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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.

Review First Posted: 01/09/2003



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MSRP $899 US

 

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Five-megapixel sensor, delivering 2,560 x 1,920-pixel images
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Accepts xD-Picture Card, SmartMedia, and CompactFlash memory card formats (!)
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Fast (f/1.8-f/2.6) 3x optical zoom lens 
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 Improved user interface with more external controls 
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Standard hot shoe for easy connection to generic flash units, as well as dedicated Olympus models.


Manufacturer Overview
Over the past several years, Olympus has been one of the truly dominant players in the digicam marketplace. The company boasts one of the broadest digital camera lineups in the industry, with numerous models ranging from pure entry-level, point-and-shoot digicams to the incredible "near-professional" E-10 SLR. With the Camedia C-5050 Zoom, Olympus has improved upon the recent Camedia C-4040 model (an outstanding digicam in its own right), by increasing CCD resolution to five million pixels, increasing exposure options, adding a tilting LCD and external flash hot shoe, and significantly refining the user interface. Not the least among its accomplishments, the C-5050 Zoom supports no less than three recording media formats, including SmartMedia, CompactFlash, and the new xD-Picture Card. The C-5050 Zoom also features a RAW data mode, and the ability to extract JPEG images with adjusted image parameters from RAW files in the camera.

The Olympus C-5050 Zoom is one of the leaders in the new generation of five-megapixel "prosumer" digital cameras intended for the advanced amateur and professional market. Aggressively priced at just under $800 (at its introduction in late 2002), the Camedia 5050 delivers images measuring 2,560 x 1,920 pixels, which when combined with Olympus' new noise reduction technology and "optimum image enlargement" function, can produce quality prints as large as 16 x 20 inches.



High Points



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.)


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.


Viewfinder

The C-5050 Zoom offers both an optical, real-image viewfinder and a rear panel, 1.8-inch, wide view, 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. I don't have any way of measuring the range of dioptric adjustments, but can say that the one on the 5050's eyepiece seems to range much more in the "farsighted" direction than in the "nearsighted" one - It really didn't come close to being able to cope with my own 20/180 vision.

While 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. A blinking, green LED indicates trouble with either the memory 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 or that there is a potential of camera shake, while a solid orange LED shows that the flash is fully charged and ready to fire.

As described earlier, the C-5050 Zoom's LCD monitor tilts upward 90 degrees, once pulled out from the back panel slightly. It can also tilt downward approximately 30 degrees. A detailed information display reports a number of exposure settings, including the currently selected f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure compensation adjustments across the top of the screen. When first entering a record mode, a more detailed information display appears for a few seconds, showing the image attributes (contrast, sharpness, and saturation), flash exposure compensation, ISO, flash mode, drive mode, and focus mode settings. 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 both the selected f/stop and shutter speed values (adjustable with the left / right and up / down Arrow buttons, respectively), while the exposure compensation value is reported in the upper right corner, showing the amount of over- or underexposure. The exposure values flash red when the camera disagrees with the setting. In Manual Focus mode, a distance display scale appears on the LCD monitor, which helps to adjust focus in low-light situations.

The C-5050 Zoom's LCD monitor also offers a live histogram display in record mode, which is helpful in determining any over- or underexposure. Though the information display reports any exposure discrepancies in Manual mode, the histogram actually graphs the tonal distribution of the image, making it a little easier to see how the exposure will balance out.


Pressing the Quick View button on the camera's back panel turns the LCD viewfinder on and off, but also optionally cycles through a position in which a detailed list of camera settings is shown in lieu of the viewfinder display. This display is very reminiscent of the back-panel display of Olympus' E-10 and E-20 SLRs, and provides a wealth of information about the camera's settings and status. (This display is enabled by turning on the "Dual Control Panel" option in the camera's setup menu.)

The C-5050 Zoom's optical viewfinder proved a little tight in my testing, showing only 86 percent frame coverage at wide angle, and about 87 percent at telephoto. This is pretty typical for consumer and prosumer digicams, but I really wish the manufacturers would make the optical viewfinders more accurate. This would be particularly nice on Olympus' cameras, which typically show almost no power drain at all when turned on and left in a record mode with the LCD turned off. - A more accurate optical viewfinder would let you spend more time with the LCD off, greatly extending battery life.

The LCD monitor proved to be much more accurate, showing almost exactly 100% of the final image area. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the C-5050 Zoom performed well here, although the LCD viewfinder's image seemed to be shifted very slightly to the right relative to the final image area.

When using the LCD monitor to review captured images, you can zoom in on displayed images up to 4x, 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 images at a time, as determined by a menu setting. A Playback histogram display shows the tonal distribution of the exposed image, with a list of basic exposure settings off to the right. A very handy "Quick View" function lets you check the last picture taken in Shooting mode by pressing the Display button twice in quick succession. The image will remain displayed on the LCD monitor until you revert back to Shooting mode by pressing the Display button again.


Optics
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The Olympus C-5050 Zoom has an all-glass, aspheric lens design, with eight elements in six groups. The 3x, 7.1-21.3mm lens provides a focal range equivalent to that of a 35-105mm zoom on a 35mm film camera. I was very pleased by the speed of the lens (measured by its maximum apertures), an impressive f/1.8 at the wide-angle setting, and f/2.6 at telephoto. This doubtless contributes to the camera's excellent low-light performance, and would be a big help in shooting fast sports action under more normal lighting. The larger than average maximum aperture also makes it easier to isolate your subjects from the background, by limiting depth of field.

