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.

The limitations

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:

  • Price: the D-580 aims near the bottom (price-wise) of the market, close to the $250 mark. (This one was bought from my long-time favorite dealer, B&H, for $270 in the very beginning of April, 2004.)
  • Camera type (form factor): this is a shirt-pocket camera; it has to fold flat and fit into a pocket or purse.
  • Target market (intended user): a casual user (snapshooter), who can be confused by non-essential options, especially those requiring some technical knowledge of photography.

While the third kind may bring a Big Brother approach to mind, it also makes sense. A more advanced feature can be used or misused. Even for a technically literate user, some options may make the camera less convenient for simple uses. Sometimes it is safer to just make such a feature unavailable.

The specs and what they mean

Here goes a listing of the camera's specs, as claimed by the manufacturer and confirmed (or not) by me, with comments on what they mean and how they may affect the picture-taking process on one hand, and the quality of produced images on the other.

The specs published by Olympus are very incomplete, and figuring them out required some thinking and experimentation. The manufactures does not hesitate to promise that your pictures will be "brilliant" (whatever that means), but does not want you to know, for example, in how many steps is the camera's aperture adjusted. It is not just that, in their minds, the potential market may be not interested: sometimes there is simply nothing to brag about.

Anyway, I found the detective work needed to come with a more detailed picture both challenging and entertaining. Here are the results.

Body

Form and finish: Clamshell type, metallic plastic.

The champagne finish looks quite good, and not as cheap as in some competing models, although it is not one of these jewelry-style, conversation-item models. No-nonsense, just fine.

Size (WHD) and weight: 108×58×37 mm; 165g (below 6 oz) without batteries.

This is small enough to make the camera fit into a shirt pocket, purse, or a small pouch. A smaller size would probably require using a proprietary battery (instead of the standard AAs).

Unfortunately, I found the color of the camera quite difficult to show. It is champagne, not silver as in the picture. All camera controls are clearly visible in this picture. Elegant, simple, and quite easy to operate, a good job.

Lens

Focal length:. 3× zoom range, 5.8-17.4 mm, equivalent to a 35-105 mm lens on a 35 mm camera.

This covers 99% of needs of the target user.

Maximum aperture: F/3.1 at EFL=35mm, F/5.2 at EFL=105mm.

Not impressive at all, but normal for the tiny lenses used in such cameras.

Optical construction: 5 elements in 3 groups, two aspherical elements, multicoated.

This is a very simple construction (for a zoom lens), probably necessitated by size and price constraints, but it seems to be adequate, and possibly greatly helped by the aspherical elements (which, I can bet, are plastic moulds). Actually, the image quality is higher than I expected.

Aperture: Not specified, probably just two-position: wide open and closed down.

I am 99% sure that this is not a real iris diaphragm, but just a swinging plate with a single opening. Of the pictures I took, the EXIF information shows, at a given focal length, just two values; for example, at the wide end it will be always F/3.1 or F/8.7, never anything in-between. Olympus does not quote the minimum aperture (maximum F-stop) in their specification table at all.

This is clearly a cost-cutting (read: cheap) approach, shared by most, maybe all, manufacturers in this price range. It was omitted from the specification sheet, as it does not look good. I believe honesty pays best in the long range: there would be nothing wrong in admitting that the camera has just two aperture settings.

Mechanical: Collapsible, motorized construction, plastic barrel.

The lens folds or unfolds when the clamshell cover is being closed or opened, respectively. While this is a robust solution, you have to get used to closing the camera in two steps: close the cover a bit, wait for the lens to collapse, and then slide the cover all the way.

As in all compact and clamshell Olympus cameras I've tried, the lens barrel has some wobble. This does not seem to affect the image quality and might be by design (spring-loaded?).

Zoom control: Electric motor, activated with a switch next to the shutter release.

Normal in this kind of camera (and, as usual, not precise enough for critical framing). Still, I find this solution more intuitive than zoom control buttons in the back.

Filters accepted: None.

As expected, and of no use in this market.

Optical viewfinder

Type: Real image; zooming in synch with the lens.

The promotional materials (repeated verbatim in some reviews) claim a "clear, large viewfinder" allowing for "precise framing". None of these claims are true. The viewfinder is small and leaves much of the picture area out, see below.

Field coverage: Not specified

My quick measurements show close to 75% of horizontal and vertical coverage. This results in about 56% of area coverage which is quite bad: 44% of your picture area is not seen in the viewfinder. Olympus is not alone here: most manufacturers seem to think that entry-level users do not need to see what they are taking a picture of. They do.

Parallax correction: None.

Not expected in this price range; not seen in any digital camera yet.

Information shown in finder: None. Two LEDs next to the eyepiece signal focus OK, and a need for flash.

Diopter correction: None.

Too bad. Even a casual user may need this, especially when getting into the middle age.

LCD monitor

Type: Color, active matrix (TFT).

This is what all such cameras use. The monitor has, at last, an anti-reflective coating, improving the visibility outdoors; for reasons unknown Olympus did not have this feature in previous cameras I know, only now catching up with most of the major makers.

The monitor brightness can be adjusted from the Setup menu, although the default setting is just fine for me and I never needed to use this feature.

Physical size: 37×28 mm; 46 mm (1.8 in.) diagonal.

Larger than in some earlier models; as large as the body design would allow.

Pixel count: 85k pixels (slightly better than 320x240).

More expensive models go up to 130k pixels here, which translates into about 24% higher (linear) resolution. Clearly, an economy version, although quite adequate for image viewing; the menus would, however, be more readable with the higher pixel count.

Field coverage: 100% My measurements show 100% or very close; this is good.

Shutter

Type: Electronic.

This means the camera does not really have a shutter, using electronics to define the time interval from which the light is used to build the image. This is normal in cheaper cameras and usually seems to work well enough.

Speed range: 1s-1/1000s, auto only (down to 2 seconds in the "night mode").

Quite impressive in this class. The shutter speed is not shown in the monitor: just a warning "Slow Shutter" to indicate that it is too slow for safe handholding. While the target market of users may not always understand (or care) what shutter speeds are, this does not give any indication if the needed shutter speed is just a tad too slow (say, 1/20s) or way to slow (like 1/2s).

I believe that even non-technical users do not deserve having their intelligence offended (after all, this is not a Sony!). A warning and the shutter speed readout would be better.

Drive modes: Single-frame, sequential.

In the single-frame mode a picture is taken every time you press the shutter button. In the sequential mode, the camera keeps shooting as long as the button is held pressed (or the memory buffer gets full).

Storing the images in the HQ compression settings I was able to squeeze out 10 images in 9 seconds, quite impressive in this class; in SHQ the number dropped to three. I don't think we should expect more.

Still, for shooting longer sequences the user may switch to the SQ1 storage mode (producing two-megapixel, 1600x1200 files), and then it takes 22 frames or so until the buffer is full, quite a respectable performance. (In the SQ2, VGA-sized, mode the length of the sequence is limited only by card capacity, but pictures, because of very low resolution, are suitable only for Web or email uses, not for printing).

Exposure metering and control

Meter type: TTL (through the lens), using the CCD imager itself; Matrix or spot metering pattern, selectable.

TTL metering is a standard solution in non-SLR digital cameras.

Spot metering can be useful when shooting unevenly-lit scenes (or backlighted subjects). Still, I doubt the targeted user will know (or care) about this, especially with the feature accessible only from the menu (read: cost-cutting).

Exposure control modes: Full auto and five specialized programs: portrait, landscape, portrait/landscape, self-portrait, night scene.

The specialized settings may adjust the aperture/shutter speed combination (for example, to achieve greater depth of field at the expense of slower shutter speed for the portrait/landscape mode), but I suspect they also affect the sharpness, contrast, and saturation settings the camera uses when the raw image is converted into a JPEG file.

With the user having no control whatsoever over shutter speed and aperture, this is a way to adjust the choices made by the camera to the circumstances.

While I haven't played much with the specialized programs, I found the color adjustment in the landscape mode not to my liking: the full-auto setting was better here.

The self-portrait mode is close to useless: it is much better to do it with the self-timer. I would prefer rather to see a "sports mode" instead, geared towards faster shutter speeds.

(With only two apertures available, however, adjusting the program curve is, by definition, very limited.)

Exposure compensation: Up to ±2 EV stops in 1/2 stop increments.

This is perhaps the most useful "advanced" feature on an entry-level camera. As smart as matrix-evaluation programs may be, they are not smart enough to prevent highlights from being washed-out in some scenes, and once the highlight detail is lost, it can't be recovered in postprocessing (even assuming that entry-level users would use an image editor).

If a quick inspection of a just-taken picture shows that, indeed, the highlights may be burned out, the shot can be re-taken with a negative exposure compensation. Unfortunately, this is accessible only from the menu, and the operation takes no less than six button presses!

This, actually, is my greatest complaint about this camera.

For outdoors shooting in sunny weather (or indoors with flash) I would recommend just setting the compensation to -0.5 EV and leaving it there. (From my experience this works best with most cameras.) If the "Auto Reset" feature is disabled, the setting will be remembered.

Exposure lock: Yes, with the shutter release.

Half-pressing the shutter freezes both exposure and focus, so that the picture can be re-composed and taken with the original settings. My experience shows that once beginner grasps this feature, it improves the image quality a lot.

ISO settings: Auto, from 50 to 400 ISO.

The CCD gain (ISO setting) is not user-selectable, which is OK for the intended market.

White balance: Auto, sunny, overcast, incandescent, and fluorescent.

The selection is made from a menu. The auto setting usually results in good color rendition, characteristic for Olympus cameras.

Focusing:

Autofocus: Passive system (using the image sensor), no focus-assist beam; 20 cm (8")to infinity. No provision for manual focusing.

The focusing accuracy seems to be just fine outdoors, with occasional problems indoors at lower light levels.

When taking flash test pictures, most of the test frames shot from four meters at EFL=105mm were out of focus, in spite of lots of vertical detail in the center of the frame (tilting the camera 45 degrees did not help, either). This is not a satisfactory performance.

Olympus does not say how many focusing steps are used, but this is of a secondary importance, taking into account the huge depth of field.

There is a "macro mode" setting, recommended to be used between 20 and 50 cm, but, as with other Olympus cameras, it is only used to speed up focusing; regardless of whether this option is activated or not, the camera will find the focus in the whole range (if somewhat more slowly).

Macro focus: Yes, from 7 cm.

This is unusual in a clamshell, compact camera. A separate macro mode (referred to by Olympus as "super macro" which is a misuse of the term) allows to focus from the distance of 7 cm up (measured from the front of the lens). The field of view is impressive: 20x27 mm or so.

Surprisingly, the zoom is then frozen at the longest setting (which makes picture-taking more convenient); most cameras use wide-to-moderate angle in such circumstances, which just happens to be a technically easier solution.

Another surprise: the quality of "super macro" images is much better than I've expected; very presentable. (Of course, a small tripod helps!) Sharpness is good even in the corners; definitely, not just a marketing gimmick.

The image sample below illustrates this feature, with the reduced full frame at the left, and a one-to-one pixel fragment, without any postprocessing, at the right. The picture was taken in diffused window light, using a small tabletop tripod; the distance from the subject to the front of the lens — 7 cm. The whole image, slightly cropped, re-equalized, and reduced to the XGA screen size can be seen here.

"Super macro" mode, programmed autoexposure with -0.5 EV compensation: 1/8s at F/5.2, EFL=105 mm. 1:1 pixel size sample of the same image (what you see in the screen is larger than it would be in a 9x12" print).

Flash

Built-in flash range and GN: Usable range: from 20 cm to 3.4 m (wide) or 2.0 m (tele); claimed guide number of 7.6 m (30 ft) at (probably) ISO 100.

Actually, I find the camera/flash performance significantly stronger than stated in the specs. Clearly, Olympus engineers are much smarter than their publications and marketing people (I suspected that for a long time).

Test images of average-reflectancy objects, taken at the tele zoom setting, were properly exposed up to four meters (and almost so up to five), more than twice the claimed range. It turns out that the camera increases the ISO setting, if there may be not enough of flash light. In my test shots (as inspected in the EXIF data), the automatically-adjusted ISO setting went up to 400 for pictures taken at EFL=105 mm (still staying at ISO 100 for EFL=35mm at that distance.

To make it short: I found the flash in the D-580 perfectly usable up to about 4.5 meters (15 feet), and my best estimate of its GN at ISO 100 is about 10m, which makes it almost twice as powerful as claimed (the flash energy is proportional to GN squared). This greater power is supplemented by a smart use of ISO gain. For a compact camera driven from two AA batteries, a very impressive performance.

(The bad news is that the camera autofocus is imprecise at room light levels, as mentioned elsewhere.)

The recharge time is usually below 6s; shorter if the picture is taken from less than maximum range (as the flash does not discharge completely then). Obviously, flash use greatly speeds up using up the batteries.

Flash metering: TTL (through-the-lens).

Normal in this type of cameras, and just fine. While there is no separate flash exposure compensation setting, the regular one applies here as well. Again, a compensation of -0.5 EV seems to work best in most cases; one more reason to keep this setting on a permanent basis.

Flash usage modes: Auto, red-eye, off, forced on.

The forced on (fill) flash is useful to soften harsh shadows in bright sunlight. For example, beach pictures of people look usually better this way.

External flash: No provision for external units.

Normal for this class of camera, and usually not needed on this market.

Image sensor and storage

Image sensor: 1/2.5" CCD (charge-coupled device), 4 megapixels

The exact pixel count is 3.917 million pixels (or 3.736 "binary" megapixels), close to the claimed 4MP.

The "pixel count" given traditionally by all manufacturers is a little bit inflated: some of them (at the edges) are not used for the image.

Note that 1/2.5" is a really tiny sensor, smaller than one used in compact cameras (like the Olympus C-series). The image area size is near to 5.7x4.3mm.

This means, on one hand, that noise and other possible adverse effects are more difficult to control, on the other, it provides more than generous depth of field. (For example, at the wide-open tele aperture of F/5.2, the DOF is as large as in a 35-mm film camera with the same view angle at F/32.)

Native image resolution: 2288×1712 pixels.

Additionally, images can be saved in smaller, interpolated resolutions: 1600×1200 (2MP), and 640×480 (VGA). Actually, if no prints larger than 6×8" (15x20 cm) are expected, using the intermediate 2MP resolution will almost double number of images fitting on the memory card. The VGA format is usable only for Web and email uses, although even in these cases I would rather recommend reducing the images during the postprocessing, on your computer. It is also too easy to set a lower resolution and forget about it. (A friend of mine took a series of catalog pictures, only to discover later that they were in 1204×768 pixel size!)

File format and compression: JPEG only, two compression ratios in the full pixel size.

Olympus allows to save full-size images in two compressions, referred to as SHQ and HQ (super-high and high quality, which should be rather referred to as "good" and "OK"). The smaller pixel sizes don't offer this choice.

The full list of image file choices is as follows:

  • SHQ: 2288×1712 (4MP), 1:5 compression ratio
  • HQ: 2288×1712 (4MP), 1:14 compression
  • SQ1: 1600×1200 (2MP), 1:14 compression
  • SQ2 640×480 (VGA), haven't bothered to check the compression.

The compression ratios are my calculations. I find the SHQ format more than sufficient for every application, while HQ, allowing to store three times more images on the card, is OK for daily use. On the nitpicking size, I think that 1:10 in HQ would be a better choice, allowing the user just to set it and forget about it; one fewer decision to make.

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

Power source

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 my tests show that the claims of higher useful capacity (simply: number of shots) are rather exaggerated. The battery, however, does not suffer from a relatively high self-discharge rate of NiMH ones; if you keep your camera not used for longer periods of time, this may be an advantage. The disadvantage is price: a pair of RCR-V3s (you need a spare!) with a charger will cost about $80, twice the cost of an equivalent NiMH outfit.

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:

  • Viewfinder eyepiece with two LEDs
  • Color LCD monitor
  • Quick View button
  • Four arrow buttons in a circle with the OK/menu button in the center

With almost every new model Olympus tends to improve their traditional control layout a little, and this is no exception. The job is well done; I find the controls easy and intuitive in use. And, in case you haven't noticed, I'm not easy to please.

Left side: Rubber cover housing the USB and Audio/Video sockets, microphone.

Right side: Card compartment (behind a plastic, hinged door), battery compartment (plastic, sliding cover, hinged), and power-in socket (rubber cover).

All the covers are well-made and seem to work well. Nothing flimsy here.

Bottom: Tripod socket (plastic), adequate.

Front: Lens, viewfinder, flash, and self-timer signal lamp.

Menu system and other monitor-accessible controls

Again, incremental improvements from previous models. With one or two exceptions, I find the system used on the D-580 very good.

At the first glance, the approach used may sound somewhat confusing, as the user interaction with the monitor is done in three different ways. In actual use, however, the system becomes quite quick and intuitive.

The three ways of interaction are the following:

  1. Pressing any of the arrow buttons directly will right away display the setting assigned to this button (macro, self-timer, flash setting, program mode). Pressing the same button again scrolls to the next option in that setting. After you let go, the monitor goes off by itself.

    For example, to change the flash setting, you have to press the flash button (right arrow) until the flash off icon shows up.

  2. Pressing the central button shows a "quick menu" screen. You can now use the four arrows to access three designated settings (image size/quality, drive mode, monitor on/off) or the full option menu (see below).
  3. The full menu (accessible as above) gives access to all options.

All of this works nicely, thank you, with a few exceptions.

  • There is no quick way to change the exposure compensation. This would be fine if people were photographing only 18% gray test cards, but this is not the case. Adjusting the compensation can be done only from the full menu, requiring at least six (read it: SIX!) button presses, mildly outrageous. (Check out the C-60Z if you need this feature.)
  • A similar (although less severe) complaint about the choice between spot and pattern (matrix) metering.
  • The rotating disk metaphor in programmed mode choice may look nice, but I find it less readable (especially with the low resolution of the monitor) than just scrolling through a list, where I can clearly see how many steps from the desired choice I am.

Of these, only the first is what I consider a serious flaw. Olympus could have put the exposure compensation on the quick menu, instead of image compression and size.

Other features

Settings at power-up: Factory presets or last used.

The choice between these is provided via the Settings menu. While a completely ignorant camera user will be better off (i.e., safer) with returning to factory presets, a user with an IQ higher than the room temperature will benefit from the second option (for example, it allows you to keep the -0.5 EV exposure compensation as a default).

My wife, is not a technically oriented person, spent three weeks with the older (but similar) D-520, shooting hundreds of pictures in Japan, and we found that at -0.5 EV she had the highest percentage of usable frames, without burnt-out highlights (under sunny conditions; otherwise no compensation is usually better).

Self-timer: Electronic, 12 s delay.

The self-timer setting is valid only for the next picture, i.e., you have to set it before every frame taken in that mode. This is a reasonable design decision, and activating the self timer takes just two presses of one button.

Voice annotation: If set, the camera will record about 4 seconds of sound after every picture.

I've never bothered with this feature on any camera I've used. Some may find it useful.

Noise reduction: Yes, automatically activated in the "night shot" mode.

This is done by subtracting a "dark frame" from the image. This turns out to be a quite efficient way to reduce the fixed noise, prevailing at long exposures (say, above 1/2 s), and is automatically activated in the "night scene" mode.

Digital zoom: Continuous, up to 4x, accessible at the longest lens setting.

Just a marketing gimmick, saving the center of the full frame; for example the central 6% at 4x "digital zoom", at the expense of greatly reduced quality. Still, this allows the manufacturer to claim a "12x total zoom" (3x optical, i.e., real, and 4 "digital"), which may fool less technically-savvy people.

When the "digital zoom" is enabled, it is easy to activate it by mistake just by zooming in. I would recommend disabling this feature and forgetting about it.

External interfaces: USB, power in, TV audio/video.

The TV output can be switched between NTSC and PAL.

The USB interface allows you to plug your camera to a computer, so that it will be seen as yet another disk drive, so that you may move the pictures from the camera card to the computer's disk.

This is, I believe, the older, slower USB 1.1 (not the current 2.0 standard). While the latter would be better, the image transfer is not prohibitively slow, and I can easily live with it.

In-camera postprocessing: sepia, B&W, image reduction.

These functions may make sense in an entry-level camera, where the user is less likely to use a computer program to edit pictures taken. They allow you to create sepia-toned, black-and-white, or reduced-size versions of images, which will be saved as separate files.

There is also a movie-editing function, which I haven't bothered to try.

Interface language): User-selectable.

From the monitor menu you may choose between English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and Portuguese.

Printing support: DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge

These are two standards facilitating picture printing without a computer.

DPOF allows you to attach to each frame the information how many copies of that frame to print, when you bring your card to a DPOF-compatible photofinisher.

PictBridge will let you to connect the camera directly to a printer supporting that standard, without a computer.

Frankly speaking, I've never used (and never have met anyone who did) either of these features, so I can't tell you how useful they are in real life. Oh, well...

Movie mode: QuickTime Motion JPEG format, 320x240 or 160x120 pixels with sound.

This feature is just a trinket, or a conversation item, but nothing more. Olympus refers to these two modes as HQ and SQ (High and Standard Quality), but a more honest way to call them would be CQ and VCQ (Crappy and Very Crappy Quality).

I consider the Movie Mode to be a waste of resources, but some users may find it entertaining, if not really useful. Special modes: Panorama and two-in-one.

The "panorama mode" does not really do anything except freezing the exposure, focus, and color balance at the first frame, allowing you to take more frames at the same settings, so that they are easier to stitch later on your computer.

To use this feature you must have an Olympus-brand xD-Picture card in the camera. This I find offensive, as there are no real technical reasons behind it. Just the corporate greed, trying to persuade you away from other brands.

The "two-in-one" mode allows to take two half-frame pictures, combined side-by-side into one image file. Close to useless.

Responsiveness and card-writing speed: Better than average.

The camera takes about 2.5 second to boot up (measured from opening the cover to when you can start taking pictures). This is fast.

Writing a full-resolution image to the memory card takes less than 2 seconds in the HQ, and less than 3 seconds in the SHQ mode, which is also a good result.

Documentation: Quick Start posters in all UN languages, similar software installation posters, Basic Manual (printed), Reference Manual (on CD).

You also get a hefty Safety Precaution booklet, with 68 pages (that's sixty-eight!) asking you not to feed batteries to babies, and absolving the manufacturer from any responsibility for whatever may happen. Ah, yes, and if your child swallows a battery, better see a doctor. "Hey, Bubba, little Josh just swallowed your camera's batteries, could you check the instructions to see what we do now?".

The Basic Manual is a small booklet in about thirty languages (just a guess), devoid of any useful information.

Including the full manual on a CD only is cheap. Cheapskate cheap. Olympus does it routinely: the same with their top-of-the line C-5050 and C-5060 compacts. Did I mention cheap?

Still, the Reference Manual is, well, basic, but maybe because of that simplicity it reads better than other Olympus documentation I have seen (and I have seen some). There is nothing there a semi-literate user wouldn't figure out just playing with the camera.

(If you have read some of my other Olympus equipment reviews, you may have noticed that I have a special sentiment to their publications department.)

Included software: Camedia Master 4.2.

The Camedia Master software keeps improving with every new version, at one day it may become quite good. This day, however, is still ahead.

Image quality

OK, now to the good stuff. Here is where the little camera shines, or almost so. I used a couple of good-weather days to take about 150 sample pictures with the D-580, and my impressions are, indeed, positive. This is the trademark Olympus image quality which I've learned to enjoy (and, frankly, to expect).

You have already seen the impressive macro example, now a typical landscape snapshot, of my standard image-evaluation subject, the pond off my home in Crofton, Maryland. As always, the full, reduced (and, of course, re-sharpened) frame at the left, and a fragment of full-scale, unmanipulated image at the right.

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.

Megapixel overkill

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.

Web resources

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.


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Posted 2004/04/07; last updated 2004/12/04 Copyright © 2004 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak