** Printer friendly version for non-commercial use only **
DCRP Review: Olympus
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 19, 2002
Last Updated: January 22, 2003
The Olympus C-5050 Zoom ($799) is the latest iteration of a camera body that has been with us for many years. The body first appeared way back in 1999, with the C-2000Z, a 2 Megapixel camera which was also $799.
Jump to the end of 2002, and my, how times have changed. The body is still reminiscent of the original C-2000Z, but the similarities end there. The C-5050Z packs a 5 Megapixel CCD, super fast F1.8 lens, three memory card slots, a hot shoe, and a host of manual features into this body.
I don't have to tell you that the 4/5 Megapixel field is crowded. How does the C-5050Z perform? Find out now...
What's in the Box?
The Olympus C-5050Z Zoom has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Olympus has done a really nice job with the bundle included with the C-5050Z. If they had just printed the full manual instead of putting it on CD, I would've given it an excellent rating.
You'll find a 32MB xD Picture Card in the box. It's enough to start with, but you'll want a larger card right away, as those 5 million pixel images take up a lot of space. One big advantage of the 5050 is that it supports three types of memory cards: SmartMedia, xD, and CompactFlash (Type II). The CompactFlash format currently has the largest capacity, and by quite a larger margin.
The C-5050Z finally ends Olympus' tradition of including throw-away lithium batteries in the box. Instead, they've bundled four 1700 mAh NiMH batteries, plus a charger. These four rechargeables provide an impressive 8.2 Wh of power, which competes well with more expensive, proprietary batteries. Olympus doesn't provide any information about expected battery life, but it seemed fine to me in everyday usage.
I much prefer AA over proprietary for two reasons. One, they cost less. You can buy a four pack of 1700 mAh cells for under $9. Proprietary batteries range from $25-60. Secondly, if you're in a bind and your AA-based camera runs out of juice, you can buy a pack of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day. This is not possible with proprietary batteries.
When it's time to recharge, just pop the batteries in the charger and plug it directly into the wall. It takes about four hours to charge the batteries.
Olympus includes a lens cap and retaining strap, to protect the lens.
Another nice item in the bundle is the good old RM-1 wireless remote. This remote has been around forever (so has the picture above), but it's very helpful for taking pictures away from the camera, or for playing them back on a television while you sit on the couch.
There are a number of accessories available for the C-5050Z. You can add wide-angle, telephoto, and macro conversion lenses, but you'll need to buy the CLA-1 lens adapter ($30) first. You can also use an external flash on the 5050 -- but more on that later. Other accessories include an AC adapter, hot shoe flash cable, camera case, and numerous card readers.
The C-5050Z is compatible with Windows XP and Mac OS X. In most cases, you won't even need to install drivers.
The C-5050Z includes Olympus' new Camedia Master 4.0 software. This is a dramatically improved version of their photo viewing/editing software that they've been including for the last few years.
The editing tools included with Camedia Master are impressive. You can change all kinds of things like brightness, contrast, and color balance. There are also red-eye reduction and "instant fix" options.
The software is much more responsive than the previous versions. My only complaint is that the interface is non-standard (doesn't follow human interface guidelines) on both Macs and PCs.
For $20 more, Olympus will upgrade you to the "Pro" version of the software. This adds contact sheet printing, image e-mailing, HTML albums, panorama stitching, and slide shows. It seems a bit cruel to nickel and dime someone who just bought an $800 camera, doesn't it?
Keeping with recent Olympus tradition (unfortunately), the only printed manual you get is a "basic" manual. If you want more depth, you've got to load up the one include on CD. The manuals themselves have been improved over previous Olympus manuals, but are still very confusing.
Look and Feel
The C-5050Z is very similar in design to its predecessor, the C-4040Z. However there are some big changes that aren't apparent.
The 5050's body is made mostly of metal, with a little plastic thrown in for good measure. It feels sturdy and has a nice weight to it (if that makes any sense). It's too big to fit in a pocket, but its still small enough to carry around for the comfortably.
The official dimensions of the camera are 4.5 x 3.1 x 2.7 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs about 375 grams empty.
Let's start our tour of the camera now:
The C-5050Z uses the same F1.8, Super Bright 3X zoom lens as the C-4040Z. Lens on consumer digicams don't get any faster than this. The lens has a focal range of 7.1 - 21.3 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is threaded, and add-on lenses are available, as I mentioned earlier. You will need to buy the adapter first though.
To the northwest of the lens is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.8 - 5.6 m at wide-angle, and 0.2 - 3.8 m at telephoto. You can use an external flash -- more on that in a minute.
Straight above the flash is the optical viewfinder, self-timer lamp, and an autofocus-assist lamp. Yes, you heard that right. The C-5050Z is the first Olympus camera to offer an AF illuminator, and to that, I say "about time". This lamp projects an orange light on the subject, which greatly aids in focusing while indoors or in low light.
|Update 12/26/02: Let me rephrase that -- it's the first Olympus camera in a long time with an AF illuminator. Apparently the C-2100 Ultra Zoom and C-2500L had AF illuminators.|
To the right of that is the microphone. Below it as the IR receiver for the remote control.
One of the more unique features of the C-5050Z is the tilting LCD display, a feature also seen on Olympus' E-10 and E-20 cameras. The LCD locks into position at -20, +20, +45, and +90 degrees. This feature is very handy for doing the kind of product shots I do for my reviews. It's not as nice as the rotating LCD on the PowerShot G3, but it's still way better than just a normal LCD.
Here's a look at the back of the C-5050Z with the LCD in its normal position. The LCD is 1.8", bright, and fluid. It's nice to see that Olympus hasn't downsized their LCDs on their high-end cameras.
Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. The viewfinder is good-sized, and offers a diopter correction knob to focus things for those with less-than-perfect vision. It offers AF crosshairs as well.
Over to the right of the viewfinder is the AE Lock / Delete Photo button. AE Lock will lock the exposure for you until a photo is taken, or the button pressed again.
Buttons to the right of the LCD are for:
That last item is used to switch between the memory cards you have inserted.
To the right of those buttons is the speaker, as well as a light showing memory card activity.
Finally, up at the top right, you'll see a command dial. This is used for changing a good deal of the settings on the 5050. More on that in a second.
Here we are now on top of the camera.
Since there are a lot of buttons up here, I'll use this opportunity to talk about how Olympus handles settings on the C-5050Z. It's kind of clumsy, in my opinion. They've tried to replicate the feeling of a real SLR camera, where you hold down a button, and then rotate the command dial to select the option. For example, to change the focus to macro, you hold down that button seen at the top left of the photo, and then turn the dial. On the LCD, you'll see this:
As you turn the command dial, this little thing moves each item into the circle on the right. It's kind of like an electronic mode dial, except you do this for virtually every button on the camera. Being a digicam purist myself, I would've preferred good old fashion button pushing to this.
And speaking of buttons, here's a look at the items found on the top of the camera.
At the top left as the focus button I already mentioned. The choices are:
In manual focus mode, the C-5050Z will enlarge the center of the frame, so you can verify the focus. A meter on the left side of the LCD shows the current focus distance.
If you hold down the focus button, you can use the four-way switch to move the focus point to any location in the frame.
The button below that is for metering (record mode) and image protection (playback mode). Metering choices include Digital ESP, spot, and multi-metering.
Over to the right of that is another one of the C-5050Z's big new features: a hot shoe. Although Olympus would prefer it if you used their FL-40 flash, you can use any external flash. The FL-40 is controlled automatically by the camera, while a third party flash must be set manually. There is also a lengthy list of requirements listed in the manual for third party flashes that I will not repeat here.
The next item on the top of the camera is the LCD info display. This displays the current camera settings as well as exposure information when the shutter release is half-pressed. I would have loved for it to be backlit, but no such luck.
Below and to the right of the info display is the mode wheel, which has the power switch underneath it. Items on the mode wheel include:
As you can see, there are four scene modes available to assist you in situations where you may not know the best settings to use.
The two buttons above the mode wheel are for:
The custom button is new to the C-5050Z. Well, kind of. On other Olympus cameras, the AE Lock button could be redefined. Here, it's a totally separate button that you can use to quickly change settings that are buried in the menus. I set up this button to adjust the sharpness.
Above those buttons you'll find the zoom controller, with the shutter release button in the middle of it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. The lens moves at one speed, but you can just tap the controller to make finer adjustments. The lens on this camera has to be the noisiest moving lens I've seen in a long time.
There are a few more buttons on this side of the camera, up at the top. The left one adjusts exposure compensation (±2 in 1/3EV increments), while the right one changes the flash setting (auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow synchro, flash off).
Hold down both of those buttons and you can adjust the flash strength (again, ±2 in 1/3EV increments).
Below the buttons, under plastic covers, you will find the C-5050Z's I/O ports. These include A/V out, USB, and DC in (for optional AC adapter).
Here's the other side of the camera, opened up.
While the C-5050Z supports three types of memory cards, it actually has only two slots. There's a CompactFlash slot, and a dual xD/SmartMedia slot. You can transfer photos between xD and CompactFlash or SmartMedia and CompactFlash, but not between SmartMedia and xD.
xD, by the way, is a new format developed by Fuji and Olympus. It doesn't really bring much to the table aside from a small footprint and theoretically higher read/write speeds. As of this writing, it's still stuck at the 128MB limit of the SmartMedia format it's replacing.
The CompactFlash slot supports Type II cards, including the IBM Microdrive, which is supported. Keep in mind that the Microdrive will drain your batteries faster.
At least, we've reached the bottom of the C-5050Z. Here you'll find the battery compartment and metal tripod mount. The battery compartment holds four AAs or two CR-V3s.
Strangely, two rubber feet are missing from the bottom of my camera.
Using the Olympus C-5050 Zoom
The camera takes nearly 6 seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking pictures -- not terribly quick. Autofocus speeds are about average, with a roughly one second delay while the 5050 focuses, in most situations. If it has to use the AF illuminator, focusing may take a little longer.
Shutter lag was variable, depending on the shutter speed being used. With faster shutter speeds, it was barely noticeable. As shutter speeds increased, it was definitely there, and the fact that the phony shutter sound plays before the shutter even opens doesn't help matters any.
A live histogram in record mode
Shot-to-shot speed is good. You'll wait about two seconds between shots in SHQ mode. Taking a photo in TIFF mode will lock up the camera for about 20 seconds. In RAW mode (more on this in a second), the wait is 10 seconds.
There is no option to delete photos as they are being written to the memory card.
Resolution and quality settings are pretty complex on the C-5050Z, as you'll see below:
|Quality||Resolution||Approx. File Size (MB)||# photos on 32MB card (included)|
|RAW||2560 x 1920||7.4||4|
|TIFF||2560 x 1920||14.7||2|
|2560 x 1696 (3:2)||13.0||2|
|2288 x 1712||11.8||2|
|2048 x 1536||9.4||3|
|1600 x 1200||5.8||5|
|1280 x 960||3.7||8|
|1024 x 768||2.4||13|
|640 x 480||0.9||33|
|SHQ||2560 x 1920||3.6||8|
|2560 x 1696 (3:2)||3.2||10|
|HQ||2560 x 1920||1.2||26|
|2560 x 1696 (3:2)||1.1||29|
|SQ1 - High||2288 x 1712||2.7||11|
|2048 x 1536||2.2||14|
|1600 x 1200||1.4||22|
|SQ1 - Normal||2288 x 1712||1.0||32|
|2048 x 1536||0.8||40|
|1600 x 1200||0.5||64|
|SQ2 - High||1280 x 960||0.9||34|
|1024 x 768||0.6||53|
|640 x 480||0.2||132|
|SQ2 - Normal||1280 x 960||0.3||99|
|1024 x 768||0.2||153|
|640 x 480||0.1||331|
Pretty intimidating list, eh? Olympus gives you plenty of choices for resolution and quality!
One of the newest choices is RAW mode, a new feature to this line of Olympus cameras. What is RAW mode? I think the camera manual describes it well: "RAW data is unprocessed image data in its original state to which white balance, sharpness, contrast, color conversion and other processes have not been applied. CAMEDIA Master software is required to display RAW data as images." You get all the benefits of TIFF mode, but in a file 50% smaller. And Olympus has some cool RAW editing tools in the playback mode that I'll get to later in this review.
Although I didn't list it in the chart, in SHQ and HQ modes you have the option of saving images at 3200 x 2400. That involves interpolation, and your images will lose quality as a result. I will try to get a sample image added to the gallery soon.
Olympus uses one of the better file numbering systems that I've seen. Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers are always unique (well, for one year at least). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.
The C-5050Z uses Olympus' complex, customizable menu system. When you first press the menu button, you are presented with the above screen.
Don't like those choices? With the exception of Mode Menu, you can change all the other items on that screen.
Let's take a look at the Mode Menu now. It can be confusing to navigate, as you've got to hit "OK" to choose and option and then back out of the menu. The Olympus menu system is the most cumbersome I've used in some time. Anyhow, here are the menu options:
Some further explanation is required on some of those.
I'll begin with the drive options. There are three continuous shooting modes. Regular sequential mode will lock the focus and exposure settings on the first shot, and fire up to up 11 shots at 1.7 frames/second. High speed sequential works in the same way, just faster: up to 4 shots at 3.3 frames/sec. AF sequential mode will redo the focus and exposure for each shot, which slows the rate down considerably.
Auto bracketing will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure compensation value (±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0).
The C-5050Z dedicates several menu items to white balance. Why they didn't consolidate it into one menu is beyond me. I must say that I've never seen an evening sunlight option before, either. You can shoot a white or gray card using one-touch manual WB, and even fine tune it until you've got it just where you want it.
One of the 5050's strangest features is called dual control panel. If this is turned on, and you turn off the LCD, the LCD will show you what's on the LCD info display on the top of the camera. I can't say that I've ever desired such a feature, but I'm sure someone will like it.
Enough chit-chat about menus, let's talk photos now!
The 5050 produced a sharp image with accurate color in our macro test. The focal range in standard macro mode is 20 - 80 cm. Not close enough for you? Try super macro mode!
Super macro mode allows you to get just 3 cm away from your subject! The lens is locked in place, so you cannot zoom in or out. A 2.7 x 3.7 cm subject fills the frame in this mode. You can easily make out the colored fibers in this dollar bill. You can also see some purple fringing on the left side.
Aside from the purple fringing and the fact that the image is crooked (I rotated the thumbnail), the night shot came out pretty well. The noise reduction did a nice job with this 2 second exposure. It's a little over-sharpened, but I could've avoided that by tweaking the sharpness settings (more on that below).
My dad was the lucky recipient of the redeye test for this review. And as you can see, there's no redeye to be found!
Photo quality on the C-5050Z is very good, except in two areas: purple fringing and noise.
Purple fringing examples (see the gallery for the originals)
Purple fringing, also called chromatic aberrations, are usually seen where a white/bright subject meets a darker background. Seeing them around lights is common, as you can see in the example above. The C-5050Z definitely has more of a problem then other 4/5 Megapixel cameras with 3X/4X zoom lenses. You can get alleviate the problem a bit by closing down the aperture.
Canon PowerShot S45
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The other issue is noise. At default settings, images have a lot of grain. Images are very sharp, but the grain is a little too much. You can see what I mean in the samples above. One way to get rid of some of that grain is to reduce the overaggressive sharpening algorithm.
Added 12/21/02: Here's a look at the effect of the sharpness setting on noise/grain in the pictures. Note that this series was not taken at the same time as the photos above.
Sharpness = 0 (default)
View Full Size Image
Sharpness = -1
View Full Size Image
Sharpness = -2
View Full Size Image
Sharpness = -3
View Full Size Image
Sharpness = -4
View Full Size Image
Sharpness = -5
View Full Size Image
As you can see, the noise levels are reduced, but not completely eliminated. But if images are too noisy for you, this is one way to reduce it easily. Be sure to view the full size images to get a closer look... it's hard to show the differences in small cropped images like those above.
Added 12/22/02: If you want to compare the above image to a really superb camera (my new Canon EOS-D60), click here. This photo was taken at the same time.
Aside from those issues, I think that the C-5050Z holds its own against the 4 and 5 Megapixel competition. Exposure was consistently excellent, as was color. I'm hoping that after further research, I'll be able to get rid of some of that noise. Stay tuned for that. And don't forget to check out the gallery for lots of samples, so you can decide if you like the photo quality!
The C-5050Z uses Olympus' latest movie mode, and that's big news.
You can record for as long as there is space on the memory card. For the included 32MB card, that's 93 seconds at 320 x 240, and 374 seconds at 160 x 120.
Movies are recorded with sound, and are saved in QuickTime format.
If you turn on sound recording, you cannot use the optical zoom during filming. As I learned with the Photosmart 850, this is a good thing.
Added 12/21/02: Here's a sample movie for you. Kind of grainy, but enjoy:
Click to play movie (3.9MB, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The C-5050Z has a very good playback mode. Slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, and image protection are all available.
The zoom and scroll feature is here too, allowing you to zoom in as much as 4X into your photo, and then move around in it (albeit slowly).
If you didn't do so when you took the photo, you can add a sound clip to your photos in playback mode.
Probably the coolest feature in playback mode is the RAW data edit system. If you've taken a photo in RAW format, here's your chance to tweak it. Here's what you can change:
Remember this only works on images saved in RAW format -- not TIFF or JPEG!
Three other handy features are image resizing (to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240), trimming, and rotation. The trimming (cropping) feature is quite well-implemented. You can resize the cropping box and move it around. Hit okay and a new image is saved.
Normally, you don't get much information about your photos in playback mode. Turn on "info" in the menus and you'll get more.
When you really want more info about your photos, turn on the histogram feature, which you can see above.
The C-5050Z moves through images quickly, except if they are TIFFs, which take quite a long time to load.
How Does it Compare?
While it has its share of annoyances, I ended up liking the Olympus C-5050Z more than I thought I would. It offers very good photo quality, though the noise and purple fringing levels were higher than I would've liked to see. The feature set of the 5050 is excellent, with the macro ability and white balance controls standing out. The camera offers support for conversion lenses as well as an external flash, and the AF illuminator is welcomed. The RAW mode and accompanying editing tools are nice too. All is not perfect in Cameraland though. I already mentioned the noise and purple fringing, so here are some other gripes. The interface is confusing, and I don't like the way you select settings using the buttons on the camera. The flip-out LCD is nice, but I wish that it could rotate as well. The lens is very noisy, and on the slow side. And finally, the manual-on-CD and $20 upgrade fee for Camedia Master Pro get some "boos" from this audience. I would definitely take a close look at the C-5050Z, but be sure to consider its impressive competition as well.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other high-end 4 and 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot G3 and S45, Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom (uses 3.3MP SuperCCD), Nikon Coolpix 5000 and 5700, Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi, Olympus C-50Z and E-20N, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707 and DSC-F717.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the C-5050Z and its competitors before you buy!
Take a look at our photo gallery to see how the C-5050's pictures turned out.
Want a second opinion?
Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the C-5050 Zoom.
Jeff welcomes your comments or questions about this review. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to my limited resources, please do not write asking for personal recommendations, missing software/manuals, or technical support.
All content is ©1997
- 2002 The Digital Camera Resource Page. All Rights Reserved.
Reviews and images from this site may NEVER be reposted on your website or online auction.
All trademarks are property of their respective owners.
Comments should be directed to Jeff Keller.