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Back to Full Olympus C-2500L Review
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Olympus C-2500L digital camera
(Full review posted 13 November, 1999)
||2.5 megapixel sensor for images up to 1712 x 1368 pixels|
||3x optical zoom lens|
||Variable ISO to 400|
||True TTL SLR viewfinder|
||Autofocus illuminator for low-light shooting|
||Superb image quality|
Olympus has a distinguished history in the digicam field, stretching back to their original D200-L and D-300L. They introduced the first sub-$5,000 digital SLR in the form of the D-600L, and continue to have one of the broadest lines of cameras in the industry. When first introduced, their digital SLRs (the D-500L and D-600L) caused quite a stir, as there was literally nothing else like them on the market. While there are now a very few other digital SLRs in the sub-$2,000 bracket, Olympus still holds a commanding position in that niche.
With the introduction of the C-2500L 2.5 megapixel SLR, Olympus has clearly raised the bar once again. Not only does the new camera produce exceptional image quality, but Olympus is promoting the new camera and its range of accessories as a true "system" for the serious amateur or professional photographer. As revealed in our tests, the resulting camera system has impressive capabilities, and in many ways challenges professional units costing far more.
Let us first say, wow! The C-2500L will definitely capture the hearts of those who love fine photographic equipment and full manual control. We really loved all the features and controls on this one, with the exception of the limited aperture control (only two stops available). But beyond that, the C-2500L is a great camera with a lot of flexibility. In the C-2500L, Olympus set out to create camera that offering professional-level features and functionality, and to our mind, they've succeeded.
Design-wise, the new C-2500L isn't as portable as many other digicams out on the market these days. But that's really a minor drawback when you consider all the options it sports. What's more, the C-2500L's intended audience is less interested in a camera that you can drop in a pocket than in a camera that will reliably capture top-quality images. Two major pluses right off the bat are the external flash shoe and lens filter threads which accommodate a range of conversion lenses. We were also really excited about the TTL optical viewfinder and the placement of the tripod mount and battery compartment (you can actually access the batteries while the camera is mounted to the tripod). Beyond that, all the controls are well marked and natural to use.
An Olympus 9.2 to 28mm aspherical, glass lens (the equivalent of a 36 to 110mm lens on a 35mm camera) comes with the C-2500L with aperture settings at F/2.8 and F/5.6 in wide angle and F/3.9 and F/7.8 in telephoto. The TTL autofocus ranges from .02m (0.8 inches) to infinity and the effective range of the AF illuminator beneath the lens works from 60cm to 3m (2 to 9.8 feet). The lens features a 43mm thread for the addition of filters or the wide angle and macro conversion lenses that Olympus offers. (We worked a little with the high-quality 0.85x wide angle and 1.45x telephoto conversion lenses, and can confidently say that they go far beyond the inexpensive third-party accessory lenses we've become accustomed to in the digicam arena: These are pro-quality optical units!)
We enjoyed the full manual control on the C-2500L, even though we wished for more on the aperture side of the fence. You get a lot more options with the shutter speed, manually controlled from eight to 1/10,000 seconds in Manual mode. (Program capture mode only goes from 1/4 to 1/10,000 seconds). We also appreciated the option of the Aperture Priority mode, for those who want to achieve certain effects by controlling the aperture.
All of the other camera features are controllable in all three recording modes. The pop-up flash on the C-2500L features four modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash and Off. For night and slow synchro effects, the Flash Synchronization function gives you the choice of firing the flash at the beginning or end of a slow shutter. You can also adjust the flash intensity in 1/3 EV steps from + 2 to -2. We enjoyed playing with the external FL-40 electronic flash unit, which Olympus offers as an accessory. The FL-40 features manual and auto control, wide and telephoto flash modes, and control over ISO and F-stop. The combination of the FL-40 and the on-board flash of the C-2500L makes for some powerful picture-taking options!
The C-2500L's Self-Timer mode gives you a total of 12 seconds to get into place after pressing the shutter button. An excellent bonus is the infrared (IR) remote control, which trips the shutter two seconds after pressing the remote release button. Besides its obvious use for letting the photographer get into the picture, we found the IR remote very useful for macro work, or other situations with the camera on a tripod, to reduce camera shake when tripping the shutter. The C-2500's remote goes way beyond a simple shutter release though, offering zoom lens and exposure compensation control as well.
In addition to the exposure controls, the C-2500L gives you several focusing options. The Macro function lets you capture subjects as small as 9 x 11cm (3.5 x 4.3in) from approximately 0.3m (1ft) away. For closer objects, the Super Macro feature gets you as close as 2cm (0.8in). Alternatively, the Infinity mode sets the focus range to infinity, saving time on the autofocus when you know you're capturing far away subjects. The Quick Focus setting lets you program a preset focus distance that you can call up in an instant when taking the picture, overriding the autofocus function. Finally, the manual focus option puts everything into your hands, with 16 available focus settings.
When it comes to metering, you can select from spot or center weighted in any of the three capture modes. You also have control over the exposure compensation in 1/3 EV steps from +2 to -2, not only for ambient lighting, but independently for flash exposure as well. White balance features three modes: Auto, Reference and Manual. Auto does exactly as it sounds and puts the camera in charge. The white balance Reference option lets you set the white value by holding a solid white paper (ruled note paper works too) in front of the camera and adjusting the white balance to it. The Manual setting lets you choose color temperatures from 3000K to 6500K. (The manual gives some suggestions for judging light temperatures.) ISO can be set at 100, 200 or 400 and you have two sharpness settings: Normal and Soft. The net result is an unusual level of control (for a digital camera) over the picture-taking process.
A Sequence mode allows you to take up to five rapid exposures with one press of the shutter button. The maximum number and speed of exposures depends on the available memory in the SmartMedia, of course, but it's a useful feature when you need to catch rapid action.
Playback mode gives you several options for viewing images: one at a time, four to a screen or nine to a screen. A digital zoom feature in Playback lets you take a closer look at images and an image information display tells you all the information about how each image was shot. A bonus here is that the camera supports both SmartMedia and CompactFlash memory cards, and can even have both types of cards in it simultaneously. The C-2500L is compatible with the Olympus P-330 printer and gives you the option to set up images in the camera for printing. You can also view images on your television set with the included video cable.
A software CD, compatible with both Mac and Windows platforms, features Adobe PhotoDeluxe for image manipulation, Camedia Master for transferring images and QuickStitch for piecing together multiple shots into panoramic images.
The C-2500L offers a lot of features, a lot of control and simple operation. It's a great camera for anyone who wants complete command of image capture but it also accomodates the novice who wants to learn more. Overall, we give it a big thumbs up.
The C-2500L is definitely not a pocket-sized camera, as evidenced by the thick neck strap that comes along with it. Weighing in at 17.5 ounces (490g) without the batteries and card, the C-2500L packs a powerful punch with all its bells and whistles. The actual dimensions are 4.3 x 3.2 x 5.1 inches (109.5 x 80.5 x 129 mm). (Essentially identical in size to the earlier Olympus SLR digicams, theD-500L, D-600L, and D-620L.) The black and silver toned design is relatively compact when you consider the range of functions and capabilities provided. The design of the lens makes a lens cap necessary, but Olympus offers a convenient lens cap holder that attaches to the neck strap, somewhat alleviating that headache.
Let's take a closer look at the camera itself:
The front of the C-2500L features a protruding lens with the AF illuminator directly underneath. The battery compartment makes an excellent handgrip which features a thin rubber grip. Just above the hand grip is a photoreceptor, which responds to commands from the remote control.
Turning to the right side of the camera, we see the pop-up flash button, marked by the traditional flash lightning bolt. Near the bottom are the video, DC in and digital transfer input jacks, all protected by a plastic flap that snaps up to expose the jacks. (We weren't crazy about the way the protector flap seemed to dangle at the end of its plastic retainer strip, but on the other hand suspect that this arrangement is much more robust than the typical plastic "hinge" most cameras use.) The dioptric adjustment dial for the optical viewfinder is also visible here, at upper right. A sturdy metal carrying-strap lug is at middle right.
The left side of the camera features the SmartMedia and CompactFlash slots, protected by a hinged, plastic cover. The other carrying-strap lug is also visible here at top left.
The back of the camera features the LCD display, mode dial, optical viewfinder with LEDs and a few controls. A slightly-indented thumb rest adds a little security to your grip.
The top of the camera shows the outline of the pop-up flash, external flash hot shoe and a couple of other controls, in addition to the shutter button and optical zoom control. A small, black and white, LCD status display shows the camera's settings, battery level and number of available pictures.
The bottom of the camera features the battery compartment and metal tripod mount. The two are placed far enough away from each other to allow you to change camera batteries while still mounted to the tripod (most tripods, anyway). The battery compartment features a plastic cover held in place with a sliding lock. The battery compartment design is very reminiscent of that of Olympus' C-2000, although we found the 2500's much easier to close and lock. Directly beside the AA battery compartment is a small slot for the 3V lithium battery which runs the internal clock/calendar.
A prominent feature of the C-2500L is its TTL optical viewfinder, thanks to the SLR (single-lens reflex) design. A dioptric adjustment dial on the side of the viewfinder makes it more user friendly for near- or far-sighted users. A central, circular autofocus mark helps you adjust your composition accordingly. Two LED lights (orange and green) just outside the viewfinder clue you in to the camera's status and let you know things like when the image is in focus or if there's an error. (One minor note is that we found these LEDs very distracting when using the camera in flash mode in very low light conditions: When we pressed the shutter button, the LEDs glaring in the corner of our eyeball were bright enough to reduce our night vision! An option to turn them off would be nice for such situations.) The viewfinder shows you about 95 percent of the actual image recorded, a percentage which seemed to vary with the image quality selection in our testing. Perhaps because of the superior capabilities of the TTL viewfinder, Olympus doesn't provide a viewfinder option using the LCD. (This has consistently been the case on their SLR digicams in the past. Despite the accuracy of the TTL finder though, we'd still like to have the option of using the LCD as a viewfinder as well: There are some times when it simply isn't as convenient to squint through the viewfinder eyepiece.)
While the LCD isn't available for use as a "live" viewfinder, it does provide extensive exposure information if the "Rec Info" option is enabled on the Setup screen. This display shows virtually every camera setting relevant to your exposure, including aperture, shutter speed, exposure level, ISO speed, white balance setting, focus status, flash and capture mode, image-quality setting, memory card mode (SmartMedia or CompactFlash), and shots remaining. (This is probably the most complete status display we've seen yet on a digicam.)
Although the rear LCD screen isn't used for a "live" viewfinder, it does optionally display the captured image briefly after each shot, and may also be used to view previously-captured photos. In playback mode, you can either view groups of four or nine images in "thumbnail" mode, a single image at normal size (filling the LCD display), or zoom-in on an image, magnifying it either 2x or 4x. We observed one quirk in the 4x zoomed playback mode though: In either zoomed playback mode, you can pan around the enlarged image by pressing the +/- button on the camera's top, and then using the rear-panel rocker control to move your viewing window around the image. In 2x mode, you can scroll to see all of the image area, but in 4x mode, you're restricted to the region that you had zoomed in on in 2x mode: To see more of the image, you need to drop back down to 2x mode, scroll to center the region of interest, and then zoom back up to 4x mode. - An odd user-interface wrinkle, albeit one that can be worked around.
