Coolpix 990 vs. Olympus C-3030Z: Review
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2000

Last Updated: Sunday, October 1, 2000

One of the first big reviews I ever wrote on this site was the Olympus C-2000Z versus the Nikon Coolpix 950. The interest in those two cameras was amazing, then and now. When the 3 Megapixel versions were announced, people again got excited.

The new Olympus C-3030Z and Nikon Coolpix 990, both $1000, close the gap even more between film and digital. Read on to find out how, and which is better for you!


What's in the Box

C-3030Z

Olympus did a great job with the included software, and just so-so on the other stuff they include with this camera. Here's what you get:

  • The 3.34 Mpixel C-3030Z camera
  • Wireless remote control
  • CR-V3 Li-ion battery packs (non-rechargeable)
  • 16Mb SmartMedia card
  • Lens cap
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Three manuals (English, Spanish, French) for camera/software. The English version is over 230 pages!
  • Two software CDs (more on this later in the review)

I'm going to give Olympus a thumbs down right off the bat for leaving out a strap for that lens cap. Because my lens cap is somewhere on Twin Peaks right now. When I was up there taking some night photos, I was putting the lens cap back on... it popped off, rolled along the stone wall, and fell over the side, never to be seen again. I would imagine it would cost them maybe a nickel to include this strap. Come on!

Olympus made a big fuss about their new Lithium-ion batteries, even putting out a press release about them. And while they do seem to last for an eternity, they're not rechargeable. Things get ever stranger when you recall that the C-2020Z, a "lower" model, includes NiMH batteries and a charger! Uhh, hello?

Another weird thing -- while the C-3030Z supports transfer of photos via a serial connection, no cable was included.

Ok, now onto the good stuff. Olympus includes a wireless remote control, as they have in the past with the C-2000 series, which lets you take pictures, or review them, without touching the camera. The coolest thing about this is that when you have the camera plugged into the TV, you can sit back and run the show from your couch!

Speaking of watching photos on the TV, the C-3030Z includes an A/V cable, rather than the traditional video cable. This is so you can hear the sounds you record with your photos or movies!

Olympus is finally getting the hang of writing decent manuals. They no longer stuff three languages into one book -- there's now three different books that come with the camera! Just about everything is covered in the manual, though its still not super-easy to read (too many "notes" on every page!)

Olympus also did a great job with its software bundle, including not only their own software, but Adobe Photoshop 5.0LE as well -- see the Software section later on in this review for more!

Coolpix 990

Nikon didn't include quite as much stuff with the Coolpix 990. The box includes:

  • The 3.34 Mpixel Coolpix 990 camera
  • Four alkaline batteries (boo!)
  • 16Mb Lexar 8X CompactFlash card
  • Lens cap w/strap (!)
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video-out cable
  • Fast Start guide (fold out)
  • 100 page manual for camera (electronic manual for software included on CD)
  • NikonView software CD

Many thanks to Nikon for the little strap to keep your lens cap on. Also, kudos for including a Lexar USB-enabled 8X CompactFlash card. While I didn't run any tests, these cards are supposed to transfer 8 times faster than normal CompactFlash cards. They are USB-enabled, as well, so you can use Lexar's JumpShot cable to hook into the USB port of your computer. Of course, the camera already has USB, so I don't know why you'd need it anyway.

Much like with Olympus, Nikon has failed to include rechargeable batteries. For what it's worth, Olympus' included batteries lasted much longer than Nikon's.

There was no serial cable included with this camera, either. Weird.

It's nice to have a printed manual included -- my Coolpix 950 didn't have one -- and this 100 pager is pretty good.

Winner: Olympus C-3030Z
So I've got to give the award to Olympus on this one, even if their lens cap is in the bushes on Twin Peaks. The remote control and superior software bundle takes the cake.


Look and Feel

The Olympus C-3030Z looks almost identical to the C-2000Z series, while the Coolpix 990 fixes most of my complaints about the 950 that it replaces.

C-3030Z

As I said, the C-3030Z looks just like the C-2000 series, but with a black body instead of metallic. It also seems like it's lost a little weight, and it actually felt a little cheaper, with more plastic than before. If both the C-3030Z and the CP990 fell to the ground, I think only the Coolpix would survive.

The camera does fit well in the hand, especially for your right hand. For my left hand, I found myself putting my thumb on the bottom of it, and my index finger on the top. Nose smudges on the LCD will be a problem for those who use their left eye. Also, since the LCD kind of bulges out, it's hard to use the optical viewfinder with your left eye.

The front of the camera isn't terribly exciting, but there are a few items of note here. Those five little holes just above the lens are for the microphone. Yes, you can record audio! Just above the word "Olympus" is a infrared receiver, for that included remote control. Finally, the lens (6.5 - 19.2 mm, which is equivalent to 32 - 96 mm on a regular camera) is threaded so you can use additional lenses and filters. Olympus has a whole page full of lens accessories for this camera.

