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DCRP Review: Olympus C-2500L
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Creator/Webmaster]
Last revised: Wednesday, February 9, 2000

When the Olympus C-2500L first caught my eye, I was thrilled. After all, my second digital camera was an Olympus D-300L, which was soon replaced with the D-600L (I can't believe I paid over $1000 for that thing!). I was disappointed when the SLR-style body disappeared from Olympus' lineup... but it soon reappeared in the C-2500L! Is this camera as good as it looks? Read on...

What's in the Box

With one notable exception, Olympus has a superb bundle with the C-2500L.

Inside the box for the camera, you'll find:

  • The 2.5 Mpixel C-2500L camera
  • 32MB SmartMedia card (nice!)
  • Four NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • NiMH battery charger
  • Serial cable with Mac adapter
  • Video out cable
  • Camera strap
  • CD-ROM containing Camedia Master utilities
  • An 85 page manual (English then Spanish)

The above battery charger bears a strong resemblance to the Epson charger I saw recently-- probably the same one. Olympus includes four 1450 mAh batteries, which should get you started. I'd recommend at least another set, though.

Olympus includes a 32MB SmartMedia card - finally someone has figured it out that 8MB cards don't cut it!

While the C-2500L does include a lens cap, it's the type that you have to hang onto, attach to the camera strap, or get one of those lens cover straps. Once it's on the lens, it will not fall off, at least.

A major short coming with this camera is the lack of USB support. It's a $1500 camera! Come on, people! I figure since Olympus' new C-3030Z includes USB, the next version of the C-2500L will have it. I hope.

Olympus won't win any awards with their manual for the camera. While there's only one language per page, there's tons of little boxes with little details on every page. In other words, it's not easy reading. One nice but too short section of the manual explains how to take better night and close-up shots.

Look and Feel

For the most part, the C-2500L is very well designed. There is plenty of support for the right hand, and all the buttons are in the right place. However, due to the placement of the AF illuminator (see above, under the lens), you can't really wrap your left hand around the lens. Of course, when you actually see how effective the illuminator is, you'll probably learn to live with it. One thing that both my dad and myself commented on was that it felt a little too "plastic" for a $1500 camera.

The C-2500L has a big snout, but it's not a bulky camera. The camera's weight is comparable to my Coolpix 950. The lens is self-contained, which is nice, and it's threaded for 43mm attachments as well. The flash pops up using a button on the side of the camera-- so no accidental flashes.

Lets begin our C-2500L tour now:

The controls on the back of the camera are well laid out, and easy to understand. The optical viewfinder is TTL (through the lens), so what you see is what you get. There's also diopter correction for those of us without perfect vision.

Below that is the LCD display; One thing that I found a little weird was that you cannot preview photos on the LCD! This is one of very few cameras where you ONLY take photos through the optical viewfinder! I found this a little weird, but it sure saves batteries! There's situations where I like to use the LCD to frame photos -- your mileage may vary. Nose smudging will be a problem for those who are left eye dominant.

The two little buttons above the LCD are for switching memory cards (more on this in a bit), and entering the menus. Just east of that is the mode wheel, where you can switch between PC connect, print, play, and three record modes: program, aperture-priority, and manual. Just below that is the 4-way switch and OK button for the menus.

Looking now at the top of the camera, this should seem like familiar territory to anyone who has used an Olympus camera in the past. Starting from the right: There's the shutter release button with the zoom control -- it seems to me that the direction you push the zoom button should be reversed -- it seems counterintuitive. The hard to see button below that is for changing exposure compensation.

Just left of that is the hot shoe, which is under a protective cover. Olympus has a specially designed flash (FL-40) for the C-2500L which you can purchase.

Taking a closer look at the LCD info display now:

The three buttons on the bottom have two functions: the top settings (focus, flash, spot metering) are for record mode, and the bottom settings (delete, info, write-protect) are for play. The focus button lets you select between normal, macro, super macro, infinity, and manual focus modes. Macro mode lets you get as close as 1 foot away, while super macro mode is for up to 0.8" of the subject. Manual focus mode allows you to focus as close as 0.3m out to 15m, or infinity.

On the LCD itself, you see information more often seen on real 35mm SLR cameras. The flash and quality (HQ) settings are obvious -- the SM refers to the SmartMedia card being used, and the 8 is for photos remaining. What needs explanation is the exposure compensation scale (just below the 8), the M (manual mode), the little circle thing below it (aperture), and the numbers to the right of that (shutter speed).

While I'll vent on the aperture issue in the next section, what you see above is F5.6 - F7.8, depending on the zoom setting. If it was just a circle, it would be F2.8 - F3.9. The way shutter is represented seems weird to me, and I'm still not sure I understand it. I believe that's 1.6 seconds up there. If you had 2.0, that would be 1/2.0 sec. [If someone can clear this up, that would be great].

This brings us to one of the C-2500L's best features: support for both SmartMedia and CompactFlash! Though it's not a CF Type II slot, you can see that the included 32MB SmartMedia card plus my own 96MB CF card can store a lot of photos! You can switch between the two with a push of a button, and even copy from one to the other (handy when you have no serial port, and only a CF card reader!)

