DCRP Review: Olympus C-2040Z
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, February 19, 2001
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 27, 2001

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It's hard for me to believe that nearly two years ago, I reviewed the Olympus C-2000Z. It was a big comparative review against the Nikon Coolpix 950, and I chose the Coolpix as the winner. (Don't worry, Olympus fans, in the next comparison I did, the Olympus C-3030Z beat out the Nikon Coolpix 990). A few months after the C-2000Z was introduced, the upgraded C-2020Z arrived. And now, in 2001, the latest model in the C-2000 series has arrived: the C-2040Z ($699).

The C-2040Z adds the following to the already very nice C-2020Z:

  • Faster F1.8 optical zoom lens
  • New 1/2" 2.11 Megapixel CCD
  • Manual white balance mode
  • Improved metering mode
  • More shutter speed choices

So if you take an already very good camera and add these features, you'd expect this camera to be even better -- and that's just how it turned out.

What's in the Box?

The C-2040Z has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Olympus C-2040Z camera
  • 8MB SmartMedia card
  • Two CR-V3 "long life" Lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • 220 page manual (three of them actually: English, French, Spanish)

I'll get my grumbling out of the way first: "Bad Olympus" for not including rechargeable batteries on a $700 camera (this seems to be a trend of late with them). While the CR-V3 batteries do last for a really long time, they're no substitute for a good set of NiMH batteries, so go out and grab some right away.

Looking back at my reviews of the similar C-2000Z and C-3030Z cameras, I complained both times about the lack of a strap to keep the lens cap from falling off. While many readers think this is a stupid thing to complain about, I actually had the C-3030Z's lens cap plunge off the side of a mountain during testing. But there's no need to complain here - Olympus includes the strap with the lens cap, and everybody's happy. I'm glad it's there, since the lens cap had the tendency to pop off if it was bumped.

The opposite has happened with the remote control: where the C-2000Z had it, it's now optional on the C-2040Z.

I covered Olympus' Camedia Master software in a previous review. Overall, I found it to be better than the average software that comes bundled with the camera.

While not terrible, I'm still not a fan of the layout and organization of Olympus' manuals.

Look and Feel

The C-2040Z is an easy to hold, point-and-shoot style camera. There is decent sized grip for your right hand, and there's enough room for your left as well. There is quite a bit of plastic on the C-2040Z, but it still feels solid and well-built. The dimensions of the camera are 4.3 x 3.0 x 2.7 inches, and it weighs in at 307 grams / 0.67 pounds empty. Let's begin our tour of the C-2040Z with a look at the front.

One of the big selling points of the C-2040Z is its new "super bright" F1.8 - F2.6 lens. It's a 3X optical zoom, with a range of 7.1 - 21.3 mm, which is equivalent to 40 - 120mm on a 35mm camera. This "super bright" lens, sometimes called "fast", should allow the camera to take better low light shots. A side effect of this is that is extends the range of the flash. No complaints there!

The lens is threaded (43mm) and requires a step-up ring in order to use the various lens accessories that Olympus sells (macro, wide-angle, telephoto).

Moving on to the back of the camera now. The 1.8" LCD is, interestingly (and annoyingly) enough, far superior to the LCD on my $2,000 Olympus E-10. It's bright and fluid, never choppy.

The optical viewfinder above and left from the LCD includes diopter correction for those of us with glasses. If you use your left eye to compose your shots, your nose will smudge the LCD.

The two buttons just to the right of the optical viewfinder are for flash (rec mode) / delete (play mode) and macro/spot metering (rec mode) / DPOF print mark (play mode).

Just right of those buttons is the four-way switch for the menu system. Below that is the OK (in menu), Exposure lock (rec mode), and protect (play mode) button. The Display button below that turns the LCD on and off, and can invoke playback mode easily when the mode wheel is in a record mode. The button below that invokes the menu system.

The top of the camera has everything you'd expect: the LCD info display, mode wheel, zoom lever, and shutter release button. A few notes about these:

The zoom control on the C-2000/3000 series has always seemed counterintuitive to me. To zoom in on something, you move the lever towards you. I'd expect to move the lever towards the subject to zoom in on it. Maybe it's just me. The zoom action itself is fairly smooth and responsive.

The mode wheel has the following selections:

  • Playback
  • Off
  • Program Mode
  • Aperture priority / Shutter priority / Manual mode
  • Movie Mode

With all that real estate on the wheel, I don't know why Olympus combines A/S/M onto one notch. If you want to change between those modes, it requires a trip to the menus. Some details on A/S/M mode:

  • Aperture priority mode: F1.8 (full wide) or F2.6 (full tele) to F10.
  • Shutter priority mode: 4 sec to 1/800 sec
  • Full manual mode: same for aperture; shutter choices of 16 sec to 1/800 sec

I'm still puzzled at the reason for limiting exposures to 4 sec unless you're in full manual mode.

Here's an (overexposed) look at the left side of the camera. I've opened up the door and removed the cap on the flash sync port so you can get a closer look. The 5 pin flash sync port supports the FL-40 external flash from Olympus, and compatible models. Under the door you'll find ports for DC in, video out, and USB out. There is no serial support on this model.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the SmartMedia slot, under a plastic door (don't open it too hard, it seems like it could snap off). The slot is spring-loaded so the card is easy to remove. The camera includes the 8MB card that you see here.

Last but not least, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery compartment, as well as a plastic tripod mount.

Using the Olympus C-2040Z

Record Mode

The C-2040Z takes about four seconds to extend the lens and initialize before it's ready to start shooting. When you depress the shutter release button halfway, it takes less than 1/2 second to lock focus. Fully depressing the button will result in an almost instant exposure. Shot-to-shot speed is exceptional, thanks to a hefty amount of buffer memory. There's about a 2 second wait before you can take another shot. The longest you'll ever wait on this camera is about 15 seconds when recording TIFF files.

The C-2040Z uses a more traditional non-overlay menu system, which I found to be confusing. Things seem poorly organized, and hard to get to. It takes trips to the menus for things that I wish were buttons instead (but then again they've got little real estate to work with on this camera). The options you'll find in the menus in record mode are:

  • Auto/Manual Focus
  • Drive (continuous shooting, self-timer, or auto-bracketing)
  • White Balance - more on this below
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, and 400)
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV steps)
  • Slow flash settings (1st or 2nd-curtain effect)
  • Digital zoom (up to 5X at 640 x 480)
  • Function (black & white, white board, black board)
  • Card function - panorama assist (only on Olympus-branded SmartMedia cards!)
  • Card Setup (formats the card)
  • Mode setup (choose defaults and basic settings)
  • Record mode - more on this below
  • A/S/M mode (choose which one you want to use)
  • AE Lock (enables AE lock or multi-metering)

Now some more detail on a few of these items. First, white balance. In addition to preset settings for daylight, overcast, tungsten, and fluorescent lighting, there's also a "one touch" white balance mode. Here, you shoot a piece of white (or whatever you want to be white) paper, and the camera uses that as it's baseline white color. If that's not enough for you, you can go into the Mode Setup menu and change the color tone of the white balance-- using a sliding scale between red and blue. I haven't seen this level of white balance control on a low-cost camera before.

As for quality settings, the chart below describes the standard settings, and how many photos can fit on the included 8MB card. You have the ability through the Mode Setup menu to define the various settings if you'd like (e.g. change the size of a TIFF, change quality of SQ1/SQ2).

Quality Resolution Images on 8MB card
TIFF 1600 x 1200 1
SHQ 1600 x 1200 7
HQ 1600 x 1200 16
SQ1 1024 x 768 38
SQ2 640 x 480 82

The C-2040Z faired well in our macro test, especially with one-touch white balance enabled (as it is in the above shot). You can get as close as 7.9" to the subject when in full wide-angle.

The "Super Bright" lens proved itself worthy in our nightshot test as well. There are no unnatural stars caused by noise, and overall, things are very sharp.

The LCD display while in record mode

On the whole, the C-2040Z's photos were very good, though a little "blue" sometimes. Check out the gallery to see some sample photos.

Movie Mode

The C-2040Z can record movies at 15 frames per second, at resolutions of 320 x 240 or 160 x 120. No sound is recorded during filming, unfortunately. The good news is that the zoom lens is functional during filming, and many menu options are also available (white balance, ISO, black & white). The sample below (taken in the rain) should be a decent example.

Click here to play movie (QuickTime format, 3.4MB)

Playback Mode

The C-2040Z has a fairly basic playback mode, but it covers most everything. Slideshows, DPOF print marking, and file protection are there.

So is the "zoom and scroll" mode. Using the zoom control you can move up to 3X closer to your photos, and then use the four-way switch to move around in the photo. While the zooming is snappy enough, the scrolling around could be better -- you have to hold the button down for a second or two before it really starts moving.

Moving between photos is quick - about 2 seconds between each high-res thumbnail. If you've got a TIFF in there, expect to wait 10-15 seconds before it appears.

The info display in playback mode

The C-2040Z has an "Info" option which displays basic exposure information along with the filename and date of the photo.

The menu system is limited in playback mode

You can delete one photo using the button on the back of the camera, or all of them via the menu system. There is no option available for deleting a group of photos.

Overall, the C-2040Z's playback mode is good at the basics, with few bells and whistles.

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus C-2040Z is in kind of a strange position. It costs only about $100 more than the D-490Z, and $100 less than the C-3000Z. If all this talk of manual controls are too much for you, then you might want to jump down to the D-490Z. If you can afford the extra $100, the step up to the 3.3 Megapixel C-3000Z might be worth it.

Aside from all that, though, the C-2040Z is a nice upgrade to an already excellent camera. I have few issues with it, and most of them are minor. If your old digital camera is looking for an upgrade but you're not quite ready for the big leagues of 3 and 4 Megapixel cameras, then the C-2040Z is seriously worth considering.

What I liked:

  • Fast startup, shot-to-shot speed
  • Full manual controls
  • Impressive white balance controls
  • Support for external flash
  • Uncompressed TIFF format

What I didn't care for:

  • Clunky, unorganized menus
  • No sound recording in movie mode
  • Seems a bit pricey at with $699 list price

I already mentioned two cameras to take a look at -- the Olympus D-490Z and C-3000Z. Some other cameras worth considering are the Casio QV-2000UX, Fuji MX-2900, Nikon Coolpix 800 and 880 (cheaper than you think) Sony DSC-S50, and the Toshiba PDR-M5. A few of those cameras may be hard to find since they're near the end of their lifespan. As always, I recommend a trip to your local reseller to "try before you buy!"

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the C-2040Z!

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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