This post began as a second impressions review of the 2001 4MP Olympus Camedia C4040 Zoom I recently bought.
But what evolved, was a wider exploration of how all cameras are flawed in some way, and how we choose to embrace those flaws can ultimately result in the camera being far more endearing than a hi-spec auto-everything wonder camera that also makes us a cup of tea and massages our feet as it churns out clinically perfect image after clinically perfect image.
The first question in my original experiment was to ask whether a 17 year old 4MP digital camera was of any use in 2018.
For the Olympus, in short, the answer’s emphatically yes, it still delivers very pleasing pictures.
In my initial testing though, I found the C4040 had many quirks.
Some were mildly annoying, others potentially a complete deal-breaker as to whether I would bother picking the camera up again, or simply drop it in to the nearest charity shop.
Having spent more time with the Olympus now, I wanted to write about how its imperfections somehow add up to an endearing awkwardness that suggest I might be returning to the camera time and time again.
Which, yes, got me thinking more widely about this balance between simple and complex, and how some cameras can be just as unappealing for their over-automation and simplicity, as others are for their intimidating complexity.
And for each of us, our definition of what makes a camera enjoyable and worth using is unlikely to be at the extremely simple or unnervingly complex ends of this spectrum. But at a sweet idyll in between.
Here then are the “flaws” of the C4040 and how I’ve eliminated or overcome each of them.
Whilst some are camera specific, many, if not all, apply to using many classic digital cameras.
Problem 1. It’s noisy and slow on start up. This is mostly the sound of the lens extending from its flush dormant position, and even once that’s happened, and then the top LCD display appears, there’s a further couple of seconds delay before the screen comes on and the camera is ready, some seven seconds after switch on.
No problem. I switch it on once when I start my photowalk, and then leave it on. The screen and top LCD go to sleep (silently) after maybe five minutes to save battery, but a squeeze of the shutter button brings it back to life (almost silently, there’s a tiny whirr) in a moment. At the end of the photowalk I switch it off fully.
Problem 2. It’s bulky for a compact. In fact it’s not that compact, certainly not in the trouser pocket class of the tiny Sony L1 or even my Ricohs.
No problem. I never actually carry cameras in my pocket (or really anything else), and virtually always have a small (man)bag with me for keys, wallet, phone, water and a snack. I mostly keep compact cameras in my hand, with a wrist strap when I’m using them, and in the bag when I’m not. The Olympus is fine on my wrist, and when I’m carrying it for slightly longer periods without taking pictures, I hold it comfortably around the lens. The hand grip is really good when shooting, and unlike some compacts, there’s plenty of space for your thumb to rest firmly without inadvertently pressing buttons. Plus it’s actually only 450g with batteries and strap – only 200g more than my Pentax Q or Ricohs, and nothing like the 1.1KG of my Pentax K10D DSLR.
Problem 3. The screen is small and hard to see in bright light.
No problem. At 1.8″ yes the screen is smaller than the 3″ of some of my compacts, but it’s big enough to compose and judge exposure with, especially as there is little clutter in the way of icons and numbers on screen like many cameras. Plus as mentioned before, a smaller screen gives more room for your thumb on the rear panel. Every one of my digital compacts (including my phone) are difficult to see in bright light, you just have to try to shield them from the sun.
Problem 4. It tends to over expose, especially in lower light.
No problem. After a little trial and error I found that setting the exposure comp (the +/- buttons are directly on camera back, no need for menu delving) at -0.7 works very well as a base point, then occasionally I might dip down to -1.0, using the screen to judge. With my Ricohs I always use -0.3 a starting point as nearly all small sensor cameras are more prone to overexposing (clipping) highlights, so I’m well used to this.
Problem 5. The AutoFocus (AF) hunts in low light.
No problem. Sometimes there is no fix, it simply won’t lock focus. Then I have the option to switch to manual focus (slow, but deliberate, and at least it’s an option) or find a different composition with more light. Today, from around 50 photographs, I only recall one occasion where I had to walk away. Not really an issue at all.
Problem 6. It doesn’t display what focal length you’re at, and there’s no step zoom.
No problem. For most people this is a non-issue, they just stand and zoom until the composition is right then fire the shutter. This is not how I zoom though. I just like to know, and be at a familiar focal length, not 39mm or 74mm. With my Ricoh GX100 you can turn on step zoom and then shoot at 24, 28, 35, 50 or 72mm, and it tells you on screen. I realised with the C4040 there’s a Custom memory where to can choose how pretty much everything is set up when you turn on the camera. In this you can set the focus at 35, 55, 80 or 105mm. I’ve set mine to 80mm and I’m loving the extra reach and potential for shallow depth of field this gives. So now I never need to touch the zoom controls, or wonder what focal length I’m at.
Problem 7. The ISO only goes up to 400. I often shoot my Pentax Q at ISO800, so this plus the 47/1.9 lens gives plenty of scope for low light. Similarly my Ricoh GRD III has an f/1.9 lens and I use that almost exclusively at ISO400. The Olympus’s max aperture at 80mm is f/2.3.
No problem. When I used to shoot film, my favourite emulsion was Fuji Superia 100. I got used to this ISO. Same with my Pentax K10D DLSR, ISO100 is the native ISO of the sensor, and where I’ve shot 95% of photos. With the Olympus, after experiments at ISO100, 200 and 400, I liked the images best at ISO100. So that’s what I use. For lower light I hold my breath and lean on something, or change the composition. Some shots have come out blurred, but I still take plenty in dimly lit churches with no problems, and in daylight this is a complete non-issue.
Problem 8. The memory all resets when the batteries are removed for a long period. Meaning all those carefully set up features all default back to the factory, er, defaults, and you have to go through them all again in the Custom memory.
No problem. In fact this is only an issue if you leave the batteries out for a while. I use rechargeable AAs, and when they ran down, I removed them to charge them. When I put them back in maybe six hours later, everything had reset. So I reprogrammed everything in the Custom memory (which only actually took about two minutes), then removed the batteries again and quickly replaced them. Everything was still remembered. So the solution is to either carry a spare set of rechargeables (I have some somewhere in some child’s toy or other!) or a set of regular AAs just to keep in the camera while the others are charging. Which is what I do with all digital compacts, have a spare battery or two that’s charged.
Problem 9. The close focus of 0.2m at 35mm is not close enough. I’m used to much closer, up to 0.01m with my Ricohs.
No problem. As I mentioned in the previous post about the C4040, somehow it makes more sense to use it at 80mm. And of course the camera remembers this focal length if you put it in the Custom memory, so you never need to touch the zoom control. At 80mm you gain a greater depth of field, plus that extra reach means 0.2m is plenty close enough for all but the most intimate shots.
Problem 10. It’s only 4MP, it can’t be any good.
No problem. I love what the C4040 can do set to ISO100, 80mm, HQ (there’s also a Super HQ I setting haven’t felt the need for), black and white, with my usual tweaks in Snapseed afterwards. This gives an original image size of approximately 800 x 600mm (32 x 24″). On screen the 1024px version is fine (just under half the original length/width) and for 8 x 6″ prints it’s also more than adequate. From my experience of maybe half a dozen digital compacts and a few phone cameras, I would suggest that the lens and sensor size are much bigger factors in the quality of the final image than the raw MP figure. Especially if you’re not making massive prints. The Olympus has an excellent lens, and a still pretty large by compact cameras standards 1/1.8″ CCD sensor (my Pentax Q is only 1/2.3″) that work very well together, and for me make it punch well above the expectations a 4MP camera suggest.
As you’ve read, some of these solutions eliminate a problem entirely, and some are an ongoing workaround.
No significant obstacles remain with the Olympus C4040 that would stop me using it further. It’s actually made me curious about other models in the long running range too.
And as we spoke about above, this is a wider discussion. Sometimes photography is just too easy with everything automated and all of the decisions and control taken out of your hands.
Cameras like the C4040 have their own personality, and make you work with it a little for your reward.
And for me with the Olympus, that reward, in both the more engaging user experience, and the final image, is more than worth it.
How many “flaws” do your favourite cameras have, and how do you overcome them? Where do you stand on the spectrum between having complete creative control or letting the camera automate everything?
Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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