It's no secret that we here at Pop Photo like our cameras with lots of dials and levers-not as a matter of aes-thetics (although they do look impressive), but because they provide faster access to more controls than a menu system. Konica Minolta's Maxxum 7D is that camera, squared: Among the numerous external controls is a dedicated dial for white balance, an exposure-compensation dial calibrated in both 1⁄2- and 1⁄3-EV steps, plus a flash-compensation dial. And all the settings you make are displayed in one place: the huge, very readable, 2.5-inch LCD. But the 7D's extensive control options aren't limited to the levers and dials.
Documentation report: While it occasionally lapses into unintentional hilarity ("Always keep the camera strap around your neck in the event that you drop the camera"), the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D's instruction manual is one of the better ones. It's logically organized, clearly written, well illustrated, with important reference points highlighted in the appropriate places. Given this, and the 7D's out-in-the-open controls, the camera doesn't have any real deep secrets…but quite a few subtleties that you may have missed.
1. Spot the difference: Want to know how an evaluative or centerweighted meter reading differs from the spot reading of a specific tone? In manual or any autoexposure mode, press the autoexposure lock (AEL) button to lock the exposure of a scene. Now, the 7D's spotmeter stays live as long as you maintain slight pressure on the shutter button, and both exposure scales (in the viewfinder and on the rear control panel) show a second index point corresponding to the spot reading.
2. Manual speed shifter: Once you've set a manual exposure to your liking, pressing and holding the AEL button allows you to twirl either front or back input dials and shift to an equivalent exposure-sort of like EV lock. Are the dual-finger gymnastics too much? We think so. Go into Custom Menu 1, scroll to AEL button, and change the setting to "Toggle." Now you need only press and release AEL to couple shutter and aperture. (Just remember to hit the button again to release the locked exposure.)
3. The smoothie setting: You know that slightly ratchety feel you get when you use manual focus with Konica Minolta autofocus lenses? Want to get rid of it? You may have missed this trick buried way in the back of the manual: Set the AF switch on the camera to "M" for manual. Now press the lens-lock button simultaneously with the center button of the AF jog dial. Release the lens lock first, then the jog-dial button. (The sequence is critical; if you do it out of order, it doesn't work.) This disengages the AF mechanism entirely and makes the focusing ring noticeably smoother. Switching back to autofocus cancels it.
4. Get in the zone: The interesting function called "zone matching" is given a rather perfunctory des-cription in the 7D's manual. Zone matching works something like automatic exposure and contrast compensation for shooting high-key or low-key pictures. (High keys have a predominance of light tones close together; low keys are made up of closely spaced dark tones.) If this is the look you want, go to Custom Menu 4, under ISO button set. Switch from default to Zone Matching. Now, the ISO button on the back of the camera allows you to select High Key or Low Key as your effect. Simply take the picture at a normal meter setting, in any exposure mode, and the camera will bunch up tones at the high or low end accordingly.
5. Workmanlike compensation: The 7D is one of the few cameras that lets you use exposure compensation in manual mode. This isn't as trivial as it sounds. Suppose you routinely want to underexpose a series of pictures by 1⁄3-stop (-0.3 EV). Or you're shooting a high-key subject and want to keep the exposure 2⁄3-stop hot (+0.7 EV). Just set the desired compensation, and when you set the match scale exposure, it will incorporate this adjustment. (Why not just fiddle with the ISO like with a film camera? Remember that with a digital camera, changing the ISO setting doesn't shift the meter, but boosts the signal from the sensor to mimic higher sensitivity at the cost of increased noise.)
6. The obligatory mys-tery mirror lockup: Yes, it's there, with the 2-sec self-timer. When you press the shutter, the mirror locks up immediately, with the exposure happening after a 2-sec delay.
7. Secret speedy setting: Like several other DSLRs, the Maxxum 7D buries an ISO 3200 sensitivity setting in a custom setting-in this case, bank 4, under ISO menu setup. Switch it to "ISO 100-3200" and you can "push" the capture speed a stop more from ISO 1600. We found the noise levels here moderate in our test-certainly usable for available-light shooting. So break out that f/5.6 mirror lens.
8. Don't overstabilize: The Maxxum 7D's chip-based Anti-Shake System is a wonder: It can counteract hand shake with nearly any lens you can mount on the camera-including independent brands. But you can overdo it. As do other manufacturers of image-stabilized SLR systems, KM recommends that you turn off Anti-Shake when the camera is mounted on a tripod. If you don't, the 7D may try to "stabilize" a steady camera, causing a feedback loop that results in less sharpness. Too much of a good thing.
9. Quick focusing switch, part I: If you believe in careful manual focusing for critical sharpness, you should know about the AF/MF button. This instantly switches the camera to the alternate focusing mode-to manual if you're in AF, to AF if you're in manual. So, if you're using manual focus, hit the AF/MF button along with a light press of the shutter to focus the lens quickly, then release it for fine fiddling. Don't like pressing two buttons? You can switch the AF/MF button to toggle operation in Custom Menu 1. Scroll to AF/MF button and change it to "Toggle." (Note: If you've opted for smooth focus, described in #3, the AF/MF button doesn't work.)
10. Quick focusing switch, part II: Here's another quick switch for focusing finicks. Go to Custom Menu 1, scroll down to Auto AF setup, and switch from default to "DMF" (for direct manual focus). Now, when the camera is set to "A" on the focus-mode dial, the camera will focus in this sequence: As soon as the AF achieves focus, the camera will flip the AF into direct manual focus, allowing you to touch up or vary focus with the manual ring as long as you maintain slight pressure on the shutter button. It's neat and speedy.
We talk about flash units "mating" with cameras, but in the case of the Maxxum 7D and its dedicated flashes, the camera and flash have to literally couple before you can use wireless flash. Oddly, the Maxxum 5600HS (D) and 3600HS (D) flashes do not have a built-in switch to enable wireless control. You must attach the flash to the 7D hot-shoe, turn both flash and camera on, and, in the camera's shooting menu 2, change Flash mode to Wireless. Now you can disconnect the flash and work wirelessly.