Almost any type of photographer will find something to like about Olympus's affordable Camedia C-4000 Zoom. Easy to use in either automatic or semiautomatic modes, the camera features some nice touches that make operation quick and efficient, such as the ability to save up to four custom setting groups and two menu shortcuts. Its f/2.8, 3X zoom lens and 4-megapixel CCD work together to give you crisp prints up to 11x14. While the C-4000 won't tuck into a shirt pocket, it feels comfortable in the hand and light enough to tote far afield. Our only qualm is the camera's use of SmartMedia, a removable memory type with waning support and smaller capacities than competitors such as CompactFlash. Despite the C-4000's myriad complex features, the camera's many shortcuts and program modes will allow novices to master and enjoy its use. Like other models in Olympus's C series, the C-4000 has a silver-and-gray plastic body with a generous grip that makes single-handed shooting a breeze. Though hardly a compact camera, the C-4000 is sufficiently svelte to be tucked into a jacket pocket, and at a little less than a pound with batteries and media installed, it won't throw off your balance.
The C-4000 uses fairly conventional external navigation. A large, knurled dial atop the camera body powers the unit on and off and lets users select from among the camera's shooting and playback modes. Five smaller buttons control the flash, metering modes, macro, display, and other settings.
We like the C-4000's controls and tabbed menus, though at first look, the menus are a bit daunting. On closer inspection, however, you'll see that they tailor themselves to what the camera is doing. In each operating mode, the opening menu screen offers quick entries into frequently used parts of the main menu, providing easy access to exposure modes, image-quality settings, white-balance adjustments, and the complete main menu itself. The C-4000's lens should handle most typical shooting situations. It provides the 35mm camera equivalent of a 32mm-to-96mm zoom, with aperture sizes ranging from f/2.8 to f/11. The camera's digital zoom provides another 3.3X boost, yielding a combined 10X zoom. In standard macro mode, the lens can focus down to 7.8 inches, but the camera also provides a Super Macro mode, which brings its minimum focus distance to just under an inch. You can't zoom in Super Macro, however; you have to frame the picture by moving the camera relative to the subject.
Though it can operate as a fully automatic camera with six preset scene modes and a video-capture option, the C-4000 offers features designed to appeal to more sophisticated photographers, too. It provides aperture- and shutter-priority modes as well as manual operation. Both aperture and shutter speed are displayed on the LCD, in white numerals for properly exposed shots and red for incorrect exposures. More advanced users will also appreciate its automatic exposure bracketing, its two-stop flash compensation, and a histogram that shows the distribution of pixels across the range of brightness in preview or playback mode. There are a variety of metering methods to choose from, as well as selectable spot focusing.
If you're really detail oriented, you'll like the ability to save up to four sets of customized parameters that include settings such as exposure mode, image resolution, flash settings, ISO rating, and white balance. Because setting up a complex configuration can sometimes take more than a minute, these can help you capture a fleeting shot you might otherwise miss.
In-camera editing and resampling tools, combined with DPOF print-ordering capabilities and EXIF Print support, round out the camera's flexible feature set. Olympus also sells macro, 0.8X wide-angle, and 1.45X telephoto lens converters for the C-4000. And there's an external TTL flash available, the FL-40, which extends the camera's working flash range to about 30 feet. For even more firepower, you can sync the camera with a studio strobe.
If you're really detail oriented, you'll like the ability to save up to four sets of customized parameters that include settings such as exposure mode, image resolution, flash settings, ISO rating, and white balance. Because setting up a complex configuration can sometimes take more than a minute, these can help you capture a fleeting shot you might otherwise miss. The C-4000 offers efficient but only moderately speedy operation. Powering up the camera takes about five seconds, and there's a shutter lag of approximately one second. Zooming the lens through its complete optical range takes only two seconds. But shot-to-shot time at the highest-resolution JPEG setting isn't especially fast, ranging between four and eight seconds with the flash, depending on the compression level and battery strength. In continuous shooting mode we captured 11 images at 2,288x1,712-pixel resolution at the HQ compression level (JPEG images of about 680KB each) before the camera paused for a media write. Decreasing the compression, however, reduced that to three shots.
True to its lineage, the C-4000 offers uncompressed TIFF output and is able to store one TIFF on the included 16MB SmartMedia card. In its best native-resolution JPEG mode (SHQ at 2,288x1,712 pixels), the card holds five images. The moral of the story: Buy a bigger card when you get the camera. Unfortunately, SmartMedia capacity maxes out at 128MB and isn't likely to grow any larger. Olympus and other former supporters are slowly phasing out SmartMedia in favor of the new xD-Picture Card. That could be a major drawback if you're making a long-term investment.
On the other hand, you have a wide range of battery-type choices when it comes to powering the camera. We shot more than 170 images and several video clips with the C-4000 on one set of CR-V3 batteries. If you plan to shoot in a studio or edit images with the C-4000, though, we recommend buying the AC adapter or at least picking up some rechargeable AAs.
Transferring images between the camera and PC is very fast with the supplied USB cable and Olympus's driver-free Auto-Connect system. Windows Explorer automatically recognizes the camera as a removable drive, letting you move images easily from camera to hard disk.
All in all, most users should be quite content with the image quality they'll get from the C-4000. It registers shadow detail very well--no muddy shadows here. And the camera's automatic white balance does a fairly good job of compensating for the color temperature of ambient light, though in some of our images, reds tended to shift toward orange.
Like most zoom lenses, the C-4000's exhibits some distortion at its widest angle. The camera also produces a bit of the purple fringing indicative of chromatic aberration, which usually turns up in shots of dark objects against very bright backgrounds and afflicts virtually every consumer-grade digital camera to some degree. In the case of the C-4000, these problems are relatively minor and shouldn't interfere noticeably with your shots.
Unlike less powerful flashes, the C-4000's built-in flash does not cause pictures to grow dimmer at the corners or edges. If anything, it's sometimes too powerful. So we appreciate its ability to fine-tune flash output, as it occasionally overwhelms highlights in close-ups. One thing lacking on the C-4000 and on other Camedia models is an autofocus illuminator. In very low-light, low-contrast situations, it occasionally had problems getting a sharp image.