I was first introduced to the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z series back in August of 2003 when I was shown an early production model of the Z1 by Minolta’s PR crew. They talked about this ‘new concept’ hybrid camera, and then they unveiled it. They were obviously very proud of it, but I have to admit I was sceptical. The Z1 looked more like a prop from a sci-fi movie rather than the latest thing in digital cameras. Then I had a chance to play with it and I quickly changed my mind. That first model did feel a little flimsy, and I wasn’t too keen on the monitor/viewfinder arrangement, but the handling simply blew me away. I’d never before used a camera that felt so natural in the hand.
The Z series is one of the few ranges of digital cameras that look absolutely nothing like any film camera. Konica Minolta gave its designers a completely free hand to build a camera around digital components rather than fitting components into an existing design, and the result is one of the best handling digital cameras on the market.
The Z5 is the latest addition to the series, and comes in at the top of the range. With a five megapixel sensor, a 2in LCD monitor, a huge 12x optical zoom lens and Konica Minolta’s innovative image stabilisation system it has a specification that is a match for almost any camera that’s currently available at this price. It’s fair to say that the Z5’s unusual design may not appeal to everyone, but you should at least give it a chance, because under that odd-looking exterior is a very capable camera.
The casing is plastic over a metal chassis, and the build quality is on the whole excellent. Although the Z5 looks light and delicate, when you pick it up it feels very strong and solid. The ergonomic design is outstanding. The large handgrip has a big rubberised pad that feels comfortable against the hand, and the control layout is so well thought-out that every button and dial can be operated entirely with the right thumb. I have been told that the Z-series is very popular with people that have limited hand mobility, and I can see why.
A couple of the controls themselves are a little on the flimsy side, especially the zoom control, which feels rough and scratchy and looks like it could be broken off with an accidental knock in the wrong place. The switch to select between the monitor, viewfinder and playback mode is also a bit suspect. It is just the right shape to catch on a bag lining or the front of a shirt. It is probably strong enough to survive, but it still looks vulnerable. Apart from those two minor criticisms however, the Z5 is a prime example of how a control layout ought to be arranged. Other manufacturers should be taking notes.
In terms of performance, the Z5 matches up to the best. It starts up in just under two seconds, and in single-shot mode at the highest resolution and quality setting, shot-to-shot time is approximately 2.5 seconds, which while not exceptional is far from slow. If that’s not fast enough, the Z5 has a special ‘Progressive’ mode for capturing fast-moving action. Press the shutter button down and hold it, and the camera starts shooting at a machine-gun like 10 frames per second, and keeps this up until you release the button. At that point, the last 20 shots in the sequence are recorded. This way you are almost certain to get a good action shot. However, with only a 16MB SD memory card stingily included, that sequence will be limited to only four (fine mode), nine (standard), and 18 (economy) pictures - probably best to get a higher capacity card at the time of purchase. The camera also has a normal continuous shooting mode capable of capturing a frame every two seconds at the highest quality setting.