Taking Pictures

C-3030Z

When you first turn on the C-3030Z, it takes less than four seconds to be up and running. The LCD doesn't turn on by default -- you have to hit the LCD button once to do that. The camera is exceptionally fast between shots, as well, with around three seconds between shots in HQ mode. There is no noticeable shutter lag.


If you're going to zoom in, you'll find the response very fast, and the control precise.

In Program (auto) mode, you can tweak almost every setting, from white balance to ISO to manual focus.

If you want more control, put it in A/S/M mode, where you can choose from shutter priority, aperture priority, or full manual mode. In aperture priority mode, you can choose from between f2.8 and f11. Shutter priority mode allows for speeds as slow as 1 second, or as fast as 1/800 sec. In full manual mode, you can tweak both aperture and shutter speed to your hearts content. You can also get the shutter speed to go for 16 seconds in this mode.

You can review photos before they are saved to the memory card, but you have to do some menu olympics to get there. Hit the menu button, go to Mode Setup, scroll down to the next page, choose Rec View > Check.

At first, I was annoyed that the camera forgot its settings when you turned it on. After some good reader feedback, I found that in Mode Setup, you can choose to have it remember the last settings it used, or to custom them to your liking. Now that's a lot nicer! [Updated 5/1/00]

The C-3030Z is an extremely capable shooter, as is the...

Coolpix 990

The CP990 turns on just as fast as the C-3030Z, except that the LCD display turns on too. When taking pictures, the CP990 is a bit slower than its competitor -- it's a bit less than five seconds between shots in Normal mode on the CP990. There is no shutter lag on the CP990.

The CP990 always lets you review the photo you have just taken, whereas the option is well hidden in the C-3030's menus.

The Auto mode is pretty limited as to what you can change - just flash, macro, and quality settings are available.

If you want to adjust things like ISO, manual focus, metering, white balance, and more, you use Manual Mode. By the way, the choices for ISO are the same as the C-3030Z: Auto, 100, 200, or 400. However, these are only accessible in Manual mode. In Auto mode, the ISO is 80.

There are five shooting options available on the CP990 in manual mode:

  • Program Mode (P) - the camera decides what's best
  • Flexible Program Mode (P*) - you can choose between a few sets of aperture/shutter settings that the camera thinks are best
  • Aperture priority - choose from f2.5 to f7.0 in wide, or f4.0 to f11.0 in full telephoto [Updated 5/1/00]
  • Shutter priority - choose from 8 seconds to 1/1000 sec
  • Full Manual - Set both the aperture and shutter speed yourself

Switching between all of these is very easy, using the wheel and the MODE button.

The flash is on by default in Auto mode, and it remembers your last setting if you're in manual mode, which is nice since I rarely use the flash.

Nikon provides a feature called BSS (Best Shot Selector), which lets you fire off as many pictures as the buffer can hold, after which it compares them and chooses the sharpest one. This is good for macro shots, where the slightest movement can blur your photo. [Added 5/1/00]

Another cool feature is that when you lock focus on a picture, it tells you what it was focusing on (note the red brackets in the photo above).

Winner: Olympus C-3030Z
The C-3030Z offers faster shooting, a better range of shutter and aperture, and it gives you more control in point-and-shoot situations in Program mode.


Viewing Pictures

C-3030Z

The C-3030Z has a very responsive, easy to use playback system, with a few annoyances.

The good parts:

  • It can scroll between HQ quality photos in 2 seconds. It doesn't use a low-res version, either -- so the image you see on the LCD is high res.
  • You can zoom into your photos, up to 3X, and you can move around once you've done so.
  • You can get basic info on the photo you took, such as the date, and other useful settings.
  • You can do the usual slideshow and thumbnail features, and you can view the movies you took (though without hearing the sound).
  • Deleting a single photo is easy.
  • You can record up to 4 secs of audio with every picture

The bad:

  • You can't select a group of photos to delete.
  • When you want to scroll in a zoomed-in photo, you have to keep hitting the buttons to do it. You can't hold it down to keep scrolling.

Coolpix 990

The CP990 scrolls through photos twice as fast as the C-3030Z, but it uses a trick: it shows a low res version, and then draws the high res version over it. So while it may take a half a second to go between photos, it takes a little less than 3 seconds to actually go between high res versions.

The good:

  • Fast scrolling between photos
  • You can zoom in as much as 4X on your photos, and then scroll around them in real-time. Holding down the four-way switch scrolls continuously.
  • Choice of 4 or 9 thumbnails per page
  • Can easily delete one, selected, or all photos
  • Excellent extra info on photos (see below)
  • Can view movies on LCD
  • Slideshow mode and all the other stuff is there too

The bad:

  • When you hit a movie while browsing through your photos, there's a long delay before you can do anything else (more on this in the Movie section below)
  • No audio recordings with photos, unlike the C-3030Z

The CP990 has a lot more info that the C-3030Z provides -- check it out:


This is the standard view in playback mode. Nothing unfamiliar here.

Turn the wheel one click, and you've got this page. Besides the info about your camera, you've got all kinds of other pieces of info.

Turn the wheel another click and you've got this page. Note the brackets that show where the camera was focused.

Finally, histogram mode, which shows the distribution of tones in an image. The horizontal axis shows pixel brightness, and the vertical axis gives numbers of pixels.

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 990

There can never be too much information! Aside from the long delay when you pass through a movie, the CP990's playback mode is superior.


Menus

C-3030Z

I found the menu system on the 3030 to be cumbersome and unintuitive It takes too many button pushes to do things that takes maybe two on the Coolpix. The example illustrated in a recent PC World review of this camera is partially true: their review claimed that it takes 16 button pushes to get from aperture priority to shutter priority mode. Fair enough, but there's a faster way to do it, as I'll show below:


1. Push the menu button on the back of the camera

2. Here's the first screen of the menus. Instead of moving down like in the PC World test, I'm going to scroll up instead.

3. Okay, so I moved up one click and here I am. One push to the right on the four-way switch and...

4. I've got my choice. Let's say I'm going to switch into aperture priority mode now (I'm currently in shutter priority mode). That's one click up.

5. Ok, we're almost there. Now I've got to click the OK button.

6. Okay, one more push of the OK button and we're done.

And we've just switched from shutter to aperture priority mode in six button pushes, not 16. I'll do the same example for the Coolpix in a bit.

What what options await you in the menus? Here goes for record mode:

  • Drive (Single shot, continuous shooting, continuous shooting with exposure and white balance adjusted for every shot, self-timer/remote control, auto-bracketing)
    Auto bracketing mode will take 3 or 5 shots sequentially, using different exposure compensation values. This is especially helpful for night or low-light shots.
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, or fluorescent)
    There is no manual white balance on this camera
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
    When in A/S/M mode, the ISO default is 100. You cannot use Auto.
  • Flash strength (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
    This is adjusted just like exposure compensation, in 1/3EV increments.
  • Slow shutter flash sync mode (Off, Slow 1, Slow 2)
    This is useful for creative night shots. You can set the flash to fire either at the beginning or the end of a long exposure.
  • Extension flash options (internal + external, external only)
    If you're using the FL-40 extension flash (more on this later), you can choose if you want the internal flash to fire too.
  • Digital zoom (On, Off)
    The 2.5X digital zoom will reduce the quality of your photos, of course
  • Picture effects (Off, Black & White, Sepia, White Board, Black Board)
    I will discuss the White Board mode a bit later in this review.
  • Sound recording (On, Off)
    You can record up to 4 seconds of sound with each photo
  • Panorama mode (Activate)
    See the Other C-3030Z Features section later in this review for more.
  • Card setup (erase or format a SmartMedia card)
  • Mode setup (sharpness, TIFF, SQ1 and SQ2 settings)
  • Quality setting (TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ1, SQ2)
    You can define what resolution TIFF, SQ1, and SQ2 use in the Mode setup window
  • A/S/M mode (aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual mode)

Okay, that's enough about the 3030Z's menus, I think you get the idea.

Coolpix 990

Nikon does a better job with their menus, making common operations easy to do. As promised, here's how you change the CP990 from Shutter to Aperture priority -- compare this with the C-3030Z:


1. Hold down MODE button, turn wheel once

2. Done! Note the change in the LCD info display.

Much better. I found this to be the case with most functions on the CP990. The menus can be accessed in the "traditional" way, by moving the four way switch through the menu hierarchy (below left and right). You can also just select one (See below left, that little disc with the arrows under it? That means you can use the wheel. The icon just to the left will change) and use the wheel to change them, making it even easier. You have to know what the symbols mean, though, in order for this to be useful.

Here's a rundown of the menu choices available in Manual mode-- your choices are far more limited in Auto mode:

  • White balance (Auto, Manual, Sunlight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight)
  • Metering (Matrix, Spot, Center-weighted, Spot AF Area)
    The Spot AF Area function will link spot metering to the area that the camera is focused on. You must be in AF Area Mode to do this.
  • Shooting Mode (Single, Continuous, Multi-shot 16, VGA sequence, Ultra HS, Movie)
    Multi-shot, VGA sequence, and Ultra HS will be discussed at the end of this review.
  • Best-Shot Selector (On, Off)
    This mode will take keep shooting as long as you hold the shutter release button down, and will then decide which of them was the best. Good for close-up shots where slight movements may blur the image.
  • Lens (Normal, Wide, telephoto, and fisheye)
    If you're using a lens adapter, this is for you.
  • Image Adjustment (Auto, Normal, Contrast, Brightness, Black and White)
  • Image Sharpening (Auto, High, Normal, Low, Off)
  • User Settings (the camera can memorize up to three sets of camera settings)
  • Exposure Settings (AE Lock, Auto Bracketing, Exposure compensation)
  • Focus Options (AF Area Mode, Auto Focus Mode, Focus Confirmation, Distance Units)
    If you really like to tweak focus settings, that one is for you. AF Area Mode lets you choose which area of the image the camera should focus on.
  • Zoom options (Digital Tele, Startup Position, Fixed Aperture)
    The most welcome thing here is that you can choose to have the lens startup in full wide, full telephoto, or where it last was. No more zooming back out every time you turn it on, like on the CP950.
  • Flash options (Variable power, speedlight control)
    Exactly like the C-3030Z's options: control the power of the flash using EV units, and disable the internal flash when you're using an external one.
  • Basic camera settings: folders, date, card formatting, etc.

There you have it!

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 990
They make it easier to change the important settings, enough said.


Software

Since this isn't usually something I cover, I'm going to keep this brief. I'm only going to mention the basic software used to get the photos off of the camera. For a change, this software is very similar on both the Mac and Windows platforms. Also for a change, I'm going to cover both the Mac and PC versions!

Olympus CAMEDIA Master v2.0

Installing the software is pretty easy, especially on the Mac. On Windows 98, I had to hunt down the USB drivers on the CD after the computer rebooted. I guess Windows can't automatically install USB drivers. On the Mac, everything was ready to go right away. The software itself is almost identical on both platforms:


CAMEDIA Master for Windows


CAMEDIA Master for Macintosh

As you can see, they're pretty similar. On the top left of each, is your local hard drive. Just below that is the camera -- you can browse it like another disk. If you double-click on the camera (on the Mac) or the folder "100OLYMP" (on Windows), it'll open up the other window that you see above the picture of the flowers -- it features thumbnails, the filename, and the date you took the photo. If you double-click on the thumbnail, you'll get the larger version that you see above. You can select the photos you want to transfer, and download them to your hard disk via a menu command.

Unlike with NikonView, you can do a lot more with the CAMEDIA software besides just downloading the photos off of the camera. Besides basic stuff like rotating and flipping your photos, you can also do basic retouching, like adjusting color, contrast, and brightness, as well as more complex filters like sharpen and blur. You can also do an "instant fix" of your photos, or use the redeye tool to help reduce troublesome redeye If you have panoramic photos, you can stitch them together in the software, as well. Keep in mind that this software isn't on the same level as Photoshop or PaintShop Pro, but it's not bad. One thing that you can't do on both platforms is browse the camera on the Finder/Windows Explorer level, like with NikonView.

To top it off, Olympus also tosses in Adobe Photoshop 5.0LE, which is kind of a watered down version of the real thing. So if you need to do some fancier retouching, you've got something for that too.

NikonView v3.0

Nikon doesn't include any software comparable to CAMEDIA. There is the IPIX Wizard software for making IPIX panoramas, Quicktime for video viewing, Cumulus 5.0LE for organizing your photos, and Genuine Fractals, a Photoshop plugin for interpolating or reducing photos. Even though you can't edit photos in NikonView, that's okay with my usage: When I edit my photos, it's strictly in Photoshop, so NikonView works great for me. After an easy install (again, you have to locate the drivers on the CD in Windows), you reboot and are ready to go. You just plug in the USB cable and turn on the camera, and either the camera appears on the desktop (Mac), or a Coolpix window opens (Windows 98) on the Windows desktop.


NikonView for Windows


NikonView for Macintosh

If you open up the Coolpix folder, you're presented with a window of thumbnails... double-clicking on one brings up the full-sized version. If you want to download photos, you just select them and drag them to where you want to them go. And that's all NikonView does, though it does it well.

Winner: Olympus C-3030Z
This was an easy one -- Olympus' CAMEDIA software beats out NikonView, and then they throw in Photoshop LE too.

Continue to page three for more tests and the conclusion >>


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