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Olympus D-490 Zoom

Olympus updates a popular 1.3 megapixel model to 2 megapixels, with improved features.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 10/28/2000

Test Results
As always in our reviews, we strongly encourage you to view the sample pictures we shot with the D-490 Zoom. If you're shopping for a camera, there's simply no substitute for looking at and directly comparing images from various cameras you may be considering. What makes a "good" picture is almost entirely subjective, and it's ultimately up to each person to decide what makes them happy. (Kinda like life, that way... ;-) View the pictures on the D-490 Zoom sample photo page, and compare them with ones shot under similar conditions by other cameras, in the Comparometer(tm). Download images and print them out on your printer, since appearances on-screen can be deceiving. Then make your decision, based on what you see!

A worthy update to its predecessors, the Olympus D-490 Zoom offers a simple user interface with fewer external buttons, while providing improved image quality in virtually every area: Colors are brighter and more accurate, color saturation is more correct in more instances, and the lens seems sharper as well. Providing 2.1 megapixels of resolution, a true 3X optical zoom lens, and excellent exposure control, it is a powerful entry into the middle range of the current (October, 2000) digicam market. Color accuracy is very good, and images are sharp with excellent contrast. One consequence of the higher contrast (and snappy-looking pictures) though, is that the D-490 tends to lose detail in strong highlights and shadows, as you’ll observe in our outdoor portrait test. However, we felt it offered a noticeable improvement in detail relative to its immediate predecessor, the D-460. Part of this excellent detail is that the camera seems to do a just-right job with the in-camera sharpening, making edges nice and crisp, but showing no evidence of the "halo effect" produced by over-sharpening.

In our laboratory resolution test, the D490 turned in a pretty typical performance for a 2 megapixel digicam, showing visual resolution of about 600 lines per picture height vertically, and 650 horizontally, before aliasing set in. You can still distinguish the target lines quite a bit beyond that point though, reaching as far as 750 lines vertically and 850 horizontally. The in-camera sharpening does produce an odd bluish tint from about 250 to 600 lines though. (This tint could appear in shots of actual subjects if you had closely spaced parallel lines, as would be the case with a picket fence seen at a distance. We didn't observe it in any of our normal test subjects however.

The D490 also did a very good job in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 2.86 x 2.14 inches (72.57 x 54.43mm). Color balance and detail look great, with just a hint of softness. The D490's built-in flash does a pretty good job of throttling down for the macro area, though it's just a little tricked by the shiny coin.

The D490 had a little trouble with the low-light category, as we were only able to obtain useable images at light levels as low as one foot candle (11 lux) with the 100 ISO setting. We could distinguish the target at lower light levels, but the image was extremely dim. Increasing the ISO to the 200 equivalent extended the shooting range to 1/2 of a foot candle (5.5 lux), and the 400 sensitivity setting produced bright images as low as 1/4 of a foot candle (2.7 lux). However, increasing the ISO to 200 or 400 sensitivity equivalents also increased the noise level. We also noticed that the D490 produced images with a rather warm cast as the light level decreased. To put the D490's low light performance into perspective, an average city night scene under modern street lighting corresponds to a light level of about one foot candle. The D490 would work well at that light level at the ISO 400 setting, and with some manipulation of the images in the computer, you could use it at ISO 100 there also. Thus, we'd rate the D490 as quite usable for outdoor city night scenes, but not for much darker conditions.

We found the D490's optical viewfinder a little tight, showing approximately 90 percent of the image area at wide angle, and about 91.5 percent at telephoto (for both image sizes). We also noticed that framing with the optical viewfinder resulted in a shifted image. Our framing test resulted in the target being shifted towards the bottom of the image, with a slight slant towards the lower left corner. The D490's LCD viewfinder was much more accurate, showing approximately 98 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 99 percent at telephoto (also at both image sizes). Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the D490's LCD monitor does an excellent job. We also shot a test with the digital telephoto enabled, but we were unable to measure the accuracy because of the soft resolution and difficulty in framing.

Optical distortion on the D490 is moderate to high at the wide angle end, as we measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared better, showing only about a 0.25 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is relatively low, showing about two pixels of coloration on each side of the black target lines in the resolution target image. (This is actually a very typical range among consumer digicams, even a bit lower distortion than average on the telephoto end. We'd really like to see less barrel distortion at the wide angle end of the lenses' range, so have begun to judge cameras a little more harshly in that area. Thus, we report the D-490 Zoom's barrel distortion as being "moderate to high", even though most cameras it competes with show about the same amount of distortion. Hopefully our critical attitude towards this characteristic will encourage manufacturers to reduce this distortion in their lens designs.) Chromatic aberration ranges from moderate at wide angle (we caught about two pixels of coloration on each side of the corner elements in our resolution test target), to quite good at the telephoto lens setting. (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). Flash distribution looks good at the wide angle end, with just a little falloff around the corners and edges. Telephoto flash uniformity is excellent.

In summary, as we stated at the outset, we were quite impressed with the D-490 Zoom's image quality, and feel it is a very solid performer in the midrange digicam category.


Conclusion
Overall, we found the D-490 Zoom an excellent camera for consumers accustomed to the point-and-shoot style. There are some manual controls available, but the majority of the exposure settings are automatically selected. The straightforward user interface and the uncomplicated LCD menu system mean you won't spend too much time flipping through the manual. We still find the need to pause as you shut the camera down annoying, but the resulting smooth, pocket-friendly contours make up for it. Compact and very portable, the D-490 Zoom's low price, nice assortment of features, and excellent image quality make it a great solution for those wanting a good digicam that'll go just about anywhere.

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