DCRP Review: Olympus D-550 Zoom
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2002
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 2, 2002

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After what seems like an eternity, Olympus has finally brought their very popular D-400/500 series into the 3 Megapixel world. In addition to its 3 MPixel sensor, the D-550 Zoom ($399) also features a 2.8X optical zoom lens, numerous scene modes, and a movie feature, all in an easy-to-use small camera.

The D-550Z finds itself in a crowded field of 3 Megapixel cameras. Is it the right one for you? Find out in our review. Along the way, I'll compare it to the (2 Mpixel) D-520Z, to help those who are trying to decide between the two.

What's in the Box?

The Olympus D-550 Zoom has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.0 effective Mpixel Olympus D-550 Zoom camera
  • 16MB SmartMedia card
  • Four alkaline AA batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • Basic manual (printed, 43 pages) plus full manual on CD-ROM

Olympus has always been pretty skimpy on the bundles, and that continues with the D-550Z. The 16MB card will get you started, but you're going to want to buy something larger pretty quickly.

Olympus includes four, non-rechargeable alkaline batteries with the D-550Z. I recommend that you pick up a set or two of NiMH rechargeables, plus a fast charger. You'll save money, the environment, and NiMH batteries will last longer than alkalines.

You can see how small the D-550Z is

As you can see above, the D-550Z has a built-in lens cover (which doubles as the power switch), so no lens caps are necessary.

The D-550, being a point-and-shoot camera, doesn't have any lens or flash accessories.

The camera is compatible with Windows XP and Mac OS X. In most cases, you won't even need to install drivers.

The D-550Z 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 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.

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 are much improved over previous Olympus manuals, but are still not spectacular.

Look and Feel

The D-550Z got a little bigger when it went from 2 to 3 Megapixel. It's larger than the D-520Z and a little nicer looking in my opinion. One thing that the 550 shares with the 520 is the annoying "always popped up" flash. Since you do have more room for your left hand (compared with the 520), it's not that annoying -- but I'd still prefer that it stay down unless you need to use it.

Aside from that, the D-550Z is very easy to hold. It's pretty light, and easy to stuff into a pocket. The official dimensions of the camera are 4.6 x 2.6 x 2.0 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs 240 grams. For the sake of comparison, the D-520's dimensions are 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.4, with a mass of 180 grams.

Let's begin our tour of the D-550Z now, beginning with the front of the camera.

The D-550 has an F2.9, 2.8X optical zoom lens. The focal range is 5.8 - 16.2 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 100 mm. The lens is not threaded, and no conversion lenses are available.

Just above the lens you'll find the self-timer lamp and optical viewfinder. Nope, still no autofocus illuminator on any Olympus camera.

Towards the top-right of the photo, you can see the D-550Z's popup flash. Whenever you open the lens cover, the flash is popped up (much to my dismay). The working range for the flash is 0.2 - 3.4 m (wideangle) and 0.8 - 2.3 m (telephoto).

The D-550Z has the 1.8" LCD display that the D-520Z used to have (back when it was the D-510Z). I'm not terribly happy about the trend towards smaller LCDs, so it was nice to see the decent-sized one here. The LCD on the 550 is high quality - bright and fluid. Like all LCDs, it gets hard to use when it's bright outside.

Just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is good-sized for a relatively small camera. There is a diopter correction knob for those without perfect vision (the D-520Z doesn't have one).

To the right of the LCD, you'll find the four-way switch plus two more buttons (Menu/OK and Display/playback). The display button toggles the LCD on and off, or if you double-press it, it enters playback mode. When the lens cover is shut, pressing it once enters playback.

The four-way switch is used for menus, plus additional functions.

  • Left: Scene Programs
  • Up: Macro / Infinite focus
  • Right: Flash (Auto, Red-eye reduction, fill-in flash, flash off)
  • Down: Self-timer

Virtual mode wheel

There are several "scene programs", which can be used to pick the best settings for different situations. You select them from a "virtual mode wheel" (which despite their claims, was not done by Olympus first). These include:

  • Program auto (normal setting)
  • Portrait
  • Landscape + portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night scene
  • Self portrait
  • Movie

These are all pretty self-explanatory. I'll cover the movie mode later in the review.

There's not much to see on the top of the camera, other than the shutter release button and the zoom controls. The zoom is a little slower than I'd prefer, but it is precise and fairly quiet.

On this side of the camera are the I/O ports. There's the DC in port (for optional AC adapter) plus video out and USB ports (under a rubber cover).

Here's the other side of the camera, opened up. You can see the SmartMedia slot (just pull the card out to remove it). The camera comes with a 16MB card, which is not shown here. The plastic door which covers the slot is on the flimsy side.

Finally, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery compartment as well as a plastic tripod mount. The D-550Z uses four AA or two CR-V3 batteries.

Using the Olympus D-550 Zoom

Record Mode

The camera takes about 3.5 seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking pictures. When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera generally locks focus in under a second. Despite not having an AF illuminator, the 550 did a fairly good job of focusing in lower light conditions. When it does so, it will flash a "slow shutter" warning, advising you to either use the flash, or a tripod.

The shutter lag, or time between when the shutter release button is fully press and the photo taken, varies depending on the available light. If the camera has adequate light, the shutter lag is minimal. If the "slow shutter" warning is on, expect about 1/2 second of lag before the picture is taken.

Shot-to-shot speed isn't bad -- about three seconds between photos (SHQ setting). If you record in TIFF mode, the camera will be locked up for about 13 seconds while the file is written. Not bad, as some other cameras I've taken can lock up the camera for almost a minute!

For a point-and-shoot camera, the D-550Z has a ton of resolution and quality choices. Here's a look:

Resolution Quality # photos on 16MB card (included)
1984 x 1488 TIFF 1
1984 x 1312 (3:2) 2
1600 x 1200 2
1280 x 960 4
1024 x 768 6
640 x 480 16
1984 x 1488 SHQ 7
1984 x 1312 (3:2) 8
1984 x 1488 HQ 21
1984 x 1312 (3:2) 24
1600 x 1200 SQ High Quality 11
1280 x 960 18
1024 x 768 27
640 x 480 66
1600 x 1200 SQ Normal Quality 32
1280 x 960 49
1024 x 768 76
640 x 480 165

As you can see, there are many choices. I recommend SHQ if you're making larger sized prints, and HQ for everyday shooting. TIFF mode really isn't needed for most people. You can also see why you'll want a larger SmartMedia card. The 3:2 mode will make your pictures fit the 4x6 size perfectly.

The D-550Z uses the new Olympus menu system, but it's not customizable like on the higher end cameras. When you first hit the menu button, you'll be presented with the following choices:

  • Metering
  • Mode Menu
  • Exposure compensation
  • Quality

Your metering choices are ESP (matrix) or spot. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/2EV increments. The quality choices were described in the above chart. Choosing Mode Menu opens up the main menu:

  • Camera Setup
    • Drive (Single shot, continuous shooting, continuous shooting w/AF)
    • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400) - Auto mode will move the ISO up as needed when the light is low. This increases the noise.
    • Digital zoom (on/off)
    • Panorama - helps you make panoramic shots. Requires Olympus-branded SmartMedia card
    • 2 in 1 - two shots in succession combined into one
  • Picture Settings
    • White Balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent)
    • Sharpness (Soft, normal, high)
    • Contrast (Low, normal, high)
  • Card Setup (format)
  • Setup (the interesting ones, at least)
    • All reset (on/off) - retain settings after camera is powered off
    • Rec View (on/off) - shows image after it's taken on LCD
    • File naming (Auto, reset) - the files are named with the date as the first few numbers. E.g. "P6116419.JPG" which was taken on 6/11.
    • Pixel mapping - helps eliminate "bad pixels"
    • LCD brightness

A quick note about the drive modes. Continuous shooting mode will take up to 11 shots in a row, at 1.2 frames/second. Continuous w/ AF will refocus the picture each time it takes the shot, which will slow things down considerably.

Enough chit-chat, let's talk photos now!

The D-550Z did a fine job with our macro test. The colors are accurate, and nicely saturated too. The focal range in macro mode is 20 - 80 cm (7.9 - 31.5 inches).

It was a very foggy night when I took the above shot, which gives the sky a brown cast. The subject itself (SF's City Hall) is pretty well exposed, though. You can see a bit of noise and grain, but nothing horrible. If you're good, you can also see a "hot pixel" towards the upper left. If I had used the pixel mapping feature, I probably could have eliminated that.

Here's a blowup of my new red-eye test. Even with red-eye reduction turned on, the D-550Z still exhibits this problem. You can fix this problem (in most cases) using software.

I was quite pleased with the D-550's photo quality. It exposed images better than its more expensive sibling, the C-720UZ, and with less chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) to boot. The color was very nice and saturated as well. But don't just take my (our) word for it, have a look at our photo gallery and decide for yourself.

Movie Mode

The D-550's movie mode is pretty basic. You can record in two resolutions, 320 x 240 (HQ) or 160 x 120 (SQ). Both are recorded at 15 frames/second and saved in QuickTime format.

Clips are limited to 33 seconds in HQ mode, and 148 seconds in SQ mode.

Sound is not recorded during filming. You can, however, use the optical zoom during filming.

Here's a sample movie for you:

Click to play movie (2.3MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The D-550Z has a pretty decent 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.

Three other handy features are image resizing (to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240), cropping and rotation. You can also convert your images to black and white or sepia.

You can get a bit more information about your photos by turning on the Info feature, though it won't show the aperture or shutter speed.

The 550 moves between images quickly -- about 1.5 seconds between high resolution shots.

How Does it Compare?

Olympus did a nice job bringing their D-400/500 series into the 3 Megapixel era. The D-550 Zoom is a small point-and-shoot camera that produces quality pictures, some of which were noticeably better than a more expensive Olympus camera. The features on the D-550 never cross into what I'd call "manual", but they are adequate for most people. On the downside, Olympus has really fallen behind in the movie mode department, with short and silent movies. Also, the bundle and manual on CD leaves much to be desired. But for folks looking to make larger prints (or regain some of the features lost when the D-510 became the D-520), the D-550Z is a fine choice.

What I liked:

  • Good value - 3X zoom, 3 Megapixel for under $400
  • Familiar design is easy to learn
  • Decent amount of controls for a point-and-shoot
  • Many choices for image resolution and quality
  • Improved Camedia Master software
  • Pixel mapping feature blocks out bad pixels from CCD

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF illuminator
  • No sound in movie mode
  • Bundle could be better (larger SM card, full printed manual, rechargeable batteries)

Some other (lower cost) 3 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S30, Kodak DX3900, Kyocera Finecam S3, Nikon Coolpix 885, Olympus C-3020Z, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P5, DSC-P7, and DSC-P71, and the Toshiba PDR-3300 and PDR-3310.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the D-550Z and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Take a look at our photo gallery to see how the D-550Z's pictures turned out.

Want a second opinion?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the D-550 Zoom.


Jeff welcomes your comments or questions about this review. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not write asking for personal recommendations, missing software/manuals, or technical support.

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