DCRP Review: Olympus C-3040Z
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2001
Last Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2001

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This is the first time in two years that I'm not going to review Olympus' high-end (well, under $1000) digital camera against the Nikon Coolpix 9xx series. Two years ago, it was the Olympus C-2000Z vs. the Nikon Coolpix 950. Last year, there was the C-3030Z vs. Coolpix 990. And while there's two new models to talk about this year (the C-3040Z and Coolpix 995), they're more evolutionary than revolutionary, and I don't have both at the same time like in the past.

Last year, I picked the C-3030Z as the winner of that head-to-head competition (which garnered much controversy), citing only a few weaknesses. The C-3040Z adds a new, "brighter" F1.8 lens, USB mass storage support (more on this later), new metering options, and more. Can things get better? Read on...

What's in the Box?

The C-3040Z has a pretty good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.3 Mpixel Olympus C-3040Z camera
  • 16MB SmartMedia card
  • 2 CR-V3 lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Lens cap w/ strap
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Remote control
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • 225 page manual

Now I don't want to take all the credit for this, but I think all my complaining about lens caps is paying off. Olympus seems to be including both a lens cap and strap with their newest cameras. Hurrah!

One area where Olympus is sorely lacking is in the battery department. Olympus includes two "long life" CR-V3 batteries, which are non-rechargeable. While they do last a long time, they end up polluting our landfills, and you end up needing to buy batteries. I recommend picking up a set or two of NiMH rechargeable batteries (and a charger of course).

The thoughtful folks at Olympus have always included the RM-1 remote with their higher end cameras, including the C-3040Z. You can control the camera in both record and playback mode (where it's most useful) with it.

I covered Olympus' Camedia Master software in a previous review. Overall, I found it to be better than the average software that comes bundled with the camera, but you won't be throwing out your copy of Photoshop.

A new feature of the C-3040Z is what Olympus calls USB AutoConnect. What that means is that if you're using a modern Mac, or a Win98/2000 system, you won't need to install any drivers. I'm all for that!

I tested the C-3040Z in Mac OS X, and not only did the Image Transfer utility open, but the camera mounted on the desktop as well.

The manual, while covering everything, seems confusing and poorly laid out to me. They should get whomever wrote the E-10 manual to do the rest of them, as it was a cut above all of Olympus' other manuals.

If I was to grumble about anything else int he bundle, it would be the somewhat skimpy 16MB SmartMedia card.

Look and Feel

Pretty much the only thing that has changed about the design of the various cameras in this C-2000/3000 series is the color. I suppose that's because the design is already very good!

The dimensions of the 3040Z are 4.3 x 3.0 x 2.7 inches, and it weighs 307 grams empty. The camera is very easy to hold and the controls are well-placed.

Let's begin our tour.

The biggest new feature of the C-3040Z is seen here: the lens. This new F1.8 "super bright" 3X optical zoom promises better low light shooting. The focal range is 7.1 - 21.3mm, equivalent to 35 - 105 mm.

Those five little holes just above the lens make up the microphone. The flash seen at the top of the photo has a range of 2.6 - 18.4 feet at full wide-angle, and 7.9 inches - 12.5 feet at full telephoto.

On the back of the camera, nothing has changed here from the C-3030Z. The 1.8" LCD is very good - bright and fluid, and easy to see except in direct sunlight. Nose and finger smudges may be a problem, though.

The optical viewfinder is large, and has crosshairs for framing your images. Diopter correction is also available for those of us with glasses.
To the right of that are buttons for flash [rec] / delete [play] and macro & spot metering [rec] / DPOF marking [play].

Just right of that is the four-way switch, used for menu navigation.

Below that you'll find buttons for OK [menus] / AE Lock [rec] / Protect [play], LCD power / quick review [both rec] and Menu.

The top of the camera is pretty familiar territory as well. The LCD info display shows the typical items; here, that's flash (off), quality (SHQ), and shots remaining (4).

Just right of that is the mode wheel, which has the following options:

  • Off
  • Program Mode
  • A/S/M Mode (aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual)
  • Movie Mode
  • Playback Mode

I would have preferred to have A/S/M as separate choices, rather than having to use the menu system to change between them. They definitely have space available on the mode wheel.

Here are the options you have in these manual modes:

  • Aperture priority: F1.8, F2.0, F2.3, F2.6, F2.8, F3.2, F3.6, F4.0, F4.5, F5.0, F5.6, F6.3, F7.0, F8.0, F9.0, F10
  • Shutter priority: range of 4 sec - 1/800 sec
  • Full manual: same as above for aperture; shutter speeds 16 sec - 1/800 sec.

Just above the mode wheel is the zoom control / shutter release button. Both buttons "feel right" and are well-placed.

On this side of the camera, you can see the various I/O ports. That includes:

  • Flash sync (seen center, bottom)
  • DC in
  • A/V out
  • USB
  • Serial (cable not included with camera)

If you'd like to add an external flash, you'll need the FL-40 flash as well as a flash bracket, both of which are sold by Olympus. Update 5/11/01: You can use third party flashes, but Olympus warns against it in the manual.

The other side of the camera is where you'll find the SmartMedia slot (shown here with the included 16MB card). The slot is spring-loaded so the card comes right out. The door and hinge to this compartment seems a bit flimsy, though.

And finally, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery compartment as well as a metal tripod mount.

Using the Olympus C-3040Z

Record Mode

The camera takes approximately 5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. The C-3040Z is a pleasure to use: it's responsive and easy to use. The zoom has a slight delay between the time the button is pushed, and the lens starts moving. When you depress the shutter release halfway, it takes a little over half a second to lock focus. Depressing it fully will yield a photo almost instantly. In HQ mode, there's about a 2.5 second wait before you can take another shot.

