Olympus Camedia D-580 Zoom: a Quick Review
Note: the same model is known as C-460 in Europe, and as X-400 in the Far East. This is the long-standing (and most confusing) tradition at Olympus, probably intended to make price comparisons more difficult: a more disoriented market is easier to manipulate.
This is quite a technical review of an entry-level camera, therefore it will be of most use to the more experienced photographers who plan to procure or recommend a camera for someone else. Like myself — I was recently asked to buy an inexpensive, simple yet capable of good results model for a friend who just wants to take pictures, not planning to develop a more serious interest in photography.
Since the original posting, the article was updated, and new image samples added, but my conclusions did not change. Consider this revision final, as I no longer have the camera. And yes, the owner is happy with it.
After some deliberation (with competition being quite strong in this segment of the market), I decided upon the Olympus D-580. I had some familiarity with a similar model from two years ago, the D-520, knowing its strengths and, more importantly, limitations. My wife has been using that model for about two years now, with very pleasing results.
My choice was also driven by familiarity with competing models from some other manufacturers, most notably Canon and Nikon.
Camera design is an art of compromises. Do not get an impression that one model will meet all your needs, and your pictures will become exhibition pieces overnight. Every camera is designed with some limitations and flaws imposed because of various reasons. In case of this model, three kinds of such limitations can be identified:
Storage media: xD-Picture card.
This, relatively new, standard, is used only by Olympus and Fuji.
At present, cards up to 512 MB are available (with 256 MB being the "sweet spot" in terms of size-to-price ratio), and larger are expected. xD cards are much smaller than the prevailing Compact Flash ones, which makes them more useful for small cameras.
CompactFlash and xD-Picture, size comparison
Batteries: Two AA-type batteries (NiMH recommended), a CR-V3 (single-use) lithium, or the new RCR-V3 rechargeable lithium battery..
While the CR-V3 will last longest, it is not rechargeable, and at $10 or so a pop, they are way too expensive. The most common choice would be a pair of NiMH AAs; four pieces and a good charger are a necessary investment. There is, however, a new kind of rechargeable lithium battery: the RCR-V3. Their nominal capacity is below that of a good NiMH, and
Still, if you run out of juice, a pair of alkaline AAs from a nearby convenience store will help, while with proprietary batteries commonly used in this class of cameras this is not an option — once a battery is dead, so is your picture-taking trip.
Battery life: No specifications.
The battery life in the D-580 is good, if not impressive. The similar 2-megapixel model, D-520 seemed to be better in this respect. This is possibly caused by doubling the pixel count: twice as much data to process. I was getting 100 or so pictures on a charge, with heavy use of the LCD monitor, and occasional — of flash. OK, but nothing to write home about.
Charger: None included. Neither are rechargeable batteries (just two alkalines are found in the box). You have to decide which type of rechargeables to use (NiMH AAs versus RCR-V3), and get the charger as necessary. I am recommending MaHa NiMH models available from Thomas distributing (no affiliation).
External power supply: Optional.
I doubt if Olympus sells many of these.
Controls and interfaces
Camera top: shutter release, zoom lever.
The shutter release is too stiff for my liking. I would prefer a gentler, more "squeezable" one. Perhaps Olympus assumes the users would activate it by accident, were it any softer.
Back side: This is where most of the controls are:
|EFL=35mm, program exposure with -0.5EV compensation: 1/100s at F/8.7, ISO 50||A 1:1 sample from the image at left. The image sharpness is adequate, but just that.|
|EFL=105mm, program exposure with -0.5EV compensation: 1/400s at F/5.2, ISO 50||A 1:1 sample from the picture at left: good sharpness in the center (same checked in corners). Excessive sharpening.|
|EFL=95mm, flash program exposure with -0.5EV compensation: 1/800s at F/4.8, ISO 100||A full-scale sample: nice, and the sharpness, again, very good at a long focal length.|
First of all, the overall image quality ranges from, I would say, decent, to very good.
Wide open, the lens at wide angle is less sharp than I would wish; this somewhat improves when closed down. Unfortunately, with the cheap, two-step aperture this is an all-or-nothing proposition: for example, changing the compensation just a little brought me from 1/500s at F/3.1 to 1/80s at F/8.7, with nothing in-between.
At the longest focal length, EFL=105mm, the performance is very good even fully open. This is a plus, as at these angles you need faster shutter speed when shooting without a tripod. The shutter speed of 1/80s is barely handholdable at 105 mm for non-experienced users, especially when using a monitor instead of the optical viewfinder.
The colors are usually very good or better. Under most circumstances, you will get better saturation and less chance to burn out highlights if you use a -0.5 EV exposure compensation; this is true for most cameras I've tried.
The images seem, under scrutiny, more "harsh" than those from better Olympus (and other) cameras. There is also a visible in-camera oversharpening, a typical mass-market approach. This will not hurt the quality of prints smaller than 8x10", especially considering the fact that in the targeted market usually the prints are done without any off-camera postprocessing.
I'm quite happy with the results, but I would say that four megapixels may be too much for this camera and lens. Not that the pixel count is a problem here, it is just wasted: the lens, especially with limited aperture options, is not capable of fully utilizing the nominal pixel resolution.
This is a general trend, not something to just blame Olympus for. We are dealing with the mass market. The mass market is mostly ignorant. You bought a camera? How many megapixels? — this is the often first question asked. Nobody cares if the lens is sharp: few people will see a difference. It is easy to comprehend that more is better: four must be better than three. Camera makers are capitalizing on that. CCD chips are becoming cheaper and cheaper. It is easier to throw in more megapixels than a better lens (or even two extra buttons).
The bottom line
Before I came across the Olympus D-series, I used to recommend the Canon Digital Elph (or Ixus) to friends seeking a simple pocketable camera, not only because of its brushed-metal body. After getting a better knowledge of the more recent Olympus "D" cameras (of which I've used or tried the D-520 and D-560), I may recommend them for someone looking for a inexpensive and simple-to-use camera fitting into your pocket.
My choice is driven by three factors: image quality, user interface, and the fact that the camera still uses the standard AA-sized batteries. An option to use the double-size CR-V3 lithium batteries (which may be used instead the AAs) is a welcome plus, especially for people who take the camera out of a closet only occasionally.
Do not misunderstand me: this is not the best camera in this price range. If you are (or want to become) a photography enthusiast on a budget, the Canon A-75 is a much better choice at a similar price, as long as you are willing to carry around a somewhat larger piece of gear. But you just want to take pictures, without any (or almost any) technical knowledge, and if you want a simple camera capable of good results at the price (and quite a bit beyond), the D-580 will deliver. So will, most probably the almost-identical, 3-megapixel D-575 (I haven't tried this one, but I believe it is the same camera with lower pixel count).
Still, remember that it is the human behind the camera who is usually the bottleneck in the final quality of your pictures. This is, however, a separate story.
Actually, this seems to be the only article covering this camera in detail. Other sources are limited mostly to rephrasing the manufacturer's press release. Still, if I find something, I'll post a link here, so that you will not depend only on my (possibly subjective) opinions.
Olympus USA has a D-580 page, with some commercial blurb and a number of factual errors.
Camedia® and Olympus® are registered trademarks of Olympus Corporation.
This page is not sponsored or endorsed by Olympus (or anyone else) and presents solely the views of the author.
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|Posted 2004/04/07; last updated 2004/12/04||Copyright © 2004 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak|