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BenQ DC C50 Digital Camera Review

Introduction: A 5MP digital camera with 3x Optical zoom (7.2-21.6mm), the camera comes with a 32mb SD card and a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. The camera has a 1.5" Colour screen, as well as manual focus, aperture priority, shutter priority, ISO settings, etc. The camera takes SD/MMC memory, and records videos with sound. The camera has an RRP of £299 inc vat, and is available from around £200 online (see kelkoo.co.uk). The camera size and weight is: 98 x 63 x 35mm (almost exactly the same size as the Pentax Optio 30), 180g without batteries. Check Latest Price at Amazon.co.uk.

BenQ have this to say about their camera:

"A camera for the discerning shutter-bug. With DC C50 5 Megapixels resolution and SD expandability, the DC C50 lets you decide whether you want to be the occasional hobbyist, or a photographer extraordinaire. "With the C50, we've developed a feature-packed product that is both portable and fun," expressed William Wang, BenQ Vice President and General Manager of Imaging Network Business Group, "The C50 with its stylish reflective metallic finish, allows everyone to brilliantly capture their most important moments with a user-friendly interface."

The camera offers quite good value for money - especially for a compact 5MP digital camera - the camera was first annouced in November 2003, since then the price of the camera has come down considerably from the RRP of £299 to around £200.

Full specifications and further details can be found on the BenQ site, and press release.

The Camera: It's a quite compact and made out of metal - it's smaller than the Pentax PC-550 35mm, a camera I use as a size comparison.


Front - Camera off. Built in lens-cover. Unfortunately the moment you touch the shiney black face of the camera, finger prints show up instantly - it's also highly reflective!


Front - Camera on - lens extended. AF-Illuminator light is to the right of the optical viewfinder. (it is very bright and red)


Back - Optical viewfinder (with diopter adjustments - allows you to focus the optical viewfinder), Macro/Landscape/Manual Focus button, Wide/Telephoto Zoom control, Flash button, 4 way controller with an OK button in the middle, Menu Button, Play button, 1.5" TFT screen. There's also a grip on the back that the thumb rests on.


Top - On/Off - and shutter release button, in the centre of the dial.


Bottom, under the camera is the tripod mount which is under the lens. On the left is the battery/SD/MMC memory compartment.


Left Side - There is the camera strap loop. See what I mean about the front being highly reflective! There's also a scroll wheel on the left of this picture which can be used to change settings or scroll through pictures in playback mode - I found it easier to use the 4-way menu on the back on the camera.


On this side is the DC-In, and computer connection (usb).

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax Optio 30 (a 3mp/3x Optical camera), and a 35mm Pentax PC-550.


Almost the same size when compared to the Pentax Optio 30.

Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic

The optical viewfinder is quite small, but still usable, and zooms in when you use the optical zoom on the camera.


The benq seems quite small in this picture.

Specifications:

  • Stylish / Compact with 1/1.8" 5.25MP CCD
  • 12X zoom (3X optical zoom / 4X digital zoom)
  • Movie clips with sound [B/W, Sepia, Vivid]
  • Voice recording on image
  • Good power performance (Lithium-ion battery)
  • Scene Mode (Portrait / Sport/ Night Scene)
  • Interval self timer shooting
  • Shutter priority (TV) - 8seconds to 1/1500
  • Aperture priority (AV) - f2.8 - f6.7 (wide) f4.7 - f11 (telephoto)
  • 1.5" Colour TFT

Full Specifications can be found on the Benq Site.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Lithium-Ion battery
  • USB Cable / USB TV-Out Cable
  • Software CD-ROM
  • Wrist Strap
  • 42-page english manual
  • AC Adapter (required to charge the battery)
  • Case
  • 32mb SD Card

A better than average box contents - nice to see a case, plus a 32mb card - although a 64mb (or higher) card would have been nice.

Features / Options: The camera mode is selected using the dial on the top of the camera as shown below:

The modes are: Starting with the red camera, going clockwise: Auto, Program, TV, AV, M, Portrait, Action, Night, Movie, Setup, PC (connection), Play.

The buttons on the back of the camera quickly give you access to: Menu, Delete, Wide/Telephoto, Macro/Landscape/3M/1M (psuedo manual focus), Flash, Exposure / White balance, Self-Timer, LCD.

In Photo mode the menu is different depending which mode you are in, they accessed by pressing the MENU button - menus are explained below.

  • AUTO Menu
    • Picture (Size / Quality / Sharpness / Contrast / Colour)
    • Function (Capture mode / Voice memo / LCD Brightness / Digital zoom / Preview / Interval/Count)
  • Prog Menu / TV / AV / M / Portrait/Action/Night (minus ISO setting)
    • Picture (Size / Quality / Sharpness / Contrast / Colour)
    • Function (Capture mode / Voice memo / LCD Brightness / Digital zoom / Preview / Interval/Count)
    • AE / AWB (White Balance / Metering / ISO / Manual WB)
  • Movie Menu
    • Picture (Size: 320x240/160x120, Quality: Fine/Standard/Economy, Contrast: Hard/Normal/Soft, Colour: Standard/Vivid/Sepia/Monochrome)
    • Function (LCD Brightness / Digital zoom On/Off - although you can not use digital zoom whilst recording movies)
  • Setup Menu
    • Basic (Card Info / Fr. No. Reset / Format / Sound / Beep / Auto Power Off)
    • Custom (Date/Time / Sys. Reset / Language / Video Output / System Info)

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit in the 16mb provided memory: (an extra memory card is recommended if you intend to go on holiday or are going to be away from a computer for more than half a day!)

Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality / Average file size
  Fine (***) Standard (**) Economy (*)
2560x1920 (5mp) 13 (2mb) 22 (1.15mb) 42 (570kb)
2048x1536 (3mp) 22 (1.15mb) 36 -
1280x960 (1.3mp) 42 (570kb) - -
640x480 145 (170kb) - -
Movie 320x240 30seconds 45seconds 1minute
Movie 160x120 1minute 30 2minutes 3minutes

You can fit an average amount of images on the provided 32mb, depeding on the size and amount of compressions used - although a larger memory card is definitely recommended. There is a good choice of image size and compression levels available, although it would have been nice to have the option of 4mp, or 2mp as well as the others.

Speed, ease of use: Very easy to use, simply switch the camera on, and start taking photos. The screen updates are quick. The camera is fairly quick in use, but not as quick as the Minolta F200 when compared with the speed the Minotla F200 switches on and is ready to take a photo, and then actually taking a photo. The case is a bit bulky, so the camera becomes much larger and bulkier when in the provided case.

Battery usage: Seems okay, but a second battery would be very useful. I got about 55 photos out of it, using the flash a lot and the LCD display was constantly on. Another charge, and I got 59 photos out of the camera before the battery gave up.

LCD display in photo mode: When the shutter is half pressed, the screen will display the shutter and aperture settings (as long as you are not in AUTO mode). The screen is clear, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate.. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, it also shows the picture size and compression quality, the battery level, current mode, plus other things.

Playback mode: Pressing OK will display additional information about the picture, eg size, compression, white-balance, ae, ISO, shutter speed, aperture size, file size(kb). Scrolling through the photos is not very fast - it thinks about it whilst the photo loads. The zoom can be used up to 4.0x or 2.0x, there are no in between steps, this feature is quick. Playback menu options: Slideshow / DPOF / Protect / LCD brightness

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size (and medium size) version of these photos are available in the Benq C50 Gallery!

Inside:

Wide-angle flash Wide-Angle Inside - Fruit, with flash

Inside, the AF-illuminator enables the camera to focus in very dark situations! Occasionally the camera will cause detail to be lost as in the middle picture above, due to the flash brightness.

Noise: [A small paragraph about noise:] Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue / red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise.

The camera has 4 modes for ISO: Auto, 100, 200 or 400. To choose the ISO setting, you need to take the camera out of AUTO mode - This photo (featuring a model "bananalamb" / "lamb banana") was taken with flash, actual pixels shown below from area next to the camera/lamb:

Picture - Flash On ISO100 - 100%
ISO200 - 100% ISO400 - 100%

Noise levels at ISO100 are quite low - which means you get quite smooth images. ISO200 is still just about acceptable. ISO400 is where the noise starts becoming a problem.

Outside:

Subway building and the radio city tower. Kite Flying (near sunset) Picnic by the river merseyside.

Good colour, fairly low noise, fairly good detail - no signs of vignetting in the corners.

Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing was noticable in some pictures, eg:

Statues 100% - actual pixels.

Zoom: The camera has a built in 4x Digital zoom, as well as a 3x optical zoom lens - the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software to blur the image so that it does not look pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using this, and simply crop the image later on your computer. I've included an example below simply to show what this feature does - and whilst it looks acceptable at the size shown (the last photo), if you printed the images out or viewed the full size versions in the gallery you would easily notice the negative effect it has on image quality.

Wide-angle Full telephoto (3x Optical zoom) Full telephoto + digital zoom (4x)

The digital zoom is seperated from the optical zoom with a line. When using the digital zoom the magnification level appears on screen, eg 2x.

When using the optical zoom, it's quite quiet, and seems fairly quick, it has about 9/10 steps between wide and telephoto.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, the lens is at full wide angle?, and you can not zoom in? - you can use the digital zoom though? The camera can focus down to 9cm.

Macro - Timex Watch Actual Pixels (100%)
Macro - Glass pebbles Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is quite good, although using flash often loses most detail due to over-exposing. The images look a bit soft when viewed at 100%.

Movie: 320x240 / 15fps (with mono 8khz 8bps sound) - you can't use the optical zoom nor the digital zoom whilst recording. The movie is recorded as an .AVI file.


Download movie - Click here. (2.52mb AVI - saved as a ZIP file)

The quality of the movie seems okay, although the size and framerate is rather average. The ability to change compression levels and the colour of the movies is quite a neat feature, but it is a shame the length of the videos are limited.

Conclusion

Image: Image quality is good - the images have good colour, good detail, but seem a bit soft occassionally. The flash occassionally over-exposes photos when the subject is too close. I only noticed purple-fringing in one of the photos I took. The focus assist illuminator helps the camera focus in extremely low light conditions. The movie mode is good, but nothing spectacular. Make sure you have a look at the pictures in the gallery.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): Everyone I handed the camera to reacted positively to the camera - they were able to use the camera within minutes. They often would remark that the screen is very clear and the pictures viewed in playback mode have good colour. The battery life is a bit dissapointing, as it may be necessary for you to purchase another battery depending on your usage (and unfortunately you can't just put in some AA batteries from the local corner shop).

Alternate compact 5mp digital cameras: Canon Digital Ixus 500 (from £232), Casio QV-R51 (from £211), HP Photosmart R707 (from £187), Kodak CX7530 (from £169), Konica Minolta Dimage G500 (from £229), Kyocera Finecam S5 (from £245), Nikon Coolpix 5200 (from £229), Olympus C50 (from £200), Sony Cybershot P100 (from £234) etc. Prices correct at 24/07/04 from kelkoo.co.uk.

Summary: This is a small, easy to use camera that produces good images. The camera stands out due to it's low price, metal body, small size, and retro design. It is a shame the camera does not include a second battery, but a spare one should be available relatively cheaply. The AF-Illuminator is especially useful as it enables the camera to focus in very dark situations. The camera has a lot of great features such as manual white balance, aperture priority, shutter priority etc, but unfortunately lacks manual focus, it makes up for this with a lot of preset modes that make it easier to use in all situations.

What I like:

  • Small, compact metal body
  • Easy to use
  • Good colour and detail in pictures
  • Focus Assist Illuminator
  • Case

What I don't like:

  • Shiney reflective surface on the front looks dirty instantly due to fingerprints
  • No Manual Focus
  • Battery life could be better

Further information: Check Latest Price at Amazon.co.uk - Almost identical versions of this camera: Premier DC5331 (from £199), Minox DC5211 (from £429!), Centon DC 5 (from £197), Traveler DC-5300 (from £179 / ALDI?), Vivitar 3930, Toshiba PDR-5300 (steve's digicams review).