DCRP Review: Olympus C-50 Zoom
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 25, 2003
Last Updated: March 17, 2003

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After a bit of delay, I finally got the chance to use the Olympus C-50 Zoom ($599). This is Olympus' first ultra-compact metal camera, and also their first to use a proprietary lithium ion battery. Unlike the Digital ELPHs of the world, the C-50 has quite a few manual controls. And did I mention the 5 Megapixel resolution?

Interested? Read on to learn more about this camera!

What's in the Box?

The Olympus C-50Z Zoom has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Mpixel C-50 Zoom camera
  • 32MB xD Picture Card
  • LI-10B lithium ion battery w/charger
  • Remote control
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • Basic manual (printed, 39 pages), fold-out Quick Start guide, plus full manual on CD-ROM

The bundle included with the camera is very good, and would've been excellent had Olympus provided a full, printed manual.

You'll find a 32MB xD Picture Card in the box. It's enough to start with, but you'll want a larger card right away, as those 5 million pixel images take up a lot of space. xD cards are the smallest memory cards out there, and theoretically offer some of the best performance as well. Unfortunately, as of this writing, xD cards aren't any larger than 128MB.

The C-50Z is Olympus' first digicam to use a proprietary battery, which isn't surprising considering the size of the camera. I'm not a huge fan of such batteries (they are $70 a pop), but they are unavoidable with cameras this small. The LI-10B has 4.0 Watt/hours of power.

When it's time to recharge, just pop the battery in the included charger, and plug it into the wall. This isn't one of those chargers with a built-in plug, by the way. Charging the LI-10B takes about two hours.

A built-in lens cover is part of the C-50's stylish design. The cover also doubles as the power switch. I did find it a little to easy to bump it -- especially when opened -- thus turning the camera off.

Another nice item in the bundle is the good old RM-1 wireless remote. This remote has been around forever (so has the picture above), but it's very helpful for taking pictures away from the camera, or for playing them back on a television while you sit on the couch.

Updated 1/26/03: As with many ultra-compact cameras, the accessory selection is limited. The only things I could find were an AC adapter, soft case, and various xD-related accessories. An underwater case is also available (model # PT-014, $300), allowing the C-50 to go up to 40 m underwater.

Like all of Olympus' recent models, the C-50Z is compatible with Windows XP and Mac OS X. In most cases, you won't even need to install drivers.

The C-50Z includes Olympus' Camedia Master 4.0 software. If you've used older versions of this software, you'll be pleasantly surprised with the changes in this one.

The editing tools included with Camedia Master are impressive. You can change all kinds of things like brightness, contrast, and color balance. There are also red-eye reduction and "instant fix" options.

The software is much more responsive than the previous versions. My only complaint is that the interface is non-standard (doesn't follow human interface guidelines) on both Macs and PCs.

For $20 more, Olympus will upgrade you to the "Pro" version of the software. This adds contact sheet printing, image e-mailing, HTML albums, panorama stitching, and slide shows.

Keeping with recent Olympus tradition (unfortunately), the only printed manual you get is a "basic" manual. If you want more depth, you've got to load up the one included on CD. The manuals themselves have been improved over previous Olympus manuals, but are still quite confusing.

Look and Feel

The C-50Z is reminiscent of Olympus' D-400/500 series of cameras, except it's smaller and with an all-metal body. The metal body of the C-50 gives it a really solid feel, but watch out, as the surface scratches easily.

The camera is super easy to hold, and fits in your pocket with ease. Controls are generally easy to reach (more on this later).

The official dimensions of the camera are 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs 194 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the Canon S45's numbers are 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 inches and 260 grams, respectively.

Let's start our tour of the camera now:

The C-50 has an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens. The focal range is 7.8 - 23.4 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. As with all ultra-compact cameras, the lens is not threaded.

Just above the lens is the optical viewfinder. To the left of that is the self-timer/remote control lamp.

Over at the top right is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is approx. 0.2 - 3.4 m at wide-angle, and 0.3 - 2.0 at telephoto. Since I've been unofficially comparing the C-50 to the S45 thus far, I will say that the flash range is substantially better on the S45.

Just below the flash is the remote control receiver. Sadly there's no AF illuminator on the C-50Z, which the S45 and a few other similar cameras do have.

Here now is the back of the C-50Z. It has an average-sized 1.5" LCD display, which is bright and fluid. The resolution is very good as well. The brightness is adjustable via a menu option.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is larger than average for a small camera. It does lack a diopter correction knob, but then again, so does most of the competition.

To the right of the optical viewfinder you'll find two buttons, with the following function (from left to right):

Record Mode Playback Mode
Flash mode (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow synchro, slow synchro w/redeye reduction, flash off) Delete photo

- Macro mode
- Spot metering
-
Macro + spot metering

Protect photo

Continuing to the right, you can see the mode wheel, with quite a few options on it. These include:

Mode Description
Full Auto Point-and-shoot, most menus items locked up
Portrait

For portrait shots

Landscape + Portrait Landscapes with people in front
Landscape + Scene Standard landscape mode
Night Scene

For night shots. Tripod required. Will use slower shutter speeds than all other modes except full manual.

Sports

For action shots

Self-portrait Turn the camera on yourself
Movie recording More on this later
My Mode Quick access to your favorite settings
P/A/S/M Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual modes. More in a second.

I wish Olympus would keep the P/A/S/M options separate on the mode wheel, but I guess there was no room.

Program (P) mode is still automatic, but you have full access to the camera's settings.

Aperture priority (A) mode allows you to choose an aperture from a range of F2.8 - F8.0, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. Olympus notes that shutter speeds cannot go slower than 1/30 sec (at wide-angle) or 1/100 sec (at telephoto) when the flash is on.

Shutter priority (S) mode is the opposite. You choose a shutter speed between 1/2 - 1/1000 sec, and the camera chooses the aperture. I don't like how Olympus won't let you use the full shutter speed range in shutter priority mode. If you're using flash slow sync, the shutter speed can go as slow as 4 sec, but otherwise it's 1/2 sec. You can use the Night Scene mode, but most of the camera controls will be locked up.

In full manual (M) mode, you set both the aperture and shutter speed. The aperture range is the same, but the shutter speed range increases to 8 - 1/1000 sec.

A quick word about My Mode: this is a handy way to save your favorite settings. You can either save the current set, or customize it yourself, and then you can use them anytime by simple switching to My Mode on the mode wheel.

Back to our tour now. To the lower-left of the mode wheel is the Display/Quick View button. Press it once in record mode, and the LCD turns on/off. Press it twice and you'll enter playback mode. If the lens cover is closed, you can press it once to enter playback. I did not like how the button was placed "below the surface" on the body -- it's too hard to press the button. You'll understand what I mean when you try it in person.

The final item on the back of the camera is the four-way switch. You'll use this to navigate the menus and adjust settings. The button in the middle activates the menu system and is also the "OK" button once there.

Here is the top of the C-50Z. Up here, you'll find the shutter release button and zoom controller. It takes about 2.3 seconds to move the lens from wide-angle to telephoto. The lens moves quietly -- totally opposite of the last Olympus camera I reviewed (the C-5050Z).

On this side of the camera, you'll find the DC-in port for the optional AC adapter.

And on the other side, you'll find the rest of the I/O ports. THese include video output and USB. The plastic cover feels a little cheap compared with the rest of the camera.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. Behind another cheap-feeling plastic door, you'll find the battery and xD slots. You can see both of those over to the left.

RIght in the middle of the camera is the tripod mount. With the C-50's nice metal body, I was surprised to see that the tripod mount was made of plastic.

Using the Olympus C-50 Zoom

Record Mode

The camera takes just over 4.5 seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking pictures -- about average. Auto focus speeds are also fairly average. Expect about a one second delay in good lighting, and longer if the AF system has to hunt a bit. As you might expect on a camera without an AF illuminator, the C-50 had some trouble focusing in dim light.

Shutter lag was variable, depending on the shutter speed being used. With faster shutter speeds, it was barely noticeable. As shutter speeds got slower, some lag was definitely there, so a steady handy and/or tripod is very helpful.

Shot-to-shot speed is good -- you'll wait just under two seconds between shots in SHQ mode. Taking a photo in TIFF mode will lock up the camera for over 25 seconds.

There is no option to delete photos as they are being written to the memory card. You can, of course, go to playback mode and do it there.

The resolution and quality options are much simpler on the C-50Z than on the recently-tested C-5050Z. Also note that the C-50Z does not have the RAW mode of its more expensive sibling.

Quality Resolution # photos on 32MB card (included)
TIFF 2560 x 1920 2
SHQ 2560 x 1920 13
HQ 2560 x 1920 26
SQ1 2048 x 1536 30
SQ2 1600 x 1200 66
1280 x 960 104
1024 x 768 153
640 x 480 199

Olympus uses one of the better file numbering systems that I've seen. Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers are always unique (well, for one year at least). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

The C-50Z uses Olympus' customizable menu system. When you first press the menu button, you are presented with the above screen. Well, not necessarily that one, as you can customize three of the four items (mode menu always stays). You can put almost any option from the mode menu into the menu above.

And here is that mode menu. It can be somewhat confusing to navigate, as you've got to hit "OK" to choose and option and then back out of the menu. Here are the menu options:

  • Camera Setup
    • Self-timer/remote control (Off, self-timer, remote control)
    • Drive (Single-frame, sequential, AF sequential, auto bracketing) - see below
    • ISO (Auto, 80, 160, 320)
    • P/A/S/M - move between program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual mode
    • Flash strength (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - using the 4X digital zoom will reduce the quality of your images
    • Panorama - helps you make panoramic shots. Requires Olympus-branded memory card
    • 2 in 1 - two shots in succession combined into one
  • Picture Settings
    • Quality (see chart)
    • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent)
    • Sharpness (Soft, normal, hard)
    • Contrast (Low, normal, high)
  • Card Setup (Format)

  • Setup (the interesting ones, at least)
    • All reset (on/off) - retain settings after camera is powered off
    • Info (on/off) - shows extra info in record/playback mode
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Rec View (on/off) - shows image after it's taken on LCD
    • My Mode setup - save your favorite settings for easy retrieval. Choose to save the current settings, or customize them manually
    • File naming (Auto, reset)
    • Pixel mapping - helps eliminate "bad pixels"
    • Monitor brightness
    • Short cut - configure the first page of the menus, as I explained above
    • Video output (NTSC, PAL)

If you read the C-5050Z review, you'll notice that several items are missing on the C-50Z, most notably, manual white balance control. That's too bad, as most of the competition now offers that feature.

The C-50Z has two continuous shooting modes. Regular sequential mode will lock the focus and exposure settings on the first shot, and fire up to up 3 shots at 1 frames/second. AF sequential mode will redo the focus and exposure for each shot, which slows the rate down considerably. The Canon S45's continuous shooting modes were more impressive (1.5-2.5 frames/sec).

Auto bracketing will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure compensation value (±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0).

One other weird thing: the menus on my C-50Z are English only. There is no language option to be found.

Are you tired of menus? So am I. Here are the photo tests.

I have no complaints about how the macro test turned out. The subject is sharp, and the colors are nice and saturated (but not too much). The focal range in macro mode is 20-50 cm.


View F3.4 image (shown above)
View F4.5 image

A limit of 1/2 sec in shutter priority mode means that you'll probably want to go into full manual mode for most night shots. I did just that, and got very nice results. You can also use the Night Scene mode, but keep in mind that most of the controls are locked up -- including ISO, which could result in some noisy images.

The dome seems a little too blue (compare with this shot to see the correct color; warning--image is large), but noise levels were very low. The low noise levels are impressive, considering that this camera has no noise reduction feature. There's a bit of purple fringing at the very top, but closing down the aperture (see the F4.5 shot) took care of that problem.

I wasn't surprised to see that the C-50 had trouble with redeye. After all, the flash is very close to the lens, which is usually a good predictor of redeye. The shot above (slightly enlarged and brightened) was taken with redeye reduction turned on.

Added 1/31/03: The shot above is a totally new test I'm trying out. This board is shot at the wide-angle setting under natural light from about 2 feet away (give or take). The image is then auto-leveled in Photoshop. The purpose of this test is to a) illustrate distortion (barrel and edge) and b) show any vignetting that may occur. By the way, the red dot is actually on the paper, it was not added in Photoshop.

There isn't much vignetting (darkened corners) to speak of here, and the barrel distortion seems pretty mild.

This test is a work-in-progress, so don't take it as gospel. If you have suggestions about how this test could be improved, let me know. I'm also trying to get a color comparison test going, but I need more consistent lighting first.

Overall image quality on the C-50Z was very good. My test photos were well-exposed, with good color and detail. Photos are a little too sharp (and slightly noisy) for my taste, due to the C-50's in-camera sharpening system. You can tone it down a little, but you don't have as much control over sharpness as the C-5050Z does (there are only low/normal/high settings here).

Another issue I noticed was occasional jagged edges, as you can see above. Turning the sharpness to low did not help.

One problem the C-50 didn't have was purple fringing... at least in everyday shots.

As I always say, don't just take my conclusions about photo quality to be the gold standard. Take a look at the photo gallery, and use your own eyes to decide for yourself!

Movie Mode

The C-50Z's movie mode is very disappointing. Clips are limited to just 16 seconds at 320 x 240, and sound is not recorded. You can't use the optical zoom during filming, either.

Movies are recorded at 320 x 240 or 160 x 120. If you use the smaller size, the time limit goes up to 70 seconds.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (2.2MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The C-50Z has a very good playback mode. Slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, and image protection are all available.

The zoom and scroll feature is here too, allowing you to zoom in as much as 4X into your photo, and then move around in it.

Two other handy features are image resizing (to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240) and rotation.

Normally, you don't get much information about your photos in playback mode. Turn on "info" in the menus and you'll get more. Unfortunately, you won't get a histogram.

The C-50 moves through images at an average pace, with a 2 second delay between high-res photos. Viewing images recorded in TIFF mode will take considerably longer.

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus C-50 Zoom is a very good camera, that has a few flaws keeping it from excellence. The good news: the C-50 has a very attractive, small metal body. It's easy to use as a point-and-shoot or in manual mode. The My Mode feature is something that every camera should have. Image quality was very good, and most people will be happy with it. Jagged edges and noise did appear, but in most cases it was minor.

The negatives include the lack of an autofocus illuminator lamp, no manual white balance or focus, a maximum shutter speed of 1/2 sec in shutter priority mode, and a lackluster movie mode. Other nitpicks are the lack of any diopter correction, and a power switch (via the lens cover) that makes it too easy to accidentally turn off the camera.

The closest competition is probably the Canon PowerShot S45 -- a camera which I'd probably rank a little higher than the C-50Z despite having a lower resolution -- but both are worth a close look.

What I liked:

  • Small, well-designed metal body
  • Impressive 5 Megapixel images
  • Many manual controls
  • Can store your favorite settings to My Mode
  • Customizable menus
  • Good playback, scene modes

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF illuminator
  • No manual white balance or manual focus
  • Redeye problem -- typical of ultra-small cameras.
  • Poor movie mode
  • Some "jaggies" and noise in images
  • Sliding door makes it too easy to accidentally turn camera off
  • Manual is on CD

Other small 4 and 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot S45, Casio QV-R4, Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom, Kodak EasyShare LS443, Konica KD-400Z, Kyocera Finecam S4 and S5, Minolta DiMAGE F100 and F300. Nikon Coolpix 4300, Pentax Optio 430RS, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the C-50Z and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Take a look at our photo gallery to see how the pictures turned out.

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams and Imaging Resource reviews of the C-50 Zoom.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions about this review. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not write asking for personal recommendations, missing software/manuals, or technical support.

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