The Imaging Resource
Olympus D-540 Zoom Digital Camera
The D-540 Zoom is something of a new design externally, but has basic features common to most newer D-series models. The D-540 is missing a key component included in almost all digital cameras these days though, namely ISO control. Still, the camera offers a nice array of options, with four preset Scene modes and the same white balance and exposure compensation adjustments. With a suggested retail price of $199 and an average street price of $170 or so as of this writing in early July, 2004, the D-540 Zoom is a good digicam at a great price.
With its simple design, the D-540 Zoom digicam is easy to understand and use. A true, 3x optical zoom lens and 3.3-megapixel CCD capture good images, with good quality and detail, suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches. Lower resolution settings are available for snapshot prints and email attachments.
The D-540 Zoom is equipped with a 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.9 to f/5.0, depending on the zoom setting. In its normal AF mode, the D-540 Zoom focuses from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity, with a macro setting focusing as close as 8.0 inches (20 centimeters). A Super Macro mode can focus as close as 0.8 inches (2cm). The protective lens cover also acts as the power switch, and places the camera into Record mode, extending the lens another 5/8-inch from the camera body. In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the D-540 Zoom features as much as 3.3x digital zoom, increasing its zoom capabilities to 10x. However, because digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD, image quality typically suffers. For composing images, the D-540 Zoom features a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a 1.8-inch color LCD monitor. Based on my tests, the optical viewfinder is rather inaccurate, showing only 75-79% of the final frame, but the LCD does much better, with an accuracy of 96%.
Operating under Program Auto mode by default, the D-540 Zoom has an uncomplicated, straightforward user interface. A multi-page LCD menu system accesses the available settings, although you can adjust flash mode, the self-timer, macro mode, and zoom externally. An initial short-cut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, which accesses the camera's White Balance, Image Size, and Monitor off options instantly, or you can enter the main Record menu. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined at all times (and are not reported to the user), with shutter speeds ranging from 1/2,000 to 1 second (extended to two seconds in Night Scene mode). The only metering mode is Digital ESP, which analyzes subject contrast and brightness across the entire frame to determine the best exposure. The camera's Exposure Compensation adjustment lets you increase or decrease the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-half-step increments. There's also a White Balance setting, for adjusting overall color balance. Options include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, and Fluorescent modes. The D-540 Zoom's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced (fill), and Suppressed (off) modes.
Program Auto is the main exposure mode for most normal shooting situations, which handles most normal shooting conditions. Four preset Scene modes are also available through the Record menu, including Portrait, Landscape, Landscape Portrait, Night Scene, and Self Portrait modes. Portrait mode captures the subject in front of a slightly blurred background, while Landscape sets focus to infinity for sharp background photos. Landscape + Portrait mode sets the camera so that the foreground and the background are in sharp focus, great for portraits in front of scenery. Night Scene mode extends the available shutter times to two seconds, and automatically combines the flash with the slower shutter speed (you can cancel the flash if you want to). Self Portrait mode lets you point the camera at yourself (in-hand) and automatically fixes focus on you. The lens remains locked at the wide-angle setting so that you get a sharply-focused portrait. This is a great mode for those "prove you were there" shots.
Other camera features include a Self-Timer mode, which provides a 12-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the image is actually captured. As with many Olympus cameras, a panorama mode is available when using special Olympus xD-Picture Cards, and records as many as 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image. Under the Edit menu you can resize your pictures to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, great for creating an email-size image from an existing full-resolution frame. Finally, the D-540 Zoom has a Movie mode that records moving images (without sound) as long as the memory card has room, at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels.
The D-540 Zoom stores images on xD-Picture Cards, and comes with a 16MB card. I strongly suggest buying at least a 64MB card though, so you don't miss any important shots. At maximum resolution, the card will only hold about 7-10 depending on the subject. A CD-ROM loaded with Camedia Master 4.2 accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Camedia Master provides minor image editing tools, as well as utilities for organizing images, and even a tool for "stitching together" multiple images into a single large panorama. The camera comes with a set of two single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as a single CR-V3 lithium-ion battery pack (all sold as separate accessories). I recommend picking up a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries, keeping the spare set freshly charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter is recommended for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer. Also included with the D-540 Zoom is a USB cable for downloading images to a computer.
- 3.3-megapixel CCD.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 1.8-inch color LCD display.
- 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- 3.3x Digital zoom.
- Automatic exposure control, with five preset Scene modes.
- Built-in flash with four operating modes.
- xD-Picture Card storage, 16MB card included.
- Power supplied by two AA batteries, CR-V3 lithium-ion pack or optional AC adapter.
- Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows.
- QuickTime movies (without sound).
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
- Panorama mode for stitching together multiple images.
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
- Super Macro mode for shooting from .8 inches.
- White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
- Digital ESP metering only.
- PictBridge compatibility.
- USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed) and USB cable.
A compact, 3x optical zoom lens, 3.3-megapixel CCD, hassle-free point-and-shoot operation, and good picture quality make the D-540 Zoom another solid consumer digicam from Olympus. The availability of preset Scene modes helps deliver better pictures in common shooting situations, and the handful of exposure options provides some creative control. Image quality is high enough for making sharp 8x10-inch photographic prints or sending lower-resolution email attachments over the Internet. With its user-friendly interface, travel-worthy design, and good ease of use, the D-540 Zoom is a great entry-level camera with a few more-than-entry-level features. This would be a good camera for a family, easy to use but with enough capability to bring back good-looking photos from a wide range of situations. Great for kids and anyone wanting good quality and ease for under $200.
The D-540 Zoom lacks the large, sliding lens cover of its "big brother" the D-580, but a three-position switch on the back selects from off, Playback, and Record modes, and a shutter-like lens cover protects the lens when the camera is turned off. Small and compact, the D-540 Zoom should find its way into coat pockets and purses with no problem, and may fit into larger shirt pockets. The D-540 Zoom measures 4.0 x 2.2 x 1.4 inches (102 x 55.5 x 36.5 millimeters). A molded plastic body keeps the D-540 Zoom's weight down to 7.1ounces (203 grams) with batteries and xD card. With the included wrist strap attached, the D-540 Zoom is easy to hold and fits the hand well.
The D-540 Zoom's 3x zoom lens is protected by two plastic shutters that move out of the way just before it extends the roughly 5/8 inch to its deployed position. Above the lens is an optical viewfinder window, flash, and a self-timer indicator lamp. On the right (when the camera is held from the back) is a slight sculpted ridge that serves as a grip for your fingers as they wrap around the camera.
The camera's right side holds the battery and xD-Picture Card compartments, as well as the USB jack and a bar for attaching the wrist strap. The battery compartment door slides down before swinging upward, to prevent it from opening accidentally when the camera is in use. Next to the battery compartment is the xD-Picture Card slot, protected by a hinged, plastic door, which swings open toward the back. A small tethered, rubbery flap protects the USB jack, located directly above the memory compartment.
On the opposite side of the camera is the DC In jack, covered by anothher rubbery flap that lifts out of the way to reveal the connector.
The top of the D-540 Zoom holds only the Shutter button and the zoom control; the latter is angled about 40 degrees for easier adjustment with your index finger while holding the camera.
The remaining external controls are all located on the camera's rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.8-inch, TFT color LCD monitor. Top center is the power/mode switch, with a small locking button in the center that seems to have little effect when switching to the first position, which is Playback mode, but which does seem to prevent the advance to Record mode if it isn't pressed. Control buttons on the rear panel include the Five-way arrow pad (with multi-functional keys) and a Quick View button. Along the far right side of the rear panel is a gently sculpted recess that accommodates your thumb as you hold the camera in your right hand, providing a secure grip.
The D-540 Zoom has a flat bottom panel, which holds the plastic threaded tripod mount. (I'm glad to see side access was given to both the battery and memory compartments, which allows for quick changes when shooting on a tripod.)
Since the D-540 Zoom offers limited exposure control and a small number of external buttons, learning to use the camera shouldn't take too much time at all. Just a quick slide of the power switch puts it into Playback mode first, then into Record mode. Pressing the display button twice while in Shooting mode also activates Playback mode. A Five-way arrow pad on the back panel serves several functions, including accessing a Virtual Shooting Mode menu (shown above right), Macro mode, Self-Timer, and Flash modes, and navigates through on-screen menus. It also scrolls through captured images in Playback mode. The middle Menu / OK button activates menus and confirms menu selections. The LCD menu system accesses the majority of the D-540 Zoom's exposure options, and features a Top Menu (or short-cut screen) and four pages of options (although each page contains only a few settings) that are set up as subject tabs along the left side of the screen. The short-cut screen quickly takes you to often-changed settings, making operation even easier. Anyone already familiar with Olympus LCD menu systems should have no trouble, and even novices should get the gist of it after just a few minutes.
The D-540 Zoom has a single record-mode display, shown at right. The display shows the center autofocus area along with currently-selected options for image size/quality, macro and flash mode, white balance, etc, as well as the number of images of the current size and quality that can be stored in the remaining space on the memory card.
In playback mode, you can use the D-540's zoom control to zoom in or out on an image, with a maximum enlargement of 4x. Zooming out from a full-frame view brings up a thumbnail display of the images on the card, letting you move quickly between them by via the arrow keys on the camera's back panel. The screen shot at right shows the progression of playback displays, beginning with the thumbnail index view and ending with a zoomed view at the maximum 4x magnification.
Shutter Button: The dominant control on the top panel, the Shutter button sets the camera's focus and exposure when halfway depressed. Fully depressing the button fires the shutter.
Zoom Rocker Button: Directly to the right of the Shutter button, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom (when enabled) in Shooting mode. In Playback mode, it controls the digital enlargement of captured images, and also accesses the index display mode. It is oriented at a 40 degree angle to facilitate adjustment while holding the camera.
Five-way Navigator: Right of the LCD monitor on the rear panel, each of the four arrows points in a different direction (up, down, left, right). In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through menu options, and the center button serves both to bring up the menu and confirm selections.
In Record mode, the up arrow accesses Macro shooting mode, or returns to the normal AF (autofocus) mode. The down arrow controls the Self-Timer mode, and the right arrow button selects Flash modes, cycling through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Off. The left arrow button brings up a virtual shooting mode dial, from which the user can select the various modes, like Program, Portrait, and Movie modes.
In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrows navigate within the view.
Quick View Button: Just above the Five-way Navigator, this button takes the user to Playback mode in Record mode for a quick look at the last photo. All Playback functions are available in this mode, including the menu.
Camera Modes and Menus
Record Mode: Activated by sliding the power switch all the way to the right, this mode sets up the camera to take pictures. The following exposure and camera options are available through the Record menu (some options may change depending on the Scene mode selected):
- White Balance: Sets the camera's white balance.
- Image Size/Quality: Sets the image resolution and JPEG compression level. Available resolutions are 2,048 x 1,536 (SHQ); 2,048 x 1,536 (HQ); 1,600 x 1,200 (SQ1); and 640 x 480 (SQ2) pixels for still images. Movie resolutions are 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels.
- Monitor Off/On: Turns monitor off and on in Record mode.
- Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu system:
- Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2.0 to +2.0 exposure values (EV) in one-half-step increments.
- Digital Zoom: Turns digital zoom on or off.
- Super Macro: Enables the camera to capture a shot just 0.8 inches from a subject.
- Drive: Activates One-Shot or Sequential Shooting capture modes.
- Panorama: Available only with Olympus brand memory cards, this mode captures as many as 10 consecutive shots to be stitched together on a computer into one panoramic image. Alignment guidelines appear on the screen to better line up each shot.
- Card Setup: Formats the xD-Picture Card, erasing all files (even write-protected ones).
- All Reset: Resets all of the camera settings to their defaults.
- Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and Portugese.
- Record View: Turns the instant image preview on or off. When activated, instant image preview displays the most recently recorded image for several seconds after you trip the shutter.
