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Olympus C-2100 Zoom

Wow! A superb 10X, optically stabilized zoom lens on a high-quality 2 megapixel camera!

Review First Posted: 10/18/2000

Must-have e-book for this camera -- $20, Click Here!

MSRP $999 US


* 1.92 megapixel resolution (2.1 megapixel CCD) for 1,600 x 1,200 pixel images
* Exceptional 10X optical zoom lens, with low optical distortion
* Optical stabilization for steady shots even at full zoom and lower light
* Excellent low-light capability
* Multiple exposure modes, including full manual


Manufacturer Overview
As this article was written, Olympus already had one of the broadest digicam lines in the industry. In rapid succession though, they announced the C-2100 Ultra Zoom (the subject of this review), the E-100RS ultra high-speed digicam, and the E-10 four megapixel SLR. What we see in each of these cameras is a product developed to appeal to specific market segments, rather than being just another "general purpose" digicam.

As it's name suggests, the C-2100 Ultra Zoom is constructed around a very long-ratio 10X zoom lens. The long zoom ratio is impressive as it is, but we found the resulting pictures to be unusually free from distortion, something we didn't expect to find in a lens with this long a zoom ratio. (0.5% barrel distortion at the wide angle end, less than 0.1% pincushion at the telephoto end.) Olympus also incorporated a highly effective optical stabilization system into the Ultra Zoom's lens, which makes the 10X telephoto much more useful than it would be otherwise, permitting handheld exposures in surprisingly dim lighting conditions. Other photographic qualities are excellent as well. Bottom line, this could be the ideal camera (at least as of this writing, in October, 2000) for digital photographers with a strong interest in telephoto shooting.

High Points

Executive Overview
By far the most exciting feature of the Olympus Camedia C-2100 is its integrated 10X optical zoom lens, which provides an impressive 7-70mm zoom range (equivalent to a 38-380mm lens on a 35mm film camera), and features an electronic image stabilization function to compensate for camera shake during long handheld exposures. When set in Full-Time Auto Focus (AF) mode, the camera automatically keeps the image in focus at all times, whatever focal length you choose to use. By activating the Manual Focus mode, you can bring up a focal distance scale on the camera's LCD monitor which allows you to manually select the optimum focal point in your scene.

While the body is slightly smaller than a standard 35mm SLR (approximately 4.5 x 3 x 2.5 inches without the lens), the 3.5-inch lens adds more bulk than is the typical with other consumer/prosumer digital cameras. Olympus has compensated for this by counterbalancing the weight of the lens with a large, rubberized hand-grip on the right side of the body. In spite of it large size, however, the C-2100 is surprisingly lightweight and comfortable to carry.

The Camedia's 2.7X digital telephoto feature is activated through the Record menu, thus preventing accidental slippage into the digital zoom range while shooting. The C-2100 offers both optical viewfinder and LCD monitor displays for composing images; each of which provides live video preview and camera setting indicators such as lens aperture, shutter speed, frame count, flash mode, and various menu selections when activated. A control panel on top of the camera displays a total of 23 function indicators - everything from flash intensity control to the number of seconds remaining in a movie recording.

The C-2100 provides a great deal of control over its many features. While some are selected from within the Record menu system (activated by the bottom button adjacent to the back panel monitor), you can also set some of the more basic options using buttons and dials located on the top and back sides of the camera. Flash, Macro setting, Exposure Compensation, Shutter Speed, Aperture settings, Manual focus, Autofocus, and Metering modes can all be set without accessing the Record menu. Likewise, in Playback mode, functions like Delete, Write Protect, and Print can also be controlled by the external buttons.

The Camedia C-2100 provides as much or as little exposure control as you want via the Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, and Special Program exposure modes. These exposure settings, along with the Movie and Playback modes, are selected using the Mode dial on the top right side of the camera. Shutter speeds range from 1/800 to 1/2 second in Shutter Priority mode, and 1/800 second to 16 seconds in Manual mode. Lens apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8.0. In all modes except Program, the camera indicates whether an exposure is going to be too dark or too light, giving you a chance to alter the exposure settings before you take the picture. The on-screen display of the automatic aperture and shutter speed settings is also quite valuable.

The camera's metering system offers a choice of Center-Weighted, Spot, and Standard (digital ESP metering) exposure settings. These are selected using the center button on top of the camera and to the left of the Control Panel. The White Balance (WB) setting, which determines how the camera's CCD will respond to changes in light temperature, is selected in the Record menu. WB options include Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Incandescent, and Fluorescent.

The built-in flash provides all of the standard flash modes: Auto, Redeye Reduction, Fill-in, and Off (when the pop-up flash unit is closed). These first three flash modes can be used in combination with slow shutter speeds to achieve low-light exposures in Slow-Sync mode (selected from the Record menu). In Slow Sync mode, the flash may be synchronized with either the opening (Slow 1) or closing (Slow 2) of the lens shutter to achieve different effects. There's a five-pin sync socket for connecting the optional FL-40 external flash, which can be used alone or in combination with the camera's built-in flash. External flash units made by other manufacturers can also be used with the C-2100, with an optional adapter cable.

You can override automatic flash exposures by adjusting the Flash Intensity setting in the Record menu. Intensity adjustments range from -2 to +2 Exposure Equivalents (EV), in 1/3 EV increments. Combine this feature with the variable ISO options (100, 200, or 400) and you get an excellent range of exposure control options, especially in low-light situations.

The C-2100 provides a nice range of capture options–Single-Picture Shooting, Sequential Shooting, AF Sequential Shooting, Self-Timer /Remote Control, and Auto Bracket (BKT) modes–which cater to a number of shooting situations. These are accessed with the button marked "Drive" on top of the camera.

Special Effects or "Function" options are available in the Record menu to enhance a variety of shooting scenarios. The effects include Black and White, Sepia, White Board, and Black Board. Another bonus is the C-2100's ability to record sound, both with movie recordings and still images. While this feature can add interest to your QuickTime movies, or help annotate your still images, don't expect optimum sound quality from the Wave format recording device. The C-2100 has no internal speaker, so you'll have to wait until your movies are downloaded to a computer before you can hear the audio track.(The lack of sound recording was a frequent complaint heard from owners of the earlier Camedia C-2020.)

The C-2100 offers a range of image resolutions—from 1,600 x 1,200 pixels to 640 x 480 pixels (four sizes in all)—with a variety of quality settings. Files are saved as JPEGs with an option for uncompressed TIFF format at all image sizes. Images are stored on SmartMedia cards. The C-2100 supports both USB and standard serial interfaces, accommodating either PC or Macintosh users (only the USB cable comes standard with the camera). Additionally, an NTSC video cable enables you to play back movies and captured images on your television set. You can even use the TV as an expanded viewfinder for image composition. (European models come equipped for the PAL video standard.)

Camera accessories include a spring-lock lens cap and 1-inch-wide neck strap, as well as four NiMH rechargeable batteries, an Olympus Camedia battery charger, USB computer connection cable, audio/video connection cable, 8MB SmartMedia card, and an RM-1 remote shutter control.

Overall, the C-2100 Ultra Zoom is an impressive addition to the Olympus digital camera line. Its 10X zoom lens, wide array of resolution choices, great image quality, and excellent exposure controls make it extremely flexible and user-friendly. The C-2100's features will appeal to many levels of users, from beginners to experienced professionals.

Slightly smaller than a traditional 35mm film camera, the Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom may be bulkier than most 2.1 megapixel cameras, but the larger body size is necessary to accommodate the 10X zoom lens and large hand grip to hold the camera steady. Weighing in at 1.3 pounds (540 grams) and measuring 4.44 x 3.06 x 5.56 inches (112.77 x 77.72 x 141.22mm) including the lens, the C-2100 isn't exactly pocket friendly; but with everything it has to offer, it's easy to forgive. The camera's lightweight polycarbonate shell keeps it from tipping the scales, yet it feels relatively sturdy overall.

The face of the camera holds the 10X Zoom lens, popup flash, self-timer lamp/AF assist lamp, and infrared remote control receiver. A bulky hand grip contains the battery compartment and SmartMedia slot, and compensates for the long lens barrel by adding a little extra weight and providing a secure hold on the camera. The soft, leather-textured rubber covering on the front grabs your fingers as they wrap around the grip. At the top of the hand grip is a small eyelet for attaching the accompanying neck strap. The 10X lens zooms inside of the lens barrel, so there's no visible change in the length of the lens barrel. The glass aspherical lens is protected by a spring-locked lens cap, which seems to hold more firmly than those on previous Camedia models.

The large, black hand grip wraps completely around the right side of the camera. The contrasting color and hand-molded shape make it appear like a separate part of the camera. It houses two different compartments - one for the four AA batteries, which are accessed from the bottom of the hand grip, and one for the SmartMedia slot, which is protected by a hinged, plastic door that locks securely into place. The storage media chamber was a little tough to open at times, but this problem was easily overcome by slipping a thumbnail or dime under the rear groove to pop the door open.

The left side of the camera holds a great deal more, including the popup flash release button, an adjustable diopter for the optical viewfinder, a covered external flash terminal, a very small microphone, and several connection jacks. A hinged plastic door hides the serial port connector, USB connector, DC in jack, external microphone jack, and an A/V out jack. The external microphone jack allows you to use more sophisticated sound recording equipment, thereby improving the camera's sound recording capabilities. The external flash sync terminal is covered by a small, threaded, black cap that screws into place. This makes it less likely to accidentally snap off, though it is still small enough to be easily misplaced. Finally, the other eyelet for attaching the neck strap resides at the top front corner of the left side. (A minor detail we really appreciated on the C-2100 is how perfectly balanced it is when hanging from the neck strap: The camera hangs perfectly level, with the lens pointing forward. We're accustomed to cameras that tilt at awkward angles, refusing to lie flat against our chest when carrying them.)

The top of the camera features a small, black-and-white LCD panel that displays the camera's settings, as well as three small control buttons (macro, metering, and drive sets), a large mode dial, a power on/off/reset lever, the shutter button, and a zoom control. The status display panel is a plus because it allows you to operate the camera without the larger, power-hungry LCD monitor activated, thereby saving some battery power (the optical viewfinder also operates a mini-LCD display). The mode dial is on top of the power switch, which is an unusual (but workable) configuration. Both the mode dial and power switch are notched, making them easy to turn or slide with a fingertip.

Along with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor, the camera's back panel includes a dual-function flash/trash button, info button, manual focus and protect button (labeled OK), a monitor on/off button, and a menu button. The controls on the back panel are well-placed for one-handed operation, and the door covering the SmartMedia slot makes a comfortable thumb rest.

On the bottom of the camera are the plastic, threaded tripod mount and the battery compartment door. Unfortunately, the two are too close together to allow for quick battery changes while the camera is mounted on a tripod. A minor problem, but one to which we always pay attention. The camera's bottom is relatively flat, but requires three small pegs to keep the camera level when it's set down. A sliding lockable door secures the battery compartment.

Olympus has again included an infrared remote control for the camera, which allows you to trip the shutter, control optical zoom, and scroll through captured images remotely. We've always enjoyed this feature, as it comes in quite handy in the studio.

The C-2100 features an eyelevel "optical" viewfinder and an LCD monitor for composing images. The eyelevel viewfinder is actually a miniature version of the LCD monitor, complete with setting indicators and menus. Inside the eyelevel viewfinder, a 0.55-inch, TFT, color LCD display shows the same video preview that you'll see on the larger monitor on the back. The eyelevel viewfinder activates only when the larger LCD monitor is disabled, conserving battery power without any conscious effort on your part. The eyelevel viewfinder's information display is identical to that of the larger LCD monitor. This means that you can change camera settings while peering through the eyepiece. On the left side of the eyepiece is a diopter adjustment dial, which changes the focus of the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

While the eyelevel LCD viewfinder is very convenient, we do have a strong objection to such devices in general: While they work quite well under normal lighting conditions, they are virtually useless for framing shots under very low light conditions. That said, we found the C-2100's viewfinder to be usable at light levels as low as 1/4 of a foot-candle, about a quarter of the light level you'd commonly encounter in a well-lit city night scene. This is pretty good for a digicam, but the C-2100 is actually capable of capturing very usable images at light levels a factor of four darker than this! Thus, there's a range of about two f-stops of exposure at the bottom end of the camera's low-light capability where you can't use the viewfinder system for framing your shots: It's pretty much a matter of dead reckoning to frame your shots. (To balance the criticism we're giving Olympus for the eyelevel viewfinder, it's important to point out here that there are a lot of cameras that can't even produce a decently exposed image at 1/4 of a foot-candle, regardless of what their viewfinders might do. Still, we wish there were a way to frame shots at light levels as low as the C-2100 is capable of taking a picture.)

The 1.8-inch, 114,000 pixel, TFT, color LCD monitor on the back of the camera is activated by pressing the monitor (middle) button directly to its right. Just like the viewfinder display, the LCD monitor features information about the camera's settings, including shutter speed, aperture, metering mode, flash mode, etc. The amount of information displayed is controlled by the Info button, just above the LCD monitor. Each press of the Info button cycles through three levels of display: Autofocus Target Only, Partial Information, and Full Information. With the Partial Information setting, the information display disappears after a few seconds, but can be recalled at any time by depressing the shutter halfway or pressing any other control button. The Full Information display mode remains on the screen at all times. When the Autofocus Target mode is selected, a central autofocus target mark remains in the middle of the screen. If any settings are changed, the information is displayed for approximately two seconds. The LCD brightness can be controlled through the Setup screen, which is accessed through the record menu.

In our testing, we found the C-2100's LCD viewfinder to be very accurate, showing approximately 98 percent of the final image area at the wide angle setting, and about 99 percent at telephoto (at all four image sizes). We usually like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, so the C-2100 falls well within our expectations.

In Playback mode, the LCD monitor features an enlargement function, which allows you to "zoom" into a captured image by pushing the wide-angle/telephoto lever on top of the camera toward "T". There's also an index display mode, accessed by pushing the lever toward "W." The index mode can display up to 16 thumbnail images on a screen (with options for four or nine image index display through the Playback menu).

As in the capture modes, Playback mode features an information display for each image to report various exposure details. The Info button controls how much information is displayed, with options of No Information, Partial Information, and Full Information. We liked this ability to check on the exposure settings in the camera, as it helps to keep track of your exposures. The C-2100 also allows you rotate captured images and create an index page from movie images.

Among the most exciting aspects of the Camedia Ultra Zoom is the 10X optical zoom lens. The aspherical glass lens features a focal length range from 7-70mm (equivalent to 38-380mm on a 35mm camera). The C-2100 also features a very effective "Image Stabilization" anti-vibration system, which allows you to handhold the camera at the maximum telephoto setting, even when using fairly long exposure times. Using some basic camera support practices (such as resting your arm on a table or bracing it against your chest) the Image Stabilizer does an excellent job of steadying the image in the viewfinder without a tripod (though we certainly recommend using a tripod when shooting at slow shutter speeds). Even low-light movies seemed to show a minimum of camera movement.

The C-2100's maximum lens aperture is f/2.8, which is great for sports and fast action shots (the larger aperture lets in more light and therefore allows shorter shutter speeds). This "fast" maximum aperture also helps with portrait shots by isolating the subject within a more shallow depth of field. Depending on the zoom setting, the camera's aperture can be manually or automatically controlled from f/2.8 to f/8.0, in 10 steps. The Aperture Priority mode allows you to control the lens aperture setting while the camera controls the shutter speed, and the Manual exposure mode lets you control both settings.

The 2.7X digital telephoto is activated through the Record menu and digitally increases the zoom range to 27X. Quality is always an issue with digital enlargement, as the camera is simply enlarging the center portion of the CCD image. This decreases image quality by producing higher noise levels and softer resolution. However, in our testing, we noticed that the C-2100's digital telephoto did a great job of enlarging the image without too much degradation. Focus ranges from 23.6 inches (0.59 meters) to infinity in normal mode, and from 3.9 to 23.6 inches (9.96 to 59.94 cm) in macro mode (which is controlled by the Macro button on top of the camera). The C-2100 performs very well in macro mode, capturing a minimum area of just 2.44 x 1.83 inches (61.93 x 46.45mm) with great detail and resolution. A set of 49mm filter threads on the inside lip of the lens barrel accommodates a variety of Olympus lens conversion kits, which would also extend the camera's macro capabilities.

Several focusing options are available on the C-2100 through the camera's Record menu. Autofocus range can be set to iESP or Spot, depending on what part of the image you want to use to judge the focus. The default iESP setting bases the focus on a multi-pattern reading taken from several points throughout the image. The Spot option bases the focus on the very center of the image, defined by the autofocus target marks (or brackets) on the LCD screen. Both of these modes set the focus when the shutter button is depressed halfway.

When the Full Time AF option in the Record menu is on, the camera will maintain continuous focus, without having to keep the shutter button depressed halfway. This is great for capturing fast motion, but also decreases battery life. A 240-step manual focus option is activated by pressing the OK (MF) button on the back panel. Use the right arrow key to switch to manual focus and a distance meter appears on the right side of the LCD monitor. You can then adjust the focus by pressing the up and down arrow buttons. This feature is great for difficult focusing situations such as low-light environments. You can choose to have measurements displayed in either meters or feet by accessing the Mode Setup option in the Record menu. (Scroll down to Mode Setup, press OK, scroll to m/ft, and use the arrow buttons to select meters or feet. Press OK twice to get completely out of the option menus.)

The manual focus options on many digicams are of limited usefulness because there generally isn't enough resolution in the LCD screen to see whether the subject is sharply focused or not. We were thus very pleased to see that the C-2100 Ultra Zoom kicks in an automatic 2x zoom on the viewfinder display (the display only, not in the final picture) whenever you adjust the focus manually. This actually makes it fairly feasible to focus the camera manually, without having to refer to the distance scale and knowledge of your subject's exact position. Another nice touch is that the manual focus system lets you know what the usable focus range of the lens is at all focal lengths: Like most zoom lenses, the C-2100's can focus more closely when set to shorter focal lengths than at maximum zoom. The camera lets you know this by refusing to move the focus-distance indicator bar to shorter readings than the minimum focusing distance for any given zoom setting.

As noted elsewhere, the C-2100 Ultra Zoom has exceptional low-light shooting capabilities. What's even more remarkable in a digicam is that it can also focus at those light levels, and in fact focuses just fine even in complete darkness. This "see in the dark" capability is due to a bright autofocus-assist illuminator LED that projects a beam of light onto your subject when the light level is too low for the camera to focus on its own. AF-assist illuminators are becoming more common on digicams, but the C-2100's has two unique features: First, it really does work quite well even in complete darkness, something that we've found to be surprisingly rare. The best feature in our mind though, is that it can also be turned off when you don't want it to tip your hand in candid shooting situations. Most digicams with AF assist lights don't let you turn them off, meaning that you'll call possibly unwelcome attention to yourself whenever you touch the shutter button in dim surroundings. With the C-2100, you can disable the AF assist light via a menu setting, and then use manual focus, either by eyeballing it on the LCD screen, or using the distance readout and guesstimating the distance to your subject. With either approach, your subjects need never know you've tripped the shutter, a very nice feature.

Testing indicated a 0.5 percent barrel distortion at the extreme wide angle end of the zoom lens. The telephoto end fared much better, showing only about one pixel (less than 0.1%) of pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is relatively low, showing only about one or two pixels of coloration on each side of the black target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight color fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) All of these distortion numbers are better than average among digicams we've tested, and really unheard of in a lens with such a long zoom ratio. Kudos to the Olympus optical engineers for this one!

The C-2100 offers excellent exposure control, with a variety of shooting modes from which to choose. Exposure modes are selected using the mode dial on top of the camera. Options include Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, and Scene Program. The Program mode is a basic automatic exposure mode, in which the camera controls both shutter speed and aperture settings. In Aperture Priority mode, you choose the lens aperture (from f/2.8 to f/8.0) and the camera selects the most appropriate corresponding shutter speed. Likewise, in Shutter Priority mode, you can set the shutter speed (from 1/800 to 1/2 second) and the camera chooses the best aperture setting. (We were interested to find that the maximum shutter speed in Program and Scene Program modes actually extends to 1/1150 seconds, even though Olympus' official specification for the camera shows a maximum shutter speed of 1/800.)

Manual exposure mode allows you to choose both aperture and shutter speed settings so that you can make more creative exposure decisions when shooting in special lighting situations. Once you're in Manual mode, depress the Info button until the f/stop and shutter speeds are displayed at the top of the viewfinder or monitor. You can adjust the f/stop with the left and right arrow keys, and the shutter speed with the up and down arrow keys. (Note that in Manual mode, your shutter speed range extends to 16 seconds).

Even in Manual mode, the C-2100 offers a fail-safe for improper exposures. If the camera doesn't agree with the exposure settings you've chosen, the Aperture Differential indicator will glow red in the upper right corner of the LCD. Aperture Differential tells you how far off your current settings are from the camera's optimal exposure level. Pressing the AEL button next to the Mode dial will switch the Aperture Differential indicator from numbers (ranging from +3 to -3) in the upper right corner of the monitor to a bar or scale reading at the bottom. This very helpful feature is standard with recent Olympus digital cameras.

Under the Scene Program mode, the C-2100 Ultra Zoom offers a handful of preset shooting modes for special situations. Options include Portrait, Sports, Landscape, and Night Scene modes. The Portrait mode focuses on your subject and uses a large aperture to reduce depth of field, blurring the background to eliminate distractions. Sports mode uses faster shutter speeds to freeze fast-moving action. Landscape mode uses a smaller aperture to increase the depth of field and keep the background and foreground in focus. Finally, Night Scene mode slows the shutter speed to allow more ambient light into the image. This mode can be combined with the Redeye Reduction flash mode for night portraits.

All of the exposure modes except Manual offer exposure compensation from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV (exposure equivalent) increments. This value appears in the top right corner of the LCD monitor and can be adjusted by pressing the right or left arrow keys. ISO sensitivity can be manually controlled in all capture modes. Using the Record menu, the ISO can be set to 100, 200, or 400 film speed equivalents. ISO 100 is best used in bright sunlight, while 400 will maximize exposure in dark situations. Our low-light testing indicated that the C-2100 did a great job at all three ISO levels, with minimal to moderate noise levels in the higher ISO settings.

White balance is also manually adjustable with a choice of Auto White Balance (determined by the camera) and preset Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and Fluorescent modes to match a variety of light sources. Testing indicated that the C-2100's Auto white balance system did a very good job in most tests, but seemed to have some trouble with studio lighting. We either had slightly warm images, or nearly accurate ones with a slight magenta cast. Still, the C-2100 handled the difficult tungsten lighting of indoor portraits and the high contrast of outdoor portraits very well.

In all capture modes, metering is controlled by the center button on the camera's top panel, which cycles through Standard, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes. The Standard metering mode uses a "digital ESP" system that meters the subject and the area around the subject to determine exposure. Center-Weighted metering bases the exposure on a large area in the center of the subject. Spot metering bases the exposure on a reading from the very center of the subject: This is best for high-contrast or backlit subjects.

The C-2100's Exposure Lock function deserves special mention as well: Most digicams lock both exposure and focus at the same time, whenever you half-press the shutter button. The C-2100 Ultra Zoom provides a separate Auto Exposure Lock ("AEL") button on the back of the camera that lets you lock the exposure setting without also locking focus. This lets you center on a specific part of the scene you're shooting, lock the exposure, and then recompose (even zooming the lens if you need to) before snapping the picture. We could even see using it for backlit portrait shots by actually walking up to the subject to get an exposure reading off their face, and then returning to our shooting position to take the shot. The AEL button works in any automatic exposure mode (Scene modes, Program, Aperture or Shutter Priority). You simply center the critical-exposure region in the viewfinder, press the AEL button briefly (you don't need to keep it held in), recompose your photo and shoot. A very nice feature and very well implemented.

