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I came to own my A2 after the CCD in my A1 failed, and the store I bought it from gave me a sweet deal on an upgrade. If you came to this review with a thought along the lines "should I get an A1 or an A2?" having owned both I can confidently give you a two-word answer: A2, period.

That said, I'll do this in list fashion. Here's what I like about my A2:

* Extremely versatile lens. At 28 mm, it is the widest you'll find in any prosumer camera, and it will still give you a 7x magnification factor (200 mm equivalent). Minolta sells converters to expand the range to 22 - 300 mm. This is truly fantastic in a non-interchangeable lens camera.

* Mechanically-linked zoom. No fiddling with +/- buttons, waiting for the motor to get where you want, and making neverending adjustments when you overshoot your desired focal lenght. You get to your desired zoom level in a snap, with total precision.

* An incredibly well designed body that fits efortlessly in your hands and gives you one-touch access to most functions. You barely every have to worry about navigating menus; everything you need to get that picture just right can often be accessed trough external buttons. The camera also has 5 custom memory positions to store your favorite settings, which you can recall with a single touch.

* A high resolution EVF, which in conjunction with the (one-touch) magnification function can actually be used to judge focus.

* Anti-shake. This is what distinguishes the A1/A2 from its competitors. Minolta's unique anti-shake system operates by stabilizing the CCD rather than the lens; it gives you an extra 2 focus stops for handheld shots. I have managed to pull off sharp images at 1/4 sec, handheld. 1/8 is never a problem.

* Extremely life-like renditions. While some complain that the A2 produces flat and dull pictures, I see this as a true reflection of reality, with the camera applying almost no internal correction. Other cameras will perform saturation and sharpening to give the images more punch. The A2, at its standard settings, does none. The result is that you get the original, untouched information, to fiddle with as you best see fit. You can always saturate and sharpen your images, either in the camera or in post-processing, but the choice is yours.

* Buffer management is excellent. The buffer holds up to three RAW images, which allows you to bracket even at the highest quality. Even when the buffer is full, the camera will not lock up, allowing you to change the settings for the next picture. And, as soon as the first image has been written to the card, you can take another one, thus minimizing the wait time between pictures.

I could go on and on. In general, this camera allows you to customize every single aspect of taking pictures, while handing you the image information as unprocessed as possible, should you choose to. I would not recommed it for someone who wants stunning pictures right out of the camera; some amount of post-processing will be necessary for optimal results. But if you are willing to do that, the A2 will hand you images with fantastic potential.

That said, there are a few things that bug me:

* The white balance presets are abysmal. Go out in a sunny day, choose the sunny white balance preset, and your pictures will be as green as it gets. This is more a nuisance than a real problem, since you can either shoot RAW and apply your preferred white balance setting, or use the one-touch custom white balance function, which always gets it dead on. The latest firmware upgrade is rumoured to alleviate this problem, but I haven't had a chance of testing it.

* Flash metering is horrible. Every flash picture, whether using the laughable built-in flash or an external unit, comes out underexposed at the normal settings. You have to use heavy positive flash compensation.

* The noise/sensitivity trade-off is quite limiting. At ISO 64, there is no noticeable noise to speak of, but you need lots of light (although the fantastic f/2.8 lens is a big help). Beyond ISO 100, noise starts to become a problem, and it is impossible to get a decent quality shot at ISO 400 and 800. Some units (including mine) display a diagonal noise phenomenon at high ISO, and this cannot be addressed by noise removal software. Overexposing a bit helps with noise, but at the higher ISO ratings there is really nothing you can do. Given this, is tripod is an investment that will soon pay for itself.

On a more prosaic level, there are a couple of minor nuisances:

* The LCD swivels 90 degrees upwards, but only 20 downwards. It doesn't swivel to the sides. In certain occasions, this can be limiting.

* The EVF has an eyepiece with a brutal magnification, and hence very high curvature. If you wear glasses, light will get in and you will see some reflections.

Finally, it should be noted that the incidence of quality control problems with KM cameras seems to be quite high. I have had no trouble with my A2, but my A1 died after barely a month of use. People in online forums have reported a variety of issues, such as focusing and noise problems. The new firmware update (currently 1.12) should address most of them, but it is still early to tell. If you get an A2 (and any other camera, for that matter), make sure it is from a trusted store with a generous return policy.

Overall, I am in love with this camera, and I think is a terrific product at its price and features point. Its limitations stem from the current state of technology (for example, the CCD is the same found in all 8 MP cameras, manufactured by Sony). It gives you terrific versatility without the need to shell out the big bucks for an interchangeable-lens dSLR and its collection of lenses. It has a somewhat steep learning curve, but given the extremely high quality of its output, the possibilities it offers are limitless.

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by Mauricio9 See Profile edited by tmpchaos See Profile
last modified: 2004-06-12 00:55:45