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Olympus C-2040 Zoom

Olympus updates an old favorite, producing a "third generation" two megapixel digicam.

Review First Posted: 2/20/2001



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MSRP $699 US

 

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2.11 megapixel sensor, delivering 1,600 x 1,200 pixel images
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Fast (f/1.8-f/2.6) 3x optical zoom lens
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Improved user interface
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Excellent image quality and low light capability


Manufacturer Overview
Over the last several years, Olympus has been a dominant player in the digicam marketplace. They boast one of the broadest camera lineups in the industry, with numerous models ranging from pure entry-level designs to the incredible "near-pro" E-10 SLR. With the C-2040 Zoom, they've updated their perennially popular C-2000 two megapixel design, incorporating some user interface enhancements and a new, very "fast" lens (f/1.8 at wide angle). Changes to the camera electronics also provide improved color rendition and low light performance. This is now the third generation of the C-2000 design, and the experience shows in the form of a camera with many strengths and very few weaknesses. Given that two megapixel cameras like the C-2040 Zoom have enough resolution to produce sharp prints as large as 8x10 inches, the C-2040 Zoom could constitute a nearly ideal camera for the advanced user who'd like to save a little money relative to a three megapixel model, but who doesn't want to give up any control or exposure flexibility in the process. Overall, an excellent design, and a very strong entry at the two megapixel resolution level.


High Points



Executive Overview
The Olympus C-2040 Zoom is an excellent update to a digicam we reviewed a year ago (February 2000), the C-2020 Zoom. At first glance, the newer C-2040 appears nearly identical to its predecessor, with the same SLR-style body shape, classic design, and buffed metallic tones. Upon closer examination however, we noticed several new functions and improved camera controls, including a much faster (and longer) f/1.8-2.6 3x zoom lens, speedy USB connection, auto exposure lock, manual white balance, and expanded focusing capabilities. Best of all, the C-2040 Zoom retains the C-2020's light weight and very compact body, which weighs just 14.2 ounces (407g) with batteries and measures 4.3 x 3.0 x 2.7 inches (109.5 x 76.4 x 69.6mm).

The C-2040 Zoom features both an optical, real-image viewfinder and a rear panel, 1.8-inch, 114,000-pixel, TFT color LCD monitor. When the LCD monitor is engaged, it automatically displays detailed exposure information, with the current exposure mode, f/stop setting, shutter speed, and exposure compensation listed across the top of the monitor (a nice feature not found on all digicams). The C-2040 also provides a very helpful distance display when using the Manual Focus option, as well as a Digital Zoom bar that shows you when the camera's 3x optical zoom is being used and when the Digital Zoom kicks in.

The 7.1-21.3mm aspherical 3x zoom lens is equivalent to a 40-120mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a very fast f/1.8-f/2.6 (wide angle to telephoto) maximum aperture. In addition to the C-2040 Zoom's 3x optical zoom, images can be enlarged an additional 2.5x with the digital zoom (5x in VGA or 640 x 480-pixel mode), bringing the total zoom ratio to a possible 15x (with a noticeable reduction in image quality resulting from the digital zoom). The C-2040's default image resolution is 1,600 x 1,200 pixels, but lower resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 640 x 480 are also available. Image quality options include three JPEG compression ratios, plus an uncompressed mode that produces full-resolution TIFF images.

The C-2040 Zoom offers a great deal of exposure control, including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Manual exposure modes. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, with exposure times as long as one second. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give you control over aperture or shutter speed, while the camera chooses the best corresponding settings. When used in AP or SP modes, apertures range from f/1.8 to f/10.0 and shutter speeds from 1/800 to four seconds. The Manual exposure mode provides the same aperture range, but with shutter speeds as long as 16 seconds.

Like its predecessor, the C-2040 provides four ISO options (Auto, 100, 200, and 400 in all modes), automatic exposure bracketing, Digital ESP Multi-patterned and Spot metering modes, plus exposure compensation in all three automatic modes, from +2 to -2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. White balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Quick Reference (manual adjustment) to accommodate a variety of lighting conditions, and a white balance color adjustment function enables you to adjust red and blue color shifts in the image.

Image contrast and sharpness adjustments are available through the Mode Setup menu, and a Function menu option allows you to capture images in black and white (with additional White Board and Black Board settings for capturing text). An adjustable Automatic Exposure Lock (AEL) function locks an exposure reading, without having to hold down the shutter button halfway while you reframe the image. AEL can be based on a single exposure reading or up to eight individual readings for more accurate exposures. There's also a 12-second self-timer option for self-portraits.

The C-2040 Zoom's Movie mode records up to 60 seconds of QuickTime movies in the SQ mode (160 x 120 pixels), or about 15 seconds in HQ mode (320 x 240 pixels). A Sequence mode is available for capturing multiple images at up to 1.6 frames per second, and a Panorama mode allows you to take up to 10 formatted shots for merging with Camedia's Panorama Stitch software in the computer.

The camera's internal flash offers four operating modes (Flash Off, Auto-Flash, Forced Flash, and Red-Eye Reduction), with flash power extending to approximately 18.4 feet (5.6 meters) in wide-angle mode and to about 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) in telephoto. Any of these modes may be combined with the Slow Sync option to increase ambient light exposure. A proprietary sync socket allows you to connect an external flash unit when additional flash power is needed. You also can increase or decrease the internal flash power from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments through the Record menu.

The Olympus C-2040 Zoom ships with an 8MB SmartMedia memory card for image storage (larger capacity cards are available separately). You can connect the camera directly to your computer via a high-speed USB interface to download images, and if you want a slightly larger viewfinder (or image playback) display, Olympus has also provided a video output cable for connection to a television set. Software shipped with the unit includes Olympus' Camedia Master 2.5 utility package, which provides minor organization and editing tools, in addition to a panorama "stitching" application. Apple QuickTime and USB drivers for Mac and Windows are also supplied.

Since we were already big fans of the original C-2000 Zoom and C-2020 Zoom digicams (we use the C-2020 Zoom for our own product shots on the website), we immediately fell in love the new and improved C-2040 version. Increased exposure flexibility, a faster lens, AE Lock, and multi-focusing options make this an even more flexible digital camera than its predecessor. You get exceptional creative control with the same straightforward user interface we learned to love on the preceding models. Combine this with first-rate image quality, and you have what we think will be an extremely popular digicam.


Design
Anyone who is already familiar with the Olympus C-2020 Zoom will immediately notice the family resemblance in the new C-2040 Zoom. Although not much has changed in body design, there are a few subtle differences in the controls. For example, the Manual Focus button has been changed to an Automatic Exposure (AE) Lock button, and the Macro button has added a DPOF print settings control in Playback mode. A shrewd observer might also notice that the write-protection padlock symbol has changed to a key icon.

The C-2040 Zoom is nearly the same size and weight as its younger sibling, measuring 4.3 x 3.0 x 2.7 inches (109.5 x 76.4 x 69.6mm) and weighing 14.2 ounces (407g). It's a great size and weight for "carry-it-anywhere" spontaneous shooting (though a little too bulky to fit in a shirt pocket). In fact, it looks and feels very much like a small film-based SLR, substantial enough for a good hold (due to a large right hand grip), but small enough to slide into your purse or coat pocket when you're done shooting.

The telescoping lens extends approximately 1 3/4-inches beyond the front of the camera body when powered up in either Still Shooting (Record) or Movie capture modes. When fully retracted, the 3/4-inch (20mm) lens barrel projects only about 1/4 inch (10mm) beyond the depth of the hand grip. The lens is protected by a spring-lock, removable plastic lens cap that can be attached to the camera with the supplied tether strap.

The smooth black hand grip, which houses both the battery and SmartMedia compartments, is sculpted to fit comfortably in your hand, with a recessed finger hold on the front and a stubbled plastic thumb grip on the back. Overall, the Camedia has a very slick look, with champaign metallic color on three sides, and black and silver accents throughout.



From the front of the camera, the edge of the zoom lever (upper left corner) is visible, as well as the flash, self-timer alert light, viewfinder window, and IR sensor window (used for the IR remote control, which is available as a separate accessory). The inside of the lens barrel has a set of 48mm filter threads that accept a lens adapter tube for attaching auxiliary lenses to the camera.



The back panel layout is logically designed, with all of the control buttons positioned above or to the right of the 1.8-inch LCD color monitor. The four-way Arrow Pad, which serves multiple functions, is above the upper right corner of the display. Next to it on the left are the Flash / Erase button and a Spot / Macro button with the added DPOF print feature. Under the Arrow pad are the OK / Protect button, which also serves as an automatic exposure lock (AEL), plus the Monitor and Menu buttons, which control information on the camera's LCD. The optical viewfinder, in the upper left corner of the camera, zooms in and out with the lens, and has a set of LED lamps to report the camera's status.



The SmartMedia compartment, covered by a hinged plastic door, opens on the right side, with a third LED lamp to indicate card status. Right above the SmartMedia compartment door is one of two neck strap eyelets, with the second one counterbalancing it on the left side of the camera.



Adjacent to the left side eyelet is the cable Connector cover, a second hinged plastic door that hides the DC-In, Video Out, and USB connector ports. A five-pin external flash sync connector is set in the lower left corner of the side panel, concealed by a small (and easily lost!) black plastic cover. Diagonally from that is a diopter adjustment control for the optical viewfinder.



The top of the camera is virtually clutter-free, with only the Shutter button (surrounded by the Zoom Lever), a Mode dial, and a small LED display panel, which indicates the status of nearly all of the camera functions.



The bottom of the camera holds the battery compartment cover (easier to open than the battery doors on the C-2000 and C-2020), and a plastic screw-mount tripod socket, which is just a little too close to the battery compartment to make battery changes easy when mounted on a tripod. One way around this is to use the optional AC adapter, which we always recommend for time-consuming projects, such as working in the studio or downloading images to the computer.


Viewfinder
The C-2040 Zoom offers both an optical, real-image viewfinder and a rear panel, 1.8-inch, 114,000 pixel, TFT color LCD screen. The optical viewfinder accommodates eyeglass wearers with a diopter correction adjustment and a comfortably high eyepoint, leaving a reasonable amount of room between your eye and the finder for an eyeglass lens to fit in. Although the optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens, it does not show the operation of the digital zoom, which can only be enabled when the LCD monitor is on. A central autofocus target helps to center your subjects, and two LED indicators (one orange and one green) are adjacent to the viewfinder window, indicating camera status with either glowing or blinking lights. If the green LED is blinking, the camera is reporting trouble with either the SmartMedia card or the autofocus. A solid green LED indicates that focus is set and the camera is ready to snap the picture. A flashing orange LED means that the flash is still charging, while a solid orange LED shows that the flash is fully charged and ready to fire.

The C-2040 Zoom's LCD monitor provides detailed information on a number of exposure settings, including the currently selected f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure compensation adjustments across the top of the screen. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the chosen aperture or shutter speed appears as a constant, while the second, automatically determined exposure value changes whenever the shutter button is half pressed (based on exposure compensation and changing light levels). The Manual mode displays the selected f/stop and shutter speed values together, while the exposure compensation value reports when a setting is over- or underexposed by glowing red. In Manual Focus mode, a distance display scale appears on the LCD monitor, which helps to adjust focus in low-light situations.

In our testing, we found the optical viewfinder to be a little tight, showing only about 86.7 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 87.0 percent at telephoto, for both the 1,600 x 1,200- and 640 x 480-pixel resolutions. The 1,024 x 768-pixel resolution varied by a few percentage points, showing about 86.5 percent at wide angle and approximately 86.9 percent at telephoto. We also noticed that the optical viewfinder framing resulted in an image shift toward the lower right corner. The C-2040 Zoom's LCD monitor produced much more accurate results, showing approximately 98.7 percent accuracy at wide angle, and about 99.2 percent at telephoto, for all three resolution sizes. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, we rate the C-2040 as excellent in this category.

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 Arrow buttons. This is extremely handy for checking focus, small details, or precise framing. There's also an Index display option, which shows either four, nine, or 16 thumbnail-sized images at a time. A very handy "quick view" function lets you check the last picture taken in Record mode by pressing the Display button twice in quick succession. The image will remain displayed on the LCD until you revert back to Record mode by pressing the Display button again.


Optics
The Olympus C-2040 Zoom provides an all-glass, aspheric lens design, with 10 elements in seven groups. The 3x, 7.1-21.3mm lens provides a focal range equivalent to a 40-120mm zoom on a 35mm film SLR. We were impressed by the speed of the lens (measured by its maximum apertures), which was an impressive f/1.8 at the wide-angle setting, and f/2.6 at telephoto. Focusing distances range from 2.6 feet (0.8m) to infinity in Normal mode, and 7.9 to 31.5 inches (0.2 to 0.8m) in Macro mode. Autofocus is determined 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 glows 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).

The C-2040 Zoom's Manual Focus mode is activated through the Still Shooting and Movie (Record) menus. Once selected, a distance scale readout pops up on the LCD monitor to help you gauge focus in difficult focusing situations. The distance readout is especially helpful when shooting in Macro mode, which can often be a little tricky to focus. Though the C-2040 doesn't feature an automatic focus lock, you can manually lock it by centering the target portion of the subject in the frame, pressing the shutter button halfway, and then recomposing the image while continuing to hold the shutter button halfway.

You can opt to keep the camera in continuous focus by activating the Full-Time AF mode in the Record menu. Full-Time AF means that the autofocus is constantly engaged as you move the camera from subject to subject, instead of waiting for the shutter button to be pressed halfway. This is very useful for action shots like fast-paced sports or children playing, but it is an additional drain on the battery because the focusing mechanism is constantly at work. You can also designate whether the camera determines focus from the center of the image or the entire image area, by choosing the appropriate AF Mode option in the Record menu.

The C-2040 Zoom lens barrel incorporates body-mounted, 41mm filter accessory threads that couple to Olympus' lens adapter tube, the CLA-1. This optional adapter extends the threads outward (and increases their diameter to 43mm), so they are flush with the front of the lens when it's fully extended. 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 up the threads to the diameter needed by the auxiliary lenses. The consequence of this is that the CLA-1 design requires another threaded adapter ring, because it doesn't extend far enough for 43mm filters to clear the lens barrel. The 43mm filters will interfere with proper lens operation, and could damage the lens mechanism itself! Therefore, if you buy a CLA-1 adapter unit, be sure to also buy a step-up ring to whatever filter size you use, just to give you the extra millimeter or two necessary for the lenses to clear the front of the lens barrel.

While the C-2040 Zoom's lens provides up to 3x optical zoom, the camera's Digital Zoom can increase that magnification to a maximum 15x (albeit with noticeable quality degradations in the resulting image). Digital zoom is activated through the Record menu and controlled by the Zoom Lever on top of the camera. The image resolution determines the amount of digital zoom available. For example, 1,600 x 1,200-pixel images can be enlarged digitally to 2.5x. The 1,024 x 768-pixel size can be enlarged up to 3.2x. And the 640 x 480-pixel resolution offers a maximum 5x digital zoom. Note that the Digital Zoom cannot be used with the uncompressed TIFF mode and is only accessible with the LCD monitor turned on. When the LCD is turned off, the digital zoom returns to the 1x setting.

Optical distortion on the C-2040 Zoom is a little high at the wide-angle end, as we measured an approximate 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, showing virtually no pincushion distortion at all (we actually detected about two pixels of pincushion distortion).


Exposure
The C-2040 Zoom offers a good deal of exposure control, including, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes; four ISO settings (Auto, 100, 200 and 400); and two metering modes: Spot and Digital ESP.

In Program mode, the camera selects both the aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure options such as ISO, metering, and White Balance. Aperture Priority lets you set the aperture from f/1.8 to f/10.0 and the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed. In Shutter Priority, you can select shutter speeds from 1/800 to four seconds, and the camera selects the corresponding aperture setting. You have both these options under Manual control, with the exception of much longer shutter speed times (as long as 16 seconds). 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 you a correct exposure. It does this by showing the f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure differential (the difference between your settings and what the camera meters as correct) in green when everything is OK. If it disagrees with your choice, the selections show up in red, and the exposure differential shows how much under- or overexposed the image will be. The exposure differential shows up as an exposure equivalent (EV) value, with the difference shown within a range of +3 to -3 EV.

The more sensitive ISO settings (those with the higher numbers) are often useful for working within limited light conditions, but they can result in noisier images. In extremely low light, you can mix faster shutter speeds or larger lens openings with the higher ISO's to let in more light, or you can create slow shutter effects (like a motion blur) by using a lower ISO setting. (Note: When ISO is set to Auto in Program exposure mode, it automatically resets to 100 when you switch to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes.)

Two metering systems are available on the C-2040 Zoom: Spot and Digital ESP. Both are accessed through the Spot / Macro / AEL button on the camera's back panel. Under the default Digital ESP setting, the camera takes an exposure reading from the center of the image as well as the surrounding area and chooses the best average for the entire scene. Spot metering simply reads the exposure from the very center of the image, so you can pinpoint the specific area of the photograph you want properly exposed.

New on the C-2040 is an improved Automatic Exposure Lock function, offering single- and multi-metering options. Controlled through the Record menu, the AE Lock function's default setting is Single, meaning it takes one reading to determine the exposure. To lock on a single exposure reading, you simply frame the subject and press the AE Lock button on the back panel. Under the Multi setting, the C-2040 Zoom allows you to take up to eight meter readings from different parts of the scene, which are then averaged together to determine the best exposure. When you are in the Multi metering mode, an exposure differential bar appears on the LCD panel, continually updating the average with each new reading. (As with Single mode, the exposure points are locked by pressing the AE Lock button.) You can also set the camera to retain the Multi Metering reading after the shot is taken, by pressing the left arrow button before taking the exposure (the word "Memo" appears in the LCD display).

In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, simply press either the right or left Arrow buttons (in all exposure modes except Manual) and the EV value displayed on the LCD will increase or decrease in one-third-step increments, up to a total of +/- 2 EV. (The LCD viewfinder must be enabled to adjust this setting, but once it is set, 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, to let you know there's an adjustment in force. Or, you can use the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function to automatically bracket an exposure as much as +/- 2 EV in either three- or five-step increments of 0.3, 0.6, or 1.0 EV units each. 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.

White balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Quick Reference, through the Record menu, to accommodate a variety of lighting situations. In Quick Reference mode, new to the C-2040 Zoom, white balance is calculated by placing a white card in front of the lens and pressing the OK button. Also new to the C-2040 is the ability to fine tune the white balance setting with the "WB+/-" setting under the Mode Setup menu. An adjustment bar appears on the LCD screen, with options to increase or decrease the red or blue tones. (We like this idea of fine tuning the white balance a lot: Most digicams tend to have slight biases in their white balance systems under various lighting conditions. Once you get used to how a particular camera shoots, it would be very helpful to have this sort of "tweaking" adjustment available to modify the white balance slightly. Kudos to Olympus for including this feature, and here's hoping it becomes more popular with other manufacturers as well.) The C-2040 Zoom also offers a 12-second Self-Timer (which can be used with the accessory remote) for self-portraits or those occasions when you don't want to risk camera shake by pressing the Shutter button to make the exposure.

The Function menu option enables you to capture images in black and white, or to use 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.) The C-2040 Zoom also features sharpness and contrast adjustments.


Flash
The C-2040 Zoom has a fairly standard built-in flash unit, with four basic operating modes: Auto-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, and Flash Off modes. Flash power extends to approximately 18.4 feet (5.6 meters) in wide-angle mode and to about 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) at the telephoto setting. Any of the flash modes may be combined with the Slow Sync mode to increase the ambient light exposure. The Slow Sync setting allows more ambient light into the background, producing more natural lighting behind a flash-illuminated subject. You can also produce shots which combine motion blur in the subject (from prolonged ambient light exposure) with the initial or final image frozen by the flash exposure. We say "initial or final," because the C-2040 supports both front curtain (Slow 1) and rear curtain (Slow 2) triggering in Slow Sync mode, firing the flash at either the beginning of the exposure or at the end. The rear curtain sync produces motion blur on moving objects that trail the sharp, flash-exposed image, rather than precede it.

A nice feature of the C-2040 Zoom's internal flash system is its +/- 2 EV exposure compensation adjustment. This gives great flexibility in using flash to illuminate your pictures, because you can use the built-in flash with an external unit, and adjust the balance of light between the two with the EV adjustment control.

A five-pin flash sync socket allows you to connect an external flash to the camera for more powerful flash needs. Olympus offers the FL-40 external flash as an accessory, which can be controlled through the camera in tandem with the internal flash. Both the internal and external flash units can be used together or separately. We have only one small, ergonomic gripe about the external flash (that we also had with the C-2020 Zoom). That is, the sync socket is protected by a tiny plastic cover that is very easy to lose. There's nothing attaching it permanently to the camera and it is very small and difficult to grasp.


Special Exposure Modes

Movie Mode
The C-2040 Movie mode is accessible via the Mode dial on top of the camera (marked with a small movie camera symbol). Once in Movie mode, you can record up to 60-second QuickTime movies in the standard quality (SQ) mode (160 x 120 pixels) and up to 15 seconds in high-quality (HQ) mode (320 x 240 pixels). A number indicating the available seconds of movie storage on the SmartMedia card appears in the status display panel, and on the LCD monitor, if activated. You can use the optical zoom while recording movies, but the zoom action is slower than usual. (Most cameras we've tested don't permit use of the zoom lens at all during movie capture.) Manual Focus, Spot Metering, Exposure Compensation, Focus Lock, Self-Timer, ISO, White Balance, and Black and White effects are also available in Movie mode.

Panorama Mode
The C-2040 Zoom offers a Panorama exposure mode when using an Olympus brand panorama-enabled SmartMedia memory card. In this mode, the Exposure and White Balance for a series of shots are determined by the first exposure. The Panorama function provides light-blue guide lines at the edges of the pictures to help you align successive shots, leaving enough overlap between them for the stitching software to be able to do its job. Up to 10 shots can be taken in a panoramic series. Note that this function is only enabled by SmartMedia cards with built-in panorama-related firmware found on Olympus brand memory cards. Images are saved individually and then compiled on a computer after they've been downloaded.

Sequence Mode
Taking advantage of its large 8MB memory buffer, the C-2040 Zoom offers a Sequence mode that mimics the motor drive on a film camera, continually recording images for as long as the shutter button is held down or until the memory runs out (this varies with the qualities of the image and available SmartMedia space). The instruction manual states that the slowest available shutter speed is 1/30 second in Sequence mode, to prevent blurring from camera movement. It also notes that the mode is available with all compression settings except uncompressed TIFF. One obvious limitation of Sequence mode is that the camera's internal flash cannot be used. However, if you have an external flash capable of recycling at 1.6 frames per second, and you shoot in Aperture Priority mode, the external flash may work just fine. You can also set the camera to base all exposure and focus settings on the first shot taken, or to adjust the exposure and focus with each image (which decreases capture 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 using Imaging Resource proprietary test equipment.

Olympus C-2040 Zoom Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
5.3
A bit faster than average for cameras with telescoping lenses.
Shutdown
4.0
About average
Play to Record, first shot
1.6
Time until first shot is captured, from "instant review" mode. Quite fast.
Record to play (max/min res)
1.4/0.9
Very fast.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.75
A bit faster than average, an improvement over the C2020 Zoom.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.5
About average
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.1
Quite a bit faster than average.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
1.8/1.8
Faster than average. Max res gives this speed for three shots, min res lets you shoot this fast until the card is full.
Cycle time, continuous mode
0.5/2.0 fps
Pretty fast, no buffer memory limit. (Shoot until the card is full.)


Overall, the C-2040 was quite fast in our testing. Shutter lag has been improved over that of the C-2020 Zoom, and is now shorter than average among cameras we've tested. At only 0.1 seconds, shutter lag in prefocus mode (with the camera prefocused prior to the exposure itself, by half-pressing the shutter button) is much faster than average. Cycle time is also quite fast: A buffer memory provides maximum-speed shooting for up to three frames at maximum resolution, and unlimited capture (up to the memory card capacity) at minimum resolution.


