Olympus C-7000 Zoom Review
The Camedia C-7000 offers users 7-megapixels of resolution combined with a high-quality 5x optical zoom lens, all wrapped up in a stylish and compact body. For the beginner, its Program AE (Auto) exposure mode offers the simplicity of fully automatic operation, with the ability to change settings for ISO, white balance, metering etc. There's also five pre-programmed scene modes when you're feeling a little more creative. And they didn't forget about the advanced shooter either, with choices of Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority or Manual exposure modes to suit their situations.
It also provides a flexible set of white balance adjustments, including a "one-touch" setting which measures the color temperature of the scene you're shooting, and six preset white balance settings. Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation settings can also be changed from the C-7000's user-friendly menu system. But, given the degree of control you can exercise over this camera, flexibility can lead to complexity; you can save frequently-used settings in the C-7000's "My Mode" and recall them easily using the Mode Dial, removing complexity from the setup of shooting-related camera functions.
The C-7000's 5x optical zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of 38 - 190mm. This offers flexibility in composing your shots as well as adds to the overall fun factor of the camera. It produces sharp results throughout its range with moderate barrel distortion present at its wide angle extreme, but almost no pincushioning at full telephoto. Its autofocus systems works quickly and has no problem focusing in low-ambient lighting thanks to its AF-assist lamp.
Overall the ergonomics were average, with controls being well-placed and functional. The camera has a nice comfortable feel in your hands, but it would benefit from a larger hand grip. The menu system is logically organized, and we liked the ability to customize the Shortcut menus. However, its pop-up flash is located on the far left-hand side. When the flash is extended you have to readjust how you hold the camera. There's no "natural" place to put your fingers. We also saw this poor positioning on Sony's CyberShot DSC-V1, which they have since corrected on the new DSC-V3 model. We hope Olympus will also correct this obvious error in the next model of this camera, and add a hot shoe for an external flash.
Shooting performance was very robust for a camera in this class. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 2.6 seconds. Shutter lag (the delay from depressing the shutter to actually capturing an image) measured less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting in single drive mode, the shot-to-shot delay averaged 1.6 seconds without the flash, and 2.3 second with the flash. It then takes about 6 to 8 seconds to clear a full buffer (about 4 SHQ images.) The C-7000 offers two sequential (burst) modes to choose from (Sequential and High-speed sequential) Using its Normal mode, I was able to capture 4 frames in about 2.2 seconds. In High-speed mode, I was able to capture 2 frames in just 4/10 of a second. As stated above it takes about 6 to 8 seconds to clear a full buffer. Note, the LCD does "freeze" during sequential shooting, so following fast moving objects with it is out of the question; this is where the optical viewfinder comes in to play.
Although the JPEG times were good, when shooting in RAW or TIFF mode, these times are greatly increased. You can only capture one TIFF image as it fills the buffer and takes about 16 seconds to clear. RAW was a little faster, taking only about 9.5 seconds to clear the buffer after a single shot. Our tests were done using a 512MB xD memory card, SHQ quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
We were pleased with the overall image quality in SHQ mode. Our outdoor samples were sharp, well-exposed, and colors are nicely saturated. As we have seen on past cameras from Olympus, its Auto white balance setting was very accurate, with it being on the money most every time. There was very little noise in high/low contrast areas as well as virtually no traces of chromatic aberration (purple fringing around extreme highlights.) Its SHQ movie mode (640x480, 30fps) produces high-quality movies with almost no compression artifacts but is limited to a max. of 20 seconds - other modes can be recorded until the card is full. Note that our 10 second sample SHQ movie is about 19MB in size! We also found its 2.0-inch LCD quite usable outdoors, even in the bright Florida sun. It would benefit from a non-reflective coating, since there are still some angles that reflect the sun; this is also a time when the optical viewfinder comes in handy.
Indoors it also performs well. The flash has sufficient range for most interior shooting, although as we mentioned above, a hot shoe for connecting external flash units would be nice and something that we expect on a higher end camera like the C-7000. The majority of our flash portraits were well-exposed and skin tones appear very natural. The C-7000, like a few other cameras we have reviewed this year, has a red-eye fix option in Play mode. When a subject shows red-eye, you simply select the REDEYE FIX option from the Edit tab of the Play menu, and it will eliminate it. This is a handy feature that will decrease the amount of time spent on post-processing your images. When using its LCD to frame in low-ambient lighting, you will be disappointed that it does not "gain up", which makes it very difficult to frame in these conditions.
I was also pleased with its Macro capabilities. When using the flash in Macro mode, it did a good job of "throttling down" to keep from over-exposing the subject. However, be sure to check your images, the lens sometimes blocks the flash on close-up subjects. It also features a Super Macro focus mode that can focus on objects as close as 0.8 inches, both the zoom and flash are disabled in this mode. A camera would usually be mounted on a tripod for such close-focused shots; we found that the C-7000's plastic tripod socket raises concerns about over tightening to prevent movement and stripping its threads.
The C-7000 is powered by a proprietary 3.7V 1230mAh LI-12B lithium-ion battery pack. Olympus states that this pack can power the C-7000 for up to 175 shots. We had no problems capturing our samples and concluding our other tests before the battery was exhausted. However, we feel that the battery/xD door is a little flimsy. One good smack and it could snap right off so be careful when you have it open. The camera is supplied with a 32MB xD card, which means you can only take about six of the 7-megapixel SHQ quality images. We recommend the purchase of a 256MB - 1GB xD card right away. Note that xD cards are still more costly per megabyte than the CF or SD type flash memory cards.
Bottom line - the C-7000 will make a great choice for anyone who wants a high-performance point-n-shoot with a "better than average" zoom range and great image quality. Its 7-megapixel SHQ images have plenty of resolution to create photo-quality 13x19-inch prints. With a street price of around $599, it offers a good overall value. I would also consider taking a look at Canon's 7-megapixel PowerShot G6, which can be had for about $100 more.
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