Olympus C 2500L Digital SLR Zoom Camera

Olympus access software for the C-2500L is now capable of opening files both in the camera and stored in your computer, and can generate thumbnails for identification. Just double click on a thumbnail and full-sized screen view appears while tools to do simple editing are activated.
Photos © David B. Brooks, 2000

Olympus believes they have the digital camera for you in the new C-2500L SLR and have invested heavily in a media blitz on its behalf. The word is out and a lot of people are interested. So, when I received one for a trial I was as eager to see if it is in fact the digital camera which will turn the tide of interest on the part of professionals and serious enthusiasts. It has a very clean, clear SLR viewfinder; a 2.5 megapixel chip capable of producing files which will make fine quality 8x10" image prints; a 3x zoom lens that's an aspheric optical glass design; a powerful accessory hot shoe dedicated electronic flash in addition to a small built-in unit. All the qualifications that meet most expectations. But what those features and specifications actually result in, when applied to the experience of using the camera and seeing the picture results, is the question. So without further ado:

The C-2500L In The Field. Shortly after receiving the C-2500L I had an out-of-town guest, so the first outing with the camera involved visiting a local tourist attraction. It was an ideal opportunity to get acquainted with the camera in outdoor and indoor available light shooting situations and a wide variety of subject characteristics. It also provided an opportunity to appreciate the camera's lightweight and comfortable handling. I also greatly appreciated the diopter viewfinder adjustment, which had sufficient range to allow me to set it so I could view clearly without using my glasses.

It was quite easy to get good panned shots of the antique sports cars racing at full speed using the C-2500L.

I didn't know what this day would bring in picture opportunities, so I wanted to have as much "digital" film as possible. The C-2500L has two slots for memory cards, including one for the SmartMedia 32MB card supplied with the camera, as well as a slot for a Compact Flash memory card and I happened to have a 16MB card. That total at the high quality JPEG setting provided the equivalent of three rolls of film. Fortunately, I didn't need it all. When I got home and downloaded the pictures using the serial to computer camera connection and the Camedia software, I found this method of accessing the photo files is tortuously slow. I was on the phone the next morning to get a USB adapter for my computers (works on Mac and Windows) to read SmartMedia cards directly. The image files were still on the SmartMedia card in the camera when I received the USB device, so I put in the USB connector slot, and the folders popped right up on my desktop so I could download the files directly to my hard drive--it took only a couple of seconds per image file.

The combination of the C-2500L's SLR viewfinder providing accurate framing, the great depth of field of its sharp lens, and the auto white balance compensating for the bluish overcast skylight, provided a perfect image of this racing Ferrari from the 1950s.

Once downloaded, the image files were opened in Photoshop. I first checked the histogram to see how accurately the camera placed the data (exposure control) and how well it handled subjects with different brightness ranges. The result was that the camera AE functioning is quite accurate in a wide range of lighting situations and with varying subjects. I did also find that the gamut is about the same as the exposure range of a typical slide film. So essentially, when working with the C-2500L one should be sure the exposure is adjusted to capture detail in the highlights, and if the subject is too contrasty, then only some shadow detail will be lost.

Just a few days later a great opportunity came along: the Santa Barbara Airport Antique Sports Car Races and Air Show. Providing action and color with interesting subjects all in one venue. When I arrived at the opening it was a dull gray, overcast, day but for shooting cars and planes the light is smooth and even, simply ideal. It only took the morning to use up all of my digital film, about 75 shots. I even tried taking pictures of the car races, just as the cars came out of a corner onto the straight away while doing 50-70mph. My approach to this was to set the zoom for the framing I wanted, pre-focus on where the car would be when directly in front of me, hold the shutter down part way and pan with the car then click the final depression of the shutter release when the car was right in front. Of a dozen shots taken this way all were quite sharp and well exposed, I even got the cars in the frame where I expected in all but one. How did I know I had my shots? I stepped into the shade and turned the camera control to playback to check each shot on the LCD display on the back of the camera.

The detail of the grille of this rare Italian Siata V8 race car was easy to reproduce exactly as it looked with the C-2500L SR digital camera.

With just a dozen shots used to get an action shot, the rest of my "digital" film was mostly used to take pictures of the antiques sports cars in the paddock. Including Ol' Yeller which raced at the Santa Barbara Airport in the mid-50s when I tried my hand at sports car racing while a student at Brook's Institute. I tried all kinds of close, tight, creative angles and some shots I would'nt dare try even with a 35mm film camera because I'd never pull the depth of field. This is one of the advantages of dedicated digital cameras with a small 2/3" CCD. The lens is short, just 9.2mm focal length at its widest zoom setting, and therefore has incredible depth of field even with the aperture close to wide open.

My final set of tests were intended to evaluate how the camera captures natural colors and also to do some close-up shooting. Even in late October there were still flowers blooming, such as my favorite the tiger lilie. So I obtained, after much hunting around, some good shots of the tiger lilies, which were ideal subjects to evaluate color and the C-2500L's ability to do close-ups. Real close shooting is made practical and it's easy to get precisely accurate framing because the C-2500L is an SLR. The viewfinder shows almost all of what the CCD captures, and again the extreme depth of field of its lens--even at its longest zoom setting--makes close-ups easy and sure in even moderate light levels. The shutter speeds also remain reasonably high, avoiding blurs because the flowers are moving in the breeze, or your hand is a bit unsteady.

This pair of images of a classic Lotus Formula race car were taken in an open aircraft hangar. They illustrate one of the great advantages of digital in being able to clean the damaged paint of the floor of the hangar vastly improving the presentation of the race car..

The one test I would have hoped for, but wasn't possible, involved my missing photographing a bevy of show girls in Las Vegas. The way the manual shutter/aperture control is set up on the C-2500L, and in consideration of the camera's dedicated-only flash exposure control arrangement, even through the hot shoe, using studio electronic flash is not practical. And, unfortunately the one dedicated multiple flash system I have is proprietary and will only work with the camera brand for which it was made. I had the incentive, so I made some trials with both of my studio systems, and with the dedicated multiple flash system, and nothing worked. I was told when the camera was announced that some kind of hot shoe to PC adapter would be coming, but unless it can lock the camera into a discrete set of aperture settings that are consistent at all zoom lens settings, I would wonder how it would work.

Impressions Of The Olympus C-2500L Features. The obvious digital advantages of no film or processing, as well as automatic white balance, and selectable color temperature settings, three film speeds--all of which can be changed between shots--are also features shared by some other digital cameras. However, the advantages of digital are made more significant by the unique features of the C-2500L. These include true SLR viewing seeing 95 percent of the image, as well as a built-in flash. A more powerful accessory dedicated flash, and both wide angle and telephoto conversion lenses extending the effective range of the camera's 3x zoom lens to a 35mm equivalent of 29-160mm.

Other advantages are selectable preset, manual focus modes, in addition to programmed autoexposure, and aperture priority as well as manual exposure settings, combined with exposure compensation that is ideally accessible. In addition, action shooting is easily accomplished and augmented by three frame per second bursts of five frames each supported by an internal 16MB memory buffer. All of these advantages are made highly valuable by the size and quality of the 1712x1368 pixel images the camera captures, that easily makes a very fine quality and accurately colored 8x10 print.

I was dubious that I could get a good photo of this most famous of early American racing aircraft with its Plexiglas cockpit barely distinguished from the overcast sky. But the Olympus C-2500L came through delivering clear if subtle separation of those hard to distinguish tones.

Is The Olympus C-2500L The Camera You've Been Waiting For? From my experience using it and from the results obtained, for what many photographers will expect of it, I think this camera will be a good choice for those who have been waiting to get off the fence and into digital shooting. At an estimated $1499 retail price some will say the price is still high, but really if you just deduct a year's film and processing, it's in the range of any good quality 35mm SLR. And then, compared to the several times as costly professional press digital/35mm hybrids, there's little the Olympus can't do and the results are just as good if not better in some cases. Yes, if this camera doesn't move you off the fence, you may as well call that uncomfortable position your permanent home.

The extreme close focusing was easily accessed by pressing a button on the top of the C-2500L, combined with its accurate SLR viewfinder framing, makes capturing precisely colored flower close-ups a delight.

Technical Specifications

Image Pickup: 2,500,000 pixel 2/3" progressive scan RGB CCD
Recorded Image: 1712x1368 pixels (SHQ-Tiff no compression); 1712x1368 pixels (SHQ-JPEG 2.3:1 compression); 1712x1368 pixels (HQ-JPEG 8:1 standard compression); 1280x1024 pixel (SQ-JPEG 8:1 compression); 640x512 pixel (SQ-JPEG 8:1 compression)
Image Types: DCF/Exif 2.1 JPEG or Tiff
Erasing: One-frame erase/all-frame erase
White Balance: Full auto TTL white balance six-step preset manual
Memory: Dual slot design
SmartMedia Compatibility: Compatible with 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64MB
Lens: 3x Olympus aspherical zoom
Focal Length: 9.2-28mm (equivalent to 36-110 on a 35mm camera)
Aperture: Wide f/2.8 to f/5.6, Tele f/3.9 to f/7.8
Construction: Seven elements in seven groups (one aspherical element)
Focus Range: 0.8 - 24" Super Macro (wide autofocus); 12 - 24" Macro (autofocus); 24" - infinity (autofocus); 12" -infinity (manual focus)
Autofocus: TTL system autofocus with low-light illuminator
Shutter: 1/2-1/10,000 sec autoexposure 8 sec to 1/10,000 manual exposure
Exposure Control: Programmed auto, aperture priority, manual

Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV increments
Sensitivity: Equivalent ISO 100, 200, 400
Electronic Flash--Working Range: 12" to 12'
Flash Modes: Auto flash (low light and backlight), "redeye" reducing flash, fill-in flash, first curtain slow-syncro flash, second curtain slow-syncro flash, and flash off
External Flash: Standard hot shoe design, accepts optional FL-40 dedicated flash
Viewfinder: SLR TTL viewfinder with 95 percent coverage, with diopter adjustment
LCD Monitor: High-resolution 122,000 pixel 1.8"/4.5cm color TFT(HAST) LCD display
On-Screen Display: One frame, slide show mode, index display mode (four or nine frames), and 4x-image inspection close-up mode
Self-Timer: Electronic
Other Connectors: Serial computer/printer connector, AC adapter connector, and NTSC video out connector.
Date And Time: Recorded with picture
Automatic Calendar: Up to year 2030
Direct Print: (P-330) or DPOF printer single print, index print, multi-prints, mirror prints, date stamp prints, 16-up prints, selected image print
Operating Environment: Temperature, 22-104ÞF/0-40ÞC (operation), -4-140ÞF/-20-60ÞC (storage); Humidity 20-90 percent (operation), 10-90 percent (storage)
Dimensions: 5x2.6x2.1"; 109x79.5x128.2mm
Weight: 16.5 oz. without batteries or SmartMedia card
Software: Enroute QuickStitch (Mac/Win), Olympus Camedia Master (Mac/Win) 2