Olympus C-4000 Zoom
At $499, the C-4000 Zoom is the least-expensive digital camera on our advanced chart, but it doesn't skimp on features. Besides offering manual control of aperture and shutter speed, the camera can shoot in black-and-white, and it has a multiburst mode. We liked the option to take TIFFs at most resolutions, and the handy virtual-dial menu made switching among shooting modes and four sets of user-saved settings easy (though the menu disappears quickly when you're trying to make a selection). A dedicated button on the back jumps you to Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) settings.
The C-4000 Zoom outshone its rivals in our image-quality tests, with the second-best overall score in the group, after the Canon PowerShot G2. Photos looked good on-screen and in print-only slight overexposure and loss of detail in flash mode brought its score down. The C-4000 Zoom's battery life of 700 shots on two CRV3 disposables is extremely impressive, though well behind the astounding 1100 shots managed by the fifth-ranked Olympus C-720 Ultra Zoom. Alas, replacement CRV3 cells cost about $10 apiece, so most photographers will probably opt for less-durable but far cheaper rechargeable batteries. (You can also use standard AA batteries in a pinch.)
The Olympus C-4000 has some rough edges, including a stubborn diopter wheel, stepped playback zooms, and cryptic menu labels. It also has an awkwardly placed thumbpad: Situated above the right top corner of the LCD, the thumbpad's directional arrows are hard to reach while you hold the camera with one hand. The camera's manual focusing mode is difficult to use, requiring a lot of button pressing to set and then cancel the setting, but the autofocus mode gives you the option of moving the center-of-focus brackets to any part of the screen.
UPSHOT: The C-4000 Zoom is an inexpensive choice for hobbyists who seek a feature-rich camera that takes excellent photos.
By Nikki Echler McDonald and Carla Thornton