Looking back into digital history, Olympus have always been a dominant force in the digital camera market and over the years they have released quite a number of products that range from basic entry level models to their very advanced and professional all digital SLR, the E-1.
As a successor to their well received C5050 of some time ago, Olympus have now released the Olympus Camedia C-5060 Wide Zoom. A 5.1-megapixel camera that features a 4x wide-angle zoom equivalent to 27 to 110mm in 35mm terms. It features a swivelling LCD and an external hot shoe for mounting an extra flashlight. For extra versatility, Compact Flash cards or xD-Picture cards can be used simultaneously.
The older C5050 was already a very good camera, so consequently only slight improvement was needed to make the Olympus C-5060 Wide Zoom completely up-to-date once more. The tilting LCD monitor now offers more angles and more display options than the previous one. The new camera supports CF cards together with xD-picture cards as opposed to CF combined with SmartMedia cards. There is a true wide angle zoom of 27mm (eq.) that will certainly please landscape enthusiasts, and several internal features have been enhanced to offer even better exposure and image control than before.
Using the camera
Owners of the Olympus C5050 will notice that most of the controls on the new camera are in almost exactly the same place as before, which makes using the Olympus C-5060 almost intuitive for those already familiar with the older model. New users will find the large array of controls on the back a bit intimidating at first. But if you sit down with the camera for a couple of minutes and take the time to get to know it by playing around with all the controls, you will find that they are all in a logical place and fall to hand quite easily when you need them.
The camera is quite compact with a rugged, black, magnesium alloy body that oozes quality. The substantial, large grip on the right provides a good hold and the camera balances nicely in the hand. It is nice to see that Olympus have provided two eyelets, which ensure that the camera hangs level when the comfortably wide neck strap is used. The Olympus C-5060 Wide Zoom weighs about 500 grams with battery and CF card installed. There is none of the cheap plastic feel of some other cameras here, as all controls appear very durable and give the impression they are built to last. What we have here is a true "enthusiasts" camera with an impressive package of picture taking technology.
Like its predecessor, the Olympus C-5060 features many advanced user controls, including a multi-spot metering mode, which allows up to eight individual spot readings that can be combined to deliver the perfect exposure. There is exposure compensation from +2 to -2 in one-third step increments and an advanced noise reduction system that uses dark-frame subtraction.
Apart from the 11 automatic white balance settings (including 5 choices of fluorescent light), there is a one-touch white balance function, plus manual correction for minor colour adjustments. Since it is sometimes desirable to remove some of the colour cast in a scene but not all of it, Olympus' white balance adjustments let you dial in separate amounts of red or blue color shifts from +7 to -7 steps for all white balance settings including Manual. This lets you preserve some of the atmosphere brought about by the original lighting, should you desire so. Plus there is the added option to save as many as four custom white balance settings.
The Olympus C-5060 has auto bracketing, sequence shooting, panoramic and 2-in-1 capture modes. On top of all these extra features that can be set to work automatically for you to deliver a perfect image, there are 5 pre-set exposure modes and Program AE. Full user control is possible by selecting Aperture or Shutter Priority or full Manual exposure settings. A nice feature is the My Mode function for saving eight settings of your own, although it is one of the more confusing menus as there are so many options to choose from. Shutter speeds range from 1/4000 to 16 seconds, with a Bulb setting. (Note that shutter speeds higher than 1/2000 are only available when the lens aperture is set to f8, though). Should you desire less control, just leave the camera in Programmed Auto mode for flawless picture taking possibilities and truly basic point-and-shoot simplicity.
The 1.8" TFT monitor with 134.000 pixels tilts upwards and swivels right or left through 270 degrees to shoot from the hip or to shoot high over a crowd, or even set up a self portrait. It also conveniently rotates to hide the LCD and protect it from getting damaged. The image it shows is very clear and bright and even in direct sunlight it is fully usable. In recording mode detailed exposure information is provided, showing the current exposure mode, aperture and shutter speed used, exposure compensation and the number of images remaining. In playback mode the image can be enlarged four times and you can scroll around the enlarged image using the arrow buttons. There is also an index display option, showing up to 16 thumbnail images at a time. LCD brightness is adjustable in the menu.
The clear and easy to use optical real-image viewfinder comes with a diopter adjustment for those with less than perfect eyesight. It shows about 77% of the image area at wide angle and 81% at telephoto, as compared to the LCD monitor that shows around 97% of the image. For architectural photography or for keeping horizons level, it is possible to select Frame Assist mode, which projects gridlines over the image area to help in framing your subject.
The optional live histogram on the Olympus has a few unusual functions to help you determine the best exposure before the image is captured. A live histogram shows the tonal values of your subject when framing an image. This is generally very useful for determining if your overall exposure is correct, but less helpful when only a small part of the image is outside the acceptable exposure range. This is because only a few pixels are affected which does not show up as a visible spike in the histogram. The Olympus C-5060's histogram function introduces two innovative options to counter this. The first is a small rectangle that can be scrolled around the frame to take separate histogram readings from a limited area. This can be compared to spot metering when determining the exact exposure of a small part of an image. The second option is the new "Direct" reading which overlays a red or blue square over the image area. Blue denotes an area that is in deep shadow, while red shows overexposed highlights in a scene.
This feature can be helpful in determining which parts of an image need exposure compensation to avoid under- or overexposed images. You may remember that in earlier reviews we explained that it is well possible to rescue image detail from shadow areas but that it is impossible to retrieve image information from overexposed, burnt out image parts, as there is simply nothing there to be retrieved. In digital photography overexposure should be avoided at all cost and this clever function can assist you in that.
Unusually for a digital compact camera, Olympus have decided to fit a true wide angle 5.7 - 22.8mm, 4x zoom, aspheric glass lens with a f2.8 - f4.8 maximum aperture. The wide end of the zoom lens is especially interesting as the 5,7mm allows an angle of view which is equivalent to 27mm in conventional photography, making this the widest built-in zoom in digital camera land. This feature will certainly be appreciated by those who love shooting interiors or landscapes, as they can now include much more in one frame than with the more commonly used 35mm.
It is nice to see that more manufacturers are including a separate hot shoe for connecting an external flash. Usually the in-camera flash is just adequate to light up a simple portrait or to act as a fill-in light but never strong enough to light up a complete room. It is good to see that Olympus is one of those manufacturers who enable users to connect an external flash without the need for cables. Of course, an optional Olympus FL-20 or FL-50 flash will provide full TTL metering but any third party flash can be used in manual mode or by selecting aperture priority mode on the flash. A small hot shoe adapter with a cable contact will make it possible to connect studio flash as well. Make sure though that you check the trigger voltage on any older flashlight or studio flash, to ensure that it doesn't present more than a few volts to the camera's flash contacts (10 volts maximum could be considered safe). Olympus warns that some flash units can damage the camera's circuitry.
This is not surprising, as some older flash units are known to produce in excess of 60 volts, a sure way of writing off your camera in double quick time. A rather nice option is that there is no pre-flash in Manual mode, so instead of using the hot shoe, the camera flash can be used as a slave to trigger a second flashlight or studio flash eliminating any danger of damaging the camera. The in-camera flash as provided by Olympus has a guide number of 9 at ISO 100 and offers the usual operating modes including Slow Synchro and Red Eye Reduction. Also second curtain flash is one of the options you can choose. The flash range extends to about 13 feet (3,7 meters) in wide angle and 8 feet (2,2 meters) in tele mode. You can increase or decrease flash power from +2 to -2EV in one-third stop increments.
The camera takes two types of memory card. There are slots for Xd-Picture cards and CompactFlash cards Type I or II, including microdrives. The fact that the camera can take both types of card simultaneously offers flexible storage options. You can connect the camera directly to your computer via a high-speed USB interface to download images or if you want a larger viewfinder display. Alternatively the video output can be used to connect the Olympus C-5060 to your television set for framing when shooting or for presenting a slide show.
Powering on the camera takes about three seconds which is not too special, but it is then that things really start to happen as capturing images is very fast on this Olympus C-5060. In fact it is one of the fastest digital compact cameras around with a lag time of 0.4 seconds, while in high speed shooting mode it is possible to shoot at three frames per second. We took the Olympus C-5060 along to the Dutch Carnival. Using Program AE with fill-in flash enabled most of the time, we really appreciated the Olympus' speed and ease of handling, which was definitely fast enough to capture those colourful moments.
The camera's rear panel layout is logically designed with most of the controls positioned above or to the right of the LCD monitor. Since this is a camera with a lot of controls and because of its extensive range of manual options it is definitely a camera to grow into. Don't buy this camera and expect everything to be perfect at once. It is a complex tool and you will need to take some time to get to know all the functions before you can fully appreciate what this prosumer model has to offer.
In the box
Apart from the Olympus C-5060 Wide Zoom camera, Olympus include a 32Mb xD-Picture card; a Li-ion battery with charger; USB and video cables; lens cap and a comfortable neck strap. A basic RM-2 remote control is included as well. You can take a photo with it or view a slide show in playback mode, but that's about it really.
In true Olympus tradition a rather basic printed manual is provided in the box. For really getting to grips with the camera however, you are advised to read the 300 page manual on CD-Rom. Admittedly, not the most practical option since you will not always have a computer on hand to consult the full instruction manual on CD. The alternative of printing out 300 pages on your home computer is not something anyone would be looking forward to either. We think Olympus could learn from Canon in this respect as the latter always provide an elaborate printed manual with every camera they sell.
Software included is the improved Olympus Camedia Master V4.1, which is used for downloading and organising images and includes basic image manipulation software for adjusting contrast, sharpness and colour balance. There is a stitching utility to construct panoramic images and a printing utility that works with DPOF settings and allows direct printing to Olympus or other compatible printers. One small gripe is that the "pro" update of the software, which includes several extra features such as contact sheet printing, image emailing and making HTML-albums, is only available at an extra charge. Shame really that Olympus does not include all the features when you have just spent a substantial amount of money for their camera.
The Olympus C-5060 uses the same BLM-1 battery as the E-1 digital. This battery has a capacity of 10.8Wh, which is a lot more than the competition. Although Olympus do not publish any battery life statistics, we found battery life to be very good throughout our test. We reckon that a recording time of 4 hours should well be possible, which is much better than average. When the LCD is turned off in capture mode, the camera consumes almost no battery power at all, meaning you can leave the camera on all day without significantly affecting your battery life. Do note that an extra battery is expensive, and when you run out of power, you can't just drop in 4 AA's like you could in the older C5050. Recharging an empty BM-1 battery takes a hefty 6 hours, so think carefully about the sort of photography you plan to do before you decide whether you really need a spare battery or not.
The lens barrel has an accessory thread that allows you to couple to the CLA-7 Olympus lens adapter tube, which in turn provides a bayonet mount to fit auxiliary optics such as the TCON-017C. The latter extends the telelens to a respectable 187 mm in 35mm terms. Or you could fit the TCON-07C wide-angle lens that covers the equivalent of 19 mm on conventional cameras. The bayonet mounting restricts you, in that for now only Olympus-branded lenses will fit the mount, although we are sure that in due course other third party manufacturers will provide auxiliary lenses to fit this camera as well.
The camera has a resolution of 2592 x 1944 pixels, which can be interpolated in-camera to 3264 x 2448 pixels. ISO range is from 80 to 400 and images can be recorded as uncompressed TIFF or RAW files, although for the purposes of this test we only used JPG in its finest compression mode.
The Olympus C-5060 has two macro modes, the most impressive of these is the "Super Macro" mode which locks the lens and lets you get to within 3cm from your subject. Close enough to fill the frame with an object of 21 x 28 mm. There is a Noise Reduction mode, which works by dark-frame subtraction, but even with this function disabled we produced some of the cleanest low-light exposures in a long time.
The Olympus delivers excellent pictures with very good sharpness across the range. Exposure is spot on all the time, while colours are accurate and neutral rather than overly saturated. The camera has excellent abilities to tweak White Balance settings, saturation and contrast, so there are ample possibilities to match the camera's settings to your own personal preferences, should you desire more saturation or less contrast for instance. Especially the fine tuning possibility for each White Balance mode is a powerful tool, that greatly extends the usefulness and colour accuracy of the camera.
Default contrast in bright conditions seems a bit high sometimes, but then again, if you want a little less "bite" this can be easily fine-tuned in the contrast adjustment mode. The Olympus C-5060 showed a very good dynamic range with excellent detail in both highlight and shadow areas.
Looking at the performance put in by the Olympus f2.8 - f4.8, 5.7 - 22.8mm, 4x zoom lens (27 - 110mm eq.), we noted that barrel distortion at wide angle was a little higher than average as opposed to the telephoto end that showed no barrel or pincushion distortion whatsoever. Images did not show any visible purple fringing and we may conclude that Olympus have again succeeded in producing a high quality lens worthy of this camera.
Is this really one of the best 5-megapixel cameras out there? Looking at its large range of features and the ability to use it as a point-and-shoot camera, while at the same time offering more than enough manual settings to keep even the most discerning photographer satisfied, we have to admit that it comes pretty close. Image quality is excellent and there are ample possibilities to fine-tune colour, saturation and contrast to suit your own personal preferences.
The menu system may seem a bit complicated at first and it can be a bit daunting to find your way through all the settings and options that this camera offers. This is not helped by the fact that, if you do need detailed information about certain options, you cannot just sit down with the book, but have to use the computer to consult the manual on CD-Rom.
This is a camera that is certainly not suitable for beginners and you would be well advised to take your time to familiarise yourself with the "beast", before you can fully appreciate the possibilities this camera has to offer. But when you then master all its options, you certainly won't want to be without it anymore. In fact we truly regretted having to send it back after our test.