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Olympus CAMEDIA C-5050 Zoom

The Olympus CAMEDIA C-5050 Zoom is a 5 megapixel pro-sumer digital camera with a 3X optical zoom lens and a wide range of creative controls. Originally announced back in August 2002, the C-5050 is older (and shorter-lensed) than many of its rivals, and in response has been reduced by £100 to £599.99 and bundled with a 256MB memory card in addition to the 32MB normally supplied.

On the surface the C-5050 resembles the earlier C-4040 model, and while it shares many features there are several differences both internally and externally. Measuring 115 x 70x 80mm, it’s fractionally larger than the C-4040 and slightly heavier too at 470g including batteries. The black casing looks smart and the camera feels well built and comfortable to grip.

Images are composed using the optical viewfinder or 1.8in screen. The bright screen can be tilted upwards by 90 degrees for low-level shooting, but only tilted back by a few degrees making it less useful for composing over the heads of crowds; sadly it’s not a full twist and flip design like the those employed by Canon and Nikon.

The built-in flash has a wealth of options including a rear-curtain mode, and unlike the earlier C-4040 there’s now also a fully-functional hotshoe for connecting optional Olympus flashguns. Alongside the hotshoe is a detailed LCD status panel which allows you to check exposure, battery and memory details without using the main colour screen.

Behind two panels on the side are the AV and USB 1.1 outputs and DC input; an AC adapter is optional. The C-5050 is powered by four AA batteries and Olympus supplies a set of 1700MaH NiMH rechargeables and a separate mains recharger for them. There’s also an optional underwater housing, good to depths of 40m.

The C-5050 was launched at a time when 3X optical zooms were the norm, and as such delivers a 35mm equivalent range of 35-105mm; the actual focal length is 7.1-21.3mm. While this is one third shorter than the 4X lenses common on its rivals, the C-5050 has a trump card to play: with a focal ratio of f1.8~2.6, the optics are among the brightest you’ll find on any digital camera. In real terms this additional light-gathering power allows the C-5050 to use slightly faster shutter speeds than its rivals under the same sensitivity and lighting conditions; in short, less camera shake when it’s getting dim. There are also three optional lens attachments: 0.8X, 1.45X and one to improve close-ups.

Fans of close-ups will be intrigued to find not one but two macro modes, the normal one modestly focussing to 20cm, but the Super Macro more usefully focussing as close as 3cm. The manual focus option displays a distance bar on-screen and temporarily magnifies the centre to help. Annoyingly the lens cap obstructs the lens from emerging during power-up, resulting in warning beeps and the sound of grinding motors; when removed, the lens extends 2.3cm during its five second power-up.

The C-5050 houses a 1/1.8in 5 megapixel sensor which delivers 4:3 aspect ratio images with a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixels – sufficient to make a good-looking 13 x 10in colour inkjet print at 200 ppi. Unlike most cameras which only offer two or three recording modes, the C-5050 impressively boasts nine resolutions including a 2560 x 1696 3:2 aspect ratio mode and a 3200 x 2400 interpolated mode. There are also four levels of JPEG compression, and both TIFF and RAW modes.
Using the maximum native resolution with the default HQ compression produces JPEG images measuring around 1.2MB each. Switching to the less compressed SHQ mode delivers files measuring 2.5MB, which while obviously occupying more memory suffer from fewer artefacts.

Again, unlike its rivals which accept only one memory card format, the C-5050 is compatible with no fewer than three different types: one slot can take either SmartMedia or XD while a second accepts Compact Flash including the IBM Microdrive. As mentioned earlier, Olympus now supplies the C-5050 with a 256MB card in addition to the standard 32MB – both in the modern XD format. This combination can store around 120 or 240 maximum resolution images using SHQ or HQ compression respectively; with this much capacity we’d recommend selecting the higher quality SHQ mode.

The 12-position mode dial selects between Play, Program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter priority, along with five scene presets, one custom mode and the movie option which captures up to 96 seconds of video (with mono sound) at 320 x 240 pixels and 15 frames per second. Shutter speeds run between 1/1000 and 16 seconds, but there’s no Bulb option for longer exposures. Sensitivity is rated between 64 and 400 ISO and there’s a live histogram option during composition. The burst mode can capture up to four HQ JPEGs at 3.3 frames per second.

In terms of image quality, the C-5050’s pictures were very good, and in raw resolution, captured as much detail as the competition. When viewed at 1:1 though, the images suffered from a higher than average level of random electronic noise, while many diagonal lines had quite jagged edges. Admittedly little of this was visible on large prints, but it’s a concern nonetheless. The macro facilities were however excellent.

The C-5050 may also boast a much brighter focal ratio than its rivals, but the lens has a 3X zoom range which lower than the 4X of the competition. The C-5050 is also older than many of its peers, and essentially based on an older model still – the movie mode is limited to 320 x 240 video for instance. Olympus is well aware of the C-5050’s pitfalls and to compete now bundles it with 288MB worth of memory compared to the usual 32MB. As such it’s a good package, but still more expensive and shorter-zoomed than modern cameras like Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-V1.


The Olympus C-5050 handles well, has a decent range of control and one of the brightest lenses in the industry. Unfortunately it’s looking a little dated compared to its latest rivals, although the bundling of 288MB of memory might compensate if you like its style and handling. It’s a great overall camera, but ultimately there are better-featured models with superior performance at the same or even lower prices.


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