[Review] A Turning Point For Digital Photography?
Olympus C-2020 & C-2000
Contact and Other Information
||2.1 Megapixel Digital Camera
Two Corporate Center Dr.
Melville, NY 11747
||(516) 844 - 5000
(800) 622 - 6372
||(516) 844 - 5262
||C-2000 - US$799
C-2020 - US$899
||PowerPC or 68040, Mac OS 7.5.3 or higher, Open Transport v1.1.1 or higher, minimum 6M bytes free RAM, Up to 15M Bytes available disk space.
|System Used For Testing
||Power Computing PowerCenter Pro with 400MHz G3 upgrade, 160MB RAM
Power Computing Power 100 with 40MB RAM
Apple Blue & White G3 with 128MB RAM
Olympus C-2020 and C-2000 Digital Cameras
by Bill Troop
The US$899 Olympus C-2020 and US$799 C-2000 digital cameras define the art in their category: the sub-US$1,000, 2.1-megapixel digicam.
The C-2000, introduced in late May this year, has won universal acclaim for providing features common in professional film cameras but never before seen in a consumer/prosumer digicam, including: shutter and aperture priority exposure; programmed, spot or average metering; extensive white point control.
Most users with even a passing interest in photographic technique want these controls, at least for experimentation. For instance, by controlling aperture, you can isolate the background from the foreground; by deliberately employing slow shutter speeds with moving subjects, you can achieve interesting blur effects.
Of course, purely automatic operation is so successful on this camera that you will usually run the camera automatically. But when you want manual control, the C-2000 lets you take it wherever you want to go, with just about the controls you'd expect from a high end traditional rangefinder or SLR.
Fast response time
Digital aesthetics aside, photography is often a matter of catching the "decisive moment" as Cartier-Bresson so famously defined it. But even supposing your reflexes are fast enough to catch that elusive instant, the camera has to be able to perform along with you. It must be able to take the picture at the moment you press the shutter release, not a second later, when the moment may have passed. In order to accomplish this you need instantaneous "click-to-clunk." There can't be a perceptible lag between the time you click the shutter release and the time the picture is actually taken. Unfortunately, there always is a lag of some kind. In an SLR, there's the time it takes to get the mirror out of the way; in an autofocus system, it's the time it takes to focus the lens. Digital photography adds additional overhead in the form of the response time of the CCD and associated electronics: thus delays increase along with resolution. The Olympus C-2000 has made impressive strides over previous generations of digicams in this respect. Although the click-to-clunk is slower than the all-manual Leica rangefinders favored by Cartier-Bresson, it is manageable, a welcome first in this price/resolution category. According to recent tests by Imaging Resource, the delay is 0.75 seconds for full autofocus, 0.3 seconds for preset focus (8 feet or infinity), and 0.15 seconds when focus and exposure are pre-set by half-pressing the shutter button down before actually taking the shot. Thus, if you get into the habit of using the half-press feature -- and that's very easy to do -- you wind up with a very tolerable response time.
A related area of difficulty is shot-to-shot recycling time. Here again, Olympus has upped the ante in dramatic fashion, permitting up to 10 shots at 2-frame-per-second rates before pausing for processing. All considered, this is an outstanding achievement. Also noteworthy is the step forward in battery life: using NiMH batteries, it's now possible to do a day's shooting without recharging: a welcome change from previous digicams which might allow you to shoot only a couple of dozen pictures before conking out.
The C-2000 is compact (5 x 2.6 x 2.1 inches) and light (14.6 oz. with batteries) yet has a solid feel for its weight and size, perhaps due to just the right mixture of plastic and metal in its construction.
One of the things that makes the C-2000 so useful is its surprisingly fast f/2, 3x optical zoom. It is very fast lens for such a compact size, and helps make the C-2000 particularly capable for indoor and other low light shooting without flash. (There's also a 2x digital zoom capability in addition to the 35mm-105mm optical zoom.) We were amazed by the excellent candid portraits we got in very low indoor lighting. We have to emphasize how astounded we were at the consistently high quality pictures we got in ridiculously low light conditions. This is one of the killer features which sets the C-2000 apart from its most capable rival, the Nikon Coolpix 950.
Take these professional features, and add them to 2.1 megapixel resolution, and you have a camera which is fast approaching traditional silver photography quality. After several months in the field, we can honestly say that we believe the C-2000 is the digital camera that is going to mark the decisive turning point for this technology. IDG has recently reported that digital cameras are beginning to reach the mass market stage, with an estimated 616,000 to be sold by the end of this year, and an estimated 4 million by 2003. We believe that cameras like the C-2000 are spearheading this revolution. Although that's a gut feeling, it is bolstered by early data which indicate that the C-2000 has already become the best-selling digital camera ever.
Field Testing The C-2000
We extensively field tested the C-2000 under moderately adverse conditions in the semi-marine environment of the Hamptons, logging in many hours at the beaches during the exceedingly windy weather surrounding Hurricane Floyd (you can download Stuffed versions of our 1600x1200 photos of a reckless swimmer cavorting in the post-Floyd surf and a close up image of some apples). The C-2000 stood up to this punishment with flying colors but, needless to say, only special weatherproof cameras should be taken to the beach. The treatment we gave the C-2000 would ruin any camera sooner or later.
What makes the C-2000 great isn't just the specs and feature set. It's the overall feel. This is the first digital camera that gives you the the same feeling you get from such legendary photojournalist's favorites as the Leica M, the Rolleiflex, or the Nikon F. It's an extension of your eye that lets you seize the decisive photographic moment without having to think twice. (We must also admit that we enjoyed working with the best-looking digital camera yet designed, a happy marriage of 50s retro and 90s high tech.)
For a more detailed review, see the excellent coverage by the digital imaging specialists at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/C2K/C2KA.HTM
On November 4th, Olympus announced the C-2020, a follow-on to the 2000 that, at $899, costs $100 more.
The two cameras are almost identical but the C-2020 has the following additional features among others:
- better viewing angle on the LCD
- redesigned power on/off dial, which is easy to turn off unintentionally on the 2000
- more manual exposure speeds
- full manual focus, down to 0.2 meters
- basic QuickTime movie capability at 15 fps and 160x120 or 320x240 pixels
- even better white point balance
- new black and white/sepia modes
- better flash synching
- even better battery life
- better menus
In our opinion, it's worthwhile to spend the extra $100, but we would be very happy with either camera. What could Olympus do to improve these cameras? One of the very few things we didn't like was the three-second delay on the remote control. Olympus's rationale for is that the delay gives you time to get the remote control out of sight if you're taking a picture of yourself. But we believe many users would appreciate a remote that allows intantaneous firing. Olympus could add a menu selection that would satisfy both needs.
When Olympus first started talking about its "filmless cameras" a year ago, I was skeptical: wasn't this just a not-too-sophisticated marketing wrinkle? Now I see that it's the simplest way to describe how Olympus is transforming photography with a clearer vision and better execution than its rivals. Let's hope Olympus hangs on to the genius team that designed this very appealing camera.
Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
||Great image quality
High quality "fast" lens
Feels like you are using a traditional camera
||Remote Control should have option for instantaneous firing
Besides being MacObserver's hardware reviews editor, Bill is the co-author of "The Film Developing Cookbook" (Focal Press, 1998). Bill is mainly interested in traditional silver halide photography, but is beginning to work seriously in digital photography.