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Olympus C-5050 Zoom

Their best camera yet? - Olympus introduces a top-of-the-line five-megapixel model with noise reduction technology, optimum image enlargement, an improved interface, and support for three memory formats.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 01/09/2003

Executive Overview
Olympus' "C-series" digicams have a long, distinguished history, reaching back to the original C-2000. With each generation, Olympus has advanced the design a bit further, steadily increasing features and capabilities. With the C-5050 Zoom though, they've taken a much larger step forward than in any of their previous revisions of the line, adding a wide range of features, but also substantially overhauling the camera's user interface in the process. The result is really an all-new camera design. The new design and excellent image quality combine to make this the best digicam Olympus has yet made, at least in the eyes of this reviewer.

The 5.0-megapixel C-5050 is similar in many ways to Olympus' recent 4.1-megapixel model (the C-4040), incorporating the same super-bright 3x zoom lens for excellent low-light capabilities, and a classic all-black advanced rangefinder-style body with textured, non-slip holding surfaces, including the rubberized-grip lens barrel. Newly-added features expand the C-5050's versatility and exposure capabilities, and a host of new external buttons and revamped LCD displays greatly improve the user interface. Measuring only 4.5 x 3.1 x 2.7 inches (114 x 80 x 70mm) and weighing 13.5 ounces (383 grams) without batteries or memory cards (17.5 ounces, 495 grams with standard AA NiMH batteries), the C-5050 is fairly easy to stash in a large pocket or purse, though I highly recommend purchasing a soft cover or small camera bag for added protection.

Like its 4.1-megapixel predecessor, the C-5050 offers many advanced user controls, including a Multi-Spot metering mode that averages up to eight selectable spot readings, a one-touch white balance function (with optional manual white balance correction for minor color adjustments), spot autofocus, contrast, saturation, and sharpness adjustments, and QuickTime movies with simultaneous sound recording capabilities. It also incorporates several new features, including a tilting LCD monitor for more convenient viewing; advanced white balance options; a live histogram feature in Record mode; an external flash hot shoe for both generic and dedicated flash units; an array of Scene and function modes for more creative shooting; and an improved user interface with more external control. There's also a three-way memory compartment, with a Compact Flash slot as well as a clever dual-function slot for SmartMedia and xD-Picture Cards.

The C-5050 Zoom features both an optical, real-image viewfinder and a rear panel, 1.8-inch, wide-view color TFT LCD monitor, with 114,000 pixels. The tilting LCD monitor lifts out from the back panel, and tilts down about 30 degrees, or upward 90 degrees for better viewing angles when the camera is held above or below eye level. 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) and the number of images remaining on the memory card in the current resolution setting (displayed briefly when the monitor is turned on), at the bottom of the monitor. The C-5050 also provides a very helpful numeric distance display when using the manual focus option, as well as a zoom bar (activated when digital zoom is on) that shows both the camera's 3x optical zoom in operation, as well as the digital zoom's progress, when you zoom past the optical telephoto limit. New on the C-5050 is a live histogram display, which displays the tonal values of the subject at your current exposure setting. This is helpful for checking the exposure before capturing an image.

The 7.1-21.3mm 3x zoom aspherical glass lens is equivalent to a 35-105mm 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-5050's 3x optical zoom, images can be enlarged up to 3.4x with the digital zoom, depending on the image resolution size. (Users should be aware that digital zoom is not the same as optical zoom, since the digital zoom is merely cropping and enlarging the center portion of the CCD. As a result, digitally enlarged images often result in higher image noise and/or softer resolution.) After a long absence from the Olympus line, the C-5050 Zoom sports an optional autofocus assist illuminator, greatly extending the camera's usefulness for low-light shooting.

The C-5050's image file sizes include: 2,560 x 2,400; 2,288 x 1,712; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1280 x 960; 1024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels in normal mode, and 3,200 x 2,400 pixels when using Optimum Image Enlargement. (Optimum Image Enlargement resamples the image to a larger size, working from the raw camera data before it has been JPEG compressed. This gives a slight quality edge as compared to resizing images afterward, in a computer.) Image quality options include two JPEG compression ratios, plus uncompressed TIFF and RAW formats. While RAW images usually require processing via imaging software post-capture, the C-5050 Zoom's Playback menu offers a RAW editing function, which lets you adjust color, sharpness, etc. in-camera. The edited file is then saved as a separate JPEG.

The C-5050 Zoom offers a great deal of exposure control, including Program (P), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Speed Priority (S), and Manual (M) exposure modes. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, while Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give you control over aperture or shutter speed, while the camera chooses the best corresponding settings. When used in A or S modes, apertures range from f/1.8 to f/8.0 and shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to four seconds. The Manual exposure mode provides the same aperture range, but with shutter times as long as 16 seconds. The C-5050 also has five preset Scene modes, including Portrait, Sports, Landscape-Portrait, Landscape-Scene, and Night modes, for point-and-shoot style shooting. Additionally, in any of the main record modes (P, A, S, M, My, or Movie), the "Scene" option of the Shooting menu lets you apply Night, Portrait, or Landscape characteristics to the shot automatically. Since not all of the Shooting menu options are available in the actual Scene modes, this is a way to let the camera set itself up for a specific kind of exposure without giving up any manual control.

The C-5050 Zoom provides five ISO options (Auto, 64, 100, 200, and 400), automatic exposure bracketing, Digital ESP and Spot metering modes, Single and Multi-Spot Metering AE Lock modes, plus exposure compensation from +2 to -2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. An advanced Noise Reduction System uses dark-frame subtraction to minimize background noise (particularly in low-light conditions and long exposures). The C-5050 Zoom's white balance offerings are some of the most extensive I've seen on a prosumer digicam to date, with a total of nine settings (Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Sunny, Evening Sun, Daylight Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, White Fluorescent, Incandescent, or One-Touch, the manual setting). With the manual white balance option, you can save as many as four custom settings, which is useful if you frequently shoot under a specific light source. A white balance color adjustment function lets you dial in red or blue color shifts from +7 to -7 steps (arbitrary units), providing excellent control over color balance.

Image contrast, sharpness, and saturation adjustments are available through the Mode Setup menu, and a Function menu option allows you to capture images in black and white or sepia tone (with additional White Board and Black Board settings for capturing text). An adjustable Automatic Exposure Lock (AEL) function locks an exposure reading independently of the autofocus system, without having to hold down the Shutter button halfway while you reframe the image. AEL optionally takes a single exposure reading or up to eight averaged spot readings for more accurate exposures. There's also a 12-second self-timer option for self-portraits, and an infrared (IR) remote controller with a three-second shutter delay.

The C-5050 Zoom's Movie mode records QuickTime movies with or without sound, in either SQ (160 x 120 pixels) or HQ (320 x 240 pixels) modes. Four-second sound clips can be recorded to accompany still images, either with image capture, or later during image playback. A Sequence mode is available for capturing multiple images at up to 3.3 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. A 2-in-1 capture mode snaps two vertically-oriented images in succession, and saves them side-by-side as a single image. The effect is like a split-screen view.

The camera's internal flash offers five operating modes (Flash Off, Auto-Flash, Forced Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow Synchro), with a range that extends to approximately 18 feet (5.6 meters) in wide-angle mode and to about 12 feet (3.8 meters) in telephoto mode. A standard hot shoe allows you to connect an external flash unit when additional flash power is needed. You can also increase or decrease the internal flash power from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments through the Shooting menu.

The Olympus C-5050 Zoom ships with a 32MB xD-Picture Card for image storage (larger capacity cards are available separately), but the camera also accommodates CompactFlash (type I or type II) and SmartMedia card formats. You can connect the camera directly to your computer via a high-speed USB interface to download images, and if you want a larger viewfinder (or image playback) display, Olympus provides a video output cable for connection to a television set (which works nicely with the included remote control). Software shipped with the unit includes Olympus' Camedia Master 4.0 utility package, which provides minor organization and editing tools, in addition to a panorama "stitching" application. Apple QuickTime and USB drivers for Macintosh and Windows are also supplied.

The new Camedia C-5050 Zoom offers exceptional creative control, great low-light capabilities, and large file sizes for maximum print output. Combine this with first-rate image quality, and an excellent user interface, and it's easy to see why I call this the best camera Olympus has ever made. (Yes, I actually do rate it above their excellent E-10 and E-20 models, largely for the C-5050's much greater shooting speed.)


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