Olympus C-5500 Sport zoom

The Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom is for people who want more than just the basics in a digital camera, but without going to extremes. Itās for those who want more than the standard 3X optical zoom but donāt want to shlep around a camera with a huge zoom lens barrel. Itās for those who want to quickly snap pictures, but also play with manual controls without having to spend hours pouring through the manual. Itās for those who want speed, a great macro function, the ability to take good movie clips, and also enough resolution for large prints. And letās have all of this for a decent price, say US$350 or less.

Olympus listened, as always, and the result is the C-5500 Sport Zoom.

Itās a 5.1 megapixel camera, and that is plenty enough even for very large prints. Sure, you can now get a camera with 6, 8, 10 or even more megapixel resolution, but weāre aiming for balance here.

The Sport Zoom has a gratifyingly large 5X optical zoom thatās the equivalent of a 38-190mm conventional lens. 5X gets you significantly closer than the common 3X magnification found in most digicams. There are cameras out there with 10X and 12X optical zoom, but they usually have large lens barrels that make the camera bulky. The C5500ās 5X lens, on the other hand, retreats completely inside the camera body when power is off. Turn power on, and the lens motors out between an inch and an inch-and-a-half, depending on the zoom. If 5X is not enough, you can seamlessly combine that with a 4X digital zoom for up to 20X total zoom capability. As is always the case with digital zooms, image quality suffers a bit and itās best to use a tripod, but even at maximum magnification you still get good pictures.

The C-5500 has two macro modes, The standard macro lets you get as close as 3.2 inches and still use the optical zoom to get it just right. In Super Macro mode you can get as close as 0.8 inches for ultra close-ups. The zoom canāt be used in that mode, but itās not needed anyway. Between the powerful optical zoom and the equally power Super Macro mode, you have an amazing range. Nothing is ever too far away or too close for this camera. I quickly came to love this feature. It really adds to the enjoyment of taking pictures in just about any situation.

And since this is Olympus, one of the undisputed leaders in the digital camera field, the C-5500 doesnāt just stop with its exceptional zoom and macro. Like the competition, Olympus has its own exclusive electronic wizardry to suppress noise, boost image definition, and deliver sharper and clearer pictures. Itās called TruePic TURBO and it works.

There is also an ćanti-shakeä function when shooting movies. Almost all dedicated video cameras have that, but it is not that common in digital cameras. The C-5500 also records movies at a full 30 frames per second for lifelike quality. Unfortunately, movies can only be recorded in 320x240 pixel format, which is disappointing as 640x480 is becoming the norm.

Another cool feature is the way the cameraās ten scene modes are presented. Most cameras have scene modes these days÷special settings that work well in certain situations÷but they are usually represented by goofy icons. The C-5500, on the other hand, illustrates each scene mode with a representative and very high resolution picture on the cameraās large 2-inch LCD. No big deal, but it shows that Olympus cares about little details such as this.

And speaking of the LCD, Olympus digicams are not generally known for large LCDs, so the 2-inch, 110,000 pixel display was a pleasant surprise. There are smaller cameras out there with larger displays, but 2 inches is large enough to actually see the picture and also details when you zoom in. The display is very bright indoors and stays reasonably readable outdoors. In bright sunlight you might have to resort to the optical viewfinder though (and hope it works with your eyes as there is no diopter adjustment).

In terms of size and appearance, the C-5500 falls somewhere inbetween the small compact cameras you can stick in your pocket and the larger ones that you need a special bag for. It measures 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9inches and weighs about 9 ounces without batteries. The plastic body feels very sturdy and has a nice silvery metallic finish. Like many cameras in this size range, the C-5500 has a ćpower bulgeä on the right side. It houses four AA batteries and makes it easy to hold the camera in the palm of your hand (if youāre right-handed, that is). I like having 4 AA batteries because they provide good battery life and you can use either alkalines or rechargeables.

From an ergonomic point of view, the C-5500 is good but not great. Iāve recently reviewed several cameras where all controls were within perfect reach of my thumb and index finger. Thatās not the case with this camera, but the controls are good enough. One thing I donāt like is having the zoom as a ring around the shutter because that way you can either operate the zoom or press the shutter, but not both. I prefer separate controls where the zoom is handled with the thumb. Another criticism concerns the flash. It is very small and you need to pop it up by manually pushing a button before you can use it. Inevitably, youāll forget to pop it up and thus will miss some shots where you need the flash.

Like all current Olympus consumer cameras except for a couple of the high end models, the Sport Zoom uses xD-Picture cards for storage. If you already have invested in CompactFlash or SD cards youāre out of luck and have to buy a good-sized xD-Picture card. The C-5500 comes with a 16MB card, but that is nowhere near enough for a modern 5-megapixel camera.

Model-Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom
List price-US$349.99
Sensor res-5.1 megapixels
Image dimensions-2592x1944 down to 640x480
ISO-80 to 400 or auto
Lens-F:2.8-8.0 5X opt./4X digital
Lens focal length-7.9-39.5 mm (38-190mm equiv.)
-1/1500 to 15 seconds
Exposure compensation-+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Storage-xD-Picture Card (16MB incl.)
Focus-CCD contrast detection
LCD screen-2.0 inch TFT (110k pixels)
Flash modes-3 modes, up to 12.5 feet
Viewfinder-optical real-image zoom
Battery-4 AAs
Weight-8.9 ounces w/o battery or card
Dimensions-4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9 inches
Included-Master software, cables, strap

In the field, the Sport Zoom is a very pleasant companion. Even though it has to motor out the lens, it starts up very quickly. Auto focus is generally quick, there is virtually no shutter lag, and the camera recycles quickly between pictures. In automatic mode, you simply set your preferred resolution and JPEG compression, and then point and shoot. Macro and flash have their dedicated buttons which cycle through the options. In the more advanced modes (Program, Shutter and Aperture Priority and Manual) you have fairly extensive menu control over settings. Those used to Olympus on-screen menus will feel right at home. Those new to Olympus will need a bit of practice. I also recommend perusing the very good 200 page manual that comes in PDF form on a CD.

Shooting picture with this camera is sheer pleasure. Nothing ever seems too far away or too close. A special ćDirect Histogramä function provides real-time access to exposure information. Red and blue highlights show over- and under-exposed areas, making it easy to correct even before you take a shot. The macro and super macro works so well that you can get addicted to taking extreme closeups of all sorts of things. The only problem you encounter here is in dim lighting conditions where the auto focus illuminator beam will shoot right by a very close object so that the camera has a hard time focusing.

In playback mode you can zoom in up to 5X in five steps, and pan around in very small steps (42 x 32 steps in maximum zoom). You can also trim and resize pictures, get rid of the dreaded redeye syndrome, and add up to four seconds of sound to each picture.

Overall, I really like this camera. For not much money you get a high quality Olympus product with a terrific lens and the kind of flexibility that makes a camera a pleasure to use. And thanks to its manual modes, the C-5500 is equally well suited for beginners as for more advanced photographers.

÷Conrad Blickenstorfer



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