The C-2500L is equipped with an Olympus 9.2 to 28mm aspherical, all-glass lens (the equivalent of a 36 to 110mm lens on a 35mm camera). The aperture, user-controllable in Manual mode, has options of F/2.8 or F/5.6 in wide angle or F/3.9 and F/7.8 in telephoto. (There are two physical aperture openings, which vary in their effective size as the focal length of the zoom lens changes.) TTL autofocus ranges from .02m (0.8 inches) to infinity and the effective range of the AF illuminator beneath the lens is from 60cm to 3m (2 to 9.8 feet). The lens features a 43mm thread for the addition of filters or the wide and macro conversion lens accessories, further expanding the camera's optical capabilities.
Given the C-2500L's exceptional capabilities in other areas, we're rather puzzled by Olympus' decision to provide only two lens aperture settings. This precludes a shutter-priority autoexposure mode, and also makes the camera somewhat less flexible when used with a studio strobe system. Likewise, fine gradations of control over depth of field are lost as well. (Although to be honest, in our own shooting, it seems we either want the absolute minimum depth of field or the absolute maximum, rarely some value in between.) In actuality, while we personally bemoan the limited aperture control, several professional photographers that we've corresponded with about the C-2500L didn't seem overly concerned by it. They felt that, as far as studio flash went, there were usually plenty of other ways to control the light beyond the camera's aperture. Likewise, it appeared that their feelings about depth of field somewhat matched our own. So: Only two apertures - A big deal' A non-issue' - We'll leave it for you to decide, as determined your own shooting patterns. Based on our own thoughts, and the feedback we've had from the pros we've spoken with, we'd say it'll be a non-issue for the majority of users. (The bottom line for us: It bothers the control freak in us, but probably wouldn't make a difference in our own shooting: Faced with competing cameras equal in other respects, we'd definitely choose the one with a full range of aperture control. In most cases though, it wouldn't be a deciding factor on its own.)
Macro focusing with the C-2500L requires a little explanation as well. The camera has two autofocus macro modes: Standard Macro works across the full focal length range of the zoom lens, and provides focusing between 1 and 2 feet (30 and 60 cm). Super Macro provides focusing from 0.8 inches to 2 feet (2 to 60 cm), but only at the lens' widest-angle focal length. The minimum field of view in Standard Macro mode is 3.5 x 4.4 inches, about mid-range for high-end digicams. The SuperMacro mode is literally microscopic, with a minimum coverage area of only 1.48 x 1.85 inches. We're not sure why Olympus chose to provide two different macro settings: It could be that one trade off of the SuperMacro mode is increased barrel distortion, something that you can avoid by working in normal Macro with the zoom set towards its telephoto end. Overall though, we're glad they included the Super Macro option: We're big fans of ultra-macro photography, and we suspect it opens a range of specialized scientific, forensic, and medical applications for the camera as well.
Olympus has always offered high-quality auxiliary lenses for their digicams, but with the C-2500L, are presenting them much more prominently, as part of a complete "system." Many of us in the digicam world are familiar with the inexpensive add-on lenses sold by third parties for use with digital cameras. While these work adequately for many purposes, they generally aren't of high optical quality. The Olympus auxiliary lenses on the other hand are pretty serious pieces of optical hardware, with multiple optical-glass elements, anti-flare coatings, etc. Naturally, they're priced accordingly, more in the $100+ category than the $10+ one.
With the C-2500L, we had a chance to work with both the 0.85x wide-angle and 1.45x telephoto auxiliary lenses. The wide angle unit extends the wide angle end of the zoom range from the equivalent of a 36mm lens on a 35mm camera to the equivalent of a 30.6 mm one. This definitely represents a useful increase in angular coverage, but we'd like to see even more: Given that this lens works well across a range of zoom settings, it would be nice to have the equivalent of a 24mm or so at the widest setting. The wide-angle adapter is a fairly large hunk of glass, to the point that some caution needs to be exerted when attaching it to the camera. (See our comments on the filter threads below.)
The 1.45x telephoto auxiliary lens is a good deal smaller than the wide angle unit, making it somewhat easier to mount. It comes with a thread adapter to mate with the camera's filter threads, but also has spring-loaded threaded clips that attach it to the adapter unit. This makes it quite quick to attach or remove, once the adapter ring is on the camera. The 1.45x magnification factor means that the telephoto end of the C-2500L's lens is extended to an equivalent focal length of 159 mm. Unlike the wide angle lens though, the telephoto adapter can only be used near the telephoto end of the 2500's zoom range. At shorter focal lengths, it vignettes quite a bit. This is probably OK, since the whole point of adding a tele adapter is to get beyond the range of the built-in lens. On the other hand, it would be useful to have a wider zoom range with the adapter in place, to help with framing.
The Filter Threads
We mentioned that the mass of the auxiliary lenses meant some caution was needed in attaching them to the camera. The reason for this is that the filter threads on the C-2500L's lens seem to be made from a softer plastic, and as such are somewhat susceptible to cross-threading. We didn't find this to be a particular issue when attaching a lightweight filter or adapter ring to the camera. If attempted to attach the combined wide angle lens-plus-adapter assembly to the camera though, the mass of the large lens made fine alignment very finicky. We'd strongly recommend that users develop the habit (as we did) of attaching the adapter ring to the camera first, then screwing the lens onto the adapter ring.
The C-2500 features excellent exposure control with three different metering modes available (Manual, Aperture Priority and Program). These modes are selectable via the mode dial on the back of the camera. Program mode lets the camera do all the work and leaves you to free to concentrate on framing and composition. The default in Program mode is auto-everything, but you do have control over zoom and flash operation. If you really want to, you can also delve into white balance, ISO, etc. Manual mode gives you simultaneous control over aperture and shutter speed, while Aperture Priority lets you set the aperture while the camera selects the shutter speed.
In the following, we found that there were so many controls on the C-2500L, that it was easier to explain each feature individually and then define the modes it works in. Accordingly, we'll discuss each of the functions below in that manner.
The pop-up flash on the C-2500L features four modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash and Off. Auto lets the camera judge lighting conditions and determine the need for flash. Red-Eye Reduction emits a small preflash before firing the full flash to reduce the effect of Red-Eye. Fill-in Flash just means that the flash always fires, regardless of lighting conditions and Off means that the flash never fires. All flash modes are accessible by pressing the Flash button on the top of the camera until the appropriate icon appears.
In addition to the four flash modes, the C-2500L features a Flash Synchronization option, accessible in the capture menu. This function allows you to choose whether the flash fires at the beginning or end of a slow shutter opening to create special effects. Two options are available through the capture menu, First Curtain Effect and Second Curtain Effect. (A somewhat obscure reference to the focal-plane shutters in 35mm film cameras.) First Curtain means that the flash fires just after the shutter opens and Second Curtain means it fires just before the shutter closes. These special flash timing modes are useful for combining flash exposure with long exposure times in night photography of moving subjects. When you combine a flash exposure with a slow shutter speed, any moving objects will appear as both a streak (from the long shutter time) and a sharply-defined image (from the flash). If the flash occurs when the shutter first opens, the streak will appear in front of the object, which frequently isn't when you'd like it to occur. Using Second Curtain synchronization produces photos with the streaks trailing behind the objects' sharp images, nicely conveying the concept of "speed." A standard feature on higher-end 35mm SLRs, first/second curtain flash sync is rarely found on digicams.
The manual includes a chart explaining the flash illumination range, based on ISO and optical zoom. To give you an idea of the capabilities, at ISO 100, the flash range is from 0.3 to 3.6m (1 to 12ft) in wide angle and from 0.3 to 2.5m (1 to 8.2ft) in telephoto. At ISO 400, these ranges extend to 7.2m (23.6ft) and 5.0m (16.4ft) respectively. You can adjust the flash intensity through the settings menu in 1/3 EV steps from +2 to -2.
The FL-40 Dedicated Strobe Unit
Our evaluation model of the C-2500L arrived with a sample of Olympus' external FL-40 electronic flash unit in the box with it. The (optional) FL-40 features manual and auto control, wide and telephoto flash modes, and control over ISO and F-stop. It also features a button to illuminate the display panel in low light situations. The flash head itself swivels 270 degrees horizontally, and tilts vertically to 90, 75, 60, 45, or 0 degrees. The FL-40 is quite powerful, with an ISO 100 guide number as high as 40 (in telephoto mode), as compared to the camera's own guide number of 8-12 (tele/wide). When the flash is in auto mode, the camera controls the flash's settings (including the wide/telephoto focusing of the flash head itself). Since the C-2500L's flash metering is entirely TTL (through the lens), you can use the FL-40 at the same time as the on-board flash for complex lighting effects. The FL-40 also contains an additional autofocus-assist illuminator, significantly increasing the total-darkness AF range of the C-2500L when the two are used together.
Although none of our standard test shots really highlight the versatility of the C-2500L/FL-40 combination, we really had a blast playing with the two! With both flashes firing forward, in telephoto mode, and the camera's ISO boosted to a setting of 400, the maximum working range was pretty incredible: Shooting outdoors at night, we got usable exposures of objects 50-60 feet away(!). In indoor shooting environments, you can either let the camera figure the exposure automatically, or optionally run the FL-40 in manual mode, while controlling the C-2500L's onboard flash via the flash exposure setting in the camera's LCD menu system. When using the FL-40 in manual mode, there really isn't any alternative for calculating the correct intensity level to set it to, other than trial and error. (Actually, a handheld flash exposure meter would probably be quite handy here.) Fortunately, one of the great benefits of a digital camera is the immediate feedback it gives you on matters such as exposure: We found it fairly easy to home in on the correct manual setting for the FL-40 with just a few quick shots viewed on the camera's LCD.
In exchange for the minor hassle of switching to manual mode on the FL-40 though, you gain tremendous range of creative expression with the C-2500L/FL-40 combination. We could achieve very subtle lighting effects by combining a reduced-exposure direct flash from the camera's onboard strobe with a stronger bounced flash from the FL-40. The ability to manually control the exposure of both flashes in 1/3-stop increments allowed great delicacy in adjusting the lighting. (Note to Olympus: We'd *love* to see a remote cable for the FL-40, letting us extend it some distance from the camera, perhaps even with a light-stand mount that would facilitate use with umbrellas, softboxes, etc!)
Overall, the FL-40 external flash unit adds tremendous capability to the C-2500L photography system. Given the level of engineering necessary to develop such a product, we believe it portends interesting things for Olympus' line of "pro" digital cameras in the future: We've had no such indication from Olympus (if we had, we'd be under nondisclosure and unable to speculate on the subject), but our guess is there will eventually be an entire series of high-end digicams able to use the FL-40.
In any of the capture modes, the Self-Timer function allows you to get into the picture yourself. The function is controlled through the settings menu, under the Drive option. Like most other digicams, you simply compose the image and press the shutter button to activate the timer. The self-timer LED lights up on the front of the camera for the first 10 seconds and then blinks for the remaining two before the shutter fires. You can stop the countdown by pressing the menu button once, or cancel the mode entirely by going through the settings menu. Olympus suggests placing the lens cap holder over the viewfinder to keep out any extra light. (They recommended the same for their earlier SLR digicams also: Apparently light entering the viewfinder can reach the autoexposure sensor.)
IR Remote Control
A very helpful accessory that comes with the C-2500L is a remote control that's enabled whenever the self-timer function is active. Set up the shot as stated above. When you're ready to trigger the shutter, point the remote control straight at the camera and hit the shutter release button. The camera will beep and the Self-Timer light will blink for two seconds before the shutter fires (no more frantic running around to get into the picture). Check the manual for a list of limitations and recommendations for using the remote control.
This is apparently the identical remote control first seen on the earlier C-2000 Zoom camera. We have to say it's one of the most useful digicam accessories we've yet encountered, at least for the type of camera-on-tripod studio shooting that we do so much of. The IR pickup in the C-2500L seems a bit less sensitive than that in the C-2000, but with either camera, we found we could frequently trigger the shutter simply by pointing the remote at the subject, from behind the camera, the reflected IR light apparently being enough to trip the shutter. In any case, it's great to be able to release a digicam shutter without jostling the camera (especially for macro work), and the Olympus remote performed very reliably for us.
The functions of the remote go quite a bit beyond a simple shutter release though, in that it also controls the camera's zoom function, as well as operation in playback mode. In the case of the C-2500L though, the zoom lens control is less useful than it was on the earlier C-2000 Zoom, because the 2500L doesn't have any video option in capture mode. (With the C-2000, you could conceivably set up a studio system, with a video monitor for a "remote viewfinder", and use the IR remote to control much of the camera's operation while working with the subject.
Macro mode on the C-2500L is accessed in either capture mode by pressing the Focus button on the camera's top until the standard flower symbol appears on the status display panel. Macro lets you focus on images as small as 9 x 11cm ( 3.5 x 4.4 in) from approximately 0.3m (1ft) away.
A nice bonus on the C-2500L is the Super Macro mode, which allows you to get as close as 2cm (0.8in). Press the Focus button until the flower macro symbol appears, accompanied by a small 'S.' The pop-up flash is enabled in this mode, but of relatively little use, given the extremely short distance between the lens and the subject. (The one downside we see to the C-2500L's "super macro" is this very short working distance, which makes lighting problematic. Some sort of a "light tent", constructed of lighting diffusion gel or even white copier paper, encircling the lens and lit with strong floods from multiple directions is one solution we've found to such lighting problems.) The manual suggests staying at the edge of the wide angle zoom settings as subjects may appear blurry in the telephoto mode. The wide and macro conversion lenses are not useable with this function. Super Macro lets you focus on images as small as 3.8 x 4.71cm ( 1.48 x 1.85 in).
The C-2500L features an Infinity Focus mode, helpful for taking pictures of far away subjects, particularly in low-light conditions, when the auto focus system wouldn't be able to operate. To select Infinity Focus, just press the Focus button until the infinity symbol appears on the status display panel. It's just as easily cancelled.
Another useful feature on the C-2500L is the option for manual focus which puts you in control. Access it by hitting the same Focus button until 'MF' appears in the status display panel, then use the up and down arrow buttons on the rocker toggle button to control focus. The focal distance is displayed in the status display panel as it changes. Manual focus is available in all three capture modes, and may optionally be displayed in either feet or meters. A total of 16 manual focus steps are provided, ranging from 1 foot (0.3 meters) to infinity.
Pressing the Focus button and the shutter button (halfway) simultaneously activates the Quick Focus function of the C-2500L. Quick Focus lets you select the approximate distance from your subject, thereby instructing the camera to always focus on that distance until the mode is cancelled. This is a helpful feature in fast paced shooting situations, where you know about where the action you're interested in will occur. (This is somewhat equivalent to what pro sports photographers do, prefocusing on a point of concentrated activity, and then waiting for the action to arrive.) You can set the Quick Focus distances through the settings menu with 16 choices from 0.3m (1ft) to infinity. The manual provides what could be an excellent chart explaining quick focus settings and depth of field, but which unfortunately fails to mention what aperture setting is assumed.
You can choose between Center and Spot metering on the C-2500L in all of the capture modes. Center tells the camera to take an average of the lighting conditions across a wide area in the center of the composition. Spot metering takes a reading of a small spot in the center of the image, good for oddly-lit scenes, in which the subject is greatly brighter or darker than the surrounding area. Either mode is accessed by hitting the Metering button on top of the camera (indicated by the spot meter symbol). No icon in the LCD readout means you're in Center mode and the spot icon means you're in the spot metering mode.
Exposure Compensation (EV)
Available only in Program and Aperture Priority modes (since manual mode is manual, it really doesn't make sense there), the C-2500L offers exposure compensation in 1/3 EV steps from +2 to -2EV. EV is controllable by pressing the +/- button while using the right and left arrows on the rocker toggle button to adjust the level, shown on the status display panel. The camera beeps when the highest and lowest values are reached. Note that this does not control the flash compensation, which is adjusted separately in the settings menu.
In any of the capture modes, you can adjust the white balance setting through the settings menu. Choose between Auto, White Balance with Reference and Manual. White balance with Reference lets you adjust the white balance according to current lighting situations by holding up a white piece of paper in front of the lens and tripping the shutter. The camera uses that white as a reference for gauging the exposures. Ruled notebook paper can also be used to set the white reference. Under the Manual white balance setting, you can choose light temperatures between 3000K and 6500K. A chart in the manual will help you determine the correct temperature setting for various lighting conditions. The manual also notes that the Auto white balance setting is the best to use in a flash (or use the 6500K setting in Manual).
The Reference white balance method works very well for dealing with extreme lighting situations (our "indoor portrait" test is a good example, shot under household incandescent lighting). It also offers an interesting opportunity to selectively adjust the color cast of images by using off-white pieces of paper as the reference targets. This will cause the camera to adjust the color of the final shot in a direction opposite to the cast of the reference target. Thus, a reference target with a slight bluish tint would result in a final image with a yellow cast, a cyan tint a reddish cast, etc. (This is a technique we've seen pros use with high-end studio cameras.)
You can control the aperture setting in both Aperture Priority and Manual capture modes. To select an aperture, just press the left or right arrows on the rocker toggle button. The aperture symbol will appear in the status display panel. Select between F/2.8 and F/5.6 in wide angle and F/3.9 and F/7.8 in telephoto. The manual gives you some guidelines for using the aperture setting and how to achieve specific effects like blurry backgrounds. (Really, just basic information on depth of field vs aperture setting.)
Shutter speed on the C-2500L is only directly controllable in the Manual capture mode. Control the setting by pressing the up and down arrows on the rocker toggle button. The shutter speed will be indicated in the status display panel. We liked the expansive options for shutter speed, ranging from eight to 1/10,000 seconds in Manual mode. (Program capture mode only runs from 1/4 to 1/10,000 seconds). As with the aperture setting, the manual provides some helpful insight to selecting appropriate speeds.
The C-2500L gives you some flexibility with the ISO setting, with choices of 100, 200 and 400. Just like film, a higher ISO is better in darker situations but may add more noise to the image. ISO is controlled in the settings menu and a tiny 'ISO' appears on the status display panel when either 200 or 400 is selected.
The C-2500L gives you two options for controlling image sharpness: Normal and Soft. Normal does exactly what it says and portrays the standard image sharpness. Soft looks like it softens the edges, giving just a little bit of an effect look to the image. In actuality, the "Soft" function is simply disabling the normal in-camera sharpening that essentially all digicams apply to their images. Sharpness is controlled through the settings menu.
In the run-up to preparing this review, we've had some correspondence with pros and other advanced users of the C-2500L, indicating that the Soft setting was (in their eyes at least) far superior to use for critical images, leaving the sharpening to subsequent operations in an image-editing application. This is obviously a conclusion each user will need to arrive at for themselves, but we raise the issue here because we've received such a high level of comment on it.
The C-2500L lets you take up to five exposures with one press of the shutter button, depending on available memory. The manual doesn't give specs for frame rate in this mode, but our measurements indicated a capture speed of 0.8 seconds per frame (about 1.2 frames per second), regardless of resolution/quality setting. You enter the Sequence mode through the settings menu in any of the capture modes. The number of available sequential images is displayed on the status display panel. The mode is available with all of the image resolutions however the Self-Timer and Red-Eye Reduction flash can't be used.
Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
"Shutter Lag" refers to the delay between when the shutter release is pressed and when a picture is actually taken. In most cameras, this delay allows time for the autofocus and autoexposure systems to do their work. In the case of the C-2500L, this time varies significantly, depending on whether full autofocus, prefocus, or manual focus is used. A full autofocus cycle produces a shutter lag time of about 0.83 seconds. If the lens is prefocused (and the exposure and white balance precomputed) by half-pressing the shutter button before the shot itself, the delay drops to only 0.22 seconds. With the manual focus or quickfocus options selected, the corresponding time is 0.68 seconds. (Times were measured with an electronic test system, resolution is limited by the shutter speed of the camera, and is about 0.01 seconds.)
Cycle time is a measure of how quickly the camera can take a second shot after the shutter is snapped for the first one. Its large internal buffer memory (the figure we've heard is 16 megabytes) lets the C-2500L snap the first several pictures very rapidly, about every 1.4 seconds in our tests. (This is very fast for a digicam!) The buffer memory is large enough to accommodate 3 maximum-resolution shots before making you wait longer (8 seconds between shots when the buffer is full), or 5 shots in low-resolution mode. Significantly, the buffer memory works even in uncompressed TIFF storage mode, a feature we've not seen on a digicam previously. (For some reason, all other cameras we've tested to date (October, 1999) force you to wait while they save the uncompressed file to the memory card, even when they have buffer storage.)
Another important time factor with digicams is how quickly they can take a picture after being powered on. The C-2500L does quite well in this respect, able to get off a shot only 3.5 seconds after you hit the power switch. The camera switches from record to playback (to review your shots) in about 8 seconds, and can switch back again and take a picture in as little as 1.7 seconds, depending on the focus setting.
We found the C-2500L a very user friendly camera, with easy to find controls and straightforward menus. The operation was natural and a quick study of the manual did a pretty good job of explaining all the buttons. On the other hand, it's a fairly complex device with a lot modes and options, so mastery of it took some time.
LCD Data Readout
Located on the top of the camera, centered over the lens assembly, the small black & white data readout does an excellent job of reporting on camera status, although most setting changes still require you to enter the menu system that uses the large rear-panel LCD display.
Located on the top of the camera on the hand grip and marked with a 'W' and 'T.'
Located in the center of the zoom control on top of the camera (as shown above), the shutter button triggers the autofocus/exposure/white balance systems when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed.
+/- Button / Scroll Button
Located right beside the zoom lever and shutter button. Marked with a white +/- symbol and a green scrolling symbol. (A magnifying glass icon with four arrows around it.)
Metering / Write Protection Button
Located just below the status display panel on top of the camera and marked with a black spot meter symbol and a green padlock.
Flash / Info Button
Located directly to the left of the Metering button, denoted by a black flash symbol and the word 'info' in green letters.
Focus / Erase Button
Located on the back of the camera, allows you to select the camera mode (Manual, Aperture Priority, Program, Playback, Print and PC).
Located on the back panel of the camera, in the center of the mode dial, this button turns the camera on and off.
Rocker Toggle Button
Located directly beneath the Mode Dial, the Rocker Toggle Button features four arrows (up, down, left and right). (For what it's worth, we found the actuation of the rocker toggle control on the C-2500L to be the best of any camera we've tested to date (October, 1999). Actuation was smooth and sure, and there was never any "crossover" between the button directions. - That is, we never inadvertently hit "up" when we meant to hit "right" or "left.")
Located directly beneath the Rocker Toggle button and marked with a black 'ok.' In any mode, this button confirms menu selections.
Located to the left of the Mode Dial, above the LCD panel and marked with a display icon. In any mode, displays the settings menu for that mode.
Located to the left of the Menu button, marked with 'SM/CF.' This button selects either SmartMedia or CompactFlash mode, depending on which type of card is inserted in the camera. (As noted below, you can have both card types in the camera simultaneously, and switch between them as desired.)
Pop-up Flash Button
Located on the input jack side of the camera, directly beneath the pop-up flash. This button releases the pop-up flash when pressed.
Dioptric Adjustment Dial
Located on the side of the optical viewfinder, adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate farsighted and nearsighted users.
Camera Modes and Menus
Denoted on the Mode Dial by the letter 'M,' puts the camera into Manual capture mode. This mode gives you complete control over exposure settings.
Pressing the Menu button in this mode gives you the following options in a four page menu:
Aperture Priority Mode
Indicated on the Mode Dial by the letter 'A,' this mode gives you control over the aperture setting and the camera selects the corresponding shutter speed. As noted earlier though, you only get a choice of two aperture settings, basically wide open (f2.8-3.9, depending on zoom), or closed down by two stops.) Pressing the Menu button in this mode gives you the same settings menu as listed above.
Denoted on the Mode Dial by the letter 'P,' this mode gives the camera complete control over exposure. (Although you can select an exposure compensation of up to +/- 2EV units for both ambient and flash lighting.) Pressing the Menu button in Program brings up the same settings menu as in Manual (listed above).
Marked on the Mode Dial by a green-arrow playback symbol, this mode lets you review captured images, erase and protect them.
Pressing the Menu button in this mode gives you the following options:
Print Setup Mode
Indicated on the Mode Dial by a green printer symbol, this mode sets up images for printing on a P-330 printer, or on a separate DPOF-compatible printer. (Digital Print Order Format).
Pressing the Menu button pulls up the settings menu with the following options:
Marked on the Mode Dial by a green transfer symbol, this mode allows you to connect the C-2500L with a computer for downloading images.
Image Storage and Interface
The C-2500L primarily utilizes SmartMedia to capture and store images: The retail package we received included *2* 32MB 3.3v cards. Additional memory can also be purchased in 4MB, 8MB, 16MB, and 32MB sizes. Be sure to only use 3.3V cards. You can use non-Olympus SmartMedia cards, but the manufacturer recommends formatting them in the camera immediately before use. An added bonus on this camera is the addition of a CompactFlash slot beside the SmartMedia slot, increasing your image storage options. Just remember to select the proper media setting on the camera.
The number of storable pictures is shown on the status display when the camera is turned on. When that number reaches zero, the camera beeps and the green LED next to the optical viewfinder flashes. Olympus estimates that the 32MB card can hold an average of 199 SQ images (640 pixels), 55 HQ images, 16 SHQ images and four uncompressed TIFF images. The table below lists these image capacities and the associated JPEG compression ratios.
|Basic (SQ, 1280)||
|Basic (SQ, 640)||
Neither the SmartMedia nor the CompactFlash card should ever be removed while the camera is writing the image as this will damage the media. The cards can be removed while the camera is on, anytime that the red media light isn't flashing (next to the card slot). Both cards fit into their respective slots on the side of the camera, protected by a hinged, plastic flap that snaps into place.
The entire SmartMedia card can be write protected by placing a write protection sticker in the designated area on the card. Write protection stickers can only be used once and must be clean to be effective. This keeps the card safe from any alteration whatsoever. You can protect individual images while in Playback mode by pressing the Protect button on a particular image. Once pressed, a lock symbol appears in the status display panel and that image cannot be erased unless the entire card is formatted. Individual image protection is not available when the write protection sticker has been placed on the SmartMedia card.
Frames stored on the memory cards are assigned file numbers from 0001 to 9999. Once 9999 is reached, the number of storable images on the LCD monitor changes to zero and no more images can be saved to the card. (Until it is reformatted, and the camera's counter reset.)
The Erase button allows you to erase individual images while in Playback mode. All frames on a card can be erased through the Playback settings menu. Or, the entire card can be erased via formatting (also done in the settings menu).
The C-2500L comes with an NTSC video cable that lets you connect the camera to your television set. Make sure both the camera and the TV are off when connecting. Once connected, put the camera in Playback mode and all the playback options are available to you. Olympus warns that various TVs may place the image off center or put a black frame around the image which will record to video tape or print on a video printer. We assume that the foreign models come with a PAL video connector.
The C-2500L runs off of four AA nickel metal hydride or NiCd batteries (rechargeable). Manganese or lithium batteries may overheat and damage the camera, so Olympus strongly recommends staying away from them. The C-2500L also takes one 3V lithium battery (CR2025) that loads into a small slot beside the main battery compartment. This keeps the internal calendar system running when the other batteries die or are changed. Like most other digicams, battery life is precious and relatively short. One battery-life plus on this model, however, is that the back LCD panel cannot be used as a viewfinder. (It'd be largely superfluous, given the TTL optics, although as noted earlier, we'd prefer to see it as an option.) This greatly decreases the amount of drain on the batteries. An Olympus battery charger and set of high-capacity NiMH cells comes packaged with the camera. (Kudos to Olympus on this.)
The C-2500's power consumption is as follows:
|Capture mode w/o LCD||
|Capture, half-pressed w/o LCD||
|Capture, half-pressed w/AF illuminator||
|Capture, half-pressed w/LCD RecInfo display||
|Memory Write (transient)||
|Flash Recharge (transient)||
(We couldn't measure "sleep" mode power, because our test setup uses the external power connector, and the C-2500L appears to never sleep when connected to an external power source.)
The Standby mode or Sleep function of the C-2500L kicks in when the camera is inactive for a specified interval of time (set in the settings menu). Eventually, the camera will automatically shut itself off
Download to the computer occurs via a standard RS-232 interface, although you'll almost certainly want to use a card reader, given the large file sizes the C-2500L delivers. Moving images via the serial port, we clocked the C-2500L with a transfer time of 16.1 seconds for a file 159KB in size, a transfer rate of 9.9 KB/sec. - This is faster than most digicams, and about as good as a serial port connection will do. (On a PC: Mac serial ports will run up to twice as fast, if supported by the camera itself.) Still, this means it would take over 3 minutes to transfer a high-resolution, low-compression file, or over 50 minutes for a full 32-megabyte memory card(!) By comparison, Olympus' USB-based SmartMedia card reader moves data off cards at nearly a megabyte per second. (We clocked it at 40 seconds for 30 megabytes of images.) If you value your time at all, you'll buy the card reader immediately!
Eventually, you'll want to download your captured images to your computer for storage, manipulation, etc. Included with the camera is a standard RS-232C PC serial cable and conversion connector for the Macintosh. A software CD, also packaged with the camera, includes Adobe PhotoDeluxe 3.0 for Windows (95, 98 and NT 4.0), PhotoDeluxe 2.0 for Macintosh (OS 7.1 - 8x, no iMac), Quick Stitch and Olympus Camedia Master
Camedia Master is the vehicle that transfers images from the camera to the computer. It also lets you perform some very minor image manipulations, such as brightening dark images and correcting (slightly) blurry ones. One very slick feature of Camedia Master though, is its ability to correct for geometric distortion in the lens (barrel or pincushion distortion). It can read the EXIF headers on files from the C-2500L, determine the focal length used to capture the image, and automatically correct for the distortion caused by the lens at that focal length. To our knowledge, Olympus is the only camera manufacturer currently offering such software-based distortion correction
Adobe PhotoDeluxe greatly increases your image manipulation options with effect filters, etc. You can correct Red-Eye, rotate images, perform special effects and a variety of other options. You can also set up images for greeting cards, calendars and Internet usage.
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-2500L's "pictures" page. (There's a LOT of material in our commentary on this camera's pictures, given the high level of interest we've had on it prior to this review.)
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-2500L performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
Overall, we found the C-2500L to be an incredible performer, producing arguably the best/most accurate color and highest resolution of any camera we've tested to date. Its large internal RAM buffer memory makes it very responsive in terms of shot-to-shot cycle time. It's controls also have a great "feel" and are logically laid out, also contributing to a general sense of responsiveness.
In the resolution test, the D-2500L tested out at a solid 800 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and 700-750 in the vertical. When the inevitable aliasing occurs at very high spatial frequencies, it's very minimal and unobtrusive in the images. The lens shows some geometric distortion throughout its zoom range, running from 1.6% barrel distortion at the wide angle end to 0.64% pincushion distortion in telephoto. As noted in the review though, Olympus is unique among digicam manufacturers in providing a software solution to correct for this geometric distortion in situations where it might be bothersome (architectural shots or others with straight lines close to the edge of the frame.) In our tests, the correction worked perfectly, reducing distortion to zero at all focal lengths. (We would like to see a batch-correction capability though.) Chromatic aberration was slight, estimated at ~1 pixel (0.06% ) at wide angle, and zero at telephoto.
The through the lens (TTL) viewfinder is quite accurate, at 95% across the full range of the zoom lens. Still, we miss the ability to use the LCD as a viewfinder, and would like to see a 100% finder particularly on a camera so obviously aimed at the high-end user.
In Macro mode, the C-2500L provides two different options: A standard macro mode that permits use of the full zoom range of the lens, but provides a minimum capture area of 3.54 x 4.43 inches (9.0 x 11.25 mm), at a working distance of about 12 inches (0.3m). The "Super Macro" mode gets you to within 0..8 inches (2 cm) of the subject for extreme blow-ups, but at some cost in lens distortion. (Much, but not all of which can be removed with the Camedia Master software's distortion filter.) Super Macro takes you down to a minimum area of only 1.48 x 1.85 inches (3.8 x 4.7 mm).
Image quality was exceptional overall: We've already remarked on the color accuracy and resolution, but want to say a few words about sharpening, again due to comments we've had prior to writing this review. There's been some discussion on the internet about image noise in the C-2500L, as it relates to the in-camera sharpening function, with several writers suggesting that one should ignore the in-camera sharpening altogether in favor of using Photoshop(tm) or another image-editing program for post-processing of the images. We have several observations on this: 1) People should certainly feel free to process their images any way they feel works best for them. 2) It's been our observation that noise in the C-2500 images has a higher frequency content, appearing as more sharply-defined "grains" than larger "blotches" in other digicams. The noise may, as a result, be made more evident by the sharpening processing used by the camera. 3) The overall noise level appears to be very equivalent to other high-end digicams we've tested: Lower on some color swatches, higher on others. 4) The unsharpened ("soft" mode) images from the C-2500L respond exceptionally well to post-capture sharpening in Photoshop, above and beyond "noise" considerations. What's all this mean' Just this: The 2500L produces very high-quality images, with noise that looks more like film grain than that from other digicams, but that is also more visually evident in the face of some sharpening processes. Quite apart from issues of noise we agree with those who have said that pros looking for the ultimate in image quality from a digicam would do well to use the C-2500L in "soft" mode, and sharpen their images in Photoshop. For the vast majority of users though, the "normal" images, straight as they come from the camera will be very satisfying.
While it probably doesn't need to be said again, we were very impressed with the C-2500L's picture quality.
Olympus has clearly "raised the bar" for performance in high-end digicams with the C-2500L. The image quality is exceptional, the design strong and user-friendly, and the range of application via the optional accessory lenses and the FL-40 dedicated flash unit excellent. It showed both the highest resolution and most accurate color of any camera we've tested to date (October, 1999). The only factor holding us back from a completely over-the-top, wildly unobjective enthusiasm for the camera is its limitation to only two aperture settings. In practice though, we didn't find ourselves nearly as constrained by that limitation as we expected to be. Overall, a huge thumbs-up!
See what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the Olympus C-2500L, or add comments of your own. (Read what's here, then add your own!)
Reader Sample Images!
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For More Info:
View the Imaging Resource Data Sheet for the Olympus C-2500L
See the Olympus C-2500L Pictures Page
(For an overview of ALL the pictures, with full exposure info, try the thumbnails page.)
Visit the Olympus home page for the C-2500L
Second opinion: Steve's Digicams C-2500L Review
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