Olympus D-580 Zoom Review
Olympus has refreshed their D-series of point-n-shoot consumer digicams for 2004 with
four new models, the D-395
3-megapixel fixed focus, D-575 3-megapixel 3x optical
zoom with sound, the D-540
3-megapixel 3x optical zoom, and the D-580
4-megapixel 3x optical zoom with sound, the subject of this review
and top of the line. All four cameras
favor simplicity and ease of use over advanced features, appealing
more to beginners interested in capturing family events and travel memories
than to enthusiasts.
The D-580 is an attractive package. The sleek and stylish exterior is constructed of a durable plastic, and is small enough to carry in a pocket or purse. Like most D-series cameras, the D-580 has a sliding lens barrier that serves as a power switch as well as a lens protector. The minimal camera controls are well-placed on the body, and the menu system is logically-organized. The D-580 is powered by either two AA cell batteries or one CR-V3 lithium battery. We've always recommended the use of NiMH rechargeable AA batteries; they supply a lot more power than alkalines and they'll save you money. There's now a money-saving alternative to disposable CR-V3 batteries; check out our list of CR-V3 rechargeable batteries. Powered by a pair of 2100maH rechargeable AA batteries, the D-580 exhausted its battery capacity after capturing 130 images, including extensive use of the LCD viewfinder for testing the menu system and composing and reviewing shots.
Consumers will be happy with the image sharpness produced by the 35mm-equivalent 35-105mm optical zoom lens. Barrel distortion is present at wide-angle, and slight pin cushioning at telephoto, typical of cameras in this class. The lens zooms smoothly, but not continuously, through its range; it has 11 distinct steps, adequate for most shot composition needs.
The D-580's shooting performance is average. It took about six seconds to capture the first image after sliding open the lens barrier, and five seconds when waking the camera from its power-saving sleep mode. The relatively slow power-on performance may cause you to miss those unposed, spontaneous, photo ops. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured an impressive 1/10 second when pre-focused and 8/10 second including autofocus time; add 1/10 second to both of those times if using the LCD viewfinder, which delays the live image. In single shot mode, the D-580 captured 3 images in 4.5 seconds seconds without flash, taking 9 seconds to flush its buffer before another shot could be taken; using flash, the shot-to-shot interval ranged between 2.5 and 9 seconds, depending on the distance to the subject. In Sequential shooting mode, the D-580 captured 3 frames in 1.6 seconds; 12 seconds elapsed while the camera flushed its buffer before the next 3-shot sequence could be taken. The D-580 is no high-performance camera, but it is responsive enough to capture most family shooting situations. These timings were based on the camera set to SHQ (2288 x 1712) image size, auto white balance, and flash off with a 512MB Olympus xD Picture card.
The D-580's automatic exposure system performed well. The ESP multi-pattern metering system produced very good exposures in average lighting conditions, and the spot metering can be used for back or spot-lit subjects. The D-580 also allows you to adjust EV compensation +/- 2 stops, with the effect of that adjustment visible on the LCD viewfinder's live image. Beginners will appreciate the choice of 5 scene modes in which the D-580 optimizes camera settings for Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Night Scene, and Self Portrait shots. Night scene shots are improved by the D-580's noise reduction feature, automatically activated when the shutter speed is slower than 1/2 second; don't forget to use a camera support in this mode, or you'll have shots blurred by camera shake. To prevent "hot pixels" from ruining your otherwise perfect shot, Olympus equipped the D-540 with a Pixel Mapping feature accessible from the Setup menu; it maps-out bad pixels if and when they appear. While the D-580 allows you to pre-set white balance (Sunlight, Overcast, Tungsten, and Fluorescent), I found the Automatic setting foolproof in producing proper color balance. The ISO sensitivity is not adjustable, and its automatic range varies between 50 and 400 to suit the conditions.
I was pleased with the D-580's outdoor results. Images were in sharp focus, well exposed, and richly saturated. The 35-105mm (35mm equivalent) focal length of the optical zoom lens offers enough field of view in the wide-angle range for composing landscape shots, while providing enough magnification in the telephoto range to bring your subjects closer. The LCD monitor was effective as a viewfinder even in bright sunlight; I found it easy to use the menu system, and compose and review images. The ability to magnify an image up to 4x allows you to check for critical focus in the field and avoid the disappointment of an out of focus image when you get home. The zoom-coupled optical viewfinder is small but usable, being of most benefit on the brightest of days or when conserving battery power.
The indoor results were also pleasing. The limited range of the built-in flash (about 11 feet) and the field of view at wide angle will limit your flash shots to small rooms and portraits of small groups. You'll be able to include yourself in those group portraits thanks to the D-580's tripod socket and the use of its self-timer, or the self-portrait scene mode that you can use hand-held. Although the D-580 does not have a focus-assist lamp, its autofocus system works fairly well in average indoor lighting conditions at the wide angle end of the zoom range. The LCD does not automatically brighten in dim lighting, so you'll find the optical viewfinder preferable in these conditions. The D-580 is very effective at squelching its flash at close range and, combined with its macro focusing capability, would be a good choice for capturing images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings.
As with most consumer digicams, the D-580 has a movie mode; it is capable of recording at resolutions of 320x240 and 160x120; movie length is limited only by the amount of available memory. Movies can be recorded with sound or without, allowing you to zoom while shooting. During playback you can create an index of 9 selected frames from the movie, and save the index as a still image; it's a unique feature that will allow you to later find the clip containing a subject of interest. Playback mode also has a nice movie editing function, allowing you to trim unwanted frames and shorten the clip.
I experienced only one annoyance with the D-580; when it's batteries are removed only briefly, it loses its settings. In most cases that was not an issue, but there are two forgotten settings that I consider problematic:
At an estimated street price of under $280 at the time of this review (May 2004), the Olympus D-580 zoom offers a good value to families desiring a digicam combining good image quality, useful features, and simplicity. Its uncomplicated automatic features produce properly exposed images, its sharp 3x optical zoom lens offers a versatile range, and its 4-megapixel imager has enough resolution for 11x14-inch prints or cropped prints of smaller size. At its highest resolution, the D-580 image files exceed 2-megabytes, so make sure to get an xD memory card capable of holding a day's worth of shots; a 128MB xD card will hold about 40 SHQ images. And complement a high-capacity memory card with ample power; I suggest getting a pair of CR-V3 rechargeable batteries to ensure that you don't miss that once in a lifetime photo op because of a dead battery.
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