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Olympus C-4000 Zoom

Olympus introduces a top-of-the-line four-megapixel model with superb *configurability* great image quality, and an impressively low price.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 8/27/2002

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-4000 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-4000 Zoom's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

The C-4000 Zoom generally produced very good to excellent color in my test shots, and white balance was generally pretty accurate. It did a surprisingly good job with the very difficult incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test, leaving only a slight pink tint to the image. (This common light source is a serious problem for many digicams.) Color balance was very good on the Davebox target, with the C-4000 distinguishing tough tonal variations and reproducing the large color blocks with good saturation and accurate hue. The C-4000 reproduced the blue flowers in the Outdoor test shot very well, without the strong purple tints that plague many cameras with that particular target. The flowers were much darker in the Indoor shots, but that's a fairly natural consequence of the very warm-toned lighting. Really very good color overall.

The C-4000 generally exposed the test images well, its meter responding to high- and low-key shots with the expected slight under- and overexposure respectively. Its default tonality is quite a bit more contrasty than I personally prefer, but its contrast "tweak" adjustment worked beautifully. With the contrast adjustment set all the way down to -5 units, even the very harshly lit Outdoor Portrait test showed good detail in the highlights of Marti's shirt. I'd really like to see the contrast range be centered about the value that corresponds to the -5 level, so you'd have adjustment both above and below that point, but the bottom line is I was able to get the sort of tonal response I was looking for with the available adjustment. - Well-executed "tweak" adjustments as on the C-4000 are a highly desirable feature in a camera intended for the "enthusiast" market. Big kudos to Olympus on this point!

The C-4000 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart, though it started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height horizontally and around 800 lines vertically. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,150 lines horizontally and 1050 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred at approximately 1,450 lines.

Geometric distortion on the C-4000 is lower than average at the wide-angle end, as I measured a 0.35 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared very slightly better, with a 0.27 percent pincushion distortion. (This is a pretty good performance: Most digicams I test average around 0.8 percent barrel at wide angle, although pincushion at telephoto is generally almost nonexistent. Olympus seems to have opted to trade off more pincushion at tele for less barrel at wide, but the net result is less distortion overall.) Chromatic aberration is a bit higher than average, showing 4-5 pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) That amount of chromatic aberration is a but high, but not unusual. More bothersome was the fact that it persists fairly far into the central portion of the frame, as there were a couple of pixels of color around the numbers marking the high-frequency resolution wedges, fairly close to the target's center. The strongest optical distortion I noticed was increased softness and "coma" (a smearing of high-contrast edges) on the left side of the frame.

The C-4000 Zoom's maximum shutter speed of 16 seconds and variable ISO settings provide excellent low-light shooting capabilities. Images remained bright and usable at light levels as low as 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux), at both 200 and 400 ISO settings. Shooting at ISO 100, the target was visible at the 1/16 foot-candle light level, though results were better at 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) level. The dim lighting resulted in a faint pink cast, but overall color was still better than average for such low light levels. The camera's Noise Reduction system did a good job controlling image noise, although it doesn't use as sophisticated algorithm for eliminating "hot" pixels as does Mike Chaney's Qimage Pro software program. (But then, I may be a little biased, since Mike uses an algorithm I suggested. ;-) Given that average city street lighting at night corresponds to approximately one foot-candle (11 lux), the C-4000 Zoom should capture good-looking photos in light levels about as dim as you can comfortably see in. (Although it's autofocus system runs out of light sooner, able to focus well only in light levels of 1/4 foot-candle (0.26 lux) or brighter.)

The C-4000's optical viewfinder was quite tight, showing approximately 80 percent of the frame at both wide angle and telephoto. Images framed with the optical viewfinder were also slanted toward the lower left corner, indicating a slightly shifted CCD in our evaluation unit. The camera's LCD monitor fared much better, showing approximately 99 percent of the frame at wide angle and telephoto. Given that I generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the C-4000 performed well in that regard. (I really wish digicam manufacturers would stop making their optical viewfinders so doggone tight though - Can't we please have something more reasonable, at least 90% of full frame coverage?)

The C-4000 Zoom also did an excellent job in the macro category, capturing a tiny minimum area of only 1.68 x 1.25 inches (42.57 x 31.85 millimeters). Resolution was very high, with excellent detail on the dollar bill. (Dust was even visible on top of the smaller coin in the frame.) The limited depth of field that comes with such close-focusing blurred the larger coin and brooch, but printing details remained quite sharp on the bill. Exposure and color were also good. The camera's flash was too close to the subject to be of any use, given the C-4000 Zoom's Super Macro capabilities.

Overall, I was very pleased with the C-4000 Zoom's performance. It showed excellent color, and the "tweak" adjustments provided enough control that I could customize the camera's response to pretty much exactly match my personal preferences. Macro and low light performance were both excellent, and resolution was very high. About the only serious gripe I have is that the lens shows a bit more chromatic aberration than average, and that it also persists further into the center of the frame than is commonly the case. While I really don't like chromatic aberration, I'd have to say that the C-4000 Zoom's genuinely excellent performance in so many other areas does a lot to make up for it. Overall, this looks like a superb camera for an enthusiast on a budget. (Perhaps the ideal digicam for budget-constrained photography students?) I predict this is going to be a very popular model.

Conclusion

With the C-4000 Zoom, Olympus has set another benchmark for image quality, camera performance, and features, at an impressively low price. (MSRP of $499 as of its introduction in August, 2002.) In particular, the ability to "tweak" many of the camera's key image-quality characteristics (white balance, contrast, and color saturation) gives users a nearly unprecedented ability to customize the camera to fit their specific needs and preferences. (Minolta pioneered this sort of flexibility in their original Dimage 7, and continues the tradition in the Dimage 7i. Those cameras sell for a good bit more money than the C-4000 Zoom though.) It's been almost two years since Olympus' last barn-burner of a bargain "enthusiast" camera, the C-3000 Zoom, and the C-4000 shows not only the benefits of two years of advancing technology, but also many thoughtful touches in its user interface. The best part? Olympus included an external flash sync socket on the C-4000, a first on a "value priced" digicam from them. All in all, the C-4000 Zoom represents an exceptional value for the "enthusiast" on a budget. (This looks to me like an ideal camera for photography students. - It gives them all the control they could ask for, at a very affordable price.) A big thumbs up to Olympus for this one!

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