Olympus C-50 Zoom Review
The C-50 Zoom is an ultra-compact camera that fits easily in your pocket or purse. Now you can carry the power of a fully-featured 5-megapixel digital camera wherever you go, no more excuses for not having it when needed. The D-40 Zoom is a small camera, the C-50 is even slimmer and has an all-metal body for even greater durability. The C-50 Zoom builds on everything that Olympus has perfected in previous compact digicams and offers the user a choice of image sizes from 640x480 for web use all the way up to 2560x1920 for making photo-quality prints up to 13 x 19" and beyond!
No matter what you want in the way of features this camera has got it -- from "point-n- shoot" AUTO to Program AE, shutter speed priority, aperture priority or full manual with shutter speeds as long as 8 seconds. Exposure metering is handled nicely by an almost flawless Digital ESP multi-pattern mode with a spot option if needed. The white balance is very accurate and rarely needs to be set on anything other than automatic. The C-50's Mode Dial has 10 positions that let you quickly change shooting modes without accessing a menu or using the color LCD. The user controls like the mode/power dial, zoom lever and shutter button are ergonomically placed and easy to operate. Particularly useful is the "My Mode" where you can program your favorite combination of image size, quality, operational mode and many other camera options. Anytime you want those settings again you just turn the Mode Dial to the My Mode position.
In addition to the still image capture the C-50 Zoom also records 320x240 and 160x120 QuickTime movie modes at 15fps without sound. The length of movie clips is limited to 33 seconds in HQ and 148 seconds in SQ quality. The movie quality indoor is quite good but outdoors you need to watch out for lighting "hot spots" like sun glints off of reflective objects which create nasty top-to-bottom of frame purple streaks. You also have to be careful to keep the sun behind you as the lens goes to full wide angle when you activate movie mode. You can't use the optical zoom but you can enable the digital zoom from the menu. If you want to make good movies - buy a camcorder.
Drive modes include: Single, Sequential, AF Sequential, AE Bracketing (3-5 frames with +/- 0.3, 0.6 or 1.0 stop increments), Selftimer and Remote. When using an Olympus brand xD-Picture Card there is a special Panorama mode available. As with previous models, Olympus has again included the handy RM-1 infrared remote control. You can operate the zoom and snap a picture in record mode or control the camera during playback on the TV from the other side of the room. It is very useful for tripping the shutter when doing macro shots on a tripod to eliminate camera shake and blurring. It would have worked easier this way if there was an IR receiver on the back of the camera (hint, hint) but you can usually find something to bounce the beam off of in front of the camera.
The C-50's sensitivity by default will change automatically to suit the conditions or you can manually lock it at ISO 80, 160 or 320. Using ISO 160 or 320 with shutter speeds longer than 1/2 of a second results in varying amounts of CCD noise that will appear as speckles and "Christmas lights" (red, green and blue hot pixels.) The Noise Reduction feature found on most high-end Olympus cameras is missing on the C-50 but overall it does a pretty good job with long exposures. The image quality is good with the auto white balance often being a bit on the warm side. There are lots of white balance presets but no manual set option. Exposure metering produced consistent results but when it was "off" it was slightly underexposed -- which is preferable to overexposure where highlights are blown-out and lost forever. The user can control the exposure compensation so you can fine tune it when needed. Images also got a bit on the contrasty side outdoors in the harsh, bright sunlight.
The all-glass 3X optical zoom lens covers a focal range of 35-105mm (35mm equivalent) which makes it perfect for anything from wideangle scenics to portrait shots and anything inbetween. It exhibits the usual amount of barrel distortion in full wideangle and a moderate amount of pincushioning at full telephoto. The maximum aperture at wide angle is a relatively fast f2.8 but the camera lacks an AF-assist lamp and often fails to lock focus in dim lighting. Unlike the D-40 Zoom, the C-50 has no manual focus capability, the only focus preset is infinity which is found in the Landscape mode. The motorized zoom mechanism is smooth and positive although it often seemed a little too fast. The focus range is from 19.7 inches to infinity in normal mode and about 8 inches to 24 inches in macro mode. In normal room light to bright outdoor conditions the auto focus was very accurate and exhibited an average lag time of a second or less. The lens is protected by the front, sliding cover when it's not in use. Opening the front cover also powers up the camera in record mode.
Initial powerup takes about five seconds, most of which is the time needed to extend the lens. Shot to shot times in SHQ are about five seconds when using the flash and four seconds without it. Uncompressed TIFF format requires about eighteen seconds to process and store each image but the camera is ready to capture another shot in about five seconds. Sequential drive mode records a maximum of three frames (in HQ mode) at 1 frame/sec., the focus, exposure and white balance are locked on the first frame. The AF Sequential mode also captures a maximum of three frames (in HQ mode) but the focus is locked for each frame before capture so the framerate is slower.
The 1.5-inch color LCD is a very good display with excellent resolution, 4x playback zoom and an adjustable backlight to suit a wide range of viewing conditions. The refresh rate is realtime so there is no herky-jerky display even when fast panning. It does tend to streak a bit when used outdoors when the sun gets in the frame but this is something we see with most digicams. The screen is coated with an anti-glare surface that resists fingerprints well and is easy to clean. Screen visibility is good in all but direct sunlight where you should be using the optical viewfinder unless you need to access the menus. There is no data display so the color LCD is used to indicate changes in exposure, flash and drive modes as well as battery condition and pictures remaining. The C-50 has a good eyelevel, coupled optical viewfinder but it lacks any kind of diopter adjustment. It is a large and bright viewfinder, even those wearing glasses will have no problems using it. The optical viewfinder displays about 85% of the final captured image. The LCD when used as the viewfinder shows about 98% of the capture area.
The C-50 Zoom is the first Olympus digicam to be powered by a proprietary lithium rechargeable battery pack. If you use the color LCD sparingly it will easily last all day and give you enough power to capture hundreds of photos. The optical viewfinder on this camera is very good so it's easy to use without the color LCD. The battery pack takes about two hours to recharge so we recommend purchasing a second battery pack and keeping it handy. You can't use any type of "off the shelf" type of batteries in this camera. You'll also want a bigger xD-Picture Card, they have 32MB, 64MB and 128MB size cards now with larger capacities soon. Unless you shoot in SQ mode be prepared for some BIG files, the average 5-megapixel SHQ image is around 2.5 megabytes in size.
The bottom line - the C-50 Zoom is an excellent camera that produces images equal to its much larger 5-megapixel peers. Olympus has never had a problem getting the exposure and white balance right, the C-50 does it consistently. About the only thing this camera lacks is a focus-assist lamp (we have to give them something to improve on the next model.) It's a truly palm-sized camera that is both stylish and durable thanks to the brushed silver, all-metal body. You can slip it into your pants pocket, purse or carry it in your hand, the only reason for -not- having it with you would be if you simply forgot it. I'm not crazy about tiny cameras with tiny and impossible to operate controls - the C-50 is NOT one of these. It's small but easy to use, even with large hands, the controls are well placed and plainly labeled. This is a camera that anybody can use in AUTO mode and at the turn of a dial you can select one of the Scene modes to do more creative pictures. And when you're ready for total control you can select from Shutter or Aperture Priority or full Manual exposure mode. With the holidays right around the corner the C-50 Zoom will make a great gift for that special someone on your list.
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