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DCRP Review: Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 24, 2005
Last Updated: February 12, 2012

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The Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom ($350) is a midsized 5 Megapixel that offers more zoom than your typical digital camera. Where most cameras in this class have 3X or 4X zooms, the C-5500 has a 5X zoom lens extending from 38 - 190 mm. Other features include a 2-inch LCD display, manual controls, AF-assist lamp, in-camera redeye reduction, and an anti-shake function for recording movies.

How did the C-5500 perform in our tests? Find out now in our review!

Note: the C-5500SZ is known as the C-55 in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The C-5000SZ has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.1 effective Megapixel C-5500 Sport Zoom camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • Four alkaline AA batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Master software and drivers
  • Basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM

Olympus includes a 16MB xD card with the C-5500, which doesn't hold too many 5 Megapixel photos. In fact, it holds just 4 shots at the highest image quality setting. That means that you'll need to buy a larger xD Picture Card right away, and I recommend 256MB as a good starter size. Be warned that xD cards tend to be on the expensive side, especially compared to CompactFlash or SD.

The C-5500 Sport Zoom uses four AA batteries. Olympus gives you alkaline batteries to start with, which will quickly end up in the trash. That means you'll need to buy a set or two of NiMH rechargeables (2300 mAh or higher is recommended) plus a fast charger. Unfortunately Olympus does not provide any battery life information for this camera. Based on my own usage of it, battery life seemed fine (in other words, it didn't crap out on me).

I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. Unlike those cameras which use proprietary lithium-ion batteries, if your C-5500's rechargeables ever die you can pick up some AA alkalines at any corner store. I should also mention that the camera supports CR-V3 lithium batteries.

The C-5500SZ features a built-in lens cover so there's no clumsy lens cap to worry about.

About the only accessory I could find for the C-5500 was an AC adapter ($33). Olympus also offers various rechargeable battery kits and carrying cases.

Included with the camera is Olympus Master, a pretty impressive software package that debuted last year. The first thing you'll probably do with the software is transfer photos from your camera. Once you've done that, you've got a nice thumbnail view that you can organize by date or keywords. A calendar view is also available.

It's easy to change the size of the thumbnails, and everything was snappy on my PowerMac G5.

If you want to edit a photo, that's just a click away. You can rotate, crop, reduce redeye, or do an "instant fix". If you want to adjust the color balance, you can do that as well, as you can see above.

The software can also be used to "stitch" together several photos into one panoramic photo.

Sharing photos is easy: you can print them or e-mail them right in the Master software. Naturally, there's a slideshow feature available as well. And, if you want to archive them to a CD or DVD, that's available too.

Just like with their old Camedia Master software, Olympus has a "Plus" version available for $20 more. The Master Plus software adds movie editing capabilities, more printing options, and the ability to make Video CDs.

While the software has greatly improved in recent years, one thing that hasn't changed is Olympus' unwillingness to print the full camera manual. As usual, you'll get a 25 page "basic manual" in the box, with the full manual on the included CD-ROM. The quality of the manual itself is good -- it's having to load up a PDF file that bothers me.

Look and Feel

My initial reaction after picking up the C-5500 for the first time was something like "damn, this thing is bulky!" After a few weeks of using it, my opinion hasn't changed. The camera is made of a mixture of plastic and metal and it's well built for most part. The camera is surprisingly big, feeling more like an ultra zoom than a camera with a 5X zoom lens. Despite its size, the camera fits well in your hand, with a comfortable right hand grip. However, when the flash is popped you'll have a hard time finding a place to put your fingers.

Now here's a look at how the camera compares with some similar models in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass
Canon PowerShot A95 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.4 in. 14.0 cu in. 235 g
Canon PowerShot G6 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.9 in. 34.5 cu in. 380 g
Casio Exilim EX-P600 3.8 x 2.7 x 1.8 in. 18.5 cu in. 225 g
Fuji FinePix E550 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.4 in. 14.4 cu in. 201 g
Kodak EasyShare Z730 4.0 x 2.7 x 1.6 in. 17.3 cu in. 224 g
Nikon Coolpix 4800 4.2 x 2.6 x 2.1 in. 22.9 cu in. 255 g
Olympus C-5500SZ 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.9 in. 22.6 cu in. 245 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.3 in. 13.0 cu in. 178 g
Pentax Optio 750Z 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.7 in. 15.9 cu in. 255 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 12.1 cu in. 197 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 4.8 x 2.9 x 2.5 in. 34.8 cu. in. 360 g

That's admittedly a strange mix of cameras in that list, but they're all similar in one way or another. The closest competitors to the C-5500 are probably the LZ2 and 750Z, both of which are considerably smaller.

I've had it with numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now!

Probably the highlight of the C-5500SZ is its F2.8-4.8, 5X optical zoom lens. This lens has a focal range of 7.9 - 39.5 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 190 mm. The lens is not threaded.

To the upper-right of the lens is the microphone. To the upper-left you'll find the AF-assist lamp which doubles as the self-timer countdown light. The AF-assist lamp helps the camera focus in dimly lit rooms.

The only other thing to see here is the pop-up flash. The flash has a working range of 0.15 - 3.8 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 2.2 m at telephoto. Both the Panasonic LZ2 and Pentax 750Z do better in this department. You cannot attach an external flash to the C-5500.

The C-5500SZ has a larger-than-average 2.0" LCD display. The screen has 115,000 pixels which isn't as high as I'd like, but I didn't find the screen resolution to be poor. The screen is nice and bright, and motion is fluid. In low light, the screen "gains up" automatically so you can still see your subject.

Above the LCD you'll find the optical viewfinder, which is average-sized. The only thing else to say about it is that it lacks a diopter correction knob, which is used to focus what you're looking at.

To the left of the viewfinder is the flash release button. On the far right side you'll find the mode dial, which has the following options:

Option Function
Program mode Automatic but with full menu access
Aperture Priority mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2.8 - F8 and will vary depending on the focal length used.
Shutter Priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 4 - 1/2000 sec.
Full Manual (M) mode You pick both the aperture and shutter speed. Shutter speed range expands to 15 - 1/2000 sec.
My Mode Store up to four sets of your favorite camera settings.
Movie mode More on this later
Scene mode You pick the situation and the camera chooses the appropriate settings. Choose from landscape+portrait, portrait, landscape, night scene, sport, beach & snow, fireworks, sunset, candle, and available light portrait (good one!)
Movie mode More on this later
Playback mode More on this later
Auto Record mode Point-and-shoot, menu items locked up

Everything up there should be self-explanatory. The My Mode feature is handy -- you can store up to four sets of your favorite camera settings for easy retrieval later.

One thing I don't care for on this and other Olympus cameras is how the full shutter speed range is only available in Full Manual (M) mode. Why can't they let me shoot a 15 second exposure in shutter priority mode?

The four buttons to the right of the LCD are for:

  • Quick View - quickly jumps to playback mode
  • AE Lock / Image Rotate
  • Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, flash off, slow sync) / Image protect
  • Macro (Off, normal, super) / Delete photo

The last thing to see on the back of the C-5500SZ is the four-way controller. This is used for menu navigation, exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments), and adjusting manual settings.


Manual focus

Hold down the OK/Menu button in the center of the four-way controller and you'll activate manual focus. A guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can ensure that your subject is in focus.

On top of the C-5500 you'll find the power button and the shutter release with the zoom controller around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.4 seconds. I counted just eight steps throughout the 5X zoom range -- not great.

On this side of the C-5500 you'll find the speaker as well as the I/O ports. These ports include USB, A/V out, and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The camera supports USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is marketing speak for "just as slow as USB 1.1". The ports are protected by two rubber covers.

On this side of the camera you'll find the xD card slot, which is kept behind a pretty flimsy plastic door. The lens is shown at the full telephoto position here.

The included 16MB xD Picture Card is also shown.

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. Unlike with the memory card slot, the plastic door over the battery compartment is sturdy and lockable.

As you can see, the camera uses four AA or two CR-V3 batteries.

Using the Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom

Record Mode

It just the C-5500 just 1.3 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you start taking pictures. Nice!

The C-5000SZ has not one, but two histograms! The one on the left is your traditional histogram that we all love. The one on the right (called a direct histogram) shows underexposed areas as blue squares and overexposed areas as red squares. Very cool!

Autofocus speeds on the camera were average. Typical focus times were 0.4 - 0.6 seconds, with longer waits at the telephoto end. If the camera has to "hunt" for focus, the whole process can take over a second. Low light focusing was good thanks to the C-5500's AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag was not an issue, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot speed wasn't as impressive. Just over three seconds went by before I could take another shot (at the SHQ quality setting).

There's no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken. You must enter playback mode (via the QuickView button) and delete from there.

There are plenty of image size and quality choices on the camera, including:

Quality Resolution # images on 16MB card
(included)
SHQ 2592 x 1944 4
2592 x 1728
(3:2 ratio)
4
HQ
(more compression than SHQ)
2592 x 1944 12
2592 x 1728
(3:2 ratio)
14
SQ1
High Quality
2288 x 1712 6
2048 x 1536 6
1600 x 1200 11
SQ1
Normal Quality
2288 x 1712 16
2048 x 1536 20
1600 x 1200 32
SQ2
High Quality
1280 x 960 17
1024 x 768 26
640 x 480 66
SQ2
Normal Quality
1280 x 960 49
1024 x 768 76
640 x 480 165

As you can see, there's no RAW or TIFF mode on the C-5500SZ.

Olympus uses one of the more sensible 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, at least a year). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

The C-5500SZ uses the standard Olympus menu system. When you first hit the menu button, you'll be presented with the following options:

  • Self-timer (on/off) -or- My Mode (1-4) [depends on what mode you're in]
  • Mode Menu - see below
  • Monitor off
  • Image quality (see above chart)

You can customize this menu a bit -- the self-timer option can be replaced with almost anything from the record menu.

Selecting Mode Menu from that initial screen will bring you to the full record menu. There are four tabs containing the various menu items. The menu items are:

  • Camera Settings
    • AE/AF - see below
      • AE metering (ESP, spot, multi-metering)
      • Focusing (iESP, spot, area)
    • Drive (Single-shot, sequential, auto bracketing) - see below
    • ISO (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400)
    • Self-timer (on/off)
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Flash slow sync (1st curtain, 1st curtain w/redeye reduction, 2nd curtain)
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - for long exposures
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
    • Fulltime AF (on/off) - when on camera is constantly trying to focus. Reduces AF times at the expense of battery life
    • Panorama - helps you line up your panoramic shots; requires Olympus-branded xD card (sigh)
    • Function (Off, black & white, sepia)
    • Info (on/off) - what's shown on the LCD
    • Histogram (Off, on w/exposure compensation button, always on, direct) - I showed the two types of histograms earlier
    • Sound recording (on/off) - add a 4 sec voice clip to each photo
    • Frame assist (on/off) - shows horizontal & vertical lines on the LCD to help with framing
    • Timelapse (on/off) - take up to 99 shots in a row at an interval of 1-60 minutes; the AC adapter is strongly recommended

  • Picture Settings
    • White balance (Auto, sunny, cloudy, tungsten, daylight fluorescent, neutral white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, white fluorescent, custom) - that last option lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in any light
    • White balance compensation (-7 to +7, 1-step increments) - a higher number makes the image more blue; a lower number, more red
    • Sharpness (-5 to +5, 1-step increments)
    • Contrast (-5 to +5, 1-step increments)
    • Saturation (-5 to +5, 1-step increments)

  • Card Setup (Format)

  • Setup
    • All reset (on/off) - retain settings after camera is powered off
    • Language (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese)
    • Power on setup
      • Screen (Off, 1-2)
      • Sound (Off, 1-2)
    • Power off setup
      • Screen (Off, 1-2)
      • Sound (Off, 1-2)
    • Rec view (on/off) - post-shot review
    • Beep volume (Off, low, high)
    • Beep (Off, 1-2)
    • Shutter sound (Off, 1-2)
    • My Mode Setup (Current, reset, custom) - for setting up the My Mode feature
    • File name (Reset, auto)
    • Pixel mapping - removes dead pixels that can appear in images
    • Monitor brightness (-7 to +7, 1-step increments)
    • Date/time
    • Units (meters, feet)
    • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
    • AF illuminator (on/off)
    • Short cut - customize the top item in the initial record menu

Time for some further explanation of those menu items!

First I want to tell you about the "area" AF option. Turn this on and you can use the four-way controller to manually select a focus point. There are 143 to choose from!

I was pretty shocked to see that the sequential shooting and auto bracketing features only work at HQ quality or lower. That's right, no continuous shooting or bracketing in SHQ mode! Boo! Anyhow, at the HQ setting I took 4 shots in a row at 1.2 frames/second -- nothing to write home about. In addition, the LCD "blacks out" briefly between shots, making it hard to follow a moving subject on the LCD. Thankfully there's still the optical viewfinder. The auto bracketing feature will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can choose the exposure interval in the menu: ±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, or ±1.0EV.

Enough of that, let's move onto photo tests now.

The C-5500SZ did a pretty good job with our macro test shot, producing a sharp subject with saturated colors. I do think the red cloak is too orange though, and there's a bit of a blue cast to the image as well. Tinkering with the white balance and color saturation would be worth a shot, but I can only show samples straight out of the camera in my reviews.

There are two macro modes on the camera. In normal macro mode, you can get as close as 8 cm to your subject at wide-angle (I'm not sure about telephoto), which is about average. For real close-ups use super macro mode, which reduces the focus distance to just 2 cm. You can then fill the frame with a subject just 34 x 25 mm in size. Do note that the lens is fixed (probably at around 1.5X or 2X) while in super macro mode.

The night shot turned out very nicely. The camera took in plenty of light thanks to its manual control over shutter speed (though you may need to use "M" sometimes) and the buildings are pretty sharp. Noise levels are reasonable and there is no purple fringing to be found.

Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400

ISO 80 and 100 look pretty similar, and at ISO 200 details start getting destroyed by noise. Things really aren't too horrible at ISO 400 -- I think you could easily use this shot after running it through a noise reduction program.

There is moderate barrel distortion to be found at the wide end of the C-5500SZ's 5X lens. Neither vignetting nor corner softness was a problem.

While the C-5500SZ offers an in-camera redeye fix program, I didn't even need to use it! In fact, it wouldn't even let me! There's really very little red to be found here, which surprised me.

Overall the image quality on the C-5500 Sport Zoom was very good. Images were well-exposed, sharp (for the most part), and devoid of purple fringing. Noise levels are comparable to other cameras in this class, as well. Probably the only thing that I'd change if I owned the camera would be the saturation setting -- I'd bump it up a notch, since the colors seem a little dull to me.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and decide if the C-5500's images meet your expectations!

Movie Mode

The movie mode on the C-5500 Sport Zoom isn't worth writing home about. You can record video (with sound) at 320 x 240, 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. The included 16MB xD card holds a grand total of 23 seconds of video, so you'll want a larger card for longer movies. Another way to take a longer movie is to cut the frame rate down to 15 fps -- but that will make your video choppy.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming unless you turn off sound recording. Digital zoom can be used at any time.

One nice feature in movie mode is camera movement compensation, a fancy word for digital image stabilization. This will help counter the effects of "camera shake" that can make your videos blurry. This feature only works for movies -- not for stills.

In playback mode you can edit movies by keeping only the parts you want. You can also create an index photo made up of nine photos taken from the movie.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you. I don't know what I'd do without Amtrak.


Click to play movie (2.9 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The C-5000SZ has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slide shows, voice annotations, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image protection, and "zoom and scroll". The camera supports direct printing using the PictBridge system, as well.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 5X into your photo (in 1X increments), and then move around in it. This comes in handy for making sure your subject is properly focused!

You can rotate, crop, or resize your images with the push of a button.

The redeye fix feature allows you to eliminate those annoying demon eyes from your photos, after they are taken. Since I didn't have any redeye in the first place I didn't need to use it. Since the camera couldn't find enough redeye in my test shot I couldn't even see how well it works.

By default the camera doesn't tell you too much about the photos you've taken. Turning on the Info option in the playback menu shows the screen on the left, while the histogram option shows the screen on the right.

The camera moves through photos at somewhat sluggish clip, with a two second delay between each high res picture.

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom is a good camera with a silly name. When I think of what a "sport zoom", I think of something stylish and responsive. The C-5500 is clunky and sluggish at most tasks. But it does have a bang for the buck -- remember that this thing costs just over $300.

The C-5500SZ is a fairly bulky camera made mostly of plastic. It feels sturdy, though, especially considering its price. There are a few design annoyances, such as a pop-up flash that takes up valuable finger space and a flimsy plastic door over the xD memory card slot. The C-5500 has an AF-assist lamp and it focuses well in low light. Speaking of which, low light visibility on the larger-than-average 2.0" LCD display is good as well.

Camera performance is all over the map. The camera starts up quickly and there's no shutter lag. In other areas, such as focusing times, the camera is average. And in some instances the C-5500 is sluggish. This includes shot-to-shot and playback speeds, as well as the sequential shooting mode. Come on Olympus, if you're going to call this a "sport zoom" at least offer a decent continuous shooting mode. The one here only takes 4 shots in a row (at 1.2 fps) and you can't even use the SHQ image quality setting! The camera makes up for these shortcomings in the image quality department: I was not disappointed, except for the colors seeming a little dull at times. Thankfully that's easy to remedy -- just boost the in-camera saturation setting. The camera performed well in our redeye test as well. So well, in fact, that I couldn't even test out the in-camera redeye reduction feature.

In terms of features, the C-5500SZ won't disappoint. You've got full manual controls, though I don't like locking up the full range of shutter speeds unless you're in "M" mode. Don't worry beginners -- there's an automatic mode plus tons of scene modes too. If the various white balance options aren't enough for you, the camera lets you fine-tune the WB to your heart's content. The My Mode feature lets you store four sets of camera settings away for easy retrieval later. I'm a big fan of the dual histograms myself, and macro shooters will be quite happy with the 2 cm minimum focusing distance in super macro mode.

A few other complaints now. The movie mode on the C-5500SZ really isn't competitive. I know Olympus can do a good VGA movie mode since I've seen it on their other models. I do like the digital image stabilization feature, though. All my other issues related to the camera bundle. The included 16MB xD card is way too small, and there are no rechargeable batteries included -- so don't forget to factor that into the purchase price of the camera. And finally, Olympus really needs to stop with the "manual on CD" thing.

If you're looking for a low-cost camera with lots of manual controls, a little extra zoom, and nice image quality then I recommend the C-5500 Sport Zoom. If you want something stylish, fast, and "sporty", you should probably look elsewhere.

What I liked:

  • Good value: 5MP, 5X zoom for around $320
  • Very good photo quality, though I'd bump up the saturation
  • Full manual controls
  • Larger-than-average LCD gains up in low light
  • Not one, but two live histograms!
  • Nice macro mode
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Can save favorite settings to spot on the mode dial
  • Image stabilization in movie mode
  • No redeye, but in-camera redeye reduction too if you need it
  • Much improved bundled software

What I didn't care for:

  • Colors seem a little dull to me
  • Outdated movie mode
  • Crummy continuous shooting mode, especially given the name of the camera
  • Camera performance lags in several areas (see conclusion)
  • Cheap plastic door over memory card slot; pop-up flash gets in the way of your fingers when opened
  • Camera is pretty bulky
  • USB 2.0 High Speed would've been nice
  • Tiny xD card and throwaway batteries included with the camera
  • Full manual only on CD

Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot A95, Casio Exilim EX-P600, Fuji FinePix E550, Kodak EasyShare Z730, Nikon Coolpix 4800, Olympus C-7000Z, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2, Pentax Optio 750Z, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the C-5500SZ and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Read another review at Steve's Digicams.

Buy it now

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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