Olympus Camedia C-5050Z: a Technical Review

My other pages related to the Olympus C-5050Z, C-5060WZ, and X-7070WZ

This review is addressed to a dedicated amateur photographer who would like not only to know the specs, but also what they mean and why.

What you will find here, is the description of camera's specs, with my comments on what they actually mean and how relevant they may be to your needs. Some of the specifications, not published by the manufacturer and not available from other sources are results of my experiments, measurements, or calculations.

The article is provided as a public service to my fellow photographers. You may find it highly personal and often opinionated: this is a luxury I can afford, not being related to any manufacturer or distributor, and not accepting any advertising at this site.

The C-5050Z — significance and lineage

This camera, introduced on the U.S. market in November, 2002, continues a long line of optical-viewfinder models from Olympus, started by the two-megapixel C-2000Z back in 1999.

That model (with later improvements) was followed by the three-megapixel C-3030 and its siblings (generally referred to as the '30x0), and recently — by the four-megapixel C-4040Z. I'll be referring to all as C-series cameras.

Some of these models, including the C-3020Z and C-4040Z, were still in production when the '5050 was introduced, and the often-underestimated C-4000Z (or C-4100Z in Japan), for a long time considered a mid-line model of choice by many enthusiasts and capable of most pleasing results, coexisted with the '5050 for quite a long time.

The C-5050Z clearly shows its C-series lineage, but this is not just the C-4000Z with a new CCD sensor and improved firmware. The well-proven design has been reworked here from the ground up, starting from a similar (but slightly larger, more rounded, and more robust) body, flip-out LCD monitor, and entirely new, much improved, control system, largely borrowed from the E-20 SLR.

This camera, originally priced at $800 or so, clearly aims at the higher-end, advanced-amateur market, providing (as my results show) image quality good enough for many professional purposes, and, in the automated modes, point-and-shoot simplicity for the tyros who can afford it.

The C-5050Z will find its place in many professionals' and advanced amateurs' bags as a backup, or secondary-use, camera; it may also become a camera of choice for the same group of users for the occasions when we have to travel light. These are the reasons why, after a careful market research, I decided to buy it, and after a few days of use — to keep it. And I'm glad I did.

In November, 2003, the '5050 was replaced with a "new, improved" model, the C-5060WZ. The improvements are not so obvious: the lens, although going from 27 to 110 mm (EFL) is 2.4 (wide) or 3.8 (tele) times darker; read this in terms of exposure times becoming longer by these factors. Thus, while addressing one of the few complaints I had about the '5050, Olympus created another, possibly even worse ones. The new model also uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery, not the widely avalable AAs. Read my extensive comparison of both models in another article, and then draw your own conclusions.

Update of March, 2004: For the last three months I've been using both the '5050 and the '5060. Despite my complaints, I like the new model, but not quite as much as I like the '5050, if only by a slight margin.

Annotated walkthrough
Body
Finish:
Crackled, black magnesium alloy, plastic dials and port covers, rubberized grip and ring around the lens.
The look-and-feel of the original C-series was already good, and it has been further improved by borrowing the beautiful, professional finish from the E-10/E-20. Serious-looking and impressive, a pleasure to handle.

I have only one complaint here: the "Olympus Super Bright Lens", displayed prominently twice at the front just offends my intelligence. Excuse me? If you came up with an F/1.0 Noctogon, I could argue, but pleez... What market are we aiming for?

The standard, 1/8" tripod socket is made of metal.

Size (WHD):
114×80×70 mm
Just a tad (4 mm in each dimension) larger than the original C-2000Z and its successors. Not pocketable, but small enough to carry everywhere, while large enough for easy handling.
Weight:
375g (13.3 oz) without batteries.
The weight gives the camera a precision-instrument (as opposed to plastic gadget) feel, at the same time making your handheld exposures more stable. This is just the increase I was asking for in my C-3000Z review.
Index
Lens
Focal length:
3× zoom range, 7.1-21.3 mm, equivalent to a 35-105 mm lens on a 35 mm camera
I would like to see a wider short end — like 28 mm, which I find essential for many applications. I would accept this even at the expense of the long end limited to 80 mm, although the 28-105 mm range would be better.

Compare this to Nikon CoolPix 5000, where the equivalent focal length extends from 28 to 85 mm, a better choice, I think. (Unfortunately, the Nikon lens has the maximum aperture of only F/4.8 at the long end.)

Why not a greater zoom range ratio? Well, there is always a compromise between that ratio, image quality, maximum aperture, and the lens size; you cannot have all four to your liking. Olympus chose to get at least three of these factors right. Their own C-730Z offers a 1:8 zoom in a less expensive, 3MP camera, which may be just right for some purposes, but has lower image quality (and not just because of a smaller pixel count).

Aperture range:
  • F/1.8 to F/8 @35mm
  • F/2.6 to F/8 @105mm
  • adjustments in 1/3 EV steps
At the wide end this is the brightest lens for any viewfinder camera (digital, that is) available, and this decreases only by 1 stop at the long end — not bad (see my remark on the Coolpix 5000 above).

The F/8 minimum aperture (interestingly, the C-30x0Z series could stop down to F/10 or F/11) may seem restricted when compared to F/16 or F/22 available on 35-mm film cameras, but this does not worry me at the least, for two reasons:

(a) The N-times-F Rule says that the depth of field of this lens at F/8 is the same as that of a 35 mm-equivalent lens at F/40;

(b) With the actual focal length five times smaller than that of a "35-mm-equivalent" lens, at greater F-numbers light diffraction effects cause image degradation. I would avoid using apertures smaller (F-numbers greater) than F/4 anyway, especially at the short end of the zoom range, except for close-up work.

Optical construction:
All-glass, multicoated, 10 elements in 7 groups (or 8 elements in 6 groups, depending on which of the Olympus sources is right), two aspherical surfaces.
This seems to be the same lens as the one used in the C-3040Z and C-4040Z. Let us remember, however, that higher pixel resolution needs, in order to be properly utilized, a higher-resolution lens. Will the lens developed for a three-megapixel camera allow us to take full advantage of a five-megapixel resolution?

I am glad to report that the answer seems to be "yes". While I have not conducted any quantitative tests, a close-up visual inspection of images shows quite impressive lens performance, even when compared side-by-side with the images from the E-20.

Diaphragm:
Iris type, 5 blades.
The multi-blade iris diaphragm is a sign of quality, as opposed to two fixed-opening diaphragms used in some other cameras.
Mechanical:
Collapsible construction.
The lens assembly moves forward by about 2.5 cm when the camera is powered on, and vice versa.

When extended, the lens seems quite vulnerable to mechanical injury. True, the camera looks better (and is more easily carried) with the lens retracted, but making it fixed would ruggedize the construction and remove the need for the lens-moving motor (one more thing which may go wrong, plus it causes an extra delay on power-up and -down).

This would make sense, as both zooming and focusing are internal, i.e., without moving the lens barrel; it would also facilitate fitting filters and other lens accessories.

If you forget to take off the lens cap before switching the camera on, the lens motor will struggle for a while, and then the camera will complain with a series of loud (and non-defeatable) beeps. This does not seem like the best solution, and the only way to avoid the effect is to have a lens accessory tube (see the accompanying Accessory article) permanently mounted.

Zoom control:
Electric motor, activated with a lever.
This is normal among compact cameras. Here the lever is placed on a collar around the shutter release button.

While the system works, it is not as precise as when you zoom by turning a ring around the lens. I prefer the latter solution by far — even if it is via electric, "fly by wire", means.

I'm also having an impression that zoom length setting is not continuous, but done in 20 or so discrete steps. Not that it makes any practical difference.

Index
Optical viewfinder
Type:
Real image; zooming in synch with the lens.
Somewhat better than the finder in the previous C-series cameras, but still disappointing for a camera of this general quality and specs. This I don't understand: check almost any semi-decent rangefinder camera from the Sixties and you'll know what I mean. First of all, the magnification is too small.

Actually, I consider the 5050's viewfinder (although not really worse than those of the competition) the least satisfactory aspect of the otherwise very successful model.

Field coverage:
89% horizontally, 91% vertically; area coverage: 81% (my measurements at ~80 mm equivalent focal length; possibly 90% in both dimensions).
The 81% area coverage is better than in most (maybe all) optical-finder digital cameras (the C-30x0Z family had only 60%), but a Leica it ain't.

This is quite important, as for most purposes I find optical viewfinder superior to the LCD screen. The latter consumes battery power, and may not very readable in bright light.

Parallax correction:
none.
There is at least one film camera with a zooming, parallax-corrected, viewfinder: the Contax G2 (thanks to Imre for pointing this out!). A camera like the C-5050Z, aiming to be the best in its class, should have a finder like that.
Information shown in finder:
None. Two LEDs next to the eyepiece signal focus OK, and a need for flash.
OK with me, although I would prefer to have these blinking diodes somewhere inside the finder. Come on, this has been done in many rangefinder, film-based models.
Diopter correction:
yes.
Adjustment is done with a small lever, an improvement from the older models.
Index
LCD monitor
Type:
Color: active matrix (TFT).

The LCD screen is good, one of the better ones I've seen. I wish the E-20 had one of these. Still, it does not have anti-reflective surface which would be very useful.

The monitor is viewable even in bright light outdoors. They are getting better every year...

Unfortunately, there is no way to preview the scene without the exposure information on the monitor. This can be sometimes distracting; allowing to clear the field with a press of a dedicated button would be awfully nice.

Also, when the monitor preview is turned on, it shows the exposure information in the full version, switching to a "brief" one after two seconds or so. This is not enough to digest the data displayed, and the fastest way to repeat the display is to press one of the settings buttons momentarily, with the unavoidable delay. This is quite annoying.

Physical size:
27×37 mm; 46 mm (1.8 in.) diagonal.
Just fine.
Pixel number:
about 120k pixels (close to 400×300).
Like most decent cameras nowadays.
Field coverage:
100%
My own measurements were within error limits from this value.
Brightness adjustment:
Yes, from the menu.
Actually, a secondary feature.
Tilt & swivel: tilt only, -20 to +90 degrees Another first in the C-series of cameras. The monitor can face up to 90 degrees (i.e., horizontal) upwards and 20 degrees downwards. It cannot be swiveled to a side, but I don't consider it a real disadvantage, and the arrangement is more robust mechanically.
Index
Shutter
Type:
mechanical.
This would explain the "1/2000s issue" discussed below.
Speed range:
  • Manual: 16s-1/1000s*
  • Shutter priority: 4s-1/1000s
  • Aperture priority: 1s-1/1000s*
  • Program: 1s-1/1000s*
  • Adjustable in 1/3 EV steps

* Additionally, the speed of 1/2000s is available at F/8 only.

This is sufficient for practically any application, but the claimed specs of 1/2000s are stretching the truth.

Something smells ugly here. To use the highest speed, I switch to the shutter priority mode to assure that the speed is actually used. In the '5050, the highest speed is (a) not accessible in the shutter priority mode and (b) used only when the lens is stepped down to F/8, which means that you will rarely, if ever, be able to use it.

The problem is that the circumstances under which you would have to expose at 1/2000s and F/8 are brighter than anything you are likely to encounter. The typical exposure at F/8 under bright full sun at ISO 100 is 1/400s. This means that you will never be able to use the 1/2000s speed at this ISO setting. To ever come close, you would have to set the CCD gain to ISO 400; this would bring you up to 1/1600s. Technically, manufacturer's claim of 1/2000s is true; in reality, it looks like you-know-whose offer of "1000 free hours in the first 30 days". I consider this a misrepresentation.

Most probably, the mechanical shutter is unable to fully open up and close in 1/2000s — it opens only partially. This is why it may be usable only when the lens is significantly closed down.

(On the other hand, other manufacturers stretch the truth in the same way: the Canon G3 and Sony DSC-F717 also claim 1/2000s which is only available at F/5.6 and smaller. Oh, well...)

Exposure confirmation:
Audible (an imitation shutter sound).
I find the audible feedback useful and reassuring. It has two presets (the second one quite ugly) and two volume levels (both too loud); it can be also switched off.
Index
Drive modes
Modes:
Normal, sequential, high-speed sequential, AF sequential, autobracketing.
In the "normal" mode one picture is taken every time you press the shutter button. In sequential modes, the camera keeps shooting as long as the button is held pressed (or the memory buffer gets full). Autobracketing was already discussed in the Exposure Control section.

While in the normal mode you can take the next picture about three seconds after the previous one, the sequential modes allow for 1.7 or 3.3 frames per second, respectively, except for the "AF" regime, in which autofocusing is repeated for each individual frame, so it is slower. (Obviously, as the flash needs up to six seconds to recharge, it is disabled in all modes other than "Normal".)

The user manual is vague about the differences between the "slow" and "fast" modes; it mentions different numbers of frames filling the buffer, but I've tried this out and the manual seems to be wrong here. For example, in the SHQ quality setting I had to stop after seven frames in the "slow" mode, but after switching to HQ, I was able to shoot 100 images without interruption; looks like the camera manages to store the images as they come. Impressive.

Time-lapse:
No.
This is not really a basic feature, but it would be awfully nice in a camera which has everything (or almost everything) else. Some users would appreciate the possibility of automated picture-taking at predefined time intervals.
Index
Exposure measurement
Type:
TTL (through the lens).
But of course: this is a serious camera. TTL metering will work just fine with filters and auxiliary lens attachments.
Sensor:
CCD.
The CCD imager itself is also used to measure the exposure. This is good, but all digital cameras do that.
Modes:
  • Matrix (referred to as "ESP")
  • Spot
  • Multi-spot averaging
An option of spot metering is nice when you really need it, i.e., when the main subject is significantly brighter or darker than its surroundings.

The multispot mode allows you to measure the light in up to eight spots, and let the camera choose the exposure so that all these points are, if possible, within the recorded tonal range.

Switching between metering modes is accessible from the control dial and does not require climbing the menu tree, a nice improvement. The multi-spot mode uses the monitor to show the exposure scale with measurements along it. You may, or may not, use this feature, but it wasn't to costly to add, done entirely in software.

Anyway, exposure metering system seems to work perfectly. All my experiments ended up in well-exposed frames (although I like to have a -1/3 EV exposure compensation all the time), proven by the analysis of the image brightness histogram at the postprocessing stage.

Brightness histogram:
Yes, both before and after exposure

This is very useful, and I really like it. Before the picture is taken, the live histogram is overlaid on the monitor image together with basic exposure information, and you can easily see if any image parts are exceeding the dynamic range. I wish my E-20, just one year old, had this feature!

To activate the live histogram display, turn the monitor on and press the exposure compensation button at the left side of the camera. Logical and thoughtful: this is when you may like to adjust the exposure by turning the control wheel, and the histogram provides you with instant feedback.

In addition to the overall brightness histogram, you can also see, in green, another, smaller one overlaid, taken from a tiny center rectangle. The position of that rectangle can be changed with use of the arrow buttons. I'm not sure how useful will I find this "spot histogram" feature, but it does not obstruct the readout, so let it be, at least as a cool conversation item.

In the picture review mode, the histogram can be displayed with a press of two buttons. Not bad. The only thing I might wish is to make the histogram a little bit larger, but this is a minor quibble.

Index
Exposure control
Modes:
  • Program (full auto)
  • Aperture priority
  • Shutter priority
  • Metered manual
  • Five dedicated programs: portrait, landscape, portrait/landscape, sports, night
Full control or complete automation, whatever you wish. Nothing left out.

Assigning each of the modes a separate position on the control knob (as opposed to the "MAS" setting in the older models) Olympus finally removed one of the most annoying, and easiest to fix, glitches of their previous design. Well, better late than never!

Unfortunately, the manuals do not provide any explanation of the settings in the dedicated programs. All they say is that they work great with given types of pictures. I find this offending.

Compensation:
Up to 2 EV stops in 1/3 stop increments.
Useful in overriding the automated settings for objects significantly differing from the standard 18% gray. Even more useful when used together with the histogram preview (see above).

This usually cannot be done with an image editor: once some of the scene brightness range gets cut off from the recorded image, nothing will restore it.

Exposure lock:
Yes, both single- and multi-frame mode
This is a very well designed feature. First, pressing the shutter release halfway locks both the exposure and focus; this is like in almost all cameras I know.

Second, pressing the AEL button locks the exposure for a single frame (at the same time activating the monitor; I'm not sure if I like that!). The lock will be cancelled when a picture is taken, or when the AEL button is pressed again.

Now comes the nice part. Holding the AEL button for a second or so locks the exposure for multiple frames: all pictures now will be taken at the memorized settings, until the AEL button is pressed again or the exposure mode is changed by rotating the main dial (or the camera is turned off). One obvious application is multiple frames for stitching into a panoramic image, but advanced users will find more uses for this feature.

Bracketing:
Three or five exposures, 1/3, 2/3 or 1 EV apart from each other.
Handy in tricky shooting situations: the camera takes a number of shots at various settings so that you can choose the best one.

Shooting a series of five bracketed shots takes about three seconds, not bad. If you are serious about this feature, use a tripod to ensure that all frames are identically composed.

ISO settings:
Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400.
These correspond to film speed in film cameras. Higher values allow for faster shutter speeds and/or smaller apertures (greater F-numbers).

This is useful in low-light situations but comes at a price: greater image noise at higher settings.

Previous Olympus models had the lowest setting at ISO 100. I consider the new ISO 64 a nice addition, as it allows for higher-quality images — if the light allows.

White balance:
Auto, nine presets, a quick reference ("one-touch") mode, and manual fine-tuning.
There are four presets for daylight (open shade, overcast, sunny, and sunset), and five for artificial lighting (one incandescent and four fluorescent). You can also fine-tune any of the presets and save it as one of the four custom settings.

This seems an overkill: without a color temperature meter, I won't do a better job than any of the available presets, and the white balance may have to be adjusted in postprocessing anyway.

The "one-touch" quick reference mode works by pointing the camera at a neutral (white or gray) area — and activating the feature from the menu (this is clearly more than just "one touch", even with menu shortcuts). It will adjust the color balance to show this area as neutral. The system works surprisingly well, much better than in the E-20, and it delivers very pleasing results under domestic light bulbs and fluorescent lights (check my white balance article to see), where the auto setting leaves too much yellow for my liking.

Index
Focusing
Autofocus:
Passive TTL (through-the-lens), wide-area, contrast-detection type; switchable to spot autofocusing.
Passive TTL systems use the image created by the lens to set the focus, the same way like in most modern AF SLRs. This is not only more accurate than the active systems found on most point-and-shoot cameras (which project an infrared beam on the subject), but also works with any lens attachments (wide-angle, tele, close-up).

Under low light condition the AF illuminator provides a beam of red light to help the autofocus system in doing its job. This feature, if you find it too distractive, can be disabled.

Manual:
Yes, with the distance scale on the LCD screen.
Actually, I resort to manual focusing very rarely.
Focus range:
20 cm (8 in.) to infinity; from 3 cm (1.2 in) in "super macro" mode.
Nominally, there is still a "macro mode" for distances between 20 cm and 80 cm, but it has been retained only to provide faster focusing when shooting from close distances. The camera will focus in this range even without switching, albeit somewhat more slowly.

The "super macro" mode (actually, just a macro mode) sets the lens focal length at a fixed value of about 59 mm [equiv] and my first results look verrry impressive.

Autofocus steps:
unknown.
Olympus does not want to bother our pretty little heads with unnecessary details like this.

The previous models had 130 steps between 20 cm and infinity, and I suspect the '5050 has the same number or more, which is just fine.

Audible confirmation:
none.
Having grown used to this feature in the E-10 and E-20, I'm missing it badly. While watching the subject in the viewfinder, I usually ignore the external LEDs, while a (defeatable) beep is very useful in deciding whether to press the shutter release all the way, or to give the autofocus another chance.

Added in June, 2003: After six months with the camera, I consider this omission its greatest flaw. Not too bad, but still.

Index
Flash
Built-in flash range:
0.2-5.6m (F[eq] = 35 mm), 0.2-3.8m (F[eq] = 105 mm) at ISO 100
Better than average at the far end, and accurate (no burn-out) at the short end. This seems to be the same flash as in the previous C-series cameras.

These numbers differ from those given in the user manual, which are obviously wrong (one F-stop of difference between both focal lengths means a factor of 1.4 in distance, as long as the flash angle does not change, and it doesn't here). Clearly, Olympus engineers do not read manuals prepared by their publications department, otherwise the error would have been spotted right away.

Guide No.:
10 m (35 ft).
This is the most consistent estimate I was able to come up with. I may be off by 10% or so (but so may be the flash itself).
Recharging time:
below 6 s.
As in most of present-day units, if the flash is fired at less than full power (less than maximum subject distance), the recharge time will be shorter.
Metering:
TTL (through-the-lens).
The system gives properly exposed images in the whole distance range from 20 cm (8 in.) up.
Flash compensation:
2 EV.
Very useful. When using the internal flash as a fill-in (to soften shadows in bright sun) I like to set the compensation to -2 or so.
Usage modes:
Auto, red-eye, off, forced on, slow synch (front and rear).
In addition to the expected modes, slow synch allows you to use flash with long exposures, in order to get some detail in the dark background of night or dimly-lit scenes.

In such cases you can have the flash go off at the beginning, or at the end of the exposure. For stationary objects this does not make any difference, but for moving ones it does, as the "streaks" will precede or follow the sharper, flash-generated image, respectively. (The second option is referred to as "rear-curtain synch" in the SLR world, and is available only in better cameras.)

External:
FL-40 or FL-20 by Olympus, or third-party units
The FL-40 is a nice unit (tilt, bounce, TTL metering), but overpriced ($300 or so). The FL-20 is tiny and cute, less powerful than its big brother (still packing a respectable punch), it also has no bounce/swivel capability, priced at about $100. Either unit can be used instead of, or together with the built-in flash. In the latter case, the built-in unit can be used to provide a fill light. Both units seamlessly integrate with the camera,

Update of November, 2003: the newer FL-50 will work OK, but it is even more expensive than FL-40, and its multi-strobe capability is not useful with the '5050.

Most of third-party, non-dedicated flashes should work with the '5050, although this is done with the camera in manual or aperture priority mode (letting the flash to measure the light reflected from the subject).

Some people were surprised that a third-party external flash will fire only in manual or aperture-priority modes, but this makes a perfect sense: in other modes the photographer would not have any control over exposure, so this arrangement is safer.

According to Olympus technical support, the C-5050Z has a protection against high trigger voltage, so it should be safe to use it with any unit. (Note: I haven't verified this claim, do it at your own risk!)

I have checked two inexpensive third-party units, experiencing no problems. See a separate article on flashes working with the '5050.

Slave-compatible:
Yes.
Previous C-series models do not work with slave units, as they use a "pre-flash" for initial light measurement, and that triggers the slave before the actual exposure. The '5050 has a special "Slave Flash" setting, where the pre-flash is disabled.

The setting has ten numeric values to adjust the intensity of the built-in flash. This way, the built-in unit may provide, in addition to triggering the slave, a varying amount of fill light.

The Reference Manual is plain wrong here, stating that "[the setting] lets you adjust and fix the amount of light emitted from the [...] slave flash".

I have tested the '5050 with the Sunpak DS20 ($30 at Ritz) set to the slave mode, both on- and off-camera, and the combination works as advertised.

Index
Image sensor
Type:
CCD (charge-coupled device).
This means, for all practical purposes, that Olympus uses what almost everyone else does.
Pixel count:
5 million (as given by Olympus); really 4.92 million (or 4.69 "binary" megapixels).
The "pixel count" given traditionally by all manufacturers is a little bit inflated: some of these pixels (at the sensor edges) are never used. The image is build out of exactly 4,915,200 pixels, period.
Size:
1/1.8 in.
This traditional specification doesn't mean much. In particular, this is not the diagonal of the image frame (an assumption mistakenly used in some depth-of-field calculations I've seen on the Web).
Image size:
5.3×7.0 mm.
These are my calculations, based on the assumption that Olympus defines focal length equivalence in terms of the diagonal of the frame; if not, I may be 2% or so off the mark.

Significantly, the C-5050Z is the first five-megapixel camera with this sensor size. Other 5MP models (Olympus E-20, Sony DSC-F717) use a 2/3" sensor with the active area of 6.7×8.9 mm.

While it is generally easier to achieve a good image quality from a larger sensor (larger pixel pitch), all test data I've seen so far indicates that the sensor downsizing was quite successful.

Works in infrared:
Yes.
Most digital cameras have an infrared-blocking filter in front of the CCD, and so does probably the '5050. Still, it provides usable IR images with the Wratten #89B (Hoya R72) filter, with a light loss of about 10.5 EV. See my infrared page for more.
Index
Image resolution and storage
File formats:
TIFF, JPEG, ORF (Olympus Raw Format).
The ORF format captures the image before applying any corrections (color balance, sharpening, contrast and saturation enhancement), and it stores each single-color photosite information in 10 bits. In raw-to-JPEG conversion this information is converted to pixels, one pixel per photosite. This means that for each pixel one component is available from the corresponding photosite, while two others must be computed by interpolation from neighbors.

This means that even without compression the ORF files are smaller than uncompressed TIFFs, as only the original 10 bits must be stored for each photosite/pixel (10 bits), not the full RGB information (3×8 bits), and the bits are packed, i.e., 10 bits are not stored as two bytes, but less.

The ORF images can be read, corrected, and converted into JPEGs using the included Camedia Master software; Olympus also offers an Adobe Photoshop import plugin on their Web site. (See also my note on ORF Tool in Documentation & Software.

JPEG compression:
1:4 or 1:11.
These are, of course, approximate and averaged numbers, as the effectiveness of JPEG compressions varies from image to image. I am quoting them after Olympus; my own estimates, based on a large statistics of images, are higher: 1:5 and 1:13, respectively (the same as the previous C-series cameras).

Actually, I find the HQ (1:11 nominal) compression good enough for a great majority of uses, only occasionally switching to SHQ (1:4 nominal).

See my article on image compression, discussing this in more detail.

Pixel size:
  • 3200×2400 (7.5MP)
  • 2560×1920 (native, 5MP)
  • 2560×1696 (3:2)
  • 2288×1712 (4MP)
  • 2048×1536 (3MP)
  • 1600×1200 (2MP)
  • 1280×960 (1.2MP)
  • 1024×768 (XGA)
  • 640×480 (VGA)
This is a very wide choice, although I find the option of saving images at less than native resolution of quite limited usefulness. Well, maybe some other users find this handy.

Remember that all files at less than maximum resolution are created by some way of averaging a number of neighboring pixels of the sensor. This involves some degree of interpolation, very much like when you use an image editor to reduce the picture size.

If implemented right, however, doing this in-camera may have some advantages in comparison to postprocessing. The camera firmware may do the interpolation on the raw red, green, and blue data, before it is merged (by interpolation, again) into a single matrix of RGB values.

The 3200×2400 format, as I've recently checked (June, 2003), does not provide any advantages above image resizing in a graphics program; see an article on this subject.

Recording modes:
27 size/format/compression combinations, with six presets available directly from the menu.
While ORF (raw) images are always stored in the native resolution, TIFF can use any of pixel sizes available. Then come the SHQ ("super-high") and HQ ("high-quality") settings, each of which can be set to one of three pixel sizes: the native 5MP, the "3:2" format, or, finally, to the interpolated 7.5MP format. These two settings have fixed compression ratios: 1:4 for SHQ and 1:11 for HQ.

Finally, there are the two smaller-sized presets. SQ1 allows you the choice of resolutions between 2 and 4MP, while SQ2 — of 1.2MP and lower. Both may have one of the two compression levels assigned.

This is less confusing than in the 3000-series cameras, although I expect anything except of SHQ and HQ to be used only sporadically.

Image adjustment:
sharpness, contrast, and color saturation, each separately in ±5 steps.
The raw image from the sensor is processed, before being stored, with use of a contour-, color-, and/or contrast-enhancing algorithms. Most cameras do it, but not all give you a choice.

The separate adjustments in a wide range are nice. Those of us who postprocess all images, even just a little bit, may want to keep all these settings at -1 or -2 (from the -5..+5 range). Once you find the settings to fit your preferences and working mode, leave them there.

Noise reduction:
Yes.
This feature, accessible from the LCD menu or activated by default in the "night mode", is quite effective in reducing the image noise, visible as "film grain", mostly in the shadows at longer exposures (one second or more), especially at higher ISO settings.

After taking the "regular" picture and storing it in the buffer, the camera takes another one, this time with the shutter closed. The second picture is then subtracted from the first one. This leads to quite significant reduction in noise; more exactly, in one of its components (referred to as Type I in my E-10 noise article which includes a detailed discussion of the subject).

The overall dark noise in the C-5050Z is quite low, so that the noise reduction feature is no longer really essential, except at the longest exposures (4 seconds or more) and the highest ISO setting. Refer to a separate article for a detailed analysis of this subject.

Storage media:
  • SmartMedia
  • xD-Picture
  • CompactFlash

The camera has two slots: one accepts Compact Flash Type I or II card, including the MicroDrive, of capacities up to 2GB (no FAT32 formatting, this is why not larger), while the other may host either a SmartMedia (up to 128MB) or the new, really tiny xD-Picture card (only cards up to 512 MB are supported, including the "M" and "H" series).

The camera comes with a 32MB xD-Picture card, a new standard, just introduced by Fuji, Olympus, and Toshiba. Do we need this, already having SmartMedia, CompactFlash, and the Sony Memory Stick disaster? (I won't even mention the SecureData/MultiMedia confusion.) The xD card is less than half the size of SM, and the makers claim that it also reduces power usage, and has faster read/write speed.

Dual card slots are nice (like in the E-10 or E-20), as they allow for using of most of the cards you may already have. I'm using one 128MB SM card, and one 256MB CF as an overflow backup. From what I have read, the SM card will survive about ten times more rewrite cycles than CF, but I wasn't able to find any reliable source on this subject.

If you have a MicroDrive (and if you trust its reliability), you may keep it permanently in the CF slot, using SM or xD for immediate picture storage, and copying the pictures periodically to the MicroDrive. This way you will reduce power consumption, and keep the drive safer (it is most vulnerable to shock when being accessed).

As per writing speed claims, a quick check has shown the xD cards to be slower than the top CF brands, see a separate article on this subject. This should matter only in case of ORF or TIFF files; for the JPEG format the differences do not have any practical meaning.

Update of August, 2006: The '5050 really shines with the recent SanDisk Extreme III CF cards. I've tried it out with a 2 GB version, and the camera takes just 3 sec to write a raw file; twice as fast as the newer '5060 or '7070!

Index
Power source
Batteries:
Four AA size cells: alkaline or NiMH, or two CR-V3 lithium packs, or two rechargeable RCR-V3 Li-Ion batteries.
A right decision. With a possible exception of the tiniest pocket cameras, I would not recommend going for a model with a proprietary, rechargeable pack. If one of these is used up or dies, you are left out in the cold — I would feel uneasy without at least two spares ($100 or so). With the AAs you can always get some emergency alkalines (even if they last shorter than NiMH). Additionally, you may use the same NiMH sets and charger to power all of your AA-driven gizmos.

The NiMH batteries are the recommended choice, as they keep the voltage flat with use (unlike alkalines), can be recharged hundreds of times and do not lose capacity after multiple recharge cycles.

A small investments in a couple of four-unit NiMH sets plus a good charger will pay itself back in a few months.

The camera comes with a set of four rechargeable NiMH's in a cute plastic protector, and a charger. The latter accepts 100-220V and is flat, with folding prongs — something you may carry easily on travel (no bulk, no separate power brick). On the downside, it does not seem to be of a "smart" type, one that slows the current to a trickle when the batteries are full, so that at home I am still using my trusted MAHA C-204F charger, where the batteries can be kept indefinitely.

Update of June, 2004: Near the end of 2003, a Taiwanese maker introduced a new type of battery: the rechargeable RCR-v3, based on Li-Ion chemistry. These have a form factor like the single-use CR-v3 (two AAs side by side), accepted by all C-series cameras starting form the C-2000Z. This means that you may use the new batteries in all Olympus C-x0x0 cameras.

The new batteries are not cheap (the camera needs two, and this is $50 or so), and the charger is incompatible with your AAs. Most of the enthusiastic claims you can see on the Web are grossly inflated, but I believe their self-discharge rates are lower. Wit these, your '5050 gets another power option. I have tested the RCR-V3 on the C-5050Z, and you may find the results here.

Battery life:
No specifications, but looks just spectacular
I was impressed with the battery/camera performance while writing the original version of this article. It was more than good enough for my (often quite intensive) shooting days.

Only in June, 2004 I actually measured that performance, trying to find my way within the controversy surrounding the RCR-V3 rechargeables. And only then I got really impressed.

A set of new, freshly charged 1700 mAh NiMH batteries (Kodak) lasted for 1139 exposures and just 6 minutes short of three hours of continous LCD use (without zooming or flash). The same set lasted for 416 frames and 2:44 hours with flash used every time at (what I believe was) about 75% of full power, quite a heavy load.

It was hard to believe my own results, but I stand for these numbers. Just incredible, even in 2004 terms. Full details are given in a separate article.

External power supply:
Optional.
The C-7AU or C-7AE power supply by Olympus is quite small, but it's single-voltage only, and more expensive than some of the third-party replacements. Don't waste your money.
Index
Controls
Camera top:
  • shutter release (combined with a zoom lever)
  • rotary mode knob with the on/off switch underneath
  • B&W LCD control panel with basic information
  • flash hot shoe with a slip-in plastic protector
  • focus and close-up modes button
  • metering mode button
  • selftimer/remote button
  • user-defined function button
Left side:
  • exposure compensation button
  • flash mode button (both pressed together allow to adjust flash compensation)
Back side:
  • viewfinder eyepiece with two LEDs and diopter correction
  • exposure lock button
  • control wheel (below the mode knob and on/off switch)
  • color LCD monitor
  • monitor switch button
  • four arrow buttons in a circle with the OK/menu button in the center
  • card selection button
While keeping family resemblance to the previous C-series models, Olympus has reworked the control system in the C-5050Z, improving it dramatically, so that, in my eyes at least, it is second only to that in the E-10/E20. Doing this they have addressed almost all of the gripes from my review of the C-30x0 series.

Most of the principal exposure settings can be now accessed without climbing the menu tree in the monitor — by pressing the appropriate button and turning the control wheel. The visual feedback is provided both in the top control panel and in the monitor itself. The latter is briefly activated, to go off as soon as you let the button go.

The settings not accessible that way are: CCD sensitivity (ISO), image size and compression, and white balance. Luckily, there are two ways to change this to your liking.

First, one of the top buttons can be user-assigned to almost any of the settings. I have originally assigned mine to the ISO change, now I am using it to choose between various custom modes; another reasonable choice is the image size and compression.

Second, you can assign these settings to the "shortcut" items in the opening menu screen (see below); this way they are accessible much faster than through climbing the menu tree.

Altogether, a good job. The controls of the C-5050Z are close to (or even at par with) those of the E-10 or E-20, and this is something. Those models may have a somewhat better feel of the controls, and more settings are externally accessible, but the menu system in the C-5050Z is superior to that of its SLR brethren.

I have two complaints regarding the mechanical controls:

  • The on/off switch ring is too easy to turn by accident. Not once, while wearing my '5050 on a shoulder strap under a jacket, I had it switch itself on, with the unavoidable motor grinding noise and loud beeps. If not a switch release button, then at least a stronger indentation would help.
  • The shutter release is much too stiff for my liking. I prefer the (very soft) release in the E-10 and E-20; once you get used to it, handholding longer exposures is much easier.
LCD Control panel:
On top; no backlight
This is a B&W LCD, consuming a negligible amount of power, the same type as in most of digital and film cameras. It shows camera settings at a glance, although it could be improved. In particular, the ISO setting is not shown: just a marker if it's not in the "auto" position. (The same is true about white balance, but this is less painful.)

This is quite annoying when in the shutter- or aperture-priority mode: there is no "auto" ISO there, so the alert stays on all the time. At least, in these modes (and in manual) the warning should show if the setting is higher than 64 ISO, although it would be nicer to see the value.

I would also love to have the panel backlight feature, which I learned to appreciate on the E-10 and E-20.

Menu system:
Accessible from recording or viewing mode (different options in each case).
The menu system is good, much improved from the C-3000 series and similar to that in the '4040. Once you leave the shortcut screen (see above), the main menu is arranged into pages, each of which branches further into families of settings. The navigation is logical and easy, and readability high.

The menu screen opens with four items assigned to the four arrow buttons. The right arrow brings you to the full menu structure, while the three others serve as shortcuts to some particular settings. What is especially nice is that these three shortcuts can be redefined by the user.

(I ended up using them for the ISO setting, image quality, and white balance, with "My Mode" setting assigned to the custom button.)

Special feature:
Dual control panel mode.
You can set the color monitor to serve as a full-time, full-information control panel, duplicating (and enhancing) the functionality of the actual control panel on the top of the camera. While this feature is activated, the monitor switches between image preview and settings display; i.e., it is always on.

At first I thought I would like this feature: it is nice to have all information at a glance. Well, I ended up not using it at all. First, increased power consumption; second, to switch it off I have to go to the bottom of the menu tree, a real hassle.

Index
Other features
Settings at power-up:
Factory presets or last used.
The "custom presets" available in the 3000-series have been replaced with "My Mode" (what a moronic name! Microsoft rules!), which, in turn, can be quickly switched between eight user-defined presets.

See the article on one of the possible uses of "My Mode".

Self-timer:
Electronic, 12 s delay.
Nice to have, but using the remote control may be easier.
Remote control:
Included infrared; 2 s delay.
This is the same remote control as the one included with almost all Olympus digital cameras.

The delay is just enough to get the remote control out of sight, if you are in the picture.

Unfortunately, you can use the remote only being in front of the camera, not from behind. I have received a couple of complaints on this subject from wildlife photographers, and they are right complaining.

There is no provision for a wired remote. When shooting from a tripod, you have to use the infrared one, holding it above the camera so that the IR receptor will react to it.

Note: The remote is included with cameras sold on the U.S. market, but on some markets (UK, Scandinavia) it is not; you have to buy is separately for $30 or so (I think $5 or $10 would be a more honest price). The same may be true about any other accessories I'm mentioning here. Please let me know if you find a country where the camera itself is not included.

Voice annotation:
Up to 4 seconds with every picture; recording and playback.
Some users may find this feature convenient. I've never used it in my cameras.
Digital zoom:
Continuous, up to 2.5×, accessible at the longest lens setting.
Not much more than a marketing gimmick, I was surprised to see it in a camera of this class. The "digital zoom" enlarges the central part of the image, interpolating it to the full pixel size. You could do it equally well using an image-processing program, with more freedom of exact framing.

Additionally, when the "digital zoom" is enabled, it is very easy to activate it by mistake just by zooming (it uses the same control). This is why I would recommend disabling this feature in my default settings.

External interfaces:
USB, TV audio/video.
The USB here is, of course, a storage-class device interface: with any Windows 98SE or later (2000, ME, XP) your camera will be instantly recognized as a disk drive, and the image files can be copied, moved, or deleted at will. The same holds true for MacIntosh under OS9 or later.

The camera-side plug of the included USB cable differs from that on the E-10/E-20 cameras (and most of the C-series, too): it is more flat. This means that if I want to travel with my E-20 and the C-5050Z, I will have to carry both cables in order to offload the images to a laptop, a real pain. Well, you can juggle the cards between cameras, but this is also quite annoying.

The bad news is that this is the USB 1.1 standard, not USB 2.0. The latter is much faster and upward-compatible: it would work as v1.1 with older computers., but all PCs being made now support v2.0, taking advantage of greater speed. This is not a critical flaw, but an obvious oversight.

The TV output is no longer hardwired to either NTSC or PAL, depending on the market: you can just switch on the fly. Nice, if you plan to use it, and travel overseas.

While most users will find much use for viewing their pictures on a TV set, the camera is sending the video signal all the time, including shooting modes. Therefore a TV can be used also for real-time viewing, which may be useful in some applications (like tabletop photography).

Interface language):
Selectable.
You can choose (from the menu) between English, German, French, Spanish, and Japanese. Nice to have, if you need it.
Digital Print Order Format (DPOF):
Yes.
Image files may include information for DPOF-compatible photofinishers number of prints and cropping area.

This is useful only for people who drop a memory card at a minilab to have prints made. The C-5050Z aims, I believe, at a different market, so I doubt anyone will use this feature.

Movie mode:
Quick Time Motion JPEG format; 15 frames/s, 320×240 or 160×120 pixels.
The camera saves about 3 seconds or 13 seconds (depending on the chosen pixel size) per megabyte of card storage.

Generally, I consider this just a trinket; if I want to take movies, I'll get a video system. Serious cameras do not even bother with this feature. I would gladly exchange it for just one more external settings button.

Panorama mode:
Support provided, similar to that in C-2000 - C-4000 series
If you take a series of pictures in this mode, the exposure will be measured at the first one only, and then set identically for the rest, and the Camedia Master software does the stitching of all pictures into a panoramic one quite easily.

I have used this mode just once on the C-3000Z, and never on the C-5050Z, so don't ask me how well it works. I have seen some impressive results by others, though.

Index
Documentation and software
Documentation:
  • Quick Start poster
  • Basic Manual (printed)
  • Reference Manual (CD)
The documentation is, to put it very mildly, disappointing. A camera like this deserves much better.

The Quick Start poster is just that, OK with me. The disaster starts from the Basic Manual, a 4×6" booklet in four languages. If you plan to have it for reference in your camera bag, you have to carry along the whole 200 pages, although your language takes only 50 of them. This, however, is not an issue, as the Basic Manual is so bad that you will want to leave it at home and forget about it. It contains nothing which you wouldn't figure by yourself playing with the camera for five minutes. Unfortunately, Olympus just went through the motions here.

The Reference Manual on the CD has more than 200 pages in the PDF format (separate documents for various languages). Looks like a lot, but these are really tiny pages; I was able to print them four to a sheet of paper, effectively getting, again, a 4×6" brochure. But the depth of coverage is very disappointing. The documents seems to be addressed to a person who does not want to know any reference information and wouldn't be able to comprehend it.

Most of the contents is just a more verbose repetition of the information from the Basic Manual; any new detail is rare and far-between. For example, while two pages (!) are devoted to the process of inserting the AA batteries (and four explain how to insert a memory card), the non-trivial logic of memorizing, switching, and restoring settings is barely mentioned. The specification listing is a joke. And so on... This would barely make a mark as a basic manual for an entry-level snapshot camera, but not more. Sadly, the choice of the information to present is very poor.

The form is no better than the substance: the English translation is just awful, often to the point of being incomprehensible or just plain misleading, in addition to annoying. I would expect that with the U.S., England, and other English-speaking countries being by far the manufacturer's largest market, hiring a writer who knows the language, would only make sense. Not for Olympus.

This is not the first time an Olympus manual tips me off; there must be something seriously wrong with their publications department. Maybe having them read some Nikon manuals would help?

As inadequate as the Reference Manual is, it is better than nothing. If you would like to have a hard copy in a neat, small format (useful in a camera bag), you may order it at $10.50 directly from Olympus, here.

Included software:
Camedia Master 4.03.
Previous versions of Camedia Master were just bad. This one is not much better, clearly addressed to people who never before used a camera or a computer. While the program would make sense with an entry-level camera, bundling Camedia Master with the C-5050Z just offends my intelligence.

You may still need some software to read, adjust, and convert ORF (Olympus Raw Format) images, if you want to use this option. Olympus offers a Photoshop ORF import plugin at their Japanese site.

Note: both Camedia Master and the plugin have been verified to read ORF files just fine. Some reports to the contrary which I've seen on the Web are either a misunderstanding, or relate to some older versions.

There is also a similar plugin for Mac OS X (which I haven't verified).

Update of September, 2003: the free, excellent ORF Tool 1.25 by Paul Chase Dempsey, does not handle ORF files from the '5050. In September, 2003 I received the Version 1.26, updated, to the best of my understanding, by Marian Krivos from Slovakia. This one works fine with the '5050 ORF files. if you want full control over your images (and if you really know what you are doing), this is a program to recommend. The file can be downloaded from Marian's FTP server.

Index

Image quality

I was expecting to see good results, and I was not disappointed. If anything, the first results were better than I hoped for.

The exposure, tonality, and tonal balance are right on the spot, accurate and most pleasing. This means that the image-processing circuitry is as good as it gets.

The lens is sharp enough to make a good use of the five-megapixel sensor. As a matter of fact, the resolution seems to be at par with that of the E-20, and this is a lot. Maybe a formal test, with a measurement, will show some differences, but they are hard to spot in just visual inspection.

A close inspection of detail of dark branches against bright sky did not show any objectionable chromatic aberration. There is a very some trace of sharpening effect (a white fringe) in the default sharpness setting, but this should go away when the internal sharpening is set to -1 or -2. (Refer to my image settings article for more on this.)

Here is a page of C-5050Z samples, showing reduced full-frame images next to the original-size, not manipulated fragments.

In general, I wouldn't be afraid of calling the C-5050Z results just excellent. Olympus focused their efforts on providing highest possible image quality, and they seem to have achieved this goal.

Note of August, 2004: After almost two years with the camera, I am still most happy with the results it is capable of. I am also using the newer C-5060WZ, but for many uses I still prefer the '5050. If you can buy a refurbished one, it may be one of the best deals on the market.

Index

The competition

Almost every major camera maker has one, sometimes two, cameras in the top-of-the-line, optical viewfinder range. In my book, however, only two deserve a consideration along the C-5050Z.

Nikon's serious CoolPix 5000 model (replaced in 2003 by the 5400) is more expensive than the C-5050Z. The camera, although well-built and sporting lots of thoughtful touches, is rather disappointing, and not only because the 28-85mm (equiv.) lens has an F/4.8 aperture at the long end. In my book the Olympus offering is a more attractive alternative.

Canon has a very successful design in their line: the G-3 (4 megapixels), later updated to the five-megapixel G-5. The G-3 used to be my first recommendation in this price/specs range until the '5050 came around, and the G-5 also deserves a serious consideration. Notably, it has a wider-range zoom lens than the Olympus: 35-140 mm [eq]. While capabilities of both models remain very similar, the C-5050Z wins in terms of ergonomics and general handling (except for the smart flip-and-turn LCD monitor in the Canon). Besides, the Oly has a better build quality, and just feels right (which may be, of course a subjective issue). It also accepts generic AA batteries (the G5 does not!). While I have used the G-5 only occasionally, I clearly prefer the Olympus.

In 2003 Olympus introduced a successor to the '5050, the C-5060WZ. In addition to a separate review of that camera, I have posted a detailed comparison of both. Surprisingly, the '5050 is in many, if not all, aspects better than the newer model.

You may suspect me of a pro-Olympus bias: four of five digital cameras I own (or owned) were made by that company. Well, I would be glad to vote with my money for anyone's model, as long as it meets my needs and compares favorably to others. It just happens that Olympus succeeds most often in making me happy with what they do. Not always, mind it: their pocketable D-40 (known as C-40 in Europe) was a camera I disliked very much; the next day after buying it I took it back to the store. I am also not that thrilled with their electronic-finder cameras (but this I can say about all models in that class).

As I said before: my views may be personal and opinionated, take them or leave them; still, they are based on 40-year long experience as a serious amateur photographer.

Index

The Popular Photography test report

(Update of March, 2003) It was quite interesting to see a full rest report of the C-5050Z in the April, 2003 issue of Popular Photography. After all, these are people who have used cameras before (which I find doubtful in case of some of the Web reviewers), and, more importantly, who have the equipment and procedures to run a full test — not just a semi-subjective evaluation like mine and many others.

Well, this is gloating time. The magazine's conclusions are 100% in line with my impressions voiced above. Here are the highlights from the lab's results:

  • Resolution: Extremely high
  • Color accuracy: Excellent, "better than in any camera tested to date, including all professional SLR models"
  • Highlight & shadow detail: High
  • Noise: Low at ISO 64, moderately low at ISO 200, high at ISO 400.
  • Image quality: extremely high.
  • AF speed: Very fast (normal to bright light); slow (low light)

Well, I told you so. With all the panic about the camera's "excessive noise" raised by some of the Web reviewers, my noise article, although based on a not-so-scientific comparison of samples is clear: the 64 (or 100) ISO noise in the '5050 is comparable to the grain of the ISO 100 negative film. From now on, please do not ask me about the C-5050Z noise issue.

I also agree with the magazine's complaint on slow autofocus speed in low light. This is common to most digital cameras, but especially so for Olympus models, at least all I've tried so far. (If you want to compare, try an entry-level, 35 mm Minolta SLR.)

Interestingly enough, Popular Photography compares the C-5050Z against three top models in this class. Two of these are the Canon G3 and Nikon 5000 (which I have named as the major competitors to the Oly), the third one is the Leica Digilux I, which I haven't tried. The Olympus model comes on the top of this comparison.

The reviewers, however, made one error, recommending the use of noise reduction when shooting at ISO 400. You can switch it on if you wish so, but it will actually work only at exposures of about 1/2 s and longer. Oh, well, we're only human.

In the conclusion, the magazine rates the '5050 as the "tops in the compact 5-megapixel class". 'Nuff said.

The Consumer Reports digital camera comparison

(Update of April, 2003) This month's issue of Consumer Reports, heavily centered on digital photography, names three cameras as tops in the 5-megapixel class: Nikon 5700, Olympus C-5050Z, and Olympus C-50.

The Consumer Reports reviews are not really addressed to the same advanced enthusiast crowd who visit this humbly site, so the evaluation criteria may be somewhat different, but still, worth noting.

Note that the Nikon model uses an electronic viewfinder (a matter of taste, but this is something I cannot live with) while the C-50 clamshell, as cute as it is, suffers from a less useable lens and, most importantly, uses a proprietary battery (the best camera is worthless when you run out of juice, and this I've seen a lot).

Index

The bottom line

The C-5050Z has everything a great camera needs: image quality, ergonomics and ease of use, high degree of tweakability (without obstructing basic operations), look-and-feel, and highly polished manufacturing. I haven't been so impressed with a digital camera since the debut of the E-10 back in '2000.

It will not replace an SLR, and is not trying to, the same way as a Leica is not trying to replace a Hasselblad.

This camera certainly is capable of delivering results comparable to those from the E-20 or other SLRs two or three times its price. What you forgo, is the convenience and accuracy of image composition on an SLR's groundglass. Some people can live without it, some cannot.

If you don't have to have through-the-lens, optical viewing, or if you simply have to stay within a $800-$900 budget, then I wouldn't recommend buying anything else.

Note of November, 2003: Olympus is introducing a competition (or a replacement; this is not clear) to the '5050: the new C-5060Z. I already referred to it at the top of this review, and the full comparison can be found here.

Note of August, 2006: I still consider the C-5050Z to be a great camera, better than any other it its class currently in production. It looks like the demanding amateur user have moved to SLRs, and manufacturers just abandoned the advanced compact market. If you come across a second-hand '5050 in good shape (important!), grab it!

Index

Web resources

Index

My other pages related to the Olympus C-5050Z, C-5060WZ, and X-7070WZ

Camedia® and Olympus® are registered trademarks of Olympus Corporation.
This page is not sponsored or endorsed by Olympus (or anyone else) and presents solely the views of the author.

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Posted 2002/11/25; last updated 2007/02/14; touched up 2013/11/01 Copyright © 2002-2007 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak