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Olympus D-490 Zoom

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

Review First Posted: 10/28/2000





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MSRP $499 US

 

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2.1 megapixel resolution for 1,600 x 1,200-pixel images
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3X optical zoom lens (35-105mm equivalent) with autofocus
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Variable ISO, 100 to 400
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Spot metering option for difficult lighting conditions
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New QuickTime Movie features



Manufacturer Overview
Olympus America continues to introduce high-quality new products to the rapidly growing market of filmless digital cameras. On the prosumer side, Olympus recently introduced the E-10, the first 4-megapixel digital camera priced for the professional/serious amateur photographer. Less-expensive models include the Camedia C-2100 Ultra Zoom and ES-100 RS (Rapid Shot) digital cameras - with 2.1- and 1.5-megazpixel CCDs, respectively. Both of these cameras feature 10X image-stabilizer zoom lenses that greatly extend focusing capabilities among consumer-level digicams. The ES-100 RS even provides rapid shooting speeds of up to 15 frames per second! The D-490 Zoom is the company’s latest midrange model, featuring a 2.1-megapixel CCD and 3X zoom autofocus lens. The fourth in a series of D-400 cameras, the D-490 combines advanced options like variable ISO and spot metering with point-and-shoot simplicity. The real plus is the 3X optical zoom lens, which provides greatly enhanced framing flexibility. We're big believers in the value of zoom lenses for general-use cameras, and the D-490 Zoom combines good quality optics with solid camera performance.


Highlights

Executive Overview
Anyone already familiar with Olympus digital cameras will immediately notice the similarities in design between the earlier model D-460 and the new D-490 Zoom. The D-490's silver-gold body features flashy gold detailing and a flat black back panel. Its small size and smooth contours make it very compact and portable. As with the D-460, the built-in lens cover serves as a power switch, thus eliminating any worries about losing the lens cap. All of the main controls are located on the back panel of the camera, with the exception of the shutter button and zoom lever, which are on top. An indentation on the right side of the back panel gives your thumb a natural place to grip the camera, while the sliding lens cover (in open position) offers a textured grip plate in front. These features make the camera easy to shoot one-handed, without the bulkiness of larger camera grips.

The optical viewfinder and LCD monitor are both located on the back of the camera. The viewfinder features a diopter adjustment dial to accommodate eyeglass wearers, and green and orange LED lights to indicate the need for a flash (orange) and the camera's ready status (green), when you depress the shutter button halfway. The LCD monitor is turned on and off with the first in a vertical series of three buttons to the right of the monitor. The 1.8-inch screen features a Thin Film Transfer (TFT) color display with a total of 61,000 pixels.

The Olympus 5.4-6.2mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera) offers a maximum aperture range of f/2.8-f/4.4, depending on the zoom setting. Focus ranges from 8 to 31 inches (20-80cm) in Macro mode and from 31 inches (80cm) to infinity in normal mode. A Through-the-Lens (TTL) autofocus function uses an efficient contrast detection system for precision focusing. For shooting in low-light or other challenging circumstances, the camera offers two "Quick Focus" presets of 8 feet (2.5 meters) and infinity. These are accessed by using the Arrow Pad on the back of the camera, in combination with the camera’s shutter button. The optical zoom lens is controlled by the Zoom lever on top of the camera, and an optional "Digital Zoom" function can be engaged at any focal length by depressing the Macro/Digital Telephoto button twice (located above the Monitor on/off button). The digital zoom is adjustable in (approximate) half-step increments via the Arrow Pad.

Since there's no Record/Playback/Movie mode dial on the D-490 (usually integrated with the on/off control), the camera is automatically in Record mode when you open the lens cover. In Record, the camera defaults to auto-exposure mode, setting the aperture and shutter speeds based on Digital ESP matrix metering. While you cannot manually select the aperture or shutter speed, you can override the automatic exposure through the camera’s Record menu (accessed via the "Menu" button next to the Monitor). Specific exposure functions available in the Record menu are: exposure compensation (EV), white balance (WB), spot meter/ESP, and ISO. The Arrow Pad allows you to scroll through these and other menu functions, which include: quality setting, sequence shooting mode, special function options (movie or panoramic), normal or soft sharpness, file name control, sound on/off settings, and menu set/reset.

A Self-timer button on the back panel doubles as a Print button in Playback mode. When set in Record mode, the Self-timer gives a 12-second delay countdown before the shutter fires. The flash is activated by simply flipping up the flash cover on the front of the camera. It has five operative settings (Auto, Rd-eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash, Slow Shutter Synchronization, and Slow Shutter Synchronization with Red-Eye Reduction) which are controlled by the Flash/Erase button to the left of the Self-timer. The flash automatically turns off when the flash cover is flipped back down.

The Macro/Digital telephoto button functions as a write-protect button when the camera is in Playback mode. (Write-protection safeguards images from accidental erasure, but does not protect them from the camera’s Format Card function.) White balance is a function of the camera’s Record menu. It offers five settings: Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Incandescent, and Fluorescent light. Exposure Compensation (EV) can be adjusted from - 2 to +2 in 0.5 EV (f/stop) units.

The Drive mode allows you to shoot up to 45 sequential images at approximately two frames per second, depending on available memory and image quality. Panorama and QuickTime Movie modes are also available on the D-490, accessible through the Function option. (Note that the Panorama option is only enabled when using Olympus-branded SmartMedia storage cards).

Another big plus is the ability to change the ISO setting on the camera. Through the Record menu, you can select Auto, 100, 200, and 400 (for shooting in low-light situations or fast action photography). While the higher ISO values produce images with more noise in them, they're invaluable for capturing images that would otherwise be impossible.

Images are stored on 3.3V SmartMedia cards (an 8MB card comes with the camera) with Record options of Standard Quality (SQ), Standard Quality - High (SQ-HIGH), High Quality (HQ), Super High Quality (SHQ), and Super High Quality - Non-Compressed TIFF (SHQ-TIFF). An 8MB card will hold 82 SQ and 32 SQ-HIGH 640 x 480-pixel images; and 16 HQ, 5 SHQ, and 1 SHQ-TIFF 1,600 x 1,200-pixel images.

A Video Out cable, located in a covered compartment on the bottom left side, allows you to connect to a television set for image playback. The same compartment also houses the AC adapter connector and computer connector port. (The conversion connector works on serial port equipped Mac computers, but USB-based Mac owners will need to purchase a USB-based card reader to import their photos.) A CD-ROM is supplied with Camedia Master 2.0 software for Macintosh and Windows. The software provides image management and manipulation tools - including panorama-stitching - plus sample images, template borders for creating image montages, and QuickTime Movie software.

Design
The D-490 Zoom looks a lot like preceding D-400 models, with the exception of a black plastic back panel and a slightly different control layout. The D-490 weighs in at 9.5 ounces (270 grams) without the batteries, or 13 ounces (370 grams) with a set of 4 AA cells, and measures 5 x 2.6 x 2.1 inches (127 x 66.5 x 53mm) without the lens extended. Its small size and relative light weight make it very portable, while its smooth contours and brushed aluminum appearance make it an attractive accessory that can slip easily into most pockets. An accompanying wrist strap and recessed grip design help to provide a secure hold.



Olympus's sliding lens cover design doubles as the main power mechanism. When the cover slides open, the lens extends into its operating position, and the top status display panel turns on. To shut the camera off, you partially close the cover and wait for the lens to retract before sliding it to its fully closed position. This relatively hassle-free design may prevent misplaced lens caps, but the pause necessary to wait for the lens to retract is slightly annoying. Plus, the open lens cover obstructs access to the memory card compartment, so you must close the lens before switching out SmartMedia cards. (This is probably a useful precaution against removing the memory card while the camera is still writing to it - which can damage the card - but it is annoying none the less.) In addition to the sliding lens cap and flash card cover, the camera’s front panel also holds the pop-up flash.



The shutter button, zoom control, and status display panel are located on top of the camera, all cleanly designed with a relatively flat surface. The smooth shutter button and rocker toggle zoom control just barely protrude from the surface.



The right side of the camera is quite plain, with only the covered slot for the SmartMedia card. (While the majority of the card compartment hatch appears on the front of the camera, you actually access the card from the side.)



The Video Out, AC, and Computer connectors are all found on the bottom left side of the camera (looking at the back), beneath a duotone plastic cover that snaps into place.



The majority of the camera controls are on the back panel, along with the optical viewfinder, LCD monitor, Arrow Pad, and a recessed thumb grip on the right side. The three rectangular buttons across the top of the back panel include (left to right): the Flash/Erase, Self-timer/Print, and Macro/Digital Zoom controls. (The third button also serves as an image write-protect control.) The round Arrow Pad next to the LCD monitor helps navigate through Record and Playback menu options, as well as the Focus Preset functions. Surrounding the Arrow Pad are three more buttons which control (top to bottom): Monitor On/Off, Menu Display, and the OK button used to save settings. As with earlier D-400 Zoom models, the D-490 controls are simple to navigate.



The D-490 has a nice, flat bottom, taken up primarily by the battery compartment cover. One small problem we noticed here is that the tripod mount is on the far left side of the camera body. This placement causes the mass of the camera to hang off the edge of the tripod's mounting platform, and places extra stress on the camera's tripod threads, resulting in a less rigid attachment.

