Photo Opportunities

Digital Cameras

Generation 7: Just a Little Bit More (2003)

At first blush, the Olympus C-5050Z doesn't seem like a big improvement over the 4040 I already had. Yes, there's a small increase in pixel count from 4.1 meg to 5.0. But that's not a big deal; we're talking about a difference of 12.5% in each dimension (from 2272x1704 to 2560x1920). That's hardly enough to get excited about, especially when most of my requirements were more than met by 4 megapixels. My web, printing and even desktop background needs are all in the 1.5 to 2 megapixel range. So what possessed me to upgrade, beyond my complete inability to be satisfied with last year's model?

There is of course a lot more to a digital camera than its pixel count. And the 5050 packs a lot of improvements into a case that's a tiny bit bigger and a couple of ounces heavier than the 4040. Here's a short laundry list of the ones that helped to sell me:

Well, that's the theory. In practice I noticed a definite improvement in the quality of the pictures I took. They're sharper, richer and just have more of a snap. See if you agree; compare the floral images below to the 4040 images on the previous page. As before, I shot each image at the camera's maximum resolution (2560x1920), cropped to a standard size of 1920x1440 and then scaled to half and one third size.

Full Size (219k)
Half Size (53k)
1/3 Size (32k)

Full Size (287k)
Half Size (95k)
1/3 Size (55k)

Full Size (243k)
Half Size (66k)
1/3 Size (39k)

Full Size (247k)
Half Size (67k)
1/3 Size (38k)

Here's a more direct comparison of the two cameras: identical scenes (or as close as I could get) shot a few seconds apart. I've scaled each image down to 1920x1440 and then half and one third sizes.

C-4040Z C-5050Z

Full Size (494k)
Half Size (160k)
1/3 Size (81k)

Full Size (337k)
Half Size (96k)
1/3 Size (48k)
Full Size (618k)
Half Size (181k)
1/3 Size (88k)

Full Size (408k)
Half Size (109k)
1/3 Size (51k)

The first difference you may notice is that the 5050 doesn't have the problems with chromatic aberration that show up in the 4040. That's the purple fringing in transitions from dark to very bright areas, as in the trees in the left hand image. Fixable with Photoshop, but annoying nonetheless. Other differences are in the brilliance of the color; the 5050 just seems more vibrant. And there's a flatness to the pictures from the 4040; things don't seem quite as three dimensional somehow.

The upshot of all this is that I think I'm suddenly getting better pictures. And, perhaps coincidentally, I find myself going beyond the camera's fully programmed mode and experimenting more with depth of field and other tricks. For whatever reason, I'm more creative with this new camera. Which is really the point, isn't it? So maybe it wasn't such a silly purchase after all.

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California