Review: Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, November 12, 2000
Last Updated: Monday, November 13, 2000
the inception of digital cameras, consumers have been stuck with
zoom lenses no greater than 3X. Yes, there were some exceptions,
most notably from Sony, but for the most part you were out of luck
if you wanted something bigger. Things are starting to change though,
with Olympus' C-2100
Ultra Zoom ($999), as well as Fuji's FinePix
4900 Zoom (to be reviewed soon). These
two "big guns" have 10X and 6X optical zooms, respectively.
In the case of the the Olympus, there's an optical image stabilization
system, to help remove the "shakes" that may blur a highly
zoomed picture. Plus there's all the manual controls you can eat.
If you've been waiting for a camera like this, it's time for dinner!
950, maximum optical zoom
maximum optical zoom
shots above should illustrate the difference between the average
3X optical zoom and the C-2100's 10X "Ultra Zoom". Impressive,
in the Box?
one exception, the C-2100 has a great bundle included with the camera.
Inside the box, you'll find:
2.1 Mpixel Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom camera
AA NiMH batteries (rechargeable)
featuring Olympus Camedia Master v2.0 and Adobe PhotoDeluxe
page manual (three manuals, one in each language: English, Spanish,
main complaint here is the skimpy 8MB SmartMedia card that Olympus
chose to include. This card can hold 1 TIFF, or 5 SHQ shots, so
you'll want to buy a larger card right away.
other thing I often complain about is the lens cap. While Olympus
did include one of those, they forgot to throw the 2 cent strap
that keeps it attached to the camera, so you might lose it if you're
not careful. I'd recommend a trip to a camera store to pick up this
much needed item.
the news is good. Olympus included four 1600mAh NiMH rechargeable
batteries, as well as a charger. Olympus claims that you'll be able
to shoot about 100 photos per charge of the batteries.
all of Olympus' high-end cameras, the C-2100 comes with a wireless
remote control. You can control both record and playback mode with
the remote, and it comes in really handy when the camera is hooked
into the TV.
discussed the Camedia Master software in detail in the C-3030Z
vs. Coolpix 990 review, so you can read up on it there. While
it's no Photoshop, it does the basics well.
manual included with the camera is long and detailed, though a bit
unclear at times.
C-2100 Ultra Zoom body reminds me of the C-2500L's
body, except with a bigger snout. There's a comfortable grip for
your right hand, and plenty of room under the lens barrel for your
left. The body is mostly plastic, but it feels pretty sturdy. The
dimensions of the C-2100 are 4.44 x 3.06 x 5.56 inches, and it weighs
in at 19 ounces (1.2 lbs) empty. It didn't seem that heavy, perhaps
due to the distribution of the weight over a large area.
the front of the camera, you'll find the lens (of course), and an
AF illuminator for focusing in low light. The lens is the main event
on the C-2100 Ultra Zoom. It's a 7-70mm lens (equivalent to 38-380mm
on a 35mm camera), and it stays inside the barrel at all times.
It's also super quiet -- you hardly know it's doing anything.
back of the camera will seem familiar to any owners of recent Olympus
cameras. The 1.8" LCD is typical of Olympus cameras - bright,
clear, and smooth.
really different about the Ultra Zoom is the "optical viewfinder".
Instead of looking through glass, you're looking at a small LCD
screen, which sees exactly what the CCD of the camera is seeing.
The advantage to this is that a) it's through the lens (TTL), b)
you get to see lots of info not normally seen through the optical
viewfinder, and c) it works great outdoors, when the main LCD cannot
be used normally. My main complaint about the LCD viewfinder is
that the resolution isn't nearly as good as if you were looking
through a traditional optical viewfinder. The LCD viewfinder does
have diopter correction (just like a regular viewfinder), so those
of us with glasses can see things a little better.
buttons to the right of the LCD viewfinder are for flash settings
(rec) / delete (play), and info (both modes - more on this in next
the right of those two, is the four way switch for navigating menus.
right of that is a button for AE Lock (rec) / DPOF print marking
buttons directly to the right of the LCD monitor are for manual
focus (rec) / menus (both) / protect (play), toggling between the
LCD viewfinder and monitor / quick play mode (both modes), and invoking
onto the top of the camera. The three buttons to the left of the
LCD info display are for macro mode, metering (multi, spot, center-weighted),
and drive (single, sequential, AF sequential, self-timer/remote
control, auto bracketing).
the difference between regular sequential and AF sequential? In
the former, the camera chooses all the exposure settings and locks
them as long as you hold them down. You can capture up to 5 images
at 1.5 frames/second in SHQ mode. In sequential AF mode, the camera
recalculates exposure settings for each shot, thus slowing things
down a bit.
bracketing is a handy feature where the camera takes three or five
shots in a row, each with different exposure compensation settings.
For example, you can take shots at -0.3EV, 0EV, and +0.3EV. Sometimes
the best picture is over or underexposed, so this feature is really
LCD info display shows a wealth of information (a lot more than
seen in the above shot). Here, you can see flash settings, image
stabilization and metering, quality, ISO, and photos remaining.
mode wheel is where all the action is up here. Underneath it, you'll
find the power switch which can also reset your settings to factory
defaults. Be careful, since it's easy to do that On the mode wheel
itself, you've got several choices, including:
Mode (more below)
Manual Mode (you set aperture + shutter)
Priority Mode (you set shutter speed, camera sets aperture)
Priority Mode (you set aperture, camera sets shutter speed)
mode is a new feature for Olympus cameras, which borrows a concept
seen for a long time on Casio's cameras. You can choose from different
situations, and the camera picks the best settings for them. These
aperture priority mode, you can select from a number of choices,
ranging from f2.8 to f8.0. In shutter priority mode, you can choose
speeds from 1/2 sec to 1/800 sec.
that's where things get a bit weird. When I was first trying some
night shots, I was puzzled about why the camera wouldn't let me
go slower than 1/2 sec. After some experimentation, I realized that
you must be in full manual mode to go any slower. In manual mode,
you can choose between 16 sec and 1/800 sec. Why they chose the
1/2 sec limit in shutter priority mode is beyond me.
last item of note on the top of the camera is the shutter release
/ zoom controls. Both give very good tactile feedback, and are well-placed.
the left side of the camera, you'll find all the I/O ports, as well
as a few other things.
I/O ports, from top to bottom, are:
port (cable not included, but nice to know it's there)
in (for optional AC adapter)
ports are usually hidden under a fairly sturdy plastic door. Just
to the right of the ports, you can see a small hole - this is the
microphone. Above that is a 5 pin external flash sync port, for
Olympus' FL-40, or any other compatible flashes. Above that is the
dial for the diopter correction on the LCD viewfinder.
the other side of the camera, there's only the door to the SmartMedia
a lot of room behind that door... I can't help but wonder if there
was supposed to be a CompactFlash slot in there too at one point,
like on the C-2500L.
but not least, the bottom of the camera. The battery compartment
is covered by a locking door. I should add that it's nice to see
a camera using good old AA batteries, instead of the $75 proprietary
batteries that are all too common these days.
tripod mount, right in the middle of the camera, is surprisingly
made of plastic.
the C-2100 Ultra Zoom
going to discuss record mode in detail, covering both stills and
movies, as well as playback mode.
the C-2100 has no lens to extend, it gets ready to take pictures
quickly -- about three seconds. Shot-to-shot speed was very good
as well. In HQ mode, there's about a 2 second delay before you can
take another picture. The zoom controls were also quite responsive,
as well as smooth.
I already mentioned, the C-2100 doesn't have a traditional optical
viewfinder. So what you see above is what you'll see when you look
through it. It takes some getting used to, for sure.
C-2100 has a pretty extensive menu system, which it overlays on
top of what the camera is looking at. Here's what you'll find in
the record menus:
Stabilizer (on/off) - Olympus recommends turning this feature
off when taking night shots, or using a tripod or conversion lens
zoom (on/off) - The 2.7X digital zoom gives you a total zoom of
27X! Do note that there's a reduction in quality when using digital
balance (auto, daylight, overcast, tungsten, fluorescent) - nope,
no manual mode
(auto, 100, 200, 400) - when camera is in S/A/M modes, auto is
not an option.
intensity (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, in 1/3EV increments)
Mode (iESP, spot)
AF (on/off) - when on, camera focuses without pressing shutter
record (on/off) - record 4 second audio clips after photo is taken
function (activate) - panorama helper on Olympus-branded SmartMedia
(black & white, sepia, white board, black board)
setup - format the SmartMedia card
Setup - set basic camera prefs and defaults
- choose which mode you want
mode (TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ)
can select the resolution for both the TIFF and SQ settings, and
the compression level for the SQ mode. It takes about 15 seconds
to save a TIFF to the memory card. Now you can see why I complain
so much about cameras where it takes 3 minutes to do the same thing!
this image as JPEG (700k) or TIFF
C-2100 not only did a good job with the macro test (above), but
it also did an admirable job with the white balance. Many of the
cameras I test have a lot of trouble in this room (including my
personal Coolpix 950), but not the Ultra Zoom.
nightshot test also came out well, as you can see. There's minimal
noise, and the detail is pretty good.
shot above was taken in manual mode, so I could get the longer exposure
times. I did notice some trouble in low light settings in Program
mode, though. Take a look at some of the indoor airplane shots in
the gallery (most taken with the flash),
which show some noise. I imagine using manual mode would fix most
or all of these problems.
though, I was very pleased with the photo quality of the C-2100.
If you don't like what Program Mode gives you, you've got full manual
controls to work with as well. The shot above was taken in shutter
priority mode, and you can really see how I froze the action in
to view movie (6.8MB, QuickTime format)
Ultra Zoom has a nice movie mode as well, which lets you capture
QuickTime video, with sound, at 320 x 240. On the included 8MB card,
you can take up to 23 seconds of 320 x 240 video, or about 100 seconds
at 160 x 120. If you have a 16MB or larger card, you can get 35
and 145 seconds, respectively. And the best part? You can use the
big 10X zoom during filming! Take a look at the sample above to
see what I mean. [Updated 11/14/00]
Ultra Zoom's playback mode covers all the bases. There's slideshows,
image protection, DPOF print marking, zoom & scroll, and more.
camera takes about 3 seconds to go between SHQ photos (there's no
low res thumbnail to tide you over). You can zoom out to 9 thumbnails
at once, or zoom in to take a closer look at your photo. The zoom
& scroll mode, as I call it, is pretty good - you can zoom in
as far as 3X, and then move around inside the picture. The only
wish I have here is that the scrolling around was a bit snappier
-- you've got to hold the four-way switch down for a bit before
it really starts moving.
you want to get more info about a photo, you just press the Info
button. While not as detailed as some cameras, I think most users
will be happy with the information given.
other nice feature is the ability to rotate photos, by using the
macro and drive buttons. You'd never know about this feature unless
you read the manual, though.
only thing really missing here is the ability to delete a group
of photos at a time.
Does it Compare?
hard to compare the C-2100 Ultra Zoom, since there aren't too many
cameras out there with a zoom like this. As a 2.1 Megapixel camera,
it's a great one -- it's basically the C-2020Z with a large zoom
lens. It's also got all the necessary manual features (with the
exception of white balance), movies with sound, and a great bundle.
If you want to break out of the 3X optical zoom mode, the C-2100
is a great way to do it!
optical zoom. Need I say more?
processing in both record and playback modes
bundle includes battery kit and remote control
photo quality in most cases
I didn't care for:
limitation of shutter speeds in shutter priority mode
manual white balance
in low light shots in Program mode (see gallery)
totally sold on the LCD viewfinder idea
only other cameras with zooms like this are the Casio
QV-2800 (8X zoom; I believe it is only sold in the education
FinePix 4900 Zoom (6X), and the Sony MVC-CD1000
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try this
camera and the competition before you buy!