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Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom Digital Camera

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Review Date
7/21/2005
User Level
Novice to experienced amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot, Full Manual Control
Picture Quality
High, 5.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Very Good, 11x17s, or 8x10s with heavy cropping
Availability
February, 2005
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$349.99

 

Introduction

Olympus 5500 Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion
The Olympus C-5500 is among the latest models in Olympus' C-series line of digital cameras, and offers a versatile combination of image quality and feature set at a relatively low price. Based around a 5.1 megapixel CCD imager and 5x optical zoom lens, the Olympus 5500 also includes some relatively unusual features that help to differentiate it from the competition, such as a "Direct" histogram option, which displays the white and black areas of the frame in red and blue respectively, showing you directly which parts of the image may be under or overexposed. It also sports an impressive "Super Macro" mode that gets incredibly close to your subjects, and does better than most competing models at high ISO settings, perhaps the source of the "Sports" reference in its marketing materials. With a good range of manual controls, the Olympus 5500 is an excellent all-around point & shoot model that should appeal to novice users and more experienced shooters alike. Read on for all the details!

 

Camera Overview

Continuing the tradition of previous Camedia C-Series digicams, Olympus has released the C-5500 Sport Zoom - a model rather reminiscent of the C-7000 Zoom, but with a somewhat larger, heavier plastic body and somewhat pared-down feature set at a significantly more aggressive price point. With a 5.1-megapixel CCD for high resolution images, and a full range of manual and automatic exposure controls, the Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom is well-suited to just about any user level. The Olympus 5500 measures 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.9 inches (111 x 67 x 47 millimeters), rather too large for a shirt pocket, but suitable for larger purses or coat pockets - although I would recommend a soft case for added protection. The plastic body doubtless helps keep the weight down, but the camera still has a fair heft when fully loaded, weighing in at 12.7 ounces (361 grams) with the card and batteries. The weight is mainly centered in the large handgrip, which gives the camera a solid feel in the hand. The hand grip dominates the front panel along with the lens barrel, giving the C-5500 the look of the photographic device it is, rather than the fashion accessory look favored in many cameras these days.

The Olympus 5500 Sport Zoom offers a wide range of user controls, including a one-touch white balance function (with a very useful white balance adjustment feature for minor color tweaks), manual focus mode, selectable autofocus and metering area, selectable ISO sensitivity, wide-ranging contrast, saturation and sharpness adjustments, flash exposure compensation, and QuickTime movies with sound. It also incorporates an advanced Noise Reduction System, which uses dark-frame subtraction to minimize background noise in long exposures shot under low light conditions. The C-5500 Sport Zoom also includes a number of other rather useful features, such as a histogram that operates both in record and playback modes, Multi-Spot metering mode, and adjustable AF mode. While those options are definitely a plus, the C-5500 Zoom goes even further with a time lapse photography mode and in-camera Redeye Fix option, making it a very capable camera with plenty of exposure features to experiment with.

The Olympus C-5500 features both an optical, real-image viewfinder and a rear panel, 2.0-inch, color TFT LCD monitor, with approximately 110,000 pixels. 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 overlaid on top of the viewfinder display (a nice feature not found on every digicam) and the number of images available in the current resolution setting, at the bottom of the monitor. The Olympus 5500 also provides a very helpful numeric/bargraph distance display when using the Manual Focus option, as well as a zoom bar that shows the camera's 5x optical zoom in operation, and the progress of the 4x digital zoom (if enabled) whenever you zoom past the range of the optical telephoto. The zoom bar appears as soon as you start to vary the zoom position, and disappears after a second or so of inactivity. In addition to the histogram display, the Olympus 5500 Sport Zoom offers a "Direct" histogram option, which displays the white and black areas of the frame in red and blue respectively, showing you directly which parts of the image may be under or overexposed. I actually found this much more useful than the histogram feature, as I could instantly tell which parts of the image were in danger. The blue and red only appear while you are framing the shot, and disappear when you press the shutter halfway.

The 7.9-39.5mm 5x zoom lens is equivalent to a 38-190mm lens on a 35mm camera, with an f/2.8 maximum aperture at wide angle, reducing to f/4.8 at the telephoto position. In addition to the Olympus C-5500's 5x optical zoom, images can be enlarged up to 4x with the digital zoom function, which Olympus refers to as being "seamless." The zoom does pause briefly before entering digital zoom, however, so you won't cross over into the digital zoom realm without being aware of doing so - and if you prefer, the digital zoom can be disabled completely through the menu. (I always remind users that digital zoom is not the same as optical zoom though. Since the digital zoom merely enlarges the center portion of the CCD, digitally enlarged images are invariably "softer" than ones enlarged via a zoom lens.) Focus can be set manually or automatically, with a choice of iESP, Spot or Area (manual AF area adjustment) modes, the latter only being available when the metering mode is set to the ESP or Spot options.

The Olympus 5500's image file sizes include: 2,592 x 1,944; 2,592 x 1,728 (3:2); 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. Image quality options include two JPEG compression ratios at each resolution. The camera offers all the exposure control you could ask for, including Program (P), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Speed Priority (S), and Manual (M) exposure modes. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, with exposure times as long as one second. 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/2.8 (wide angle) or f/4.8 (telephoto) to f/8.0, and shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to one second. The Manual exposure mode provides the same aperture range, but offers shutter times as long as 15 seconds. The 1/2,000 second shutter speed requires that the aperture be set from f/4.0 or higher at wide angle, or f/5.6 or higher at telephoto. With wider apertures, the maximum shutter speed is 1/1,600.There's also a selection of preset Scene modes, to make it easy to snap good-looking photos in what might otherwise be challenging conditions. Scene Program modes include Landscape + Portrait, Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sport, Beach & Snow, Fireworks, Sunset, Candle, and Available Light Portrait modes. Although the Scene Mode option itself is accessed by a dial, changing between the various Scene modes is done in the menu, requiring anywhere from four to eight button presses to change. (A little awkward, in my opinion.) Finally, the My Mode feature provides a custom setup for the camera, letting you select complex combinations of settings with a single menu choice.

The Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom provides five ISO options (light sensitivity settings) of Auto, 80, 100, 200, and 400; automatic exposure bracketing (although this is not available at the camera's highest SHQ quality settings); Digital ESP, Spot, and Multi metering modes; and exposure compensation from +2 to -2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. White balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Daylight Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Cool Fluorescent, or Quick Reference (aka custom or manual white balance adjustment) to accommodate a variety of lighting conditions, while a white balance color adjustment function lets you fine-tune the color balance across a wide 15-step range from red to blue.

Image contrast, sharpness, and saturation adjustments (with an unusually wide range of -5 to +5 steps, with an arbitrary step size) are available through the Shooting menu, and a Function menu option allows you to capture images in black and white or sepia tone. There's also a 12-second self-timer option for self-portraits.

The Olympus 5500 Zoom's Movie mode records QuickTime movies with sound, for maximum times dictated by its internal buffer memory, at 320 x 240 pixels, and either 30 or 15 frames per second. Focus and optical zoom are locked at their positions when the movie starts, the reason for this being that noise from the focusing and zoom mechanisms would be picked up by the camera's microphone. Hence, you can opt to disable sound recording - in which case the optical zoom becomes available immediately, and a fulltime AF menu option is enabled to allow focusing during movie recording. The movie mode also allows use of digital zoom if enabled, regardless of sound recording. The white balance, sharpness, contrast and saturation options mentioned previously, as well as the black & white / sepia modes in the Function menu, are also available in Movie mode. One further option is a little less common; a "camera movement compensation" function attempts to reduce camera shake in movies by varying the portion of the image sensor from which the movie is cropped.

A Drive mode is available for capturing multiple images at up to 1.2 frames per second, but as with the exposure bracketing function, this is not available at the camera's highest-quality SHQ setting. A Panorama mode allows you to take up to 10 shots with the same exposure and white balance, for subsequent merging with the included Panorama Stitch software in the computer. Pictures in Panorama mode can be captured vertically upwards or downwards, or horizontally left or right from the first shot, and the camera indicates the area that should be overlapped on the LCD display (although there is no preview of the overlap against the previous shot, something we've seen on other cameras that makes taking panoramas much easier. Note also that the panorama option is only available when you're using Olympus-branded xD-Picture Cards. Finally, there's also a Time-lapse mode for capturing a series of two to 99 images over time, at preset intervals from one to 59 minutes (perfect for capturing an opening flower, moving clouds, etc.).

The camera's pop-up flash offers five operating modes (Flash Off, Auto-Flash, Forced Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow Sync), with flash range extending to approximately 12.5 feet (3.8 meters). The Slow Sync flash mode uses a slower shutter speed with the flash, to allow more of the ambient lighting into the photo, and includes the option to fire the flash at either the beginning or end of the exposure, as well as add a Red-Eye Reduction pre-flash. You also can increase or decrease the flash power from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments through the Shooting menu.

The Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom ships with an essentially useless 16MB xD-Picture Card, capable of storing only four images at the camera's highest resolution / quality settings. I'd really like to see Olympus include a larger card, or simply drop the card from the camera bundle and pass the savings onto the consumer to put towards their own card purchase. Larger capacity cards up to 512MB are available separately, and you'll want to purchase at least a 128MB card, given the camera's five megapixel resolution. You can connect the camera directly to your computer via a high-speed USB interface to download images, and Olympus' "Auto Connect USB" interface means the camera will automatically appear on your computer's desktop, if you're using Windows Me, XP, or 2000, or Mac OS 8.6 or later. A video output jack and cable let you play your images back on an external video monitor, which can also be used as a super-sized viewfinder in capture mode. Software shipped with the unit includes the Olympus Master 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.

 

Basic Features

  • 5.1-megapixel CCD delivering up to 2,592 x 1,944-pixel resolution images.
  • 2.0-inch, color LCD display.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 5x 7.9-39.5mm zoom lens, (equivalent to a 38-190mm lens on a 35mm camera), with f/2.8 to f/4.8 maximum aperture.
  • Digital zoom of up to 4x.
  • Automatic and manual focus with manually adjustable AF area.
  • Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, plus ten preset Scene modes.
  • Adjustable White Balance with eight settings including manual, plus a WB color "tweak" function.
  • Adjustable ISO setting with Auto, 80, 100, 200, and 400 equivalents.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to fifteen seconds.
  • Digital ESP, Multi, and Spot metering modes.
  • Built-in pop-up flash with four operating modes, and three Slow Sync modes
  • xD-Picture Card storage (16MB card included).
  • JPEG image format.
  • Software CD with Olympus Master utility software (includes QuickTime, USB drivers, and reference manual) and a second CD with the full operating manual.
  • Power supplied by four AA batteries.

Special Features

  • QuickTime Movie mode with sound.
  • My Mode saves customized user settings.
  • Optional "fine-tuning" adjustments for color saturation, contrast, and in-camera sharpening.
  • Redeye Fix option in Playback mode.
  • Noise Reduction for improved image quality with long exposures.
  • Twelve-second Self-Timer mode for delayed shutter release.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility and print settings.
  • USB Auto-Connect for fast image download, without special driver software on current operating systems.
  • Video cable for connection to a television set.

Recommendation
Relatively compact and easy to use, but still loaded with features given the competitive pricing, Olympus' C-5500 Sport Zoom is an excellent point-and-shoot digicam for those just getting their feet wet in digital photography, offering a good degree of potential to keep pace as the user's photographic abilities expand. With a choice of both fully automatic or manual control over shutter and aperture, the Olympus 5500 lets you exercise your creativity, but still proves reasonably approachable for beginners. Ten preset Scene modes simplify common shooting situations, and a range of image adjustment options let you fine-tune the photos to your own tastes. The camera's user interface might seem slightly intimidating to beginners, but quickly becomes second-nature, and makes it fairly easy to quickly set the camera up for a photo (although I have to say that choosing scene modes can be rather laborious). With pricing reasonably competitive for a quality 5.1 megapixel, 5x optical zoom digicam, the Olympus 5500 offers good value in an "all around" digital camera.

 

Design

Visually rather reminiscent of the existing C-7000 Zoom model, the Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom is a little larger in all dimensions, especially because of the larger hand grip that houses the camera's four AA batteries. With a look that says "camera" rather than the fashion accessory look favored in many digicams these days, the Olympus 5500 has mostly smooth body panels with the exception of the handgrip and lens barrel on the front. The camera is rather too large for a shirt pocket, but suitable for larger purses or coat pockets, measuring 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.9 inches (111 x 67 x 47 millimeters). The C-5500 Sport Zoom weighs in at 12.7 ounces (361 grams) with the card and batteries. The design features structural plastic body panels that likely help keep weight down, but still feel fairly sturdy (there's little noticeable creak or flex in the Olympus 5500's body). A thin wrist strap comes with the camera, providing a little extra security in case the camera should slip out of your hands while shooting.

From the front of the camera, the edge of the zoom lever (upper left corner) is visible, as well as the lip of the flash compartment, microphone, AF illuminator / self-timer alert light, and viewfinder window. The telescoping lens extends just over seven-eighths of an inch beyond the front of the camera body when powered on in any capture mode. The lens is protected by a shutter-like lens cover that automatically slides open when the lens extends, and likewise closes as the lens retracts. A small, rubbery strip on the inside of the hand grip provides reasonable real estate for your fingers to grab onto when holding the camera, but the hand grip itself could really use some subtle contouring to help stop the camera sliding down in your hand. (That said though, I like the size of the hand grip on the Olympus 5500: It's small enough that women and others with smaller hands can hold it comfortably, but at the same time it's not so small that those with larger hands will find it uncomfortable either. - A nice, comfortable compromise.)

The right side of the camera features the USB / AV out shared jack, and the and DC In jack. Flexible rubbery flaps protect both connector terminals from dust, and remains attached to the camera when opened. Also on this side of the camera is the nineteen-hole grille for the playback speaker.

On the opposite side of the camera is a door behind which the xD-Picture card slot can be found. The door hinges outwards from the camera's side, and is not spring-loaded, although a catch holds the door securely closed, requiring a slight tug with a fingernail to reopen the door. The xD-Picture card slot itself has the usual spring-loaded mechanism that allows you to half-pop the card out of the slot with a gentle press, making it easy to pull the card out the rest of the way. The center of the xD-Picture card door hinge doubles as the eyelet for attaching the included wrist strap.

The top of the camera holds the Zoom Lever, Shutter button (surrounded by the Zoom Lever), Power button, and pop-up flash compartment.

The majority of the camera's control buttons are on the rear panel, along with the 2.0-inch LCD monitor and optical viewfinder eyepiece. The Five-button navigation pad serves multiple functions, and is located at the bottom right of the rear panel, between the xD-Picture card door, and a row of buttons down the right of the LCD display. An OK/Menu button is at its center; four arrow buttons around it are used to navigate menus, etc. Vertically arranged to the right of the LCD monitor are the Quick View, AE Lock / Rotate, Flash / Protect, and Macro / Delete buttons. Angled down from the top panel on the right side is a small Mode dial in the top right corner controls the camera's operating mode. The dial is slightly recessed compared to the body panels around it, and is easy to reach and use, yet isn't easily turned accidentally in a pocket or bag. Over on the top left side of the panel, also angled down from the top of the camera, is the Flash Release button. The optical viewfinder eyepiece sits slightly left of center, and its view zooms in and out with the lens. A pair of LED lamps next to the eyepiece report the camera's status.

The bottom of the camera holds the battery compartment and a plastic screw-mount tripod socket, which is too close to the battery compartment for quick battery changes when mounted on a tripod. (This is something I always pay attention to, given the amount of studio shooting I do with each camera.) The tripod socket is also off-center from the lens, making panorama shots with foreground objects more difficult. On a positive note, the battery compartment door has a lock which prevents it accidentally coming open.

 

Camera Operation

The Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom has a reasonably sensible user interface, with a fair amount of external control available to reduce time spent navigating the LCD menu system, although all controls are dependent on the LCD screen to report the current settings. A large Mode dial on the rear panel controls the camera's operating mode, and multi-functional buttons access a variety of frequently-used camera settings. Like previous Olympus digicams, the C-5500's menu system has an initial menu screen with four shortcut buttons on it that lead to sub-menus for quick access of frequently-used menu items. These shortcuts are displayed on the screen as three or four buttons, each selected using the arrow key that corresponds to its position on the screen. Although it can take a little getting used to, this dual-level menu system does let you make adjustments to three of the most often used camera settings quite quickly, and imposes only a slight penalty for less-frequently accessed functions. The C-5500 's external control layout is similar to previous Olympus Camedia digicam setups, although some buttons have been moved around and functions combined. With its range of control buttons and menu options, it'll probably take a typical user an hour or so to get familiar with the camera's setup.

Record Mode LCD Screens
In Record mode, the Olympus 5500 Zoom's LCD monitor provides detailed information about exposure settings, including the currently selected f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure compensation adjustments across the top of the screen. Information on ISO speed, flash mode, drive mode, and the state of several other camera settings may optionally appear on the LCD screen, if the Shooting Menu (Camera sub-menu) "INFO" setting is turned on. There is no option to completely disable the information overlay, without turning the LCD screen off altogether through the menu system. (I'd really like to be able to turn off the info overlay sometimes, to avoid obscuring critical subject details.)

Through the Camera menu, you can enable a histogram display, which displays a small histogram over the lower portion of the frame, mapping out the tonal distribution. A "Direct" option eliminates the histogram, but emphasizes any portion of the frame that will be under or over exposed. Red dots indicate white areas, while blue dots indicate any black areas. Thus, you get a larger (and more easily-read) indication of which parts of the image will be under or overexposed. The Camera menu also offers a Framing Guideline option, which divides the image area into thirds, horizontally and vertically, to help you line up more difficult shots.


Playback Mode LCD Screens
In Playback mode, the information display includes the exposure settings, image number and date of capture, but this information disappears after a few seconds of inactivity. Using the Zoom lever, you can zoom in on displayed images as much as 5x, and then scroll around the enlarged image using the arrow buttons. This is very handy for checking focus, small details, or precise framing. There's also an Index display option, which shows nine thumbnail images at a time, as determined by a setup menu option. Pressing the Zoom lever toward the wide-angle position while in Index Display mode, pulls up the Calendar Display, which displays the images on the card by date. A graphical calendar display shows a tiny thumbnail of the first image captured on each date.


External Controls


Power Button: Located on top of the camera, this button turns the camera on and off. If the Mode dial is set to a capture position, the lens extends as the camera is turned on. If the lens is extended, it retracts regardless of Mode dial position when the camera is turned off.


Shutter Button: To the right of the Power button and nestled in the center of the Zoom Lever, the Shutter button sets focus and exposure settings when depressed halfway and triggers the shutter when fully pressed.

Zoom Lever: Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, 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, Calendar view (an unusual mode that displays the first image taken on each day of the current month), normal image display, and playback zoom.


Flash Release Button: Located on the far left side of a bevelled panel at the top of the camera's rear, this button mechanically releases the spring-loaded flash from its compartment. The flash is stowed again by pressing it back down gently.


Mode Dial: The most obvious control on the rear panel of the Olympus 5500 Zoom is the Mode Dial, which selects the various camera operating modes: Playback, Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, My Mode, Scene, and Movie modes.


Quick View Button: The first button in a series to the right of the LCD display, this button pulls up the Quick View display of the most recently captured image. Pressing the button a second time returns to record mode. In playback mode this button has no effect.


AE Lock / Rotate Button: Directly below the Quick View button, this button locks the exposure when pressed in Record mode. In Playback mode, this button rotates the displayed image 90 degrees clockwise on the first press, 90 degrees counter-clockwise on the second press, and returns the image to its original position on the third press.


Flash / Protect Button: Directly below the AE Lock / Rotate button, this button controls the flash mode, cycling through Auto-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, Flash Off, and Slow Sync modes. It is important to note that if the flash is not popped up, this button does not respond. In Playback mode, this button write-protects the displayed image. It can also remove protection.


Macro / Erase Button: Directly below the Flash / Protect button, this button toggles the camera's focusing modes, cycling through Normal, Macro, and Super Macro focus. In Playback mode, pressing this button lets you delete the currently displayed image.


Four-way navigation pad: The largest control on the back panel, the Four-way pad controls many of the Olympus 5500's operations. In all Shooting modes except Manual, the left and right arrow keys increase or decrease the exposure compensation setting (provided the LCD monitor is active). In Aperture or Shutter Priority exposure modes, the up and down arrow keys adjust the lens aperture or shutter speed settings, depending on which mode you've selected. In Manual mode, the up and down arrows control shutter speed, while the left and right arrows control aperture.

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 image in Zoom Playback mode.

In the LCD menu system, the arrow keys navigate through menu screens and select settings.

OK / Menu Button: Located in the center of the Four-way navigation pad, this button activates the menu system on the rear panel LCD monitor and confirms selected menu settings in the LCD menu screens. If the LCD monitor is turned on when you press the OK / Menu button, it will call up the menu options and display them over the image. If the LCD monitor is off, it brings up the camera's menu system with no viewfinder image. Holding this button down for approximately two seconds brings up the Manual Focus distance display, along with the AF and MF icons. Highlighting the MF icon with the right arrow button engages the Manual Focus mode, after which the up and down arrow buttons adjust the focus.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: Accessed by setting the camera's Mode dial to the Auto, P, A, S, M, My Mode, Scene, or Movie positions, this mode allows the camera to capture images or movies. Exposure modes include Programmed Exposure, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual Mode, My Mode, Scene, and Movie modes. Scene mode choices include Portrait, Sports, Landscape Portrait, Landscape Scene, and Night Scene. Menu options vary depending on the actual shooting mode.

The top level of the Record Mode menu system is a simple "Short Cut" screen, that lets you quickly access the settings for image size/quality or ISO, turn the LCD monitor on or off, or access the full multi-level Record Mode menu system. 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:

  • Camera:
    • AE / AF: Pulls up the following AE and AF shortcut menus, which are navigable via the arrow keys.
      • AE Mode: Offers ESP, Spot, and Multi-Metering modes. (The Multi-Metering option is not available in Manual exposure mode.)
      • AF Mode: Sets the autofocus area to Spot, iESP, or Area (manual AF area adjustment).
    • Drive: Sets the camera's capture mode to Single, Sequence, or Auto Bracketing capture modes.
    • ISO: Sets the camera's ISO sensitivity to Auto, 80, 100, 200, or 400.
    • Timer: Turns the camera's twelve-second self timer on or off. If turned on, the option will reset to being turned off after a photo has been captured.
    • Flash Intensity (+/-): Adjusts the flash intensity from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments.

    • Slow Synchro: Selects between Slow Synchro 1, Slow Synchro with Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow Synchro 2. The Slow Synchro modes combine the flash with long shutter times, to allow more of the ambient light to influence the exposure. Slow synchro 1 and 2 differ in that 2 fires the flash at the end of the shutter period (second curtain sync), while 1 fires it at the beginning (first curtain sync).
    • Noise Reduction: When turned on, this function reduces the image noise in long exposures.
    • Digital Zoom: Turns the Digital Zoom function On or Off.
    • Fulltime AF: Turns Fulltime AF on or off. If on, the AF system is continuously adjusting focus, without a half-press of the Shutter button.
    • Panorama: Activates the Panorama shooting mode. (Available only with Olympus-branded xD-Picture Cards.)

    • Function: Lets you select between regular color, or the Black-and-White and Sepia color modes.
    • Info: Turns on an additional shooting information display on the LCD monitor, or disables it.
    • Histogram: Enables a small histogram overlay in any shooting mode. A "Direct" option eliminates the histogram and instead applies a color emphasis to the black and white areas of the image. Red indicates areas in danger of overexposure and blue indicates areas in danger of underexposure.
    • Sound Memo: Records a small voice caption to accompany an image.
    • Frame Assist: Activates a grid on the LCD monitor that helps you line up shots. The grid divides the image area into thirds, horizontally and vertically.

    • Time-lapse: Activates Time-lapse photography mode, which captures a series of images (as many as 99) at preset time intervals (from one to 59 minutes).

  • Picture:
    • White Balance (WB): Sets the camera's white balance to Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Daylight Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, or Cool Fluorescent), or Manual white balance options.
    • White Balance Adjustment: Enables you to adjust the Blue and Red levels from +7 (blue) to -7 (red, arbitrary units).
    • Sharpness: Sets the picture sharpness from +5 to -5 (arbitrary units).
    • Contrast: Sets the picture contrast from +5 to -5 (arbitrary units).
    • Saturation: Adjusts the color saturation from +5 to -5 (arbitrary units).

  • Card:
    • Card setup: Formats the xD-Picture Card, erasing all images, even the write-protected or Locked images.

  • Set Up:
    • All Reset: Resets the camera to its default settings whenever it's turned off and back on again.
    • Language: Changes the menu language to English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese.
    • PW On Setup: Determines what picture is displayed and sound plays at startup.
    • PW Off Setup: Determines what picture is displayed and sound plays at shutdown.
    • Rec View: Turns Rec View On or Off. Rec View displays the most recently recorded image while it is being written to the xD-Picture Card.

    • Volume: Sets the camera's beep sound to Off, Low, or High.
    • Beep: Designates the type of sound played with camera operations, and sets the volume to low or high. You can also disable the beep sound.
    • Shutter Sound: Selects the sound played when the shutter is releases, also with low and high volume settings, and an Off setting.
    • My Mode Setup: Customizes the specific user settings for the My Mode settings. Lets you either record the camera's current settings in one of the four My Mode memories, or step through a series of menu screens and configure up the My Mode settings manually.
    • File Name: Lets you choose between Auto or Name Reset for recording file names. Name Reset resets the file numbering whenever a new xD-Picture Card is inserted, while Auto continues the numbering scheme across cards.

    • Pixel Mapping: Initiates automatic pixel mapping, which checks for bad pixels in the CCD and maps them out. (Bad pixels shouldn't appear very often, and Olympus only recommends running this function once a year.)
    • LCD Brightness: Adjusts monitor brightness in fifteen arbitrary steps using an on-screen scale.
    • Date and Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
    • Meters / Feet: Allows you to choose between feet and meters for distance measurement and reporting.
    • Video Out: Specifies NTSC or PAL as the video out signal.

    • AF Illuminator: Turns the AF illuminator on the front of the camera on or off. If on, the light automatically comes on to help the camera focus in dark situations. Note that although the same LED is used for the AF illuminator and self-timer indicator, this option will only disable its AF illuminator functionality; it will still illuminate as per normal to indicate the self-timer operation.
    • Short Cut: Enables you to set the short cut menu item to whatever main menu option you want it to represent.

    Scene Select Options
    When the main mode dial is turned to the "Scene" setting, the top choice on the Shortcut screen switches to "Scene Select." Choosing this option brings up a series of screens that let you choose the scene mode you want to operate in, with color photos showing examples of the types of subjects that each scene mode is intended for. Scene options include Landscape + Portrait, Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sport, Beach & Snow, Fireworks, Sunset, Candle, and Available Light Portrait.


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

    Playback:

    • Info: Changes the amount of exposure information that is displayed with each recorded image. Full information includes battery power (shown only if the batteries are low), image quality, resolution, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, and file number. Minimum information includes only the frame number, battery power, and quality setting. Movie files display only the file number until you select the Movie Playback option.
    • Slide Show (Still Playback): Starts an automatic slide show playback of all single-frame recorded images.
    • Movie Play (Movie Playback): This replaces the Slideshow option in the Playback mode's top menu when a movie is shown onscreen in playback mode. During movie playback you can pause, restart, and skip through movies, as well as adjusting the volume.
    • Histogram: Activates a small histogram display below a thumbnail of the captured image. An information readout is on the right side of the display.

    • Mode Menu: Brings up three or four Playback sub-menus, depending on whether you're viewing an image or movie:
      • Play:
        • Sound Memo: Lets you record a short sound caption to accompany a captured image.
        • Print Order Setting: Lets you mark individual or all images for printing on a DPOF-compliant device. You can also unmark images, choose the number of copies, enable or disable date overlay, and crop the image to be printed.

      • Edit:
        • Reduce Size: Decreases the resolution of the current image. The resized image is saved as a separate file, leaving the original undisturbed. (A second screen gives you options for the size of the final file - either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels.)
        • Trimming: Lets you crop out a portion of an image and save it as a separate file.
        • Redeye Fix: Corrects "Red-Eye" in portraits, and saves the corrected file separately. (In our casual tests of this option though, it didn't seem to be terribly effective.)


      • Card:
        • All Erase: Allows you to erase all images on the xD-Picture Card, except write-protected files.
        • Format: Formats the xD-Picture Card, erasing all images, even the write-protected images.


      • Setup: In Playback mode, the Setup menu contains most of the same options as in Record mode, but some of them are shown in different order. Given the great similarity between the two menus, we've chosen not to show the screen shots for the Playback mode Setup menu.)

        • All Reset: Resets the camera to its default settings or to set your own custom default settings.
        • Language: Changes the menu language to English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese.
        • PW On Setup: Determines what picture is displayed and sound plays at startup.
        • PW Off Setup: Determines what picture is displayed and sound plays at shutdown.
        • Screen Setup: Lets you designate a saved image as the one that appears at startup or shutdown.


        • Playback Volume: Sets the camera's sound volume for playback of recorded sounds to one of six levels.
        • Beep Volume: Sets volume of the camera's beep sounds. You can also disable the beep sounds.
        • Button Operation Beep: Selects the type of sound played with camera operations, and sets the volume to low or high. You can also disable the beep sound. (Much of this button's operation seems redundant with that of the Beep Volume control.)
        • LCD Brightness: Adjusts monitor brightness using an on-screen scale.
        • Date and Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.


        • Video Out: Designates the video signal as PAL or NTSC.
        • Index Display: Allows you to set the index display to four, nine, or 16 frames.
        • Slideshow Setup: Designates the type of slide show playback. You can select Normal, or Slide or Fader transition styles, or Zoom playback. - Pretty cool for pass-around photo sharing, haven't seen this on a digicam previously. I do miss the ability to set the interval between frames though.

     

    In the Box

    In the box with the Olympus 5500 digital camera are the following items:

    • Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom digital camera
    • 16MB xD-Picture Card
    • Four disposable AA batteries
    • USB cable
    • AV cable
    • Olympus Master software and Advanced Manual CD-ROMs
    • Wrist strap
    • User manuals and registration card

     

    Recommended Accessories


    Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
    Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. 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...

     

    Test Images

    See my standardized test photos and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

    "Sunlit"
    Indoor Flash
    Indoor
     

     

     

    House
    Musicians
    Macro
     

     

     

    Davebox
    Resolution
    Viewfinder Accuracy

     

    Specifications

    See the specifications sheet here.

     

    Picky Details

    Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.

     

    Test Results

    In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For full details on each of the test images, see the Olympus C-5500 Zoom's "pictures" page.

    For a look at some more pictorial photos from this camera, check out our Olympus 5500 Sport Zoom Photo Gallery.

    Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus 5500 Sport Zoom with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

    • Color: Very good color throughout my tests. The Olympus 5500 produced very nice color throughout my testing. Like many digital cameras, it oversaturated bright reds, more so than most though. Other parts of the spectrum were quite accurate, with modest boosts in saturation for blues and greens, slight undersaturation for bright yellows, and nice-looking skin tones. The overall effect was quite pleasing. The Auto white balance system tended to leave very slight reddish casts in the images, but they were so slight that I doubt most users would notice them. The Auto white balance setting had a bit of a hard time with the household incandescent lighting of the indoor portrait test, but less than most cameras do, and the Incandescent and Manual options performed very well. All in all, very nice, pleasing color, and good white balance performance.

    • Exposure: Good overall exposures, but a hard time handling harsh lighting . The Olympus 5500 handled my test lighting quite well, though the camera produced high contrast under the deliberately harsh lighting of my "Sunlit" portrait test. Dynamic range was for the most part fairly good though. The contrast adjustment worked well, but to my eye needed to extend further in the low-contrast direction. (Overall though, I really like the fine-grained controls Olympus gives you for adjusting contrast and saturation. - They make it easy to customize the cameras to match your personal preferences and shooting style.)

    • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,300 lines of "strong detail." The Olympus 5500 did pretty well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as low as 800, maybe 900, lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines, a solid performance for a 5-megapixel camera. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines.

    • Image Noise: Generally good noise levels, even at the higher ISO settings. The Olympus C-5500 did surprisingly well in terms of image noise, producing much less noise at high ISO settings than I'm accustomed to seeing from 5-megapixel cameras. Noise is low at ISO 80 and 100, becomes visible (if only barely so) at ISO 200, and is evident but surprisingly well-behaved at ISO 400. As usual, the real test comes when you print the images out, and based on what I saw in prints from our Canon i9900 printer, I suspect that most consumers would be very pleased with ISO 400 shots from the Olympus 5500 printed as large as 8x10 inches. At 5x7, noise just really isn't an issue at all.

    • Closeups: A small macro area with pretty good detail in normal mode, though a very tiny area in Super Macro mode. Flash has trouble though. The Olympus 5500 captured an average macro area in normal mode, measuring 2.45 x 1.84 inches (62 x 47 millimeters). In Super Macro mode, the camera captured a very tiny area measuring only 1.01 x 0.76 inches (26 x 19 millimeters). Resolution is high, with good detail. The C-5500's flash had trouble here, and overexposed the entire frame: Plan on using external lighting for macro shots with the Olympus 5500.

    • Night Shots: Very good low-light performance, with low noise and good color. Autofocus system works to a bit darker than 1/8 foot-candle unassisted, and even darker with AF assist, fine for average city night scenes. The Olympus C-5500 does quite well after dark, as it's able to focus down to about 1/8 foot-candle even without its bright AF-assist light, and it can easily exposed down to that level even at its lowest ISO setting. (Down to 1/16 foot-candle at ISO 200 and above.) Given that typical city street lighting at night corresponds to about 1 foot-candle of illumination, the C-5500 should do very well for after-dark photography in urban and suburban areas.

    • Viewfinder Accuracy: A very tight optical viewfinder, but accurate LCD monitor. The Olympus 5500's optical viewfinder was very tight, showing only 75 percent at wide angle, and 82 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, showing about 99 percent frame accuracy at both settings.

    • Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel distortion at wide angle, and moderate pincushion at telephoto. I measured approximately 1.03 percent barrel distortion at wide angle, and about 0.2 percent pincushion at telephoto. (Barrel is higher than average, pincushion is about average.) Chromatic aberration was low at wide angle and telephoto. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) Corners of the images were pretty sharp at the wide angle of the lens' range, a little softer at telephoto. A good lens overall.

    • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Average performance in most areas. "Average" seems to describe most aspects of the Olympus C-5500's timing performance. It's not bad in any respect (although shot to shot speed is rather sluggish), it's just not on a par with the best of the market. Startup is pretty quick at 1.7 seconds to the first shot, but shutter lag is on the long side of average at 0.95-0.97 second for a full autofocus cycle. (As is commonly the case though, "prefocusing" by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself greatly reduces the shutter delay, in this case to 0.18 second.) The most disappointing area of performance though, is its shot to shot speed, requiring over four seconds for each large/fine shot. For whatever reason, the Olympus 5500 doesn't seem to use its internal memory to buffer large/fine images, as all shots take this long, regardless of how many photos you've taken in rapid succession. (So, the good news is that at least the camera doesn't slow any more than this, even if you shoot a lot of photos quickly, one after the other.) In continuous shooting mode, the Olympus 5500 can manage 1.18 frames/second, but only in its "HQ" quality mode.

    • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life. Camera makers have generally made great progress at trimming the power requirements of digital cameras, but the Olympus C-5500 still does a lot better than most, with a worst-case run time of over six hours with a set of "standard" 1600 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries. (Modern cells with true capacities higher than 2000 mAh would of course do proportionately better.) In playback mode, run time stretches to an incredible 12.5 hours.

    • Print Quality: Good-looking images at 11x14 inch print size. ISO 400 shots look surprisingly good at 8x10. Very natural-looking color. Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) In the case of the Olympus 5500, we found that it had enough resolution to make good-looking 11x14 prints, easily suitable for viewing on a wall. Looking at the 5500's high-ISO shots, images captured at ISO 400 looked surprisingly good when printed at 8x10 inches, noticeably better than we're used to seeing from 5-megapixel cameras. Color-wise, the Olympus 5500's images looked great when printed on the i9900, with very natural-looking color.

     

    Conclusion

    Pro: Con:
    • Excellent value: 5 megapixel, 5x zoom for under $250 street price(!)
    • Nice 5x zoom range
    • Very good color (a bit more natural than that of many cameras on the market)
    • Capable white balance system, does better than average with household incandescent lighting
    • Better than average noise levels at ISO 400, quite usable for 8x10 inch prints
    • Really excellent battery life
    • Two histogram modes, "Direct" histogram is handy for quickly seeing highlight/shadow problems
    • Super Macro mode gets very close
    • Very good low-light exposure capability
    • Excellent low-light focusing, even with AF-assist light off
    • LCD "gains up," does much better than average in low light
    • Shutter lag on the slow side of average
    • Rather sluggish shot to shot speed
    • Continuous mode a little disappointing too
    • Barrel and pincushion distortion in lens are a bit higher than average
    • Optical viewfinder is very tight (but LCD is very accurate)
    • In-camera red-eye fix doesn't seem too effective. (But better than not having the option at all, and the camera doesn't seem to cause red-eye all that readily.)
    • Printed manual is only a "Basic" version, full manual is electronic-only, on CD
    • Higher-speed USB port would have been nice, but downloads are still fast enough that you probably won't need a card reader
    • Body is a little chunky by current standards, but that also means it's very comfortable to grip

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    My first take on the Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom was "nice enough camera, but nothing special." As I learned its capabilities and studied its photos however, I found myself warming to it quite a bit. When I finally got around to checking its "street" prices though, I was very pleasantly surprised : Widely available online for well under $250 (under $215 from some merchants), the Olympus 5500 is a real bargain for a 5x zoom, 5-megapixel digital camera. In terms of image quality, it produced very nice-looking color in all our test shots. - A bit less saturated than a lot of the current crop of digital cameras, and thus perhaps more appealing to those who prefer more accurate color to the over-bright look that many consumers seem drawn to. Image noise levels were lower than I'm accustomed to seeing from 5-megapixel consumer cameras these days, and it did a great job shooting in low light. It focuses and exposes well to very low light levels, and its LCD viewfinder "gains up" nicely when the lights go down, letting you see what you're shooting at, even in quite dim surroundings. It also has an unusually rich set of features and controls, including auto, program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and full manual exposure modes. My biggest hangup with it was its rather sluggish performance, with both shutter lag and cycle time numbers on the slow side of average. (Despite the reference to "Sport" in its name.) Bottom line though, if your subjects are either largely static, or amenable to "prefocusing" (by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself), the Olympus C-5500 is a really fine little camera at a real bargain price. I do wish it were faster, but its combination of features, image quality, and low price were enough for me to award it a "Dave's Pick."


     

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