In a digital world full of high-tech hybrids (phones that can access real-time stock quotes; Palm Pilots that can surf the Web), Olympus' newest invention, the C-211 Zoom Digital Printing Camera ($800), fits right in. It merges two worlds—digital cameras and Polaroid instant cameras—into one device, allowing you to shoot photos, then print them directly from the camera. Sound like the height of convenience? It is. Here are the details:
How it Works
Images are stored on an eight-megabyte SmartMedia card, a tiny digital storage card. You slip the card, which comes with the camera, into a front slot. As you take photos, the card's memory fills up. How many photos the memory will hold depends on the mode you're shooting in: With TIFF mode, the best in terms of picture quality, only one photo will fit on a card; with SQ1 mode, the lowest quality, 82 photos will fit. When the card is full, you can either delete images and reuse it indefinitely or remove it and insert a new one. (Additional cards range from eight to 64 megabytes and cost between $19.95 and $99.95 retail.)
After you've shot images, you can play them back on the camera's viewfinder/monitor—you can view one, four, or nine photos simultaneously—or connect the camera to your PC, Macintosh, or TV for a large-screen version. You can adjust the images' sharpness, brightness, color, and contrast, and print them directly from the camera or a printer, which you must attach. Some print shops, such as Kinko's, will print images for you if you bring in the SmartMedia card.
It's extremely large (5.6 x 7 x 2.2 inches) compared with more compact digital cameras on the market, such as the Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Elph (it measures just 2.2 x 3.4 x 1.1 inches), but small compared with a Polaroid OneStep (6 x 5.75 x 3.88 inches).
One pound ten ounces, excluding batteries, slightly more than the Polaroid OneStep. It's heavy compared with most digital cameras, which often weigh between six and 12 ounces.
Like the Sony MVC-FD7 Digital Mavica, another popular digital choice, the Olympus C-211 has a color liquid crystal display (LCD) on the back that functions as a viewfinder and monitor, but no optical viewfinder. That means you have to hold the camera in front of you, not to your eye, to look at images, both when you shoot them and when you play them back. The C-211's viewfinder is smaller than the Mavica's (two as opposed to 2.5 inches square), but I found it sufficient. The one problem: Direct sunlight on the LCD dims the image and can cause distracting reflections.
The C-211's prints are only 2.8 by 2.3 inches, which is smaller than a 3 x 3.1-inch Polaroid from a OneStep.
Digital Image Quality
Good for amateur use. The camera displays more than two million pixels, or dots, and the maximum resolution is 1600 x 1200 pixels in still-photo mode.
Using the autofocus lens feature, you can shoot objects as close as eight inches away. That's much better than, say, the Polaroid OneStep, which doesn't allow you to shoot closer than two feet from the subject. It also has an optical glass zoom, which you can adjust with one finger.
In general I found that printed details were sharp and colors weren't oversaturated, though some fine detai was lost on dark-colored objects. Before printing images you can rotate the horizontally or vertically, crop them, ad a date or time caption, and instruct the camera to print more than one copy of a particular image. Note: Each film cartridge ($9.95), which snaps into a slot in the camera, comes with only ten color prints.
Pretty fast while you're shooting. You can shoot up to 45 photos sequentially in standard-quality mode, or up to five shots in high-quality mode. In QuickTime Movie mode, the camer can capture 15 frames per second for up to 15 seconds on its high-quality setting (320 x 240 pixels). Printing takes about 15 seconds per image to process, plus about two minutes for developing.
Other Useful Features
There's a 12-second-delay self-timer and a built-in flash with red-eye reduction. Still photos can be shot in regular or panorama mode. If you want to edit still images or movies on your PC, you can download the to your computer in the form of JPEG files, then manipulate them using the CamediaMaster software, which comes with the camera, or any number of other graphic programs you can buy, such as Adobe Photoshop.
The handgrip is on the right front of the camera only, a challenge for left-handed photographers. The flash doesn't operate in panorama or movie modes. The labeling on the buttons and menus consists primarily of icons, which aren't easy to figure out just by looking at them, no matter how intuitive you are. And, in my opinion, the prints are too small to frame. But then, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Olympus America Inc.