Olympus C5050 Zoom, 2 months later: a real-world reviewin Reviews: Digital Cameras
By themarco/Marco (5,868)
on February 25, 2003 8:38:05 AM CST
IntroductionIt's been two months and a lot of photographs since I purchased my new Olympus C5050 Zoom digital camera. I thought it would be nice to share my experience with this camera with the users of PhotoSIG. While I'm not a professional reviewer nor claim to be one I think my article can give the reader a nice real-world view on what it's like to use the C5050 Zoom during regular photographing in daily life. I hope this review will be useful and I hope you like reading it as much as I liked writing it.
Body and Features
The Olympus C5050 feels great. The body is very sturdy and has a professional look and feel. The camera is very compact and has a black magnesium case with a sturdy rubber grip. The size was a pleasant surprise. From what Id seen on pictures of it on the internet I expected it to be quite large. The opposite is true. Its far more compact than I could have imagined. When holding it you can easily appreciate the design because it has a great solid feel. Most buttons can be easily reached with either your right thumb or your left hand when shooting. While I dont think the C5050 is the prettiest of all digital cameras it surely has a very professional look and feel.
The Olympus C5050 is probably a photographers dream when it comes to controls and photographic features included in the camera. It would probably be too much to discuss everything here which is why Ill give an overview of the most important features available.
The camera has four different ISO settings: 64, 100, 200 and 400. I would have liked an 800 setting but alas, this is not included. Zoom range is 3x optical. While adequate a 4x zoom like the Canon G3 offers would not have hurt. There are two AF modes: iESP and spot with nine areas in a cross. The camera features an AF illuminator which has proven me to be very useful in low light situations. Exposure modes come in 8 different types: Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Scene (portrait, night scene, sport, landscape and landscape portrait), Movie and in addition 8 user defined modes. Shutter times range from 4-1/2000 sec in P, A or S mode and 16-1/1000 mode in Manual mode. Apertures vary from F1.8(!) to F8.0 in wide and F2.6-F8.0 in tele mode (zoomed in).
The camera features a macro mode and in addition to this a spectacular super macro mode in which we can shoot at less than an inch from the lens. Results are very impressive.
Storage options are enormous on this device. The camera accepts CompactFlash type I and II cards including microdrives, SmartMedia cards and the new xD Picture Card format. A 32MB xD card is included with the camera.
The camera has a tilting LCD screen that can be locked varying from 20 degrees up to +90 degrees. I would have liked a full swiveling LCD though. When shooting in portrait mode it can be awkward to watch the LCD at difficult angles.
Exposure compensation is available varying from 2EV to +2EV varying in steps of 1/3EV. Something to notice however is the fact that these dont seem to be available in Manual mode.
The really nifty features this camera includes are a real-time histogram display while shooting including a spot readout overlay, easy to use manual white balancing, panorama mode with stitching, an easy accessible self-timer and a hotshoe for an external flash. This last option is often lacking on compact digital cameras. I am very happy with the fact that Olympus included this option on the C5050.
The camera takes 4 AA batteries. NiMH batteries and a charger are included in the package.
A point to note is the fact that even though I have this camera for 2 months now I havent even discovered all features. Its so packed with options you will find yourself spending quite a while before youve discovered them all.
Interface and Controls
The main interface that controls the settings that dont need to be modified so often at shooting time are divided in four tabsheets that appear on the screen when pressing the menu (OK) button on the back of the camera. In the cam tab we can set drive modes (single, mutiple, multiple at high speed, multiple with continuous AF and several others), ISO values (64,100,200 and 400) , flash modes, AF modes (iESP and spot) and several other settings.
In the pic tab we can set a lot of different image types varying from 640x480 to 2560x1920 including a convenient 3x2 mode of 2560x1996 and a digitally enlarged size of 3200x2400. Available image formats are JPEG in various compression sizes, uncompressed TIFF and a RAW image format. In this same tab we also find several whitebalance presets, manual whitebalance and an option to save several user defined white balance settings. On top of this theres also a nice one-touch whitebalance option with which we can quickly do a whitebalance with a white sheet of paper. Finally we find several scene modes such as B/W and sepia toning and we can adjust sharpness, contrast and saturation (-5 to 5 in steps of 1).
In the card tab we can quickly format the various supported memorycards and finally we have the setup tab in which we can alter various camera settings.
Other buttons and controls
Outside the settings on the main screen there are several easy to reach buttons available on the camera. A jog dial is available to quicly change shutter speed. When pressing a button on the left and using this same dial we can alter the aperture with the same ease. Combined with the light metering information and the live histogram on the LCD we can very quickly get the right settings with this at shooting time. The jog dial plays a very integral role in operating this camera. When keeping the flash button on the left side pressed we can quickly choose between various flash modes such as auto, red eye reduction, slow or no flash. When pressing a button on top of the camera labeled with AF/macro/MF we can also easily switch between macro, super macro, normal and these same modes with manual focus. When using the manual focus a part of the image is enlarged on the LCD in order to be able to focus. In addition to this the display shows the focus range in meters or centimeters depending on which mode we are in. When pressing the metering button on top of the camera we can quickly switch between spot, iESP or multi lightmetering. As you can see, most options are controlled by the jog dial offering an easy and quick way to alter settings at shooting time. It takes some days to get used to it but after that it really works like a charm.
When focusing we can easily lock the focus at any time by pressing the AEL button which can be reached with the thumb at shooting time. Pressing it again releases the lock. This same button functions as a quick delete button when the camera is in playback mode.
Just like in the section about features this is not everything this camera has to offer. Theres simply so much to tell that it would be too much to write it all down in this review. As a general conclusion I think its safe to say that Olympus thought very well about the interface design of the C5050 both in software and in exterior design. I really have nothing to complain about this.
Olympus offers an adapter that both functions as lens-armor and also as converter for various add-ons. A macro-converter, wide-converter and a tele-converter are available from Olympus. Olympus offers a 1.4x teleconverter. Its worth noting that Tiffen supposedly even offers a 2x teleconverter. This would result in a nice 6x optical zoom range.
As said, this camera offers a hotshoe to attach any external flash. I have tried shooting with both a Nikon and a Canon external flash and everything worked like a charm. Olympus also offers a special external flash specifically designed for use with digital cameras such as the E-10, E-20 and now also the C5050. This flash supposedly directly communicates with the camera for optimal metering and lighting. I havent bought this flash yet so I cannot comment on it for now but Im definitely thinking about it.
The Olympus lens adapter also enables the user to attach all possible filters such as UV filters, gradient filters, warming filters, circular polarizers and all kinds of other filters. Its also possible to use an IR filter with the C5050 since its CCD is quite IR sensitive. I have not tried this myself yet but I have seen spectacular IR photographs done with the C5050 on the web.
All in all the C5050 is a very extensible camera indeed!
Image quality (colors, resolution and CCD noise)Image quality is the area on which there has been a lot of debate about the C5050. Lets look at some issues.
Color & Resolution
First of all the colors. I find the C5050s colors very vivid and more important: realistic! While several other cameras seem to suffer from slight over-saturation the C5050 produced nice, real looking colors without ever exaggerating. I consider it an easy trick to slightly add saturation such as some other vendors do and I like this more realistic approach a lot more. Skin tones look great, night shots really look like the scene looked when you shot it and the same goes for landscapes and basically anything else. Nothing to complain about the colors!
Resolution is also top notch. The C5050 produces images with tremendous detail and clarity. Again there is no complaint or whatsoever.
The big CCD Noise issue
Then theres the big issue of CCD noise. We have to admit, the C5050 produces a bit more than average CCD noise compared to the competition. However I think its too easy to turn our backs to this camera because of this. Ive often seen comparisons between the Canon Powershot G3 and the C5050 in terms of CCD noise.
Since the G3 and the C5050 are in the same price range (in fact the C5050 is cheaper!) I think its fair to make a small comparison. While its true that the C5050 has a bit more noise, the G3 offers visibly less detail. Another important issue is the fact that the difference is most noticable at 100 and 200 ISO levels. When shooting at 64 ISO level (which for this camera in my experience seems to be equivalent to a 100 ISO film) noise levels are rather low. When shooting at 400 ISO the difference between the C5050 and the competition is a lot less. Also, when taking shots at a long shutter speed (1 second or more) we have the option of enabling in-camera noise reduction which does a pretty good job at reducing CCD noise.
To get back to the G3 comparison I have also concluded the following: When taking a shot with the C5050 at 5Mpixel and cleaning it up with Photoshop or NeatImage I am left with an image that still has plenty of clarity and resolution. If I wanted to I could rescale the image to 4Mpixel and then I would most definitely end up with a better image than the original G3 image. Most of the times I wouldnt actually do this and have a nice high-definition 5Mpixel image.
To finish the noise debate with a personal note I will say the following: Noise had yet to be an issue for me with this camera. I have never been bothered by noise on my shots. There has never been anything that couldnt be fixed or avoided. When shooting at daytime at 64 ISO everything is fine and even with the other settings I could perfectly live with the results. More than that actually. When printing images on normal sizes such as 10x15cm or 13x18cm its actually not even an issue at all. You just cant see any of it on the prints. A last important thing that almost all reviews on the internet have failed to see when adressing the CCD noise issue is the in-camera sharpening and contrast on the C5050. I can be short about this: its too aggressive. When turning down sharpening and contrast a bit in the pic tab as discussed above noise is greatly reduced and sharpening can be added again during postprocessing when this is desired. All in all the CCD noise issue is (IMHO) seriously exaggerated in the reviews Ive read. Its certainly here, I wont deny this fact, but it can be quite easily be controlled as you can read here.
Image quality II (JPEG compression and Chromatic Abberation)
A noteworthy point about the C5050 is the fact that it can store JPEGs with virtually no compression. Its like saving your JPEG in photoshop at 100% quality. When shooting in this quality mode (SHQ) its very hard to see the difference between this mode and the also available much larger and slower TIFF mode. File size varies between 2 to 3 MB. This is certainly a big filesize but the quality is absolutely stunning. Absolutely no JPEG artifacts are visible in the files the C5050 produces.
A second drawback of the C5050 we can read about in various reviews is Chromatic Abberation. Chromatic Abberation (CA) can be best described as purple color fringing in areas where we see a huge contrast between light and dark. A good example is a photo of a bare tree with very bright light in behind it. The C5050 is supposed to have a bit more CA than the competition. While I am not questioning the test results by several highly rated reviewers I do have to say that CA has yet to be an issue in my own photographing. I have actually had a hard time to reproduce the complaints Ive read about from some reviewers on the internet. While its visible at times it can be controlled by choosing a slightly narrower aperture such as f/5.6 for example. Furthermore, I personally dont even like the kind of shots where CA is apparent with any camera: bright light shining directly into the lens through a background making this background look really dark and the light look really bright. I guess we can come up with scenarios where it could be an issue nevertheless but as said I have yet to encounter one. Again, no denial from my part but I dont see a big problem either. To finalize, IF CA occurs there are still postprocessing techniques that can get rid of it.
Closing notes about image quality
To conclude the part about image quality I can honestly say that the C5050 has not disappointed me at all in this respect. I could easily have taken the camera back and trade it in for another one but none of the problems adressed in some reviews on the internet have made me do this and Im glad I didnt. Excellent resolution, real-to-life colors and an excellent JPEG compression ratio have made me more than happy.
Since any decent review ends with a conclusion, so is mine. As you possibly already concluded when reading this review Im very happy with my Olympus C5050. The camera is packed with all the photographic features I could ever want. The case is extremely robust and breathes quality. The user interface and the placement of buttons to control the camera are extremely ergonomic. The camera is really a pleasure to use. You have probably noticed me comparing the C5050 against the Canon Powershot G3 in the part about image quality. Since the G3 was one of the contenders on my final decision list I thought it would be appropriate to compare my camera to the G3. When taking into account the higher resolution, the great interface, the much better build-quality, the ultra bright lens (1.8 in wide mode!) I concluded the C5050 is the winner for me. Also take into account that in many stores the C5050 is actually even CHEAPER than the G3! All in all this camera is unbeatable in price-quality ratio. A highly recommended camera that will surely make any serious digital photographer very happy. Being rather serious about photography the DSLR cameras are luring me to the shops already and I think I will definitely buy one in time. The C5050 however will most definitely not be tossed for a very long time because it delivers pictures that are rather close to a DSLR camera. It will be my travel companion for a long time to come when I want to travel light. If you are shopping for a new semi professional digital compact-camera in the $900 range please do give the C5050 a serious look!
As a final note: all images in my portfolio on PhotoSIG were shot with the Olympus C5050 Zoom. I guess the images can do a part of the talking as well. I hope this review is useful for you!
Marco van Hylckama Vlieg
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