- Review Price: £163.00
It’s not uncommon these days for different manufacturers to bring out products based on a standard chassis made by a third party company. For instance, I’ve come across notebooks that look identical apart from the respective company logos stuck on the lid. Indeed, the same can be said of cars too, like the SEAT Marbella which is based on Fiat’s Panda.
So why am I talking about this? Well, the same thing also happens in the world of digital cameras. Here I have BenQ’s DC C50 5megapixel digital camera. Look familiar? Well its strikes me as very similar to Toshiba’s PDR-5300, and Centon’s DC5 – a design that is over two years old. Now of course this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and as always I’ll concentrate on the DC C50 as a standalone product and focus on image quality, design and features, and overall value.
On the face of it, the £163 DC C50 is attractively designed with a mirrored plate mounted to the front giving it an overall “retro” appearance. The body is constructed from metal and the build quality feels sturdy. In the hand, the DC C50 feels well-balanced and your thumb falls nicely over the rocker switch which controls the 3x optical (and 4x digital) zoom. Instead of a going for a bulky grip BenQ has added a bobbled surface to the front to help you keep a firm purchase, while keeping the DC C50 at a suitable size for your a pocket.
The rest of the controls are shifted to the right side of the body and are easily operated with your thumb too. That said, those who are left-handed will obviously find this arrangement more awkward. On the right side, there’s also a small command dial which I have to say is probably the worst feature of the DC C50’s design. This command dial is both difficult to operate because it’s too thin and in my opinion is set too deep into the chassis, further impeding the dial’s operation.
In addition, its purpose is somewhat questionable as it’s only used for changing the aperture size, shutter speed and for scrolling through images in the preview mode. It is much more intuitive to use the four direction buttons around the back for changing the aperture and shutter settings, but BenQ has strictly made this a command dial only process. You can, however, use the up and down buttons to scroll through preview images. The disappointment doesn’t stop there, because the command dial also has a “press in” action that as far as I can tell has no function at all.
Despite these shortcomings, the DC C50 is a relatively high-specced camera. The maximum aperture of f2.8 is pretty large making this a respectably fast lens. The shutter range is also good spanning 8 seconds to 1/1500 second whereas the aperture range closes down from f2.8 to f6.7 at wide angle and f4.7 to f11 at full optical zoom.
The mode dial is fully equipped with what is best described as standard these days. These include Auto, Program, Shutter priority (Tv), Aperture priority (Av), full manual (where you can select both the shutter speed and the aperture size independently), as well as preset modes that are designed for the point and shoot user. These consist of Portrait mode for shortening the depth of field and thus enhancing the subject’s prominence in the image. Here red-eye reduction is fixed and cannot be turned off; Sports mode which disables the flash and ensures the shutter is set to an appropriately high value; and last, Night Scene mode which fixes the flash to slow sync, which basically ensures the flash is fired at a slower shutter speed to allow for some information from the night/dusk background to register in the final image.
The DC C50 also features a voice memo on image function, and a movie mode capable of recording 15fps .AVI clips at a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels or 160 x 120 pixels. Movie lengths vary with the level of compression mirrored by the compression levels available for normal shooting – namely Fine, Standard, and Economy. Please refer to the tables below for quality settings per storage amount and recording format, bearing in mind that only a 32MB SD card is supplied with the camera.
The remaining mode dial options are Set, PC, and Playback. Set is used for resetting the frame counter and the whole camera system if need be, as well as formatting the card, setting the date and time, displaying the available space on the SD card, setting the auto power off timer and turning off the camera’s sounds. The PC mode is used when the DC C50 is hooked up to a PC using the USB cable provided. Upon connection, the camera is recognised as a removable disk and it’s simply a case of copying the images to your PC. A quick word here. The interface conforms to the USB1.1 standard so transfer is not super fast, and bear in mind that the cable and interface are not your standard USB-mini type. If you lose or damage the cable you’ll probably have to source one directly from BenQ. That said, the USB interface also doubles up as a NTSC/PAL video output allowing you to view images on a television.
As for the buttons around the back these offer up a full suite of settings that should satisfy most avid photographers. Options include the obligatory delete rubbish bin, fill-in and red-eye reduction flash, exposure compensation from -2.0 to +2.0 in approximate 0.3 increments, a macro function for shooting as close as nine centimetres, and a self timer that can be set to a delay of 2 sec, 10 seconds, and 10 + 2 seconds. The latter takes a picture after 10 seconds and then another after 2 seconds just to make sure that the flash was fully charged for the first shot. The self timer also allows for interval shooting over one minute, three minutes, 10 minutes and one hour. Any number of shots from two to 99 can be chosen within these intervals but I would suggest that the power adapter is used for the longer intervals as I found the battery life to be rather short and good for only 60 or so shots.
On the whole, the control layout makes navigating the menus a simplistic affair. Although the 1.5inch colour LCD screen is on the small size the menus are clearly designed and for a sub £200 camera the available settings are impressive. For instance, the Picture menu gives you the option of changing the size of the image (2,560 x 1,920, 2,048 x 1,536, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480), the Quality (Fine, Standard, Economy), Sharpness (Hard, Normal and Soft), Contrast (Hard, Normal and Soft) and Colour (Vivid, Sepia, and Monochrome).
There’s also a Function menu for changing the brightness of the LCD, as well as turning off picture preview and the digital zoom. You can select from a range capture modes too. First there’s continuous shooting at approximately two frames per second, but for a maximum of only three shots, and secondly there’s an Auto Exposure/Auto White Balance menu for changing the metering (centre, spot), ISO sensitivity (100/200/400), and white balance (automatic, manual, daylight, cloudy, incandescent light and two for fluorescent light).
In use the DC C50, strikes me as a rather slow camera. The start-up time was a shade over seven seconds, so the chances are you’re going to miss that spur of the moment shot. Focusing is also somewhat slow, taking up to smidgen under 2 seconds before the camera can capture a shot. However, in low light conditions, the focus assist light proved its worth. As for the zoom control mentioned earlier, this was quite precise with 10 steps across the 7.2mm to 21.6mm optical zoom range – equivalent to 35mm – 105mm on a 35mm camera. The optical viewfinder, although a little small and dark for my liking also zooms in unison with the lens and features a dioptre dial for tuning its focus to the user’s eyesight.
Various settings are displayed on the LCD and a correctly focused image is indicated by a centre frame that lights up blue. A little hand will also show, warning you of camera shake if the shutter speed is too low. In addition, if you’re within a menu a press of the shutter release button will not return you back to the live display. Instead, you have to press the menu button in order to exit before you can take a picture. On several occasions I also found that the DC C50 locked up after taking a picture and the only way to reset it was to pull out the battery.
In general, though, I had no real problems when using this camera. The preset modes obeyed the rules of their programming well, but I have to say that the movie quality was not very impressive for a 5megapixel camera. This was rather jaggy and highlights were very blown out. Recorded sounds such as talking and music were discernible, but there was a very clear background hiss present throughout playback. And as for the mirrored finish, I have no doubt you will be perpetually cleaning the surface to rid it of those smeary fingerprint marks.
Needless to say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating so it was time to take some test shots. The shots on the next page only represent a sample from what I actually took but I feel they represent the cameras capabilities.
On first impressions the pictures looked promising, but upon closer inspection the DC C50’s CCD didn’t score well when it came to image clarity. Noise was a big problem and despite shooting at ISO 100, image noise was still evident across many of the images. This was even more noticeable when the ISO was set to 200 and 400, and in low-light scenes noise was simply too pronounced.
This is a camera that can only really justify its five megapixels of resolution when used in conditions of bright sunlight where the apparent noise was kept to a minimum. That said, when zoomed to 100% pixel noise is still discernable. More positively, shooting on a bright day revealed that the colour balance was commendably accurate and chromatic aberrations across the scope of the zoom were minimal. The digital zoom also appeared to work well but you’ll probably get better results by enlarging pictures within a photo-editing software package. The macro setting proved to be its only other plus point as I was able to get in close and maintain focus and a decent exposure even with the flash – albeit with a sprinkling of undesirable noise in the final result.
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself whether spending less on a camera that is feature-rich makes up for questionable images. For me it does not, and if you’re serious about digital photography, there are other cameras that can produce better results with fewer megapixels and at higher ISO sensitivities.
Despite its good looks, commendable build quality, and a relatively high level of manual control for the price, the BenQ DC C50 is basically limited to taking pictures on bright days at ISO 100 – and even then other cameras can still better it.
”’Apart from the first set of images, all insets are 100% crops from the original test shots.”’
The shot above indicates the power of the DC C50’s zoom. The first two shots are from maximum wide to maximum (3x) optical zoom. The last shot is at maximum digital (4x) zoom.
Here the level of noise can be seen at its worst in low light indoor conditions. No flash, f2.8, 1/50 second, ISO 400.
The insets above indicate the effect of changing ISO. No flash, f6.7, 1/500 second in all cases.
Indoor shot demonstrating that the colour accuracy with the flash can be accurate. Noise is still evident however. Flash with red-eye reduction, centre weighted, 1/50 second, f2.8, ISO 100.
On bright sunny days, the DC C50 is capable of taking a good shot. Minimal fringing, and the accuracy is acceptable. f9.5, 1/320 second, ISO 100.
Score in detail
Image Quality 4
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||5 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||3x|
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