Olympus Camedia C5050 Zoom

The 5-megapixel Olympus C-5050 Zoom is not a camera to be taken lightly, despite its seemingly familiar point-and-shoot look. I've had this camera long enough to realize there is considerable potential wrapped up in a package surprisingly this small and lightweight, despite a modest 3x optical zoom. The less costly sibling to the E-series (think of it as an economically packaged but not exactly scaled down E-20N), the C-5050 Zoom promises serious digicam users and budding enthusiasts great pictures, with lots of control. But be prepared for a few, albeit minor, stumbling blocks along the way.

It's important to first lock in focus before capturing moments such as this one of my friends' 2-year-old daughter blowing out her birthday candles. Otherwise, the processing delay will result in disappointment.
Photos © 2003, Jack Neubart, All Rights Reserved

Familiar Design
While the C-5050 Zoom looks very similar to earlier Camedia cams, it is a much more robustly endowed camera. The most vital controls are conveniently positioned, and the camera proves very responsive. The C-5050 Zoom did not hesitate to capture the fleeting moment of a 2-year-old blowing out her birthday candles or a passing power scooter. Yes, it is important to lock focus in first, as this part of the process still needs improvement. And there is the slightest delay after releasing the shutter, but if you learn to anticipate the moment, as with any camera, this delay will prove negligible.

Helping things along, this camera takes zooming to a new level in a point-and-shoot. Unlike other cameras that need to settle in once you let go of the zoom switch, this 3x optical zoom actually responds to small, incremental focal length changes, with a minor time lag once activated. With movement internal, the lens does not change physical length during zooming or focusing, and operation is fairly quiet.

The textured, contoured grip is comfy. Joining the shutter button on top are the data panel, mode dial, a couple of buttons, and on/off switch--all on the right. On the left are yet more buttons. To top it all off, there's the dedicated hot shoe, which lets you use the Olympus FL-40 and its various accessories for on- or off-camera flash. This is definitely a nice touch.

I employed marco mode, but flash was necessary to capture the intense colors in this tulip (with auto WB). Getting a precise focus lock was practically impossible owing to a playful wind. Auto-bracketing doesn't work with flash on the C-5050 zoom.

What's With All Those Buttons?
Now, I didn't mean to gloss over all those buttons. One of the buttons on the right lets you set the camera for self-timer or wireless remote--included in the package, and a very handy option (for other manufacturers to emulate). Another is the "custom" button (user-defined in the menu), which is cryptically marked--you may forget what it's for if you don't use the camera often. I set it to drive my drive modes. (Sadly, burst modes deactivate the flash.) Normally, these functions, and some others, would be relegated to the menu. While I'm not a proponent of adding more buttons to the mix, in this case I'd say they're welcome, and, in the long run, will prove to be timesavers.

Atypical of most cameras, the C-5050 Zoom gives you a choice of several macro modes: AF macro, super macro, and manual-focus super macro--all found in the focus select button. Super macro lets you get closer still, at the expense of shooting strictly by available light, with the lens zoomed out (digizoom disabled automatically). I found super macro handy when the camera failed to focus in standard macro mode, without switching to manual focus. Unlike the E-20N or 730, with their SLR-style viewing, the C-5050 Zoom makes it necessary to use the color LCD for precise macro compositions--there's really no other way to do it, since parallax becomes a serious issue this close to the subject. Fortunately, the color monitor was usable outdoors, if perhaps better in the shade, when I came intimately close to a tulip. The same function button allows switching between AF and manual focusing for normal distances as well.

The only function button I didn't appreciate is for exposure compensation. On most Camedia cams, simply hitting one of the cursor (or "arrow" in Olympus parlance) keys is enough to give you a plus or minus adjustment. Here you need to hold down a button, then turn a thumbwheel ("jog wheel"), the same wheel that's used with all the other buttons as well (located at the base of the mode dial). On the other hand, this button is understandable since it works in tandem with the flash button alongside it (both conveniently on the left side of the camera) to set flash exposure compensation, without having to scroll through the menu. So, in the end, I can't really complain.

One button on back is especially worth mentioning: it lets you choose between xD-Picture Card (or SmartMedia) and CompactFlash (or IBM Microdrive). Each card resides alongside the other, in separate slots--very commendable. I worked mostly with a Microdrive, keeping an xD card in there for emergencies. Sometimes, however, I found that the camera shifted back to the xD card without my knowledge--I may have hit the button by mistake. Perhaps this function should be relegated to the main menu as a preventive measure.

As I mentioned, it takes a combination of button plus thumbwheel to choose a setting. Hitting the button activates a special menu and turning the wheel cycles through the options carousel-fashion. I always manage to turn the wheel in the wrong direction, so that I find myself cycling through all of the choices, just to reach the one I need. It would have been easier with a linear display: simply go left or right, or up or down, as with the basic menu. This may look pretty, but it gets annoying after a while.

Nighttime, the colors captured with auto white balance on the C-5050 Zoom pop out. Photographed in Las Vegas, at night it's the Stratosphere that shines. The fast f/1.8 lens was especially handy at night.

The Multi-Tiered Menu
The aforementioned cursor array on back comes into play when you activate the menu. Once switched on, the menu presents numerous ways to customize the camera. That is truly the beauty of the C-5050 Zoom and why it's worth every penny. Aside from the customized "My Mode" setups (accessible via the mode dial), there are "shortcuts" that you select for the opening menu screen. For example, to get around tediously scrolling through the menus, I opted for digital zoom, picture quality, and white balance settings as the ones I wanted immediately at my disposal, by first activating the menu, then using a cursor key. (As you'll see, this lands you on the menu screen, but shortcuts directly to the desired function.) I skipped the My Mode options, because when I've used them on previous Camedia cams, I tended to forget what settings they held.

Beyond that, the list of options is too lengthy for us to dwell on, although the extensive white balance customization is worthy of note. In one instance I found the "one touch" white balance setting, which can be made on the fly, the perfect choice with uncertain fluorescent lighting, while in a second instance, involving mixed lighting, it brought me close enough that Photoshop's Auto Color was able to cope with it satisfactorily. Suffice to say, you're in for lots of pleasant surprises.

For the uninitiated, accessing the menu may be a problem if you didn't read the manual. There is no button marked "menu." Instead, it's marked with a cryptic icon and the word "OK" (it's also used to OK choices). Moreover, the menu has several pages, which are thumb-indexed. All those buttons we mentioned are a relief from dealing with what turns out to be a trying menu array. Pressing the shutter button (or any other function button) momentarily deactivates the menu. Otherwise, it pops back into view. That's handy if you find yourself resorting to the menu frequently. It may take several hits of the OK button to fully back out of the menu. One simple "Menu" switch to activate and deactivate this function would have been helpful, but alas, that would have added yet one more button.

Final Thoughts
Numerous occasions have witnessed the stirring capabilities of this 3x zoomcam, but they have also shown where the C-5050 Zoom's flaws lie. Fortunately, those flaws were few and far between and not of practical consequence once you learn to work around them. Optically, the camera is superb, producing sharp, crisp pictures that have long been a trademark of the more modest Camedia designs. I found color capture to be very pleasing. The camera's overall design, ease of use, and performance make the C-5050 Zoom a camera worth having.

For more information, contact Olympus America, Inc. by calling (800) 622-6372 or visiting their website at www.olympusamerica.com.

· Sharp and fast (f/1.8) lens, with good contrast
· Responsive shutter to capture those elusive moments
· Highly customizable
· Raw data capture for the pro and serious enthusiast
· AF beam effectively assists focusing, even in near total darkness
· Olympus TruePic technology for more realistic image rendering
· An 18 ft maximum flash range is noteworthy and, if you need more, the C-5050 Zoom accepts an external flash
· Accepts xD (or SmartMedia) cards in one slot, CompactFlash (or Microdrive) alongside in a second slot
· Numerous shooting modes, including full manual operation
· Video and audio recording
· Noise reduction (manually activated) for long exposures; pixel mapping to bring dead pixels seemingly back to life; histogram for improved exposure evaluation
· Largely user-friendly interface (although may appear intimidating at first)
· Rubberized feet for surer grip on unsure surfaces
· Supplied with Ni-MH batteries and charger, plus remote control

· In capture mode, if you forget to remove the lens cap, the camera takes forever to start up (this is really, really annoying!)
· Autofocusing could be more responsive: it's a bit slow for spontaneous capture
· Using the Quick View button is slow and lumbering
· Making settings with the menus accompanying each function button could be faster and smoother
· There should be a choice between a full menu and a simplified menu, to end that tiresome scrolling
· Pricey (if you don't need the seemingly, and possibly intimidating, endless array of features, you'd do as well with a less costly C-series Camedia cam)

Technical Specifications
Image Sensor: 1/1.8" CCD solid-state image pickup; 5,260,000 pixels (gross)
Memory: Two slots: xD or SmartMedia plus CompactFlash or Microdrive
Lens: 7.1-21.3mm, eight elements/six groups (= 35-105mm lens on 35mm camera); autofocus; manual focus; AF macro and AF/MF super macro; 3.4x digital
Shooting Modes: Program, aperture/shutter-priority, manual, eight My Modes (user-customized), five picture/scene modes, auto, movies w/sound
Exposure System: Digital ESP metering; spot metering; exposure compensation; multi-metering; autoexposure bracketing
Apertures: f/1.8-f/8
Shutter Speeds: 16-1/2000 sec
Sensitivity: Automatic, preset (64/100/200/400)
White Balance: Auto, preset 1 (shade, cloudy, sunny, sunset), preset 2 (fluorescent x 4, incandescent), custom (four stored in memory plus "one-touch" for on-the-fly custom settings); red/blue bias
Flash: Auto, redeye reduction, fill, off, slow sync (front/rear); first curtain w/redeye reduction; flash intensity override; accepts FL-40 flash
Special Features/Functions: Noise reduction, pixel mapping, histogram, 2-in-1 (two images/one frame), sharpness/contrast/saturation overrides
Connectivity: DC-IN jack, USB, video, flash hot shoe
Power: Two CR-V3 lithium battery packs (supplied), four AA (Ni-MH or NiCd or alkaline or lithium), AC adapter (optional); Ni-MH and charger supplied
Dimensions: 4.5x2.7x3.1"
Weight: 0.8 lbs (w/o battery/card)
Price: $899 (MSRP)