Olympus C-5000 Zoom Review
The Olympus C-5000 Zoom is a stylish 5-Megapixel 3x optical zoom consumer digicam with family-pleasing features that allow it to be used as an Automatic point-n-shoot, with several scene modes having optimal settings for Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Landscape with Portrait, Night Scene and Self-Portrait shooting situations. It satisfies the creative needs of the experienced photographer with a range of advanced shooting modes including Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and full Manual mode. A movie mode (without sound) is also included.
The 3x, 38 to 114mm (in 35mm equivalent) Olympus zoom lens produces sharp images throughout its range, but with a bit of barrel distortion at extreme wide-angle, and some pin cushioning at extreme telephoto. It operates smoothly through its zoom range, and seems to have a continuously-variable focal length rather than the "stepped" movement present in most consumer digicams. There's also a 4X digital zoom but as we have stated over and over, digital zoom is best turned off. Digital zooms simply enlarge the center of the image to fill the entire frame. It may look good on the LCD but it often yields a pixelly and soft image, don't use it, just move closer to your subject. The zoom lens retracts completely when the camera is powered-off, allowing the C-5000 to be easily carried in a pocket or purse when not in use.
Shooting performance is a bit below average. Power-on to first shot captured measured an agonizingly-slow 13 seconds when equipped with a 512MB Olympus xD memory card; this shrunk to a more reasonable 6 seconds when using the supplied 32MB xD card. Because the C-5000 produces JPG files of about 1.5 megabytes at its highest quality setting, you'll want to have a sizable xD card installed, but you'll pay a price in startup time in proportion to its capacity. As a result, this is not the best camera to capture unposed, impromptu moments. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was a respectable 2/10 second when pre-focused but a slow 1 second including autofocus time. Shot- to-shot averaged about 3.5 seconds. The C-5000's continuous capture mode took 5 shots at .7 second intervals with focus set only on the first exposure, or 9 shots at 1.5 second intervals with AF for each exposure. The LCD viewfinder went blank during continuous capture but the zoom-coupled optical viewfinder allows you to follow the action while shooting. During continuous shooting, the C-5000 provides no visual or audible feedback as each shot is taken, you'll know that the sequence is complete only when the LCD displays the last captured image. These timings were obtained using a 512 MB xD memory card, with the camera set for an image size of 2560x1920 at best quality (SHQ) with flash off, and include viewfinder delay, photographer response time, and image capture - they are numbers you can reproduce in the real world. When pre-focused in single shot or continuous mode, the C-5000 will allow you to capture action where you can anticipate it occurring, but its leisurely autofocus and shot- to-shot performance will cause you to miss spontaneous events.
We were generally pleased with our outdoor test shots. While the images were sharp and well-exposed, we found an unusual and consistent defect in our beach/kayak shot; the bright blue sky at the top of the image had some apparent "banding" that stretched horizontally across the top of the image. The defect was present to varying degrees depending on the magnification with which you view the image, and the brightness of the sky. We experienced this on two different C-5000 cameras, and a similar issue was reported by a user of the Olympus C-50 -- it appears to be a design flaw in the 5-megapixel imager or image processing firmware. On the other hand, we were pleased with Noise Reduction mode; it worked well for long-exposure (1 second or longer) night shots, eliminating the hot pixels and other image noise that would otherwise be present.
Indoor shots were sharp and properly exposed within the range (up to 13 feet) of the internal flash at the 38mm wide-angle setting. Flash range decreases rapidly if you increase the focal length and/or lens aperture. Shooting portraits of individuals and small groups, or small rooms will not be a problem. You'll be able to include yourself in group shots by using either the self-timer or the included remote control. Attach an Olympus FL-20 flash to the TTL hot shoe and you'll increase the flash range considerably. While it has no focus-assist lamp, the C-5000's autofocus system was quite effective in conditions of low ambient light. The C-5000 is effective at squelching its flash at close range, and has good macro focusing; it would be a good choice for taking images of small objects for online auction listings.
The C-5000 also has a Super macro mode that can focus on objects as close as 1.6 inches, although both the zoom and flash are disabled in this mode. A camera would usually be mounted on a tripod or copy stand and shooting down for such close-focused shots; we found that the C-5000's plastic tripod socket is offset to the extreme left side of the camera body, raising concerns about over tightening to prevent movement and stripping its threads.
Take the C-5000 out of Automatic Exposure mode and you'll find a comprehensive set of camera adjustments. ISO can be set within a range of 50 to 320, or automatic. The advanced shooter can choose from Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority or Manual exposure mode to suit the situation. The AF area can be moved to focus on an off-center subject as you compose the shot. The C-5000 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 the ability to fine-tune any of the six preset white balance settings. Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation settings can also be made from the C-5000'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-5000's "My Mode" and recall them easily using the Mode Dial, removing complexity from the setup of shooting-related camera functions.
The Olympus C-5000 is powered by a proprietary Lithium Ion battery pack. It lasted an average of 200 shots in our testing, including heavy use of the LCD for shooting and reviewing shots, and testing the camera's menu system. We always recommend having a second fully-charged battery on hand for the inevitable coincidence of a dead battery meeting a once in a lifetime photo op.
While we generally impressed with the C-5000's features and overall image quality, we were a bit disappointed with it's shooting performance and the "banding" defect we found in the beach/kayak test shots. Other than that, it's versatile enough to please photographers of all experience levels, and will satisfy many families with its generally high-quality results. At a street price of under $400 (as of November, 2003), you might find the C-5000 to be a good value; have a look at our sample images and decide for yourself.
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