Olympus C-5050Z and C-5060WZ

Tips and Advice

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

The search engines (especially Google) took a liking to these pages: the traffic here is substantial and I'm getting lots of email. Many messages contain specific questions regarding the camera and its use; hence I decided to collect some of the answers here.

Items specific to one camera only will have a [5050] or [5060] mark. Those common to both will show as [50x0]. No mark denotes an item related to digital photography in general.

Please do not ask me questions like "is this camera better than...". There is no single camera fitting everyone's needs best. Also, people like I, who already made their minds and spent their money to buy a particular piece of equipment, may be not objective in recommending their selected model over others. Better familiarity, brand loyalty, unwillingness to admit a non-optimum decision — all this adds up to a possible bias in favor of the selected model or models.

[50x0] Do I have to take the batteries out of my camera when using external power supply? If not, are they being charged when plugged in?

No, you don't, and no, they aren't — not in Olympus cameras. (A few models by other makers charge batteries in-camera, though.)

[5060] Using the full-time AF mode, I can hear the focus mechanism work, but the camera still takes some time to focus after I press the release. Something wrong with the camera?

I don't shoot in the full-time AF mode, but I suspect that the remaining delay is due to other functions the camera has to perform: last-moment exposure determination, color balance, etc. All these involve reading the signal off the CCD and processing it, so they take quite a while. Actually, when I shoot in manual focus mode, I also suffer from that delay.

In my book, the speed gain is too small to be worth the extra noise and battery drain.

[50x0] How do the C-5050Z and C-5060WZ compare to the new C-8080?

Like two apples to an orange. The C-8080 has almost nothing in common with the C-series of Camedia cameras (from C-2000Z to C-5060WZ), as it has an electronic (as opposed to optical) viewfinder. While the camera looks good within its class, I dislike the class as a whole, simply being unable to live with an electronic finder. Therefore I am not planning to buy or review the C-8080.

[50x0] A silly question. Will the FL40 flash (TTL) work in scene modes on the C5050?

When the flash is used as the main light source in one of the scene modes, the camera seems to be switching to the regular program mode. This makes perfect sense: scene modes work by shifting the shutter/aperture combination, and this is useless here (as the effective exposure time is determined by flash duration, not the shutter speed). The designers chose to protect the user from doing something not too smart.

On the other hand, when the flash is used as a fill-in, the scene modes shift the combination as I would expect (for example, wider apertures for portrait, longer shutter for scenery). These people (I mean Olympus designers) are smart.

Of course, a user who is literate enough to use an external fill-in flash outdoors will also prefer to work in aperture- or shutter priority, and not in scene modes, to have more control as needed by the scene, therefore your question becomes irrelevant :)

[50x0] When I'm trying to use an external flash (the FL-40), the green and yellow lights next to the viewfinder keep blinking, and pressing the shutter release does not activate the shutter.

This seems to happen when the flash batteries are already weak. Although the flash still seems to operate by itself, the camera detects that and refuses to use it. Replacing batteries with fresh ones clears the problem.

When I'm viewing my images on a computer screen, I can see square blotches in the sky. Is this because the in-camera compression setting which I'm using is too large?

Check your computer's display settings. Most probably your color depth is set to 16 bits. This is OK for most purposes, but if your image display/edit program does not do dithering, your 24-bit images will appear like that. Change the display setting to 24 bits (or 32, but this will not bring any further improvement).

[50x0] When shooting with flash, should I adjust exposure compensation, or flash exposure compensation?

These, indeed, are two separate settings; the first one is accessible by the +/- button at top left, while the second &mdash by pressing simultaneously that button and the nearby button with the flash symbol.

Olympus does not clarify the issue, but some simple experimentation produced the answer. When shooting with flash, both settings are applied at the same time, one on the top of the other. For example, setting exposure compensation (EC) at +0.7 EV and the flash exposure compensation (FEC) at +0.7 EV, results in the total compensation of +1.4EV, really washed out. O the other hand, the EC of -0.7 EV and FEC of +0.7 EV gave me results identical to those with both values at zero.

The situation becomes a little more complicated when the flash is mixed with daylight (fill flash). Try using FEC of, say, +0.7EV and EC of -1 EV when taking pictures of people the first plan will be exposed almost normally (I often use -0.3 EV to get a stronger picture), while the background will be visibly darker, for a more dramatic effect.

[5050] How can I get a printed copy of the C-5050Z Reference Manual?

If you live in the U.S., use this link to order with a credit card. Olympus charges $10 plus sales tax, which is quite reasonable. Unfortunately, the manual (printed in a pocket-size format, like the multilingual Basic Manual you can find in the box), comes as a bunch of sheets just stapled together, embarrassing. Well, at least the form matches the contents quality...

[50x0] The built-in flash is not useable with lens attachments, as these cast shadows in the field of view. What is the least expensive solution?

I just took a couple of test shots with the WCON-07, using the FL-20 flash. Good news: there is only a slight, gradual vignetting in the bottom corners, due to the flash being considerably raised above the lens, but no shadow. For typical subjects the effect is not noticeable. More, the vignetting is significantly (if not entirely) reduced by the flash diffuser attachment, included with the FL-20. A quick check with the TCON-17 gave similar (or better) results.

The third-party flashes will also be fine, although I have a preference for the FL-20, as it integrates so smoothly with the camera's autoexposure modes.

[5050] Is the C-5000Z a simplified C-5050Z?

No. This is an entirely different camera. Olympus broke their usual pattern of model designations (where the C-x000Z used to be a scaled-down C-x0x0Z), perhaps thinking that the more confusion they create, the more C-5000Z's they will sell. Don't be fooled. The new model seems to be much down-the-scale from the C-5050Z, and the major differences are:

  • Entirely different body. Although the form factor remains similar, the '5000 is taller (with flash above the viewfinder, which should help reducing the red eye effect), has fewer external controls, and is made of plastic (it weighs about half as much as the '5050).
  • A different, less advanced lens. The new lens has the EFL of 38-114 mm, compared to 35-105 mm in the '5050. This means less of the wide-angle capability (and is cheaper to manufacture). More, the lens aperture is much smaller: F/2.8-4.8 (wide-tele) compared to F/1.8-2.6, a disadvantage of more than one F-stop at the wide end and almost 2 F-stops at the long end.
  • Proprietary lithium-ion battery: no longer the AA standard size. Aargh! Why, for crying out loud, why?
  • Only one (xD) card slot: no longer an option of using Compact Flash cards.

The other differences are rather of secondary nature. Possibly, with this model Olympus is aiming at a different market than the one for which the C-5050Z was intended, but the '5050 may be a quite attractive choice if priced at 50% or so of the price of its older sibling. (Too bad: it sells at $450 or so.)

As such, the C-5000Z is, for me at least, a me-too camera, intended to compete directly against models like the Canon A-80. The latter has a 4MP resolution, but I don't think the 5MP in the '5000 makes a significant difference.

The bottom line: consider either spending $100 more and getting the real thing (i.e., the C-5050Z), or saving a $100 and buying the C-4000Z (which, regardless of price, seems to be a better model overall).

All this said, I expect the camera to deliver good pictures. If you like its size, look, and feel, there is nothing wrong with buying it.

How do I set focus through an airplane window?

The '5050 has a passive autofocus system in which the CCD itself is used to set the lens as needed. This means that it will work OK regardless of any window in front of the lens. Some other cameras may use an active AF system which relies on an infrared beam, which can be reflected by the glass pane, confusing the readings, but this is not the case here.

Note, however, that the AF may have problems when shooting from an airplane — not because of the window, but because of no clear detail to focus on. Therefore, when shooting from a plane I switch to manual focus and set it at infinity.

[5050] What lens attachments do you recommend for the C-5050Z?

After seeing the specs of the two new lens attachments by Olympus, the TCON-17 and WCON-07, I bought them both, and I'm very pleased with their performance; a short review with sample pictures is now available.

The WCON-08B and TCON-14B which are made for the E-10 and E-20 cameras work OK with the '5050, and the results are very satisfactory. These are, however, large and heavy pieces of glass (62mm thread diameter), so I wouldn't recommend them for the '5050.

One of the visitors to these pages persuaded the staff at a Tokyo camera store to let him try two Raynox tele attachments: the DCR-1850Pro and DCR-1540Pro. According to his opinion, the first one suffers from visible chromatic aberration problem, so he voted with his money and bought the 1540Pro.

The manufacturer's information on both these (and more) lenses can be found here.

I don't have much faith in other third-party auxiliary lenses, like those from Kenko or Tiffen. As nice as those folks may be, they cannot change the laws of optics, and a 2-piece, 2-group wide-angle attachment just cannot be any good. A casual check of discussion groups seems to confirm these reservations.

[50x0] What sharpness, contrast, and saturation settings do you recommend?

After some experimentation, I settled down on -2, -1, and 0, respectively, except for gloomy days when I boost the saturation a little, to +1. This is because I often use some sharpening during the postprocessing. If you print your pictures without that, I think that the default (0,0,0) or (0,0,+1) might be more suitable.

[50x0] My camera does not let me set the highest advertised shutter speed? What's wrong?

The C-5050Z and C-5060WZ (along with some of other makers' cameras in this class) use a mechanical, in-lens shutter. At the highest speed the shutter does not have enough time to open to the full width, and this is why those cameras allow you to use it only with small apertures, i.e., high F-numbers (the C-5050Z at F/8, Canon G3 at F/5.6). Obviously, this will work only in the program or aperture priority exposure mode.

The top speed of 1/2000s (C-5050Z) or 1/4000s (C-5060) looks nice on paper, but in reality it is useless. Your camera will almost certainly never use it: in a bright, noon sunlight the exposure is close to 1/400s and F/8 at ISO 100. (You could switch to 400 ISO and give it a try, but this setting degrades the overall image quality.)

I think the manufacturers are not too honest advertising top speeds which are not really accessible. This may be aimed at ignorant buyers and, most of all, reviewers, many of whom lack any experience in photography and center their reviews on comparing specs numbers and ticking off boxes in a feature list. Welcome to the mass market.

[50x0] My camera will not go below 1/30s in the program mode.

This happens when you are in the program or aperture priority exposure mode, and the drive mode is set to anything but single frame. Olympus decided that in these combinations the longer speeds should remain inaccessible. You may agree with this or not, but consider it a feature.

[50x0] How do you use the built-in flash to provide a fill outdoors?

I usually set the flash exposure compensation to -2 (or even -3) setting the flash to "always on", and proceed as usual in program or aperture priority mode.

[50x0] My FL-40 flash does not switch into the TTL Auto mode on the '5050.

It does — but only just before a picture is taken (or when the LCD monitor is turned on). This behavior (logical or not) is normal. Luckily, it affects only the display, not how the flash/camera combination works together. I've just added a note on this subject to the '50x0 flash article.

By the way, the new FL-20 shows the same behavior. It is documented as a "feature" in the instruction leaflet, affecting all Olympus Camedia cameras from C-2000Z to C-4000Z (and I was able to verify it on the C-5050Z, strangely omitted in the list, as well as on the C-5060).

[50x0] I don't want to spend $300 for the FL-40 flash. What other model can I use?

Basically, any modern, automatic unit should do. The camera has a circuit protecting it from high-level trigger voltage. I've checked two third-party flashes providing respectable results: the Sunpak DS20 and Adorama 92ATBSZ, see a separate article. You only have to remember, that with any such flash you have to switch the camera to the manual exposure mode, set the aperture to the value required by the flash, and let the latter to regulate the light output. In case of doubt, refer to any book on general photography (there is nothing special to digital here).

If you don't have to have the tilt-and-bounce capability, the FL-20 from Olympus is worth considering: it is incredibly lightweight and small, provides a decent light output (for a flash running from two AAs, that is), and flawlessly integrates itself into the camera's exposure automation.

[50x0] What slave units can I use?

Any. In many cameras (including other Olympus models) a regular slave unit would fire prematurely, triggered by the preflash from the camera (used to evaluate the exposure). The '5050, however, can be switched into a "slave flash mode", where this does not happen.

[50x0] Will a "fast" memory card really speed up my picture-taking?

Yes. In the '5050 or '5060 the difference between different cards can be very significant, as opposed to some other Olympus models (E-10, E-20), where the camera, not the card, is the writing bottleneck. Check my small writing speed comparison.

How do you deal with image noise?

Usually I don't. For my money, the noise in this camera is comparable to that of a 100 ISO negative film, and I find it perfectly acceptable. I suspect that people who complain about it never did any semi-serious film photography before.

For a few night frames shot at ISO 400 which additionally gained some noise in equalization, I have tried the Neat Image application. This is a well-executed program and it works as advertised, although you may have to spend 30 minutes or so getting acquainted with it. It does a good job removing the noise while keeping the image contours intact — better than any noise-removal feature in programs I have tried (including current versions PhotoShop, Photo-Paint and Paint Shop Pro). Still, while for some images it will give very pleasing results, for others it will kill some detail (like roof tiles in distant buildings in one of my tries). Try the program for yourself: the free trial version is fully functional, although limited to saving images in the JPEG format only. (If you like the program, then for a very reasonable $30 you can get rid of that limitation.)

[50x0] Would you recommend leaving the noise reduction feature always on?

No. Strangely enough, if NR is on, the camera will always do the second exposure and go through the motions of subtracting the second frame from the first one, but if the exposure is not long enough, then it will just discard the result of the whole operation and use the first frame. (This depends not only on the shutter speed used, but also on aperture.) Therefore you gain nothing except a significant delay and increased battery use. Besides, I find the NR meaningful only at exposures of two seconds or longer.

How do I take pictures with the "grainy" look, like some classic B&Ws?

Wow. Some people worry about the noise, and some never have enough of it. This is easy: set the CCD gain to ISO 400, and exposure compensation to -1.5 EV or so. Your pictures will be missing the highlights, therefore in the postprocessing you would have to stretch the histogram to the full (or almost full) range again. Doing that, you will also "stretch", i.e., exaggerate, the noise. For a greater effect use more negative compensation. Additionally, for black-and-white images you may extract just one color layer (usually red gives the best results) — one layer fluctuates more than three.

The highlights of my pictures are washed out.

The rest of the picture must be significantly darker, and the camera tries to compensate for that. Try switching into spot-metering mode and setting the exposure at the main subject, or something you want to be shown mid-tone in the picture.

Exposure automation will not replace good human judgment; some types of scenes always need some exposure compensation. Using it should become a second nature for a semi-serious photographer.

My pictures are very blue. Why?

I suspect you must have set the white balance to the indoor (incandescent) lighting, and you forgot to set it back to auto or daylight when taking pictures outdoors.

To save such frames you may try to correct the color in postprocessing. Usually adding red (lots of it!) and some yellow will bring improvement. If this does not work, you can always convert the image to gray scale and pretend that this was your intent to start with.

[5050] What camera bag would you recommend for the '5050?

Frankly, I have no recommendation here. Usually I have the '5050 either in a larger bag together with the E-20, or I carry it on the strap beneath my jacket. With the similar C-3000Z, I used a small, inexpensive gadget bag by Ambico, and it turned out to be quite good. It protected the camera from lots of abuse during a season of hiking and rock climbing, and the camera survived a number of drops. You may want to check this model (or something similar) out.


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

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Posted 2003/02/12; last updated 2005/05/10 Copyright © 2003-2005 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak