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Olympus C-50 Zoom

Olympus packs a 5.0-megapixel CCD into an ultra-compact body, with a host of advanced features too.

Review First Posted: 11/26/2002

MSRP $699 US


5.0-megapixel resolution for 2,560 x 1,920 images.
3x zoom lens
Ultra-compact, all metal body.
Full manual exposure control.


Manufacturer Overview

Olympus continues to be a dominant player in the digicam marketplace. Their digital camera lineup is one of the broadest in the industry, with numerous models ranging from pure entry-level, point-and-shoot digicams to advanced digital SLRs (Single-Lens Relexes). With the release of the C-50 Zoom, Olympus pairs a 5.0-megapixel CCD, true 3x optical zoom lens, and (optional) manual exposure control with an ultra-compact body. Traditionally, compact digicams offer only limited feature sets, but the C-50 Zoom is really a fully-capable model with a wealth of both advanced and novice-oriented features. Besides the extensive manual exposure controls, it also offers a full range of Scene modes to make it easier for novices to handle tricky shooting conditions. Finally, a unique"My Camera" menu lets the user custom-configure a broad range of settings to meet specific needs. With a street price at introduction under $600, the C-50 Zoom is a versatile, affordable, very compact, digicam.

High Points



Executive Overview
In the past, finding a compact, go-anywhere digicam meant giving up more advanced exposure-control options. The Olympus C-50 Zoom breaks that paradigm though, offering both point-and-shoot ease of use and advanced "enthusiast" features in a super-compact, all-metal body design. A 5.0-megapixel CCD delivers high quality images, using Olympus' own TruePic technology to for sharper images, lower noise, and more vivid colors. Though the C-50 offers six preset Scene shooting modes, it also offers a completely automatic mode as well as a full selection of manual and semi-manual exposure modes. A maximum exposure time of eight seconds makes for great low light capability, and adjustable white balance, ISO, and other image attributes make the C-50 versatile enough for just about any shooting situation.

The C-50's compact body is perfect for pockets and small purses, measuring only 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches (99.5 x 58.5 x 41.5 millimeters), not including minor protrusions. It weighs just 6.8 ounces (194 grams) without the battery, despite its rugged metal body. A wrist strap secures the camera in-hand, but the attractive, brushed-metal finish demands the protection of a soft camera case during travel.

A real-image optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens, but is slightly less accurate for framing than the 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. In addition to its viewfinder display, the LCD monitor has a detailed information overlay that reports exposure information and a few camera settings. The 7.8-23.4mm, 3x zoom lens is equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8-f/4.8 (wide angle to telephoto). In addition to the C-50's 3x optical zoom, images can be enlarged up to an additional 4x with the "digital zoom," effectively increasing the camera's zoom capabilities to 12x. (Keep in mind though, that digital zoom directly trades off image quality for magnification, because it simply crops out and enlarges the central pixels of the CCD.) The C-50's default image resolution is 2,560 x 1,920 pixels, but lower resolutions of 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels are also available. Image quality options include two JPEG compression ratios, plus an uncompressed mode that produces full-resolution TIFF images.

The C-50 offers an excellent range of exposure control, including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Manual exposure modes. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, with exposure times as long as 1/2 second. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give you control over aperture or shutter speed, while the camera chooses the best corresponding settings. When used in AP or SP modes, apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8 and shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second. The Manual exposure mode provides the same aperture range, but permits shutter speeds as long as eight seconds. You can also put the camera into full Auto mode, or select between Portrait, Sports, Landscape-Portrait, Landscape-Scene, Night-Scene, and Self-Portrait scene modes for easy capture of what might otherwise be tricky subjects.

The C-50 provides four ISO options (Auto, 80, 160, and 320), automatic exposure bracketing, two metering modes (Digital ESP Multi-pattern and Spot), plus exposure compensation from +2 to -2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. White balance options include Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and Fluorescent settings to accommodate a variety of lighting conditions. Image contrast and sharpness adjustments are available through the LCD menu as well. There's also a 12-second self-timer option for self-portraits, and a Remote Control mode for controlling the shutter with the included remote control unit.

The C-50's Movie mode records QuickTime movies (without sound), in either SQ (160 x 120 pixels) or HQ (320 x 240 pixels) modes. Actual recording times vary with the resolution and the amount of memory card space, but you can record a maximum of 70 seconds per movie at the lower resolution. Sequence mode captures multiple images as fast as one frame per second (depending on file size), with an AF Sequence mode that adjusts the focus between each shot. The C-50 also offers a panoramic mode (with Olympus-branded memory cards only), and a "2-in-1" capture mode that records two images side-by-side (like a split-screen view). The camera's internal flash unit offers six operating modes (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash, Flash Off, Night Scene, and Night Scene with Red-Eye Reduction modes), with adjustable flash intensity.

The C-50 ships with a 16MB xD-Picture Card for image storage. Larger capacity cards are available separately, up to the current limit of 128MB. You can connect the camera directly to your computer via a high-speed USB interface to download images, and if you want a slightly larger viewfinder (or image playback) display, Olympus also provides a video output cable for connection to a television set. Also packaged with the C-50 is a remote control, useful in setting up self-portraits or for preventing camera movement from pressing the Shutter button when using slow shutter speeds. Software shipped with the unit includes Olympus' Camedia Master 4.0 utility package, a capable all-in-one image management program that provides basic organization and editing tools in addition to a panorama "stitching" application. Apple QuickTime and USB drivers for Mac and Windows are also supplied.

Olympus' C-series digicams have always proved flexible and high quality, and the C-50 Zoom carries on that tradition very well. Though small, the C-50 doesn't skimp at all on features, offering many of the advanced exposure features found on Olympus' larger models. Full manual exposure control and the range of preset scene modes gives users as much or as little control as they want, while the 5.0-megapixel CCD provides high resolution for sharp enlargements. Overall, the C-50 Zoom is a great camera for anyone wanting a capable, compact digicam, and is one of the very few models available for people wanting full "enthusiast" control in a compact design.




As the smallest member of Olympus's C-series of digicams, the C-50 Zoom has a compact body that's clearly meant to travel. A sliding lens cover (with integral power switch) keeps the front panel smooth, perfect for pockets. The silver-toned, all-metal body is very sleek and attractive, yet rugged enough to withstand minor knocks. Despite the camera's small size, it fits the hand well, though you'll definitely want to keep the included strap securely around your wrist in precarious situations (such as leaning over a boat rail or walking in a crowd). External control layout is similar to previous models, though on a smaller scale (with the Mode dial now located on the back panel). The C-50 Zoom has a 5.0-megapixel CCD, which delivers a maximum image size of 2,560 x 1,920 pixels. Using Olympus' own TruePic technology to produce sharper details and smoother, more vibrant color, the C-50 produces images suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches, even after significant cropping. The C-50 Zoom measures 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches (99.5 x 58.5 x 41.5 millimeters), and weighs only 6.8 ounces (194 grams) without the battery.

The front of the C-50 is fairly smooth when the lens cover is closed, with only a minor protrusion from the lens cover itself and the small finger grip. With the cover closed, the camera's flash and IR remote sensor remain visible. Opening the lens cover triggers the lens to extend forward about an inch from the camera body. Just above the lens is the optical viewfinder window and self-timer lamp. A slight, vertical ridge on the far side of the lens cover serves as a finger grip, balanced nicely by an indented thumb rest on the back panel for a more secure hold.

On the right side of the camera, the USB and Video Out jacks are protected by a plastic door that remains tethered to the camera when open. Also on this side is the eyelet for the wrist strap.

The opposite side of the camera holds only the DC-In port, beneath a rubbery cap, which Olympus wisely attached to the camera via a small flap.

The C-50's top panel has only the Shutter button and zoom lever.

Like the rest of the C-series, the C-50's back panel is logically laid out, with all of the control buttons positioned above or to the right of the 1.5-inch LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder eyepiece is directly above the LCD monitor, with two status LED lamps on the right indicating basic camera status (such as when the autofocus system is set or the flash is ready). Across the top of the back panel are the Flash / Erase and Spot / Macro / Protect buttons. The Mode dial is directly to the right of these, and a Display button diagonally to the left controls whether the rear-panel LCD is illuminated. The four-way Arrow Pad serves multiple functions depending on the camera's operating mode, and is adjacent to the right side of the display, making it easy to switch back and forth between it and the mode dial with your thumb when you're holding the camera.

The bottom of the camera holds the battery / memory card compartment cover and a plastic screw-mount tripod socket. The tripod socket is much too close to the battery compartment to make battery changes easy when mounted on a tripod. (This is a pet peeve of mine, but I realize that most people don't spend as much time with their digicams locked down to a tripod as I do, especially with ultra-compact models like the C-50.) Inside the battery / memory card compartment, the battery and xD-Picture Card slots line up side-by-side. The hinged, plastic door slides out before opening.


The C-50 Zoom features a real-image optical viewfinder as well as a rear panel, 1.5-inch, TFT color LCD screen for composing images. The optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens, but doesn't reflect any digital zoom, which requires the LCD monitor to be active. A set of black cross hairs in the center of the view marks the autofocus and autoexposure target area. Though it doesn't have a diopter adjustment dial, the C-50's optical viewfinder has a fairly high eyepoint, making it possible to see essentially all of the frame while wearing eyeglasses. Two LED lamps directly to the right of the viewfinder indicate autofocus and flash status. The C-50's optical viewfinder proved to be somewhat tight in my testing, showing approximately 84 percent of the final image area.

The C-50's LCD monitor is controlled by the Display button located just off its upper right corner. Pressing the button simply turns the main LCD display on or off, but doesn't affect the information display, which is always present. A detailed information readout highlights a number of exposure settings, including the currently selected f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure compensation adjustments across the top of the screen. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the chosen aperture or shutter speed appears as a constant, while the second, automatically determined exposure value updates continuously to respond to changes in the subject or lighting. The Manual mode displays the selected f/stop and shutter speed values together, while the exposure compensation value reports when a setting is over- or underexposed by glowing red. In my testing, I found the LCD's viewfinder display fairly accurate, showing about 97 percent of the final image area. (Great performance, since I like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible.)

When using the LCD monitor to review captured images, you can zoom in on displayed images and then scroll around the enlarged image using the arrow buttons. This is extremely handy for checking focus, small details, or precise framing. There's also an Index display option, which shows either four, nine, or 16 thumbnail-sized images at a time. A very handy "quick view" function lets you check the last picture taken in Record mode by pressing the Display button twice in quick succession. The image will remain displayed on the LCD until you revert back to Record mode by pressing the Display button again, or by half-pressing the Shutter button.

The Olympus C-50 is equipped with an all-glass lens, with seven elements in six groups. The 3x, 7.8-23.4mm lens provides a focal length range equivalent to a 38-114mm zoom on a 35mm film SLR. (That's a moderate wide angle to a normal telephoto.) Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8, with the maximum aperture setting ranging from f/2.8 to f/4.8 as the lens is zoomed from wide angle to telephoto. Normal focusing distance extends from 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity. A Macro setting focuses from 0.7 to 1.6 feet (0.2 to 0.5 meters). The Macro / Spot button on the back panel adjusts the focus range for closeup subjects, and includes an option for spot metering in either Macro or normal focusing mode.

Autofocus is determined through the lens, using a contrast detection method. A green circle lights solid in the viewfinder display whenever focus is set, and flashes if the camera is having trouble adjusting focus (as does the green LED lamp next to the optical viewfinder). The C-50 doesn't offer a manual focus option, and there's no autofocus-assist light, but it still managed to focus pretty well in dim lighting. During my low-light test, the C-50 often indicated that it could not accurately determine focus, but the resulting images turned out to be well-focused. As to what the camera thought its low light limit was, the focus indicator on the LCD display indicated that the camera could focus down to a light level somewhere between 1/2 and 1 foot-candle. The C-50 should thus be able to handle night scenes under typical city streetlighting, a light level of roughly 1 foot-candle. Still, I'd really like to see an AF illuminator on the camera, as it could greatly extend the C-50's usefulness under dark indoor shooting conditions.

While the C-50's lens provides up to 3x optical zoom, the camera's 4x Digital Zoom increases that magnification to a maximum of 12x (albeit with the usual digital-zoom-induced quality degradations in the resulting images). Digital zoom is activated through the Record menu and controlled by the Zoom Lever on top of the camera. Since digital zoom just crops out and enlarges the central pixels from the CCD's image, it directly trades resolution for magnification. This will result in very soft images if you're working at the camera's maximum five-megapixel file size, but can be useful if you're only shooting at 640 x 480 anyway. (For web or email use.)

Optical distortion on the C-50 was quite high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.05 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I measured only three pixels of barrel distortion (about 0.1 percent). Chromatic aberration is also moderately high, showing about five or six 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.) At telephoto focal lengths, I also saw quite a bit of flare in the corners of the frame. (Visible on my resolution target shots, where the boundaries of some of the dark target elements become fuzzy in the corners of the frame.)

The C-50 Zoom offers extensive exposure control for a compact camera, featuring Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as a handful of preset scene modes for shooting in specific situations. The Full Auto and Scene modes make the camera easy to use for novices, while the other options provide the flexibility demanded by more advanced users. All capture modes are set by turning the Mode dial on the back panel, which also accesses the My Mode and Movie modes. (My Mode lets you create a custom setup for the camera, including virtually every exposure and operating parameter, that can then be selected simply by rotating the Mode Dial to the "My" position.)

In Auto mode, the camera has complete control over the exposure parameters. You have control over options like zoom, drive mode, image size, etc., but no exposure adjustments at all (not even exposure compensation or white balance - this is truly a "point-and-shoot" mode). Program mode leaves the camera in charge of the aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure options such as ISO, metering mode, and white balance. In Program mode, you also have access to the exposure compensation adjustment, which lets you adjust the camera's automatically determined exposure setting by plus or minus two exposure equivalent (EV) units, in steps of 0.3 EV. (This is important for getting properly exposed photos of beach and snow scenes, where the overall brightness tricks the camera into underexposing.) Aperture Priority lets you set the aperture from f/2.8-f/4.8 to f/8 (maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/4.8 as the lens is zoomed from wide to telephoto) leaving the camera to automatically determine the appropriate shutter speed. In Shutter Priority, you can select shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second, with the camera selecting the corresponding aperture setting. The Manual exposure option lets you control both aperture and shutter speed yourself, and the bottom end of the shutter speed range is extended to eight seconds. An interesting feature of the Manual mode is that, as you scroll through the various exposure settings, the camera indicates whether or your chosen setting will produce a correct exposure. It does this by showing the f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure differential (the difference between your settings and what the camera metering system thinks is correct) in green up to a limit of +/- 3.0EV. If you exceed a range of +/- 3 EV from the nominal exposure, the readout numerals turn red and remain at the 3.0 indication. This is a very handy feature that I'd like to see implemented in the manual exposure modes of more cameras.

Six scene modes include Portrait, Landscape-Portrait, Landscape-Scene, Night Scene, Sports, and Self-Portrait modes, which optimize the camera for specific shooting situations. In Portrait mode, the camera uses a larger lens aperture, reducing depth of field and letting you capture the subject in sharp focus in front of a slightly soft-focused background. Landscape-Portrait mode uses a smaller lens aperture, to help keep both the foreground and background in sharp focus, while Landscape-Scene mode also keeps foreground and background in focus, but intensifies any blue or green values colors for more vibrant foliage and sky colors. Night Scene employs a slower shutter speed, allowing more ambient light into the image, and extends the lower shutter speed to four seconds (although only via automatic control). Sports mode biases the exposure system toward faster shutter speeds, to help freeze fast-moving subjects. Finally, Self-Portrait mode sets close focusing so you can photograph yourself while holding the camera in front of you. Limited menu options are available in the scene modes, as their purpose is to simplify camera setup for novices. (A multitude of menu choices would only add complication to what are intended to be easy-to-use camera settings.)

The C-50 offers a variable ISO setting, which lets you set the camera's light sensitivity to 80, 160, or 320 ISO equivalents, or to an Auto mode where the camera will choose the best ISO. The higher sensitivity settings, combined with the camera's eight-second shutter speed, provide good low-light shooting capabilities. In my tests, the C-50 performed pretty well at low light levels, capturing clear images with great color, but with fairly obtrusive "hot pixel" noise (see the test results section below). The higher ISO settings are also helpful when you want faster shutter speeds under normal lighting, to help freeze fast action. Of course, as with all digicams, the higher ISO settings produce photos with more image noise, much as higher-ISO film shows more film grain.

Two metering systems are available on the C-50: Spot and Digital ESP. Both are accessed through the Spot / Macro / DPOF button on the camera's back panel. Under the default Digital ESP setting, the camera takes an exposure reading from the center of the image as well as the surrounding area and chooses the best exposure based on brightness and contrast across the entire scene. Spot metering simply reads the exposure from the very center of the image, so you can pinpoint the specific area of the photograph you want properly exposed. (Spot metering is very handy when you have a subject that's backlit, or that has a very different brightness (either lighter or darker) than the background.)

A Record View function, enabled through the Record menu, displays the most recently captured image on the LCD screen while the image is recorded to the memory card. You can set the Record View to display only the image, or to display the image with a confirmation screen, letting you delete the image before it's saved to the card. This is a nice way to check your shots and not waste time switching back and forth between Playback and Record modes. There's also a Quick View function that lets you check the previously captured image, by pressing the Monitor button twice in quick succession. The most recent image is displayed, with an option to delete it.

In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, simply press either the right or left Arrow buttons (in all exposure modes except Auto and Manual) and the EV value displayed on the LCD will increase or decrease in one-third-step increments, up to a maximum of +/- 2 EV. Or, you can use the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function to automatically bracket an exposure as much as +/- 2 EV in either three or five steps, with increments of 0.3, 0.6, or 1.0 EV units each. The auto bracketing will center its efforts around whatever exposure you've chosen as the starting point, including any exposure compensation adjustments you've made. AEB is really handy for those times when you want to make sure you get just the right exposure for a critical subject, and need to do so quickly.

White balance options include Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and Fluorescent settings, to accommodate a variety of lighting situations. The C-50 Zoom also offers a 12-second Self-Timer for self-portraits or those occasions when you don't want to risk camera shake on a long exposure by pressing the Shutter button to trip the shutter.You can also use the included remote control to trigger the shutter from a maximum distance of 16.5 feet in front of the camera. There are also options on the Record menu to set the in-camera image sharpening and contrast.

The C-50 offers a built-in flash, with six operating modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash, Flash Off, Slow Sync, and Slow Sync with Red-Eye Reduction modes. Auto mode lets the camera decide when to fire the flash, while the Fill-in mode fires the flash with every shot. (Fill-in is useful for throwing light on backlit subjects, keeping their faces from being obscured in deep shadow.) The two Red-Eye Reduction modes fire a small pre-flash before firing the flash at full power, making the pupils of your subjects' eyes contrast, reducing the occurrence of the Red-Eye Effect. Slow Sync combines the flash with a slower shutter speed, allowing more ambient light into the background, producing more natural background lighting behind a flash-illuminated subject. You can also adjust the overall flash intensity from +/-2 EV through the Record menu.

Special Exposure Modes

Movie Mode
The C-50's Movie mode is accessible via the Mode dial on the camera's rear panel (marked with a small movie camera symbol). Once in Movie mode, you can record QuickTime movies (without sound) at either 160 x 120- or 320 x 240-pixel resolutions. The length of movie clips depends on the resolution setting, HQ-mode (320x240) movies limited to 16 seconds in length, and SQ-mode (160x120) movies limited to 70 seconds. (Note though, that memory card space sets an absolute limit, so if you're low on card space, you may not be able to record the maximum duration in either mode.) A number indicating the total available seconds of movie storage remaining on the memory card appears on the LCD monitor whenever you enter Movie Mode, but note that this is the total space available, not all of which may be available in a single clip. The lens is set to its maximum wide angle position when you enter Movie Mode, and neither optical nor digital telephoto is available during filming. Spot metering, macro mode, exposure compensation, focus lock, self-timer, variable ISO, and white balance are also available in Movie mode, all of which are unusual features to find available during Movie recording. Both resolutions record at approximately 15 frames per second. Finally, an unusual "index" option is available while playing back movies, that lets you create an "index print" of a movie file, showing 9 separate frames evenly spread throughout the movie. The index image is saved as a separate 640x480 image file on the memory card.

Panorama Mode
Like most Olympus digicams, the C-50 offers a Panorama exposure mode when using an Olympus brand, panorama-enabled xD-Picture Cards. In this mode, the exposure and white balance for a series of shots are determined by the first exposure. The Panorama function provides light blue guide lines at the edges of the pictures to help you align successive shots, leaving enough overlap between them for the stitching software to be able to do its job. Up to 10 shots can be taken in a panoramic series. Note that this function is only enabled by the built-in panorama firmware found only on Olympus brand memory cards. (A product decision that I personally think makes little sense for Olympus.) Images are saved individually and then assembled on a computer using the (included) Olympus software after they've been downloaded.

"2-in-1" Mode
Accessed through the Record menu, "2 in 1" photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side as one full resolution image, giving a split-screen effect. As with Panorama mode, a set of guidelines appear in the LCD display, to help you line up shots.

Sequence Mode
The C-50 also offers two Sequence modes that mimic the motor drive on a film camera, continually recording images for as long as the Shutter button is held down or until the memory runs out (this varies with the image quality setting and available xD-Picture Card space). Olympus rates the fastest cycle time as one frame per second, a slightly conservative figure, since I measured a maximum of 1.11 frames per second in my own testing at the small/basic resolution. As is usually the case though, the number of frames you can capture quickly is limited by the camera's buffer memory capacity at higher resolution settings, but appears to be limited only by the capacity of the memory card at the lowest resolution. Sequence mode isn't available at all for the TIFF (uncompressed) image format, and also won't work properly if the flash is enabled, due to the time required to charge the flash between pictures. The AF Sequence mode also captures a rapid series of images, but adjusts focus between each shot, resulting in much slower shot to shot times.

My Mode
Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the "My" position, this mode lets you save customized settings and then access them simply by turning the Mode Dial. For example, if you consistently shoot in the same environment, you could save the exposure settings for those specific shooting conditions, so that they can be instantly recalled.(I can imagine this option being very handy for situations where you might have to switch quickly between two different environments. Think of a wedding reception, for instance: Standard "program" mode for outside shots on the lawn, etc, but a custom setup in My Mode to shoot the indoor scenes under incandescent lighting.) My Mode even lets you edit the Shortcut menu items, which appear when the Menu button is pressed, to reflect often-changed settings. The My Mode is very flexible, letting you preset the following camera parameters (see the subsequent section on camera modes and menus for explanations of any settings which might not be obvious from the list below):

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 is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I now routinely measure it with a custom test system I constructed for the purpose. (With crystal-controlled timing, accurate to 0.01% and with a timing resolution of one millisecond.)

Olympus C-50 Zoom Timings
Power On -> First shot
Camera has to extend lens first. A bit slower than average.
Time to retract camera lens. About average.
Play to Record, first shot
Time until first shot is captured. Pretty fast.
Record to play
Time to display a large/fine file after capture. About average.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.94/ 1.03
First number is for wide-angle, second is for telephoto. About average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
Time to capture, after half-pressing Shutter button. Faster than average
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. Pretty fast for large/fine, slower than average for small/basic.
Cycle Time, continuous mode, max/min resolution
(1.08 / 1.11 fps)
First numbers are for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. Pretty fast.
Cycle Time, TIFF images
Slow, but about average for a 5 megapixel TIFF file.


Operation and User Interface
The C-50's user interface is similar to that of other recent Olympus C-series digicams, so it didn't take long for me to get familiar with the camera. Even for users new to Olympus, the menu layouts are quite straightforward with multi-functional controls. A handful of external control buttons change the camera's basic settings, and a Mode dial on the rear panel changes capture modes quickly. When you do have to call up the LCD menu, a shortcut screen appears first, with quick links to the image quality, white balance, and ISO settings. (You can also edit the shortcuts through the Setup menu, to link to a variety of camera functions of your choice.) Once you get into the actual Record menu, options are organized by subject, accessed by a series of tabs down the left side of the screen. This layout lets you quickly skip to the options you need without scrolling through pages of menu items. In any of the manual exposure modes, aperture and/or shutter speed is adjusted via external controls, as is exposure compensation. Once you get the hang of things, the control layout is quite intuitive and efficient.

Control Enumeration

Zoom Lever
: On top of the camera, surrounding the Shutter button, the Zoom Lever controls the optical zoom in all exposure modes, and the Digital Zoom when enabled through the Record menu.

In Playback mode, the lever switches between Index view, normal image display, and playback zoom.

Shutter Button: Located in the center of the Zoom control, the Shutter button sets focus and exposure when pressed halfway and triggers the shutter when fully pressed.

Mode Dial: In the top right corner of the rear panel, the Mode dial controls the camera's operating mode. Choices are Auto, Portrait, Landscape/Portrait, Landscape/Scene, Night Scene, Sports, Self-Portrait, Movie, My Mode, and Program / Aperture / Shutter Speed / Manual (P/A/S/M) modes.

Flash / Erase Button
: Located to the right of the optical viewfinder on the rear panel, this button controls the Flash mode in all still capture modes. Pressing it cycles through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash, Flash Off, Slow Sync, and Slow Sync with Red-Eye Reduction modes.

In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the current image.

Spot / Macro / Protect Button
: Directly to the right of the Flash / Erase button on the back panel is the Spot / Macro / Protect button. In all Record modes, this button cycles between normal metering (Digital ESP), Spot metering, Macro (Closeup) mode, and Macro with Spot Metering modes.

In Playback mode, this button either write-protects the displayed image, or removes protection if it's already protected. Once protected, files cannot be erased or manipulated in any way, except through card formatting. (NOTE that reformatting the memory card erases *all* images, protected or not.)

Four-Way Arrow Pad and OK / Menu Button
: Made up of four buttons arranged in a circle around a single "OK" button, the Arrow Pad controls many of the camera's operations. In all capture modes except Manual, the left and right arrow buttons increase or decrease the exposure compensation setting (provided the LCD monitor is active). In Aperture or Shutter Priority exposure modes, the up and down Arrow buttons adjust the lens aperture or shutter speed settings, depending on which mode you've selected. In Manual mode, the up and down Arrows control shutter speed, while the left and right Arrows control aperture.

In Playback mode, the left and right Arrows move forward or backward through the pictures stored on the card, or scroll around portions of the expanded image in Zoom Playback mode.

In the LCD menu system, the Arrow buttons navigate through menu screens and select settings. The OK / Menu button in the center of the pad displays the settings menu in any camera mode, and also confirms menu selections.

Display / Playback / Quick View Button
: Next to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button turns the LCD monitor on or off. If pressed twice in quick succession, it displays the Quick View function, which calls up the previously captured image on the screen (you can also access all Playback functions here). A third press returns the LCD to its normal display.

Pressing and holding this button when the camera is powered off turns it on and activates Playback mode.

Camera Modes and Menus

Movie Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the movie camera symbol, Movie mode lets you capture movies (without sound) for as long as the memory card has available space. Shutter speed is set automatically from 1/8,000 to 1/30 second, depending on light levels.

My Mode: Configures the camera based on a set of user-defined camera settings, specific to shooting conditions. Exposure variables such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc. can all be saved. You can even save the lens zoom position. My Mode settings are made through the Setup menu.

P/A/S/M Mode: Accesses a range of manual and semi-manual exposure modes, including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, letting you adjust other variables such as white balance, exposure compensation, etc. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give the user control over one exposure variable and the camera control over the other. Manual mode offers full user control over both aperture and shutter speed. Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8, depending on the zoom setting. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second in Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes, to as long as eight seconds in Manual mode.

Auto Mode: This mode puts the camera in charge of everything, except zoom, flash mode, image size, and drive mode. This is a true "point & shoot" mode, requiring almost no input from the user apart from a press of the Shutter button.

Portrait Mode: Optimizes the camera for capturing portraits. A larger aperture is used, decreasing depth of field so that the subject is sharply focused in front of a slightly soft background.

Landscape / Portrait Mode: This mode is best for capturing wide views of scenery or shots of people in front of landscapes. The camera uses a smaller aperture setting, which increases the depth of field to capture both the foreground and background in sharp focus.

Landscape / Scene Mode: Like Landscape / Portrait mode, this mode is for capturing wide views of scenery, with both the foreground and background in focus. However, this mode also enhances any blue or green values in the image, for more vibrant trees, water, and skies.

Night Scene Mode: This mode is best for capturing night portraits or night scenery, such as cityscapes. A slower shutter speed (maximum time of four seconds) lets more ambient light into the image, and the white balance is fixed, preserving color in neon signs or sunsets.

Sports Mode: The camera's exposure system is biased toward faster shutter speeds to freeze action with moving subjects.

Self-Portrait Mode: The final mode on the Mode dial, this mode is for handheld self-portraits (where you hold the camera out in front of yourself and take a picture). Focus remains fixed on you.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you view previously captured images using the Arrow Pad to scroll through frames stored in memory. The Zoom Lever switches the image display to Index mode when moved in the wide angle direction, and when moved in the telephoto direction, enlarges a single image. While zoomed in on an image, the Arrow buttons can move the enlarged view around the full image area, allowing you to inspect all parts of it.

Still Picture Shooting Menu: (Note that available menu options will change depending on capture mode.)

Playback Menu



Image Storage and Interface
The C-50 uses xD-Picture Cards for memory storage, and comes equipped with a 16MB card. Larger card capacities are available up to 128MB separately. (256 MB cards are slated for introduction in 2003.)

The C-50 can store images in both uncompressed TIFF and compressed JPEG file formats. JPEG compression levels include Super High Quality (SHQ), High Quality (HQ), and Standard Quality (SQ). No less than six resolutions are available, with a variety at the Standard Quality setting. Resolutions include 2,560 x 1,920; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels.

The C-50's file naming protocol includes the month and day at the beginning of the file name, and provides the option of numbering images progressively from one card to the next, or of resetting the naming sequence for each card. The camera lets you write-protect individual images from accidental erasure through the Playback menu (though individually protected images can still be erased by a card format operation).

The table below summarizes the compression ratios and number of images which can be stored on the included 32MB xD-Picture Card with each size/quality combination.

Image Capacity vs
32MB Memory Card
2,560 x 1,920
(Avg size)
1:1 6:1 12:1
2,048 x 1,536
(Avg size)
N/A N/A 40
N/A N/A 12:1
1,600 x 1,200
(Avg size)
N/A N/A 66
N/A N/A 12:1
1,280 x 960
(Avg size)
1,024 x 768
(Avg size)
(Avg size)

The C-50 comes with interface software and cables for both Mac and Windows computers. It employs a USB (version 1.1) interface for high-speed computer connection. I clocked the C-50's download speed at 571 KBytes/second when connected to my G4 PowerMac. This is at the upper end of the speed range for digicams I've tested, with only a few models coming in faster. Like most (all?) other current Olympus digicams, the C-50 is a USB storage-class device. Olympus refers to this as "USB Auto-Connect," and it means that you can connect it to computers running Windows Me, XP, or 2000 or Mac OS8.6 or later, without the need to load separate driver software. (Very nice if you're traveling and want to offload images on a computer in an internet cafe or other computer-for-hire venue.)

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. 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...

Video Out
The C-50 has a Video Out port for reviewing previously captured images and movies, or running slide shows from the camera. It also shows all of the LCD menu screens, as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder. (This last means that you could use a TV monitor as a "remote viewfinder" if you wanted to.) Combined with the included remote control, this feature turns the C-50 into a useful self-portrait tool. Through the Setup menu, you can set the Video Out signal to NTSC or PAL.

The C-50 is powered by a single LI-10B lithium battery pack, or by an optional AC adapter that can significantly extend battery life if you're doing a lot of downloads on the computer or working in a studio environment. As usual, I measured the C-50's power consumption in various operating modes, and translated the results into estimated minutes of runtime for each. (Based on the single 1090 mAh capacity lithium battery.)

Operating Mode
(@4.8 volts on the external power terminal)
Est. Minutes
(One 1090 mAh lithium cell)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
486 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
127 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
479 mA
Half-pressed w/o LCD
313 mA
Memory Write (transient)
503 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
1,013 mA
Image Playback
275 mA

Battery life is a good bit better than average for a subcompact camera. In its worst-case power consumption mode, it offers more than an hour and a half of run time - Not long in terms of an all day shooting session, but better than average among compact cameras I've tested. The real bonus comes when you turn the LCD monitor off, which drastically reduces power drain, and increases run time to more than 6 hours. (!) In playback mode, a freshly-charged battery offers about 3 hours of operating time.

While these power consumption figures are better than average, I still highly recommend purchasing a second battery when you buy the camera, to charge up and hold in reserve as a spare. Murphy's Law applies in spades to digicam batteries, which always run out of juice at the worst possible moment.

Included Software
The C-50 comes with a nice complement of software on the supplied CD. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by Olympus' Camedia Master software package (Version 4.0) for both Mac and Windows platforms (Macintosh OS 8.6-9.2/OS X, Windows 98/98SE/Me/2000 Pro/XP). USB drivers for both platforms and an Apple QuickTime reader are also included.

Camedia Master lets you download and organize images, as well as perform minor image correction and enhancement functions (such as adjusting contrast, sharpness, and color balance). For panoramic images, Camedia Master supplies a "stitching" utility to piece together shots vertically or horizontally. A complete printing utility works with the DPOF settings and allows you to print images directly to Olympus or other DPOF-compliant photo printers.

In the Box
The following items are included in the box:

Test Results
In keeping with our standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the C-50 Ultra Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how C-50 images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

With its small size and wide range of exposure offerings, the C-50 is well-suited to novices and more experienced users alike. While the full-auto and scene modes make the camera approachable for novices, its surprising range of exposure controls and options make it well suited for advanced users looking for a compact, "take anywhere" camera. Its all-metal body is both stylish and rugged, and it's compact enough to fit easily in most pockets. It produced good-quality photos under a wide range of shooting conditions, although I really would have liked to see a "custom" white balance setting to handle difficult light sources like household incandescent lighting. It's lens produced sharp images, although the compromises associated with the tiny body made for more geometric distortion and chromatic aberration than I'd prefer. All in all though, an excellent, versatile, really compact digicam, easy enough for a beginner to use, but with enough features to satisfy even "enthusiast" users. (Actually, probably one of my favorite compact digicams as of this writing.)

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