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Olympus's newest digital shooter packs punch

By Shoshana Berger
Business 2.0


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(Business 2.0) -- Follow me for a little tech-era time travel: More than a year ago, I was in the market for a midrange digital camera that did more than just point and shoot.

I wanted to be able to adjust the aperture for arty blurred backgrounds and to print at pore-punishing resolutions. I ended up with the Olympus C-3030, a 3.1-megapixel number with a clunky black casing that looked much like its antediluvian SLR cousins. The image quality was top-drawer, but the thing cost me $900. Ouch.

Now fast-forward about a year to Olympus's latest release: the Camedia C-50. I had expected my high-end investing to preempt a premature upgrade. Not.

The C-50 is a quantum tech leap, packing 5 megapixels into a 2- by 3-inch, sleek all-metal body. It offers the same custom knob twisting that my old camera did, has a 12x optical and digital zoom, and ships with a remote, so I can stand back and order it around. It shoots video. It shoots panorama. What's worse, it costs only $600.

That may seem like a mint to you, but here's some context: I could shoot Business 2.0's cover image with this thing -- the image quality is good enough to print 8x10 pages at 300dpi. Though good things come in small packages, I just didn't get how all that resolution could fit into such a svelte body. The answer is a slim new xD-Picture removable memory card and a compact, rechargeable Li-Ion battery.

I tested it at an outdoor party that went from noon 'til night. On the auto setting, it made all the right choices. But even more precise are the settings for portrait, landscape, high-speed sports, and night shots. Most quirky is the self-portrait mode for holding the camera at arm's length and capturing your narcissism on film.

Though the multiple menus are opaque at first (as at a restaurant, there's some danger of option overload here), navigation is pretty intuitive once you've climbed the tree a few times. My only gripe is that the Camedia software (which lets you fancy up your snaps with everything from sound clips to goofy frames and effects) and USB drivers took me a few tries and restarts to install. Granted, I tried it out on a memory-starved PC, but these things should be all-terrain vehicles by now.

Sigh. Next year there'll be 10 megapixels in a stick of gum.

Olympus Camedia C-50 Zoom: $600. More at www.olympusamerica.com.

For more personal technology news visit Business 2.0.



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