Use Your C-5050Z/C-5060WZ Like a Leica

My other pages related to the Olympus C-5050Z, C-5060WZ, and X-7070WZ

Note: This article, originally written for the C-5050Z has been largely modified and updated for the new C-5060WZ. Unless specifically stated, all information pertains to both cameras.

The Rationale

Digital cameras with sensors much smaller than a 35-mm film frame have much greater depth of field than film-based ones. It is therefore possible, at least at shorter focal lengths, to use them with the autofocus disabled, and with the focus manually preset to one value, depending on the depth of field to provide enough sharmness in most of subject distance range.

This approach was often used by the famous street-shooting photographers of the mis-twentieth century, walking the urban streets with their small and fast Leicas, prefocused and ready to shoot to catch the moment, without having to spend the precious time focusing with their rangefinder.

I was prompted into writing about this by an email from England, from a Reader, who was very much used to this style of picture-taking (with his Leica, of course), and wanted to use a similar approach with the '5050, to avoid the autofocus time lag.

Don't let me mislead you, even in the manual focus mode the '5050 (or '5060, or any camera of that class) will not match a classic rangefinder model in responsiveness. There still will be a noticeable lag between pressing the release and actully taking the picture. The lag will be, however, smaller than in the AF mode you also will have a greater chance of getting the foreground (closer than the subject centered in the frame) sharp. This, especially in a crowded urban environment, is a definite plus.

Turning your camera into a street-shooter's tool

As we know, the C-50x0 have eight presets, referred to as "My Mode" settings (a moronic, mass-market name, at least from where I stand). I decided to assign four of them, Nos. 5..8, to quick, manual-focus use with four various focal lengths. The following tables show the setups.

C-5050Z
Mode No. 5 6 7 8
EFL, mm 35 55 80 105
Focusing Mode Manual Focus
Preset distance, m (ft) 2.0 (7) 3.6 (12) 5.3 (17) 9.1 (30)
Exposure Mode Aperture Priority
Aperture, F/ 4.0 5.6 8.0 8.0
ISO setting 64 100
Drive Mode Sequential (w/o AF)
C-5060WZ
Mode No. 5 6 7 8
EFL, mm 27 35 55 80
Focusing Mode Manual Focus
Preset distance, m (ft) 1.3 (4.5) 2.1 (7) 3.7 (12) 5.6 (19)
Exposure Mode Aperture Priority
Aperture, F/ 4.0 4.0 5.6 8.0
ISO setting 80 100 200
Drive Mode Sequential (w/o AF)

Notes:

  • "EFL" stands for "Equivalent Focal Length", a common way of expressing zoom settings (lens angles) in digital cameras. For a given focal length of a digital camera lens, an EFL is the focal length of a 35-mm camera lens providing the same angle of view.
  • The EFLs shown in the table are not my choices: these are the only values which can be set from the menu as described below. They are, however, fairly close to what we may actually need, so I don't consider this a problem.

Shooting distances

The distance presets shown are hyperfocal distances for the selected focal length and aperture combinations (see the C-5050Z and C-5060WZ DOF Tables).

This means that all objects between half the preset distance and infinity will be acceptably sharp. For the EFL of 35 mm this means sharpness from just one meter up; enough to forget about focus.

For the longer EFLs (80 or 105 mm), the DOF range narrows down and moves away from the camera — forget about head-and-shoulder close-ups, but fine for street scenes. If you need to get closer at those angles, switch into autofocus mode.

Unfortunately, manual focus settings in the C-series cameras are quite imprecise. If you think distant objects shot in these modes are not focused properly, try closing down the aperture by 1/2 or 1/3 of a stop (for example, F/4.5 instead of F/4), and/or presetting the distance at 20% or so higher values. (In the latter case, assume DOF starting from half of the modified value.)

(For advice how to preset the focus so that the camera remembers it for a given mode, keep on reading.)

Exposure settings

Under normal conditions (sun or slightly cloudy, but not gloomy) the shutter speeds selected by the camera in the aperture priority mode will be easily handholdable at the appropriate focal lengths. To make that easier, I've set the CCD gain to higher ISO-equivalent values at longer focal lengths. (I'm using somewhat more aggressive settings with the '5060, as it has improved noise performance at ISO 200 or 400.)

Note that the sequential drive mode I'm suggesting for these presets limits slow shutter speeds to 1/30s. This should be OK, as these presetss are intended to be used in outdoors situations, handheld. If you prefer to have slow speeds available, use the single-frame mode.

Switching between presets

To allow for easy switching between the "My Mode" presets, I have assigned the user-defined function button (the rightmost one on the top plate) to that function; see the next section how to do it.

To use the camera in one of these modes, turn the main dial to "My Mode", press the custom button (rightmost on the top panel), and select Mode 5..8 by turning the wheel. Changing from, say, 35 mm to 105 mm EFL settings takes a second or two, and in a while becomes a second nature.

To go back into autofocus mode, turn the main dial back to "P", "A", or "S", whatever your preferences are.

Setting the camera — detailed instructions

This section is intended to help you in setting up the "My Mode" presets as above quickly and painlessly. I'll just walk you through the menus.

  1. Turn the camera on, set the main dial to the "My Mode" icon (just to avoid messing up your regular default settings).
  2. Preset the focus distance. This takes some work:
    • Make sure that the focus mode is at Auto.
    • Find an easy-to-focus object at exactly the desired distance from the camera (use a measuring tape for greater accuracy).
    • Half-press the shutter release button to have the camera set the focus to that distance; make sure that the green focus-confirm light was on.
    • While holding the shutter release press the focus mode buton at top left.
    • Done. We are now in the manual focus mode preset to the distance as measured above.
  3. This focus setting, however, still has to be memorized. Turn on the menu. Go to Mode Menu > Setup > My Mode Setup > Current > My Mode 5 (or the selected mode number). Confirm by selecting Set and pressing the Menu button.
  4. This will take you back to My Mode Setup. Go down to Custom > My Mode 5.
  5. Once here, make sure that all settings are as needed: aperture priority (A), the aperture (F/number), zoom focal length, drive at sequential (overlapping rectangles icon), ISO. You may also want to change the in-camera image processing parameters: I usually keep the sharpness at -2, contrast at -1, and saturation at +1 (in both cameras), but your choices may differ.
  6. When done, keep pressing the Menu button until you exit all menu screens.
  7. Repeat points 2..6 for Mode settings 6..8 using the values from the table above.
  8. Enter the menu again, go to Mode Menu > Setup > Custom Button, select My Mode, confirm.

You have just turned your '5050 into the fastest digital camera in the neighborhood.

On focal length setting: I'm still getting emails asking how to set the focal length in one of "My Mode" presets. If what I wrote above in Points 4 and 5 is not quite clear, here is the complete sequence (an example):

Mode Menu > Setup > My Mode Setup > Custom > My Mode 3 > Zoom > 80 mm

Now you should have no doubts...

Notes on distance setting: In the original posting of this article, I was recommending the use of the distance scale to preset the focus. Unfortunately, this method is quite inaccurate. The distance scale is not very precise (with nonlinear scale and large gaps between marked values), and it often shows values quite far from those at which the camera is actually focused.

A quick experiment proves my point. Try executing step (2) above at one meter from the subject; do it at three different focal length settings. You will see that the distances shown on the MF scale differ considerably. My checks indicate that setting the distance by autofocus is more reliable than by the scale.

Other preset modes

In my setup, on both cameras, I keep Modes 1..4 assigned to more basic presets. A detailed description of those has been posted in another article.


My other pages related to the Olympus C-5050Z, C-5060WZ, and X-7070WZ

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Posted 2002/12/23; last updated 2004/09/12 Copyright © 2002-2004 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak