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Olympus has stuck with the same boxy, mini-SLR design of its 3-megapixel C-3040 Zoom. The C-4040 Zoom isn't as sleek or compact as the upcoming 4-megapixel D-40 model, but this 14.9-ounce camera feels solid and comfortable in your hand.
We had no complaints about the C-4040 Zoom's ergonomics, but we were a little disappointed with the camera's LCD, which offers acceptable performance but has a few glitches. Not only did it update jerkily during motion capture and when we were changing subjects, but it also displayed interference when we were shooting very bright scenes.
The camera's streamlined menu system is definitely an improvement over those found on earlier Olympus high-end models, but it's still a little too much work to change image-quality settings; switch among Manual, Aperture-Priority, and Shutter-Priority modes; and use the self-timer. You can set up a shortcut to a menu item that you frequently access so that you can, for example, press a button and go directly to the resolution menu. However, that's just one shortcut.
While it sometimes takes a little digging to get to the camera's more advanced features, the C-4040 Zoom offers the wide range of features, including custom white balance and red/blue white-balance compensation, flash exposure compensation, spot and matrix metering, and automatic exposure bracketing. There's also a two-frame-per-second Burst mode, as well as a Movie mode that allows you to capture (at the highest-quality setting) up to 30 seconds' worth of low-resolution (320x240 pixels) QuickTime video on the included 16MB SmartMedia memory card.
Once you shoot your pictures, you'll have no trouble transferring them to your PC or Mac. That's because the C-4040 Zoom connects to your computer via a USB cable and appears on your system as a removable storage device. Camedia Master software (for image management and QuickTime playback) and Adobe Photoshop LE are included.
With the exception of the amount of time it takes to write high-resolution uncompressed TIFF files--which is really no surprise--the battery-powered (using either AA or the two included long-lasting, nonrechargeable CR-V3 lithium cells) C-4040 Zoom compares favorably performance-wise to other cameras in this class, with no noticeable shutter lag. It also offers good, though not exceptional, image quality.
Because it sports a fast--or, as Olympus calls it, Super Bright--f-1.8 lens, the C-4040 Zoom can take usable pictures under a wide variety of lighting conditions. Its images are never fantastic, but they are sharp, fairly color-accurate, and free of curvature from lens distortion, with good detail in the shadow areas. You'll see a bit of noise if you scrutinize your shots, but you won't find egregious levels of it, and you'll find purple fringing only in pictures with strong contrasts or backlighting.
The camera does have a tendency to slightly overexpose images, with blown-out highlights and blooming that causes the bright areas to bleed into dark ones. During testing, we ended up shooting many of our photos underexposed by one stop to compensate. Another gripe: the flash produces harsh light and hot spots.