I waited several years for this. My trusty Olympus OM10 was starting to fall apart, and I was itching to go digital, looking forward to doing my own cropping, enlarging and printing on the home pc. Finally there it was, the Minolta Dimage 7i. A 5 mega pixel 28-200mm digital camera that I could afford. I read the magazines, and paid careful attention to the reviews posted here, noting especially the observations about battery life. I was slightly put off by the appearance, which I felt made it look cheaper than it is, and I suppose I would have preferred something that looked more like a black-bodied SLR. However, I did like the fact that it takes ordinary AA rechargeable batteries, rather than expensive custom cells, and that fact really swung it for me.
That was a year ago, I have been using the camera constantly, and have not regretted buying it for an instant.
It has been used for family snapshots, portraits, 'arty episodes', and for photographing items for sale on e-bay. I have found that the best results on e-bay are achieved when you have nice pictures of what you are selling, and this camera delivers perfectly. It scores in several areas. It allows you to take reference shots of plain white paper, and then compensates the balance to remove the yellow or orange effect of electric light, so you can illuminate your subject with cheap lights. It has a macro switch that locks the lens for close ups, and moveable cross hairs that allows you to place the focus point exactly where you want it. Some of my favourite results have been achieved in this way. Miniature wargaming figures really come to life on the monitor, in beautiful clarity, showing detail that the naked eye can't resolve. You can find depths of texture and interest in all kinds of subject, even raindrops on the window come out looking like works of art. And it is really easy to do all this. The various switches and dials become second nature in no time at all, and are all in exactly the right place, so you never have to take your eye from the viewfinder.
It does good family snapshots. Anyone can be shown how to point it and shoot, and of course they can review their efforts instantly, deleting duff shots and retaking them if necessary. And when the kids or pets do something amusing you can flick to video, and film the whole thing, with sound. An entire card of images will upload to the pc in a few minutes, or you can browse them on the viewfinder, or display them on your TV via the cables provided.
Previous reviewers have commented on battery life, and I would endorse what they say. A trip to Maplins bagged me several sets of 1800mAh NiMH cells (about £10 for a set of four). You have to keep them topped up, and preferably have a couple of spare sets handy, but armed this way should never have problems. I have taken up to a hundred still frames on occasions, and never been caught short. For longer trips in the field it might be worth getting some gel cells that can be fast charged from the car lighter socket. One thing you can do to vastly increase battery life is set the display to eyepiece only, as the LCD panel is very hungry.
At higher levels of detail images can get quite large, but I have found Jpeg-high to be good enough to print out A4 images on quality photographic paper. A 256MB card (costing about £40) will hold at least 90 of these images.
My camera did come with a lens cap, and the quality of construction is deceptive. The carcass is cast magnesium alloy. At first glance it may look like the kind of silver plastic that cheap stereo systems are made of, but in fact it is the other way around. The plastic stereos have been made to resemble this stuff. This alloy construction is to the highest standard, strong, solid and light, and it feels like it will last for ever. You don't get any sort of carry case, but there are plenty on the market. I picked up a Lowe Pro case that offers plenty of padding and has space for spare batteries, for about £20.
The software that comes with the camera is very basic, and if you want to fiddle around with your pictures, cropping, enlarging etc. you will need some extra software. I have been managing with an ancient and clanky suite called iPhoto plus, that should have been binned ages ago, but should be getting Photoshop elements soon, which I am told will help me move on a level or two.
To sum up I would recommend this camera highly to anyone with a little experience of SLRs, or even a complete beginner. It is economical in use, encourages you to develop your skills, and is highly rewarding.