Olympus focuses on value

The Olympus D-460 Zoom camera is a compact, instamatic-style point-and-shoot camera, placing it squarely in the low end of digital camera types. Unlike many such cameras, however, the D-460 offers high-quality images at 1,280-by-960, 1.3 megapixel resolution.

The 3X power zoom lens gives the D-460 the equivalent of a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. It retracts into the camera for protection when the camera is turned off. The protective slide that covers the lens serves as the D-460's on/off switch.

The flash has five modes: automatic, red-eye reducing, fill-in, slow shutter synchronization, and a combined red-eye reducing/slow shutter synchronization mode. The automatic, anti-red eye and fill flash modes are self-explanatory, but the latter modes could use some elaboration. The slow shutter speed synchronization mode is for taking pictures in poor light using a tripod. The flash will fire during the first half of the shutter exposure, leaving the ambient light to fill in the details. The combined red-eye reduction/slow shutter mode fires the anti-red-eye series of flashes before firing the main flash during the first half of a shutter exposure.

Shooting pictures in dim light would have been crazy with earlier digital cameras, which had the light sensitivity of slow 100 ASA film. That is great for taking pictures at the beach, but it's not so good for darker locations. The D-460 offers sensitivity settings equivalent to 125, 250 and 500 ASA, enabling it to shoot with fairly quick shutter speeds in dim situations.

The D-460's white balance looked good when set to automatic, but for better results under different conditions, Olympus provides quick settings for incandescent and fluorescent indoor lighting and for sunny and cloudy outdoor lighting. This avoids the excessive blueness that's seen in the outdoor pictures taken on a sunny day with Epson America Inc.'s PhotoPC 850Z.

One particularly unique feature of the D-460 is a true panoramic mode. Many cameras offer a panoramic mode that simply crops the top and bottom off pictures, creating a wide image. But that doesn't expand the width of the picture. The Olympus does. It lets users assemble multiple pictures by projecting lines on the display showing which parts of the sides of a photo need to line up with sides of the photo that will be mated to it. The camera can connect as many as 10 pictures together to create a panorama.

Another unique feature is the ability of the D-460 to shoot and store uncompressed TIFF images when the user can tolerate absolutely no degradation from compression. The standard 8M memory card holds only two pictures in this mode, but users can add capacity by downloading the pictures frequently to a portable computer or they can buy a 64M card that will hold 16 uncompressed images.

Using standard JPEG compression, the 8M card holds 18 images of 1,280 pixel-by-960 pixel resolution with minimum compression and as many as 122 images with 640 pixel-by-480 pixel resolution with standard compression.

The D-460 has 10 buttons on the back and has a poor interface for using them. Three of the buttons serve double duty, performing different tasks depending on what mode the camera is in. The others switch the display on and off, call up the menu, enter selections or navigate through the menu. Even navigation through the menu isn't as simple as it should be because to select settings — such as the uncompressed TIFF photo mode — requires the user to hold the arrow button to that selection for a couple seconds, rather than simply point at it.

This is unnecessarily difficult, but the worst useability failure on this camera is the switch that controls the zoom lens. There is a small toggle mounted near the shutter release button that seems to have a fairly obvious function: Press it forward to zoom in — simulating moving forward — or pull back to zoom out. Alas, that isn't how it works. Instead, the user must press forward to zoom out and pull back to get closer. It is the most inexplicable ergonomic flaw in any product I have reviewed.

The D-460 relies on an old, slow serial connection to download pictures to a PC. For presentation purposes, the D-460 also features an NTSC TV output port and cable, so the camera can display images on a television.

Olympus supplies Camedia Master 1.2 software with the D-460, which unifies photo importation and editing into one program. It works easily in both roles, though some users may prefer to use an editing program they already have, such as Adobe Systems Inc.'s PhotoShop.

The Olympus D-460 isn't the easiest digital camera to use, nor does it offer the most features or highest resolutions. But the D-460 does offer a lot of value per dollar.


Olympus D-460 Zoom

Score: B+

Olympus America Inc.

(631) 844-5000


Pricing and availability: Street price is $308.

Remarks: For a small, inexpensive digital camera, the Olympus D-460 takesnice, high-resolution shots. The white balance is particularly good andis easy to customize. A slow serial connection and a goofy backwards controlfor the zoom lens are the only real complaints.

BY Daniel F. Carney
November 08, 2000

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