Operation and User Interface
We liked the Camedia 2040 Zoom's user interface a great deal, as it hasn't changed much from the previous C-2020 setup. (We generally prefer mode dial interfaces, as they simplify the menu structure and allow faster operation.) Although the Camedia's user interface relies heavily on the LCD monitor for menu selections and review of current settings, we were pleased to note that the top status readout also displays quite a few camera functions.

One of our favorite interface features is the display of current exposure information (also a feature of the C-2020). For film-based SLR camera users, the most annoying characteristic of digital cameras is their lack of exposure information during image capture. Most digicams (even some of the more sophisticated SLR designs) leave you completely in the dark about which shutter speed and aperture settings are being used. The C-2040 Zoom, however, displays the working aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation settings across the top of the LCD while it's in use. We also liked the Digital Zoom bar, which indicates when you're in optical or digital zoom, and the Manual focus bar that shows the focal distance in meters or feet (making it much easier to focus in low-light and other challenging shooting conditions).

One of the few quibbles we have with the C-2040 Zoom's interface design (which we also had with the C-2020 Zoom) is that some functions require a lot of button-pushing to access. Having the flash, macro, and spot metering functions accessible from the camera's back panel is a great start, but we'd like to see even more of these button controls, or at least greater control via the top-panel LCD readout, rather than forcing you to use the larger LCD screen all the time.


Control Enumeration


Mode Dial: On the top of the camera is the Mode Dial, which turns the camera On or Off, and selects the various camera operating modes: Playback, Off, Program, Aperture / Shutter Speed / Manual (A/S/M), and Movie modes. Program and A/S/M are the Still Shooting or Record modes.


Shutter Button: Located in the center of the Zoom Lever, the Shutter button sets focus and exposure settings when depressed halfway and triggers the shutter when fully depressed.


Zoom Lever: On top of the camera, in front of the Mode Dial, the Zoom Lever controls the optical zoom in all exposure modes, and the Digital Zoom when enabled through the Record menu. In Playback mode, the lever switches between Index view, normal image display, and playback zoom.


Flash / Erase Button: Located on the top, central portion of the camera's back panel, this button controls the Flash mode in all exposure modes. Pressing it cycles through Auto-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, and Flash Off modes. In Playback mode, this button pulls up the Erase menu which allows you to erase the currently displayed image.


Spot / Macro / Print Button: Directly beneath the Flash / Erase button on the back panel is the Spot / Macro / Print button. In all Record modes, this button cycles between normal metering (Digital ESP), Spot metering, Macro (Closeup) mode, and Macro with Spot Metering modes. In Playback mode, this button pulls up the Digital Print Order Function (DPOF) print settings menu, which allows you to tag the current image, or all of the images on the card, for printing. Once the image is selected, you can set the number of copies, whether or not to print the date and time stamp on the photo, and print a cropped area of the image.


Four-Way Arrow Pad: The largest button on the back panel, the Arrow Pad controls many of the camera's operations. In all capture modes except Manual, the left and right arrow buttons increase or decrease the exposure compensation setting (provided the LCD monitor is active). In Aperture or Shutter Priority exposure modes, the up and down Arrow buttons adjust the lens aperture or shutter speed settings, depending on which mode you've selected. In Manual mode, the up and down Arrows control shutter speed, while the left and right Arrows control aperture.

In Playback mode, the left and right Arrows move forward or backward through the pictures stored on the card, or scroll around portions of the expanded image in Zoom Playback mode.

In the LCD menu system, the Arrow buttons navigate through menu screens and select settings.


OK / AEL / Protect Button: Located on the camera's back panel, on the right side of the LCD monitor, this button confirms selected menu settings in the LCD menu screens. If pressed when you're not in the camera's menu system, this button locks the exposure until you press the Shutter button. In Playback mode, it write-protects individual images against accidental erasure (except from card formatting).


Display Button: Just to the right of the LCD monitor, encircled by a raised plastic lip, this button turns the LCD monitor on or off. If pressed twice in quick succession, it displays the Quick Review function, which calls up the previously captured image on the screen. A third press returns the LCD to its normal display.


Menu Button: Directly beneath the Display button, this button activates the menu system on the rear panel LCD monitor. If the LCD monitor is turned on when you press the Display button, it will call up the menu options and display them over the image. If the LCD monitor is off when you press Display, it brings up the camera's menu system with no viewfinder image.


Diopter Adjustment Dial: Located on the left side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this dial adjusts the optical viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Camera Modes and Menus


Movie Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the movie camera symbol, Movie mode allows you to capture standard-quality (SQ) movies as long as 60 seconds, and high-quality (HQ) movies as long as 15 seconds, depending on the amount of available SmartMedia space. Shutter speed is automatically set from 1/10,000 to 1/30 second, depending on light levels.


Aperture Priority: Allows the user to select the desired lens aperture (in one-third-step EV increments, from f/1.8 to f/10), while 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.


Shutter Priority: Allows the user to select the desired shutter speed (in one-third-step EV increments, from 1/800 to four seconds), 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/1.8 to f/10) and shutter speed (1/800 to 16 seconds) 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 the amount of over- or underexposure is reported from -3 to +3 EV.


Programmed Exposure: The camera selects both shutter speed and lens aperture, based on existing light conditions and certain camera functions. For example, it uses a faster shutter speed when the lens is in the telephoto position and a slower shutter speed when the lens is in the wide-angle position


Playback Mode: This mode allows the user to view previously captured images using the Arrow Pad to scroll through frames stored in memory. The Zoom Lever switches the image display to Index mode when moved in the wide-angle direction, and when moved in the telephoto direction, enlarges a single image by zooming in to a maximum of 3x magnification. While zoomed in on an image, the Arrow button can be used to move the enlarged view around the full image area, allowing you to inspect all parts of it.

Still Picture Shooting Menu



Movie Menu



Playback Menu



Movie Playback Menu




Image Storage and Interface
The C-2040 Zoom uses 3V (3.3V) SmartMedia memory cards and comes equipped with an 8MB card. Currently, you can upgrade to card sizes as large as 128MB.

The C-2040 Zoom can store images in both uncompressed TIFF and compressed JPEG file formats. The TIFF setting can be assigned to any one of three resolutions through the camera's Mode Setup menu. JPEG compression levels include Super High Quality (SHQ), High Quality (HQ), and Standard Quality (SQ). Both SHQ and HQ settings record files at the 1,600 x 1,200 pixel size, while the SQ compression level has a few options. SQ1 records files at the 1,024 x 768 pixel size, and SQ2 records files at the 640 x 480 pixel size. Both SQ1 and SQ2 feature High and Normal quality options, adjustable through the Mode Setup menu.

We appreciated the C-2040 Zoom's file naming protocol, which includes the month and day at the beginning of the file name, and provides the option of numbering images progressively from one card to the next, or of resetting the naming sequence for each card. The Camedia allows you to write-protect individual images from accidental erasure through the Playback menu. Entire SmartMedia cards can be write protected by placing a write-protection sticker over a specified spot on the card. While individually protected images can still be erased by a card format operation, cards that are write-protected with a sticker are also protected against card formatting. Write-protect stickers can only be used once and must be clean to be effective.

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.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
(8 MB Memory Card)
TIFF
Super High Qualty
High Quality
Normal Quality
High Resolution Images 1 7 16
N/A
Approx.
Compression
1:1 5:1 12:1
N/A
Standard Resolution Images 3
N/A
13
38
Approx.
Compression
1:1
N/A
4:1
11:1
Low Resolution Images
8
N/A
32
82
Approx.
Compression
1:1
N/A
4:1
10:1


The following shows the approximate amount of movie recording time:

Resolution Sizes
8MB
HQ (320 x 240)
15
SQ (160 x 120)
65


The C-2040 Zoom comes with interface software and cables for both Mac and Windows computers. It employs a USB interface for high-speed computer connection.


One of the first things any new digicam owner will need is a larger memory card for their camera: The cards shipped with the units by the manufacturers should really be considered only "starter" cards, you'll definitely want a higher capacity card immediately. - Probably at least a 32 megabyte card for a 1.3 or 2 megapixel camera, 64 megabytes or more for a 3, 4, or 5 megapixel one. (The nice thing about memory cards is you'll be able to use whatever you buy now with your next camera too, whenever you upgrade.) To help you shop for a good deal on memory cards that fit the C-2040, we've put together a little memory locater, with links to our price-comparison engine: Just click on the "Memory Wizard" button above to go to the Olympus memory finder, select your camera model , and click the shopping cart icon next to the card size you're interested in. You'll see a list of matching entries from the price-comparison database. Pick a vendor & order away! (Pretty cool, huh?)

Video Out

The C-2040 Zoom has a Video Out port which supports the NTSC timing format. (We assume that PAL systems are available for European customers.) The video output can be used for reviewing previously captured images and movies, or running slide shows from the camera. It also shows all of the LCD menu screens, as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder.


Power

The C-2040 Zoom is powered by two CR-V3 lithium battery packs, four AA batteries (alkaline, lithium, NiMH, or NiCd), or by an optional AC adapter that can significantly extend battery life if you're doing a lot of downloads on the computer or working in a studio environment.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
590 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
<10 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
600 mA
Half-pressed w/o LCD
340 mA
Memory Write (transient)
570 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
1100 mA
Image Playback
400 mA


The C-2040 Zoom's power consumption is about the same as that of the previous C-2020 Zoom, and overall a bit lower than average when compared to other two megapixel cameras we've tested. The real news with it though, as with many Olympus digicams, is how low power consumption is in capture mode when the LCD is turned off. It's low enough that you can comfortable leave the camera on and ready to capture all day long without even making a dent in your battery charge. To our mind, this is a very valuable feature, as it makes it more feasible to have the camera in a state of near-instant readiness, without having to worry about battery life.

About Batteries
We've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that we're now inserting this standard notice in the reviews of all AA-powered cameras on our site: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. (Even the "high power" ones the battery manufacturers say are designed for devices like digital cameras.) Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. We suggest you buy two sets of batteries, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Good brands of batteries include Maha (our favorite), GP, Kodak, and Nexcell. Also, buy the highest capacity AAs the manufacturer makes, the few extra dollars for the extra capacity is usually well worth it. Getting a good charger is critical though, almost more so than buying good batteries. We recommend the Maha C-204F (see the photo at right), the charger we use the most in our own studio. - Read our review of it for all the details. Or, just click here to buy one, you won't regret it.


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-2040 Zoom comes with a nice complement of software on the supplied CD (though we missed the inclusion of Adobe Photoshop LE that accompanied the C-2020 Zoom). Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by Olympus' Camedia Master software package (Version 2.5) for both Mac and Windows platforms (Macintosh OS 8.6 and higher, Windows 98v2/Me/200 Pro). USB drivers for both platforms and an Apple QuickTime reader are also included.

Camedia Master allows you to download and organize images, as well as perform minor image correction and enhancement functions (such as adjusting contrast, sharpness, and color balance). For panoramic images, Camedia Master supplies a "stitching" utility to piece together shots vertically or horizontally. A complete printing utility works with the DPOF settings and allows you to print images directly to Olympus or other DPOF-compliant photo printers. The Camedia Master software manual does not accompany the camera, but is available on the Olympus website.


In the Box

The following items are included in the box with the C-2040 Zoom:




Test Results
In keeping with our standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the C-2040 Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how C-2040 images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Overall, the C-2040 Zoom turned in an excellent performance, particularly in the areas of image quality and creative control. Colors were bright, accurate, and well-saturated, and detail was excellent. The C-2040 Zoom's white balance system handled our testing well, with the manual option providing the best results. In many cases, we noticed that none of the white balance settings appeared dead-on accurate, but overall, the manual adjustment seemed to result in better color balance. 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 darken the tones (a common failing among many cameras we've tested). We also noticed a slight oversaturation of red in the skin tones, but the vibrant red flower of the model's bouquet appeared to stay in check.

The C-2040 also performed well in our "laboratory" resolution test. Detail is visible out as far as 750 lines per picture height, in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Aliasing starts at around 650 lines in both directions, so that's where we "called" the resolution for the camera. A good performance, although somewhat marred by chromatic aberration (green/red fringes around the target elements, particularly in the corners), which is more evident than we're accustomed to seeing.

The C-2040 Zoom's optical viewfinder was a little tight, showing about 86.7 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 87.0 percent at telephoto, for both the 1,600 x 1,200- and 640 x 480-pixel sizes. The 1,024 x 768-pixel resolution varied by a few percentage points, showing about 86.5 percent at wide angle and about 86.9 percent at telephoto. We also noticed that the optical viewfinder framing resulted in an image shift toward the lower right corner. The C-2040 Zoom's LCD monitor produced much more accurate results, showing approximately 98.7 percent accuracy at wide angle, and about 99.2 percent at telephoto. This time, frame accuracy was the same at all three resolution sizes. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accurate as possible, we felt the C-2040 Zoom did an excellent job.

The C-2040 Zoom also did an outstanding job in the low-light category, as we were able to obtain very bright, clear, usable images at light levels as low as 1/16 foot candle (0.67 lux), at all three ISO settings. We were also pleased to note that noise levels remained minimal and fine-grained, even at the 400 ISO setting. Color balance and brightness looked great at all three ISO settings, even at the darkest light levels. To put the C-2040 Zoom's low-light performance into perspective, an average city night scene under modern street lighting corresponds to about one foot candle of light, making the C-2040 Zoom well suited for dark shooting situations.

The C-2040 Zoom also performed well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 3.97 x 2.98 inches (100.88 x 75.66mm). Detail and resolution both looked great, with most of the fine details of each object completely visible. Color balance appeared to have a bit of a magenta cast, and we noticed a fair amount of barrel distortion from the lens' wide-angle setting. Still, the C-2040 Zoom performed well. Its built-in flash did a reasonably good job of throttling down for the macro area, though it produced a small shadow in the lower left corner of the image, and washed out the color balance slightly.

Overall, Olympus has built upon the strengths of its predecessor, the C-2020 Zoom, adding more creative control with an improved AE Lock function, as well as larger maximum apertures and longer exposure times for better low -light performance. We were very pleased with the C-2040 Zoom's performance throughout our testing.


Conclusion
With the C-2040 Zoom, Olympus has taken a very good digicam (the C-2020) and made it even better. The increased exposure flexibility and focusing options, combined with the Camedia's creative features, make the C-2040 Zoom capable of handling just about any shooting situation. Its compact size and SLR-style design will endear it to more traditional film-based photographers who are looking for a good crossover digicam that is free of unnecessary gimmicks and promises a reasonably fast learning curve. Add to all this the improved low-light performance and excellent image quality and color, and we think the C-2040 Zoom should be just as popular, if not more so, than its very successful predecessors.


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