Olympus Camedia C-5060WZ

A Technical Review

(with notes on the C-7070WZ)

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

This review is written for an amateur photographer with an inquisitive mind, who would like not only to know the specs and numbers, but also what they mean and why, and how they may, in proper hands, translate into picture quality.

The facts on the camera are heavily annotated with my comments on what they actually mean and how important they may be. Some of them were not published by the manufacturer, being results of my experiments, measurements, or calculations.

The contents is, in places at least, quite technical. It assumes some degree of technical or scientific literacy from the reader. While taking excellent pictures without this knowledge is certainly possible, understanding how the process works and why makes it more fun.

The article is a peer-to-peer effort. I am an amateur photographer like you, making my living in a different domain. I have no connections to the photo industry, and this is also why I can afford to be independent and often personal in my opinions.

If you find any factual errors of omissions here, let me know. I want this review to be as accurate as possible, and your help will be most appreciated.

Note: the newer C-7070WZ is basically the same camera, therefore this review is applicable to it as well. The few modifications are described in my '7070 notes.

In the present article, any information specific to the '7070 is marked in blue.

New and improved?

The C-series of Olympus digital cameras, having started in 1999 with the C-2000, aims mostly at an advanced (or aspiring) amateur, focusing on his/her pictures more than on electronic bells and whistles (although a share of these will always show).

Its last representative, the C-5050Z, has been released in November, 2002. It was, and still is, an excellent camera, capable of delivering professional-quality results. I have used it heavily for the past year, and I really like it; you may find its full technical review and lots of accompanying articles I wrote.

The digital-camera market requires that you have to release a new model every year, lest the techno-enthusiast crowd thinks your gear is becoming obsolete (which is only partially true). In November, 2003 Olympus entered the market with their "latest, greatest" compact camera: the C-5060WZ (referred to as "Wide Zoom").

Originally I wasn't planning to get one, as I am more than happy with the '5050. Then I changed my mind, having (some at least) need for a second compact camera, in addition to the E-20 SLR from two years earlier which I still use a lot, and with good results.

Using both cameras ('5050 and '5060, that is) at the same time makes some comparisons hard to avoid. I'm referring to the '5050 all over the place. There is also a separate 5050/5060 comparison article, if you want to focus just on differences.

In February of 2005 the '5060 was replaced with another model, the seven-megapixel C-7070WZ. It is still basically the same camera, just with a few improvements, some more and some less significant. The changes and additions are described, again, in another article, while I have updated this review to be fully applicable to both cameras.

Annotated walkthrough
Body
Finish:

Crackled, black magnesium alloy, plastic dials and monitor housing, rubber port covers, rubberized grip, painted-metal ring around the lens, plastic lens barrel.

Nice and solid. One exception is the ring around the lens, made of shiny, black-painted metal. I prefer the rubberized ring on the '5050.

Along a common trend, Olympus offends our intelligence with pieces of sales pitch stamped around the body. Looking at the camera front, I can read the word "zoom" four times. If I want to read, I'll buy a book, not a camera. No taste.

The standard, 1/8" tripod socket is made of metal and placed close to camera's gravity center (i.e., not on the lens axis).

Size (WHD):

116×87×66 mm

Frankly, I consider the '5060 too tall. The '5050, about a centimeter shorter, was just perfect. The increased height may be a technical necessity: the wider lens angle needs more spacing between the flash and the lens axis to avoid a lens shadow in the field of vision. Possibly also the swinging LCD monitor needed extra room for its hinge.

I am also not sure if the curved surfaces of the body, not serving any function, are a good idea. Again, I prefer the no-nonsense, function-is-form, styling of the '5050. It just feels sooo right... (Note of March, 2004: yes, in spite of more familiarity with the '5050, I still like the older body more.)

Weight:

430g (15.2 oz) without batteries.

This is two ounces (55 g) more than the '5050. Still, the substantial weight of a relatively small body results in a good, solid feeling.
Index
Lens
Focal length:

4× zoom range, 5.7-22.9 mm, equivalent to a 27-110 mm lens on a 35 mm camera

This range is what I wanted to see in a successor to the '5050.

While ranges greater than this are certainly possible, nothing comes free: they come at the expense of optical quality, also making optical see-through viewfinders impossible or costly — all cameras with wider zoom ranges use electronic viewfinders which many of us (including myself) dislike. (Note of March, 2004: I just tried the new C-8080, and I don't like it, mostly because of the viewfinder. Tough.)

Traditionally, focal lengths are often rounded to the nearest "standard" value, with a 5% margin considered acceptable. Using that approach, one may refer to this lens as 28-105 mm.

Aperture range:
  • F/2.8 to F/8 @27mm
  • F/4.8 to F/8 @110mm
  • adjustments in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps

In the C-7070WZ the aperture closes to F/11.

Zooms starting below the EFL of 35 mm are more difficult to design and more expensive to make. This is why the F/2.8 aperture is understandable. On the other hand, F/4.8 at the EFL of 110 mm is dark, 1.5 F-stops darker than the wide end. I consider this a major handicap. A half-stop difference (F/3.5) would be more acceptable, and technically possible, albeit more expensive to make.

Compare it to the '5050: F/2.8 is about 2.4 times darker than F/1.8 (41% in terms of light intensity), and F/4.8 is 3.8 times darker than F/2.6. This translates into proportionally slower speeds at a given light level. The same scene will require 1/60 of a second on the C-5050Z fully zoomed out, and 1/15 s on the C-5060WZ, a significant difference in handheld shooting.

The F/8 minimum aperture seems to be a technical necessity (although some digital cameras step down to F/11), and, because of vastly greater depth of field, as compared to film cameras, offers more than enough DOF.

While the C-7070WZ allows the lens to be stepped down to F/11, I would recommend using this value only when larger depth of field is more important than loss of sharpness caused by diffraction.

Optical construction:

All-glass, multicoated, 8 elements in 7 groups, two aspherical surfaces and one low-dispersion glass element.

The lens seems to be capable of fully using the 5-megapixel sensor resolution, although I still haven't done any semi-serious testing.

While the relatively low element count helps in keeping internal reflections (flare) under control, it also cuts costs. I believe cost-effectiveness may be the predominant factor in limiting the long-end aperture to F/4.8, and I am ready to bet that the new lens is less expensive to manufacture than the one in the C-5050Z.

The relatively simple lens construction may also be the reason of noticeable barrel distortion at EFL of 28 mm; it is more pronounced than in my SLR lenses of comparable focal length, perhaps as high as 1% (a value of 0.5% is generally recognized as very good). Practically no distortion can be seen at the 110 mm EFL, but this also is quite normal; it's the wide end where non-linearity is hard to control.

Aperture type:

Iris type, 5 (?) blades.

The multi-blade iris diaphragm means that this is not a cheapo model. Some of those have just a switchable blade which allows for only two settings.
Mechanical:

Collapsible construction, plastic barrel.

The lens assembly moves forward by about 2.5 cm when the camera is powered on, and vice versa.

When extended, the lens has a little wobble and seems quite vulnerable to mechanical injury. Let us face it: the '5060 does not pretend to be a pocket camera, and the extra inch for a non-retractable lens would not be so bad. At the same time it would make the construction more rugged and optically precise. It would also simplify the construction, and allow for using lens attachments without resorting to adapter tubes. I was complaining on collapsible lens when reviewing the '5050 (on which I always carry a lens adapter anyway), and I hold to the same opinion here.

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.

Normal does not mean good. The zooming is not as precise as I would like to see it. Having a non-collapsible lens with a mechanical zoom ring around it would make the camera a joy to use.

Zooming seems to work in a number of just 20 or so discrete steps, one more reason behind the not-so-precise feel.

The zooming motor does not sound as alarming as that in the older model, although I still dislike the way it sounds and works.

Filter thread:

Yes, 40.5 mm.

This is a first in the C-series, and quite uncommon among compact cameras. I consider it a big plus. In previous models you had to use a lens adapter tube in order to fit a skylight filter or a polarizer; this is no longer necessary.

Using filters is further facilitated by the fact that the camera uses a push-on lens cap, fitting on the top of the lens ring (as opposed to the lens itself). The solution is well-designed, leaving just enough room for a filter (including thick ones, like a polarizer) to be left on the lens all the time, even with the cap on.

Olympus specifies "Olympus filter" as your filter options. This is not true. Any standard 40.5 mm filter will work equally well.

Index
Optical viewfinder
Type:

Real image; zooming in synch with the lens.

Similar to the '5050, but with even smaller magnification, and therefore even more disappointing.
Field coverage:

Not specified

My measurements show 85% x 80% (WxH) at both extremes of the zoom focal length. (Each data point has been averaged between three frames, with all numbers staying within 1% of the average, so I am quite confident of these numbers, with an error not more than 1%.)

This is equivalent to less than 70% area coverage — in other words, more than 30% of your picture is outside the viewfinder. I consider this a mediocre performance, although the competing models are not really better. Interestingly enough, the viewfinder aspect ratio is clearly different than that of the image; this is obvious from just a casual look into the eyepiece.

In the beginning I suspected that this was to avoid the lens barrel obstructing the viewfinder. Not true: adding a 49 mm step-up ring (i.e. moving the rim 4 mm closer to the finder) caused a very slight intrusion only; certainly, there is still some room to spare. I'm puzzled.

The finder coverage is worse than in the C-5050Z, in which it is about 80% (90% x 90%); clearly not an improvement.

Parallax correction:

None.

This is certainly possible, although at extra cost. Check the Contax G2 film camera to see what I mean. With a better (larger and more accurate) viewfinder and parallax correction, the '5060 would sweep any competition off the market, at least among the more informed buyers.
Information shown in finder:

None. Two LEDs next to the eyepiece signal focus OK, and a need for flash.

I would prefer to have these indicators inside the finder. Many film cameras have this feature. This is cheap.
Diopter correction:

Yes.

Adjustment is done with a small ribbed wheel right of the viewfinder. Very convenient.
Index
LCD monitor
Type:

Color: active matrix (TFT).

Nice-looking and readable; seems slightly better in bright light than the monitor on the previous model.

Anti-reflective coating, still missing, would help.

My complaint about the '5050 has been addressed: the exposure information can be removed from the screen; this makes composing the picture easier. The monitor switch button now toggles between three states: on with the information overlay, on without (with just the autofocus area shown), and off.

I still have a few, relatively minor but not trivial, quibbles about how the display works.

  • Having to switch from the "no-info" to the "info" state through "off" is inconvenient and introduces extra delay (although the on/off monitor lag is visibly smaller than in the '5050);
  • Activating the real-time histogram with the exposure compensation button should work the same way in the "info" and "no-info" modes.
  • The data overlay on the live preview shows in a "full" version when the monitor is turned on, and them, after three seconds or so, it makes room for a brief display which is less obtrusive. There is no easy way to recall the full display for a brief inspection, except by turning the LCD off and on, or by pressing and releasing the exposure compensation button. There is no option to keep the display on for as long as it may be needed: you have to learn how to read it in the three seconds available.

(Note that on most computer monitors the LCD is shown greater-than-life in the pictures at the left.)

Physical size:

27×37 mm; 46 mm (1.8 in.) diagonal.

Average for this type of camera.
Pixel count:

130k pixels (slightly better than 400×300).

The C-5050Z had a monitor with 114k pixels; a slight improvement here.

These are not really pixels, but individual RGB sub-pixels. Again, all makers use this misrepresentation. Using the same convention, my laptop's LCD screen has a resolution of 3072×768.

Field coverage:

100%

My measurements show on average 99% at any zoom setting. Good.
Brightness adjustment:

Yes, from the menu.

I have never used this on my previous Olympus cameras. The monitor readability in daylight seems to be better than in previous models, although its surface still does not have anti-reflective coating.
Tilt & swivel:

Tilt up (0 to 180°), swivel (-90° to 270°)

This is nice, although not essential for viewing: I found the tilt-only monitor on the '5050 adequate for my purposes.

The new monitor may also face the subject, which may be useful for self-portraits. Depending on the position, the displayed image flips itself as needed, to provide the right orientation for viewing.

On the other hand, lifting the monitor up, swiveling 180° and putting it back down (faster done than said), reverses the monitor flush with the camera's back side, protecting it from scratches. It looks good this way, too.

Index
Shutter
Type:

Mechanical.

Of this I'm 99% sure. It is possible that at shorter exposures electronic gating is also used.
Speed range:
  • Manual: 15s-1/2000s (*)
  • All auto modes: 4s-1/1000s
  • Adjustable in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps

(*) Additionally, the speed of 1/4000s is available at F/8 only. In the B (bulb) setting, manually timed exposures up to 120 seconds are possible.

An excellent range, more than enough for any applications I may think of.

The speed of 1/2000s, now being accessible at any aperture setting, becomes usable. In the '5000, available only at F/8, it was just a marketing gimmick.

The 1/4000 s shutter speed, accessible only at F/8 in the '5060, is not really useful, but at least Olympus only claims 1/2000 s at the fastest speed available, clearly stating that the 1/4000s is an extra with limited accessibility.

Why am I so skeptical about the 1/4000s speed? Simply, because you will never be able to use it. A bright-sun, daylight scene typically needs F/8 and 1/400s at ISO 400. In order to use 1/4000s, you would have to shoot at F/4 or wider, but at these apertures 1/2000s is the fastest you can get.

Anyway, some other makers (including Sony and Canon) are still making those misleading shutter speed claims, which, on a specs-driven market, I consider misrepresentations.

Shutter sound:

Yes.

I find this audible feedback useful and reassuring. It has two presets and two volume levels (both too loud, I think); it can be also switched off. I wish the camera also had an audible AF confirmation.
Index
Drive modes
Modes:

Single-frame, sequential, high-speed sequential, AF sequential, autobracketing.

In the single-frame mode a 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 is discussed in the Exposure Control section.

In the fast sequential mode you can take up to four frames at the claimed rate of 1.7 per second; my estimates confirm this claim (or exceed it).

The (slow) sequential mode will run eight to twelve frames (SHQ or HQ JPEG) until the buffer is full. Actually, you can start shooting another series while the buffer is still being emptied, but it will be shorter. The buffer capacity depends on the image size (but not on compression, it seems): in the two-megapixel mode (1600x1200) the camera took more than 30 frames in one stretch.

The AF sequential drive mode is the slowest, with about 2-second gap between frames. Much room for improvement.

All sequential modes are available only when image file format is set to JPEG, and the shutter speed is limited to 1/30 of a second.

Time-lapse:

No.

Take away movie clips, on/off effects, print ordering system and all body decals, and give me automatic time-lapse photography. Although not essential, this is a nice feature to have, more useful than those I've just mentioned.
Index
Exposure measurement
Type:

TTL (through the lens).

This is normal, and greatly facilitated by using the CCD sensor itself to analyze the light levels.
Sensor:

CCD.

The CCD imager itself is also used to measure the exposure. Most (maybe all?) non-SLR digital cameras do that.
Modes:
  • Matrix ("ESP")
  • Center-weighted
  • Spot
  • Multi-spot
This is as wide a choice as you may ever need: I cannot think of anything else.

Spot metering is useful in hands of a qualified user 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: the monitor shows 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. I have used it just to try it — usually I find the histogram readout handier.

The center-weighted mode is new in the '5060. It does not offer any real advantages above matrix metering, bot those of us who grew used to this method on their film cameras will be happy to have this option.

Switching between metering modes is accessible from the control dial and does not require climbing the menu tree; this is like in the '5050.

The metering system seems to be accurate and effective. All my trials ended up in well-exposed frames (although I like to have a -1/3 EV exposure compensation all the time).

Brightness histogram:

Yes, before and after exposure; or a display of over- and under-exposed areas.

The histogram display is very useful, and I'm dependent on this feature.

Before the picture is taken, the live histogram is overlaid on the monitored image together with the basic exposure information, and you can easily see if any image parts are exceeding the dynamic range. To activate this while the monitor is on, press the exposure compensation button at the left. Actually, this is not the default option, but you can set it from the menu and just leave it there; this seems most convenient.

This is quite thoughtful: exposure compensation adjustment is when I want to see the histogram. Having it on all the time would be obtrusive, and disabling the histogram does not make much sense: it will disappear anyway when you let go the button.

The live mode has two more nice, if not essential, touches. One is another, smaller histogram, displayed in green on top of the bigger one. This shows the brightness distribution within a small rectangle, also indicated. The position of that rectangle can be adjusted with the arrow buttons. The other "extra" is that the out-of-range, left- and rightmost parts of the histogram are shown in blue and red, respectively, which somehow improves readability.

This was the good news, now on to bad ones. The histogram display for pictures already taken has been implemented in a most cumbersome way. You can either have it activated full-time (with the histogram showing next to a 1/4-size image thumbnail), or not at all, and switching between these two states takes no less than eight (yes, eight!) button presses. I would greatly prefer a possibility to preview the postmortem histogram at a single press of the +/- button, like in the live mode. Or, at least Olympus should leave the "old" shortcut menu from the '5050 and '4000, which would allow to switch in just two button presses. But eight? People, do you think anyone will use this now? The way things are, the feature is barely usable.

A smaller, but still important, complaint: I would still prefer to have the histogram overlay full-size, the way it was on the E-10/E-20 cameras.

A related feature, new in this model, is the under- and over-exposure map, where the areas above and below the available dynamic range are shown as tiny red or blue rectangles (slightly differently in the post-view mode). This has to be activated from the histogram-setting menu, therefore it will stay off or on (distracting!). I don't think this is a good solution; an option to have the indicators activated by pressing the exposure compensation button would make it more useful.

A nitpicker's note: some reviewers refer to this display also as a "histogram". This is wrong, both functionally and in terms of the visualization. Check a dictionary and leave your Nintendo out of the classroom.

Index
Exposure control
Modes:
  • Program (full auto)
  • Aperture priority
  • Shutter priority
  • Metered manual
  • Five "scene modes": portrait, landscape, portrait/landscape, sports, night
Full control or complete automation, everything just right.

In addition, the program can be "shifted" towards greater or smaller F-numbers by pressing the up- or down-arrow button, respectively; the right arrow returns to the basic program again.

Shifted program can be useful, but I'm getting an impression that the feature is behaving somewhat erratically. Besides, at the long zoom end the whole range of apertures available is just 1.5 EV — hardly a room for any shifting (2.5 EV, somewhat more, in the C-7070WZ).

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. (The note reprinted from my '5050 review; some things never change.)

The exposure program curve seems to be quite different from the '5050. First, the new camera is quite willing to start raising the CCD gain (ISO setting) as soon as it may be needed. This may mean more confidence in the higher-ISO image quality; see "ISO settings" below.

Second, the program starts closing the aperture down also as soon as it can (in the '5050 it tended to keep the aperture open for a larger part of the EV scale). This, in turn, may denote less confidence in the wide-open lens performance.

Compensation:

Up to 2 EV stops in 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments.

The camera's exposure automation does not know, for example, if your scene is consisting mostly of, say, grass, or of snow. In both cases it will try do depict the area as the standard, 18% gray (possibly 12% is used in new calibration standards). But this is not right: the snow is white!

In such and similar situations, being able to adjust the exposure for the intended brightness is of utmost importance. Of all features of an automated camera I consider this the most important one.

The adjustment 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. Not until we move to sensors and image formats with 16 or more bits per color, and this means not earlier than in 5-6 years from now.

Exposure lock:

Yes, both single- and multi-frame mode.

This is a well-designed feature. First, pressing the shutter release halfway locks both the exposure and focus; this is like in almost all cameras I know.

You may also set your preferences so that pressing the AEL button locks the exposure for a single shot (and activates the monitor). The lock is canceled when a picture is taken, or when the button is pressed again.

Holding the AEL button for a second or so locks the exposure for multiple frames, i.e., until the button is pressed again or the main dial is moved. This is a must when shooting frames to stitch into panoramas, but not only.

Exposure bracketing:

Three or five exposures

In tricky lighting situations autobracketing comes handy: the camera will automatically take three or five frames, varying the exposure from one to another in equal-size steps.

The shots can be spaced 0.3, 0.7 or 1 EV apart, but if the EV step in the Settings menu is at 0.5 EV, then the spacing is 0.5, 1, or 1.5 EV. The adjustable step is new in the '5060.

Autobracketing can be enabled only if files are stored in JPEG or ORF format; in the latter, only three frames are available.

Interestingly, a sequence of three bracketed shots is done at the high-speed sequential rate, while five — at the slower one, so that it takes about three times as long (about three seconds). This is a small but welcome improvement from the previous model, where the leisurely slower drive rate was used regardless of how many shots were in the sequence. It really makes autobracketing more practical.

ISO settings:

Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400.

You should know by now that higher ISO settings allow you to use greater shutter speeds and/or smaller apertures (greater F-numbers) at given light conditions. Actually, the C-5060WZ needs that with its maximum aperture lower than that of the '5050 (whose lowest setting is at ISO 64, a technicality).

Importantly, noise levels at higher ISO settings have visibly improved in the '5060, which makes these settings more useable. This is reflected in the "Auto ISO" which now more willingly switches to higher ISO than in the previous models. (Still, it does not do that early enough to help with camera shake at longer exposures.)

White balance:

Auto, nine presets, four memories, a quick reference ("one-touch") mode, and manual fine-tuning.

As in the C-5050Z, 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 into one of four custom settings. This is more than you probably need, or use.

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 really more than "one touch"). The selected area as will be rendered as neutral.

The feature works like a charm on the '5060, just outstanding — the most accurate way to set the white balance, especially for artificial light. I've tried it also under incandescent light on the '7070 — it works equally well on that camera.

In addition to the color temperature adjustment (or, rather, one for the color temperature), the C-7070 has a new feature, overlooked in all reviews: manual compensation for the Green/Magenta shift. This is an example how great features are wasted on this market; it is more of an improvement than just more megapixels. The G/M shift may occur more rarely than the Red/Blue one, but when it does, it is more painful.

Index
Focusing
Autofocus:

Dual system: passive (TTL) contrast-detection, and active, phase-detection; wide-area or spot, focus-assist beam.

Passive TTL systems use the image created by the lens to set the focus, in a similar way to most modern AF SLRs (except that in those a special mirror deflects the light to a separate AF sensor, while here the CCD imager is used, at least that's what I believe). This is more accurate than active systems found on most point-and-shoot cameras, and works with any lens attachments (wide-angle, tele, close-up).

The '5060 is the first camera in the C-series to add a secondary, active system, based on an infrared beam cast by the camera on the subject. This system uses a separate, external sensor (just above the lens). Interestingly, this is probably a phase-detection system; it tells not only how much off the focus is, but also in which direction, and this should translate into greater speed of operation.

Although Olympus is tight-lipped about how this works, I would expect that the active AF is used for initial, rough setting, while the passive (TTL) one — for the final, more accurate adjustment. All this should result in faster autofocusing, although, frankly speaking, I yet have to see a noticeable difference from the '5050. According to Olympus, the focusing cycle takes about 0.4s. My impression is that it usually takes longer, especially indoors.

This may explain the purpose of the "Accessory" choice in the Settings menu. I strongly suspect that when set to a position other than OFF, it disables the active autofocus. Of course Olympus does not say anything on this.

The AF illuminator provides a beam of red light to aid the passive autofocus system in low light. This can be disabled if you find it distracting.

Manual:

Yes, with the distance scale on the LCD screen.

Actually, I rarely resort to manual focusing. The distance scale seems to be quite imprecise.
Autofocus modes:

Multispot or spot, single or continuous.

The C-7070WZ adds the predictive focus to the latter choice.

There are 13 autofocus sensitivity spots, arranged in a 3x3 matrix with two extra squeezed into the middle row. One of them is chosen automatically by the camera in the multi-spot mode (referred to by Olympus as "iESP"). In the single-spot regimen, the choice of the active autofocus area can be made with use of the arrow buttons. In either case the chosen spot is shown in the LCD monitor.

The continuous autofocus should, in principle, cut down on the lag time at the expense of greater battery drain. The speed improvement, if any, is not overwhelming; I am not sure if I can see any difference: there is always this dreadful, one-second lag between pressing the button and the shutter firing.

I haven't tried the predictive (or "Oracle") focusing mode in the C-7070WZ, and I'm not sure what real advantages it provides.

Focus range:

20 cm (8 in.) to infinity; from 3 cm (1.2 in) in "super macro" mode.

The "macro mode" setting is used only to speed up focusing between 0.2 and 0.8m. Actually, the camera focuses continuously between 20 cm and infinity.

The "super macro" mode sets the lens EFL to about 59 mm, and the field of view at the closest distance is about 28x21 mm. The feature seems to work as well as in the '5050, which means very impressive.

Autofocus steps:

Unknown.

Olympus does not make this value known, but I have reasons to believe that there are 240 steps between 20 cm and infinity.
Audible confirmation:

None.

There was one feature I was missing in the '5050, and I am missing it still. A small reassuring beep when the autofocus is reached helps a lot, much more than the green light next to the viewfinder. Why not — instead of the stupid sound effect when the camera is turned on?
Index
Flash
Built-in flash range:

3.7 m (EFL=27 mm), 2.2 m (EFL = 110 mm) at ISO 100

This looks like the same flash as the one in the '5050. Smaller apertures (darker lens) in the '5060 reduced these values considerably compared to the previous model.

The range given by the manufacturer seems to be accurate (no inflated claims), and at the short distance of 0.2 m pictures are not burned out. This unit is as good as the built-in ones come.

The good news is that this is the first time Olympus got these numbers right in the documentation (they were wrong for all models from C-2000Z to C-5050Z).

Guide No.:

10.5 (in meters), or 35 (in feet).

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). Still, the flash is more powerful than most of the ones built into competitors' cameras.
Recharging time:

Below 6 s.

This time is shorter when shooting from less-than-maximum distance (the capacitor does not discharge fully then).
Metering:

TTL (through-the-lens).

The system gives properly exposed images in the whole distance range from 20 cm up. Right on the nose, and consistent.
Flash compensation:

2 EV.

Very useful, especially when the flash is used as a fill-in outdoors.

When the flash is used as the main source of light, this value adds to the overall exposure compensation value. This should be explained in the manual, but is not.

Usage modes:

Auto, red-eye, off, forced on, slow synch (front and rear).

Slow synch allows to add flash to long exposures.

In such cases you can have the flash go off at the beginning, or at the end of the exposure. For stationary subjects this does not make any difference, but for moving ones in mixed (flash+ambient) light it does, as the "streaks" created by the ambient illumination of the subject will precede or follow the sharper, flash-generated image, respectively. (The second option is referred to as "rear-curtain synch" in the SLR world.)

External:

FL-20, FL-36, FL-40, or FL-50 by Olympus.

All these flashes allow the camera to do TTL metering for them, and integrate in the most efficient way with camera's exposure automation, better than any other maker's system I've seen. 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 if the external flash is being bounced off the ceiling.

The FL-50 is somewhat overpriced ($400 or so), but it is powerful and very capable, having tilt, bounce, and zoom. Its multi-strobe capability is wasted on this camera (useful for focal-plane shutters only). The discontinued FL-40 has all these features (no multi-strobe, though) and can be sometimes bought used quite cheap. Obviously, both are quite large, not very handy when placed in a hot shoe of a compact camera.

The FL-20 is tiny and cute, less powerful than its big brethren (still packing a respectable punch), it also has no bounce/swivel capability. It is more affordable ($100 or less).

A more recent addition to the Olympus flash system, the FL-36, seems to be a perfect match for the '5060 or '7070. It is as capable as the flagship FL-50, has almost all its bells and whistles, being much smaller and lighter, better fitting these cameras.

For more information on flashes, dedicated or not, see my 5060/7070 section.

Slave-compatible:

Yes.

A slave flash is a unit triggered remotely by the light from another. This can be foiled if the camera's flash emits a so-called pre-flash for metering purposes; in such a case the slave will fire prematurely, before the "real" flash occurs.