While in Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes, you can access the Multi-Metering option from the Record menu. Multi-Metering measures the subject at up to eight different points and averages the readings to determine the best exposure. You control the number of metering points by centering each point you want measured in the monitor display and pressing the AE Lock (AEL) button at each point. A progress bar appears at the bottom of the screen, reporting each metered value, with the current average displayed in the middle of the bar. This is an excellent way to obtain readings of difficult subjects, and though it seems a little complicated at first, it is very easy to do with a little practice.

The camera's 12-second self-timer is set by the Drive button on top of the camera. Depressing the shutter button fully activates the countdown. For the first 10 seconds, the self-timer lamp on the front of the camera glows steadily, then flashes for the remaining two seconds. You can also trigger the self-timer with the camera's remote control, which works as far away as 16 feet. Once you depress the shutter button on the remote control, the self-timer counts down from three seconds before firing the shutter (two seconds in Movie mode). The C-2100 also features a sharpness adjustment, which allows you to set the image sharpness to Hard, Soft, or Normal. In our testing, we noticed that changing the sharpness setting also altered the image contrast. Specifically, the Hard setting increased the overall contrast, while the Soft setting did the reverse.

The C-2100 features a built-in, pop-up flash unit that sits just above the lens barrel (a sliding lever on the side of the compartment releases the pop-up flash). Five flash modes are available: Auto, Redeye Reduction, Fill-in, Off, and Slow-Sync. Auto, Redeye Reduction, and Fill-in flash modes are all controlled by the flash button on the camera's back panel. Automatic allows the camera to choose when to fire the flash, based on existing light levels. Redeye Reduction reduces the red-eye effect in a subject's pupils by firing 10 short pre-flashes in rapid succession before firing the full flash. As with the Auto mode, Redeye Reduction lets the camera decide when a flash is needed. Fill-in mode is like a forced flash, in that it fires with every exposure. The Off flash mode is selected by simply closing the flash unit. Slow Synchronization flash is accessed within the Record menu and comes with two options: Slow 1 fires the flash at the beginning of a slow shutter release, while Slow 2 fires the flash at the end of the shutter release. Both modes are great for creating special effects like light trails off moving cars at night.

You can adjust the C-2100's flash intensity level from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments. This option is accessed in the Record menu (illustrated by a small box with a flash symbol and squiggly arrow). Use the arrow buttons to scroll to the appropriate intensity. In addition to the built-in flash, the C-2100 features a five-pin external flash sync terminal on the connector side of the camera. The terminal is protected by a threaded, plastic cap that screws into place. All of the flash modes are available for the external flash, as is the intensity adjustment. You can use both the internal and the external flash together, to achieve more balanced lighting effects (such as bouncing the external flash off the ceiling for more even coverage). While Olympus offers a dedicated external flash for the C-2100 (the FL-40), you can also use on-camera models made by other manufacturers with an optional adapter cable. (Most third-party flash units won't be able to take advantage of the flash intensity adjustment option though.)

Olympus rates the C-2100's built-in flash unit as effective from 11.8 inches to 13 feet (0.29 to 4.0 meters) in the normal intensity setting. Our test results differed slightly. The flash was reasonably effective all the way out to 14 feet, but we got the brightest results at the eight-foot mark. The flash intensity steadily decreased from there, becoming very dim by the 14-foot mark. Accordingly, we'd rate the C-2100's flash range at only 10-1 feet or so. (We test flash range at ISO100: At ISO400, the flash range would meet Olympus' specification.)

Sequence Mode
The C-2100 offers two sequence shooting modes, both controlled by the Drive button on top of the camera. In standard Sequential Shooting, the camera captures up to five frames at approximately two frames per second (actual cycle times depend on the image quality setting). AF Sequential Shooting also takes up to five consecutive shots, but meters the focus, exposure, and white balance with each shot. Thus, the shot-to-shot cycle time will vary with the image quality you've selected, as well as the time it takes the camera to make each adjustment.

Auto Bracketing
If you're uncertain about your exposure settings, the C-2100's auto bracketing feature takes several shots of the same image at varying exposures. Through the Record menu, you can set how much exposure compensation you want between each image, as well as the number of sequential images to be taken. Exposures can vary in intervals of 0.3, 0.6, or 1.0 EV in either direction, and you can set the camera to capture three or five images with each bracketing sequence. Once the shooting sequence is set, you simply press the Drive button on top of the camera until "BKT" appears in the monitor (the mode is similarly canceled). Auto bracketing is available in the Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes only.

Movies and Sound
The Movie recording mode can be accessed through the mode dial (marked by the movie camera symbol). In this mode, the C-2100 records moving images and sound as long as you hold down the shutter button. The maximum amount of recording time depends on the memory space available on the SmartMedia card. Optical zoom is available in this mode, but any camera shake will be accentuated at longer focal lengths. (Reduced of course, but the C-2100's excellent optical stabilization system.) Movies can be recorded at either 320 x 240-pixel (HQ) or 160 x 120-pixel (SQ) resolutions.

In addition to recording sound with movie files, the C-2100 also allows you to record short sound clips to accompany still images (available in all image quality settings except TIFF). The sound recording option, accessible in the Record menu, allows you to record up to four seconds of sound. A status bar appears on the LCD monitor and reports the amount of recording time used. The camera has a small, built-in microphone on the connection side of the camera, but you can also connect an external microphone via the A/V jack inside the connector compartment (the internal microphone is disabled when an external microphone is connected to the camera).

Panorama Mode
As with most Olympus cameras, the C-2100 features a Panorama/Function Card mode that works only with Olympus brand memory cards. The Panorama function is accessible through the Record menu. Once the Panorama mode is activated, a set of alignment arrows helps you line up shots to be taken in sequential order, to be later "stitched" together on a computer with the Quick Stitch software, available separately. Focus, exposure, and white balance are all fixed with the first panoramic shot. When any Olympus Special Function memory card is used, the same menu option allows you to access the designated function.

Special Effects
Also available through the record menu, the Function option offers a handful of special image effects. Images can be captured in sepia tones (reminiscent of an old-fashioned photograph) or black-and-white monotones. Two text modes are also available: White Board and Black Board. Both modes optimize the exposure and increase the contrast for clearly capturing text, either on a light or dark background.

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 it can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this lag time is rarely reported by manufacturers or reviewers, and because it can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we routinely measure it using a custom electronic test setup.

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

C-2100 Ultra Zoom Timings
Operation Time (secs) Notes
Power On -> First shot 4.05
Time is delay until first shot captured.
Shutdown 1.59
Time until lens is retracted, camera is powered down. (No pending image processing though.)
Play to Record, first shot 2.61
Time is delay until first shot captured.
Record to play (max/min res) 20.45/2.0
Slower for max res TIFF images
Shutter lag, full autofocus 0.9
About average
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus 0.75
Not a significant speed increase
Shutter lag, manual focus 0.40 A bit faster than average
Shutter lag, prefocus 0.149 Very fast
(Prefocus means half-pressed shutter before shot.)
Cycle Time, Max/Min resolution 1.35/1.35 Quite fast. For max res, 5 shots until buffer full, for min res, shoot until memory card is full
Cycle time, continuous mode 0.57/0.44
Quite fast. Times are for max/min resolution settings


Overall, the C-2100 Ultra Zoom is a pretty fast camera. Autofocus time is about average among cameras we've tested, while prefocus shutter delay (when the shutter button has been half-pressed prior to the exposure itself) was very fast. Cycle times from shot to shot are quite fast as well, thanks to good use of internal buffer memory. An operating feature we particularly appreciated was the way we could simply press and hold the shutter button immediately after an exposure was taken, to get the next shot as quickly as possible: For some reason, many digicams "penalize" this behavior, refusing to fire if you've pressed the shutter button again too soon after taking the previous shot, unless you release the button and press it a second time. This behavior is annoying to no end, but the C-2100 Ultra Zoom avoids it completely.

Operation and User Interface
We found the operation of the C-2100 fairly straightforward. The familiar 35mm styling makes the camera easy to hold and maneuver. The majority of the controls on the top and back panel are within reach of your right hand, making one-handed operation possible, but not necessarily recommended with such a long lens. The hefty hand grip is a welcome design element, as it allows you to securely hold the camera and help balance the weight of the long lens barrel.

The LCD-based menu system is uncomplicated and simple to navigate, especially if you're already familiar with the typical Olympus menu setup. While the C-2100 does rely heavily on its LCD menu to change camera settings, it offers so many features and adjustments that an LCD menu is the most efficient way to access them all. Still, many of the most basic exposure functions, such as flash mode, exposure compensation, shutter speed, aperture setting, metering, continuous shooting, and auto exposure lock, are controlled by individual buttons on the camera body, freeing you from the menu system for those functions. The only control feature we felt was slightly awkward is the positioning of the power switch directly underneath the mode dial. Most digital cameras—even other Olympus models—combine the power control with the mode dial, offering an "Off" selection on the dial. In this case, the separate on/off switch also incorporates a reset position, which can be used to reset basic camera functions when you power on the camera.

A quick read of the manual should get you started with the basics. We should also mention here that the accompanying manual offers a lot of helpful information that novice photographers may find of interest. For example, the manual explains how to shoot under specific lighting situations using the camera's preset exposure modes, and also describes how you would set up the shot in manual exposure mode. Many diagrams, charts, and detailed instructions throughout the book will help guide you to better pictures.

Control Enumeration

Shutter Button: Located on the camera's top panel, and encircled by the zoom control, this button trips the shutter when fully depressed, and sets focus and exposure when halfway depressed. When the camera's self-timer is enabled, a full press of the shutter button triggers the 12-second countdown.

Zoom Control: Resting underneath the shutter button, this sliding, circular switch controls the 10X optical zoom when the camera is set to any capture mode. When the 2.7X digital telephoto is enabled, the control also zooms into the digital telephoto range. In Playback mode, this switch controls the playback enlargement and index display options. Sliding the switch toward the "W" pulls up an index display of the captured images on the card (up to 16 thumbnail images on a page), while sliding the switch toward the "T" enlarges the currently displayed image. Once enlarged, you can scroll around the image with the arrow keys to view different parts of the image. Pressing the zoom switch back toward "W" cancels the enlargement.

Pop-up Flash Release Switch: Positioned on the left side of the pop-up flash unit (opposite the shutter button), this sliding switch releases the pop-up flash from its compartment.

Mode Dial: Situated on the right side of the camera's top panel, this notched dial controls the camera's operating mode, and offers the following choices:

Power/Reset Switch: Positioned under the mode dial, this switch controls the camera's power. A "Reset" position, accessible by pushing the switch forward past the "On" position, resets the camera's settings to their factory defaults.

Macro Button: Located on the top panel of the camera, to the left of the small status display panel, this button is marked with the traditional macro flower symbol and is the first in a series of three control buttons. Pressing this button activates the camera's macro mode, which adjusts the focusing range for close-up subjects, from 3.9 to 23.6 inches (9.96 to 59.94cm). A second press of the button cancels the mode. In Playback mode, this button rotates images shot with the camera oriented vertically 90 degrees clockwise.

Metering Button: Next in line after the Macro button, this button controls the camera's metering mode. Options are Standard, Center-Weighted, and Spot. In Playback mode, this button rotates vertically oriented images 90 degrees counter-clockwise.

Drive Button: The last in the series of small buttons located on top of the camera, this button controls the camera's shooting mode, and cycles through Single Picture Shooting, Sequential Shooting, AF Sequential Shooting, Self-Timer/Remote Control, and Auto Bracket modes. In Playback mode, this button returns vertically-oriented images to their original position after being rotated using either the Macro or Metering button.

AE Lock/Print Button: Just below the mode dial on the top right of the back panel, this button controls the exposure lock function in any capture mode. In normal shooting mode, pressing the AE Lock button locks the exposure settings on a specific portion of the image, allowing you to use a different exposure setting than what the camera would normally choose for the subject as a whole. To lock exposure, you simply position a portion of the image in the center of the frame, press the AE Lock button, reframe the subject to the original composition and fire the shutter. When the Multi-Metering function is activated through the record menu, the AE Lock button allows you to select up to eight metering points within the image for the camera to determine an average exposure.

In Playback mode, this button pulls up the Print Order screen, which allows you to mark the currently displayed image for printing, or all images. You can then set the number of prints, whether or not to display the date and time on the image, and whether or not you want to crop the image slightly.

Flash Mode/Erase Button: Positioned to the right of the optical viewfinder, this button controls the flash mode in all capture modes. Pressing it sequentially cycles through the Automatic, Redeye Reduction, and Fill-in flash modes. In Playback mode, pressing this button pulls up a delete screen, where you can delete the currently displayed image or cancel the command.

Info Button: Located below the Flash Mode/Erase button, this button dictates how much information is displayed on the LCD screen in all camera modes. Options are No Information, Partial Information, and Full Information, which display varying degrees of image or camera settings information. The amount of information displayed directly affects battery power consumption.

Arrow Key Pad: Directly to the right of the Flash and Info buttons, this key pad consists of four arrow buttons, each arrow pointing in one of the four cardinal directions. In all capture modes except Manual, the right and left arrows control the exposure compensation. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the up and down arrows control either shutter speed or aperture, depending on the mode. In Manual exposure mode, the right and left arrows set the lens aperture, while the up and down arrows set the shutter speed. In any capture mode, when the manual focus option is activated, the up and down arrows adjust the focus, based on a distance scale displayed on the LCD monitor.

When either the Record or Playback menu is displayed on-screen, all four arrow buttons navigate through menu options and control settings.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. When playback zoom is enabled, all four arrows allow you to scroll around within the enlarged image.

OK/Manual Focus/Protect Button: Situated directly below the arrow key pad, this button performs several functions. In any capture mode, pressing the button pulls up the Manual Focus distance scale. Focus is then controlled with the up and down arrow buttons. In either the Record or Playback menu, this button acts as the "OK" to accept menu selections or changes. In Playback mode, this button write-protects the currently displayed image from accidental erasure (other than card formatting). It also removes the protection from the currently displayed image, if write-protection has already been enabled.

Monitor Button: Just below the OK button, this button controls the LCD display in all capture modes. When the large LCD monitor is activated, the optical viewfinder is disabled, and vice versa.

Menu Button: Directly below the Monitor button, this button pulls up the LCD menu in all capture modes, as well as in Playback mode. It also closes the menu screen.

Diopter Adjustment Dial: Located on the left side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this dial adjusts the focus in the eyepiece to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

Battery Compartment Lock Switch: Centrally located on the battery compartment door, on the bottom of the camera, this sliding switch locks and unlocks the battery compartment door.

Camera Modes and Menus

Because the Record menu is essentially the same in all capture modes, we will give a brief description of each capture mode and then list the Record menu options afterwards.

Movie Mode: This mode is marked on the mode dial with a miniature movie camera symbol, and allows you to record moving images with sound. Movies can be as long as the memory card will allow, and capture time is approximately 15 frames per second. Available file sizes are 320 x 240 pixels (HQ, or High Quality) and 160 x 120 pixels (SQ, or Standard Quality).

Scene Program Mode: The next stop on the mode dial, this one offers four preset exposure modes for shooting in special situations:

Manual Mode: In this mode, you can control both the lens aperture setting (from f/2.8 to f/8.0) and the shutter speed (from 1/800 to 16 seconds). All of the other exposure controls are available, with the exception of exposure compensation.

Shutter Priority Mode: This mode allows you to set the shutter speed (from 1/800 to 1/2 second), while the camera selects the corresponding lens aperture setting. All other exposure features are available, including exposure compensation.

Aperture Priority Mode: The opposite of Shutter Priority mode, Aperture Priority allows you to select the lens aperture setting (from f/2.8 to f/8.0) while the camera selects the best shutter speed. Again, all other exposure features are available.

Program Mode: The camera controls both aperture and shutter speed, while you maintain control over the remaining exposure options (which can all be left on their automatic settings or factory defaults for complete automatic exposure).

Record Menu: In all capture modes, the LCD-based record menu is accessed by pressing the Menu button on the back panel. The following options are available:

Playback Mode: The final stop on the mode dial, this mode is marked by the traditional green playback symbol. In Playback you can review captured images, delete or protect them, mark them for printing, enlarge images for close-up review, or rotate vertical images. Pressing the menu button displays the following playback menu options:

Still Image Display

Movie Image Display

Image Storage and Interface
The C-2100 uses SmartMedia memory cards and comes packaged with an 8MB card. You can upgrade to sizes as large as 64MB. (SmartMedia cards as large as 128MB are planned by the end of 2000, but we don't know at this point which cameras will be compatible with them.) The C-2100's file naming protocol optionally numbers each image shot with the camera progressively, also including the month and day at the beginning of the file name (an incredible feature for keeping images organized).

Entire SmartMedia cards can be write protected by placing a write protection sticker over a specific spot on the card. Stickers can only be used once and must be clean to be effective. Additionally, the C-2100 allows you to write protect individual images by pressing the MF/OK button on the back panel while in Playback mode. It's important to note that write-protecting individual images does not prevent them from being deleted when the card is reformatted.

The C-2100 comes with interface software and cables for both Macintosh and Windows computers, namely, a cable for the USB interface. The camera also features a standard RS-232C serial connection jack, but the serial cable must be purchased as an accessory.

Following are the approximate resolution/quality and compression ratios for an 8MB card (compression numbers based on our own computations):

Image Capacity vs
1600 x 1200 Images 1 5 16 N/A
1:1 4:1 12:1 N/A
1280 x
Images 2 N/A 8 24
1:1 N/A 4:1 11:1
1024 x
Images 3 N/A 13 38
1:1 N/A 4:1 11:1
Images 8 N/A 32 82
1:1 N/A 4:1 9:1

Video Out

The C-2100 has a video-out port which supports the NTSC timing format on US and Japanese models (we assume that the PAL standard is supported on European models). The video output can be used for reviewing previously recorded images or running slide shows from the camera, but it also shows all the LCD menu screens as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder. Combined with the very flexible infrared remote control we mentioned earlier, the availability of a live viewfinder display via the video signal opens interesting possibilities for portrait photography, using a video monitor as a remote viewfinder.

The output cable is a true A/V cable, fanning out into two RCA jacks, one for video, and one for audio. As noted above, this is the only way to hear the sounds you've recorded directly from the camera, since there's no internal speaker.


The C-2100 is powered by four internal AA NiMH, NiCd, alkaline, or lithium batteries, or two CR-V3 (Olympus LB-01) batteries. The camera ships with four NiMH batteries, and a battery charger. Because the C-2100 is very reliant on LCD displays, and slightly power hungry, the camera offers several methods to conserve battery power. You can control the amount of information displayed on the LCD monitor, control how often the autofocus mechanism works, and set a sleep time for the camera to power down after a certain period of inactivity. Using the eyelevel viewfinder also reduces power consumption somewhat, although not as much as we'd expected.


Operating Mode Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD 740 mA
Capture Mode, eyelevel LCD 610 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD 770 mA
Half-pressed eyelevel LCD 640 mA
Memory Write (transient) 780 mA
Flash Recharge (transient) 1200 mA
Image Playback 450 mA


In its various capture modes, the C-2100 Ultra Zoom is a bit more power hungry than the average digicam we've tested. We'd estimate battery life with a high-capacity set of NiMH cells as about 90 minutes of continuous use in capture mode, or 2-3 hours in playback mode. (The moderately high power consumption, even when using the eyelevel viewfinder, is another strike against such devices.) We always strongly recommend buying and packing along at least two sets of high-capacity NiMH cells with any digicam, but the extra battery capacity would be particularly important with the C-2100.

Included Software
Learn what the manual left out -
How to *use* your camera.

Camera manuals are (sometimes) fine for knowing which button does what, but where do you go to learn how and when to use the various features? Dennis Curtin's "Shortcourses" books and CDs are the answer. (Cheap for what you get, too.) Order the Shortcourses manual for the camera reviewed in this article.

The C-2100 comes with a very nice complement of software on two CD-ROMs. Direct camera control and image download are provided by an updated version of Olympus' own Camedia software package (Version 2.0) which allows you to download and save images to your hard drive, and provides rudimentary organization and correction capabilities. We confess to slightly mixed feelings on the other half of the package though: On the downside, we were chagrined to see that the excellent panorama-making program QuickStitch (from Enroute Software) is no longer included in Olympus' software bundles. On the upside, the even more useful (at least to the majority of users) Adobe PhotoDeluxe is included. All software packages provided are fully functional on both Mac and Windows operating systems. PhotoDeluxe provides fairly extensive correction and manipulation tools, allowing a little more creativity with digital enhancement.

NOTE: We've reported on the software bundle shipped with the unit in the US. Included software varies with country of sale.

Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Olympus C2100 Ultra Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the Olympus C-2100 images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the C-2100 performed very well, with great color balance in most instances. The automatic white balance setting accurately handled most of our test light sources, though it produced a slightly warm cast when working under studio lights. We occasionally used the fluorescent white balance when working in the studio, though it produced a slightly magenta cast in some images (we admit to having a tough time getting a true white value here). This is our only real complaint about this camera, and we'd like to see a manual white balance option for more accurate results. The C-2100 did accurately reproduce the large color blocks in the Davebox test target, though the subtractive primaries (cyan, magenta, and yellow) appeared just a touch undersaturated. Tonal handling was also very good, as the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target were completely visible up to the "B" range. Other than the slight color casts we mentioned earlier, the C-2100 does an excellent job.

The C-2100 Ultra Zoom produced a sharp, clear image on our resolution target tests. We called the resolution as 650 lines per picture height in both horizontal and vertical directions, although detail was visible out as far as 800 lines in both directions. Some aliasing was visible as low as 550 lines per picture height in both directions, somewhat more pronounced in the vertical direction, but not too objectionable in either. Overall, good resolution for a 2 megapixel camera.

The C-2100 provides excellent exposure control, with Automatic, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority modes, as well as a full Manual mode and a Special Program mode. The user can also control focus, sharpness, metering, ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance, in addition to flash mode. The C-2100 performed very well in our low-light tests, as we obtained bright, useable images as low as 1/16 of a foot candle (0.67 lux). At these low light levels, with long exposure times, there is only a very moderate amount of noise present in the images, even at the ISO 200 and 400 settings. Color balance looks great in these low-light images, as does detail. To put the C-2100'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.

We were very pleased with the C-2100's LCD viewfinder, which showed approximately 98 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 99 percent at telephoto (at all four image sizes). Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the C-2100's viewfinder performance is outstanding.

The C-2100 also performs nicely in the macro category, capturing an impressive minimum area of 2.44 x 1.83 inches (61.93 x 46.45mm). Color balance appears slightly warm and magenta, but detail and resolution are both excellent. The C-2100's built-in flash does a great job of throttling down for the macro area, with just a little reflection from the shiny coin and a small sparkle on the brooch.

We have to say that we were very impressed with the C-2100's performance throughout our testing. We thoroughly enjoyed the extensive exposure control available on the camera, as well as the whopping 10X optical zoom. Low-light and macro performance were both wonderful, as well as image quality and color.

Wow, what a camera! The 10X optical zoom with image stabilization piqued our interest, and the camera's very extensive exposure controls definitely kept our attention. The full manual exposure mode and the ability to finely tune metering and focus makes the C-2100 Ultra Zoom an interesting option for prosumers who want a lot of control, while the full automatic and preset shooting modes keep it simple for novices. This is a great camera for novices who want to learn more about digital photography, as several levels of exposure control allow you to learn as you go. Great image quality and color balance, a bounty of features, and an exceptional lens system make the C-2100 a camera you won't want to leave behind. Highly recommended!

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