Focusing distances range from 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) to infinity in Normal mode, and 7.8 inches to 2.6 feet (0.2 to 0.8 meters) in Macro mode. A Super Macro mode lets you get even closer to your subject, as close as 1.2 inches (3.0 centimeters), an impressive performance. Autofocus is determined through the lens, using a contrast detection method. This means that the autofocus will work properly with auxiliary lenses, such as the excellent wide- and telephoto adapters offered by Olympus themselves. 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 mode). Though the C-5050 Zoom 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 down. An AF assist lamp helps the camera focus in dark shooting conditions, and I found it to be extremely accurate in my low-light shooting test. (The Olympus C-2100 UltraZoom and C-2500 Zoom had AF assist lamps, but the feature has been missing from the Olympus lineup for a long time now. Its return on the C-5050 is very welcome!)

The Focus button on the top panel of the camera accesses the normal AF mode, as well as both macro modes and the manual focus settings. (Pressing the button and turning the Command dial rotates the available focus options across the LCD screen.) In manual focus mode, a distance scale appears on the LCD monitor, showing distances in meters or feet. Pressing the up and down arrow buttons adjusts focus when manual focus is enabled. As you focus, the image is automatically enlarged in the LCD monitor to better see small details. The manual focus option includes two modes, a normal one, with the focus range extending from infinity down to 8 inches, and a super-macro manual focus mode, which extends the focusing range down to 1.2 inches, while still permitting focusing all the way out to infinity. Once the focus is set manually, you can save the focus setting by pressing the Menu / OK button.

A Full-Time AF mode, selected through the Shooting menu, keeps the autofocus constantly engaged as you move the camera from subject to subject, instead of waiting for the Shutter button to be depressed halfway. This might be useful for action photography like fast-paced sports or children playing, but it is an additional drain on the battery because the focusing mechanism is constantly at work. (Then too, practically speaking, the AF speed isn't really sufficient to track any rapidly-moving object, leading me to question the actual utility of the Full-Time AF option.) You can also designate whether the camera determines focus from the center of the image (Spot) or the entire image area (iESP), by choosing the appropriate AF Mode option in the Shooting menu. Once in Spot AF mode, you can move the AF target by holding down the Focus button and using the arrow keys to move the target around on the LCD monitor. (To reset the AF mark to center, press the Menu / OK and Focus buttons simultaneously.)

The C-5050 Zoom's exterior lens barrel has a set of 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 glass of the filter (or accessory lens) to clear the front of the lens barrel.

The C-5050 Zoom also provides up to 3.4x digital zoom, which can be enabled via the Shooting menu. Once activated, the Zoom scale on the right side of the monitor changes to accommodate the expanded range for the digital zoom. The bottom half of the scale (colored white) indicates the optical zoom range, while the top half (colored red) specifies the digital zoom. The digital zoom is only accessible when the LCD monitor is engaged; when the LCD is turned off, the digital zoom returns to the 1x setting. It also cannot be used with the uncompressed TIFF or RAW modes.

Optical distortion on the C-5050 Zoom was fairly high at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 1.0 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I measured only a 0.1 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was also rather high, showing about seven or eight pixels of coloration on either side of the res target details in the corners of the frame, and emphasized by some slight corner softness. (This distortion is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)


Exposure
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The C-5050 Zoom offers a good deal of exposure control, including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as five preset Scene modes. All capture modes are set by rotating the Mode dial on the top panel, which also accesses the My Mode and Movie mode. (My Mode lets you create a custom setup for the camera, including virtually every exposure and operating parameter, that can then be selected simply by rotating the Mode Dial to the "My" position.) Additional exposure options include five ISO settings (Auto, 64, 100, 200 and 400); exposure compensation, auto bracketing, internal and external flash adjustment, three metering modes: Spot, Multi Spot, and ESP multi-pattern, and more.

In Program mode, the camera selects both the aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure options such as ISO, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, and metering modes. Aperture Priority lets you set the aperture from f/1.8 to f/8.0 and the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. In Shutter Priority, you can select shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to four seconds, and the camera selects the best corresponding aperture setting.

In Manual mode, you control both aperture and shutter speed with the addition of much longer shutter speed times (as long as 16 seconds). A helpful feature of the Manual mode is that, as you scroll through the various exposure combinations, the camera indicates whether or not the current setting will give you a correct exposure. It does this by showing the f/stop and shutter speed in green, and the exposure differential (the difference between your settings and what the camera meters as correct) in white, in exposure values (EV) within a range of +3 to -3 EV. If the camera disagrees with your settings, the exposure variables flash red in the display. Additionally, you can activate the live histogram display, which graphically shows any under- or overexposure.

The maximum shutter speed of the C-5050 is 1/2000 second, but it can only be reached when the lens aperture is set to its minimum opening of f/8.0. (This sort of limitation is fairly common, arising from the simple physics of how long it takes the shutter to traverse the lens aperture.) The upshot is that the camera can select speeds from 1/1,300 to 1/2,000 when it's in programmed exposure mode and the ambient light is bright enough. It will also automatically select these speeds in Aperture priority mode, when you've set the aperture to f/8.0 yourself. Likewise, you can select the 1/1,300 -1/2,000 speeds when in Manual exposure mode, if you've set the aperture to f/8.0. At all other times, the maximum shutter speed is 1/1,000.

At the other end of the scale, the maximum shutter time varies with the camera's operating mode and ISO setting. At ISO 64 and 100, the maximum shutter time is four seconds in Programmed, Aperture, and Shutter priority modes. It drops to 2 seconds when the ISO is raised to 200, and to 1 second at an ISO of 400. In Manual mode, there are no such ISO-related shutter time limitations, and the maximum exposure time is increased to 16 seconds.

For point-and-shoot convenience in what might otherwise be tricky shooting conditions, the C-5050 also features five Scene modes. Portrait mode keeps the subject in sharp focus but the background slightly blurred, by using a larger aperture setting to reduce depth of field. Two landscape modes (Landscape Portrait and Landscape Scene) instead use a smaller aperture, to capture sharp detail in the foreground and background. A Sports mode biases the exposure system toward higher shutter speeds, so you can "freeze" fast-paced action. Finally, a Night mode optimizes the camera for night shots and portraits, using slower shutter speeds to increase the amount of ambient light in the exposure. The C-5050 Zoom also allows you to apply specific Scenes to the Program, Aperture, Shutter, Manual, My, and Movie modes. Through the Shooting menu, the Scene option applies Portrait, Landscape, or Night presets to the current image, giving you the benefit of a preset shooting mode while maintaining full exposure control.

The C-5050 Zoom provides a fairly typical range of ISO settings, but the default ISO 64 extends the range lower than most competing models. The lower default ISO is welcome, as it will result in lower image noise when shooting under bright conditions. (Higher ISO settings are often useful for working in limited light conditions, but they can result in noisier images.) In addition, the available lower ISO is helpful when trying for motion-blur effects in more brightly list surroundings. (Note: When ISO is set to Auto in Program exposure mode, it automatically resets to 64 when you switch to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes. A specific ISO setting can be combined with any of the exposure modes via the "MyCamera" option.) To combat the higher image noise that results from higher ISO settings and slower shutter speeds, the C-5050 Zoom offers a Noise Reduction mode, which uses dark-frame subtraction to minimize image noise on long exposures.

Three metering systems are available on the C-5050 Zoom: Spot, Multi, and ESP multi-patterned metering. All three are accessed by pressing the Metering button on the top panel and turning the Command dial. Under the default ESP multi-patterned setting, the camera takes readings from a number of areas in the viewfinder, evaluating both brightness and contrast to arrive at the optimum exposure. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the image, so you can pinpoint the specific area of the photograph you want properly exposed and lock in on that exposure by depressing the Shutter button halfway and holding it down until you recompose the scene. The Multi Meter function lets you take up to eight individual spot-meter readings from the center of the LCD monitor (inside the exposure brackets) by repeatedly pressing the AE Lock button. Each reading is marked on a relative exposure scale across the bottom of the LCD panel, and then averaged to produce the overall reading. You can cancel the Multi-Spot reading by holding the AE Lock button down for one second (the word "Memo" appears in the LCD display). This is a very useful exposure option for advanced photographers.

Enabled through the Shooting menu (Setup sub-menu), a Record View function, displays the most recently captured image on the LCD screen while the image is being recorded to the memory card. This feature gives you the option of deleting an image instantly by pressing the AE Lock / Delete button while the review image is still on-screen. It's a great way to check your images without wasting time switching back and forth between Playback and Shooting modes. The camera's Quick View function also allows you to check previously captured images in Shooting mode, by pressing the Monitor button twice, very quickly. You can review the most recent image or scroll back through other stored files until you return to the Shooting mode (by pressing the Monitor button a second time).

In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, pressing the +/- button on the left side of the camera and turning the Command dial increases or decreases the exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments, up to +/- 2 EV. If exposure compensation is currently activated, the amount of adjustment appears in the LCD information display, except in Manual mode.

The C-5050's Auto Bracketing (BKT) function is selected through the Shooting Mode Menu (Drive submenu), setting the camera to automatically bracket each exposure by as much as +/- 2 EV in either three- or five-step increments (0.3, 0.6, or 1.0 EV units each). The bracketing function centers its efforts around whatever exposure you've chosen as the starting point, including any exposure compensation adjustments you've made. This is a nice implementation of a useful exposure feature. The 5-step option is particularly welcome, as the three-step exposure bracketing offered by many cameras often forces you to choose between a too-narrow bracketing range or too-wide exposure steps.

The C-5050 Zoom's white balance menu is an area that's been enhanced significantly relative to that of the 4040, with a broader range of options than I've seen on other high-end consumer digicams. No fewer than nine options are available, including Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Sunny, Evening Sun, Daylight Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, White Fluorescent, Incandescent, or One-Touch / Custom. One-Touch is the manual setting, where white balance is calculated by placing a white card in front of the lens and pressing the Menu / OK button. The Custom mode lets you pick from four previously-saved white balances, set manually in similar fashion to the One-Touch option. (I really like this ability to save up to four separate custom settings. This lets you switch back and forth rapidly, without having to re-shoot a fresh white card test each time.) You can also fine-tune the white balance setting with the "WB+/-" setting under the Picture submenu. An adjustment bar appears on the LCD screen, with options to increase or decrease the red or blue tones. (I've always appreciated the ability to fine-tune the white balance. 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's very helpful to have this sort of tweaking adjustment available to modify the color balance. The 5050's large number of adjustment steps provide very fine-grained control over a surprisingly broad range of color adjustment.)

The C-5050 Zoom has a 12-second Self-Timer (which can be used with the infrared 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. You can also use the IR remote control to trigger the shutter without the Self-Timer, which gives you a three-second delay after pressing the remote's Shutter button, before the shutter is fired. As useful as the 5050's remote is, this is one of the few areas where I had a complaint about the 5050's performance: The mandatory 3 second shutter delay when using the remote can be frustrating when you're trying to capture a specific moment. I'd really like to see an option to turn off the delay when using the remote. The remote control is rated to work as far as 16.4 feet directly in front of the camera, or as far as 9.8 feet when at a 15-degree angle from the sensor window. - My own usage indicated that these ratings are conservative, although high ambient light levels can reduce the remote's range.

The Function menu option enables you to capture images in Black & White or Sepia modes, 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-5050 Zoom also features sharpness, saturation, and contrast adjustments.

Flash

The C-5050 Zoom has a fairly standard built-in flash unit, with five basic operating modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, Flash Off, and Slow Synchro modes. Flash range is rated to extend to approximately 18 feet (5.6 meters) in wide-angle mode and to about 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) at the telephoto setting, numbers that agree well with my own test results. The Slow Synchro mode combines a slow shutter speed with the flash to let more ambient light into the background, producing more natural lighting behind a flash-illuminated subject. When photographing moving subjects, Slow Synchro will record some motion blur because of the longer exposure time, with the initial or final image frozen by the flash exposure. Through the Shooting menu, three Slow Synchro modes are available. Slow 1 fires the flash at the beginning of the exposure (producing a blur in front of the subject), and Slow 2 fires the flash at the end of the exposure (producing a blur behind the subject). You can also opt to fire the Red-Eye Reduction pre-flash in conjunction with a Slow Synchro exposure.

An Olympus-configured hot shoe on top of the camera allows you to connect an external flash for more powerful flash needs. Olympus offers the FL-40 external flash as an accessory, which couples with the camera to allow flash exposure compensation when using it. The internal and external flash units can be used together or separately. Third-party flash units can also be used, though some units may not be able to synchronize with the camera, and Olympus warns that some flash units may damage the camera's circuitry. (Be sure to check the voltage on your flash unit's hot shoe contacts, to insure that it doesn't present more than a few volts to the camera's flash contacts. If you measure more than 6-10 volts or so on the flash units contacts, don't risk connecting it to the 5050.) Assuming that they use a low trigger voltage, most third-party flash units should work fine with the 5050. - The main limitation will be that the camera will have no control over the flash power, reducing you to manual flash exposure control via the camera's aperture setting.

Another nice feature of the C-5050 Zoom's internal flash system is its Flash Brightness adjustment, which allows you to change the flash brightness from +2 to -2 EV in one-third-step increments. When using the built-in flash with an external unit, you can use this feature to adjust the balance of light between the two, by dialing-down the intensity of the internal flash while controlling the power of the external unit manually.

The C-5050 Zoom's flash also has good support for external "slave" flash units, letting it work with conventional slave trigger units. Like most digicams, the C-5050 normally uses a small metering pre-flash prior to the main exposure to set flash exposure. This pre-flash will falsely trigger conventional slave units, causing them to fire before the 5050 actually opens its shutter. Several third-party "smart" slave triggers are available that ignore the pre-flash, firing the slave strobe on the second pop of the camera's flash. The 5050 avoids the need for such special "smart" triggers, by offering a special "slave" flash mode that causes its internal flash to fire only once per exposure. Olympus showed some welcome forethought in designing this flash mode, in that they give you a choice of ten different power levels for the internal flash when firing in single-pop mode. This lets you balance the amount of light coming from the 5050's internal flash with that coming from the slave unit(s). Very nice! (If you want no light to come from the camera's internal flash, you can tape a piece of exposed slide film over the camera's flash window, which will filter out most of the visible light, but let enough infrared pass to trigger a sensitive slave unit. - Be careful not to cycle the 5050's internal flash too quickly though, as it could overheat and possibly melt the slide film, making a mess.) The 5050's slave-flash option is only available when the camera is set to manual exposure mode. As an added bonus though, if you set the flash intensity in "slave" mode to a low value, you can actually use the on-camera flash during continuous shooting, although the maximum frame rate is limited to about 1 frame/second.


Special Exposure Modes

Movie Mode
The C-5050 Zoom's Movie mode is accessed via the Mode dial on top of the camera (marked with a small movie camera symbol). Movies can be recorded in either HQ (320 x 240-pixel) or SQ (160 x 120-pixel) resolution modes. Both record at approximately 15 frames per second. Sound recording can be turned On or Off in the Movie menu. Thanks to the C-5050 Zoom's huge buffer memory and fast internal processing, the maximum recording time is limited only by memory card capacity, apparently up to a 32MB file-size limit. The available seconds of recording time appear in the status display panel (and on the LCD monitor if activated), based on the quality mode selected and space remaining on the card.

Sound recording with movies presents something of a dilemma for camera manufacturers. The problem with sound recording is that any camera-generated noises will be faithfully recorded along with the ambient sound, generally dominating since they're so close to the microphone. To avoid this problem, most cameras that offer sound recording in movie mode generally don't permit zooming of the lens while recording is in progress, since the sound of the lens motor would be so obtrusive.

With the C-5050's movie mode, Olympus has taken a very intelligent approach, enabling or disabling lens zoom based on whether or not sound recording is enabled. In all circumstances though, digital zoom is available, and the lens zoom can always be adjusted to any position prior to the start of recording. Olympus' movie mode implementation makes a lot of sense, offering as many camera functions as possible, governed by whether or not sound is being recorded. Beyond the sound/zoom tradeoff, a wide range of recording options apply to Movie mode as well, including spot metering, exposure compensation, focus lock, self-timer, ISO, and white balance, all of which are also unusual features to find available in a digicam Movie option.

Two image resolutions are available in Movie mode, 320x240 and 160x120. Both resolutions record at approximately 15 frames per second, and recording time is limited only by the available space on the memory card.

In any record mode, you can record a short sound clip to accompany still images. The Sound option in the record menu activates the mode, and you can record a maximum of four seconds per image. Sound recording begins approximately half a second after the shutter is released. You can also record sound after the fact, through a menu option in Playback mode.

First seen in the Camedia C-3030 (February 2000), the C-5050 Zoom again offers in-camera "editing" of movies in Playback mode. This capability is accessed via the Playback menu, Movie Play submenu, and Edit option. Here, you can scroll forward and backward frame-by-frame through the movie, and set cut points at the beginning and end of the segment you're interested in. Movie content between the two cut points will be preserved, the rest discarded. In a nice touch though, Olympus allows you to choose whether to modify the original movie file, or just save the selected portion in a separate file - a feature that makes the Movie mode much more useful.

Audio Record Mode
The C-5050 Zoom's Audio Record mode records up to four seconds of sound to accompany an image. Activated through the Shooting Menu (Camera sub-menu), the audio recording takes place immediately after you make an exposure. A status bar appears on the LCD monitor with the word "Busy" displayed. Green dots light up along the status bar to indicate how much time you have left until the recording is finished. You can also add audio clips after the image is recorded by selecting the Audio option in the Playback menu (Play sub-menu).

Panorama Mode
The C-5050 Zoom offers a Panorama exposure mode when using an Olympus brand panorama-enabled SmartMedia card or xD-Picture Card. (The function is unavailable when using a CompactFlash memory card, or any other brand SmartMedia or xD-Picture Card.) In this mode, the exposure and white balance for a series of shots are determined by the first exposure. The Panorama function is accessed in the Shooting menu through the Camera submenu. When activated, it 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 do its job. Up to 10 shots can be taken in a panoramic series. Images are saved individually and then assembled on a computer after they've been downloaded.

"2-in-1" Mode
Accessed through the Record menu, "2 in 1" photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side as one full resolution image, giving a split-screen effect. As with Panorama mode, a set of guidelines appear in the LCD display, to help you line up shots.

Sequence Modes
Taking advantage of its large 32MB memory buffer, the C-5050 Zoom offers several Sequence modes that mimic 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 image quality and subject, as well as available card space).

The 5050 has a total of three sequence modes, varying in the time between shots, and the maximum number of shots that can be recorded without pausing. High-speed sequence mode captures 5 frames (regardless of resolution/quality setting) at a rate of three frames per second. "Normal" sequence mode slows to about 1.3 frames/second, but permits much longer sequences to be captured. Depending somewhat on the speed of the memory card you're using, normal sequence mode can capture 50-60 full-resolution "SHQ" images, or upwards of 200-300 in minimum-resolution/quality "SQ" mode. In AF sequence mode, the camera pauses to focus between shots, further slowing the frame rate, but insuring that moving subjects will remain in focus as they approach or recede from the camera. The slowest shutter speed available in all sequence modes is 1/30 second, and the TIFF file format isn't available. A notable limitation of the Sequence mode is that the camera's internal flash cannot be used, at least not in an automatic-metering mode. However, if you have an external flash capable of recycling at three frames per second, and you shoot in Aperture Priority mode, the external flash may work just fine. Likewise, using the 5050's "slave flash" option (available only in manual exposure mode), you can set the flash to fire at a lower, non-metered power level when shooting in sequence mode. The maximum frame rate is limited to about 1 frame/second, but most consumer digicams don't allow any combination of flash and continuous shooting at all.

My Mode
Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the "My" position, this mode lets you save customized settings and then access them simply by turning the Mode dial. For example, if you consistently shoot in the same environment, you could save the exposure settings for those specific shooting conditions, so that they can be instantly recalled.(I can imagine this option being very handy for situations where you might have to switch quickly between two different settings. Think of a wedding reception, for instance: Standard "program" mode for outside shots on the lawn, etc, but a custom setup in My Mode to shoot the indoor scenes under incandescent lighting.) My Mode even lets you edit the Shortcut menu items, which appear when the Menu button is pressed, to reflect often-changed settings. The My Mode is very flexible, letting you preset the nearly all of the camera's parameters.

 

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 testing. The results are listed in the following chart.

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

Olympus C-5050 Zoom Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
4.18
Camera has to extend lens first. About average.
Shutdown
4.26
Time to retract camera lens. About average.
Play to Record, first shot
1.18
Time until first shot is captured. Pretty fast.
Record to play
2.13
Time to display a large/fine file after capture. About average.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.91 / 0.99
First number is for wide-angle, second is for telephoto.
Shutter lag, manual focus 0.72 A fair bit slower than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.14
Time to capture, after half-pressing Shutter button. Very fast.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
2.17 / 2.06
First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. I tested both a fast and slow CompactFlash cards, both of which produced similar cycle times. The primary difference between faster and slower cards is the buffer clear times, which can vary widely.(For instance, it takes about 30 seconds for the buffer to clear after five large/fine "SHQ" shots, but as long as 60 seconds with a slower card.) Very large buffer memory, 13+ SHQ-quality shots without waiting for buffer to clear.
Cycle Time, normal continuous mode, max/min resolution
0.76 / 0.53
(1.3 / 1.9 fps)
First numbers are for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. Again, cycle times were the same regardless of card speed, but faster cards were able to capture slightly longer sequence lengths, and buffer clearing times varied as noted above. As I've found in a number of cameras, the time between the first two shots is consistently longer than that between subsequent ones. In SHQ mode, the second shot comes about 1 second after the first, and then subsequent ones come at the intervals shown at left. In the lowest resolution SQ mode, the initial interval is 0.59 seconds. Burst lengths range from about 40 maximum-resolution SHQ frames to over 200 lowest-resolution SQ ones.
Cycle Time, high-speed continuous mode, max/min resolution 0.33 s
(3 fps)
The frame rate increases to 3 frames/second in high-speed continuous mode, regardless of card speed, but the maximum sequence length is reduced to only 5 frames.
Cycle Time, TIFF images
14.35 / 16.45
First time is for the slower memory card, and second is for the faster card. SmartMedia cycle time was 16.41 seconds, and xD-Picture Card was about 20.75 seconds.

Overall, the 5050 is a pretty fast camera. Its cycle time and continuous-mode performance is excellent, and it has a really huge buffer memory, able to shoot a dozen or more shots in SHQ mode without forcing you to wait for the buffer memory to clear. It's only average in terms of shutter lag though, with a shutter delay of 0.9-1.0 second in autofocus mode. (This is average to slightly slower than average among competing models.) In manual focus mode, it's delay of 0.7 seconds is a good bit slower than the roughly 0.5 second average, although it redeems itself somewhat in prefocus mode with a very fast 0.14 second lag time. I'd really like to see a shutter response, but kudos to Olympus for the excellent cycle time and deep buffer memory.


Operation and User Interface
The C-5050 Zoom has a similar interface design to the previous C-4040, but Olympus has added a number of significant refinements. Most obviously, there are now many more external buttons, which are generally used in conjunction with the newly-added Command dial to set many camera functions. The net effect is much more efficient camera operation, as you don't have to burrow into the LCD menu system nearly as often to change key camera settings. Also, in most cases, while the LCD monitor still illuminates to show you the setting being changed, the same information is also shown on the top-panel data readout. The large number of external buttons also make the 5050's user interface easier to learn, since there's a direct one-to-one correlation between most buttons and their functions.

While the main LCD menu system remains about the same, the C-5050 Zoom's external control buttons now bring up an animated "virtual dial" display for most functions. For example, pressing the Flash button and turning the Command dial scrolls through the available settings, which move as if turning a virtual dial. The C-5050 Zoom features more external controls than previous Camedia models, and the LCD monitor does not need to be active to make adjustments. If the LCD is inactive, pressing the button calls up the display so that you can make the setting, then disables the display when you've finished. As noted above, the setting being controlled also appears on the top-panel data readout, a convenience that's somewhat marred by the delay between Command dial operation and changes in the display. A separate Custom Function button on top of the camera lets you assign a specific adjustment to it through the Mode menu (Setup sub-menu), creating a short cut to circumvent the menu system completely. For example, if you use the Quality adjustment a fair amount, you can assign it to the Custom Function button as a short cut.

Several of the C-5050 Zoom's external controls can be combined in pairs to adjust a third camera setting. For example, holding down the Flash and +/- buttons adjusts the flash exposure compensation. This is excellent in terms of limiting LCD menu usage, but does make the camera's interface slightly more complicated. I'd say it will probably take an hour or so for the average user to get fully acquainted with the 5050's control layout. The full instruction manual is included on the CD-ROM that accompanies the camera, but a smaller Basic Manual will get you up and running quickly. (Though it may be somewhat archaic, I'd much prefer to have a paper version of the full manual as well, for reference when a computer isn't readily available. If you're paying $800 for a camera, a hardcopy manual shouldn't be too much to ask.)

Control Enumeration


Mode Dial
: On top of the camera, the Mode dial selects the camera's operating mode. Choices are Playback, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Manual, My Mode, Movie, Night, Landscape Scene, Landscape Portrait, Sports, and Portrait modes.

Power Switch: Directly underneath the Mode dial is the Power dial, which simply turns the camera on and off. The settings are marked on the side of the dial, making it easy to read when holding the camera in front of you. (I really liked this location for the power switch. It was very convenient, yet I never had a problem with it being turned on inadvertently. It's much easier to use than the typical rear- or top-panel pushbutton.)


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 Shooting menu. In Playback mode, the lever switches between Index view, normal image display, and zoomed playback.


Self-Timer / Remote / Rotate Button
: Behind the Shutter button and Zoom lever on the camera's top panel, this button accesses the Self-Timer and Remote Control modes when pressed while turning the Command dial. Pressing this button in Playback mode rotates the captured image 90 degrees clockwise. Pressing and holding this button in conjunction with the Custom / DPOF button directly beside it resets all of the camera's settings to their defaults.


Custom / DPOF Button
: Directly to the right of the Self-Timer / Remote / Rotate button, this button can be programmed to access a variety of camera settings while in Shooting mode.

In Playback mode, this button calls up the DPOF settings menu, where you can select images for printing, the number of copies of each, etc.

When pressed and held down in conjunction with the Self-Timer / Remote / Rotate button, this button resets the camera's settings to their defaults.


Focus Button
: Located on the left side of the camera's top panel, this button controls the focus mode. Pressing the button displays a "virtual dial" containing focus options on the LCD. Turning the Command dial cycles between Macro, Manual Focus, Super Macro, Super Macro Manual Focus, and Auto Focus modes.


Metering / Protect Button
: Located behind the Focus button on the top panel, this button sets the camera's metering mode to Spot, Multi, or ESP when pressed while turning the Command dial. In Playback mode, this button marks the current image for write-protection.


+/- Button
: Positioned in the top left corner on the camera's left side, this button adjusts the exposure compensation when pressed while turning the Command dial. Exposure can be increased or decreased from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. In Manual exposure mode, this button accesses the lens aperture setting rather than exposure compensation. Pressing this button and the Flash button adjacent to it accesses the flash exposure compensation adjustment (likewise set by turning the Command dial).

Flash Button: Directly to the right of the +/- button, this button controls the flash operating mode. Turning the Command dial cycles between Auto, Forced, Suppressed, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow Synchro modes. When held down in conjunction with the +/- button, this button accesses the flash exposure compensation setting.


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


AE Lock / Erase Button
: To the right of the optical viewfinder eyepiece on the rear panel, this button locks the exposure in any Shooting mode (a second press cancels the exposure lock). In Playback mode, this button pulls up the Single Erase menu, for deleting the currently-displayed image.


Command Dial
: In the top right corner of the camera's rear panel, just behind the Mode and Power dials, this dial adjusts a variety of camera settings when turned while pressing one of the control buttons. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, this dial adjusts the available exposure variable (lens aperture or shutter speed, respectively). In Manual exposure mode, it adjusts the shutter speed when no button is pressed, or aperture in conjunction with the +/- button. In Playback mode, this dial scrolls back and forth between captured images.


Monitor / Quick View Button
: Just above the four-way Arrow pad, this button turns the LCD monitor on or off. If pressed twice in quick succession, it activates the Quick View function, which calls up the previously captured image on the screen. A third press returns the LCD to its normal display.


Four-Way Arrow Pad
: The largest control on the back panel, the Arrow Pad features four arrow keys surrounding the central, OK / Menu button. In any settings menu, the arrow buttons navigate through available options and make selections. 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.

OK / Menu Button: Located in the center of the four-way Arrow pad, this button activates the menu system on the rear panel LCD monitor and confirms selected menu settings in the various LCD menu screens. 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 viewfinder image. If the LCD monitor is off when you press Display, it brings up the camera's menu system with no viewfinder image in the background.


CF / xD / SM Button
: Below the four-way Arrow pad, this button switches between the three different memory card formats (CompactFlash, xD-Picture Card, and SmartMedia).

 

Camera Modes

Portrait Mode: The first still recording mode on the Mode dial, this mode sets up the camera for capturing portraits. By using a larger aperture setting, the camera exposes the subject in sharp focus in front of a slightly blurred background.

Sports Mode: Next in line on the Mode dial, this mode biases the exposure system toward fast shutter speeds to "freeze" action, perfect for sporting events or any fast-moving subject.

Landscape Portrait Mode: This mode is intended for portraits in front of scenery, where you want both the foreground and background in focus. The camera uses a smaller aperture setting to increase the depth of field.

Landscape Scene Mode: Just like Landscape Portrait mode, this mode also uses a small aperture to keep the foreground and background in focus. However, it also enhances blue and green tones for more vibrant nature shots.

Night Mode: This mode is best for capturing night portraits or night scenery, such as cityscapes. A slower shutter speed lets more ambient light into the image, but the exposure compensation and image contrast are dialed down somewhat, preserving color in neon signs or sunsets.

Movie Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the movie camera symbol, Movie mode allows you to capture movies with or without sound for as long as the memory card allows. Shutter speed is automatically set from 1/10,000 to 1/30 second, depending on light levels.

My Mode: Sets up the camera according to a set of user-defined camera settings, specific to shooting conditions. A huge range of exposure variables such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc. can all be saved. You can even save the lens zoom position. My Mode settings are made through the Setup menu.

Manual Mode: Allows the user to select both the desired aperture (f/1.8 to f/8.0) and shutter speed (1/2,000 to 16 seconds) settings independently. The camera meters the scene, and indicates how over or underexposed it thinks the shot will be by displaying the number of EV units over or under in green numerals. If the settings are beyond the camera's metering capabilities or would result in more than a +/- 3EV exposure error, the display is fixed at plus or minus 3 EV, and the numerals turn red.

Shutter Priority: Allows the user to select the desired shutter speed (in varying increments, from 1/2,000 to four seconds at ISO 64 and 100, 2 seconds at ISO 200 and 1 second at ISO 400), 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.

Aperture Priority: Allows the user to select the desired lens aperture (in varying increments, from f/1.8 to f/8.0), 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.

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 enlarges a single image when moved in the telephoto direction, zooming in to a maximum of 4x magnification. While zoomed in on an image, the Arrow buttons can be used to move the enlarged view around the full image area, allowing you to inspect all parts of it.

Camera Menus
(Note that in the following, the menus shown will normally appear over the top of the live LCD viewfinder display, if the LCD is enabled. In the screenshots here, I've shown the menus with no viewfinder image, for the sake of clarity.)

Shooting Mode Menus
When the camera is in any of the shooting modes, pressing the Menu / OK button brings up the Shooting Top Menu. Three of the top-level menu items are Short Cuts to menu options controlling White Balance, Image Size/Quality, and Drive control. (In Movie mode, the Sound option takes the place of Drive.) The fourth option takes you to the main Mode Menu itself. Since the destinations of the short cut options are simply sub-levels inside the main mode menu, I'll only show the main Mode Menu screens here.

 

Playback Mode
Playback Mode is available by turning to the green Playback symbol on the camera's Mode dial, or by depressing the display button twice in any Shooting mode. The top level of the Playback Menu has three options, which differ slightly between Shooting (Record) playback and Movie playback:

Still Playback:


Movie Playback:

Image Storage and Interface
The C-5050 Zoom saves images to either 3V (3.3V) SmartMedia memory cards, CompactFlash Type I or II cards, or xD-Picture Cards. The memory card compartment features slots accommodating all three card types. CompactFlash cards have a slot to themselves, while xD and SmartMedia cards share a slot. You can have either an xD or SmartMedia card in the camera at the same time as a CompactFlash card, but the xD/SmartMedia choice is either/or - You can't have both at once. A 32MB xD-Picture Card comes with the camera, and upgrades are currently available up to the 128MB size, with 256MB xD cards slated to appear in January or February of 2003. The CF / xD / SM button on the camera's rear panel selects which memory card to use, and the camera's playback menu lets you copy images between cards. Of the three formats, SmartMedia is the only card that can be write-protected on its own, using a write-protection sticker, although it has to be said that the write-protect stickers used by the SmartMedia format are less than 100% reliable. The C-5050 Zoom does offer individual image protection via the Metering / Protect button, but as usual this won't protect against erasure due to card reformatting. It must also be noted that the camera's Panorama function is only available when an Olympus-brand xD-Picture Card or SmartMedia card is in use, a policy that I've long questioned the wisdom of.

The C-5050 Zoom can store images in RAW, uncompressed TIFF, and compressed JPEG file formats. The TIFF setting can be assigned to any one of seven resolutions through the camera's Mode Setup menu. JPEG compression levels include Super High Quality (SHQ), High Quality (HQ), and Standard Quality (SQ1 & SQ2). The myriad size options can be assigned to the camera's TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ1, and SQ2 quality levels via the Shooting menu, as shown in the table below. (Green table cells indicate image size options that can be assigned to each named quality setting.) Whatever image size/quality options are assigned to the five named quality settings can be quickly selected either by the "shortcut button" (see the earlier description of the user interface) or via the record setup menu. RAW format is only available for full-resolution images.

Image
Size
Options
3,200 x 2,400
(Interpolated)
2,560 x 1,920
2,288 x 1,712
2,048 x 1,536
1,600 x 1,200
1,280 x 960
1,024 x 768
640 x 480
TIFF
 
SHQ
           
HQ
           
SQ1
   
     
SQ2
         


The table below shows all the available size/quality options (there ought to be enough here to satisfy anyone), the number of each that can be stored on the included 32MB memory card, and the amount of image compression employed for each.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
32MB Memory Card
Hi
(TIFF)
Fine
Normal
Enlarge Size
3,200 x 2,400
Images
(Avg size)
N/A 6
5,333KB
16
2,000KB
Approx.
Compression
N/A 4:1 12:1
Full
Resolution
2,560 x 1,920
Images
(Avg size)
2
14.7MB
8
4,000KB
26
1,231KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 5:1 15:1
2,288 x 1,712
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
2
11.8MB
11
2,909KB
32
1,000KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 4:1 12:1
2,048 x 1,536
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
3
9.4MB
14
2,286KB
40
800KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 4:1 12:1
1,600 x 1,200
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
5
5.8MB
22
1,455KB
64
500KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 4:1 12:1
1,280 x 960
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
8
3.7MB
34
941KB
99
323KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
4:1
11:1
1,024 x 768
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
13
2.7MB
53
604KB
153
209KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
4:1
11:1
640x480
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
33
0.9MB
132
242KB
331
97KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
4:1
10:1


The C-5050 Zoom comes with interface software and cables for both Macintosh and Windows computers. It employs a USB Auto-Connect interface for high-speed computer connection. Like all of Olympus' most recent digicams, the C-5050 is a USB "storage class" device. This means it can connect directly to Mac OS Version 9.0 or later (including OS 10.1 - also OS8.6, if it includes factory-installed USB Mass Storage support 1.3.5), or Windows ME, 2000, or XP computers, without separate driver software. For Windows 98 or 98SE, you'll need to load driver software to make the connection. Storage-class ("Auto-Connect" in Olympus' parlance) connections are generally faster than device-class ones, and the 5050 Zoom is among the fastest cameras I've yet tested. I clocked it at 633 KBytes/second on my slightly aging G4 Power Mac, running Mac OS 9.1, and at 759 KB/s on my new 2.4 GHz Sony VAIO desktop.

RAW data files can be edited in-camera and saved as JPEGs. This is convenient for quick processing, but the small size and uncertain tonal and color characteristics of the 5050's LCD screen make it difficult to judge the impact of any image adjustments you might make. Still, you can adjust white balance, sharpness, saturation, etc. in-camera, without having to download the file first, which makes it easier to print RAW files from the camera to a DPOF device.

 

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...





Video Out

The C-5050 Zoom has a Video Out port for connecting the camera directly to a television set. Through the Setup menu, you can select either NTSC or PAL formats. 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. Combined with the supplied infrared remote control device, the C-5050 Zoom's video capabilities make the camera a unique presentation device.



Power

The C-5050 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. The camera comes with a set of four AA rechargeable NiMH batteries (rated at 1700 mAh capacity) and a charger, and I highly recommend picking up a second set and keeping them freshly charged at all times.

Operating Mode
Power
(@6.5 volts on the external power terminal)
Est. Minutes
(Four 1600 mAh NiMH cells, true capacity)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
474 mA
150
Capture Mode, no LCD
10 mA
~5 days (!)
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
476 mA
149
Half-pressed w/o LCD
329 mA
215
Memory Write (transient)
502 mA
N/A
Flash Recharge (transient)
985 mA
N/A
Image Playback
305 mA
233

Overall, the C-5050 Zoom shows very good battery life for an AA-powered camera. Particularly impressive is its near-zero power drain when it's in capture mode with the LCD display turned off. - You could easily leave it on and ready to shoot all day without appreciably draining the batteries. (This is one reason I really wish the 5050's optical viewfinder were more accurate than the (fairly average) 86% that it is. If you could rely upon it more exclusively, the 5050's battery life would be unmatched.)



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-5050 Zoom comes with a nice complement of software on the supplied CD. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by Olympus' Camedia Master software package (Version 4.0) for both Mac and Windows platforms (Macintosh OS 8.6 - 10.1, Windows 98/98SE/Me/2000/XP). 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 photo printers.


In the Box
The following items are included in the box:


Test Results
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the C-5050 Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I 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-5050 Zoom's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Conclusion

Free Photo Lessons

Check out the Free Photo School program for lessons and tips on improving your photographs!
Learn how to take stunning photos with simple pro lighting tips, in our free Photo School area!

The C-5050 Zoom is an impressive addition to Olympus' excellent and perennially popular Camedia digital camera line. Olympus really went back to the drawing board on the user interface, and to my mind, the enhancements they've made are well worth the effort. While I'd like to see the "virtual dial" interface operate a little more quickly, the controls using this are very clear and easy to understand, and the user interface overall is very fast and friendly to use. The camera has fast cycle times, and produces excellent color and sharp images. It also offers the very fine-grained control over color, contrast and white balance that I liked in the 4040 and other recent Olympus Camedia models. I really like the addition of a standard hot shoe, providing a convenient connection for studio and generic third-party flash units, while retaining full control when the 5050 is used with the dedicated Olympus FL-40 strobe. The inclusion of a focus-assist light is a definite plus too, a feature I hope we see in more Olympus Camedia models going forward. As do most Olympus cameras, the 5050 also shows very good battery life, particularly when the LCD display is turned off. The only complaints I had about the camera were areas in which I felt it was "only average," namely chromatic aberration and shutter lag. Neither is terrible, as there are plenty of cameras out there that do worse, it's just that the 5050 is such a strong product in virtually every other aspect, it would have been nice to see a really stellar performance in these areas as well. Overall though, the C-5050 Zoom is to my mind Olympus' best camera yet, and a great deal as well, with its introductory price of just under $800. Highly recommended, this one's a winner!

<<C5050 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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