Moving now to the back of the camera, you can see that this is where most of the action is. A quick rundown:

  • The optical viewfinder has diopter correction, for those with glasses
  • The 1.8-inch "wide view" LCD is very good in all conditions except (of course) bright light. You can adjust the brightness of the LCD using the menu system.
  • Above the LCD, you can see the flash and macro/spot metering buttons, which double as delete photo and print when in playback mode.
  • The four way switch is used for moving through menus, and adjusting the aperture and shutter settings in manual mode
  • The OK button is for the menus sometimes, activating manual focus other times, and can also lock photos in playback mode.
  • Just below that is the button for turning on and off the LCD screen. If you're in record mode, if you press it twice quickly, you can move into playback mode without using the mode wheel.
  • Below that is the button that activates the menus
  • The red light to the right tells you when the memory card is being accessed

Now moving onto the top of the camera, where things are pretty familiar. The LCD info display is just like on every other camera, as is the mode wheel. Your choices in the mode wheel are Play, Off, Program (auto) mode, A/S/M (manual) mode, and movie mode.

The zoom control continues to bother me a bit, as it did on the C-2000 series. It just seems non-intuitive to me to pull the switch towards you, when you want to get closer to something. Oh well, last time I mentioned this, a few people wrote in and said I was weird. Go figure. The zoom controls can also be used for (surprise) zooming into your photos in playback mode, or backing out into thumbnail mode.

A quick peek at the left side of the camera now. Under a plastic door lies the I/O plugs for the camera. From top to bottom: power, A/V out, USB, serial. Just above all that is the diopter correction knob, and to the lower-left is the external flash sync terminal.

On the other side, under a door whose strength is uncertain, is the SmartMedia slot. It's the traditional push and eject system used on most other SmartMedia cameras. The included 16Mb card is shown.

And last but not least, here's the bottom of the camera. On the left side of the photo, you can see where you put the batteries. Right in the middle, though not directly under the lens, is the metal tripod socket.

Coolpix 990

I must confess that when I first saw the Coolpix 900 a few years ago, I thought the design was too strange for me. When it was time to get a 2 Megapixel camera, I decided to give it a chance, and I bought the CP950. Now a year later, it's still one of my favorite cameras. You may think that swiveling lens is a gimmick, but it allows for some interesting shots from my own usage. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it's great! I'm going to do the usual tour, then show you the changes made between the CP950 and CP990.

The Coolpix 990 fits very well in your hand, even more so than with the 950, thanks to a larger right hand grip. There's plenty of space for your left hand too, thanks to the swiveling lens. There's no danger of nose smudging, since the optical viewfinder is off by itself. The body feels much more solid than the C-3030Z, as I mentioned earlier, with much more metal than plastic.

Here's the front of the camera, with the lens swiveled down. The power port is the only thing of note on the front. The lens (8 - 24 mm, equivalent to 38 - 115 mm) is also threaded, and you can use all the accessories that you could on the CP950. This includes the fisheye, wide-angle, and telephoto lens converters.

Our tour now continues to the back of the camera. Here's the rundown:

  • Just below the optical viewfinder is the diopter correction knob (out of sight in this picture)
  • The 1.8" LCD is also very good (except in bright sunlight), and has adjustable brightness
  • The monitor button turns the LCD on and off
  • The menu button invokes the menu system
  • The W/T buttons are the zoom controls in both record and playback mode
  • The four-way switch is for using the menus
  • Below the LCD the three buttons are:
    • Landscape/Macro/Self-timer and manual focus (rec); delete photo (play)
    • Flash and ISO (rec); thumbnail mode (play)
    • Quality and size (rec)

Finally, as pointed out by DCRP readers, you can use the macro with the self-timer, if you keep hitting this button. This is a welcome change from the CP950. [Updated 5/1/00]

The buttons below the LCD are a bit confusing in general. If you want to change the quality, you hit the QUAL button. To change the size, you hold down the QUAL button and use the wheel that you'll see in a second.

That wheel I was referring to is at the lower right of the photo. You use this to change some settings, and to see more details in playback mode. More on both of these later in the review. The LCD is pretty busy, showing what mode you're in (Program in this example), metering (matrix), flash, shutter speed (1/30), and the other usual suspects.

The mode dial has been reversed since the CP950, which took some getting used to. Your choices are: Off, Auto record, Manual record, and Playback. Below that are buttons for changing between Program/Aperture/Shutter/Manual modes, as well as for adjusting exposure compensation. You just hold either of these buttons down, and turn the wheel to make your selection.

Just an artistic shot for you, here.... note the purple highlights, compared to red on the CP950.

On the other side, we have the CompactFlash slot, as well is the I/O connectors. Note the included 16Mb Lexar 8X CompactFlash card. The I/O slots include one for video out, and the other for USB. Sadly, this isn't a Type II slot, so the IBM Microdrive that I liked so much won't work in it.

And finally, the bottom of the camera. The battery slot, to the left, is easy to get open, but hard to close and lock. The tripod socket in right in the center of gravity, and it's metal.

As promised, here's a quick comparison between the CP950 and the CP990.

Here's a top down look, with the CP950 being on the bottom, and the CP990 on top. The differences:

  • The grip on the CP990 has really been beefed up, and its very easy to hold onto
  • The LCD info display is larger on the CP990
  • The power input has been moved down a little on the CP990
  • The mode dial has been reversed
  • The flash and macro buttons have been moved from the top of the camera to below the LCD on the 990. I prefer the old location, myself.
  • The old wheel used to be on the front of the CP950 -- it's now on top

And finally... the CompactFlash slot has been moved! No longer on the bottom of the camera (shown above on my CP950), it's now on the side (see three photos up). And the door won't break off, like I've feared on my CP950 (though it is yet to happen).

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 990
This is a close one, but I do find it a bit easier to handle the Coolpix 990. It also feels more solid and well-built.

Continue to page two for more on using these two cameras >>


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