Olympus has long been a dominant player in the traditional imaging market, with a wide array of consumer, scientific, and industrial products that range from 35mm cameras, to microscopes and medical equipment, and even high-powered binoculars. Not surprisingly, Olympus has also made a strong showing in the digicam marketplace, building a diverse line of successful consumer and prosumer cameras, ranging from pure entry-level, point-and-shoot digicams to the very capable pro-level E-20 SLR. The Camedia D-520 Zoom is an entry level digicam, sporting a 2.0-megapixel CCD and a 3x optical glass zoom lens. Designed primarily for the beginning photographer, the D-520 leaves nothing to chance. Its fully automatic exposure system requires very little user intervention, although it does permit some exposure and white balance adjustments at the user’s option. Olympus has also incorporated two new key technologies in this model: a long-life battery circuit for extended battery power (the company claims hundreds of pictures while using the LCD and flash 50 percent of the time), and AutoConnect USB for fast connectivity to late-model computers, without the need for additional driver software. Both of these features are important for the consumer user. The extended battery life provides more hours of continuous performance from one set of batteries (even though it only uses two AA cells), and the automatic USB connection (pioneered by Olympus, but quickly becoming a standard in the industry) means you can walk up to virtually any computer and immediately download and view your images.
The Olympus Camedia D-520 Zoom is now the fifth camera in a long and successful line of products stretching back to the original D-400 Zoom almost 3 years ago. Introduced as an update to the previous Camedia D-510 from Olympus, the D-520 features a more compact body and a handful of updated exposure options. Though the CCD resolution remains the same at 2.0 megapixels, and the body style is very similar, there are subtle differences between the two models. For example, the D-520 now features expanded capture options for dual-subject portraits and a split-screen image view. However, I was disappointed to see that the D-520 does not feature the ISO, Sharpness, or Contrast adjustments that were available on the D-510. (I suppose Olympus eliminated these features in an effort to reduce the camera’s price point.)
The D-520 maintains Olympus’ popular sliding lens cover design, which enhances portability by allowing you to stash it in a pocket or purse without worrying about bumping or scratching the lens. The D-520’s streamlined, all-plastic body is portable and lightweight, with slightly smaller dimensions than the previous D-510 model. A 3x, 5-15mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera) offers a maximum aperture that ranges from f/2.8 to f/4.4, depending on the zoom setting, and a normal focal range from 31 inches (80 centimeters) to infinity. A Macro shooting mode lets the camera focus from eight to 31 inches (20 to 80 centimeters) for small subjects. Focus is set automatically, thanks to an efficient contrast-detection autofocus system. In addition to 3x optical zoom, the D-520’s 3x Digital Zoom function lets you “zoom” in even closer, although like all digital zooms, it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD thereby resulting in lower image quality. The 2.0-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for printing to 8×10 inches, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 4×6- and 5×7-inch snapshots.
Exposure control on the D-520 is very simple, as the camera operates under automatic exposure at all times. Sliding open the lens cover activates the camera and places it in shooting mode, making it quick on the draw (although the telescoping lens causes a slight startup delay). Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system. To ease menu navigation, Olympus redesigned the menu system on the D-520 to include an initial shortcut menu screen similar to those on their other recent cameras. The shortcut screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, providing quick access to setting menus for Drive, Image Size, and Function options. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined, but Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken the image), White Balance (to adjust the color), Metering (to read light from the whole frame or just the center), and Flash modes are all user-adjustable. The D-520’s built-in flash pops up automatically whenever the lens cover is opened, and is effective to approximately 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) in telephoto mode and 13 feet (4 meters) in wide-angle mode. In addition to the standard flash modes, the D-520 also includes a Red-Eye setting that reduces the occurrence of red-eye in portraits as well as a Slow Sync setting for twilight portraits.
As I alluded to above, the D-520 also offers some interesting creative options, some of which represent enhancements over the capabilities of the D-510. A Movie mode records QuickTime movies (without sound) at 320 x 240-pixel resolution, great for capturing (brief) special moments at parties or special events. A Self-Timer mode lets you get in your own pictures, by providing a 12-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the image is actually captured. The Continuous Shooting mode captures as many as five images in rapid succession while the Shutter button is held down (assuming there’s room on the SmartMedia card). As with many Olympus cameras, a panorama mode is also available when using special Olympus SmartMedia storage cards. Panorama mode records as many as 10 consecutive images which can be blended together on your computer to form a single, large panoramic photo. (The Olympus software bundled with the program has the ability to “stitch” together multiple images to make panoramic photos.) New on the D-520 is a Dual-Subject Portrait mode, which focus and expose accurately when photographing two or more people. (A camera’s autofocus and exposure systems can have trouble when two or more people are in a shot, because the off-center subjects are outside the normal metering and autofocus areas.) Another new feature is the “2 in 1” capture mode, which records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side as one image, giving a split-screen effect. (I have to confess that I don’t know why this feature is included, as I can’t imagine using it in my own photography.) Finally, you can transform your full color images into sepia-toned or black-and-white pictures through an option available on the camera’s Playback menu.
The D-520 stores images on a 3.3v SmartMedia card. The camera ships with a 16MB card, and larger cards are available in sizes as large as 128MB. I strongly suggest buying a larger card, at least 32MB, so you don’t miss any important shots. Memory cards are cheap enough these days that there’s no reason to skimp on storage space.
The camera comes with a set of two single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as the CR-V3 lithium-ion battery pack (sold as an accessory). Olympus has made real strides with power consumption on their cameras, but as always, I still highly recommend picking up couple of sets of rechargeable batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. The optional AC adapter is handy for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer, although having high-capacity rechargeable batteries largely eliminates the need for it. Also included with the D-520 is an NTSC video cable (US and Japanese models, European units presumably ship with a PAL cable) for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for downloading images to a computer.
- 2.0-megapixel CCD.
- Optical viewfinder.
- 1.5-inch color LCD display.
- 3x, 5-15mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- 3x Digital zoom.
- Automatic exposure control.
- Auto ISO range from 80-200.
- Built-in, pop-up flash.
- SmartMedia memory card storage.
- Power supplied by two AA batteries (alkaline cells included) or optional AC adapter.
- Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows.