cards. The video looked pretty good considering it was produced by such a diminutive device. I took my kids on walk to a nearby park the other day and recorded quite a bit of video of them tackling the slides and other playground equipment. Lots of neat stuff I can show my wife later that never would have been captured otherwise, since both the Sony camera and the camcorder I own would have both been too bulky to bring along comfortably.

The Xg will also record audio, up to a limit of 180 minutes at a time.

As I said the video quality was impressive given the size of the device, and the picture quality as pretty good as well. The pictures I take with the Xg are slightly inferior to the ones I took with the Sony camera because the Cybershot uses an Autofocus Illuminator to lock on focus, whereas the Xg doesn’t, so getting a sharply focused picture is a lot trickier. The camera has an internal 3x optical zoom that is very fast and works as advertised. Other than the focus issue, the 3 megapixel pictures I took with the Xg are comparable to the ones I took with the Cybershot.

And finally the price was right — I bought my Xg at a local camera store which was retailing them for $269 (roughly the same price they’re going for on Amazon or Buy.Com, though you can find them a bit cheaper at other online stores).

Update:

There are a couple of caveats that aren’t dealbreakers for me but might be for others:

1. First, the camera runs very hot which probably isn’t surprising given its small size. If you shoot 40-50 pictures over the span of a few minutes, as I frequently do, the camera heats up noticably.

2. The video mode looks great in outdoors settings, but is not so great in indoor settings. Video shot indoors tends to be very grainy and noisy, even under relatively good conditions.

3. As the camera is so small and lightweight, very minor hand movements can ruin shots very easily. It takes a bit of getting used to just how small the camera is, and some users might find it difficult to hold the camera as steady as possible (frequently I resort to steadying either the camera or my arms on objects in the environment).

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