Digital Camera Home > Digital Camera Reviews > Olympus Digital Cameras > Olympus C-2020


Olympus C-2020
Many "tweaks" to an old favorite make a fine new camera!

(Review first posted 2/1/2000)

*
1600x1200, 2.1 megapixel CCD
*
Multiple exposure modes, including full manual
*
Optional manual focus, with distance readout
*
PC sync connector for optional external flash
*
Many user-interface enhancements

EZ Print Link

Readers have requested free-formatted versions of our reviews (without the graphical accouterments of our page design), to make printing easier. We are accommodating this request with special copies of each review, formatted to allow the text flow to be dictated by the browser window. Click here for a print-optimized page. 
Manufacturer Overview

With one of the broadest digicam lineups in the industry, Olympus is clearly a camera manufacturer who's successfully making the transition to the digital era. A little under a year ago (this is being written in January, 2000) they introduced one of the first 2 megapixel digicams on the market, the C-2000 Zoom. It proved to be extremely popular, offering a compelling feature set and excellent picture quality. Now, Olympus has released an updated version, the C-2020 Zoom. The new model is clearly evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, but what we find most appealing/encouraging about it is the extent to which Olympus has listened to customer input and incorporated many of the features most requested by users. Overall, the new camera is an extremely strong entry in the 2 megapixel arena, and promises to become a real value leader in the months to come.
What's New (Vs. the C-2000)

  • Full manual exposure mode.
  • Manual focus option with distance readout on the LCD. (Distance readout! Hooray!)
  • Focus feedback indicator tells when autofocus has achieved a "lock."
  • Auto exposure bracketing +/- 2 steps in 1/3 increments.
  • Two image compression/quality options at each of three different image sizes
  • Shutter speeds now extend down 16 seconds.
  • Automatic ISO setting available in all exposure modes, manual settings aren't overridden.
  • Movie mode captures up to 60 seconds in SQ and up to 15 seconds in HQ.
  • Improved ergonomics & control layout.
  • Separate buttons Vs rocker toggle makes option selection easier.
  • No power/shutter button confusion.
  • More buttons on back panel improve function access.


Highlights

  • 2.1 megapixel CCD delivering up to 1600 x 1200 pixel resolution.
  • 3x optical zoom, 6.5 to 19.5mm, aspherical glass lens (equivalent to a 35 to 105mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Aperture range from f/2.0-f/2.8 to f/11, in 1/3 f-stop increments.
  • Variable digital zoom at 1.6x, 2x and 2.5x.
  • Shutter speed from 16 to 1/800 seconds.
  • Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Full Manual exposure modes.
  • Exposure compensation from -2 to +2 in 1/3 step EV increments.
  • Auto exposure bracketing with 3 or 5 steps of 0.3, 0.6, or 1.0 EV units each.
  • Variable ISO of 100, 200, 400.
  • QuickTime movie mode.
  • Automatic or preset white balance.
  • Built-in flash with four modes (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill and Off).
  • Flash power controllable via exposure compensation, +/- 2.0EV, 1/3 EV steps.
  • Socket for external flash PC sync connection.
  • 1.8 inch TFT color LCD monitor.
  • Image storage on SmartMedia with uncompressed TIFF available.

Executive Overview

The C-2020 Zoom is an exciting update on an already exceptional camera, the preceding C-2000 Zoom. At first glance, the newer C-2020 Zoom looks almost identical to its tried and true predecessor -- the body shape, style and coloring are all the same. Upon closer examination, you'll notice a few additional control buttons, the removal of the power button and the new style of the jog dial. Best of all, the C-2020 Zoom remains lightweight and extremely compact with its 10.8 ounce weight (306.2g) and 4.2 x 2.9 x 2.6 inch (107.5 x 73.8 x 66.4mm) dimensions.
The C-2020 Zoom sports both an optical, real image viewfinder and a rear panel 1.8 inch, 114,000-pixel, TFT color LCD screen (almost doubling the C-2000 Zoom LCD's 72,000 pixels). The LCD viewfinder conveniently supplies detailed feedback about the current exposure settings, showing the f-stop, shutter speed and exposure compensation in a row of numbers across the top. We really liked the distance display that appears on the LCD monitor when using the new manual focus function -- helpful in those hard to focus situations, where you have to proceed by "dead reckoning".
The 6.5 to 19.5mm lens provides a range of 35mm equivalent focal lengths from about 35 to 105mm with 3x optical zoom and a very fast f/2.0 to f/2.8 (wide to tele) maximum aperture. New on the C-2020 Zoom is the manual focus setting, with a distance readout that allows you to be even more accurate with difficult to focus subjects. In addition to the C-2020 Zoom's 3x optical zoom, a 2.5x digital zoom can capture images at a total zoom ratio of up to 7.5x, with noticeable quality degradations of course. This variable digital zoom can be set at 1x (no zoom), 1.6x, 2x or 2.5x magnifications. The basic image size captured by the C-2020 Zoom is 1600 x 1200 pixels, but lower resolutions of 1024 x 768 and even 640 x 480 are available. Likewise, the image compression options include an uncompressed mode producing full resolution TIFF images. Another change relative to the C-2000 is that the '2020 gives you two compression/quality settings at each image size.
The C-2020 Zoom offers a great deal of exposure control and we're pleased to note a full manual capability that wasn't available on the earlier model. Like its predecessor, the C-2020 Zoom gives you four options for ISO (Auto, 100, 200 and 400 in all modes), but this time doesn't override the ISO setting in program mode. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, offering exposure times as long as 1.0 seconds. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give you control over aperture or shutter speed while the camera does the rest of the work, offering apertures from F/2.0 to F/11 and shutter speeds from four to 1/800 seconds. Manual control gives you the same aperture options and much longer shutter speed times (as slow as 16 seconds). In all automatic modes, exposure compensation can be adjusted from +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments. Add the optional spot metering and automatic bracketing, and you have a great deal of creative control.
There's also a 12 second self-timer and an infrared remote for more flexible shooting. (We really like the IR remote!) White balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten or Fluorescent to accommodate a variety of lighting conditions and the Picture Effects option allows you to capture images in black and white and sepia tone with white and black board settings (for capturing text).
We were very pleased to note the addition of a Movie mode on the C-2020 Zoom, which allows you to record up to approximately 60 second QuickTime movies in the SQ mode (320x160), or about 15 seconds in HQ (160x120). Panorama and Sequence modes add even more to the camera's functionality (with Sequence mode capturing up to 1.4 frames per second at normal camera resolutions).
The C-2020 Zoom's flash offers four operating modes (Off, Auto, Fill and Red-Eye Reduction) with flash power extending to approximately 18.4 feet (5.6m) in wide angle mode and to about 12.5 feet (3.8m) in telephoto. Any of these modes may be combined with the Slow Sync option to increase the ambient light exposure. A PC sync socket allows you to connect an external flash unit when a more powerful flash is needed.
The unit ships with an eight megabyte SmartMedia memory card, connects to the computer via an RS-232 serial interface and has a video output as well. Images may be captured and stored at several sizes and compression levels, including an uncompressed mode for maximum image quality. Software shipped with the unit includes a basic camera interface package, plus the extraordinary QuickStitch panorama stitching application and Adobe PhotoDeluxe for image editing.
Since we already liked the original C-2000 Zoom (it's the camera we use for our own product shots on the web site), we definitely love the new and improved C-2020 version: The addition of a full manual mode, movie mode and manual focus make this an even more flexible digital camera than its predecessor. At the same time, the ergonomic improvements from the control changes make its operation much more convenient. You get exceptional creative control with the same straightforward user interface we learned to love on the C-2000 Zoom. Combine this with first rate image quality, and you have what we think will be an extremely popular digicam. Design
Aesthetically, not much on the C-2020 Zoom has changed from the preceding C-2000 Zoom, but there are a few slight differences. For example, the power button has been completely removed (preventing anyone from mistaking it for the shutter button) and power is now controlled by the mode dial. The remaining design changes are on the back of the camera with the rearrangement and addition of a few feature buttons.


Let's take our standard "walk around the camera", starting with the front view: At upper left is the zoom control, which we'll see more clearly from the top view shown below. Moving right, we see the flash tube, self-timer alert light, viewfinder window, and IR sensor window (used for the IR remote control). The lens is notable for its speed, with a f/2.0 maximum aperture. The heavy plastic body ring surrounding the lens contains threads that accept an adapter ring to attach auxiliary lenses to the camera.


The back of the camera shows some of the differences from the C-2000, with the separate buttons of the "jog dial" control, two new buttons added next to it for direct (non-menu) control of the flash operation, macro mode, and spot or averaging metering. The previous display and menu buttons have been moved to the right of the LCD screen, under the OK button. In the process, the display button has acquired a small boss around it, which presumably makes it less likely to accidentally get pressed when shoved in a camera bag (thereby draining the batteries). - A nice touch.


The shutter-button side of the camera is quite plain, containing only the hatch that covers the SmartMedia compartment.


The opposite side of the camera holds the I/O and power ports, hidden behind an aluminum cover. The external flash sync connector is at lower right, concealed by its small (and easily lost!) black plastic cover. You can also see the diopter adjustment control for the viewfinder at upper right in the picture.


The top of the camera shows one of the most welcome differences between the '2020 and the earlier '2000: No power button! We initially scoffed at people who in their haste mistook the C-2000's power button for the shutter button -- until we did it a few times ourselves! You now control the camera's power by rotating the mode dial shown at right in the photo. The LCD display in the middle of the top panel provides status indication for a variety of camera functions. (One feature we miss, although honestly not all that much, was the way the C-2000 let you interact with menu-controlled functions without having to enter the LCD menu system. Some of these functions are now controlled via the two new buttons between the jog dial and viewfinder on the camera's back.)


The camera bottom reveals the same ultra-stiff battery-compartment cover, and the tripod mounting socket.
Like its C-2000 Zoom cousin, the C-2020 Zoom is lightweight and extremely compact at 10.8 ounces (306.2g) and 4.2 x 2.9 x 2.6 inches (107.5 x 73.8 x 66.4mm). While the thick body and small lens protrusion keeps the C-2020 Zoom out of your shirt pocket, the tidy design makes the camera a great candidate for a larger coat pocket or purse. We're sure you won't leave this one behind, especially with the accompanying neck strap.
The same telescoping lens design from the C-2000 Zoom extends the lens about an inch or so beyond the front of the camera body when the camera powers up in one of the capture modes. Fully retracted, the 3/4 inch thick (20mm) lens barrel adds about 1/4 inch (10mm) to the overall thickness of the unit, by projecting that amount beyond the ergonomic bulge on the right front (viewed from behind) side of the camera. We're pleased to see the same hand grip design sculpted into the right hand side of the body which encourages your fingers to fold and wrap around the camera and which should fit a wide range of hand sizes. The SmartMedia slot is hidden inside the hand grip, beneath a plastic door that securely snaps shut.
Control layout remains very logical and orderly, as does the user interface, which is both simple and flexible. Additional controls have been added to the original C-2000 Zoom design, such as the Manual Focus button, Flash control, Macro and Metering controls. Olympus has also re-worked the former rocker toggle button into a more sure-footed arrangement of four separate arrow buttons (which they call a jog dial). We were glad to see that the camera still supplies feedback on its shutter speed and aperture value choices and that you can still rely on the top panel LCD display for a great deal of camera information (helping to conserve battery power).
The small infrared remote control included with the camera lets you trip the shutter, operate the zoom lens and scroll through recorded images in Playback mode. We really enjoyed this feature and the amount of freedom it gives.
We still have one small complaint about the body design -- the very difficult to operate battery compartment door. Although we previously figured out the right trick to get it to close on the C-2000 Zoom, we still found that you need to exert a lot of pressure on the door to hold it shut so you can actuate the latch. The trick we learned was to invert the camera, place two fingers on either side of the latch lever and a thumb on the shutter button, and pinch firmly while rotating the latch with the fingers of the other hand. It seems like a minor gripe, but we do wish it were a little easier. The only other minor complaint we have is that the tripod mount is too close to the battery compartment for comfort, making battery changes while mounted to the tripod a bit of a hassle. One way around this is to just use the AC adapter, which plugs in on the left side of the camera (viewed from the back) along with the video in and digital jacks.
Viewfinder
The C-2020 Zoom offers both an optical, real-image viewfinder and a rear panel 1.8 inch, 114,000-pixel, TFT color LCD screen (almost doubling the C-2000 Zoom's 72,000 pixels). Besides the improved sharpness you'd expect from the increased pixel count, the viewfinder on the C-2020 also has a wider viewing angle. (Like any LCD though, it's still difficult to see in direct sunlight.) The optical viewfinder accommodates eyeglass wearers with both a dioptric correction adjustment and a comfortably high eye-point, leaving a reasonable amount of room between your eye and the finder for an eyeglass lens to fit in. The optical viewfinder is also almost entirely immune to framing errors due to lateral variations in eye location. The optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens, but cannot show the operation of the digital zoom, which therefore is only enabled when the LCD monitor is operating as a viewfinder. Orange and green LED indicators adjacent to the optical viewfinder illuminate or blink to show camera status, such as focus lock, flash charging, camera ready, missing memory card, etc.
The C-2020 Zoom's LCD viewfinder provides detailed feedback about the current exposure settings, showing the currently selected f-stop, shutter speed and exposure compensation in a row of numbers across the top. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the aperture or shutter value appears continuously, along with the exposure compensation setting, while the second, automatically determined exposure value (either shutter speed or f-stop) appears whenever the shutter button is half pressed, triggering the autofocus and autoexposure systems. The same goes for Manual mode, except both values are displayed together. One improvement over the previous C-2000 Zoom is that when using the new manual focus feature, a distance display appears on the LCD monitor. This is extremely helpful in situations where it's hard to focus and you'd rather use distance as a guide.
Along with the new manual focus option comes a new, magnified live viewfinder mode, which digitally zooms only the viewfinder display (not the final image itself) by 2.5x, as a focusing aid. We were surprised by how well this worked in practice, perhaps due in part to the increased resolution of the LCD display itself: The C2020 is the first digicam we've seen with a manual focus option that you can actually effectively focus based on the LCD display.
When using the LCD monitor to review captured images, you can zoom in on displayed images up to 3x, and then scroll around the enlarged image using the jog dial buttons. This is extremely handy for checking focus, small details or precise framing. There's also the index display option, which shows either four, nine or 16 thumbnail-sized images at a time. A very handy "quick view" function lets you immediately check the picture you've just taken in capture mode by pressing the Display button twice in quick succession. The image will remain displayed on the LCD until you revert to capture mode by pressing the Display button again.

Optics
Continuing their good reputation for quality optics, Olympus provides an all glass aspheric lens design, with eight elements in six groups, on the C-2020 Zoom. The 6.5 to 19.5mm lens provides a range of 35mm equivalent focal lengths from about 35 to 105mm. Of greatest interest in its design though, is its very fast F/2.0 to F/2.8 (wide to tele) maximum aperture. Normal focusing distance ranges from 31 inches (0.8m) to infinity, while a macro mode captures from eight to 31 inches (0.2 to 0.8m). Autofocus occurs through the lens, using a contrast detection method. This means that the autofocus will work properly with auxiliary lenses. The green LED next to the optical viewfinder lights solid as soon as the subject is in focus (flashing means there's a problem focusing and you may need to switch to manual focus or macro). This focus feedback is a very nice added feature relative to the C-2000: With our C-2000, we're never sure whether the focus has actually achieved a "lock" or not, particularly in dim lighting conditions.
As noted above, in addition to the autofocus system, the C-2020 Zoom provides a manual focus setting, activated by the MF button on the rear panel. Did we already say it? - We really like the distance readout that pops up on the LCD monitor to help you gauge focus in difficult focusing situations! (Why haven't any other digicam manufacturers provided a distance readout for manual focus modes? It doesn't seem like it should be very difficult to implement.) The distance readout is also helpful when shooting in macro mode, which can sometimes be a little tricky.
The C-2020 Zoom retains the body-mounted accessory threads that couple to Olympus' adapter unit, the CLA-1. This optional adapter extends the threads out to just flush with the front of the lens when it's fully extended, and provides 43mm filter threads. It's important to note though, that this adapter is made to work with Olympus' own accessory lenses, all of which use an additional adapter ring to step the threads up to the diameter needed by the auxiliary lenses. The consequence of this is that the design of the CLA-1 assumes that there will be another thread adapter ring stacked on top of it, and so doesn't extend far enough for 43mm filters to clear the lens barrel: 43mm filters will interfere with proper lens operation, and could damage the lens mechanism itself! Thus, if you buy a CLA-1, be sure to also buy a step-up ring to whatever common filter size you've standardized on, and to give you the extra millimeter or two of needed clearance in front of the lens barrel.
While the C-2020 Zoom's lens provides up to 3x optical zoom, an additional 2.5x digital zoom can capture images at approximately 7.5x, albeit with noticeable quality degradations in the resulting image. Digital zoom is activated through the settings menu with options of 1x (no zoom), 1.6x, 2x and 2.5x. Note that the digital zoom cannot be used with the uncompressed TIFF mode and is only accessible with the LCD monitor on. When the LCD is dismissed, the digital zoom returns to the 1x setting.
The lens on the C-2020 Zoom appears to be of generally good quality, with very low chromatic aberration and good sharpness. Our one criticism is that geometric distortion is a bit higher than we'd like to see, particularly at the wide angle end of its range: At the maximum wide-angle setting, the lens shows barrel distortion of 0.9%, which switches at the telephoto end to a moderate 0.38% pincushion.
Exposure
The C-2020 Zoom offers a great deal of control over exposure and we're pleased to note a full manual control that wasn't available with the former C-2000 Zoom. Additionally, the C-2020 Zoom gives you four options for ISO (Auto, 100, 200 and 400, in all modes). As you'd expect, the more sensitive settings also result in noisier images, but it's useful to be able to select the ISO value you want to work with. It's a definite plus to be able to use a faster shutter speed or a smaller lens opening while using a higher ISO, or to achieve slow shutter effects (like a motion blur) with a lower sensitivity setting. Note that when ISO is set to Auto in programmed-exposure mode, it automatically resets to 100 when you switch to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual exposure modes. Once set to a given ISO in any of these modes, it stays at that value, correcting an overly-helpful tendency of the C-2000 to adjust the ISO even when you thought you'd set it to a specific value.
The C-2020 Zoom gives you as much exposure control as you want with its Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes. Aperture Priority lets you set the aperture anywhere from F/2.0 to F/11 while the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed. Alternatively, in Shutter Priority, you can select speeds from 1, 2, or 4 to 1/800 seconds (the lower shutter speed limit depending on the ISO setting: 4 seconds for ISO 100, 1 second for ISO 400). You have the same options under the full manual control with the exception of much longer shutter speed times (as slow as 16 seconds, regardless of ISO setting). An interesting feature of the manual mode is that as you scroll through the various selections, the camera indicates whether or not the setting will give a correct exposure. It does this by showing the f-stop and shutter speed in green when everything is OK. If it disagrees with your choice, the selections show up in red, and a small arrow shows the direction it wants you to adjust the exposure to agree with its own metering. Very handy! The screen shot above right shows the camera asking for a longer exposure than the 1/15 second that's been selected.) Combine this with the optional spot metering mode, and you have a great deal of creative control over the exposure process. The C-2020 Zoom also offers the usual exposure lock function, activated by a half press of the shutter button. Used with the spot metering, this lets you easily handle backlit subjects, without having to guess at the exposure compensation.
In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, simply press either the right or left arrow keys on the jog dial (in all exposure modes except manual) and the ever present EV value displayed on the LCD will increase or decrease in 1/3 EV increments, up to a total of +/- 2EV. (The LCD viewfinder must be enabled to adjust this setting, but once set it, you can turn the LCD off to conserve power, and the setting remains in effect.) If an exposure compensation is currently active, a small +/- icon appears in the top status display panel as well, to let you know there's an adjustment in force. Additionally, the auto exposure bracketing function ensures you'll get a correct exposure by automatically bracketing up to -/+ 2 EV in either three or five steps of 0.3, 0.6, or 1.0 EV units each. Very handy when you're shooting on the run, and want to be sure you've got a correctly-exposed shot without messing with menus and buttons endlessly! (Better yet, the auto bracketing will center its efforts around whatever exposure you've chosen as the starting point, including any exposure-compensation adjustments you've made.) Auto bracketing isn't available in manual mode, presumably because the camera has ceded complete control of both aperture and shutter speed to you.
The C-2020 Zoom offers a 12 second self-timer. You can also use the infrared remote to trigger the self-timer from a distance, which decreases the timer to only three seconds. (This is one function we really wish Olympus had done something about: WHY is it necessary to have the camera wait 3 seconds when you're triggering it via the IR remote? It's not a problem for the sort of tripod shooting we do in the studio, taking pictures of products, but in people photography, or macro work with a fast-moving bug as the subject, the 3 second delay could be a killer!) White balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten or Fluorescent to accommodate a variety of lighting situations. An additional feature that we had fun playing with was the Picture Effect option, enabling you to capture images in black and white or sepia tone. There's also the White and Black Board settings for capturing text on white or black backgrounds respectively. (These modes appear to adjust image contrast and default exposure levels to maximize contrast and force the background toward the appropriate tonal value. While we don't have any controlled tests for this sort of thing, we were surprised by how well the White Board setting worked for copying text from a book.
As mentioned earlier, one feature we really liked on the C-2020 was its "quick review" option: Pressing the Display button twice in rapid succession lets you review the last picture taken on the LCD screen, without needing to switch to playback mode. VERY handy!
Flash
Even with all the above ambient light exposure capabilities, you'll still want to take advantage of the C-2020 Zoom's flash. The camera has a fairly standard built-in flash unit, with four operating modes: Off, Auto, Fill (always on) and Red-Eye Reduction. Flash power extends to approximately 18.4 feet (5.6m) in wide angle mode and to about 12.5 feet (3.8m) at the telephoto setting. Any of these modes may be combined with the Slow Sync mode to increase the ambient light exposure. Additionally, a PC sync socket allows you to connect an external flash unit when a more powerful flash is needed.
Normally, the C-2020's shutter speed is forced to between 1/30 and 1/100 of a second in Program or Aperture Priority mode whenever the internal or external flash is enabled. (The shutter speed varies as a function of the zoom setting, with 1/30 corresponding to the wide angle end and 1/100 to the telephoto setting.) With both flash units off, the shutter speed in aperture-priority mode will adjust to whatever is needed to expose properly for ambient light. The full manual mode of course allows you to use flash with any aperture/shutter speed combination you care to use.
The Slow Sync setting allows the ambient lighting to make a greater contribution to the final exposure of the images, producing very nice effects (particularly in conjunction with the action of an external strobe unit), resulting in more naturally lit photos. You can also produce shots which combine a motion blur on the subject (due to the long ambient light exposure) with the sharp initial or final image (caught by the flash exposure). We say "initial or final" because the C-2020 Zoom supports both front curtain and rear curtain triggering in Slow Sync mode, firing the flash at either the beginning of the exposure or at the end. The rear curtain sync is necessary to produce motion blurs on moving objects that trail the sharp, flash-exposed image, rather than precede it.
A nice feature of the C-2020's internal flash system is that it is controllable via the +/- 2EV exposure compensation. This gives great flexibility in lighting your pictures, as you can use the internal flash in combination with an external unit, and adjust the balance of light between the two with the EV adjustment control. (It'd be nice if there were some hidden way to adjust the internal flash intensity in manual mode, so you could work the same trick between the onboard flash and ambient lighting there as well. We played with the controls a fair bit though, but couldn't find any combination that would do this: EV adjustment isn't available at all in manual mode.)
A small, ergonomic gripe about the external flash (that we also had with the C-2000 Zoom) is that the PC sync socket is protected by a tiny plastic cover that is very easy to lose. There's no tether or anything else attaching it permanently to the camera and it is very small and difficult to grasp. We bet it's the first thing that gets lost.
Special Exposure Modes
Movie Mode
We were very pleased to note Olympus' addition of a Movie mode on the C-2020 Zoom. After fully pressing the shutter button, you can record up to approximately 60 second QuickTime movies in the SQ mode (160x120) and up to about 15 seconds in HQ (320x240). A number indicating the available seconds of movie storage on the SmartMedia card appears in the status display panel (and in the LCD monitor if activated). You can use the optical zoom while recording movies, but the action of the zoom is somewhat slower. Manual focus, exposure compensation, focus lock, the self-timer, ISO setting, white balance and picture effects are also available while in Movie mode.
Panorama Mode
The C-2020 Zoom offers a Panorama exposure mode when operating with Olympus' own panorama-enabling SmartMedia memory cards. In this mode, the exposure and white balance for a series of shots are determined by the first one taken. It also provides light-blue guide lines at the edges of the picture to help you align the successive shots while leaving enough overlap between them for the stitching software to be able to do its job. Note that this function is only enabled by SmartMedia cards including the special panorama-related firmware instructions found on Olympus brand memory cards. Images are saved individually and then compiled on a computer after they've been downloaded. Of course, the exposure lock can be achieved with Manual exposure mode using any brand of memory card, and you could use one of the manual white balance settings to handle that function as well.
Sequence Mode
Taking advantage of its large buffer memory, the C-2020 Zoom offers a Sequence mode that mimics a motor drive on a film camera, letting you capture between six and 12 separate pictures (depending on the complexity of the image and the available SmartMedia space) at approximately 1.4 frames per second. The manual states that shutter speed is always set to 1/30 of a second in this mode. (In fact, the maximum exposure time is set to 1/30: Shorter exposures will be used if the lighting warrants it, and longer exposures can be set in full-manual mode if desired.) It also notes that the mode is available with all compression settings except for uncompressed TIFF. One obvious limitation of sequence mode is that the camera's internal flash may not be used with it. However, if you have an external flash capable of cycling at the 1.4 frame per second rate and shoot in aperture priority mode, the external flash should work just fine in this mode. Additionally, you can set the camera to base all exposure and focus settings on the first one taken or adjust the exposure and focus with each image (which will also decrease the speed).
Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it.
The C-2020 Zoom is just slightly on the slow side of typical among 2 megapixel digicams we've tested (January, 2000), with a shutter lag of 0.92 seconds in full autofocus mode, 0.22 seconds when the lens is prefocused by half-pressing the shutter button, and 0.54 seconds in manual-focus mode. Shot to shot cycle time is quite good though, at only 2.1 seconds for the first four or five shots in SHQ JPEG mode, until the memory buffer fills up, after which the cycle time stretches to something on the order of 7 seconds or so. In lower size/quality modes, you can shoot more pictures before the buffer fills. In practice, for anyone but sports photographers, four or five rapid-fire shots will be enough for most shooting. In the "sequence" shooting mode, we clocked the camera at frame rates of 1.33 frames per second at high resolution, and 1.56 frames per second at low resolution/quality.
Operation and User Interface
The user interface on the C-2020 Zoom relies heavily on the LCD monitor for menu selections and feedback on current settings during use. However, we were pleased to see that the top status readout also displays a few camera functions.
We liked the user interface of the C-2020 Zoom a great deal. We generally prefer mode dial interfaces, as they simplify the menu structure and allow faster operation. One of our favorite user interface features on the C-2020 is that the camera tells you what aperture and shutter speed it's selected whenever the shutter button is half pressed. (The C-2000 did this also.) Many film-based SLR camera users find the most annoying characteristic of digital cameras to be the inability to determine what the camera is actually doing exposure-wise. Most digital cameras leave you totally in the dark about the shutter speed and aperture setting. Happily, C-2020 Zoom displays aperture, shutter speed and current exposure compensation settings across the top of the LCD when it's in use. We also especially liked the distance display with the manual focus option.
One of the few quibbles we have with the C-2020's interface design is that some functions can require a lot of button-pushing to access. Moving the flash, macro, and spot-metering functions out of the LCD menu system and onto the camera's back-panel controls was a great step in the right direction. We'd like to see even more of this though, or at least a greater ability to control the camera via the top-panel LCD readout, rather than forcing you to the larger LCD screen all the time.
We really liked the tiny infrared remote control provided with the C-2020 Zoom. In our own usage, we shoot most of our tests from a tripod, and the studio shots tend to have fairly long exposure times. To avoid any loss of resolution, we're always keen to reduce our disturbance of the camera while taking pictures. On a conventional camera, this would require a cable release, to avoid jostling the camera when pressing the shutter button. With most digital cameras, the best we can do is use a very sturdy tripod and press the shutter button lightly, or use the self-timer to trip the shutter and spend a lot of time standing around waiting. Thus, with the C-2020 Zoom (as with the previous C-2000 Zoom), we loved being able to trigger the shutter without the risk of any camera disturbance at all. The remote also allows you to change the exposure compensation setting or zoom the lens in and out. In Playback mode, you can scroll between pictures and move in or out of thumbnail and zoom playback modes (also helpful when viewing images on a television screen). Olympus states the range of the remote as five meters (16.4 feet) when aimed at the camera from straight ahead, and three meters (9.8 feet) when aimed from an angle of 15 degrees to either side of center. In practice, we found this range to be very conservative, and in fact almost always used it from behind the camera, bouncing the IR signal off of our test subjects! About the only additional thing we could ask for in the remote would be the ability to prefocus the camera by half-pressing the shutter release (as you can do from the camera's onboard shutter button) or some other way to reduce the nearly 3-second delay between pressing the remote's shutter trigger and the actual firing of the shutter.
Although Olympus has added a few controls to the former C-2000 Zoom, the on-camera controls of the C-2020 Zoom are still simpler than many other digicams we've seen. (Although, as noted above, we'd actually like to see more functions added to these controls.)
Control Enumeration

Power / Mode Dial
On the top of the camera is the Power / Mode Dial which selects the various camera operating modes (Playback, Off, Program, Aperture/Shutter Speed/Manual and Movie).

Shutter Button
Located in the center of the optical zoom control lever, the shutter button sets focus and exposure settings when halfway pressed and triggers the shutter button when fully pressed. In Playback mode, the shutter button works in conjunction with the printing function to select the number of prints to make.

Zoom Lever
On top of the camera, surrounding the shutter button, the zoom lever controls the optical zoom in all exposure modes. In Playback mode, the lever switches back and forth between index view, normal image display and playback zoom.

Flash / Erase Button
Located on the top of the back panel of the camera, this button controls the flash mode in all exposure modes. Pressed sequentially, it cycles through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-In and Off modes. In Playback mode, this button pulls up the Erase menu which allows you to erase the current image displayed.

Macro / Spot Metering Button
Directly beneath the Flash / Erase button on the back panel is the Macro / Spot Metering button. In all exposure modes, this button cycles between macro, spot metering and off modes.

Four Way Jog Dial
Also located on the top of the back panel, a lot of the camera's operation revolves around this control.

  • In all capture modes except Manual, a left/right actuation increases or decreases the exposure compensation setting (provided the LCD view screen is active).
  • In Aperture or Shutter priority exposure modes, up/down actuation of the jog dial adjusts the setting of the lens aperture or shutter speed, depending on the mode you're in.
  • In Manual mode, the up and down arrows control shutter speed while the left and right control aperture.
  • In Playback mode, left/right actuation moves forward or back among the pictures in memory, or scrolls around the expanded image in zoom playback mode.
  • In the LCD menu system, the jog control steps between menus and selects settings. (The design of the jog dial on the C-2020 is a big improvement over that of the C-2000: The separate buttons on the C-2020 make it much easier to make selections, as there's no chance of accidentally pressing "down" when you actually were trying for "right", etc.)


OK / MF Button
Located on the back panel, on the right side of the LCD monitor, this button confirms selected menu settings in the LCD menu screens. If pressed when not in the menu system, this button activates the manual focus option. In Playback mode, this button write-protects individual images accidental erasure.

Display Button
Located beneath the OK button, this turns the LCD monitor on or off.

Menu Button
Located directly beneath the Display button, this activates the menu system on the rear panel LCD monitor (it also activates the LCD monitor if it was disabled).

Dioptric Adjustment Dial
Located on the left side of the optical viewfinder, this dial alters the optical viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.
Camera Modes and Menus
Movie Mode
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the movie symbol, this mode allows you to capture up to 60 second SQ movies and up to 15 second HQ movies. Shutter speed is automatically set anywhere from 1/30 to 1/10,000 seconds. (! - We can't help but wonder why the 1/10,000 second shutter speed isn't available in non-movie modes as well.)
Aperture Priority
Allows the user to select the desired lens aperture (in 1/3 EV steps) as the camera adjusts the shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure. If the required shutter speed is beyond the camera's capabilities, the shutter speed/aperture status numbers in the LCD will flash red. (Minimum shutter speed in automatic exposure modes is one second, even though the camera is capable of longer time exposures, as noted earlier
Shutter Priority
Allows the user to select the desired shutter speed (in 1/3 EV steps) while the camera adjusts the aperture to achieve the correct exposure. If the required aperture is beyond the camera's capabilities, the shutter speed/aperture status numbers in the LCD will flash red.
Manual Mode
Allows the user to select both the desired aperture (f/2.0 to f/11) and shutter speed (16 to 1/800 seconds, depending on ISO) settings. If the settings are beyond the camera's capabilities or would not produce the correct exposure, the settings displayed on the LCD screen turn red instead of green, and a small arrowhead icon will indicate the direction you need to adjust the exposure to get into the range the camera thinks you need
Programmed Exposure
Here, the camera selects both shutter speed and lens aperture, but does so in a fairly intelligent manner, opting for faster shutter speeds when the lens is in the telephoto position than when it's working in wide angle mode
Playback Mode
This mode allows the user to view previously captured images. Here, the jog dial advances between successive frames stored in memory. The zoom toggle switches the display to an index mode when moved in the wide angle direction and zooms in on the currently displayed image in a series of steps up to a maximum of 3x when moved in the telephoto direction. While zoomed in on an image, the jog control can be used to move the enlarged view around the full image area, letting you inspect all parts of it.
Capture Mode Menu

  • Drive: selects between One-Shot, Sequence, AF Sequence (exposure metered and focus adjusted with each frame), Self-Timer/Remote and Auto Bracketing.
  • External Flash: sets external flash modes. Options are off, on, and auto. (It's important to note though, that "auto" here just refers to whether the external flash is fired or not: There's no exposure feedback signal transmitted to the flash, so the flash exposure is not automatically determined once it's fired.)
  • Slow: turns on the Slow Sync function with first curtain and second curtain options.
  • Digital Telephoto: sets the digital zoom at 1x, 1.6x, 2x or 2.5x.
  • White Balance: sets white balance at Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten or Fluorescent.


  • ISO: selects ISO sensitivity from Auto, 100, 200 or 400.
  • Function: sets picture effects at Off, Black and White, Sepia, White Board or Black Board.
  • Special Function: for taking panorama pictures or using special function cards.
  • Card Setup: formats the SmartMedia card.


  • Mode Setup: pulls up the following submenu:
  • All Reset: resets all options to factory defaults.
  • Sharpness: sets image sharpness at Normal or Soft.
  • SHQ Setup: selects either JPEG or TIFF.
  • SQ Setup: selects either VGA-Normal, VGA-High, XGA-Normal or XGA-High. (Note dual quality options at each image size, for the first time on an Olympus camera.)
  • Volume: sets beep volume to Off, Low or High.


  • Record View: turns the instant image review function on or off.
  • File Name: resets file numbers with each new memory card or continues in sequential order.
  • LCD Brightness: adjusts the brightness of the LCD.
  • Date/Time: sets the camera date and time.
  • M/Ft: sets camera measurement to either meters or feet.


  • Quality: sets image quality at SHQ, HQ or SQ.
  • A/S/M Mode: selects either Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority or Manual exposure modes.


Playback Menu

  • Play: activates a slide show display for still images or plays back movies.
  • Function: for use with Olympus special function cards. (Such as the standard panorama-enabling cards.)
  • Card Setup: formats the SmartMedia card.


  • Mode Setup: pulls up the following submenu:
  • Volume: controls the camera's beep sound.
  • Index Display Adjustment: sets index display at four, nine or 16 images.
  • Brightness: adjusts the LCD brightness.
  • Date/Time: adjusts the camera's date and time setting.


  • All: sets up to print all images on the memory card.
  • Date Print: configures date/time overprinting on images. (Options are off/date/time)
  • Card Index: sets up to print an "index print" of thumbnails of all images on the memory card.


Image Storage and Interface
The C-2020 Zoom uses SmartMedia memory cards and comes equipped with an 8 megabyte unit. Currently, you can upgrade to sizes as large as 64 megabytes. (64 meg SmartMedia cards began shipping shortly before this review was posted in January 2000.) We appreciated the C-2020 Zoom's file naming protocol, which optionally progressively numbers each image shot with the camera and also includes the month and day at the beginning of the file name.
Entire SmartMedia cards can be write protected by placing a write protection sticker over a specific spot on the card. Stickers can only be used once and must be clean to be effective. Additionally, the C-2020 Zoom allows you to write protect individual images from accidental erasure through the Playback menu. Individually-protected images can still be erased by a card-format operation, but cards write-protected with the sticker are protected against formatting.
The C-2020 Zoom can store images in both uncompressed TIFF format, as well as compressed JPEG. Uncompressed mode is available only in the largest image size, while two different compression options are available in all sizes. The SHQ JPEG mode is another area of improvement over the C-2000, as the C-2020 appears to use significantly less compression in SHQ mode. One major annoyance we found with the '2020 though, was that it apparently insists in defaulting to "HQ" mode upon power up! We like to shoot in SHQ mode as a default, and it was a pain constantly switching to SHQ every time we turned the camera on. One saving grace in this respect though, is that the camera takes almost NO power if the LCD is turned off in record mode. You can thus simply leave it "on" all day long to preserve your settings, without the slightest worry about battery consumption. The table below summarizes the compression ratios and number of images which can be stored on the included 8MB memory card with each size/quality combination.

Resolution/
Quality
vs Image
Capacity

Uncompressed Resolution
Fine Resolution
Normal Resolution
Images
Approx.
Compression
Images
Approx.
Compression
Images
Approx.
Compression
1600 x 1200
1
1:1
5
4:1
16
11:1
XGA
n/a
n/a
13
4:1
38
11:1
VGA
n/a
n/a
32
4:1
82
9:1


The C-2020 Zoom comes with interface software and cables for both Mac and Windows computers. It employs an RS-232 serial interface, a standard not known for its speed. We didn't test the transfer times over a serial cable, suspecting that most owners will opt to spend the extra $50 or so for a card reader for their computers. (Such readers are typically upwards of 50-100x faster than serial transfers, and well worth the minor investment.)
Video Out
The C-2020 Zoom has a video out port which supports the NTSC timing format. (The manual states that PAL systems are not available, but we can't imagine there aren't PAL versions available for European customers.) The video output can be used for reviewing previously shot images or running slide shows from the camera, but also shows all the LCD menu screens as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder. Combined with the very flexible infrared remote control we mentioned earlier, the availability of a live viewfinder display via the video signal opens interesting possibilities for portrait photography, using a video monitor as a remote viewfinder.


Power
The C-2020 Zoom is powered by four internal AA batteries or by an optional AC adapter that can significantly extend battery life if you're doing a lot of downloads via the serial port or working in a studio environment. As we've mentioned before, LCD monitors on digital cameras can really devour batteries and the C-2020 Zoom is no exception, although we were surprised to find it's overall power consumption lower than many other 2 megapixel cameras we've tested. Fortunately, the top-panel status display panel and the optical viewfinder can substantially reduce LCD usage, thereby increasing battery life. On the C-2020, leaving the LCD screen off in record mode adds enormously to battery life, as power consumption drops to less than 10 milliamps in this mode: You could easily leave the C-2020 "on" all day without significant battery drain, a very nice feature. Unfortunately though, the menu systems, advanced exposure modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual) and exposure compensation adjustments require the LCD in order to operate. Big kudos to Olympus for including a set of high-capacity NiMH batteries and charger in the box with the C-2020. We don't know if this will be a permanent situation, or if it's just a temporary thing they're doing as the product is introduced, but it's certainly welcome, and saves you a good $20-30 on the really mandatory rechargeable battery solution. Still, we recommend you pick up a couple extra sets of batteries, so you can have several charged sets to bring along on outings.
The table below summarizes the results of our power measurements on the C-2020 Zoom:

Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
570 mA
Capture Mode, w/o LCD
<10 mA(!)
Capture Mode, half pressed shutter
570 mA
Capture Mode, w/o LCD half pressed shutter
330 mA
Memory Write (transient)
320 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
890 mA
Image Playback
370 mA


Included Software

Learn what the manual left out -
How to *use* your camera.

Camera manuals are (sometimes) fine for knowing which button does what, but where do you go to learn how and when to use the various features? Dennis Curtin's "Shortcourses" books and CDs are the answer. (Cheap for what you get, too.) Order the Shortcourses manual for the camera reviewed in this article.

The C-2020 Zoom comes with a nice complement of software on an included CD. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by an updated version of Olympus' own Camedia software package for both Mac and Windows platforms.
In addition to the Camedia 4.6 package, Olympus provides acquire plug-ins for both Mac and Windows platforms. The Mac acquire module is a Photoshop plugin, supported by many Mac image editing applications. On the Windows side, a TWAIN driver will provide near universal access, given the wide range of applications that support the TWAIN standard.
Olympus also bundles Adobe's PhotoDeluxe image editing software which allows you to perform image correction and manipulation with a variety of filters and even get your images ready for the web. An additional CD holds QuickStitch, which pieces together your panorama images. It not only stitches conventional panoramas, but can assemble images two dimensionally to create high resolution images from smaller ones. (An array of up to 5x5 images can be assembled into a single enormous one. More to the point, you can easily stitch images either vertically or horizontally). The software has a remarkable ability to compensate for barrel or pincushion distortion between images, successfully stitching together photos that would be hopeless with lesser programs.
Overall, the software bundle provided with the C-2020 Zoom provides a complete suite of capabilities for capturing and manipulating your photos. Even better, all packages provided are fully functional on both Mac and PC.
NOTE: The software package above is shipped with the US version of the camera. Other countries may have different software bundles included, or none at all, at the discretion of the regional Olympus organization...
Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the C-2020 Zoom's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the C-2020 Zoom performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
Overall, the C-2020 Zoom turned in an excellent performance, particularly in the area of creative control. Colors were bright, accurate, and well-saturated, and detail was excellent. Its 1/3 f-stop accuracy in both shutter- and aperture-priority exposure modes as well as in its new full-manual mode, and the 1/3 f-stop resolution in its manual exposure compensation setting mean you don't have to compromise on exposure accuracy. More significantly, the 1/3 f-stop aperture accuracy allowed very precise control over flash exposures, even with a "plain vanilla" external flash unit.
The C-2020 Zoom continues the Olympus tradition of bright, "snappy" color, although Olympus appears to have toned-down the color saturation very slightly relative to the earlier C-2000 Zoom. Possibly as a result, tonal range appears to be somewhat enhanced over the prior version as well. Relative to the current top of the field, color handling is very good, with only a minor weakness in the "subtractive primaries." (cyan, magenta, and yellow) The difficult red/magenta separation is very good, and the camera does a pretty good job with the awkward blues of our model's pants and the blue flowers in our outdoor test shot, showing only a slight tendency to go purple. (A common failing among cameras we've tested.)
Resolution is about the same as production models of the C-2000, but we've become a little more conservative in our ratings since first testing the C-2000, leading us to rate the C-2020 at about 600-650 lines per picture height horizontally and 650-700 lines vertically. Geometric distortion in the lens is also virtually identical, showing 0.9% barrel distortion in wide angle mode and 0.38% pincushion in telephoto. Chromatic aberration is also quite low, amounting to about 1 pixel (roughly 0.06%) in the extreme corners of the image.
The optical viewfinder is a bit more accurate than most, showing 88-89% of the final image area, while the LCD viewfinder shows 96-99%, depending on the zoom setting of the lens. The LCD on the C-2020 is very sharp and high-resolution, now sporting 122,000 pixels, compared to the 72,000 pixel unit in the original C-2000. This improved LCD resolution becomes significant in manual-focus mode, as you can really use the LCD to judge camera focus by, a rarity in digicams we've tested. (January, 2000)
The C-2000's low-light performance was very good, with the camera producing usable images in lighting levels as low as 1/4 foot-candles (~3 lux), a very dim lighting level indeed, about 2 f-stops darker than typical city night scenes under streetlights. The main limitation to better low-light capability was sensor noise on long time-exposures. We did observe an odd phenomena, in which some of our darker (1/4 foot-candle) shots came out better than brighter ones (1 foot-candle). This bears some more examination, if we can allocate time in our busy test schedule to accommodate it.
Native macro performance was also quite good, with the camera capturing a minimum field of view of 2.5 x 3.6 inches (62 x 92 mm). This is good, but not exceptional macro capability, although the availability of high-quality auxiliary macro lenses from Olympus will make the C-2020 Zoom a much stronger player in this arena once the accessory adapter unit is available. (As it should be by the time the production units ship.)
Overall, Olympus has built upon the strengths of its predecessor C-2000, adding features and improved ergonomics, without losing anything in the basic camera functions: A very strong performer!
Conclusion
Well, what can we say? Olympus took an already great digicam, the C-2000 Zoom, and made it even better. The new C-2020 Zoom increases the already exceptional exposure control of the C-2000 with its full manual exposure and focusing capabilities and goes a step further with the addition of the Movie mode. Multiple user-interface improvements make for greater ease of use and flexibility. Finally, excellent image quality and compact portability make for a unit that's sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The C-2020 Zoom looks like a case of a manufacturer really listening to their customers, and we expect the C-2020 to be very popular as a result.

Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a C-2020 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at photos@imaging-resource.com, we'll list the album here for others to see!

 

For More Info:
View the data sheet for the C-2020

View the test images from the C-2020

 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Olympus C-2020, or add comments of your own!


Follow Imaging Resource:

Purchase memory card for Panasonic Lumix DMC-XS3 digital camera
Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate