Olympus C-5050 Zoom Review

Steve's Digicams

Olympus C-5050 Zoom

Steve's Conclusion

The Camedia C-5050 Zoom is built on the popular C-4040 Zoom with a higher resolution 5-megapixel imager, an all-magnesium body and a number of other improvements. New additions are a hot shoe for TTL flash photography, a low-light focus assist illuminator, RAW image recording mode, an articulated color LCD, Super Macro to allow focusing as close as one inch, and a wider shutter speed range in manual mode of 16 seconds to 1/1000 second. The C-5050Z handles a wide variety of recording media including SmartMedia cards, CompactFlash Type I and II cards (presently as large as 1GB), IBM Microdrives (512MB or 1GB) and the new xD-Picture cards. With its 2560 x 1920 images averaging ~3MB per SHQ JPEG, ~7MB RAW and ~14MB TIFF, it wouldn't take long to fill even the largest 128MB SmartMedia card so it's nice to have the higher capacity storage alternatives.

The C-5050 Zoom builds on everything that Olympus has perfected in the previous C-4xxx series of cameras and gives the user a wide choice of image sizes and Quality settings from 640 x 480 to 3200 x 2400 in JPEG or uncompressed TIFF. The 3200 x 2400 images are the product of in-camera interpolation or OIE (Optimum Image Enlargement), the highest "real" image resolution is 2560 x 1920 which is also available in RAW format. Olympus is introducing the C-5050 Zoom at a street price of $799 which makes it the lowest priced 5-megapixel camera on the market.

It's equipped with an ultra-fast F1.8 Super Bright 3x optical zoom lens (35-105mm equivalent in 35mm photography) which gives it better performance than most in low light conditions and extends the working flash range. The lens is sharp and has good contrast with a slight bit of barrel distortion in full wideangle and very moderate pincushioning at full telephoto. The motorized zoom mechanism is smooth and positive but it's more than a little noisy in operation. The focus range is from 30 inches to infinity in normal mode, 8 inches to 30 inches in macro mode and down to one inch in Super Macro! Filters or add-on lenses can be attached to the C-5050 Zoom using the optional Olympus CLA-1 lens adapter.

No matter what you want in the way of features this camera has got it -- from the point and shoot simplicity of Program AE to Shutter speed priority (4 to 1/1000 seconds), Aperture priority (F1.8 to F8) or full Manual with shutter speeds as long as 16 seconds. Exposure metering options include matrix, spot and a unique multi mode that lets you take individual readings from up to 8 points to calculate the final exposure. Autofocus or manual focus with a distance gauge and a magnified central-LCD display to aid in critical focusing. White balance options include Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Sunny, Incandescent, Fluorescent 1,2,3,4 and manual Preset.

The C-5050's all-magnesium body and large finger grip gives a real secure and stable feel in your hand. The major controls like the mode, power dial, jog control, zoom lever and shutter button are ergonomically placed and easy to operate. Major settings (flash mode, drive mode, focus mode, metering mode, exposure compensation) are accomplished via onscreen "virtual dials." You can also see these changes on the monochrome data display on the top. The Dual Control Panel setup option turns the color LCD into a realtime data display. Particularly useful is the custom My Mode options where you can "dial in" your favorite combination of image size, quality, operational mode, lens startup position, EV compensation, flash mode, and most every other camera option available. This can be your startup default when you turn the camera on which is very handy from power on to power off or during battery changes.

In addition to the still image modes the C-5050 can also record 320x240 and 160x120 resolution QuickTime movie modes at 15fps with sound. Movie recording time is limited only by the amount of available memory. The movies are sharp and clear but unfortunately you can't use the optical zoom when the audio is enabled. Wise move considering that it's next to impossible to keep from picking up the sound of the noisy zoom mechanism. Disabling the audio gives you a little more memory to record slightly longer movie clips.

Drive modes include: Single, Burst, AF Burst, AE Bracketing (3-5 frames with +/- 0.3, 0.6 or 1.0 stop increments), Selftimer and Remote. Continuous Hi mode allows 3 frames at 3.3 fps in SHQ OIE mode up to 4 frames in other image sizes. Burst mode is good for 1.7fps up to 11 frames in JPEG HQ, it's not useable in TIFF mode. When using an Olympus brand xD-Picture or SmartMedia card the special Panorama mode is available. 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's very useful for tripping the shutter when doing macro shots on a tripod to eliminate camera shake and blurring. It was made to be used in front of the camera as that is where the sensor is located but you can often bounce the IR beam off of a wall or window when using it from behind the camera.

The C-5050 Zoom's performance is impressive. The start-up time is under five seconds from turning on the power until you capture the first image and most of that time is used ratcheting the lens into firing position. The shot to shot time is less than four seconds even at the largest image size and highest quality. Add about another second if using the flash. The time it takes to write to the media is not an issue as there is no need to wait for it to finish before taking the next image as it streams the data to the card. I shot about twenty frames one after the other in single frame mode without any processing delay noticed. To capture fast action sequences there's the Continuous Hi or Burst modes mentioned above. All consumer digicams are optimized for processing JPEG images so most require from 20 to 30 seconds (or more) to process a TIFF uncompressed image. The C-5050 is very robust requiring only 10 seconds between shots in Large/TIFF mode and less than 5 seconds when in RAW mode.

The C-5050's ISO sensitivity by default will change automatically to suit the conditions or you can manually lock it at ISO 64, 100, 200 or 400. Using ISO 200 or 400 with shutter speeds longer than 1/2 second usually results in varying amounts of CCD noise that appears as speckles and "Christmas lights" (red, green and blue hot pixels.) The Noise Reduction feature will give you vastly improved long exposures with very little noise, in fact some of the best I've seen but it does extend the processing and write to card times. Other image adjustment features include variable sharpness, contrast and color saturation, each with a range of +5 to -5 settings. Many users have commented that the default sharpness level is too sharp so you may want to try a -1 or -2 value. This can also decrease apparent image noise in images captured at ISO 100, 200 and 400.

The built-in speedlight's output power can be controlled (+/- 2.0 in 0.3 increments) and offers Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, Slow-sync and Slow-sync with Red-Eye reduction. Its working range is excellent out to about 15 feet but is a little "hot" for macro use. There's a hot shoe for mounting the optional Olympus FL-40 speedlight for full TTL flash control. Olympus did away with the 5-pin connector for off-camera connection and there's no PC sync connector either but both of these features can be added with optional hot shoe-mounted accessories. Using the FL-40 gives you much greater working range due to its more powerful output and motorized zoom head, a more powerful focus assist illuminator and bounce/tilt capability for more natural looking flash pictures.

The 1.8-inch color LCD is one of the "Wideview" displays and has excellent resolution with a backlight that can be adjusted to suit a wide range of viewing conditions. New with the C-5050 Zoom is the articulated mount for the color LCD which was first used on the E-10 SLR. It can be tilted down to use over your head or it can be tilted upwards to function like a waist-level viewfinder. The refresh rate is real time so there is no herky-jerky display even when fast panning. It does tend to streak a bit when used outdoors and the sun gets in the frame but this is something we see with most digicams. Screen visibility is good in all but direct sunlight where you should be using the optical viewfinder unless you need to access the menus. The C-5050 Zoom uses the same eyelevel, coupled optical viewfinder as the C-4040 (and C-3030 etc). It has a diopter adjustment knob on the side and is large and bright with a high eye point so even those wearing glasses will have no problems using it. It shows slightly more than 92% of the final image. The LCD when used as a viewfinder shows about 98% of the capture area.

Using a color LCD, motorized zoom, flash and high resolution imager puts quite a load on the batteries so we appreciate Olympus sticking with the four AA type battery power supply. Included in the base package is a set of high-capacity NiMH batteries and an AC charger. One set of batteries is never enough so be sure to buy another set or two of NiMH batteries to complete this otherwise excellent camera system. When used with 1700mAh or higher capacity batteries we found the runtime to be very respectable. It's difficult to state exact battery life as it really depends on how often the color LCD is on and how many pictures are taken with the flash. In normal use, a fully charged set of batteries should be more than ample to handle a day's worth of picture taking (200+ pictures) but keep that 2nd set of batteries handy if needed. The C-5050Z can also be powered by a pair of CR-V3 lithium batteries but these are best used as emergency power only, they're expensive and not rechargeable.

With a high resolution 5MP imager, an ultra-fast F1.8 3x lens, an all-magnesium black body, a wide variety of storage media, exposure options galore and robust image processing -- this camera is sure to satisfy even the most demanding of users. It's also the perfect camera for those just starting out that want the best possible camera to "grow into" later as their photographic talents expand. With all of its advanced features and controls the C-5050 Zoom is still very easy to use for the novice too. The bottom line as always is the image quality and this camera delivers sharp, well saturated and true to life color images, one after another. There's no doubt that Olympus has a winner with the Camedia C-5050 Zoom -- its street price of just $799 is as remarkable as when Sony first put their DSC-F707 on the market for under $1000.

Other comparable 5 Megapixel cameras:

Sony F717 Minolta Dimage 7i Nikon Coolpix 5700

Better than the manual - order yours today!

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