Olympus has been using this compact camera body design for a couple of years, upgrading it with new CCD sensors, lenses and software. The latest incarnation hits 4.1 megapixels, a useful increase over the 3.34mp of last year’s C-3030Z and C-3040Z models.
Despite its simple and compact appearance, this camera packs excellent features of the right sort to keep keen photographers happy. Best is the provision of a 3:1 zoom lens (35-105mm equivalent) with a maximum aperture of f/1.8, first seen on the C-3040Z. A wide aperture allows higher shutter speeds in low light, and also limits the depth-of-field so you can throw the background out of focus to emphasize a closer subject. The lens barrel gains a rubber grip.
Useful features inherited from earlier models include a wireless remote controller and a connector for an external flashgun (there’s a built-in flash, too). The optical viewfinder is reasonably accurate and the 1.8-inch LCD monitor is clear.
New technologies include noise reduction to remove unwanted artifacts, and a new pixel-mapping control that lets you periodically re-calibrate the CCD to ensure that all the pixels are working. The buffer memory lets you shoot eight pictures at two frames per second with HQ compression quality. The camera can also grab quite long (120 seconds if you have the card space) 320-x-240 pixel movies with sound, play them back full-screen on the camera, and download them in QuickTime .mov format.
A basic panorama facility is included with guides for overlapping images, but this only works if you buy Olympus’ own panorama-capable SmartMedia cards. My test camera had a 16MB card (which is a bit low for 4.1mp images) without the panorama facility.
The 4.1mp resolution (2,272-x-1,704 pixels) means that file sizes are 11.1MB when opened. There is, however, an option to interpolate up to 3,200-x-2,400 pixels, giving a 7.1mp image. The default HQ quality level fits 16 images on the 16MB card, but there are noticeable JPEG compression artifacts on some images. The SHQ option fits only five images on the same card, but the quality is better. The ultimate quality is uncompressed TIFF, with 11.1MB files. I’d use SHQ and buy a bigger card – 64MB SmartMedia costs about £40 and 128MB is about £100.
Olympus has revised its on-screen user interface. It’s clearer and easy to switch settings in a hurry, though the tendency to return to defaults between shots is annoying. Settings include card formatting, picture size/compression, automatic/manual exposure, white balance, ISO sensitivity (100 to 400), colour/mono/ sepia/special effects, exposure metering (two patterns plus spot), and self-timer/remote.
The shutter, aperture and ISO sensitivity settings are clearly displayed on the LCD. Speeds and apertures are set by a four-way button above the LCD. The manual focus option temporarily enlarges the image to help you judge sharpness. There’s no instant playback button, but the playback dial and zoom lever show up to 16 frames and can zoom in to 4x on-screen.
USB cable and TV cables are supplied. The Olympus Camedia Master 2.5 preview and download software mounts the camera as an external drive, though the Mac version needs refinement. If you select the obvious ‘My Camera’ item, it freezes the Mac – you should choose the ‘Untitled’ disk. The manual warns you, but why doesn’t Olympus fix it? There’s no power adaptor or battery charger supplied. You do get two, very long life lithium cells – but after they die, you have to switch to AA rechargeables.
Overall, the image quality wasn’t as good as I’d expected, though it’s better than most 3.34 models. The lens isn’t quite as sharp as the best I’ve tried (the Nikon CoolPix 995 and Casio QV-3000EX being two notable examples), but Unsharp Masking in Photoshop can improve matters. Despite noise reduction, the red channel was still fairly noisy (CCDs normally suffer blue noise). There was a misregister between red and green channels, noticeable on grey objects. On the other hand, the dynamic range was very good. At £680, this camera is at the top end of the consumer digital range, but the resolution and features justify it. Just check the image quality before you decide.