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Olympus C-211 Zoom

Have your cake and eat it too! - 2 megapixels worth of digital photos, and a built-in Polaroid printer!

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Review First Posted: 9/25/2000

Executive Overview
The Olympus C-211 is not your typical point-and-shoot digital camera. The camera body measures 7 x 5.25 x 2.5 inches (17.78 x 13.34 x 6.35cm), and weighs 1.67 pounds (760 grams) without batteries, printing media, or SmartMedia card. This may sound a little large and bulky, but this larger size accommodates a very cool feature-the ability to directly print your digital images to Polaroid 500 film.

There are a number of situations where this feature would come in handy. For example, you could use it to document insured valuables, photograph real estate, or show step-by-step progress over the course of a job. The advantage of the C-211 is that you print only the exposures you want, and you have them immediately accessible to drop into a paper file (or to turn over to a client). No matter how you use it, the combination of digital capture and instant printing is a welcome departure from the norm.

The Camedia C-211 Zoom design is very straightforward. All of the controls (except for the shutter release) are within thumb's reach on the back of the camera, and the hand grip on the right side of the camera fits comfortably in the palm of your hand (a neck strap is included). Both the battery compartment and SmartMedia slot are fully accessible when the camera is mounted to a tripod.

A 3X, 5.4-16.2mm, aspherical glass zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera) is built into the camera, constructed with eight elements in six groups. The automatic aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/8.6, depending on the zoom setting. The through-the-lens (TTL) autofocus can focus from 31 inches (80cm) to infinity in normal mode, and from 8 to 31 inches (20 to 80cm) in macro mode. Some manual focus presets are also available for quick-shooting situations, with set focal distances at 8 feet (2.5m) and infinity.

The C-211 also features 2X digital telephoto, but remember that digitally enlarged images often compromise quality. There is no optical viewfinder on the C-211. Instead, a two-inch, color LCD monitor remains activated whenever the camera is operational, displaying menu items, flash settings, focus modes, and digital telephoto settings in addition to the CCD image display. The camera's lens cap snaps securely inside the threaded lip of the lens barrel; and comes complete with a safety string so you can attach it to the neckstrap of the camera and prevent loss when not in use.

Exposure is automatic. The user makes manual adjustments by selecting different flash modes or by adjusting the exposure compensation, white balance, or light metering. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second, though they are not displayed on the LCD. The built-in flash has six operating modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Off, Fill-In, Slow Sync, and Slow Sync with Redeye Reduction. An External Flash mode enables the camera to work with a remote flash and slave unit, but there is no sync terminal for an external flash head.

White balance offers five modes: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, and Fluorescent. Exposure compensation ranges from -2 to +2 in 0.5 EV increments, and is conveniently adjustable without calling up the Record menu. Two metering options include ESP, which averages several points in the image, and Spot, which meters light at the center of the LCD.

In addition to the standard still capture mode, the C-211 offers several special recording modes. Sequence shooting allows the user to capture up to 45 sequential shots, at approximately 1.3 frames per second (depending on image size, quality, information, and the amount of memory available). A Movie mode records up to 15 seconds of moving images without sound, at the 320 x 240 pixel image size. Two text capture modes-Whiteboard and Blackboard-are available for photographing meeting notes or chalkboards. When using an Olympus SmartMedia card, a Panorama mode enables the user to capture a series of photographs that can be stitched together later on a computer. Olympus also offers a variety of special function memory cards.

Images can be recorded at either 1,600 x 1,200 or 640 x 480 pixels, with fine and normal JPEG compression levels available. An uncompressed TIFF quality setting is available for larger image sizes. All files are recorded on SmartMedia cards; an 8MB card is provided with the camera. A USB cable connects the C-211 to either a Windows or Macintosh computer, and an accompanying CD-ROM is loaded with Camedia Master software, which provides image downloading and organizing utilities. Camedia Master also features limited image correction tools, some creative templates, the ability to piece together panoramic images.

Power for the C-211 Zoom is supplied by two CR-V3 lithium battery packs, which are provided with the camera. Four AA alkaline, NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries can also be used. We highly recommend that you invest in the optional AC adapter and battery charger. Models distributed in the US include a video cable for NTSC television and VCR devices, and European models are presumably equipped for PAL timing.

Naturally, the biggest news about the C-211 is its ability to print images directly onto Type 500 Polaroid film. As noted, this makes the body rather large and boxy, but the advantages are considerable. Just like any other digital camera, you can shoot as many pictures as you like without cost and delete any you don't like. If you decide you'd like to see one in print, you simply switch the camera to Print mode and press the friendly green button on the camera's back, press OK to confirm that you do indeed want to print the current image, and the C-211 will spit out a Polaroid print in about 20 seconds. Images develop in a couple of minutes, and you can print as many copies of the same image as you'd like. A set of four adjustments extend the camera's printing capabilities. Located in the Setup menu, these adjustments include: Brightness, Contrast, Red/Green Color Balance, and Sharpness. Very impressive!

Overall, we found the C-211 to be a surprisingly versatile camera, despite its fully automatic exposure control. The image quality is fairly typical of a midrange 2 megapixel digicam, but clearly, the most unique feature is the Polaroid printing capability. We miss the sophistication of direct aperture and shutter speed control, but realize that the C-211's intended audience is more oriented toward point & shoot operation than choosing its own exposure settings. Despite the simplified control system, the availability of multiple white balance settings and exposure compensation adjustment make for a dramatic extension to the capabilities of purely film-based Polaroid photography. If you need both instant prints and digitized versions of your photos, the C-211 should be an easy choice.

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