The camera’s 2.8x, 5.8-16.2mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-100mm lens on a 35mm camera) offers maximum apertures from f/2.9 to f/4.4, depending on the zoom setting, and a normal focal range from 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) to infinity. A Macro shooting mode focuses from eight to 31 inches (20 to 80 centimeters) for small or close-up subjects. The D-550 Zoom employs an efficient contrast-detection autofocus system, but also offers an Infinity fixed-focus mode for faster shots of distant subjects. Opening the lens cover triggers the lens to extend from the camera body, automatically placing the camera into Record mode. In addition to the 2.8x optical zoom, the D-550 Zoom’s 3.6x Digital Zoom function lets you “zoom” in even closer, though it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD and thus results in lower image quality. The 3.0-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for printing to 8×10 inches with excellent detail, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5×7- and 4×6-inch snapshots.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-550 Zoom is a midrange digicam, sporting a 3.0-megapixel CCD and a true optical zoom lens that ranges from a moderate wide angle to a moderate telephoto. It has a fully automatic exposure system, but also provides the user with useful overrides for exposure, white balance, and ISO (light sensitivity), as well as adjustments for contrast and image sharpness. Like other recent Olympus cameras, the D-550 Zoom has Olympus’ AutoConnect USB technology, which means you can plug it into late-model computers (Windows Me, XP, and 2000, Mac OS 8.6 or later) without having to load any driver software first. This automatic USB connection (quickly becoming a standard in the industry) means you can walk up to virtually any computer and immediately download and view your images. This looks like another great extension to Oly’s line of compact digicams.
Sporting a similar design to previous Olympus D-series digicams, the D-550 Zoom offers a 2.8x optical zoom and a 3.0-megapixel CCD for flexible framing and high resolution images. The D-550 Zoom is trim and compact, about the same size as previous D-series models. It’s a little large for an average shirt pocket, but most purses and coat pockets should hold it with ease. The sliding “clamshell” lens cover maintains the camera’s smooth front profile, so it won’t catch on anything when you whip it out of a camera bag or purse. The included wrist strap provides added security in precarious shooting positions, but I’d still recommend picking up a soft case to protect the camera when not in use. An all-plastic body keeps the D-550 Zoom light weight and portable, yet feels plenty solid in the hand, and looks rugged enough to withstand some wear and tear.
Like the rest of Olympus’ D-series digicams, exposure control on the D-550 Zoom is uncomplicated and straightforward, as the camera operates under automatic exposure at all times. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system. An initial shortcut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, which accesses the camera’s Metering, Image Size, and Exposure Compensation options instantly, or you can enter the main Record menu to access less frequently used functions. The camera automatically determines aperture and shutter speed, 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), ISO (light sensitivity), and Flash modes are all adjustable. The ISO setting has an Auto adjustment mode, or you can manually set it to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents. You can also adjust the overall sharpness and contrast of an image. The D-550 Zoom’s built-in flash pops up automatically whenever the lens cover is opened, and is effective to approximately 11.2 feet (3.4 meters). In addition to the standard flash modes, the D-550 Zoom also includes a Red-Eye setting that reduces the occurrence of red-eye in portraits.
A new feature on the D-550 Zoom is the “Virtual Mode Dial,” which accesses a range of preset shooting modes. The left arrow in the Four-Way Arrow pad enables the dial, which is actually an LCD display of the available scene modes. The right and left arrow keys scroll through the modes, enabling the “dial.” Program Auto is the default setting, but Portrait, Landscape Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Self Portrait, and Movie modes are also available. Each mode configures the camera for specific shooting situations, making it easy for novices to get good results when shooting tricky subjects or dealing with difficult lighting. Night Scene mode helps with low light shooting, by extending the maximum shutter time to two seconds, rather than the 1/2 second limit in normal shooting mode. Portrait mode focuses attention on your subject by using a large lens aperture to blur the background slightly, while Landscape Portrait gets both the subject and the background in sharp focus, great for portraits in front of scenery. Self Portrait mode is new and quite interesting, as it lets you point the camera at yourself (in-hand) and automatically fixes focus on you. The lens remains locked at the wide-angle setting so that you get a sharply-focused portrait. Finally, Movie mode records moving images (without sound) for as long as the memory card has available space.
Other camera features include a Self-Timer mode, which provides a 12-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the image is actually captured. Similar to a motor-drive on a 35mm camera, the Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images in rapid sequence while the Shutter button is held down, with the actual number of images dependent on the size and quality settings, as well as the amount of memory card space. An AF Continuous Shooting mode also captures a rapid series, but adjusts focus for each shot, resulting in a somewhat longer interval between shots. The “2 in 1” photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side as one image, giving a split-screen effect. As with many Olympus cameras, a panorama mode is available when using Olympus-branded SmartMedia storage cards, recording as many as 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image on your PC or Mac, using Olympus’ Camedia software. Finally, you can transform your full color images to sepia tone or black-and-white pictures through an option on the camera’s Playback menu.
The D-550 Zoom stores images on a 3.3v SmartMedia card, with a 16MB card included in the box with the camera. SmartMedia cards are available as in sizes as large as 128MB, and I suggest buying at least a 64MB (or larger) card so you don’t miss any important shots. A CD-ROM loaded with Camedia Master 4.0 accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Camedia Master provides minor image editing tools, as well as utilities for organizing images, and the aforementioned panorama-stitching capability. The camera comes with a set of four single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as two CR-V3 lithium-ion battery packs (sold as accessories). As always, I stronglyrecommend picking up a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. An optional AC adapter is recommended for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer, but good-quality rechargeable batteries really eliminate the need for it. Also included with the D-550 Zoom is an NTSC video cable (US and Japanese models) for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for downloading images to a computer.