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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 3:Design

Review First Posted: 01/09/2003

Design
The Olympus C-5050 Zoom looks very much like its 4.1-megapixel predecessor, the C-4040 Zoom, with the same compact shape and style (something of a combination between a traditional SLR body and that of a rangefinder camera), nearly identical size (4.5 x 3.1 x 2.7 inches) and weight (13.5 ounces/383 grams without batteries or memory cards, 17.5 ounces/495 grams with standard AA NiMH batteries loaded), and the same all-black exterior. The external control layout is quite different, with more external controls than on previous models in the C-series. Additionally, Olympus included a newly-designed, animated LCD display associated with the external control buttons.

The C-5050 Zoom looks and feels very much like a small film-based SLR camera, substantial enough for a good hold (due to a large right hand grip), but small enough to slide into a large purse or coat pocket when you're done shooting. It also has a very pleasing heft, not too heavy, but conveying an impression of solidity and ruggedness. A comfortably wide neck strap is provided for those times when you want the C-5050 to be out and ready to shoot on a moment's notice.

The telescoping lens extends approximately one inch beyond the lens barrel when powered on in either Still Shooting (Record) or Movie capture modes. When fully retracted, the lens disappears into a rubber-covered lens barrel that extends a bit less than an inch from the body of the camera, and projects just lightly beyond the edge of the right hand grip. The lens is protected by a spring-lock, removable plastic lens cap that attaches to the camera with the supplied tether strap.

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, IR sensor window (used for the IR remote control), microphone, and AF assist light window. The inside lip of the exterior lens barrel has a set of 41mm filter threads that accepts an optional lens adapter tube for attaching auxiliary lenses to the camera.

The camera's rear 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 LCD monitor has two tabs on its sides that allow you to pull it out from rear panel and then tilt it upward. The four-way Arrow Pad is adjacent to the right side of the display, with the OK button in the center. Below it is the CF / xD / SM button, for selecting the memory card format, and above it is a Display / Quick View button which controls the LCD display. In the top right corner is a small Command dial, for making changes with the external control buttons, and the edge of the Power and Mode dials. The AE Lock button is to the right of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, and also accesses an Erase menu in Playback mode. Also on the rear panel is the camera's speaker, behind a snowflake-shaped speaker grille, and the edge of the memory card compartment. A red LED adjacent to the memory card door lets you know when the camera is writing to one of the memory cards.

The shots above show the LCD tilted out from the body, angled up and down the maximum amount allowed. I'd like to see more downward tilt, as I've often used tilting LCDs like this when holding a camera over my head to shoot above a crowd. The roughly 30-degree downward angle provided by the 5050 still works for this, but it's not as convenient as a more extreme angle would be. The 90-degree angle that's possible in the upward direction is great for shooting ground-level macro photos though.

The large black hand grip, which houses both the battery and memory card compartments, makes up the right side of the camera. It is sculpted to fit comfortably in your hand, with a slightly concave finger hold on the front and a dimpled plastic thumb grip on the back. The hinged, plastic door of the memory card compartment opens from the back. Inside the compartment, are two slots, one that accommodates Compact Flash type I and II cards, and another that holds either SmartMedia or xD-Picture Cards. Right above the compartment door is one of two neck strap eyelets, with the second one counterbalancing it on the left side of the camera. (Kudos to Olympus for positioning the neckstrap eyelets to let the camera hang level.)

Just under the left side neckstrap eyelet are the cable connector compartments, two plastic doors that cover the A/V Out, USB, and DC In connector ports. The connector port covers are an unusual design, with a rigid plastic cover bonded to a flexible, rubbery liner and hinge flap. I'm not crazy about flexible hinges like these, as I'm concerned that they might fatigue and split over time. Overall though, I like the design of the doors on the 5050 better than most I've seen using flexible hinges. Just above the eyelet are the Flash and +/- exposure compensation buttons. (Pressing both buttons simultaneously adjusts the flash exposure.) Directly to the right from the exposure compensation buttons is a diopter adjustment control for the optical viewfinder.

The top of the camera is packed with controls and features. At the far left are the Focus and Metering / Protect buttons, followed by the external flash hot shoe and small LCD display panel. On the right side are the Shutter button (surrounded by the Zoom Lever), Self-Timer / Remote / Rotate, and Custom / DPOF buttons, a Mode dial, and a Power control. The Power control is barely visible when viewed from directly above like this - It's the small tab projecting to the right, from underneath the Mode dial. I like this implementation of the power switch, as you don't have to perturb the Mode dial setting to turn the camera on and off, and I like having the power control right under my thumb, rather than having to fiddle with a back- or top-panel pushbutton.

The bottom of the camera holds the battery compartment cover and a metal screw-mount tripod socket, which is 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 I always recommend for time-consuming projects, such as working in the studio or downloading images to the computer. The good news about the tripod socket is that it's metal, and also located almost exactly under the camera's center of gravity. Both factors make for long life. The downside of the tripod socket location is that it's not particularly close to the optical center of the lens, as needed when shooting multiple images to be assembled into a panorama. (This probably isn't too big an issue though, as the optical center of the lens is actually near the end of the body-mounted lens barrel. This means you'd need to use a panorama head with the camera even if the tripod socket were directly centered under the lens cylinder.)

The infrared remote control included with the camera allows you to trip the shutter, control the optical zoom, and scroll through captured images remotely. I've always enjoyed this feature on past Olympus digicams, as it comes in quite handy in the studio. It's also great any time you're using a really long exposure time and want to prop the camera on something to avoid jiggling it by pressing the shutter button. A pleasant surprise is the distance from which the IR remote will control the camera - In my experience, out to 15 feet or more, depending on the ambient lighting. I'm less crazy though, about the fact that the camera always waits a few seconds, counting down before firing the shutter in response to the remote. - An option to set the shutter delay to zero when using the remote would be very welcome.


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