With slave units in mind, Olympus allows to disable the pre-flash in the C-5060WZ, making it thus compatible with slave flashes from any maker or vintage.

Thoughtfully, the '5060 allows you to set the intensity of the built-in flash when in the slave-driving mode. As the built-in flash effectively provides fill light, this really means adjusting the internal-to-slave fill ratio.

I have tested this feature on the previous model (C-5050Z) with the Sunpak DS20 ($30 at Ritz), both on- and off-camera, and the combination works as advertised. I am sure it works the same way on the '5060.

Index
Image sensor
Type:

CCD (charge-coupled device).

This is what almost everyone else uses, except for some Canon models (which use CMOS devices, less expensive to make).
Pixel count:

C-5060WZ: 5.1 million (as given by Olympus); really 5.04 million (or 4.81 "binary" megapixels).

C-7070WZ: 7.1 million (as given by Olympus); really 7.08 million (or 6.75 "binary" megapixels).

The "pixel count" given traditionally by all manufacturers is a little bit inflated: some of these pixels (at the sensor edges) are not used to build the image.

The native-resolution file in the C-5060WZ contains exactly 5,038,848 pixels, while that of the C-7070WZ — 7,077,888 pixels.

The 40% increase in pixel count can be translated into an 18.5% increase in sensor's linear resolution. This is by how much larger prints we can make with the '7070, assuming that the lens is capable of providing enough detail. The actual difference is less visible and I don't think about this as a major improvement.

Size:

1/1.8 in.

This traditional specification doesn't mean much. It is not the diagonal of the image frame (I found a number of articles on the Web which commit this error, arriving to entirely wrong sensor areas).
Image size:

5.4×7.2 mm.

These are my calculations. Assuming Olympus defines focal length equivalence in terms of the frame diagonal, that diagonal is 9.0 mm, and from this, using the Pythagorean theorem, we get these dimensions. I don't expect to be off by more than 2%, and this seems to indicate that the used chip area in the '5060 is just a tad larger than that in the previous model.
Works in infrared:

C-5060WZ: Yes.

C-7070WZ: Probably yes.

The sensor's infrared response seems to be similar to that in the C-5050Z. My IR samples show the exposure factor of 2400×, while in the previous model it was about 3000×; this difference (1/3 EV) is within the measurement error.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to check the IR behavior of the '7070. It might have changed, as the manufacturers always tweak their IR-blocking filters.

Index
Image resolution and storage
File formats:

TIFF, JPEG, ORF (Olympus Raw Format).

The ORF format stores the image before any processing (photosite signal interpolation, color balance, sharpening, contrast and saturation enhancement), and each single-color photosite signal is recorded as 10 bits (not eight like in JPEG).

This means more flexibility in postprocessing: less information is lost (two extra bits mean four times more, or 1024, color levels per channel).

Conversion from ORF to one of the common formats can be made with use of the included Camedia Master application, or with a PhotoShop plugin downloadable from the Olympus Web site (I haven't tried his plugin, just quoting manufacturer's information). As the format in the '5060 has changed from previous models, some third-party ORF-reading programs will no longer work with images from this camera, unless they are updated.

ORF images are not compressed; they offer file sizes smaller than TIFFs only because the raw information taken off the sensor has only one color (10 bits) per pixel, not three, like after conversion into full RGB. (Yes, even in "native" resolution all cameras interpolate two out of three RGB components for every pixel; have a look at my megapixel article.)

Frankly speaking, I find the JPEG format sufficient for anything I'm doing.

The '7070 allows for saving captured images in both ORF and JPEG formats at the same time. Some people (but not myself) might find this useful.

JPEG compression:

1:4 or 1:11.

These are nominal, approximate numbers, as the effectiveness of JPEG compression varies from image to image. For previous Olympus cameras my averages on compression ratio were higher: 1:5 and 1:13 (with the same nominal values).

Actually, I find the HQ (1:11) compression good enough for most uses, only occasionally switching to SHQ (1:4).

Until I run an appropriate test for the '5060 (if I do it at all), see an article on image compression in the '5050; I expect it to be fully applicable to the '5060.

Pixel size:
  • 3264x2448 (7.6MP)
    – interpolated, '5060 only
  • 3072x2304 (6.8MP)
    – native, '7070 only
  • 3072x2048 (6.0MP)
    – 3:2, '7070 only
  • 2592x1944 (4.8MP)
    – native, '5060 only
  • 2592x1728 (4.3MP)
    – 3:2, '5060 only
  • 2288x1712 (3.7MP)
  • 2048x1536 (3.0MP)
  • 1600x1200 (1.8MP)
  • 1280x960 (1.2MP)
  • 1024x768 (XGA)
  • 640x480 (VGA)
This is a wide choice, although I would just set the camera to native resolution and leave it there. Going to smaller than native resolution can be always done in postprocessing; if you do it in-camera, there is no way back.

The interpolated 3200x2400 format, as I've checked on the '5050, does not seem to provide any advantages above image resizing in a graphics program; see an article on this subject, which should be applicable also to the '5060.

Note that in the C-7070WZ the native file size is 3072x2304 (6.75 MP), and the interpolated 7.6 MP size has been abandoned.

The smaller formats are of doubtful usability. Yes, you can easily send them via email, assuming that you do not know how to resize your images, but this kind of user is unlikely to buy an advanced camera anyway. On the other hand, it is quite easy to use a wrong size by accident: a friend of mine spent half a day taking product images of high-end audio equipment he manufactures, only to discover the next day that all were saved in XGA resolution.

Recording modes:

27 size/format/compression combinations, with six presets available directly from the menu.

ORF (raw) files are always stored in the native resolution, but JPEGs and TIFFs can use any of pixel sizes listed above (except that TIFF will not scale the image up).

Actually, I find all this unnecessary and possibly leading to errors. My advice: set the resolution to native, and then switch between HQ, SHQ, and, if you insist, TIFF or ORF as needed.

Image adjustment:

Sharpness, contrast, and color saturation, each separately in ±5 steps.

The C-7070WZ adds hue adjustment.

The raw image from the sensor is processed, before being stored, with use of contour-, color-, and/or contrast-enhancing algorithms. Most cameras do it, but not all give you a choice. In this case the choice is quite generous.

As I postprocess all my images, I prefer to keep contrast at -1, sharpness at -2 or even lower, and saturation at 0 (or +1), at least on the '5050. Your preferences may differ. Once you find the settings fitting your workflow and taste, leave them there.

The hue adjustment in the '7070 is not the same as WB adjustment. While the latter adjusts the image more or less in the Red/Blue dimension, the new feature does it in the Green/Magenta plane. This is nice, because WB does not help if your colors are shifted in G/M. Actually, this may be the most significant new feature in the '7070, more important than increasing the number of pixels.

Noise reduction:

Yes.

This feature, accessible from the LCD menu (and activated by default in the "night mode"), reduces the "fixed noise", visible mostly in the shadows at longer exposures (one second or more), especially at higher ISO settings.

After taking the picture and storing it in the buffer, the camera takes another frame with the shutter closed. That frame is then subtracted from the first one. See an article on this, with samples from the '5060.

The feature may be useful, although not essential because of the improved high-ISO performance of this camera. Still, it makes the ISO 400 setting fully usable.

Storage media:
  • xD-Picture
  • CompactFlash

The camera has two slots: one takes a Compact Flash Type I or II card of any capacity (including the MicroDrive), while the other — an xD-Picture card, currently available in sizes up to 512 MB (with larger ones to follow).

Important for "power users": the camera will work with a CF card formatted in FAT-32. This allows capacities beyond 2GB. Smaller cards will be by default formatted in FAT-16, but if originally formatted in FAT-32 (on your PC), the camera will retain this when reformatting.

The '5050, even with the latest firmware upgrade, does not support FAT-32.

A 32MB xD card is included in the package, just to get you started. A larger capacity, at least 128 MB, is essential for any real-life use.

I like having the dual-slot capacity, although this may be a bit irrational. Still, in case of emergency (a failure, or running out of space), this may be useful, so why not.

Although the Microdrive has a full manufacturer's blessing, it uses more power, and I am not thrilled with expected reliability of something so small with parts moving at high speeds. Your call.

My informal writing speed comparison shows the xD cards to be somewhat slower than the best of CF ones (up to two times, compared to the best CF).

Interestingly enough, the '5060 is actually slower in writing, than the '5050; on the fast CF cards almost twice as slow, while on xD-Picture ones the differences are only slight.

The '7070 seems to save images as fast as the '5060, in spite of larger file sizes; this means that the actual writing speed (MB/s) has been improved. I was too lazy to run a formal speed test.

Index
Power source
Batteries:

Lithium-ion BLM-1 battery (proprietary).

I'm not too happy about this. First, a BLM-1 sells for $70 — a price of the best NiMH charger plus three sets of NiMH rechargeables. Second, if this baby dies on you, you are dead, without an option of getting a set of alkalines from a corner store to last you the rest of the day.

Among people I know who use proprietary batteries, everyone says "Yes, I've got to get a spare battery, just not today, maybe tomorrow", and nobody does. Sooner or later this leads to a major disaster.

One BLM-1 comes with the camera. The store where I bought my C-5060WZ (CompUSA) did not have the BLM-1 in stock. Finally I bought one, as always, at B&H. Independent manufactures provide clones at lower prices, available at some retailers.

The BLM-1, at 7.2V, has a capacity of 1500 mAh, and this translates into 10.8 Wh of stored energy. Good NiMH batteries (a set of four) deliver 2300 mAh at 4.8V, which is 11 Wh, and the capacity increases every year.

One advantage of Li-Ion batteries is low self-discharge rate (i.e., loss of energy when the battery is not used). During the first day or two a NiMH loses about 10% of energy (the rate drops later on); this is more than a Li-Ion battery loses in a month. Still, it is proprietary, it is expensive, it is risky. And will anyone be making them four years from now?

Note of October, 2005: As much as I am complaining about the proprietary battery, in the past year and a half I've learned to (grudgingly) respect the BLM-1. The camera/battery performance is nothing short of outstanding; over this whole time only once I had to change the battery in the field, and that was on the second day of quite intense shooting in Death Valley. I am now sure this is due to the fact that Li-Ion batteries keep the voltage steady until they are well discharged (see below).

Charger:

Included, BCM-2.

This charger takes about six hours to recharge a drained BLM-1. Olympus offers a "fast charger", available, of course, separately, but those are not as gentle on batteries.

The charger works with voltages from 100 to 240V, good when you travel abroad. Unfortunately, it does not have built-in, foldable outlet prongs — just a power cable to carry along.

Consider that you will now have to have a separate charger for batteries used with your flash and/or any other camera you may be traveling with. Swell.

Battery life:

No specifications.

The battery life with the C-5060WZ is outstanding. After the initial charge, I've spent a week with the camera, using the monitor most of the time, familiarizing myself with controls and settings, but also taking pictures, quite a few with flash, to the total of more than 200. It took six days before the low-battery warning appeared. This was long enough for a spare to arrive by mail, and this one lasted another five days of use. (The NiMH set used under similar circumstances with the '5050 lasted one day, which I also consider good, with all my fooling around.)

At first I thought that this due to camera's improved power consumption. Then I remembered that the reviews at Imaging Resource usually contain some measurements on battery drain. A quick check, and — surprise, seems like the '5060 actually uses more power than the '5050 does! Let me quote just two measurements, recomputed from current drain to power usage to account for difference in battery voltage:

  • Camera ready, LCD monitor off: 0.11W (5060), 0.05W (5050)
  • Camera ready, LCD monitor on: 3.05 W (5060) 2.28W (5050)
and the full data, following a similar pattern, can be found at the aforementioned site.

The only way to explain this apparent contradiction is that lithium-ion batteries keep voltage better during the discharge cycle: the camera may refuse to work with NiMH ones even if they still have some charge, but the voltage fell below an acceptable level.

External power supply:

Optional.

The 6.5V C-7AU or C-7AE power supply by Olympus (which I have used with my previous C- and E-10/E-20 Olympus cameras) works OK with this one, too. It is quite small, but single-voltage only, and more expensive than some of the third-party replacements (Just remember: plus on tip!)
Index
Controls
Camera top:
  • shutter release (with a zoom lever)
  • mode dial 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
  • self-timer/remote button
  • user-defined function button
Left side:
  • exposure compensation button
  • flash mode button (both pressed together set flash compensation)
Back side:
  • viewfinder eyepiece with two LEDs and diopter correction
  • control wheel (below the mode knob and on/off switch)
  • exposure lock button
  • color LCD monitor
  • monitor switch button
  • quick preview button
  • four arrow buttons in a circle with the OK/menu button in the center
  • card selection button
The control system in the '5050 was already very good (although not as good as in E-10/E-20 cameras; two or three more buttons would bring it there), and the '5060 just slightly changes it, mostly for the better.

The only change in the C-7070WZ is that separate scene modes on the dial have been replaced with one "Scene" setting, and actual choice is done from the menu.

Most of the principal exposure settings can be accessed without resorting to the menu system — 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 (these are the three buttons I am missing, and my old E-20 has them all).

There are two ways to address this disadvantage. First, one of the top buttons can be user-assigned to almost any of the settings. In the '5050 I settled down using it to choose between various custom modes; another reasonable choice is ISO or the image size and compression.

Second, a setting (submenu) can be assigned to each of the three "shortcut" items in the opening menu screen (see below); this way they are accessible much faster than through climbing the menu tree.

Note that the buttons setting exposure compensation and flash mode have been moved to a new location. I am not the only one who thinks this was not a good change — the old location was better.

My '5050 complaint about the on/off switch (which could be too easily activated by accident on that model) has been addressed. The shutter release button, however, remains as stiff as it used to be; making it softer and more responsive could cause some confusion among inexperienced users, but for advanced ones it would make the camera more responsive, also providing better hand-held long exposures.

LCD Control panel:

On top; no backlight

This B&W LCD consumes a negligible amount of power, showing most of the camera settings at a glance. Too bad that for some of the settings (ISO, white balance) it only shows a warning that they are not at default.

The panel backlight feature would be most appropriate in a camera of these aspirations.

Menu system:

Accessible from recording or viewing mode (different options in each case).

The menu system is good, almost unchanged from the '5050, with just a few new options added.

It opens with three (user-selectable) "shortcut" items assigned to three of the arrow buttons. The fourth one takes you to the full menu structure.

I'm using the shortcuts for the ISO setting, image quality, and white balance, which is how I ended up using them on the '5050.

The menu system has been retained almost unchanged in the C-7070WZ, with slightly different graphics and new, more readable, color scheme.

Special feature:

Dual control panel mode.


C-7070WZ: Control Panel

The color monitor can be used 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.

The display is very readable, all settings at-a-glance. I haven't used this on the '5050, as, with the duel display activated, you could not turn the monitor entirely off without going deep into the menus. On the '5060, however, I can always flip the monitor around when not in use, therefore I may still warm up to this feature.

The picture on the left shows the Control Panel on the C-7070WZ, identical to that on the older model, except that now it shows four image settings (all shown at "+2" here), not just three.

Index
Other features
Settings at power-up:

Factory presets or last used.

The choice between these two is OK, but I would like to have a third option: my own power-on defaults, like in the E-10/E-20.

This gap is filled to some extent, by the presence of eight (moronically named) "My Mode" user-settable presets, but this is not the same.

On the "My Mode" settings, see two related articles exploring this feature on the '5050; they are also fully applicable here: one describes my preferred setup, and another — street-shooter's use of the feature.

Self-timer:

Electronic, 12 s delay.

This is OK. In many situations using the remote may be easier.
Remote control:

Included infrared; 2 s delay.

This is a new RM-2 remote from Olympus. It gets rid of all controls except of the shutter release button, and I am not missing the options taken away.

The two-second delay is just enough to get the remote out of sight if you are in the picture.

The remote infrared receiver is placed on the front of the camera. This greatly limits its usability; as the '5060 does not have a wired or radio-remote option, I like using the infrared one when shooting from a tripod, to avoid camera shake.

Note: I'm not sure if the remote is included with cameras sold on European markets. In the '5050 it wasn't.

Voice annotation:

Up to 4 seconds with every picture; recording and playback.

I've never used this feature in any of my cameras. Some users may, however, find it useful.
Digital zoom:

Continuous, up to 2.5x, accessible at the longest lens setting.

Just a marketing gimmick, saving just the center of the full frame. You can do this equally well in postprocessing, having more say in how you crop. I am surprised to see this feature on a model which is definitely not an entry-level camera.

When the "digital zoom" is enabled, it is easy to activate it by mistake just by zooming in. I would recommend disabling this feature and forgetting about it.

External interfaces:

USB, TV audio/video.

Surprisingly, this is still the older, slower USB 1.1, while USB 2.0 has been common in new computer for two years or so. I was complaining about this omission already in the C-5050Z.

With Windows 2000, ME, or XP (or Mac OS 9.0 or later), your camera will be recognized as an external drive, so that you can copy the files as you please.

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.

The TV output can be switched between NTSC and PAL.

The video output is generated all the time (not only in the replay mode), therefore you may use a TV set as a real-time monitor (the built-in LCD one becomes disabled when the cable is plugged in). This can be useful in tabletop photography, or when shooting wildlife. One may consider buying a cheap, battery-powered TV set ($100 or less) just for this purpose, as long as it has the necessary 1/8" concentric video input.

Interface language):

Selectable.

You can choose (from the menu) between English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese. Nice if you need to.
Digital Print Order Format (DPOF):

Yes.

Image files may have information for DPOF-compatible photofinishers embedded: number of prints from a given frame and cropping area. I've never met anyone who would have used this feature. A waste of effort.
Movie mode:

Quick Time Motion JPEG format with sound at 15 frames/s: 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120 pixels (the largest format is new to the C-5060).

This feature is really just a toy, and its presence shows that Olympus is still not sure at which market it aims the camera. I would gladly exchange the movie option for something more useful to a photographer: time-lapse sequences, on-demand histogram display in replay mode, or any of a dozen other possible, meaningful improvements.

I didn't even bother to check, if any changes here were introduced in the '7070.

Panorama mode:

Yes, similar to that in other C-series cameras

If you take a series of pictures in this mode, the exposure will be measured at the first one only, and then kept identical for the rest. You will see reminder guidelines shown in the monitor, but this is all help you get — unlike some other models (Canon?) showing an actual strip of the previous image in the series.

The "feature" will be active only if the camera recognizes an Olympus-brand xD card. There are no technical reasons for this limitation, just greed. Olympus hopes that people will buy more Olympus cards this way. Show them, like I do, that they are wrong, and buy other brands; for an occasional use the included 32-MB xD will be just fine.

I have used this option just once on the C-3000Z, and never on the C-5050Z, so don't ask me how well it works; I would expect to get equally good results by just freezing the exposure and doing it "by hand".

Responsiveness:

Better than average

The camera takes about 3.5 second to boot up (measured from turning the switch to the monitor coming up). This is exactly twice as fast as in the '5050 (7.0 seconds).

I did not measure the shot-to-shot timing, but it also seems to have improved, by one-third or so. The shot-to-shot timing is about 1.5 s with autofocus, or one second without (JPEG, SHQ mode). If you use the LCD monitor, it becomes available after about 1.5 seconds, quite a fast performance.

The irritating, one-second or so, delay in turning the monitor on and off, also almost disappeared.

All this notwithstanding the camera is still not as responsive to a shutter press as, say, the E-10 or E-20. There is room for improvement, as we will see next year...

Index
Documentation and software
Documentation:
  • Quick Start poster
  • Basic Manual (printed)
  • Reference Manual (CD)
Olympus did some work on improving the documentation. I am upgrading my evaluation from totally awful to just very bad. Seriously. (This refers mostly to the Reference Manual.)

The Quick Start poster is just that, OK with me, but it is limited to things only a person with an IQ below 80 wouldn't figure out by just looking at the camera.

The printed Basic Manual, a 4x6" booklet in four languages, is bad. If you want to keep it in your camera bag, you will have to carry all languages (200 pages) with you. Not much of a loss, however, as the booklet does not contain anything you might want to refer to.

The Reference Manual is included only as a PDF file on the CD. It has over 250 pages (separate documents for various languages). Looks like a lot, but these are really tiny pages, perfectly printable as 4x6".

The depth of coverage is still disappointing, and looks just like going through the motions. The good news is that the English is a little better than in the '5050 manual, and the number of factual errors seems to have been reduced.

The C-7070WZ Reference Manual has been completely re-worked, but, unfortunately, not really improved.

Included software:

Camedia Master 4.1.

Really, the only reason to use this software is for converting ORF files to something other software can handle (if you want to shoot in the ORF format, that is). You can do it with a third party software, too, or with the Olympus Photoshop plugin, which works with many image editors (Photo-Paint and Paint Shop Pro in that number).

I was never impressed with the Camedia Master, after having tried all versions since 2.0. The last ones are cleaner: less buggy and more polished, but I still do not like this program.

This is the same software which Olympus includes with their entry-level cameras. Obviously, the one-size-fits-all approach does not seem to work.

Index

Image quality

Here I was expecting to see the best, and so far I am not disappointed. My '5060 image sample page should give you some idea. The lens is sharp (maybe a bit softer at the widest zoom setting), color balance very good, and macro capabilities most impressive.

If there are any improvements from the '5050, they are too small for me to notice (except of the low-light noise). Certainly, it is you, the photographer, who will be the bottleneck of your image quality, not the camera — at least this is true in my own case.

I haven't spent enough time with the C-7070WZ to come up with any meaningful image samples, but the ones I have seen are, except for the 20% higher pixel resolution, at the same quality level as those from the '5060.

In short: a typical C-Series eye candy, and it seems that the lens (identical in both cameras) is capable of filling those pixels with detail. Similarly to the '5060, the '7070 also tends to apply a tad too much sharpening, so an advanced user will want to keep the sharpening set to minimum (-2).

Index

The competition

There is no one camera best for everyone. The compact, optical-finder models are aimed at a certain group of users (advanced or aspiring amateurs with a background in traditional photography and no techno-freak leanings), and the group includes at least one model from every major manufacturer.

To the best of my knowledge, all these models are capable of delivering excellent results (although I haven't put my hands on the Sony yet). The group, as of November, 2003, includes, in addition to the C-5060WZ, the following models:

  • Canon G5, a worthy contender with a bright 4x zoom starting at EFL of 35 mm (replaced with the G6 in 2004);
  • Nikon CoolPix 5400, with the shortest EFL of 28 mm, but the 4x zoom is not brighter that the one in the '5060 (the new 8400 model has a zoom starting at 24 mm EFL and eight megapixels);
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1, loaded with electronic gadgetry, and with the 4x zoom starting at the EFL of 34 mm;
  • Olympus C-5050Z, with a 3x zoom from EFL = 35 mm, but at F/1.8 maximum aperture, much brighter than the Nikon and Sony.

(You may find a brief compilation of basic features of these models here.)

The choice between cameras listed above is not easy and may largely depend on personal preferences. For me, the major competitor for the '5060 is the Olympus' own older C-5050Z. (This, by the way, shows that the technology is maturing, or the curve flattening a bit.) If you would prefer a non-Olympus camera, the Canon is my choice, but not clearly so. Your mileage may vary.

October, 2005: At this moment the only real choice in this class (advanced compacts) is, I believe, between Nikon CoolPix 8400 and the C-7070WZ. The latter would be my preference, but your needs and taste may differ.

Please do not ask me for help in making your choice, or to prove my opinions; I will just not do that. Choosing a camera is like marrying a woman (or a man, if you are a female): once she (or he) meets some minimum requirements, the rest is a matter of your taste and preferences. Just kidding, but not quite.

Index

The bottom line

This is another very good compact camera from Olympus: image quality, ergonomics and ease of use, high degree of tweakability, look-and-feel, and highly polished manufacturing.

To quote myself from the '5050 review: It does not try to compete against SLRs, the same way as a Leica is not trying to replace a Hasselblad.

Really, I have only two major complaints about the '5060 and '7070:

  • The zoom is too dark at 110 mm. Having a 27-110 mm (EFL) zoom with F/3.5 or better at the long end would vastly improve these cameras.
  • The viewfinder is too small and imprecise, showing only 70% of the camera's field of view.

Each of these points is a serious flaw, but they are shared by all competing models from other makers. Yes, you can find a zoom with larger aperture, but not starting from 28 mm EFL, and not in an optical-finder, non-SLR camera. Olympus chose not to improve the '7070 in either of these aspect: that would be too expensive, and there was no competitive pressure. It is just cheaper to add megapixels. We may need more competition on this market.

With all this, I still can recommend the C-5060WZ highly (see the note below, though), and the C-7070WZ seems every bit as good.

Note of October, 2004: After a few months of use, some of the C-5060WZ cameras develop a serious mode dial problem, requiring a factory repair. Mine was also affected last August (and successfully repaired by Olympus since). It remains uncertain what percentage of cameras is affected, but it is certainly higher than I would expect from a reputable maker (and higher than Olympus would like to admit). You may want to see my detailed article on this subject. The way Olympus handles the problem leaves much to be desired.

October, 2005: As mentioned, my conclusions apply, even more strongly, to the newer C-7070WZ. 20% higher CCD resolution (40% more pixels) and a number of small improvements (some of them useful), make this camera an attractive offering for a serious amateur looking for a non-SLR option. (But no, I'm not selling my old '5050!) Most importantly, there are no reports of the '7070 suffering from the bad mode dial problem, so my recommendation is more unconditional.

February, 2007: It looks like all manufacturers abandoned the advanced compact camera market (unless you count the $5000 Leica M8 as an advanced compact). Only recently Canon re-entered it with the (very nice) G7 model which is now the only offering in this category.

Still, from some angles at least, I consider the '5060/'7070 a better camera, and I am using my '5060 a lot, especially, if not only, for tabletop/macro shooting.

I also carry this camera as a spare in my SLR bag every time traveling overseas (unwilling to lug around two SLR bodies), assured that it can provide excellent results in case of an emergency, even if it is not as responsive as a current-vintage digital SLR. Sometimes, however, I end up just using it instead of my E-300 or E-500.

From time to time I receive emails from people who sold their '5060 or '7070 (or '5050, for that matter), only to discover that a camera to which they "upgraded" does not deliver comparable results. Some of them ended up buying one of these models back on the eBay. If you have one, treasure it!

Index

Web resources

  • The unsinkable Alfred Molon from Germany has (October, 2004) reorganized his Olympus-related Web pages into a new site, myolympus.org, with a significant C-5060WZ section which contains lots of useful information, and a number of related Web links. The section is also fully applicable to the '7070, a valuable resource; on his old site Alfred also has a separate '7070 section.
  • Steve Jenkins' '5060 review at Steve's Digicams may be showing some phrases borrowed from manufacturer's releases, but still is a good place to start your research from. The same can be said about Steve's review of the C-7070WZ. And his image samples are possibly most meaningful of ones you can find on the Web.
  • Dave Etchells of Imaging Resource wrote a detailed '5060 review. Some of the image samples (those taken off existing prints, not real-life objects) may not be very meaningful, but the review is still a good read. Again, here is Dave's review of the '7070.
  • One of the Readers pointed me towards a comprehensive listing of shortcomings in the user interface on the Olympus Forum of DP Review. I concur with most, if not all of criticism and suggestions in that piece, and you may want to have a look.
  • An interesting article by Eamon Hickey at Rob Galbraith's Web site, about Alex Majoli, a Magnum photojournalist who depends on the '5060 in his field work. (The author refers to the '5060 as a "point-and-shoot" which widens the category significantly, to include also Leicas and Graflex press cameras.)
  • The reference manuals for both cameras are provided by Olympus as PDF documents.
Index

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

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Posted 2003/11/30; last updated 2007/02/14; cleaned up 2013/11/05 Copyright © 2003-2007 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak