Movie Mode

C-3030Z

The C-3030Z builds on the Quicktime video feature of its predecessor, the C-2020Z, and makes it even better.

First and foremost, there's sound support. Finally, a camera that takes sound with its video! This is great for quick video snippets of the kids (or roller coasters, in my case). The sound isn't CD quality, but it's not terrible.

Another nice thing about the C-3030Z's video support is that you're not limited to 30 second snippets -- you can keep going until you fill up your memory card. In the case of the 16Mb card that's included, you can record up to 46 seconds in HQ mode (320x240), or 186 in SQ mode (160x120) -- that's three minutes! If you buy a 64Mb card, just multiple that times four!

When you're in movie mode, you can change the same settings as in still photos: white balance, ISO, manual focus, and exposure compensation. You can use the self-timer, and the remote control too.

The one disadvantage with Olympus' movie recording mode, is that you can only use the digital zoom while recording. You can see the effect of this in the sample I've provided below.

In play mode, you get a few more options. You can create a "Movie Index", which lets you save out portions of your movie as still images. You can also edit your video, to split it into two movies, or to remove unneeded segments.

You can also playback your movie (without the sound), though keep in mind you'll have to wait for as many seconds as you recorded, before the movie starts playing. For the one below, that was 24 seconds.


"Cobra" roller coaster, Six Flags Marine World

24 seconds, HQ mode

Coolpix 990

After using Olympus' implementation of movie mode, Nikon's version just wasn't as exciting. There's no sound, and you're limited to 40 second clips.

However, you can use the optical zoom during filming, and you can also change the same settings as in normal still photography mode.

In play mode, you have to wait until the movie has loaded into memory before you can do anything. If you're just scrolling through photos, you'll have to wait many seconds before the camera will advance to the next photo, which is frustrating. I like how the Olympus loads up a frame of the movie, and only loads it into memory when you actually want to watch it. If you pop into the menu, even after its loaded the movie, you have to wait all over again.

The Coolpix has no editing or indexing functions.


Jack London Square waterfront, Oakland, CA

22 seconds, VGA mode

Winner: Olympus C-3030Z
There's really not competition here; the Olympus wins hands-down for movie mode.


Macro Mode

Probably the second most popular question I get, after "what camera should I buy", is "what camera is best for close-up shots" (usually of jewelry). These two tests set out to see which of these two cameras is better. The Nikon can shoot as close as 0.8", while the C-3030Z can get as close as 8". [Updated 5/1/00]

C-3030Z Coolpix 990

Test #1: Outdoor flower shot

This is an African Violet if I can recall. In reality, these flowers are pretty dark -- even more so than you see here. But the bright sun has lightened them up a bit. The detail on both of these is pretty amazing - you can see the individual hairs (do plants have hair?) towards the lower-right of each. It's really too close to call on these... both are very good.


Click for full-sized version (344k)

Click for full-sized version (416k)

Test #2: Indoor jewelry shot

This one was taking with just sunlight coming through the windows (to the left of this picture). The Olympus couldn't focus on it at the same distance as the Coolpix, so I moved it back about .25 inches for the shot on the left. Both shots are very good, again, and I'm leaning a little towards the Coolpix.

Also on this test, I took the same shot in uncompressed TIFF mode on each camera. I'm not a big fan of this mode, since the highest quality JPEG looks almost identical (to me, at least). See for yourself by using the links below.

   

Click for full-sized version (140k)
Click for uncompressed TIFF version (1Mb)

Click for full-sized version (140k)
Click for uncompressed TIFF version (1.8Mb)

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 990
While both of these cameras are excellent at macro shots, you can get a lot closer on the Nikon. There's a few more shots in the gallery that showcase the macro talents of these two cameras. I may try another test to see if I can show you how much closer the Nikon can get.


Night Photos

Now this is an interesting area because there were multiple ways to approach testing how well the two cameras did at night. There's the easy way: just put it into auto mode and see what happens. And the hard way: mess around with manual controls. I figured that auto mode was the fairest way to do it, since you're letting the camera's brain decide what's best.

So I took the cameras up to Dolores Park, near my home in San Francisco. Dolores Park is home to one of the original California Missions, not to mention a really great view of the skyline.

C-3030Z Coolpix 990

Click for a full-sized version (752k)
Photo Info: Program Mode, f2.8, 1.0 sec

Click for a full-sized version (1.1Mb)
Photo Info: Auto Mode, f4.0, 1.0 sec

Some observations: The C-3030Z image is overexposed: look how the city glows. The CP990 did a far better job. But they are both actually a step down from their predecessors. With all those extra sensors on the CCD, there's more noise being picked up. Take a look at the photo below, taken with my Coolpix 950 several months ago, and then compare it to either of the photos above.


Click for a full-sized version (388k)
Shot with Coolpix 950, November 1999

Look at the sky in the old photo: it's almost pure black. Not so in the newer photos. The bottom line is that if you're looking for night shots, you may actually want to consider an older 2 megapixel camera -- until camera manufacturers get rid of that noise.

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 990
While you can tinker around with both cameras in manual mode to get better results, in automatic mode, I've got to award this one to the Coolpix 990. But do remember what I said about older cameras showing less noise.


Flash Usage: Strength

I asked DCRP readers for help on how to see which camera had the brighter flash (at default settings), and got several different answers: Use a flash meter; Setup distance markers; Etc, etc... Due to my limited time and resources, I decided to just find an interior, dimly lit scene, and take a flash photo:

C-3030Z Coolpix 990

Click for full-sized image (684k)

Click for full-sized image (688k)

Now I'm not a rocket scientist, but I'd say that the C-3030Z has a more powerful flash. Look at the speaker on the left. You can tell what brand it its (Tannoy) on the C-3030Z, but not on the CP990. Also, look how much brighter the wall is on the C-3030Z. I realize this isn't very scientific, but at least in this example, the C-3030Z is the stronger flash.

Winner: Olympus C-3030Z

NOTE: I may find another way to re-test this, based on responses from readers who thought this wasn't a great way to test it.


Flash Usage: Redeye

"Redeye" is an annoying phenomenon that affects both digital and film cameras. In a nutshell, here's what it is: When you fire off the flash, the light goes through your pupils, and hits your retina. There, the blood vessels absorb all the colors of the flash (remember, white is made up of lots of colors), except for red, which is reflected. This red light is what you see in the pictures that makes both man and beast look like something out of a horror movie!

Both of the cameras take a similar approach to fixing this problem: they try to shrink your pupils. The C-3030Z does this with a series of quick "pre-flashes", about a second before the flash is fired and the picture taken. The Coolpix 990 has a "pre-flash lamp" which flashes once, before the main flash fires.

As you can see below, it appears that the C-3030Z does a better job at it. This could be due to the position of the flash relative to the lens: the CP990's flash is about an inch from the lens, while the C-3030Z is about an inch-and-a-half away. The further apart the two are, the less redeye you'll get.

How else can you get rid of redeye? For one, you can try getting the subject into better light. That's not always easy though. Another solution is to get an external flash, which is the more expensive option. Both the Coolpix 990 and the C-3030Z have options for this:

For the Coolpix 990, Nikon sells the SK-E900 Multi-Flash Bracket Unit (around $60), which supports many Nikon flash units. Non-Nikon flashes may work, but the manual warns against using them. When you're using an external flash, you can turn off the internal flash if you wish.

For the C-3030Z, Olympus offers the FL-40 extension flash ($499), which attaches to the side of the camera. Like with the Nikon, you can use both flashes, or just the external one. You can also use extension flashes from other companies with the C-3030Z.

Now, with special thanks to my dad (who seems a little psycho in the first picture), here's a comparison:

Coolpix 990
Normal Flash

C-3030Z
Normal Flash

Coolpix 990
Redeye reduction

C-3030Z
Redeye Reduction

Winner: Olympus C-3030Z
So there you have it. Neither of the cameras get rid of redeye completely, but I give the nod to the C-3030Z.


Other C-3030Z Features

Photo Effects

The C-3030Z has some traditional "photo effects", sepia and black and white mode. But I was very intrigued by their "white board" and "black board" modes. These should help capture what's written on them, and make them easy to print, right? Well, I must admit that I wasn't very excited after I saw the results, and then tried a "real" white board photo product.

What Olympus does for white board mode is essentially put the camera in black and white mode, and really boost the contrast.

In the last week, I received a copy of pixid's Whiteboard Photo product, which is really nifty (I'll be doing a full review in the future). You take a regular photo of a white board (or black board, flip chart, etc), import it into the program (Windows only), push one button, and it creates a really nice printable (color) version of the photo! Check out the table below to see what I mean:

Olympus' white board mode Regular photo of my white board taken with the C-3030Z Same photo as middle, after being run through pixid's Whiteboard Photo software.

Note that I'm only showing the right side of the white board. Yes, I have to pay quarterly taxes this year, and don't ask me to explain that calendar, either. The other side of the white board had confidential DCRP information on it <grin>.

Panorama Mode

The C-3030Z also has the same panorama mode that Olympus has had for several years now. You get a rectangle on the left side of the LCD, and another on the right. You're supposed to move what's in the box on the right to the box on the left, as you progress from left to right. You can move in different directions (e.g. top to bottom) if you'd like by using the four-way button.

I find this mode only somewhat helpful. Casio definitely does it better -- they "ghost" the image on the right side, so you can superimpose it over on the left side.

Do keep in mind that you must have an Olympus-brand SmartMedia card inserted to use this feature.

Other Coolpix 990 Features

Multi-shot 16, VGA sequence, and Ultra HS

In addition to the usual continuous shooting modes, Nikon also has three special modes that the C-3030Z doesn't have. I'm not going to put up lots of shots, but will describe them instead.

Multi-shot 16 is the most unique of the three. What it does is take sixteen consecutive shots, and then assemble them into a collage, like so:


Click for full-sized image (608k)
Sorry it's not more interesting subject matter. You get the idea though.

This feature is best for taking pictures of moving objects, not your home theater system. Here's a shot I took last year of a roller coaster, with the Coolpix 950.

VGA sequence mode is just like regular continuous shooting mode, except that it's a 640x480. This means that it can record images at 2 frames per second.

Finally, there's Ultra HS mode. This will take photos at 320x240 at 30 frames per second, for up to 80 frames. Why use this instead of movie mode? Well, here you can get a little over 2 seconds at 30fps [Ultra HS], as opposed to 40 seconds at 15fps [Video]. I don't know why you'd use this, that's why!


Conclusion

This was the toughest review I've ever written for several reasons. The first reason is that it's the most in-depth review I've done, covering many topics usually not touched (though don't expect future reviews to be this detailed!) The second reason is that these two cameras are very, very competitive. In some areas, the Olympus wins, in others, the Nikon. Sometimes it's too close to call. You really can't go wrong with either. I'll try to help you make a purchasing decision at the end of this section. Here's how the two stacked up in our tests:

Olympus C-3030Z Nikon Coolpix 990
What's in the Box  
Look and Feel  
Taking Pictures  
Viewing Pictures  
Menus  
Software  
Movie Mode  
Macro Mode  
Night Shots  
Flash: Strength  
Flash: Redeye  
WINNER  

So based on all the tests I performed, it looks as if the Olympus C-3030Z is the winner. But not by much. Both of these cameras have exceptional photo quality -- check out the gallery to see what I mean.

What about photo quality? [Added 5/1/00]

I've received lots of e-mails asking why I completely ignored photo quality in this review, since it's the most important thing. That is partially true - but since we already know that the photo quality is excellent on both (just look at the gallery to see what I mean), the whole package seems more important to me.

That said, I'm still not going to say "this one takes better photos that the other" since I honestly can't pick a winner. They are both very, very good. I leave the photo quality decision to your eyes alone.

Here's the advantages of the C-3030Z over the Coolpix 990:

  • Superior Software bundle
  • Slightly faster photo-taking
  • Great movie mode with sound
  • Better range of shutter/aperture settings in manual mode
  • More control of settings while in Program (auto) mode
  • Stronger flash, with less redeye

And here's the advantages of the Coolpix 990 over the C-3030Z

  • Superior design and build quality
  • Easier to use menus and buttons
  • Closer macro shots
  • Better Playback mode
  • Better night shots in auto mode
  • CompactFlash storage advantage (currently, the largest shipping SmartMedia card is 64Mb, while the largest Type I Compactflash card is 192Mb) [Updated 5/1/00]

Well, that's all! I hope this review has helped you figure out which of these two cameras might be the best match for your needs. But don't take my word for it. Go out and try both of them, if you can. Or, check out some other reviews of these cameras:

Check out some additional head-to-head photos in our gallery!

What did you think of this review? Send me some feedback, please! Unfortunately, I can't do this often due to my limited time and resources, but I may try this again in the future.


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