|DCRP Review: Olympus D-450Z
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Creator/Webmaster]
One of the most popular cameras these days is the Olympus D-450Z, and the D-400Z, which it replaced. With a slim design, 3X zoom, and quality pictures, it's not surprising. Since there's a lot of interest in this camera, we thought we'd take a look ourselves!
What's in the Box
The D-450Z is kind of a mixed bag in this department. Read on...
Inside the box for the camera, you'll find:
Olympus receives the DCRP Award for outstanding lens cover -- not only is there nothing to lose, but it's part of the camera itself. To turn the camera on, you just slide the sturdy cover to the side, and on it goes.
Now that I've gotten the good news out of the way, it's time for my three major gripes:
Look and Feel
The D-450Z is a great looking camera-- right up there with my other favorite, the PowerShot S10. It uses the same design as Olympus' 35mm Stylus line, which means that it's small, and fairly light (especially compared to the Kodak cameras I've been using.) Though some may think that being light means that it feels cheap, this is not the case with the D-450Z -- the solid plastic case survived some boulder climbing in Yosemite just fine.
The LCD display is behind thick plastic, helping to keep it safe, but not from fingerprints. While your nose won't be touching it, your fingers undoubtable will -- there's no where to put your left thumb, so that's where mine ended up. Your right hand won't have any problems, thanks to a molded area on the back for your thumb, and amble room on the front for the rest of your fingers.
Taking a look at the back of the camera, you can see quite a few buttons, most of which have more than one use. The two top buttons are for turning on the LCD display (and play mode), and the menu. I'm going to complain in depth about both of those buttons a little later in the review.
Below that, we have the -/+, for moving through menus, as well as a "quick focus" mode that I'll describe in a second. The button below is also involved in the quick focus system, and is the OK button in the menus.
The quick focus feature is simple enough-- you can set the camera to focus at either 8 feet, or infinity, by holding down the respective buttons. This works when the autofocus just won't work -- believe me, it happens.
The last four buttons are: Star, Flash/Thumbnails, Delete, Timer/Lock. I wouldn't have thought that the Star button would cycle between standard, sequence, macro, digital zoom, and panorama modes -- but it does.
Moving on now to the top of the camera... we've got your standard issue LCD up here. The only things unique to the D-450Z are the little matrix on the left, which shows the status of the memory buffer (for continuous shooting), and the quality mode (SQ, HQ, SHQ).
The zoom button (far right) also assists in the playback process, as we'll see in the next section.
Here's one side of the camera, where the video out, PC out, and power connectors go. There's a sturdy plastic door that covers these -- no flimsy rubber anywhere. I only wish there was a USB port here, too... sigh.
On the other side, you'll find the SmartMedia slot, behind another sturdy door. The D-450Z supports Smartmedia cards up to 32Mb.
Using the Olympus D-450Z
There's no mode wheel on the D-450Z, so there's really only a record mode, and a play mode. I'll cover each, starting first with record.
The start up the camera, you slide the lens cover all the way to the side. For some reason, there seems to be a spot where it stops, which isn't all the way--leaving you wondering if your batteries could really die that quickly. Sliding it further usually did the trick. Another frustration with this method for turning the camera's power on and off is that when you want to shut the camera, you've got to shut the lens cover to a "stop point" (which I just mentioned), wait for the lens to retract, then shut the cover the rest of the way.
Taking pictures is as easy as you can get -- point and shoot. If you want to change settings, things get more difficult. Unlike most other manufacturers, Olympus chose a different menu system on the 450, and I don't like it. Usually you have a hierarchical-style menu... you know, you have everything on one list, you pick something, and another little submenu opens up, where you make your change. Not so here... instead, pressing the menu button gets you the exposure compensation screen... want to change the photo quality from HQ to SHQ? Keep hitting the menu button, and you'll get there eventually. If you accidentally miss what you were looking for, you've got to keep hitting that button until you reach it again. Olympus has a perfectly good system on their other cameras I've used, so I don't know why they chose this one.
Let's focus on two bright spots in record mode: Macro photos, and night shots.
As you can see above (and on the flower picture in the gallery), the D-450Z is quite good at macro shots. One thing you will notice in this shot (SHQ mode) is a yellow cast on some of the black lines and numbers.
Another area the camera really "shines" in is nighttime photography. As a former Olympus D-600L owner, I wasn't expecting much from this camera once the sun went down. But I was shocked to see that things have come a long way since then. The D-450Z takes some of the best night photos I've seen, especially in this price range. One reason why is the 450's variable ISO mode: You have a choice between Auto, 160, 320, and 640 (!). Keep in mind that you'll pick up some more noise at the higher ISO settings. The four shots below illustrate each of these four ISO choices (taken in HQ mode):
As you can see, ISO 640 and Auto mode have the best results, but at a cost. You can not only see compression artifacts, but also a lot of noise (look at the black sky, for example). Of course, scaling these down while make the noise less apparent.
You cannot set the shutter or aperture on the D-450Z, which isn't surprising considering the price range.
Processing speeds in record mode are decent -- recycle time ranges from 2-6 seconds depending on the quality settings, though you can go faster in continuous shooting mode, but only for a few shots.
The panorama mode only works with an Olympus-branded Smartmedia card inserted. What it gives you is two vertical blue rectangles, one on each side of the LCD. You are supposed to take a photo, and then rotate the camera so that what was in the right box is now in the left. This is trickier than it looks, but patience and a tripod help.
Moving onto play mode now... wait, how do you move into play mode anyway? I've used a lot of cameras in my time and I had to pull out the manual to figure it out. You actually press the display button twice... which seems totally unintuitive to me. Once you're in play mode, things don't get a whole lot better -- things move very slowly, and I'm not talking about menu navigation. Everything from drawing an image on the LCD to moving between photos is a slow process.
You can do a lot of the usual stuff in play mode -- slideshows, printing, and thumbnail modes. You can also zoom in for a closer look at your photos, but I found this system a bit awkward. Once you zoom into an area, the only way to "look around" is to either zoom back out and select another area, or hit the +/- buttons and wait for it to redraw. After recent reviews of the PowerShot S10 and two speedy Toshiba cameras, this was tough to watch.
My last complaint about play mode applies to most cameras I review-- there's no way to delete more than 1 photo at a time. It's one or all of them.
How does it compare?
I must say that I was expecting a bit more from Olympus on the D-450Z. It's got a nice set of features, but it has a lot of little annoyances that bothered me. Here's a summary:
What I liked:
What I didn't like:
The D-450Z is definitely a mixed bag. For one, it's a camera I cannot ecstatically recommend. On the other hand, it isn't a camera to be ignored. For under $600, it has quite a few nice features in a snazzy case, with good photo quality, and point and shoot ease-of-use. If you can live with the issues I raised (many of which are minor), then it's a good choice.
As always, we urge you to head out to the computer store to play with the camera before making your purchasing decision. Some cameras I'd say compete with it are the Kodak DC240, Epson PhotoPC 750Z, and the Fuji MX-1700 (see our review of the latter). Of these three, only the Kodak supports USB, though.
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