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Old Aug 30, 2002, 11:55 PM   #1
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Default Help me decide - Olympus C4000z or C300z?

I've been wanting to buy a digital camera for the last couple of years but for one reason or another haven't got around to it until now. About a month ago, I decided that the time was right so I started to do a little research.

My first experience with digicams came about 2 1/2 yrs ago when I got to use one belonging to a friend on a number of occasions - an Agfa 1.3mp with a fixed focal length lens of circa 1998 vintage.

What I liked most was the instant gratification of seeing the results immediately, of being able to delete unsatisfactory shots, the ability to download straight to my PC and, perhaps most of all, of being able to do a slide show on my TV (much better than albums or boxes of old photos when entertaining a group of friends).

However, I wanted something better than my friend's camera. Since I edit a magazine in my spare time and need the ability to publish up to A4 size photos at 300dpi, 1.3mp wasn't going to cut the mustard. At that time 3mp was the maximum resolution available in point'n'shoot or prosumer models but price was a problem - a) because I didn't want to spend 600 ($1,000) plus; b) because I just plain resented the fact that in the UK digital cameras were released six months later than in the USA and cost 60% more yet came with an inferior spec (i.e., 8mb memory card in the US version, 4mb in the UK version).

Thankfully, this situation has largely changed for the better since then. Prices have dropped generally, the differential still exists but is now usually 20% or under, specs are the same and release dates are much closer together.

When I started considering which camera to buy, I felt that a 2mp model would suffice since I was intending to use it to provide images for a website that I am planning to launch. With this aim in mind, I examined a wide range of models (using Steve's brilliant reviews) and settled on the Canon Powershot A40. I then compared prices between four online retailers and a national high street discount chain. The price differential was a staggering 33% between the high street (300) and the cheapest online source (200)!

Then I hit a snag - all the online retailers were out of stock of the A40! Since I need the camera immediately, I had to re-examine my options. I could either a) buy another equivalent model, spending at least 50 more, or b) go the whole hog and buy a 3 or 4mp camera that I could also use for the magazine.

Given that I have always taken a long term view over important purchases, I have always ended up spending far more money than I thought was wise at the time but have never had cause to regret that decision in the long run. I, therefore, chose option b) - the 3 and 4mp cameras.

The first thing that caught my eye was a 699 bundle offer on a Fuji Finepix S602 + 340mb IBM Microdrive and various other stuff. I like the S602 because it looks like a "real" camera. I had no intention of spending 700 but decided to use it as a hypothetical upper limit for a camera + 128mb card package anyway.

With the net cast this wide, my original list ran to 45 models from 13 different manufacturers. By eliminating all models over 12 months old, those that use something other than SmartMedia or Compact Flash memory and standard AA format batteries, and - finally - that came in at over 500, the list was whittled down to five candidates. Further comparison based on quality/price criteria (and my own personal preferences) left just three - a) the Minolta S404; b) the Olympus C300z (D550z in the USA); c) the Olympus C4000z.

The camera that I was most impressed with (based on Steve's glowing review) was the Olympus C4040z - in an ideal world it would be my no.1 choice. Unfortunately, he hasn't posted one for the C4000z but, from what I understand, the substantial difference between the two lies in the memory buffer which allows the C4040z to take a number of shots in quick succession - a facility that I've had but have never used in 20yrs with film SLRs. If this is the case (and all other functions remain the same), then the C4000z will do fine given that the C4040z is out of my price range. (Besides, 150 extra seems a lot of money to pay for 32mb of DRAM and a rubber ring around the lens base.)

The S404 is a close second choice but since it costs 40 more than the C4000z I've more or less discarded it. The C300z, on the other hand, is 140 cheaper but comes with a 3mp CCD and offers fewer functions (not necessarily a bad thing, though).

So where do I go now? Money is a serious consideration and at just under 310, including a 128mb card and delivery costs, the C300z gives me everything that I realistically need for only 50 more than I would have spent on the Canon Powershot A40.

On the other hand the C4000z is, to use an English phrase, the dog's bollocks in it's price point. Not only does it offer me extra margins in terms of image size for printing but it has more functions than I will ever use (meaning that I won't need to consider buying another digital camera for many years). However, it will cost me 450.

Do I follow my heart (C4000z) or my head (C300z)? The former is almost certainly overkill for my needs but if I go for the latter will I be left with the nagging feeling of having had to settle for second best?

Help!
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Old Aug 31, 2002, 2:00 AM   #2
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The C4040 has a f1.8 lens; the C4000 has a f2.8 lens. If you ever intend to use an accessory flash, go with the C4000; if you don't intend to, consider the C3020 for less than the C4000.
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Old Aug 31, 2002, 2:11 AM   #3
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I just bought my camera 3 weeks ago, so I do have some thoughts. Never mind leading with your head or your heart, you seem to be leading with your wallet rather than leading with your creative needs.

As a fellow 20 year SLR veteran, I think you'll be disappointed with cameras that don't have a TTL (Through The Lens) viewfinder. Yes there is the monitor on the back of both, but in bright sunlight it does get washed out, and the plain viewfinders never show you the same line of sight that the lens does. Especially if you're planning to use it to shoot pictures for a magazine, you should make sure you're shooting what you're seeing. Also the electronic viewfinder displays all the shooting information the monitor would (shutter speed, f-stop, etc.).

My own choice was the C-700UZ (discontinued, yes I just bought it 3 weeks ago). It has a TTL electronic viewfinder, all the manual overrides (white balance, focusing, both manual features missing on the current 720). It's 2 megapixel, but it's good enough for 8x10 (anything more is wasted memory space on the camera). You may find the 700 for less money as stores want to get rid of them.

You may want to wait and take a look at the C-730UZ coming out soon, 3 megapixel, 10x optical zoom, and some of the manual features are back that were missing on the C-720.

This is only my opinion, but as an SLR user I know I'd be unhappy with a camera that only had a straight through viewfinder.


Just to add to your comment on batteries, I hate to burst your bubble but although these cameras use regular AA batteries, it's not recommended to use them, even alkaline...these cameras EAT batteries! The first few days I owned the camera I tried alkalines, went through a set of 4 in a few hours. The recommended batteries for digital cameras are NiMh rechargeables, 1600mAh and higher (1800 or higher is better). There are also non-rechargeable lithium batteries you can buy for emergencies, but they are expensive.
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Old Aug 31, 2002, 11:31 PM   #4
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Thanks for the replies, Skiola and Mike.

Skiola - In England the C3020 actually costs 35 ($50) more than the C4000 and yes, I would like the option of an accessory flash.

Mike - Firstly, with regard to the batteries, I used the term "AA format" meaning that I could use NiMHs instead of some sort of expensive and not commonly available proprietry battery pack. I found out all about LCDs and battery consumption over ten years ago when I bought my daughter a Sega Game Gear - that thing ate 4 Duracell AAs in little more than a couple of hours!

Secondly, on the whole, my camera is mostly used for four types of photos - portraits, group shots, individual buildings and panoramas/skylines, split roughly 70% indoor/30% outdoor.

SLRs mostly come out of the box with 50mm lenses - a compromise solution which I have always found practically useless. Many many moons ago I bought a Chinon SLR and supplemented it with a Pentax 28mm wide angle and a 70-105mm zoom. I put the 28mm on it more or less on day one and haven't taken it off since.

It allows me to get nicely up close and fill my images with beautifully detailed shots of the subject instead of having to stand so far back that all I end up with is either a lot of extraneous foreground and background and an unrecognisable subject lost in the distance or a close up of half a building/half a person/half people on the ends of groups. Furthermore, all without any barrel distortion even on city skylines.

I mention the above to illustrate my "creative needs". My ideal digicam would start with an equivalent lens. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a sub-professional level digital camera with switchable lenses (is there?) but the closest thing to my Pentax 28mm wide angle on a digicam is the C4000's 6.5-19.5mm 3x zoom (32-96mm equivalent). I don't see that I would use the C700UZ series' long lense capabilities.

I take your point on the advantages of EVFs over optical viewfinders, though, and on manual overrides.
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Old Sep 1, 2002, 3:08 AM   #5
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I was trying in my message to try and guess your specific needs...I used to sell higher end graphics computers, and I always looked at a person's needs to see if what they *think* they want would fufill them. When you mentioned SLRs, and the magazine, I thought 38-380mm lens of the C700 would be a good asset for it.

If you're happy with the ones you narrowed the list to, good...but one thing, I hope you have at least tried them first. I never bothered with them as I'm very much prejudiced against non-TTL viewfinders.

p.s. A little tip, on many of these cameras (C-series anyway) you can add a filter tube so you can put on standard UV and polarizing filters...you can also add other lenses like specialized teleconverters and closeup converters. I once saw a site where someone has added a lens to make the 380mm C-2100UZ into a 1900mm.
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Old Sep 1, 2002, 4:04 AM   #6
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Mr Mole,
Having a 3040 as one of my cams, your mention of the 4040 vs 4000 as only differience being the 32 meg buffer. The f1.8 lens being a major difference over the 4000 f2.8 lens. I use my 3040 for low light/indoor shooting. another megapixcel means bigger not better pics. If I was buying today I would not think twice about the 3040 vs the 4000.
Gary
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Old Sep 1, 2002, 4:06 PM   #7
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MIKE - For 14 yrs I lived in Italy, a country with a lot of mountains. In the winter they are usually covered with snow and on sunny days make a beautiful backdrop. I can clearly see the attraction of using a long lens in that sort of scenario.

However, most of the time I find myself in situations where the problem is one of getting far enough away from the subject rather than close to it. For instance, if I am trying to frame a group of 8-10 people in a small room.

In that sort of scenario the width of the field of vision is everything (wedding photographers and real estate agents will know what I mean) and the longer the lens, the narrower the field of vision.

I have always thought it a little absurd that the latest and most sophisticated $1,000-plus digital cameras come with the sort of viewfinder that you'd find on a thirty year old Kodak Instamatic. However, if the lens is a big part of camera choice (as it is with a digicam since you can't change it) and an EVF is not an option on the chosen model then what do you do?

Since most of my photography deals with static subjects, I guess I'll have to make use of the LCD a good deal of the time and always make sure that I have a couple of fully-charged spare battery sets in my kit bag.

GARY - When I wrote that Steve's reviews were brilliant, I did so to state an objective fact not to grovel. Since he hasn't put up a review of the C4000z and since I can't find a decent one anywhere else on the net, I was lacking the necessary information to do a proper comparison with the C4040z (or C3040z).

Secondly, as regards CCD size, I know that bigger doesn't mean better. But it depends on what you want to do with the images once you've got them.

If you're going to keep them on your computer or put them on the Web, then a 1.3mp would probably do - even a 2mp camera would be overkill. If you intend to print them out at home on photo paper, then 2mp is acceptable even for A4 or 9x6. However, if you need to submit them for commercial printing then CCD-wise, the bigger the better.

The problem lies in the fact that digital cameras store images at 72dpi, which is the format for PC monitors. Print agencies and commercial digital print services, on the other hand, use a 300dpi standard. At this resolution, 3mp is only enough for 7x5 inch prints whilst A4 (roughly 9x12.5) requires close to 9mp.

There are several applications around which promise to enlarge digital images without penalties to image quality but the bottom line is that it's better to have the pixels in the first place than to guess what they might be if they existed (which is effectively what these programs do). My own personal experience is that Photoshop's own "resize" algorythm is probably the best there is and gives excellent results - but only for a 2x enlargement. Above that, the bigger you go the more of a fuzzy or pixelated result you get - regardless of what software you're using.
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Old Sep 1, 2002, 7:38 PM   #8
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Mr Mole,

Secondly, as regards CCD size, I know that bigger doesn't mean better. But it depends on what you want to do with the images once you've got them

Guy your above statement does not really come into play.

3040
1/1.8 inch CCD solid-state image pickup 3.34 million pixel (effective 3.24 million pixel) Lens Olympus lens 7.1 21.3 mm f1.8-2.6, 10 elements in 7 groups
(Equivalent to 35 - 105 mm lens on 35 mm camera)

4000
CCD Imager 4.0 Megapixel Effective
4.1 Megapixel
Size (in inch) 1/1.8 (.55) CCD Lens Olympus aspherical glass 3x zoom lens 6.5 - 19.5mm (32-96mm equivalent in 35mm photography) Seamless Digital Zoom 10X (3x optical and 3.3x digital combined) Aperture Range F2.8 F11
Gary
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Old Sep 2, 2002, 11:34 AM   #9
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I am a C4000 user, so consider the bias...

The C3040 will have a better lens. The C3040 has a larger buffer for quicker shots. Unless your heavily into low light and/or action photos, the lens doesn't give you much. Unless you are taking a lot of quick shots, the buffer doesn't come into play either.

The 4000 has a closer macro feature. In supermacro mode, the focal length is fixed and the internal flash is turned off. Unless you really like Macro photography, you won't use the feature.

Some people have said the menu system on the c4000 is better (more intuitive).

Battery life should not be an issue. I use mine underwater and get about two hours using continuous autofocus and LCD on using NiMH AA's.

3 Mpixel .v.s 4 Mpixel? I like the ability to not worry too much about getting things framed. I can crop a bit an still get good resolution. Real useful underwater since the fish move. Either resolution will be fine except for really large enlargements.

The LCD frames the scene just fine. At close range, the viewfider has parallax just like most cameras. No big deal.

Either camera will suit you just fine.
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