The Olympus SZ-30MR falls into the range of compact superzooms that the company is currently focussing on. A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Olympus SP-810UZ, a 36x superzoom camera with a range to die for but only average image quality. The SZ-30MR only boasts of a 24x zoom, but is better off with a 16-meg resolution, CMOS sensor, Full HD video recording, 3D shooting and Multi Recording capability. So are the improved specs worth the higher price?
Look and build
Despite the hefty zoom, the SZ-30MR doesn't look like its concealing a 24-600mm lens inside. The body is quite narrow, bordering on slim, except for the protruding grip on the right side. The reason you wouldn't guess there's a superzoom lens hiding in there is because the lens retracts completely into the body, much like any regular compact digicam. The camera itself is quite light at just 226 g, and is small enough to fit into a pocket.
Controls, much like the SP-810UZ, are also minimal, so be prepared for a lot of in-menu functions. Next to the power and shutter release button on the top right hand corner is a circular mode wheel. Here you can access your Scene modes, Magic Filters, Panorama, 3D, Program, Multi Recording and Intelligent Auto modes. The back panel has a circular clickwheel for accessing in-menu functions, as well as a Record, Menu and Playback button. There's also a cleverly concealed pop-out flash on the top, but no dedicated Flash button. The 3-inch LCD panel doesn't offer any of the touch or flip-out functions its snazzy Samsung or Canon counterparts do, but it is relatively high-resolution at 460k dots. However, the screen doesn't do too well in bright sunlight, and also tends to look dark when held at a high angle.
First time users might be a little overwhelmed with the in-menu control, but having used other Olympus cameras recently, I found it pretty easy to navigate. This camera isn't one for those who like to tweak their controls, a fact highly apparent by the lack of a complete Manual, Aperture or Shutter Priority mode. Instead, like the SP-810UZ, you only get the Program Auto mode, where you can adjust Macro mode, Exposure, White Balance, ISO and shooting modes. There are no controls for shutter speed, aperture or manual focus.
The Scene modes are quite varied with a total of 16 available modes include a Pet detection mode and Self Portrait mode. 8 Magic Filters, really popular with Olympus cameras are also available, including the popular Pin Hole and Fisheye modes. The Panorama mode gives you an option of Auto, Manual or PC modes, with the last one giving you the option of creating a Panorama on your computer using downloadable software.
Olympus has focussed heavily on the Multi Recording or MR mode, which even features in the camera's name. This mode basically lets you record a video or take a photo with two different settings. The Magic setting lets you choose from a Magic Filter, Frame lets you save clips or photos taken from two different angles and Size lets you choose from two different sizes. Although there's not much use for photos, it's interesting for movies, especially in the Magic and Frame settings where you can edit a clip by switching around frames and because the camera records in the same size, you don't have to worry about different resolutions. I found the ‘Size' option useful because I could record a video in VGA and HD, so I used one for playback and one to upload online.
Given the limitations of the Program mode, I would recommend using the Scenes or Magic Filters on offer. Despite offering ISO 3,200, photos were grainy even at ISO 400. Saturation was low in most photos, and if you want really vibrant shots you'll have to use a Magic Filter like Sparkle. Images tended to look a bit dull and faded, and even in bright lighting conditions, there was lack of detail. The quality should suffice for regular prints or the web, but if you look at the image in actual size, there's lack of sharpness and visible noise.
In Macro mode, the camera performed quite well compared to the SP-810UZ. I could get up to as close as 3cm in Super Macro mode.
At full zoom, shake was relatively minimised because of the image stabilisation software, and fringing on the edges was minimal.
Video quality was decent, but the microphone reproduced voices at higher pitches, so voices often ended up sounding childish when I played back videos.
With most other compact digicams offering a plethora of features to match the SZ-30MR, the only area where this camera outdoes the competition is in the superzoom lens. If you're looking for a camera that offers a good range and a variety of auto functions, this Olympus camera could be a good option. It's also cheaper than the competition, which could be a deciding factor for many.
Love: MR mode, compact size
Hate: Poor colour saturation, few manual controls
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Keywords: Olympus SZ-30MR