Olympus C-3020 Zoom Review
The C-3020 Zoom is an updated C-3000 Zoom with an all-gray/silver body. It's an affordable 3-Megapixel camera that lacks some of the features found on other C-30xx models such as a Video Out port, infrared control port (and a RM-1 remote control) and a large RAM buffer. It does have a high-quality 3x optical zoom lens and robust image processing firmware. It features exposure options from point and shoot simplicity to full metered manual. It's small enough to take with you wherever you go and light enough to hang around your neck all day. It has what it takes to produce a very good image.
The C-3020's large finger grip gives it a secure and stable feel in your hand. The major controls like the mode / power dial, zoom lever and shutter button are ergonomically placed and easy to operate. Particularly useful is the new "My Mode" option where you can "set- up" your favorite combination of image size, quality, operational mode, lens start-up position, EV compensation, flash mode, and most every other camera option available. This can be your startup default when you turn the camera on which is very handy from power on to power off or during battery or memory card changes.
Recording options are plentiful with a myriad of different combinations of still image capture sizes (2048x1536, 1600x1200, 1280x960, 1024x768, 640x480) and quality/compression settings (uncompressed TIFF, SHQ, and HQ). There's also the 320x240 and 160x120 QuickTime movie modes at 15 fps but without sound. Movie recording time is limited only by the capacity of the SmartMedia card you're using. The movies are sharp and clear and because it doesn't record sound you can use the optical zoom. Most digicams that have a movie mode that records sound precludes the use of the optical zoom because the microphone will pickup the mechanical noise of the lens.
Drive modes include: Single, Burst, AF Burst, AE Bracketing (3-5 frames with +/- 0.3, 0.6 or 1.0 stop increments), and Self timer. Burst mode is good for around 1.7 fps up to five JPEG- compressed pictures in the HQ mode. It is not useable in TIFF mode. When using an Olympus brand SmartMedia card there is also a special Panorama mode available. In combination with their software, packaged with the camera, you can stitch together up to 10 images.
Exposure options include Programmed Automatic, a point and shoot mode where the camera chooses the best combination of shutter speed and aperture that range from 1/800 - 4 sec's. If you want more control, you can pick from Aperture-priority (F2.8-F11), Shutter-priority (1/800 - 4 sec's) or full Manual (f/2.8 - f/11 and 1/800 - 16 sec's). These modes must be chosen from the setup menu and take effect when you switch the mode dial to the "A/S/M" position. When in Manual mode the exposure compensation display becomes the indicator as to how many stops from suggested correct exposure you are. It is displayed on the LCD screen in the top right.
The C-3020's sensitivity by default will change automatically to suit the conditions or you can manually lock it in at ISO 100, 200 or 400. Using ISO 200 or 400 with shutter speeds longer than 1/8 of a second will result in varying amounts of CCD noise that will appear as speckles and Christmas lights (red, green and blue hot pixels.) The new Noise Reduction mode must be selected from the record mode menus. I shot a 2 second exposure at f/2.8 in program and auto film speed (no flash) set in the Noise Reduction mode and was very impressed with the lack of "Christmas lights".
Metering can be Digital ESP Multi-Pattern Meter or Spot. White balance options are: Automatic, daylight, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent and the added feature of manual preset. The built in speedlight's output can be controlled (+/- 2.0 in 0.3 increments) and offers Auto-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in, slow sync flash 1,2 (1 and 2 denotes the flash fires at the beginning or the end of the exposure), red-eye reduction slow sync 1, or Flash Off modes. Its working range is excellent from macro out to about eleven and a half feet and with little to no redeye problems. There is no external flash connector.
The all glass, 3X optical zoom lens covers a focal range of 32-96mm (35mm equivalent) and is pretty sharp. It exhibits the usual amount of barrel distortion in full wide angle and a moderate amount of pincushioning at full telephoto. The motorized zoom mechanism is smooth and positive.
Autofocus is TTL using a contrast detection system. The autofocus range is from 31 inches to infinity in normal mode and 8 to 31 inches in macro mode or you can switch to manual focus (set from a menu). When manual focusing, you have 130 steps from 8 inches to infinity and a slider scale is overlaid on the color LCD. The indicator moves as you adjust the distance. The autofocus is accurate and usually performs its job in a second or less even in macro mode and works well down into dim lighting conditions.
Filters or add-on lenses can be attached to the C-3020 using the Olympus CLA-1 adapter. Kenko and others also make an adapter that can be used on the C-3000, C-3030, C3040, C-2020 and C-2000 cameras.
The 1.8-inch color LCD is one of the "Wide view" displays and is much easier to see from the side than earlier LCDs. It has excellent resolution and the back light can be adjusted to suit a wide range of viewing conditions. The refresh rate is real time so there is no herky- jerky display even when fast panning. Screen visibility is good in all but direct sunlight where you should be using the optical viewfinder unless you need to access the menus. I found it quite easy to shield the screen by cupping my hand around it when I had to change settings in the great outdoors.
Speaking of optical viewfinders ... the C-3020 uses the same eye level coupled optical viewfinder as the C-2020 and C-3030. There is a diopter adjustment knob on the side and it is a large and bright viewfinder so even those wearing glasses will have no problems using it. It shows about 85% of the final image. The LCD if used as a viewfinder shows about 90% of the capture area and it was a bit confounding trying to shoot full frame final images. I did notice that the optical viewfinder is offset from the actual captured image a little bit.
Unfortunately Olympus decided not to package a set of NiMH batteries and charger this time. They claimed a "new battery saving technology" was added to this model. IT Works! I was impressed with getting about 170 shots from the included 4-AA alkaline batteries. They work fine but they are not rechargeable so you'll end up dumping the alkalines in the land fill (a very big NO-NO). You should still get a set (or two) of NiMH batteries and a charger to complete this otherwise good camera system.
Bottom Line is that this is a good camera. As I said at the beginning, it has what it takes to produce a very good image and it would be one of the cameras that I'd recommend to those seeking a mid-level consumer digicam.
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