- File Name: Resets file number with each new memory card, or continues the numbering from one card to the next.
- Pixel Mapping: Checks the CCD and image processing system for any bad pixels, "maps" them out by borrowing data from adjacent, good pixels.
- LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
- Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
Playback Mode: Entered by setting the power switch to the middle position, or by pressing the Quick View button in Record mode, this mode allows you to review captured images. The following playback options are available through the Playback settings menu:
- Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the memory card. (One press of the Menu button cancels the playback.) If a movie file is displayed, this option plays back the movie.
- Info: Activates a more detailed information display of exposure settings for each captured image, which displays for a few seconds and then disappears.
- Erase: Erases the currently-displayed image, with an option to cancel.
Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu:
- Protect: Write-protects (or removes protection) from the currently displayed image. Write-protection locks the image file so you can't accidentally erase it or change the file in any way (except by formatting the card).
- Rotate: Rotates the displayed image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
- DPOF: Marks the displayed image, or all images on the card, for printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printer. You can also establish the number of prints, whether or not the date and time are printed over the image, or remove the print mark. Note that this setting is only available for images saved on the memory card.
- Resize: Allows you to resize the displayed image to a smaller resolution (320 x 240 or 640 x 480 pixels) perfect for emailing.
- Card Setup: Erases all files on the memory card (except for write-protected ones), or formats the memory card entirely. Both options can be canceled. (No screen shot, same as in Record mode.)
(No screen shots, most are the same as in Record mode.)
- All Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
- LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
- Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
- Index Display: Determines whether 4, 9, or 16 images are displayed on the Index Display screen.
In the Box
The D-540 Zoom ships with the following items in the box:
- D-540 Zoom digital camera.
- Wrist strap.
- 16MB xD-Picture Card.
- USB cable.
- Two AA alkaline batteries (or one CR-V3 lithium battery).
- CD-ROM loaded with Camedia Master 4.2 software and drivers.
- Instruction manual and registration kit.
Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
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...
See camera specifications here.
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.
See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.
For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the D540, we've assembled a "gallery" of more pictorial images shot with the D540.
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the D-540 Zoom's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how D-540 Zoom's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the D-540 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: Good color, generally good white balance. The D-540 Zoom tended to produce slight warm casts in its images, but white balance was generally well within the limits of what I'd consider acceptable. Skin tones were generally good both indoors and out. Color overall was hue-accurate and appropriately saturated. Indoors, both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings produced warm casts under the strongly colored household incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test, but both settings produced better than average results, and both would likely be acceptable to most users. A good job overall.
- Exposure: Average exposure accuracy, high contrast. The D-540 Zoom's exposure system showed roughly average exposure accuracy, and it showed the fairly high contrast that most consumer point & shoot cameras display. The D-540 Zoom's exposure compensation is adjustable only in half-step increments though, which results in large jumps in exposure and some attendant difficulty in getting just the right exposure. Dynamic range varied from quite good in the far-field shot of the house to lower than average in the Davebox shot, due to poor shadow detail.
I don't really have a place in these summaries where I report on flash performance, but the D-540's needs some comment, so I've put this paragraph here, under "Exposure." Many low-end digicams "cheat" on their flash exposures by quietly boosting their ISO as the distance to the subject increases. This gives them better flash range, but at the cost of higher image noise. The D-540 takes this to a bit of an extreme, as I found really unacceptable image noise in flash exposures taken at anything beyond about 9 feet. This could "sneak up on" users, so I call particular attention to the need to be aware of how far away your subject is when you're using the D-540's flash.
- Resolution/Sharpness: Good resolution, 1,050 lines of "strong detail." The D-540 Zoom performed about average on the "laboratory" resolution test chart for its 3-megapixel class. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600~700 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to about 1,050 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 1,250 lines.
- Image Noise: Average image noise most of the time, high with low-light and some flash exposures though. The D-540's levels of image noise are competitive with other cameras in its price class. Under normal shooting conditions, most users won't be aware of image noise, the exceptions being when shooting under low-light conditions (where most cameras produce noisy photos), and when using the flash at distances greater than about 9 feet. (See my previous comments, under "Exposure.")
- Closeups: A very small area in Super Macro mode. Flash performs well in Standard macro mode, is disabled for Super Macro. he D-540 Zoom did somewhat worse than average in its normal macro mode, capturing a somewhat large minimum area of 5.19 x 3.90 inches (132 x 99 millimeters). However, in Super Macro mode, it turned in a really exceptional performance, with a minimum area of just 1.07 x 0.80 inches (27 x 20 millimeters). Resolution was high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Most digicams I test show a lot of softness in the corners of their macro shots, usually the closer the shot, the more softness appears. The D-540 is no exception to this pattern, as its Super Macro shot showed a lot of softness in the corners, extending quite a ways into the frame. Color balance was slightly warm from the Auto white balance, but exposure was about right. The D-540 Zoom's flash throttled down well for the macro area, but is disabled in Super Macro mode because of the very short shooting distance.
- Night Shots: Modest low-light shooting capabilities, but quite capable of handling average city street lighting. Surprisingly good autofocus performance under low-light conditions. The D-540 Zoom produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level, which corresponds to about a quarter of the light level of average city street lighting at night. Some detail was visible at the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level, but the image is quite dim. Color was just a little warm with the Auto white balance but well within acceptable limits, and image noise was high at the lowest light levels, but once again within the range of what I'd consider acceptable. Note that you need to select the D-540's Night Scene mode to get the best results under low-light conditions, as that mode is the only way to access the camera's 2-second maximum exposure time. The D-540's autofocus system worked down to surprisingly low light levels (to a little below 1/8 foot-candle), provided it had a contrasty subject to focus on, and that the camera was held very steady while it was focusing. (This last is a critical requirement with many cameras - They need to be held with absolutely no movement while they're focusing, or they won't be able to focus at all.)
- Viewfinder Accuracy: A very tight optical viewfinder, but a pretty accurate LCD monitor. The D-540 Zoom's optical viewfinder was very tight, showing only about 75 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 79 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor fared much better, showing about 96 percent accuracy at wide angle. At telephoto, my top measurement lines were cut off in the final frame, but I would estimate frame accuracy to be pretty high (just add a hair of space at the top of the frame). Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the D-540 Zoom's LCD monitor did pretty well, but its optical viewfinder is woefully inadequate.
- Optical Distortion: Very high barrel distortion, about average pincushion. A lot of softness in the corners of the frame, particularly with short shooting distances. Optical distortion on the D-540 Zoom is very high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.1 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found approximately 0.3 percent pincushion distortion there. Chromatic aberration is about average, showing about five or six pixels of moderate coloration on either side of the target lines, though the effect is intensified by some corner softness. (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.) The worst distortion I noticed was rather severe softness in the corners of its images penetrating a fair ways into the image, most prominent in the studio images, shot at close range.
- Shutter Lag and Cycle Time Rather slow, in terms of both shutter response and cycle times. Like many low-end digicams, speed isn't the D-540's forte. Shutter response is very much on the slow side of average, with full-autofocus delays ranging from 1.06 to 1.44 seconds. When "prefocused" by pressing down and holding the shutter button before the shot itself, the shutter delay is an acceptable 0.21 seconds, but that can be cumbersome with fast-moving subjects. With no buffer memory, shot to shot cycle times are a leisurely 4.8 seconds for large/fine images, and 3.2 seconds for small ones. Even continuous mode (available for the lowest resolution images only) offers only a leisurely 0.88 seconds per frame on average.
- Battery Life: Relatively good battery life for a 2-cell camera. With a worst-case run time of almost two hours (based on older 1600 mAh NiMH cells), the D-540 Zoom has fairly good battery life, particularly for a camera powered by only two AA cells. Like many Olympus cameras though, it offers amazing battery life when the LCD display is left off in capture mode. Unfortunately though, the D-540's optical viewfinder is so inaccurate that you'll be forced to use the LCD for framing in all but the most hurried/casual situations.
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