Camedia C-5060

On the face of it, the digital compact camera concept should be having a tough time of it. From the high end it’s being attacked by a tide of cheapish digital SLRs, while from the consumer side manufacturers continue to push ever-tinier cameras that are basically aluminium fashion accessories. Faced with a pincer movement of performance and fashion, how are digital compact designers responding? The new Camedia from Olympus, the C-5060, offers a sound if familiar answer: continue to load compacts with serious ‘pro’ features but without compromising on the theme of portability that so appeals to amateurs. What this adds up to in the C-5060 is a fast camera with loads of fine control and an excellent (and unusual) 27-110mm wide-angle zoom. Overall, we found it difficult to find anything wrong with this camera. Could it be that the C-5060 is now the best model in its class? From the moment you pull it out of the box, the C-5060’s understated demeanour grows on you. Constructed from a granite-like magnesium, the build quality reminds you of the way cameras were made when it was assumed that consumers would hang on to them for a couple of decades. The ergonomics are decent, too, with well-placed buttons and thumbwheels, and a case design that fits nicely into the right hand. It’s possible to load the Lithium-Ion battery and supplied xD-card, turn on the camera and start taking pictures without referring to the manual. Anyone who has used an SLR will find the controls familiar. When you get beyond the basics, the manual will be needed, however, as the on-screen menus take time to get used to, and the camera has a lot of features with which to contend. The comprehensive reference manual comes as a PDF on CD and runs to 289 pages, so it’s easy to see why Olympus didn’t supply it in book form. Control freak
As far as shooting control goes, the C-5060 specification ticks every conceivable box. You’d expect a range of SLR-like exposure, flash and metering modes (aperture, shutter, automatic, scene modes, and so on), but we were impressed by the fine degree of control the camera gives. Press a button and set exposure compensation up or down in half- or one-third-point increments using the thumbwheel - that’s convenient. Press the button below it and set flash intensity up or down in the same way - that feels more like a breakthrough. Other controls on the camera surface lock exposure, switch between auto and manual focus, quickly review shots, and rotate pictures 90 degrees in-camera. A custom button on the top allows a range of menu functions to be accessed quickly, including image contrast, colour saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, white balance (this can be very precisely set), and ISO settings (80-400). The C-5060 supports xD-cards, CompactFlash and IBM Microdrives. You get a 32MB xD-card with the camera and could, say, supplement this with CompactFlash, which is cheaper than xD memory and available in larger capacities. You can switch between memory types at the press of button, without having to remove or disable one first. RAW deal
We were happy to take pictures at what Olympus calls ‘SHQ’ setting (2592-x-1944 pixels), and jolly good they were, too. As well as RAW and TIFF formats, files can be saved in a novel 3:2 ratio (which, we assume, allows 6-x-4-inch prints to be made without cropping) and a virtual eight-megapixel mode ‘enlarged’ size of 3256-x-2448 pixels. The inclusion of a 27mm lens in this sort of camera marks an important coming of age for digital photography. Previously if you wanted a focal length below 35mm, you’d have to buy an adaptor ring (about £20) and a separate add-on lens (say £60-£80), and hope against hope that barrelling (where objects close to the lens become vertically distorted) wasn’t too obvious. With that capability built in from the start, Olympus has been able to make some optical compensation for that effect. Image quality is excellent, but let’s be clear that beyond a certain point some of this is subjective. Tweak the settings appropriately and we’d say it matches the Canon G5. We’d put this down partly to the sure-footed auto-focus system. It isn’t the fastest at finding its subject but we found it very reliable when mastered. The C-5060 is a fairly fast camera in every respect bar one: zooming is slow - it takes almost four seconds to move between the widest focal length of 27mm and the 110mm telephoto (equivalent to a 35mm camera). Most of the time, this matters not. But in certain situations it will hinder shot re-composition just long enough for the opportunity to be lost. Files are saved fast enough for delays not to be noticeable. The high-speed shooting mode allowed three shots per second in SHQ mode, with the option to bracket shots according to focus as well as exposure. Shutter speed runs from 16 seconds up to 1/4,000th of a second. The 1500mAh BLM-1 Lithium Ion battery requires a daunting six hours for a full charge, but compensates for this by holding up well. It’s still a good idea to buy a second one that will set you back a rather steep £70 until a third party produces a cheaper clone.


So, is the C-5060 the new compact to beat? Probably. The tardy zoom is an irritation and the clever swivelling LCD was inclined to wash out a scene even when the screen contrast had been adjusted. But look at it pragmatically: The C-5060 takes great pictures now, so it will taker great pictures in five years’ time. That makes it the sort of camera you can cultivate a warm friendship with. Just don’t think too deeply about those rumours of Canon’s G6.

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