Here's a look at the profile of this beast. There's a door on this side which covers the I/O ports for serial, video, and power connectors.

Using the Olympus C-2500L

The C-2500L has (mostly) what "prosumer" camera buyers want, while relying little on "gimmicky" features such as video recording, panoramas, and sound clips. (That said, I like both!) The camera has a myriad of options that let you change just about everything! Without further adieu, let's begin with record mode.

There are three modes to choose from here: Program, Aperture-priority, and Manual. Some general comments on all three:

  • Fast, fast, fast! The camera turns on pretty quickly, but the real magic is when you start shooting. Olympus says that you can shoot as fast as you can compose the picture, and they're right! Thanks to a healthy 16MB buffer, you can shoot up to 5 in a row without any lag between shots! This really wowed my friends with real SLR cameras. There is also no noticeable shutter lag.
  • Great focusing: Anyone who ever used a D-600L or D-620L remembers that as soon as the sun went down, you put the camera to bed. Not so with the 2500-- thanks to its AF illuminator, you can take photos in darkness! Just don't shine the light in your eyes!
  • Responsive zoom controls -- I still think they're backwards, but the zoom is quick, smooth, and silent.

Taking pictures with the C-2500L really is a blast, and is easier in program mode. If you enter aperture-priority mode, you can get "a little more manual". Unfortunately, you are limited to two choices in aperture (listed in the previous section). I would think that if a $500 Casio QV-2000UX allows for more than 2 aperture settings, then a $1500 "pro" camera would as well, but apparently not. I can only hope the successor to the 2500 features more aperture control.

In full manual mode, you can also control the shutter speed in addition to the aperture. You can shoot as fast as 1/10000sec! Of course you can manually control exposure compensation, white balance, and focus the whole time too.

Let's delve into the menus now to see what else you can change:

I've only got one screen shot, but I'll describe all the menu commands below:

  1. Drive: Single shot, continuous shooting, remote control (a very useful thing to have)
  2. Quality: SQ, HQ, SHQ (more in a sec about these)
  3. White balance: Auto, Reference, Manual (3000 - 6500K)
  4. ISO: 100, 200, 400
  5. Exposure compensation (the usual)
  6. Flash sync - First curtain or second curtain. Explained in the manual in Ch. 4
  7. QuickFocus setup -- allows you to hold down a button to use a set focal range
  8. Sharpness - Normal or Soft (see below for samples)
  9. Beep sound toggle
  10. Battery saver settings
  11. Date/time
  12. LCD info settings
  13. SQ/SHQ setup: Lets you choose SQ resolution (640x512 or 1280x1024) and SHQ format (JPEG or uncompressed TIFF)
  14. File naming convention
  15. Default settings

Steve Sanders strongly recommends using "soft" sharpness in his review of this camera, saying that "normal" was too sharp. Here are two unscientific samples so you can see how this setting affects your photos.


Normal

Soft

Play mode is pretty normal. You can zoom into photos, or zoom "out" to 4 or 9 thumbnail mode using the zoom lever. If you want to scroll around your zoomed image, you hold down the button next to the shutter and use the 4-way switch. This isn't the fancy real-time scrolling that I've seen on other cameras, but it's acceptable. The speed between photos is good also, though not record-breaking.

As you can see above, in play mode you see quite a bit of info if you'd like.

How does it compare?

Photo quality is exceptional, especially in good lighting. One thing that I noticed (as well as other DCRP readers) is that there is noticable grain in photos taken in low light. The C-2500L is also excellent at taking macro shots. You should check out the gallery to judge all this for yourself. Here's my conclusion:

What I Liked

  • Love the SLR-style body and TTL viewfinder
  • Great speed when taking photos
  • Flexible manual controls (with one exception)
  • Support for both SmartMedia and CompactFlash
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Great macro and daylight photos
  • Can focus in the dark!
  • Healthy 32MB SM card included

What I Didn't

  • Only two aperture settings
  • LCD can't be used to frame a picture!
  • No USB!
  • Lots of noise in lower light situations
  • Confusing shutter speed info on LCD
  • Pricey

The C-2500L is one of the most "powerful" cameras I've used. It's closer to a real SLR camera than any I've tested, though the aperture settings are lacking, and I sure wish I could use the LCD to take a picture. That said, you're able to take very high quality pictures as fast as you compose them, and store them on either SmartMedia or CompactFlash!

Is it worth the several hundred dollars extra over the Olympus C-2020Z and Nikon Coolpix 950? That's up to you to decide. The other camera I'd take a look at is the Sony DSC-D770, though its resolution is only 1.5 Mpixel.

As always, I encourage you to head out to your local retailer to play with the C-2500L before you make any buying decisions!

Photo Gallery

Click here to check out some sample photos from this camera.

Want a second opinion? Maybe three or four?

Then check out Steve's Digicams review of the C-2500L! If that's not enough, the Imaging Resource and DP Review guys have them too!

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.



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