Olympus D-550 Zoom Review
Olympus continues to refine and improve their popular Camedia D-series of high
performance yet affordable digital cameras with the introduction of the 2.8x zoom 3-
megapixel resolution D-550 Zoom, the successor to the popular D-520 Zoom that we reviewed March, 2002. These cameras
all closely resemble their film counterparts, the Olympus Stylus, a pocketable 35mm
camera with a sliding lens barrier and a sleek and stylish exterior. All of Olympus'
digital cameras feature both an optical viewfinder and a color LCD to frame your shots.
The D-550 now employs an energy-efficient and resolute 1.8-inch color LCD and the new
Scene Program menu which allows 7 choices of pre-programmed exposure modes.
The D-550 Zoom can capture up to 1984 x 1488 size images in JPEG or TIFF format as well as the 3:2 mode (1984 x 1312) for perfectly cropped standard size print like 4x6 inches. The 3:2 mode is the same proportion as 35mm film cameras. It also records 320 x 240 QuickTime motion video clips without audio at 15fps. Up to 33 seconds can now be captured per movie at HQ (320 x 240) resolution or up to 148 seconds if using the 160 x 120 email mode.
No camera is better than its lens and the D-550 Zoom uses a fast F2.9, all-glass, 2.8x optical zoom with a 35mm focal length equivalent of 36-100mm. There is also a seamless 3.6x digital zoom feature to further extend the zoom's range to a total of 10x. In the default "auto" mode the built-in pop-up flash comes up as soon as you open the lens barrier and fires when needed. It also has fill flash and redeye reduction modes as well as a "night scene" mode with a slow-sync flash mode. The pop-up flash has to be manually pushed down after you close the front clamshell cover.
When powered up the lens extends and it's ready to take the first picture in about 5 seconds. Shooting in "SHQ" size mode, the camera's shot-to-shot cycle time is well under 4 seconds. The total shutter lag (time from pressing shutter to actually capturing) is about one second. These times are with the flash enabled and in single shot mode. If you do the usual half-press of the shutter and wait for the green focus light it will capture almost instantly when the shutter is fully pressed. When powered down, the lens is protected by the clamshell slide-over lens cover which is also the on/off switch. Overall, the D-550's image processing is quite robust for this level of camera and better than some of the more expensive cameras.
Like other Olympus cameras we have reviewed in the last year, the D-550 employs the TTL digital iESP metering with spot option and an excellent white balance system that consistently produces realistic colors in a wide variety of normal lighting conditions. Olympus dropped the noise reduction setting option, it is now automatic when in the Night Scene mode. The longest shutter speed in normal modes is one half second but that is extended to two seconds in the Night Scene mode. The auto noise reduction works nicely to remove most of the apparent digital noise (random red, green and blue dots) from these night shots. The extended image processing does take a few seconds before you can go on to the next shot but only in long Night Scene exposures. To help give you the most noise-free images possible there is a Pixel Mapping option in the Setup menu that lets you map out bad pixels if and when they appear. The ISO sensitivity is automatic and IS varied between 100 and 400 as necessary. It can be manually locked in at 100, 200 or 400. Our samples photos were shot with the ISO manually locked at 100 (unless noted) to show the best quality that the imager and lens are capable of.
Even though this is a relatively inexpensive camera it is equipped with a sizeable RAM buffer that allows for up to 5 frames in JPEG at SHQ, 16 frames in HQ and up to 86 frames in SQ mode to be captured in sequential drive mode. There are lots of other high-tech features in this easy to use camera so it will satisfy the needs of those users that like to be more involved in the creative process. It accepts any size 3.3v SmartMedia card right up to the latest 128MB size. Battery power is flexible, use four NiMH type AA cells or alkaline or use two of the CR-V3 lithium batteries that last forever when stored away in the gadget bag (great back-ups for the NiMH rechargeables).
I believe this is going to be a successful product for Olympus, it's reasonably priced, loaded with features, produces excellent pictures with enough resolution for 4x6" up to 11x14" prints, small enough to slip into your pants pocket and most importantly -- it's very easy to operate.
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