Here's a look at the many resolution and quality options on the C-3040Z, and how many fit on the included 16MB card, as well as a 64MB card (for reference sake).

Record Mode # of Pixels File Format # of photos
16MB card 64MB card
TIFF 2048 x 1536 TIFF 1 6
1600 x 1200 2 11
1280 x 960 4 17
1024 x 768 6 27
640 x 480 16 67
SHQ 2048 x 1536 JPEG 6 27
HQ 2048 x 1536 20 81
SQ-High Quality 1600 x 1200 11 45
1280 x 960 17 69
1024 x 768 26 107
640 x 480 66 265
SQ-Normal Quality 1600 x 1200 31 128
1280 x 960 49 199
1024 x 768 76 306
640 x 480 165 664

As you can see, there's a whole lot of choices. Do note that full-size TIFF files take over 20 seconds to write to the card, and you cannot take additional photos during that time.

The C-3040Z uses the familiar overlay menu system seen on most other Olympus cameras. There may be changes on the horizon though: the new C-700 Ultra Zoom has a completely different menu system (which I'm not too excited about). Here's a look at the menu options on this camera and what they mean:

  • AF/MF (auto or manual focus; also available by hitting "OK" button in record mode)
  • Drive (single shot, continuous shooting, self-timer, auto-bracketing)
  • White Balance (auto, presets, or full manual)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Flash Intensity (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Flash Timing (1st or 2nd-curtain flash for night shots)
  • Digital Zoom (up to 5X, though resolution will be 640 x 480)
  • Function (special modes include black & white, sepia, white board, black board)
  • Voice comments (up to 4 sec of audio with each photo)
  • Panorama Helper (only on Olympus-branded SM cards)
  • Card Setup (format, erase all)
  • Mode Setup (more on this below)
  • Quality (see chart above)
  • A/S/M Mode (switches between aperture/shutter/full manual modes)
  • AE lock

Most of those should be familiar to DCRP readers. One which may not be is Mode Setup. What this does is let you configure the default values of the camera. For example, if you want the camera to start off with the zoom at 80mm, the flash off, and in TIFF mode, you can do that by editing the Custom menu in Mode Setup.


The view from the LCD in record mode

Another feature of note is the C-3040Z's impressive sequential shooting mode: you can take up to 5 shots in a row at 3.3 frames/sec. Of course, this excludes TIFF files.

As I alluded to in the list above, there's a full manual white balance mode on this camera (as you'd expect). You can shoot a piece of white paper (or whatever you want to be white) and get good results in most lighting conditions.

Now onto our photo tests.

The C-3040Z did an admirable job in our macro test. It even handled the strange lighting in the "lab".

The nightshot test came out great, with the C-3040Z's new super bright lens doing its job. The colors are right on (and much better than the C-700UZ) and there's no noise to speak of (just a little grain).

Photo quality overall was excellent. Olympus has had a lot of time to perfect the C-3040Z and it shows. The only thing I noticed was a bit of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in one of my photos (see the "tunnel of trees" photo in the gallery). Don't let me tell you about the photo quality -- judge for yourself in the gallery.

Movie Mode

Although they came out at around the same time, the Olympus C-3040Z and E-100RS (see review) have very different movie modes. Where the E-100RS could record movies at 640 x 480, the C-3040Z is limited to 320 x 240. While the E-100RS gave users a choice of 30 or 15 fps, the C-3040Z is hardwired for 15 fps. Weird, huh?

The chart below tells you how many seconds of video you can record:

Quality Resolution Secs on 8MB card Secs on 32MB+ card
HQ 320 x 240 23 75
SQ 160 x 120 93 300

Also unlike the E-100RS, you cannot use the optical zoom while filming on the C-3040Z -- only the digital zoom. I'd love to see the movie mode upgrade at some point to be more like the E-100RS, but in the meantime, things are not that bad.

Here's an unexciting sample movie for you (filmed in HQ mode):


Click to play movie (QuickTime format, M-JPEG codec; 2.1MB)

Playback Mode

The C-3040Z's playback mode covers all the bases. There's slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, zoom & scroll, and more.

The camera takes about one second to go between photos. 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.

If 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.

As far as things that are missing here, I think people would like to be able to delete a group of photos, rotate a photo, and view a histogram. Maybe in the C-3050Z?

How Does it Compare?

Olympus took the already excellent C-3030Z and added a new lens and a few other features, and have made it even better. If you've got a C-3000Z or C-3030Z, I wouldn't run out to buy a C-3040Z, as the differences aren't that great. However, if you're looking for your first digital camera, or upgrading, then the C-3040Z is near the top of my list for 3 Megapixel cameras. The C-3040Z is easy to use, well-designed, feature-packed, and it takes great pictures to boot. I highly recommend it!

What I liked:

  • New lens means better low light shooting
  • Very good photo quality
  • Easy to use for beginners, with manual controls for seasoned veterans
  • Manual white balance
  • Support for external flash
  • Uncompressed TIFF format
  • Movies with sound!

What I didn't care for:

  • No optical zoom in movie mode
  • Playback mode could use some more features
  • No rechargeable batteries included
  • Chromatic aberrations noticeable in test photo

The 3 Megapixel market is crowded, so you have your work cut out for you. Do consider the following other cameras before you buy: Canon PowerShot G1, Casio QV-3500EX, Nikon Coolpix 880, 990, and 995, Olympus C-3000Z and C-3030Z, Sony DSC-S75, and the Toshiba PDR-M70.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the C-3040Z and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the C-3040Z. If that's not enough, DP Review and Imaging Resource have them too!

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

 

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