Viewfinder
The D-490 features both an optical viewfinder and an LCD color monitor for image composition. The optical viewfinder is on the top left of the back panel and features a diopter adjustment dial to accommodate eyeglass wearers. Centrally located crosshairs inside the viewfinder help you line up shots and set the focus. Green and orange LEDs on the side of the viewfinder let you know the camera ready status, such as when autofocus is set or when flash is necessary. The 1.8-inch color LCD monitor is normally inactive when the camera switches on, but is quickly enabled by pressing the Display button beside it. For the most part, the monitor has limited information display. It indicates the file number, flash setting, self-timer, digital zoom, and macro modes, but the remaining information (image quality, battery power, white balance, etc.) is reported on the camera's top status display panel. We found the LCD monitor very bright and easy to see in most situations. It was a little hard to read in very bright sunlight, but that is a common affliction among LCDs.

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 (a significant improvement from that of the earlier D-400 series models), 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.

Optics
The D-490 comes equipped with a 3X, 5.4-16.2mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera) with a maximum aperture of f/2.8-f/4.4, depending on the zoom setting. In normal mode, the lens can focus from 31 inches (80cm) to infinity and in macro mode, from 8 to 31 inches (20 to 80cm). The TTL (through the lens) autofocus function uses a contrast detection system which produces sharp, reliable focus in well-lit conditions, but may have problems in low-light situations. Low-light shooting is provided for with two preset "Quick Focus" settings of 8 feet (2.5m) and infinity, selectable by pressing the up and down arrow buttons on the Arrow Pad during exposure. (These seem to work well enough, but we'd like to see more Quick Focus steps, or an autofocus-assist light for better low-light operation, particularly since the camera does so well in dim light with its variable-ISO capability.) The camera controls the aperture automatically with settings of f/2.8 and f/8 in wide angle and f/4.4 and f/12.6 in telephoto mode.

> The D-490's 3X optical zoom is controlled by a rocker toggle on top of the camera and pretty much lets you zoom in any increment. (The zoom lenses on some cameras have certain "preferred" positions, a limitation we didn't observe with the D-490.) An additional 2.5X digital telephoto increases the camera's total zoom to 7.5X, but image quality will deteriorate in direct proportion to the amount of digital enlargement. There was moderate optical distortion on the D-490, with the camera showing a 0.8 percent barrel distortion at the wide angle end, and about a 0.3 percent pincushion distortion at full telephoto. While it's more than we like to see, 0.8 percent barrel distortion is fairly typical at wide angle, and 0.3 percent pincushion is a bit better than average at telephoto. Digital telephoto and Macro modes are controlled by the same button on the back panel of the camera, meaning that you can't use the two together. However, the digital telephoto can be enabled at any zoom setting, not just at maximum optical zoom. This is an uncommon feature on digital cameras we've reviewed, but one that greatly increases the D-490's flexibility. Macro performance is quite good, as the camera captures a minimum area of 3 x 2 inches at the furthest telephoto setting.

Focus
> Camera focus is very straightforward, just point the camera at the subject, depress the shutter button halfway to initiate the autofocus and metering, then press all the way to shoot. The orange and green LEDs next to the viewfinder let you know when the camera is ready. If the orange LED blinks after metering, it means that the camera recommends using the flash due to slow shutter speed. As with most other digicams, the D-490 sets exposure and focus based on what's roughly centered in the frame, but this can be changed very easily. Simply center the subject you want to base your exposure and focus on in the viewfinder, depress the shutter button halfway, and continue to hold the shutter button halfway until you have repositioned the subject in the viewfinder to your original composition. When you fully depress the shutter button, the focus and exposure will remain locked on the area you have chosen.

Quick Focus
The D-490 also features a Quick Focus option, which is helpful in low-light situations, where the camera's autofocus sometimes has trouble. Quick Focus allows you to choose close focusing (2.5m/8ft), which gives you a depth of field of approximately 2.8 feet to infinity at wide angle and 5.9-13 feet at telephoto, or far away focusing (Infinity), which gives you a depth of field of approximately 4.3 feet to infinity at wide angle and 22 feet to infinity at telephoto. You choose one of these two options by pressing the up and down arrow buttons on the Arrow Pad on the back of the camera before depressing the shutter button halfway, and you must continue to hold down the arrow button while you take the exposure. The buttons are clearly marked on the camera - the 2.5m/8ft setting is the "down" arrow button and the Infinity setting is the "up" arrow button. Olympus touts this as a good feature when quick shooting is required, but you must think in advance of the exposure to locate the appropriate button before you frame your shot. We found it helpful to use the LCD monitor to frame the image, because you are already concentrating your attention on the back of the camera. Make sure that the appropriate icon shows up on the monitor before depressing the shutter release.

Macro Mode
Macro mode is accessible through the Macro/Digital telephoto button on the back panel (indicated with the standard flower macro symbol). The D490 does 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). The LCD monitor is automatically activated when you enter the Macro mode and the macro flower icon appears on the display. The mode is just as quickly canceled by pressing the Macro button again twice.

Digital Telephoto
Controlled by the same button as the Macro mode, the D-490's digital telephoto offers up to an additional 2.5X zoom (depressing the Macro/Digital telephoto button twice enters the mode, and a third press cancels it). Digital telephoto settings of 1.6x, 2.0x, or 2.5x can be selected by using the up/down arrow keys on the Arrow Pad. The digital telephoto can be enabled at any zoom setting, but remember that digital enlargement somewhat compromises image quality. It simply crops out the central portion of the camera's sensor array, producing a smaller image. (The D-490 Zoom cannot be used in SHQ-TIFF mode when you engage the digital telephoto function.)

Exposure
The D-490 is great for consumers who want the uncomplicated ease of a point-and-shoot camera. Exposure control is almost entirely automatic, with the camera taking complete control of shutter speed and aperture. The user has the option of adjusting exposure by changing exposure compensation, white balance, metering, ISO setting, image quality, and other settings through the LCD-based menu system. This more extensive LCD menu system is a bit of a departure from the early D-400 designs, which had more control buttons to handle these features.

Exposure Compensation (EV adjustment)
Exposure compensation is controlled through the Record menu, and is adjustable from -2 to +2 Exposure Value units (EVs) in half-step increments. (Each full EV unit corresponds to a doubling or halving of the exposure.) Once you’ve chosen the appropriate EV value, press the OK button to confirm the selection. You can cancel the adjustment through the same process or by closing the lens cover to power down the camera. Olympus warns that this setting may not be as effective when shooting with the flash. As with recent D-400 models, we'd prefer to see an EV adjustment that doesn't rely on the LCD menu system. If the setting was shown on the top status display panel, it could be changed with fewer steps.

Spot Metering Mode
The D-490 offers two metering options: Digital ESP and Spot metering. Both are accessible through the Record menu. The benefit of spot metering is that most metering systems that average the light reading from the entire picture area are easily fooled by backlit or high-contrast scenes. EV adjustments can help with these situations, but spot metering offers a better solution, since it only measures a tiny area in the center of the viewfinder. You can lock the exposure by holding down the shutter release button half way once you’ve metered the area you want properly exposed, then move the camera to reframe the image before you fully depress the shutter.

White Balance
The D-490's White Balance (WB) system adjusts an exposure to compensate for differences in color temperatures from different light sources. The five White Balance options (located in the Record menu) are: Auto (automatically sets the white balance), Daylight (for sunny, outdoor scenes), Cloudy (for overcast days), Incandescent (for typical household lights), and Fluorescent (for offices or large areas that are illuminated by fluorescent tube lights). Once you’ve made your selection, press the OK button to confirm the setting, and the designated icon will appear in the status display panel on top of the camera. You can cancel the setting by reselecting Auto, or by closing the lens cover. We found the D-490's white balance system worked quite well under moderate light changes, but had difficulty with the strong yellowish cast of household incandescent lighting.

Flash
Activating the D-490's flash is simple, just pop it up with the tab on the front of the camera, and set it to the desired mode via the flash button on the back panel. The camera will indicate if it thinks a flash is needed for the exposure by flashing the orange LED next to the optical viewfinder after the focus has been set. It will also display the flash symbol on the LCD monitor, if it's activated. You can choose from six flash modes: Auto (no icon displayed), Redeye Reduction (eyeball icon), Fill-in Flash (lightning bolt), Off (lightning bolt with a slash), Slow Shutter Synchronization Auto (lightning bolt with the word "slow" displayed), and Slow Synchronization with Redeye Reduction (lightning bolt, "slow" and eyeball icons). While Olympus reports this as six flash modes, the forced Off mode is controlled by merely closing the flash itself, not through the flash button. Remember that if the orange LED continues to blink even though the flash is in the "up" position, the camera is still charging the flash, and isn't ready to fire. Olympus rates the D-490's flash power as having a maximum range of 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) in telephoto mode and 13 feet (4 meters) in wide angle mode. In our own tests, we found the flash highly effective as far away as 14 feet, even in telephoto mode.

Variable ISO
As with previous D-400 models, the D-490 provides variable ISO settings, a very useful feature on digicams. Through the Record menu, you can select from Auto, 100, 200 or 400 ISO settings. Similar to film-based cameras, the ISO refers to the light sensitivity of the capture medium (film or digital CCD). A higher ISO will enable you to shoot with faster shutter speeds and/or smaller apertures than would be needed at a lower ISO, but the resulting image may appear grainy or noisy. While the noise can become fairly pronounced at the higher ISO settings, this option is particularly valuable when you have to shoot at low light levels with longer exposure times. The ability to capture these types of images at all is a tremendous bonus. Higher ISO settings are also valuable in fast-action photography, where higher shutter speeds are better at freezing action.

Self-Timer
Activated by the Self-timer button on the back panel, the D-490's self-timer gives you a 12-second countdown before firing the shutter. The operation is pretty much the same as with other digital cameras. When you engage this mode, the self-timer icon is displayed on the LCD monitor as well as the small status display panel on top of the camera. Then, all you do is fully depress the shutter button to trigger the timer and wait (or run around to the front of the camera to get into the picture). A red LED lights up on the front of the camera to indicate that it's counting down the time, and blinks for the last few seconds before the shutter is tripped. (If you have the beep sounds enabled via the Record menu, the camera also beeps as a warning just prior to the exposure.)

Sequence Mode
The Sequence mode allows you to shoot multiple frames of a scene at approximately half-second intervals. Although Olympus claims that the camera will take as many as 45 sequential exposures, the actual number will depend on the image quality chosen and storage space available. Flash is not available in this mode and the shutter speed is fixed to go no slower than 1/30 second. In Sequence mode, the camera will snap pictures one after another as long as you hold down the shutter button. (Note that shot-to-shot speed is a strong function of the image quality, and you'll only get the two shots per second in "SQ" mode.)

Panorama
The camera's Function option (available through the Record menu) allows you to take panoramic images when a standard Olympus memory card is used. This camera feature is the only one that requires an Olympus brand SmartMedia card, all other camera features work just fine with third party cards. In Panorama mode, blue cropping lines appear to help you line up each image of a panorama sequence and you can take as many exposures as you have room for on the card. All of the exposure settings are determined by the initial exposure, to make "stitching" on the computer easier. Panorama mode is canceled by switching it off in the Record menu. Flash is not available in this mode and Olympus suggests maintaining the same lens focal length (zoom setting) after shooting the first picture to avoid problems when you assemble the pictures. The company also recommends shooting in SQ (standard quality) mode to save SmartMedia space. We just recommend buying a larger memory card, since you're likely to want one anyway!

QuickTime Movies
The D-490 Zoom's QuickTime Movie feature is new to the D-400 series of Olympus digital cameras, though it has been available on higher-end Olympus models for some time. Accessible through the Function option in the Record menu, the QuickTime Movie feature offers two quality settings: High-Quality (HQ) resolution is 320 x 240-pixels; Standard Quality (SQ) resolution is 160 x 120-pixels. In HQ mode, the recording will last approximately 15 seconds. In SQ mode, it will last approximately 60 seconds, but the quality will be significantly lower than with HQ. To record a QuickTime movie, you scroll to the Function Shooting option in the Record menu (identified by a keystone shape with a star inside). Select the movie camera and press OK. A movie camera will appear in the upper left corner of the LCD monitor, and a number will appear in the lower left corner (to count down the seconds), along with a memory gauge (vertical bar) that fills up as you near the end of the recording. To record the movie, frame your subject, depress the shutter button all the way, and hold it down until a beep sounds to signal the end of the recording. The green LED light in the optical viewfinder will blink as the recording is loaded onto the SmartMedia card. You can review the movie in Playback mode. Needless to say, QuickTime Movies take up a lot of space on your card, but if you manage to get a good movie (sometimes it requires a lot of retakes), the novelty and memory is worth every megabyte!

Sharpness Setting
The Sharpness setting was introduced with the previous Olympus D-460 model. Indicated on the Record menu by a circle with a solid and dotted edge, the Sharpness setting gives you the option of taking pictures with Normal or Soft sharpness. Olympus suggests using the "Soft" setting when photographing subjects that will be heavily manipulated on the computer. (In-camera sharpening tends to cause problems when working on images in the computer. You're better off working with an unsharpened image and sharpening it at the end, after you're through with all your manipulations.) While we appreciate this new feature, we'd also like to see an in-camera "Sharpen More" feature to take images in the opposite direction.

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 allows 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 by the manufacturer or by other reviewers, and because it can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, Imaging Resource routinely measures it using a proprietary electronic test setup. The table below shows the times we measured for various camera operations. Startup, shutdown, and record-to-play times were quite fast, and shutter lag was very much on a par with other cameras, even some more expensive ones. Cycle time was slower, but comparable to other cameras in the D-490 Zoom's price range.



Olympus D-490 Zoom Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
3.1
Start with lens retracted. Delay time until first shot is captured.
Shutdown
2.6
Delay time from when the lens is retracted, to the camera powering down. (No pending image processing.)
Play to Record, first shot
1.7
Delay time until first shot is captured. Quite fast, thanks to "quick review" mode, no need to switch to playback mode.
Record to play (max/min res)
2.02/6.4
Lag time slower for maximum resolution images. Again, quite fast due to quick review mode.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.90
Slightly slower than average
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.26
(Prefocus means half-pressed shutter before shot.) About average
Cycle Time, low/high/TIFF res
2.17/2.8/38.0
Faster than average
Cycle time, continuous mode
.75
(Sequence mode automatically switches to SQ resolution.)

Overall, the D-490 is a reasonably fast camera: It has a slightly longer than average shutter delay, but at the same time is noticeably faster than average from shot to shot. The camera also tested faster than its 1.3 megapixel predecessory (the D-460) in switching from record to playback modes and back again. Thanks to the ability to enter playback mode directly from record mode, and then return simply by pressing the shutter button, the chances of missing shots while reviewing pictures are greatly reduced. This plus its very good shot to shot speed would lead us to give it a better than average "speed" rating relative to competing models.

Operation & User Interface
We found the user interface on the D-490 simple to understand and easy to navigate, with most of the controls located on the back panel of the camera or within a very straightforward LCD menu system. The camera is quickly activated by sliding open the lens cover, which puts it into Record mode, and just as quickly deactivated by closing it. The Playback mode is accessed by closing the lens cover and depressing the Display button after the camera has shut off, or by pressing it twice in rapid succession when the camera is in Record mode. The LCD menus are navigated with the four-way Arrow Pad next to the monitor. You scroll to the appropriate function with the "Up" and "Down" arrow buttons, access that function’s menu with the "Right" arrow button, and scroll through the menu options with the "Up" and "Down" buttons. Press the "OK" button to set a selection. Separate function buttons are available for Flash/Erase, Self-timer/Print, Macro/Digital Telephoto, LCD monitor On/Off, Menu On/Off, and the OK set. The SmartMedia slot is under a hinged plastic door on the right side of the camera, and the digital, video, and AC jacks are clustered underneath another plastic door on the left side.


Shutter Button
Located on the top right of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway depressed and completes the exposure when fully depressed.


Zoom Lever
Located directly to the right of the shutter button, this lever rocks back and forth to control the optical zoom from wide angle to telephoto when in Record mode.

In Playback mode, pressing the Zoom lever toward "W," or wide angle, activates the index display, showing previously captured images in groups of 4, 9, or 16 "thumbnails." Pressing the lever toward the "T," or telephoto, enables the playback zoom feature. (Captured images can be enlarged up to 3X on the LCD screen.)


Diopter Adjustment Dial
Located to the left of the viewfinder, this sprocketed dial can be adjusted to visually correct the viewfinder image for eyeglass wearers.


Flash Button (Delete Button)
Located to the right of the optical viewfinder, this button is the first in a row of three rectangular control buttons. In Record mode, the Flash button allows you to select from the following flash settings (Off mode is accessed by simply closing the flash):

In Playback mode (when the lens cover is closed), this button deletes the image currently displayed on the screen, with an option to cancel.



Self-Timer Button (DPOF Button)
Located to the right of the Flash button, this button activates the camera's Self-Timer in Record mode, counting down 12 seconds before firing the shutter. A red LED glows steadily on the front of the camera to indicate that it's counting down the time, then blinks for the last few seconds before the shutter is tripped. (If you have the beep sounds enabled via the Record menu, the camera also beeps as a warning just prior to the exposure.)

In Playback mode, this button serves as the Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) button, which enables you to designate DPOF printing options for the image displayed. You can specify the number of prints you want made from each image on the memory card, so a DPOF-compliant printer (with a compatible memory card slot) can output your print order automatically.


Macro/Digital Telephoto Button (Write Protect Button)
Located to the right of the Self-Timer button, this button activates the Macro and 2.5X Digital Telephoto modes when used in Record mode. One press of the button activates Macro, two presses activates the Digital Telephoto, and pressing the button a third time puts the camera back into regular Record mode.

In Playback mode, this button can be used to "Write Protect" individual images from accidental erasure. The Write Protect feature can be engaged on a single image display or on an index display with the image highlighted. Once protected, the images will display a small key in the upper right corner and cannot be erased unless the card is reformatted with the Card Reformat function (or the Write-Protect is disengaged).


Monitor Display Button
Located below the Macro mode button, the Monitor Display button turns the LCD monitor on and off while in Record mode. If you quickly press the button twice from the off condition, it goes directly into Quick Display mode, which displays the last stored image on the memory card. From there, you can scroll through previous captures with the Left and Right arrow buttons.

When the LCD button is depressed In Playback mode, the camera displays the last picture taken. From there, you can access the Playback menu and scroll through captured images via the arrow buttons.


Menu Button
In Record mode, this button accesses the Shooting Menu.

In Playback mode, the Menu button accesses the Playback Menu.


Up Arrow Button (Infinity Quick Focus Button)
The Up arrow is on the top of the Arrow Pad on the back panel. In Capture mode, the Up arrow button allows you to change settings within menus. If depressed before pressing the shutter button halfway, it serves as the Infinity Quick Focus button, useful when quick shooting is required.

In Playback mode, this button also navigates through the Playback menu and through images enlarged with the Zoom lever.


Down Arrow Button (2.5/8ft Quick Focus Button)
The Down arrow is on the bottom of the Arrow Pad on the back panel. In Capture mode, the Down arrow button allows you to change menu settings within menus. If depressed before pressing the shutter button halfway, it serves as the 2.5/8ft Quick Focus button, useful when quick shooting is required.

In Playback mode, this button also navigates through the Playback menu and through images enlarged with the Zoom lever.


Right and Left Arrow Buttons
In both Record and Playback modes, these buttons navigate through menu options. In Record mode, when the digital telephoto is enabled, these buttons zoom in and out of 2.5X digital enlargement.

In Playback mode, these buttons scroll through captured images in single display and index display format. All four arrow buttons allow you to scroll around within an enlarged image when using playback zoom.


OK Button
In any mode, the OK button confirms menu selections and changes.

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode
The Record mode is accessed when the lens cover is opened and sets up the camera for image capture. All images are automatically metered based on existing light conditions, with some exposure options available to override the automatic metering. These include exposure compensation, spot metering, white balance, ISO, and flash.

While in Record mode, the Zoom lever on top of the camera controls the optical zoom (up to 3X). Individual buttons on the back of the camera control Flash mode, Self-timer, and Macro/Digital Telephoto mode (up to 2.5X). A Monitor Display button activates a real-time LCD display of the image being recorded through the camera lens. The Menu button calls up the following Shooting options:

In Record mode, the Arrow Pad enables you to scroll through Shooting menu options and, when not in menu mode, to select one of two Quick Focus settings: Infinity or 2.5m/8ft. The OK button confirms selections within the Shooting menu.


Playback Mode
Playback Mode is accessible when the lens cover is closed, or when Quick Review mode has been activated by depressing the display button twice from the Record mode. The Playback mode allows you to view saved images, delete unwanted ones, protect images, and access special functions with a function card. Pressing the Menu button in Playback brings up the Playback menu with the following options:


Self-Timer Mode
Self-timer mode is accessed via the Self-timer button on the camera’s back panel. Once activated by the shutter button, the self-timer counts down 12 seconds before releasing the shutter. The Self-timer icon blinks inside the LED panel on top of the camera for the entire 12 seconds. On the front of the camera, a red LED light glows for the first 10 seconds, then blinks for the remaining two. If the camera beep sound is enabled, the camera will beep when the LED flashes, to let you know the exposure is imminent. The mode is canceled by depressing the Self-timer button a second time.

Sequence Mode
The Sequence mode allows you to shoot continuously, at up to two frames per second, while holding down the shutter button. The number of images recorded will depend on the amount of SmartMedia space available and the image quality selected. If the quality setting is SHQ or SHQ-TIFF when Sequence mode is selected, the quality setting will automatically revert to HQ. Flash is not available when using this mode. A maximum shutter speed of 1/30 second prevents blurring from camera movement, or slowing of the sequence due to long shutter times. The Sequence mode is activated and canceled by selecting the Drive option in the Record menu.

Image Storage and Interface
The D-490 uses SmartMedia cards to capture and store images. An 8MB 3.3v card comes standard with the camera, but 16MB and 32MB sizes may also be used (2MB and 4MB sizes are available, but largely obsolete). You can use third-party SmartMedia cards, but Olympus recommends formatting them in the camera immediately before use. Be sure to use only 3.3V cards. SmartMedia from third-party vendors will not support the camera's Panorama shooting mode, but they will operate fine for all other functions. Special function SmartMedia cards are also available from Olympus.

The remaining image capacity is shown on the LCD monitor when the camera is turned on. When the number reaches zero, the camera beeps and the green LED next to the optical viewfinder flashes. The table below shows the number of images of each size that can be stored on the provided 8MB memory card, and the approximate level of JPEG compression used for each.


Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity
High Resolution
Standard Resolution
Images
Approx. Compression
Images
Approx. Compression
Uncompressed Quality
1
1:1
N/A
N/A
Fine Quality (SHQ)
5
8:1
N/A
N/A
High Quality (HQ)
16
17:1
N/A
N/A
Normal Quality (SQ-High)
N/A
N/A
32
4:1
Economy Quality (SQ)
N/A
N/A
82
14:1


SmartMedia should never be removed from the camera while it is in operation to avoid damaging the media. The card fits into a slot on the side of the camera, protected by a plastic flap that snaps firmly into place.

The entire SmartMedia card can be write-protected by placing a write-protection sticker in the designated area. Write-protection stickers can only be used once and must be clean to be effective. Write protection keeps the card free from any alteration, except for card formatting. You can protect individual images while in Playback mode by depressing the Write-protect button on the back of the camera. Once depressed, a "lock" symbol appears in the LCD monitor and that image cannot be erased unless the entire SmartMedia card is reformatted or the protection is subsequently removed. Individual image protection is not available when the write-protection sticker has been placed on the SmartMedia card.

Stored images are assigned file numbers from 0001 to 9999. Through the Record menu, the File number option allows you to select from Auto File and Name Reset. Auto File assigns a continuing number from the last file number of the last card used. This prevents the same file number from being used for images taken together and saved on multiple cards. Name Reset sets the file number back to 0001 each time a card is inserted into the camera.

The Erase button allows you to erase individual images while in Playback mode. To erase all frames, press the Menu button while in Playback mode and select the Card setup function, then select Erase all frames. You can also erase the entire card by selecting Format in the Card setup function. Format will erase even the write-protected images.

We didn't measure the D-490 Zoom's image transfer time to the host computer, but it'll be relatively slow since the camera uses the older RS-232 serial connection protocol, rather than the much faster USB connector now showing up on many digital cameras. Accordingly, we strongly recommend an accessory card reader for transferring images to your computer, if you plan to do any serious picture-taking.

Video Out
The D-490 Zoom comes with a video output connector for viewing images on a television set in the NTSC format. (European versions of the camera presumably use the PAL timing standard.) Once the camera is connected to the TV, keep the lens cover closed and turn on the camera via the LCD Monitor button. All Playback mode menus and options are available. The LCD monitor will automatically turn off once the camera is connected to the TV. Olympus warns that a black border may appear around the image with certain televisions and that this border will print if you print an image directly from the television setup.


Power
The D-490 Zoom runs on four rechargeable AA batteries (either nickel metal hydride, lithium, alkaline, or NiCd), or a pair of the new high-capacity CR-V3 non-rechargeable lithium cells. The CR-V3 cells are very high capacity, but rather expensive: Since they don't lose their charge when not being used, they make a great backup to bring along in case your rechargeables run out of juice, but really aren't a practical option for routine operation: Get yourself a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells and a good charger, and stow the included CR-V3 cells in your camera bag.

There's an auto-off timer that shuts the camera down after a minute or so, if left unattended. In Record mode, it will wake up again in just a few seconds when you press the shutter button. Overall power consumption was pretty typical for digicams we've tested, but (like other Olympus models), is exceptionally low in capture mode with the LCD turned off. This means that you could comfortably leave the camera in the "on" position all day without having to worry about draining your batteries. The table below details power consumption in various operating modes:


Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
560 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
10 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
530 mA
Half-pressed, w/o LCD
290 mA
Memory Write (transient, LCD/not)
570/310 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
1100 mA
Image Playback
380 mA


The D-490's power consumption is actually slightly lower than that of the previous 1.3 megapixel D-460. Overall, it shows better than average power efficiency and, like most Olympus digicams, uses very little power when the LCD is turned off: With the LCD off, you can easily leave it on all day without worrying about battery power, a handy feature.



Included Software
A software CD comes packaged with the D-490, containing Olympus Camedia Master 2.0 and QuickTime 4.0 for Windows 95/98/2000/NT 4.0 and Macintosh OS 7.6.1 and later. Olympus notes that the iMac is not compatible with this image transfer system because of the lack of a USB connection on the camera. iMac users will need to purchase a USB-based card reader to import their photos.

Camedia Master 2.0 allows you to transfer images from the camera to the computer once connected. You can also retouch and enhance images, take advantage of greeting card and calendar templates, produce slide shows, visual presentations, and screen savers. The software incorporates Olympus' Panorama Stitch program, which joins together the images taken in Panorama mode, turning them into one complete image.

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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