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My boss loves gadgets, and he also loves taking pictures. So when digital cameras started becoming popular, he went out and bought an Olympus Camedia digital camera - which was probably the first digital camera that Olympus ever made. That sturdy old workhorse is still in use today (by me, mostly - isn't he nice?). In fact, there was only one reason that he decided to buy something else - the old one was eating up batteries, both regular and rechargeable ones. So, he went out and bought the (then) top of the line Olympus - the C-50 zoom.
Let me tell you a bit about it - but let me first warn you, this isn't going to be a very technical review. If you want technical stuff, take a look at my "Technical Stuff" at the bottom of this review and follow the URLs there.
First of all, and most importantly for my boss, this camera uses rechargeable LiON batteries. The camera comes with its own charger which can be plugged in all over the world - all you need to do that is get the proper adapter plug (not included). Initial charging takes about 6 hours, but after that, you'll only need an hour or less to recharge these babies up. What's more, my boss has taken this camera on trips of over a week and hasn't needed to recharge the whole time. Mind you, he doesn't usually come back with much more than 100-150 pictures, but that's still not too bad. But just in case, he bought an extra battery so that if he has two trips one after the other, he can take one full battery with him and leave the other to be filled up for the next one - or if he's going on a very long trip, he can take two full batteries along. I'd suggest that any serious picture takers do this, especially if they don't want to take the charger with them.
Another thing that was important was the amount of mega pixels of the camera. He insisted on the highest amount possible (at the time) and this was a 5 mega pixel camera. Now, I'm not sure if that means all that much to most people - including myself - but apparently it means that your pictures will be sharper, clearer and better defined. Since we hardly ever blow pictures up to any large sizes, I haven't actually seen the benefits of this 5 mega pixel camera over our old 1.3 mega pixel one, but hey, I'm not all that picky. Actually, that a bit of a lie - I've noticed that with the old Olympus camera, if you don't hold it really still, you'll get very blurry pictures. The C-50 however isn't as sensitive and seems to take more focused pictures in similar conditions. For instance, my boss let me use both cameras for my daughter's Bat Mitzvah party and the ones from the old camera came out mostly blurred, while those on the C-50 were much better - even when they were handled by the same person.
So the question is - are the pictures on this camera really good? In truth, I have to say that yes, they are. What's more, I found that the flash on this camera is much better than the old one, and we get almost no darkened photos - if you use the flash properly. It also does close-ups much nicer than the old camera, which tended to have some clarity problems when trying to get pictures of small details - so if I ever want to sell something small on E-Bay, I know which of the two cameras I'm going to use to take those pictures - only the C-50 will do. The other improvement over our old camera is the zoom. While our old one had a 2x digital and 3x optical zoom, this new one has a 5x digital zoom with the same 3x optical zoom. This basically means that you can get better and clearer close-up shots, and you can bring things in the distance closer to you - which is nice, since sometimes you want a nice portrait picture of someone or want to focus on a spot that's normally a bit too far away, and still have a clear picture. We can certainly see the difference between these two cameras in this instance - and the C-50 is much better.
Another thing my boss wanted was something less bulky than his old Olympus. Since that one weighed over 250g, finding one that's only about 190g was a huge improvement for him. It's also much smaller in size - much the size you'd expect in a compact, non-reflex lens, still camera. Of course, some people might think that's a bit on the heavy and big side these days, but for us, its not too small to get lost and not too big to be overly bulky in a pocket or pocketbook. Mind you, it seems that none of the digital cameras seem to come with carrying cases these days, and this is no exception (why is that? I mean, you drop these no less than you'd drop any other camera). But because this camera is such a normal size, we had no problem finding a case to put this in - in fact, we found our old case from the simple compact still camera fit around this one with lots of room to spare - and a good thing too, since it's saved us a couple times already.
What do I mean by "saved"? Well, before we got the case, my boss was carrying this around in his briefcase and pockets. Since he travels quite a bit, it got knocked about a whole lot and at one point the sliding lens cover became bent out of shape, and eventually had to be sent in to be repaired. If the camera had come with a case I know this wouldn't have happened, because he's traveled with this camera twice as much since it was repaired and since we got a case, it's not even gotten one additional scratch on it since. And since the camera has a full metal body, you can imagine how many scratches this could get - if its not protected in some way.
This camera came with its own software, which we installed on my boss' computer. However, we didn't find it terribly useful. Nor did we need to hook it up to a television, so the video cable hasn't come in at all useful to us. The computer program is pretty enough, and has all you'd need to download, save and print your pictures, but shortly after we got the camera, we also bought the HP Photosmart 7960 printer which allows you to take the media card, insert it directly into the printer and handle the pictures with your regular printer software. In any case, from the few times we used that program, we noted that downloading directly from the camera often takes its toll on the batteries. So, if you have a media card reader or a printer that will read from media cards, do use that as it is far preferable to directly downloading from the camera. If not, you'll find the software easy to navigate with lots of nice features for special printing (like making fancy cards and such, with softened edges and pretty backgrounds and other things like that). But if you don't want to use it, if you have a colour printer, you'll probably already have some kind of software that will download your pictures anyway.
Going on to using the camera, I have to preface this with yet another disclaimer - neither I nor my boss particularly like reading instruction manuals. If you're like us, you'll find that you'll do okay if you just pick it up, point and shoot. You should know that this camera has some nice features which have basically become standard for practically all digital cameras these days. For instance the LCD screen which helps you both see the picture you want to take without putting your eye right up to the viewfinder, as well as display all the pictures you've already taken. Of course, you can delete bad shots from that screen, and make all sorts of adjustments such as putting in the date and time, choosing the size of the pictures you want to take and different types of resolutions. The size of the screen on this relatively small camera is about 1.5" and it's the same size screen as our old Olympus - which means it's not a bad size at all.
Next to the screen, you'll find a wheel and some buttons set in a round shape. The wheel is for selecting things like portrait pictures, landscape, switching between automatic and special settings and stuff like that. It has little icons or letters to tell you what you're selecting so that shouldn't be too hard to figure out. Most of the time we use the one where there's a head and a mountain - meaning for people and backgrounds, or we use the automatic setting. I suppose we're only getting partial use out of this camera, but as long as it takes pictures nicely, we don't really care.
The buttons include one for turning on the menu when the camera is closed. From that you'll get all sorts of options on the screen. To run through those options and features, you'll use the arrow keys you'll find below that button, which has an OK button in the middle of it. If you fiddle around with it for about 15-20 minutes, you'll figure it all out (if I go into details about it here, you'll all be bored to tears) - and I'm saying this as a person who really has very little technical know-how in these areas. So as far as ease of use is concerned, I'd say this camera is very easy to use. The only problem I found was that every time you change the battery, the date and time return to the camera's default and I have to reset it. Not such a big deal, really, but it is slightly annoying when you start downloading pictures and your computer thinks they were taken in the year 2000 and not 2005. Good thing you can rename folders, isn't it.
You'll also find little bar type buttons above the screen - one is for choosing what kind of flash you want, the other is mostly for deleting pictures you don't like. If you hit that button by accident, don't worry, you can always not hit the OK button to cancel it - thank goodness again, no?
One of the other problems with our old camera was that it came with a Smart Media card which was only 8mb, which was very limiting as far as the number of pictures you could take and store. This camera comes with a 32mb xD memory card (most standard cameras today come with only 16mb cards) - which is smaller in size physically, and a far more reliable type of card. However, my boss decided to get a 256mb card and to tell you the truth, its way larger than he really needed. He could take several hundreds of pictures with that thing, and as I mentioned before, he's never gone above the 150 mark. As these babies can be expensive (on Amazon the Olympus 256mb cards cost £23.99 new while the Olympus 128mb card costs £16.99 - other brands vary in price), do think carefully as to how many pictures you'll be taking on average, and get what's right for you. Also, remember that you'll still have the 32mb card that this camera comes with, so you might not need as large a memory card as you think.
All in all, this is a very good camera. It's easy to use - even if you don't want to learn all its features. It has excellent resolution with its 5 mega pixels, and the zoom lets you get good detail even with very close up shots. The flash works well, keeping indoor and darker outdoor snaps from being too dull. The battery is rechargeable so you won't spend tons on replacing the battery every time you want to use it. The screen is of adequate size and the menus and buttons are pretty self-explanatory. The camera is attractive looking, fairly light in weight and is of a convenient size - not being too large or too small. I have very little bad to say against this camera except that you might want a larger memory card, may need to reset the date and time often and probably should buy a case for it or you're liable to have a problem with the lens cover getting damaged, as we did. I'll give it four out of five stars.
Thanks for reading!
By the way (and just because someone asked in the comments) the pictures taken with this camera (at 2560 x 1920 pixels) can range in file size anywhere between 900kb and 2000kb (most are in the 1.3-1.5mb range), saved in jpeg format using 144dpi resolution. I hope that means something to you technophiles out there, because it doesn't mean much to me.
I found this camera on Amazon from £199 (new and used), but I'm sure you can find it elsewhere for less than that these days. Amazon gives the basic technical data as follows:
5.0 million pixels (for image processing)
Primary colour (RGB) filter CCD
Full metal body
3x optical zoom, equivalent to 38 - 114 mm
Bright zoom lens f2.8-4.8
1 - 4 x, 5xDigital Zoom (VGA), seamless
P/A/S/M and 6 scene program modes
Storage media: xD-Picture Card
Further details can be found at http://tinyurl.com/52cqg
The model can also be found at: http://tinyurl.com/2dme
This model has been replaced by the C-60 which, from what I can see, is almost exactly like the C-50 except for the number of mega pixels - 6.0 instead of 5.0. I found the C-60 at PixMania.com for £194 Inc. VAT (281,98 Euro).