Photo Opportunities

Digital Cameras

Generation 5: Bigger, Yet Smaller (1999)

The D-500L is a great camera that let me produce some pretty incredible results (in my own modest opinion). It's good enough to be the only camera I used during a three week vacation in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

But as much as I've enjoyed it, it isn't perfect. Quite a few people have written about the difficulty of getting the autofocus to work, especially in low light situations. And the D-500L is a bit on the bulky side. Not so big as to be a problem, but of a size where you're always conscious of having it with you. And a camera doesn't do you any good unless it's with you when those perfect moments arise.

But I was satisfied enough with the D-500L that I didn't pay all that much attention when Olympus released the C-2000Z. A rangefinder camera is a step down after the through-the-lens viewing of the D-500L SLR. But then people started posting samples of their work. That got my attention in a hurry. And the higher resolution of the C-2000Z (1600x1200 instead of the D-500L's 1024x768) combined with its small size told me that I just had to have it. Besides, it was time for a new toy!

The C-2000Z eliminates my complaints with the D-500L, including some I wasn't aware I had. It's a lot smaller, fitting nicely into a belt pack. The autofocus hasn't given me any trouble. And the rubber cover all my previous cameras use to protect the serial and power connectors has been replaced with a solid and well made door.

The user interface is the best I've seen. The camera has automatic, aperture-preferred and shutter-preferred exposure modes, making it possible to take action shots that the D-500L would have missed. It displays and then records the lens opening and shutter speed used for each shot. The LCD panel can be used as a viewfinder as well as to view pictures you've taken. It even allows you to zoom in to see detail in a captured picture. The LCD is the standard display for the camera's advanced settings, although you can use the information panel instead. It's more cryptic but more efficient of battery power.

(In fact, I can only think of one major annoyance with this camera. And it's something so stupid I can't imagine how they could not fix it. Turning on the power extends the lens barrel. And that pops the lens cap off, causing it to fall to the ground. So forget to remove the cap first and you'll go scrambling to find it again. How dopey is that?)

I took the C-2000Z on its first test during an Independence Day weekend drive out to Lake Tahoe. Here are a few pictures taken in Truckee, California and from the southern end of the lake. These were taken at the camera's maximum resolution, then scaled down to my standard 640x480:

One problem with higher resolution is the space required for each picture. An 8MB card will hold fifty pictures at 1024x768; at max resolution that drops to twenty. So it was important to know if there was any real benefit to the higher resolution if I intend to scale my images to a fixed, smaller size.

Here's a test I ran during a Sunday morning stop in Los Gatos, California. I took each picture with my D-500L at its maximum resolution, the C-2000Z at that same resolution and again at its maximum. The first two pictures were taken of the same scene at the extreme wide angle and telephoto settings of each camera's zoom lens.





What's interesting to me is that once I've scaled the images to 640x480 I can't tell the difference between the two C-2000Z images; the camera does as good a job of scaling as the image processing program on my Indy. The C-2000Z has a shorter lens than the D-500L, producing less magnification at both ends of the zoom. I suspect this has more to do with the size of the image capturing CCD than the lens, a larger CCD requiring a longer lens for the same degree of magnification.

Here are full resolution clips taken from the previous pictures. Notice that both cameras produce excellent detail. You can also notice that the C-2000Z produced a richer range of colors, while the D-500L produced a more accurate but slightly washed out picture.

These tests answered an important question: do I trust the new camera on an upcoming Scandinavian adventure? To be sure, I will carry my tiny APS film camera as a backup. But the C-2000Z's versatility, its small size and light weight make it a viable substitute for my beloved digital SLR. Which just makes me wonder what it will take to make me upgrade yet again...

(A postscript after three weeks using the C-2000Z in Norway, Estonia and Russia. There is one significant flaw in the C-2000Z: a lack of correlation between the viewfinder and the CCD that captures the image. Looking over my pictures I find a disconcerting rotation of the images: a little more than one degree counterclockwise compared to the way I framed them with the viewfinder. I suspect that I wouldn't have the problem if I relied on the LCD instead of the optical viewfinder. But it's something to be aware of, especially when taking those unreproduceable pictures in out of the way locations.)

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California