Olympus C-60: a Technical Review
This is an in-depth, semi-technical review of the compact, clamshell C-60Z camera (on some markets known as X-3), from Olympus. It may be of help to an investigative Reader who is looking for a pocketable, simple to use, yet capable, versatile, and advanced digital camera.
If you do not feel like delving into in-depth details, and if you trust me (you shodn't, your needs and taste may be different!), you may jump straight to my conclusions. A separate page shows some C-60 image samples.
For the last two years my wife has been using an unassuming, two-megapixel Olympus D-520 digital camera. She was getting very pleasing results out of it, so I had to convince her about upgrading to a newer, more powerful model before this year's vacation trip to the Sequoias, Yosemite, and Death Valley.
As a photographer, my wife is a mixed case. On one hand, she has a keen eye and good sense of composition, placing her at least at the intermediate-amateur level. On the other, she is not a technically-oriented person at all, not willing to deal with shutter speeds and aperture values, or to dig into the camera's menu system to adjust other parameters.
Therefore the choice of model to buy proved not to be an easy task. We've settled down on four groups of decisive factors:
Finish: Brushed steel with some plastic covers, plastic lens barrel.
The standard, 1/8" tripod socket looks like made of metal; it placed close to camera's gravity center (i.e., not on the lens axis).
Size (WHD): 100x59x42 mm.
This is quite small. For comparison, the clamshell, entry-level Olympus D-580 has dimensions of 108x58x37 mm, while the Canon S-60 — 114x57x39 mm.Note that the C-60 is somewhat thicker than the other two models, while being shorter (the difference is more visible than the numbers may indicate).
Weight: 194 g without batteries.
About 20% less than Canon S-60 (230 g), or 20% more than the D-580 (165 g). About right for this size, with a solid, non-plasticky feel.
Focal length: 3x zoom range, 7.8-23.4 mm, equivalent to a 38-114 mm lens on a 35 mm camera.
I would love to see a somewhat wider lens here. Even a 35-105 mm EFL would make a difference (while keeping the 1:3 zoom range), not to mention the excellent 28-100 mm EFL range sported by the Canon S-60. I suspect the choice was made based on cost effectiveness, with most of mass market ignorant enough not to care about wider angles.
Aperture range: F/2.8 to F/8 at 38 mm EFL; F/4.8 to F/8 at 114 mm EFL; adjustments in 1/3 EV steps.
While I'm not thrilled with more than 1 EV difference between the short and long end, this is normal in compact, collapsible lenses, take it or leave it.
Optical construction: All-glass, multicoated, 7 elements in 6 groups, 2 aspherical surfaces.
It remains unclear if any low-dispersion elements are used in the lens. The construction seems quite simple (which is normal in this type of lens), but it seems OK for the job.
Aperture: Iris type, adjustable in 1/3 EV steps.
A fully-functional aperture — no corner-cutting here. Many compact models limit the aperture choice to just two values: smallest and largest, with nothing in-between.
Mechanical: Collapsible construction, two-part plastic barrel.
The lens folds flush with the body front when the camera is powered off, protruding 2.5 cm when fully extended. Only the nested, inner barrel moves during the zooming process, and that only by a few millimeters.
Both barrels exhibit some wobble when extended, although I wasn't able to see that affect the optical quality of the image. (This seems to be common, and not limited to clamshell cameras: Olympus' own C05050Z and C-5060WZ also show similar behavior.)
Obviously, the lens does not provide any means to attach filters, and this is not expected in this camera class.
Zoom control: Electric motor, lever-activated.
Normal among compact cameras; a collapsible lens has to be zoomed this way, like it or not. The lever is placed next to the shutter release on the top plate; I find this more convenient than a thumb-operated switch on the back.
Some reviewers complain about the short throw of the zoom lever; I find it no worse than other solutions I've tried, and so does my wife, the designated user of the camera.
Zooming seems to work in a number of 20 or so discrete steps, which is adequate.
Type: Real image; zooming in synch with the lens.
This is a large and bright viewfinder for a clamshell model (if not in absolute terms). It is almost exactly the size of the viewfinder in the C-5060WZ, a much larger camera; significantly larger than in all competing models we've tried. Do a side-by-side comparison with the Nikon Coolpix 5200 to know what I mean.
A significant barrel distortion is visible at the wide end, but I don't consider this a problem.
Field coverage: Not specified.
My estimate is 85% x 85% (WxH) at both extremes of the zoom focal length. This means less than 70% area coverage — in other words, more than 30% of your picture is outside the viewfinder; what you see is just the central four megapixels of the image.
I consider this a disadvantage, shared with practically all other optical-finder cameras (maybe with the notable exception of the posh Epson/Cosina model, which yet has to show on the market, but that is a non-zooming finder.) In fact, most of compact cameras I've seen offer even less finder coverage.
This is market-driven, of course. Most camera buyers will ask about the number of megapixels (regardless of what they really need), while practically nobody cares how much of your picture, just being taken, you can actually see. Sad.
Parallax correction: None.
Not in a clamshell model, of course. Actually, we have yet to see this feature in any other optical viewfinder on the market, clamshell or not. While parallax correction is not a trivial design for zooming finders, it certainly is possible — except that the market does not seem to care.
Information shown in finder: None.
There is a central cross (which I find useless), and two LEDs next to the eyepiece signal focus OK, and a need for flash.
I would prefer to have these indicators inside the finder, as their functionality is duplicated in the LCD screen.
Diopter correction: none.
While I understand space concerns, diopter correction would be welcome, and not only by middle-aged users. Luckily, the C-60 does not require you to press your eye against the eyepiece, so glass-wearers are not at a disadvantage.
Type: Color: active matrix (TFT).
A new technology is used for better outdoors visibility, additionally helped by anti-reflective coating (until recently, absent in Olympus cameras). In general, this is a very good monitor, visibly better than one used in the C-5060WZ or C-5050Z.
Physical size: 27x37 mm; 46 mm (1.8 in.) diagonal.
Larger than average (1.5") for this type of camera, although some models go up to 2 inches and more (often at the cost of giving up the optical finder, though).
Pixel count: 134k pixels (slightly bigger than 400x300).
This is rather good. Many competing models offer only 80k pixels in their monitor, which makes them less readable.
Note that most manufacturers (followed by some reviewers) quote numbers which are multiplied by three (counting separately red, green, and blue dots on the LCD screen). This is a questionable practice.
Field coverage: 100%
My measurements show about 99% at any zoom setting, which seems to be consistent with the claim.
Brightness adjustment: Yes, from the menu.
I have never used this on any digital camera. The daylight readability of the monitor is good anyway.
Tilt & swivel: none.
None expected in this class and size of the camera.
Cheaper cameras do not actually have a shutter mechanism; instead of that, exposure time adjustment is achieved by timing the information gathered from the CCD. Generally, mechanical shutter allows for higher image quality but costs more.
Here you can see all of the camera's controls, easily accessible and neatly arranged. The most important adjustments (exposure compensation, shutter speed, aperture) are accessible without the menu via the arrow keys, as described above.
I find this arrangement better than in any other subcompact camera I've tried (assuming that they allow for these adjustments). Actually, this was one of the main reasons we decided upon the C-60 over competition.
Even if the LCD monitor is off, it will turn on momentarily when any adjustments are made, so that you do not have to make them blindly.
The rubber eyepiece protector also houses two LEDs, signaling autofocus status and need for flash.
Left side: Speaker.
Right side: Power-in terminal, audio/video output, USB connection.
These three are hidden behind a hinged door.
Menu system: Accessible from recording or viewing mode (different options in each case).
The menu system is quite good, similar to that in other recent Olympus models (including the C-50x0 and D-5x0 series).
It opens with four items assigned to the arrow buttons. Of these two are hardwired (monitor on/off and full many access), and two others can be assigned by the user as shortcuts to almost any settings. After some deliberations, I have assigned the shortcuts to image size/quality and histogram on/off, but your preferences may differ.
Settings at power-up: Factory presets or last used.
This is OK, but I would like to have a third option: my own power-on defaults (the "My Mode" setting serves a similar purpose, but not quite).
Self-timer: Electronic, 12 s delay.
This is OK. In many situations using the remote may be easier.
Remote control: Included infrared; 2-second 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.
Many users will use this remote to trigger a tripod-mounted camera in close-up or wildlife applications. This is where the two-second delay is quite painful. Providing an option to turn the delay off would be a great improvement. (The front placement of the on-camera sensor also is a hindrance in such applications; dual sensors would be best.)
Note: I doubt if the remote is included with cameras sold on European markets. In many previous Olympus cameras it wasn't.
Voice annotation: Up to 4 seconds with every picture; recording and playback.
I don't think many users will find this really useful.
Digital zoom: Continuous, up to 4x, accessible at the longest lens setting.
This feature stretches the central part of the picture so that it fills the full frame. This, however, is done by resampling an image up from a smaller number of pixels: for example, a 4x "digital zoom" (quotes intentional!) gives you an image quality comparable to that of a 0.375-megapixel camera (6MP divided by 4 squared). As such, the feature is good only for maker's advertising, nothing else.
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.
The C-60 still uses the older, slower USB 1.1 — strange, as the USB 2.0 standard has been common in new computers for almost three years.
With Windows 2000, ME, or XP (or Mac OS 9.0 or later), your camera will be recognized as an external drive, so you may copy files easily to your hard disk.
The TV output can be switched between NTSC and PAL. It can be also used for real-time scene preview.
User interface language: Selectable.
There is a choice between a number of languages; this, I suspect, depends on the particular market.
Printing support: DPOF, PictBridge.
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 uses this.
PictBridge support means that images can be printed directly from the camera (without use of a computer) on printers supporting this feature. Again, advanced users usually move their files to a computer first, so that PictBridge support will not be essential for that group.
Movie mode: Quick Time Motion JPEG format with sound at 15 frames/s: 320x240 or 160x120 pixels.
This is not more than just a toy feature. Don't expect any usable results from this image quality.
Yes, but only with Olympus-brand xD cards.
This is enabled only if the camera recognizes an Olympus-brand xD card. There are no underlying technical reasons for this limitation (just the corporate greed). In this mode the camera measures the exposure at the first frame and keeps the settings until the whole sequence is done. This can be done equally well by switching to metered manual exposure.
In any case, I consider limiting any feature to branded memory cards as a very questionable decision. We can vote with our feet, by trying to avoid Olympus-brand memory cards.
Responsiveness: Better than average.
I haven't measure the power-up and shot-to-shot delays, but the camera feels quite responsive, among the faster ones I've tried so far.
Documentation: Quick Start poster, Basic Manual (printed), Reference Manual (on CD).
The Quick Start poster will allow a beginner, possibly somewhat intimidated with all the options the camera provides, to get started quickly.
The printed Basic Manual, a 4x6" booklet in four languages, does not contain any information a semi-intelligent user wouldn't figure out by just playing with the camera.
The Reference Manual is included only on the CD (a separate PDF file for every language). As is usually the case with Olympus documentation, it is neither fish or fowl: a tyro snapshooter usually wouldn't bother looking, while an experienced user will find the depth of coverage disappointing, and sometimes even insulting.
Included software: Camedia Master 4.3.
While every new release sees some improvements, I still don't like this program, period.
The image quality is among the best among subcompact cameras (although that of the Canon S-series is clearly better here).
I am getting an impression, however, that the lens does not really seem to make a full use of the six-megapixel image format. Worse, the camera tends to grossly oversharpen the images before saving them to the card. This may look good on a 4x6" (10x15cm), but not really on a larger print.
This is most visible on a contrasty horizon line: oversharpening often gives it a narrow but well-visible white halo on the sky side, a really cheap look. (True, most other subcompacts I've tried also suffered from this effect, and usually to a larger extent.)
My recommendation is to set the in-camera sharpening to minimum (i.e., -2), and even this seems to be barely enough. Actually, this is my main complaint about this camera.
The competition in this class, although quite crowded, is not very strong: most of subcompact models are aimed at beginning amateurs who are not really concerned about the degree of control over the imaging process or (beyond a certain minimum) about image quality.
I have had a close look at various competing models from a number of makers, including Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Casio, Epson, Kodak, and some others, and also at some other subcompact models by Olympus. This was a quite big task, and it led to quite disappointing results.
There was one exception (in three minor variations): the Canon S-series (S-50, S-60, and S-70, all very similar to each other; my opinion on the S-70 is based on its general similarity to the S-60). These Canon cameras clearly beat the Olympus C-60 (and all others I've checked) in terms of lens specifications (wide angle starting at 28 mm EFL), sharpness, and general image quality. My choice of the Olympus over Canon was due to smaller size and better controls. While the latter can be subjective, the C-60's advantage of direct (no menu!) access to exposure compensation is a major factor.
Another Olympus offering in this category, the Digital Stylus 410, offers a more reasonable pixel count of 4MP (which I consider to be an advantage in this category!), but I judged it far behind the C-60 in terms of both image quality and controls.
The Olympus C-60 is like two cameras in one: it can be uses as a no-brainer snapshot camera, while for a more advanced user it also offers a high degree of control. Most importantly, it provides a simple, one-button access to exposure compensation, which may dramatically improve the quality of results.
The controls are logical, extensive, and generally good, so is the general look and feel. Build and finish also seem first-class. The camera is easily pocketable (or, for that matter, purse-able).
Image quality is more than satisfactory, with the traditionally excellent Olympus color and tonality, and acceptable sharpness (second-best in this class, see above), although a six-megapixel CCD seems to be a bit of overkill.
I can recommend the C-60 to two classes of users:
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and presents solely the views of the author.
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|Posted 2004/11/07; last updated 2014/01/25||Copyright © 2004-2014 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak|