Equipment for Oly C-series digitals—a hyper-linked list of more or less indispensable paraphernalia

On this page—

Last updated July 27, 2004


Just Add Money

Now that you’ve opted for something considerably more sophisticated than a point-and-shoot digital camera, your Oly digital rangefinder is destined to become merely the largest in an inevitable cascade of outlays leading to a competent and workable digital setup. Out of the box, high-end consumer-grade digital cameras are both more and less usable than their 35 mm SLR counterparts, but their stiffer prices seem to generate a lot of magical thinking regarding secondary expenses.

  • Some digitals, like my C-5050Z,  come with suitable rechargeable batteries and chargers, but many AA-compatible digitals don’t.
  • Few come with memory card readers, and none come with a workable  memory supply. (The 5.2MP C-5050Z shipped with a measly 32MB xD card!)
  • All come with image editing and transfer software, but few come with the software you’re likely to end up using.

You get the picture. But before railing against the profit-mongering manufacturers for all the shortfalls, consider this: In most cases, you’re better off buying these essentials from 3rd parties to suit your own skills, needs and goals. And once you enter the realm of filters, auxiliary lenses and external flash units, you’re largely on your own anyway. Even if your camera manufacturer offers such accessories as options, you’ll probably do better elsewhere.

If you’re suffering from choice- or cost-induced paralysis, this article’s here to help—particularly if you happened to purchase an Oly digital rangefinder (e.g., a C-5050Z or C-750UZ) or a C-2100UZ. However, much of the information here also ports well to other digital rangefinders like the Canon PowerShot Gx series, the Nikon CoolPix 8×0 series, and the Canon IS Pro90, to name just a few.


Do Your Own Research

Think of this annotated guide to equipping your Oly digital rangefinder or C-2100UZ as a starting point for your own research. As you’ll quickly discover by poking around this and other digital photography sites, there are many other ways to skin the digital photography cat—other gadgets, other brands, other approaches.

To a certain extent, the picks offered here reflect my own personal preferences, shooting habits and experiences as an amateur primarily interested in nature photography. But the picks have also been heavily influenced by the many, many Oly digital users of all skill and experience levels who have shared their needs and experiences on RPD.

On balance, I don’t think you’ll go wrong with any of the items recommended here. Some of them are quite optional. If you shoot enough, many if not most of these items will likely come in handy sooner or later, but you certainly won’t need all of them at once. More modest photographic aims and resources will naturally require less, while professional work will require much more.

Marks the gotchas I strongly urge you to research all your digital photography purchases thoroughly for yourself, with a firm understanding of your needs and limitations in mind.

Marks the paydirt Run everything through your own cost/benefit analysis before buying.

Surprises

If experience and RPD teach anything about photography equipment, it’s this: The devil’s often in the details. Since no one’s likely to know your details (existing equipment, budget, needs, skills, goals, etc.) better than you, you’re almost certainly your own best chief purchasing agent, even if you’re new to the game. Unfortunately, photographic equipment purchases have a way of uncovering details you wish you’d noticed before buying. There are no fail-safe defenses against gotchas, and there never will be — especially with complicated digital photography technology. All you can do is try to stay out of trouble as best you can. The more pre-purchase homework you do, the fewer ugly surprises you’ll find on your doorstep. Don’t forget to read those return policies!

For Starters

I strongly recommend all the items in this “starter kit” for any Oly digital rangefinder or C-2100UZ owner. If your camera takes a proprietary lithium ion battery rather than AAs or equivalents, buy a spare right off the bat, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, and skip the first subsection below.

Batteries and chargers

Memory and storage

  • Extra SmartMedia (SM), CompactFlash (CF) or xD cards in a suitable holder. How much memory to carry depends on the kind of shooting you do, but you’ll definitely need more than you found in the camera box. (Generic SM brands are fine, but save the supplied Oly SM or xD card for panorama work. If you have the choice, favor CF cards. They’re usually faster than other card types and are potentially useful in many electronic devices, not just your camera. The faster the CF card, the better — especially with 4+ MP cameras.)
  • Multi-format USB card reader or floppy adapter; forget the serial cable. (Later Oly rangefinder and C-2100UZ users, see below.)
  • CD-R writer and blanks, or some other safe means of archiving your images for easy retrieval.

Lens armor (C-series rangefinders only)

Software (I strongly recommend PIE plus one of the others listed below)

  • Picture Information Extractor (PIE) really shines at automated image transfers and on-the-fly file renaming, but this flexible little thumbnailer also does an excellent job at lossless rotations, image filing, EXIF data access and many other recurring digital photography housekeeping chores.
  • ACDSee thumbnailing digital image browser offers many different ways to view and work with images, supports zillions of image formats, allows manual and automated image enhancements, generates text file lists, makes contact sheets and HTML albums, performs lossless JPEG transformations and much, much more. I have yet to find a simple way to get it to automate file renaming during image transfers, but PIE will cover that nicely.
  • ThumbsPlus v. 4.10 or later, for solid basic to intermediate image post-processing, convenient batch processing, EXIF data access and advanced database-driven image file management
  • Adobe PhotoShop Elements v. 2.0 or later, for intermediate to advanced post-processing, including the use of layers and RAW image plug-ins. Frequent rebates keep the price ~10% that of the full PhotoShop package with all but the most arcane editing features included.

Once you’ve gathered up your starter kit, take some time to work with it before spending more. If you have further needs, they’ll soon become apparent.

Valuable Enhancements

If your photographic aspirations reach intermediate or higher levels, these valuable options will greatly enhance the functionality of your camera.

Marks the gotchas Warning! Don’t buy everything on this list at once.

Feel your way along so you’ll know what your issues are before you shop.


Filters, auxiliary lenses and other optical accessories


Camera support (a must in many, many situations)

  • Tripod (mini or full-size), monopod, trekking pole or beanbag
  • Quick release camera mount to safeguard your tripod threads and simplify camera handling

External Flash (essential for quality flash work)

  • Non-slave flash unit with a bounce (or better yet, a bounce-swivel-tilt) head — check your film camera bag before you rush out to buy a new one.
  • PC or TTL sync cable or adapter, as needed. (C-2100UZ and later Oly rangefinder users, see below.)
  • Flash bracket — also a great aid to steadiness in handheld shots, flash or otherwise
  • Quick release camera mount for the bracket—again, to safeguard tripod threads
  • More NiMH AAs for the flash
  • Sync socket cap tether (C-2000Z and C-2020Z only)

Post-Processing Software

  • An intermediate to advanced image editor like Corel PHOTO-PAINT, Paint Shop Pro, PhotoShop offering layers, layer subtraction, LAB color mode (for access to luminance data) and tone curves. (Note that the Adobe PhotoDeluxe software bundled with some older Oly digitals has subtractible layers but lacks curves and LAB color. Click here for some other good leads and here for an introductory discussion of post-processing.)

Remember, take time to assess your real needs before breaking the bank on these options.

What Not to Rush Out and Buy

There are a few items I’d recommend not buying until you’ve found a definite need for them.

A Tale of Two Cameras

By the time I stopped spending on my trusty old C-2020Z sometime in late 1999, I was well into the What not to rush out and buy list. So when my C-5050Z came along in early 2004, I thought I’d need little more than the camera itself. After all, the cameras took all the same lens accessories and SM cards.

So much for thinking. By the time the dust settled again, I’d shelled out another $350 for the following items, all but the last of which were necessitated by interval technology changes:

  • A fast 256MB CompactFlash memory cards, to handle those huge 7MB full-resolution RAW image files without interminable write times.
  • A grossly over-priced Oly PC sync adapter for the C-5050Z hotshoe, in order to use my existing non-Oly external flash unit and flash bracket with the new camera.
  • PhotoShop Elements 2.0, to work with its new RAW output, which my existing Corel PHOTO-PAINT 9 editor would not support. (Whether I’ll also need Adobe’s stand-alone Camera RAW plug-in remains to be seen.)
  • A second lens armor setup (CLA-1 conversion lens adapter, 43-49 mm step-up ring and 49 mm lens cap), since my armored C-2020Z would still see heavy use as an IR camera.
  • The Oly 0.7x WCON-07 wide-angle conversion lens I’ve always wanted — the perfect complement to my prized 1.7x B-300 teleconverter. Why stop now?

Like I said, just add money. Count on it.

Editor’s Note

This article’s featured photo offers a little non-verbal counterbalance to the gear-oriented text.

There’s still something to be said for trying to make the best of the gear you have, but with one-click web shopping and door-step deliveries, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spending lots of time and money acquiring more and more must-have gear to the exclusion of actual picture-taking. (Not a word to my wife—I’ll deny I ever said anything of the sort!)

Thanks to Annika for her sense of humor, her quick hand with the PhotoShop 5.5 desaturation tool and her willingness to share this Kodak DC290 photo on RPD, where she posted a link to it under the subject, “I guess it’s true what they say….” BTW, the photo is used here with her permission, all rights reserved, without further processing of the full-sized version.

What About Later Oly Rangefinders and the C-2100UZ?

Marks content that should probably be confirmed independently I’m no expert on all the ways later Oly rangefinders and the C-2100UZ depart from the C-2020Z and C-5050Z, but I am aware of the following differences pertinent to this article:

  • The C-2100UZ lens has a 49 mm thread for mounting filters and teleconverters, so there’s no need for a lens tube. It’s safe to mount filters directly on the C-2100UZ lens.
  • The built-in USB port on the C-2100UZ and all rangefinders following the C-2020Z offers fast, convenient tethered image transfers, which may obviate the need for a card reader for many users. However, users unwilling to tether the camera to their computer or needing access to their images as files on the SmartMedia card will want a card reader anyway.
  • The C-5050Z and later C-series cameras come with a proprietary TTL-enabled hotshoe but no sync cable socket. The hotshoe also takes standard non-TTL hotshoe flash units. Prior to the C-5050Z, C-series rangefinders had a proprietary 5-pin TTL sync socket, and before that, a standard PC sync socket (C-2000Z and C-2020Z only). The C-2100UZ uses the 5-pin TTL socket as well. Oly offers a number of over-priced TTL-to-PC adapters and cables for generic external flash support. For a while, the only external flash unit known to take full advantage of the proprietary TTL socket was the very expensive and very sophisticated Oly FL-40. Now PROMASTER and Metz make dedicated TTL units. For more TTL external flash details, click here.
  • Starting with the C-5050Z, Oly added 12-bit RAW recording to its C-series cameras. To take full advantage of your RAW images, you’ll need to import them into either the bundled Camedia software or the full version of PhotoShop using either Adobe’s Camera RAW plug-in or Olympus’ RAW plug-in. (You can download the latter from the Olympus America site.)  PhotoShop Elements 2.0 apparently works with the Oly plug-in, but only in 8-bit mode.

The hardware items listed here should otherwise work well with all Oly digital rangefinders, and they’ll probably be just as useful. The software items won’t care.