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Quick Review

Olympus D-550 Zoom Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
06/20/02
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Good, 3.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$499

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Introduction
Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Sample Pictures
Conclusion

Olympus has long been a dominant player in the traditional imaging market, with a wide array of consumer, scientific, and industrial products that range from 35mm cameras, to microscopes and medical equipment, and even high-powered binoculars. Not surprisingly, Olympus has also made a strong showing in the digicam marketplace, building a diverse line of successful consumer and prosumer cameras, ranging from pure entry-level, point-and-shoot digicams to the very capable pro-level E-20 SLR. The Camedia D-550 Zoom is a midrange digicam, sporting a 3.0-megapixel CCD and a true optical zoom lens that ranges from a moderate wide angle to a moderate telephoto. It has a fully automatic exposure system, but also provides the user with useful overrides for exposure, white balance, and ISO (light sensitivity), as well as adjustments for contrast and image sharpness. Like other recent Olympus cameras, the D-550 Zoom has Olympus' AutoConnect USB technology, which means you can plug it into late-model computers (Windows Me, XP, and 2000, Mac OS 8.6 or later) without having to load any driver software first. This automatic USB connection (quickly becoming a standard in the industry) means you can walk up to virtually any computer and immediately download and view your images. This looks like another great extension to Oly's line of compact digicams.
Camera Overview
Sporting a similar design to previous Olympus D-series digicams, the D-550 Zoom offers a 2.8x optical zoom and a 3.0-megapixel CCD for flexible framing and high resolution images. The D-550 Zoom is trim and compact, about the same size as previous D-series models. It's a little large for an average shirt pocket, but most purses and coat pockets should hold it with ease. The sliding "clamshell" lens cover maintains the camera's smooth front profile, so it won't catch on anything when you whip it out of a camera bag or purse. The included wrist strap provides added security in precarious shooting positions, but I'd still recommend picking up a soft case to protect the camera when not in use. An all-plastic body keeps the D-550 Zoom light weight and portable, yet feels plenty solid in the hand, and looks rugged enough to withstand some wear and tear.

The camera's 2.8x, 5.8-16.2mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-100mm lens on a 35mm camera) offers maximum apertures from f/2.9 to f/4.4, depending on the zoom setting, and a normal focal range from 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) to infinity. A Macro shooting mode focuses from eight to 31 inches (20 to 80 centimeters) for small or close-up subjects. The D-550 Zoom employs an efficient contrast-detection autofocus system, but also offers an Infinity fixed-focus mode for faster shots of distant subjects. Opening the lens cover triggers the lens to extend from the camera body, automatically placing the camera into Record mode. In addition to the 2.8x optical zoom, the D-550 Zoom's 3.6x Digital Zoom function lets you "zoom" in even closer, though it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD and thus results in lower image quality. The 3.0-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for printing to 8x10 inches with excellent detail, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5x7- and 4x6-inch snapshots.

Like the rest of Olympus' D-series digicams, exposure control on the D-550 Zoom is uncomplicated and straightforward, as the camera operates under automatic exposure at all times. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system. An initial shortcut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, which accesses the camera's Metering, Image Size, and Exposure Compensation options instantly, or you can enter the main Record menu to access less frequently used functions. The camera automatically determines aperture and shutter speed, but Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken the image), White Balance (to adjust the color), Metering (to read light from the whole frame or just the center), ISO (light sensitivity), and Flash modes are all adjustable. The ISO setting has an Auto adjustment mode, or you can manually set it to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents. You can also adjust the overall sharpness and contrast of an image. The D-550 Zoom's built-in flash pops up automatically whenever the lens cover is opened, and is effective to approximately 11.2 feet (3.4 meters). In addition to the standard flash modes, the D-550 Zoom also includes a Red-Eye setting that reduces the occurrence of red-eye in portraits.

A new feature on the D-550 Zoom is the "Virtual Mode Dial," which accesses a range of preset shooting modes. The left arrow in the Four-Way Arrow pad enables the dial, which is actually an LCD display of the available scene modes. The right and left arrow keys scroll through the modes, enabling the "dial." Program Auto is the default setting, but Portrait, Landscape Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Self Portrait, and Movie modes are also available. Each mode configures the camera for specific shooting situations, making it easy for novices to get good results when shooting tricky subjects or dealing with difficult lighting. Night Scene mode helps with low light shooting, by extending the maximum shutter time to two seconds, rather than the 1/2 second limit in normal shooting mode. Portrait mode focuses attention on your subject by using a large lens aperture to blur the background slightly, while Landscape Portrait gets both the subject and the background in sharp focus, great for portraits in front of scenery. Self Portrait mode is new and quite interesting, as it 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. Finally, Movie mode records moving images (without sound) for as long as the memory card has available space.

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. Similar to a motor-drive on a 35mm camera, the Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images in rapid sequence while the Shutter button is held down, with the actual number of images dependent on the size and quality settings, as well as the amount of memory card space. An AF Continuous Shooting mode also captures a rapid series, but adjusts focus for each shot, resulting in a somewhat longer interval between shots. The "2 in 1" photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side as one image, giving a split-screen effect. As with many Olympus cameras, a panorama mode is available when using Olympus-branded SmartMedia storage cards, recording as many as 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image on your PC or Mac, using Olympus' Camedia software. Finally, you can transform your full color images to sepia tone or black-and-white pictures through an option on the camera's Playback menu.

The D-550 Zoom stores images on a 3.3v SmartMedia card, with a 16MB card included in the box with the camera. SmartMedia cards are available as in sizes as large as 128MB, and I suggest buying at least a 64MB (or larger) card so you don't miss any important shots. A CD-ROM loaded with Camedia Master 4.0 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 the aforementioned panorama-stitching capability. The camera comes with a set of four single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as two CR-V3 lithium-ion battery packs (sold as accessories). As always, I strongly recommend picking up a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. An optional AC adapter is recommended for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer, but good-quality rechargeable batteries really eliminate the need for it. Also included with the D-550 Zoom is an NTSC video cable (US and Japanese models) for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for downloading images to a computer.


Basic Features

  • 3.0-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.8-inch color LCD display.
  • 2.8x, 5.8-16.2mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-100mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Up to 3.6x Digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control, with five preset Scene modes.
  • Built-in, pop-up flash with four operating modes.
  • Uses SmartMedia cards for image storage.
  • Power supplied by four AA batteries or optional AC adapter.
  • Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows.

Special Features

  • QuickTime movies (without sound).
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Panorama mode for stitching together multiple images in to large panoramic photos.
  • "2 in 1" multi-exposure mode.
  • Black-and-White and Sepia effects.
  • Sharpness and Contrast adjustments.
  • Adjustable ISO from 100 to 400, with an Auto setting.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
  • Digital ESP (full frame) and Spot metering options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed) and USB cable.
  • NTSC video cable for connection to a television set.


Recommendation

Midrange Point & Shoots
If you're interested in the camera in this review, here are some competing models that may also interest you. (Camera names that aren't links are those we haven't reviewed yet. - Stay tuned.)
Three Megapixel, 3x zoom
Canon A70 Prices
Fuji A303 Prices
Kodak DX4330 Prices
Minolta Xi (subcompact) Prices
Nikon 3100 Prices
Olympus 560 Prices
Olympus 550* Prices
Pentax 330GS Prices
Sony P72 Prices
* - model phasing out
Confused?
Check out Dave's Picks!

With a 2.8x optical zoom lens, a 3.0-megapixel CCD, a host of preset shooting modes, and excellent image quality, the D-550 Zoom looks like another great consumer digicam design from Olympus. Exposure control is automatic and hassle free, though a handful of creative options are available. The camera's compact design is well-suited for travel, and image quality is high enough for making 8x10-inch photographic prints or sending email attachments over the Internet. A simple-to-follow LCD menu system is user friendly and straightforward, and the external controls make changing settings fast and easy. The D-550 Zoom is perfect for novice users who want to gradually step into digital photography, or anyone looking for a hassle-free camera for routine snapshots. It's range of capabilities mean that the D-550 Zoom is flexible enough to handle a wide range of shooting conditions, and bring back great-looking pictures.


Design
The D-550 Zoom features Olympus' characteristic sliding lens cover, which not only protects the lens but also serves as a power switch. Small and compact, the D-550 Zoom should find its way into coat pockets and purses with no problem, though it won't likely fit into a standard shirt pocket. That said, the camera is still fairly thin and small, with dimensions of 4.6 x 2.6 x 2.0 inches (117.5 x 66.0 x 49.5 millimeters). A molded plastic body keeps the D-550 Zoom's weight down to just 8 ounces (240 grams) without batteries. With the included wrist strap attached, the D-550 Zoom is easy to hold onto and fits into the hand well.

The camera's front panel contains the 2.8x zoom lens, an optical viewfinder window, built-in pop-up flash, and the self-timer lamp that counts down the 12-second delay before the shutter fires. The sliding lens cover also serves as a power switch, activating the camera and putting it in Record (Shooting) mode when it's opened. In the open position, the cover provides a sculpted ridge near the right edge of the camera, which serves as a grip for your fingers as they wrap around the camera. Opening the lens cover also signals the lens to extend from the camera body, and pops-up the built-in flash.

On the camera's right side is the SmartMedia compartment and an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap. The SmartMedia compartment door opens from the front of the camera and is hinged to the camera body so that it can open as wide as necessary to access the card. (The positioning of the card compartment door and the sliding lens cover also prevents you from opening the card compartment when the camera is turned on in Record mode. - This should help avoid problems with the corrupted memory cards caused by removing them while the camera is still saving images.) The central portion of the door hinge serves as the wrist strap eyelet.

On the opposite side of the camera are the DC In, Video Out, and USB jacks, covered by a rubber strip that lifts out of the way to reveal the connectors (except for the DC In jack, which remains exposed). The right side of the strip remains attached to the camera, so you don't have to worry about losing the protective cover.

The top of the D-550 Zoom holds only the Shutter button and the zoom control in addition to the pop-up flash.

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. Just to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece are two LED lamps that report camera status. (For example, the top lamp flashes orange when the flash is charging, and the bottom, green, lamp indicates when focus is set.) A diopter adjustment on the left side of the viewfinder adjusts the eyepiece for eyeglass wearers, and the relatively high eyepoint means you can see the entire viewfinder frame pretty well while wearing your glasses. Control buttons on the rear panel include the Four-Way Arrow pad (with multi-function keys), a Display button, and a Menu / OK button. Along the far right side of the rear panel is a gently sculpted groove that accommodates your thumb as you hold the camera in your right hand.

The D-550 Zoom has a very flat bottom panel, which holds the battery compartment door and plastic, threaded tripod mount. The tripod mount is off-center from the lens, and too close to the battery compartment door to allow for quick battery changes while mounted on a tripod. While this won't likely be a problem for most D-550 Zoom users, it's something I always notice, given the amount of studio work I do, but it probably won't be an issue for the typical point & shoot user that the D-550 is intended for. A sliding plastic door, hinged on the top side, protects the compartment and operates fairly smoothly.


Camera Operation
Since the D-550 Zoom offers limited exposure control and a relatively small number of external buttons, it shouldn't take too long for the average user to learn to operate it. Simply opening the lens cover places it in Shooting mode, extending the lens and instantly popping up the flash (which automatically goes into Auto mode). Entering Playback mode is a little less obvious, but just as simple, as you need only press the Display button on the back panel when the lens cover is closed. (You can also activate Playback mode by pressing the button twice while in Shooting mode.) A four-way Arrow pad on the back panel accesses several functions directly (including Macro, Self-Timer, Flash, and Scene Program modes), and navigates through on-screen menus. It also scrolls through captured images in Playback mode. The Menu / OK button activates menus and confirms menu selections, while pressing the Display button once turns the monitor off in Shooting mode. The LCD menu system accesses the majority of the D-550 Zoom's exposure options, featuring four pages of options (though each page has only a few settings), set up as subject tabs along the left side of the screen. The shortcut screen quickly takes you to frequently-changed settings, making operation even easier. Anyone already familiar with Olympus LCD menu systems should have no trouble at all, and even novices should get the hang of it after only a few minutes.

Sliding Lens Cover: Protecting the lens on the front of the camera, this sliding cover also serves as the power switch. Sliding the cover open turns the camera on and puts it in Shooting (Record) mode. Opening the cover causes the lens to telescope outward and pops up the built-in flash. Likewise, closing the cover turns the camera off and returns to the lens to its closed position. (You must manually close the flash, however.)


Shutter Button: One of only two controls on the top panel, the Shutter button sets the camera's exposure when halfway depressed. Fully depressing the button triggers the shutter to open.


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, this button controls the digital enlargement of captured images, and also accesses the index display mode.


Four-Way Arrow Pad
: Adjacent to the top right corner of the LCD monitor on the rear panel, the four arrows points up, down, left, and right. In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through menu options.

In Record mode, the up arrow cycles through the camera's AF modes, offering AF (normal autofocus), Macro, and Infinity settings. The down arrow controls the Self-Timer mode,Mode Dial," controlling the camera's Scene Program mode. Once the scene menu appears, the left and right arrow keys serve to "turn" the dial. Scene options are Program Auto, Portrait, Landscape Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Self-Portrait, and Movie. (See the screen shot above right.)

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.


Menu / OK Button: Directly beneath the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes. It also serves as the "OK" to confirm menu selections.


Display Button: Underneath the Menu/OK button, this button controls the LCD monitor in Record mode, turning it on or off. If pressed twice quickly while in Record mode, it accesses Playback mode. Pressing it once again or half-pressing the shutter button returns you to Record mode.

When the lens cover is closed, pressing this button powers up the camera and places it in Playback mode. A second press of the button shuts the camera off again (only while the lens cover is closed).

Camera Modes and Menus


Record Mode: Activated by sliding the lens cover open, 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):

First Screen: The first screen shows a set of "shortcuts" to key functions. Three options take you quickly to one-page option menus. Making a selection on any of these returns you to record mode. (NOTE - If the LCD viewfinder is enabled, all of these menu screens actually appear overlaid on top of the normal viewfinder display. I've shown them here against a black background so you can see the menu options more clearly.)

  • Metering: Sets the camera's metering system to Spot or ESP (default). Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame, handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background have very different brightness levels. Digital ESP metering reads the entire image area to determine exposure.
  • Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2.0 to +2.0 exposure values (EV) in one-half-step increments. One full EV unit is 2x (twice as much) or 1/2x (half as much) of the light that would normally be let into the camera. One step of shutter speed or lens aperture equals one EV unit.
  • Image Size/Quality: Sets the image resolution and JPEG compression level. Available resolutions are 3:2 (1,984 x 1,312), 1,984 x 1,488, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, 1,024 x 768, and 640 x 480 pixels. Quality choices include uncompressed TIFF, as well as High and Normal JPEG compression levels.

Second Screen:

  • Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu system:
    • Camera:
      • Drive: Activates One-Shot, Continuous Shooting, or AF Continuous Shooting capture modes.
      • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
      • Digital Zoom: Turns digital zoom on or off.
      • Panorama: Available only with Olympus special function 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 perfectly line up each shot.
      • 2 in 1: A miniature version of the Panorama mode, this mode lets you capture two vertically-oriented "half" images which are fused together and saved as one file (images are placed side-by-side). Thus, you can capture two individual portraits and have them placed together in the same image, like a split-screen view.
    • Picture:
      • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, based on the light source. Options include: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, or Fluorescent.
      • Sharpness: Controls the amount of in-camera sharpening applied to an image. Choices are Hard, Normal, and Soft.
      • Contrast: Increases or decreases the overall image contrast, with options of High, Normal, and Low.
    • Card:
      • Card Setup: Formats the SmartMedia card, erasing all files (even write-protected ones).
    • Setup:
      • All Reset: Resets all of the camera settings to their defaults.
      • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off.
      • 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 SmartMedia card.
      • Pixel Mapping: CCDs can go bad over time, picking up more "bad pixels" than they started out with. Olympus is fairly unique in offering a function on their cameras that can "map out" bad pixels, avoiding the bright speckles that sometimes appear in cameras' pictures after they've been in use for a while. This is the menu selection that initiates this process on the D550.
      • 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 pressing the Display button while the lens cover is closed, or by pressing the Display button twice quickly when the lens cover is open, this mode allows the user to review captured images. The following playback options are available through the Playback settings menu: (As before, the first screen has "shortcuts" to key functions the Mode Menu option takes you to a four-page menu of sub-options. On the Playback menus though, the secondary screens for the shortcuts aren't as conducive to screenshots, so I've just shown the main screen.)

  • Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the SmartMedia card. (One press of the Menu button cancels the playback.)
  • 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:
    • Play:
      • 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 SmartMedia card.
    • Edit:
      • Black & White: Converts the displayed image to black-and-white and saves it as a new file.
      • Sepia: Converts the displayed image to sepia tone, giving it the appearance of an old-fashioned picture, and saves the converted image as a new file.
      • Resize: Allows you to resize the displayed image to a smaller resolution (320 x 240 or 640 x 480 pixels).
      • Cropping: Lets you crop the displayed image.
    • Card:
      • Card Setup: Erases all files on the SmartMedia card (except for write-protected ones), or formats the memory card entirely. Both options can be canceled.
    • Setup:
      • All Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
      • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off.
      • Index Display: Determines whether 4, 9, or 16 images are displayed on the Index Display screen.
      • LCD Brightness: Adjust the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
      • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.


Sample Pictures
See 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.

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy


Specifications

See camera specifications here.

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

Test Results

  • Color: The D-550 produced great color throughout my testing, and its white balance system handled most of the test conditions well. The Auto white balance setting did a good job in most instances, though I noticed a slight warm cast from time to time. Outdoors, the Daylight setting produced the best color, with good skin tones. However, the blue flowers in the bouquet were dark and purplish (a difficult blue for many digicams to reproduce correctly). The Auto white balance setting had real problems with the incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait (without flash) test, but the Incandescent setting produced much better results. Apart from a slightly warm cast in some of its images, the D-550 delivered very good color throughout my testing.

  • Exposure: Exposure was generally good, though the D-550's default tone curve delivers rather contrasty images. This was quickly remedied by adjusting the camera's Contrast setting, which did a good job of bringing the contrast down to a reasonable level, without overdoing the adjustment. Midtones looked pretty good in the Outdoor Portrait, once the contrast was adjusted, and that image showed good detail as well. In most cases, shadow detail was good as well, with the outdoor house shot showing a wide dynamic range. The D-550 also distinguished the subtle tonal variations of the Davebox, despite the slightly high contrast. Overall, exposure was quite accurate, but I'd personally prefer less contrast with the default settings.

  • Sharpness & Distortion: The D-550's in-camera sharpness adjustment did a good job, as details were typically well-defined and crisp. In the resolution test, the D-550 delivered "strong detail" out to about 1,050 lines per picture height, a competitive level for a three megapixel digicam. Optical distortion on the D-550 is about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured a 0.69 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found only 0.28 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is low, showing about two to three pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (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 strongest optical distortion was some corner softness, most evident in the Macro and House shots, as well as the outdoor house shot. Overall, the D-550 delivers sharp images with average or less than average optical distortion.

  • Closeups: The D-550 Zoom performed well in the macro category, capturing an average-sized minimum area of 3.3 x 2.5 inches (85 x 64 millimeters). Resolution was high, with sharp detail in the coins, brooch, and dollar bill. The D-550 Zoom's flash produced a very bright reflection on the brooch, but the exposure was about right in the rest of the frame.

  • Night Shots: With adjustable ISO and a fairly flexible shutter speed range, the D-550 captured bright, clear images at light levels as low as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux), at both 200 and 400 ISO settings (slightly darker than average city street lighting at night). Set to ISO 100, the camera captured bright images at one foot-candle (11 lux). Color balance was very warm from the Auto white balance setting, with a magenta cast in darker exposures. Noise was low at ISO 100, increasing slightly at ISO 200. Noise was high at the ISO 400 setting. The D-550 Zoom should do very well in typical night shooting conditions, as long as there are normal levels of artificial lighting available.

  • Battery Life: The D-550 Zoom runs from a set of four AA batteries. As always, I strongly recommend buying a good charger and a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries for it, as normal alkaline cells will last only a short time. - You'll quickly recoup your investment in the batteries and charger, relative to the cost of buying endless sets of throwaway alkaline AAs. The D-550 has pretty good battery life, almost three hours from a fully-charged set of high-capacity NiMH cells in its worst-case power mode. (Capture mode with the LCD on.) With the LCD off, the camera will run practically forever (weeks, anyway). Runtime in playback mode is well over four hours. Excellent battery life overall, but don't for a minute consider not buying some NiMH cells and a charger. Really. Not for a minute. ;-)

In the Box
The D-550 Zoom ships with the following items in the box:

  • D-550 Zoom digital camera.
  • Wrist strap.
  • 16MB SmartMedia card with protective case.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Four AA alkaline batteries.
  • CD-ROM loaded with Camedia Master 4.0 software and drivers.
  • Instruction manual and registration kit.

Recommended Accessories

  • Larger capacity SmartMedia card (at least 64MB).
  • Two sets of rechargeable AA batteries and charger. (Click here to read about the charger I recommend.)
  • AC Adapter. (Not really necessary if you have good rechargeable batteries though.)
  • Small camera case for outdoor protection.


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...

 

Conclusion

Midrange Point & Shoots
If you're interested in the camera in this review, here are some competing models that may also interest you. (Camera names that aren't links are those we haven't reviewed yet. - Stay tuned.)
Three Megapixel, 3x zoom
Canon A70 Prices
Fuji A303 Prices
Kodak DX4330 Prices
Minolta Xi (subcompact) Prices
Nikon 3100 Prices
Olympus 560 Prices
Olympus 550* Prices
Pentax 330GS Prices
Sony P72 Prices
* - model phasing out
Confused?
Check out Dave's Picks!

Every now and then, a camera company hits a real "sweet spot" of price, features, and image quality. I think the D-550 Zoom is just such a product for Olympus. Image quality is excellent (although I'd personally like to see less contrast in its images), and the feature set is nicely tailored to novice photographers. - Or anyone else looking for a low-hassle camera versatile enough to take great photos under a variety of conditions. With its available Scene shooting modes, and adjustable exposure options such as ISO, Metering, Sharpness, and Contrast, the D-550 Zoom is flexible enough to handle most everyday shooting conditions. The point-and-shoot style will put novices at ease, while a handful of exposure and capture modes keep the camera fun. Factor in its low cost, and the D-550 Zoom should be very attractive for anyone looking for a good, entry-level camera with a zoom lens and good image quality. A nice little package at an affordable price. - Highly recommended.

 

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