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.