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Olympus SZ-14 Digital Camera Review

olympus20120403a.jpgDigital Camera Review by: Michael Gazzola 

 

On Monday 23 January 2012 Olympus, like parents of a new born, were proud to announce an addition to the S-series family of cameras, the SZ-14. The press release [http://www.buy-n-shoot.com/news/olympus/olympus-sz-14-digital-camera.asp ] stated many great features such as a x zoom lens with a 25-600mm range, a 3-inch 460,000 pixel LCD screen, HD video capture, 16 Scene Modes and 11 Magic filters and a ‘super macro’ of just 3cm. So as you would expect when we were offered this device for review we were very interested to see how this compact camera pushing toward an advanced compact camera feature set actually stacked up... 

Appearance & Functionality


At an RRP of $349 Olympus have produced a sharp looking camera encased in a smooth black metal shell finished nicely with hints of chrome. The size of the camera, considering the optical focal length on offer is 600mm, really is compact and easily thrown into a handbag or pants / jacket pocket.

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Handling the Olympus SZ-14 is comfortable and easy. Powering up to shoot is almost instantaneous. There are only a few buttons on the back but that’s not to say its short on functionality, you only have to scroll through an endless menu of options. The rear is dominated by the LCD so it’s quiet minimal, and on the top is a fine outline where a hidden flash pops out when needed.

A fantastic default function is the ‘live preview’ on all the main capture options of the camera, from Program, Scene and Magic Filters to White Balance. In particular for the general ‘point and shoot’ crowd, the live view option for the first time provides an instant hands-on understanding. In what is otherwise a tricky topic to explain in words to the non-photo literate community, the White Balance options in manual selection is easily understood revealing clearly the importance of getting it right.

The Olympus SZ-14 Magic Filters provide no shortage of fun allowing the photographer to further explore their creative side choosing 1 of the 11 filters on offer. My personal favourite is the ‘Sparkle’ filter which picks up highlights and puts a sparkle flick on each highlight. Our tests found this to be most effective outside where spotting of sunlight through trees provides a sea of heavenly type sparkles. Special mention also goes out to the ‘Pin Hole’ option – which brought back memories of college assignments... where the same result was achieved through a much harder process!

The inbuilt and well hidden pop up flash works very well and comes with a great trigger control on the side of the lens base. In our everyday test scenarios the results indoors were very good, both for images dependent on flash and images where the flash was used as a ‘fill’ (an available selection) option. 

While there is so much on offer for creative shooting options and Auto functionality through Program and iAuto modes, two of the basics in Shutter and Aperture priority have been omitted. These omissions are available however in the models for those who want to go a little further with their creative freedom and experimentation.

Image Quality / Lens Quality


At 80, 100 ISOs the results are great and still very good 200 ISO. But after this the sensor starts to show its limitations for the market segment, with early signs of grain evident at 250 ISO in darker areas of an image. At 400 ISO grain is clear across the image leaving the 800 & 1600 ISO options as are to be used as last resorts, with image quality starting to be a little compromised and revealing the main difference sensors have between compacts and the next level up on advanced compacts. 

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The Auto white balance results overall were very good. Sunny, cloudy, incandescent and fluorescent each in manual modes produced excellent results, yet in Auto mode had a tendency to be a little warm in the incandescent and fluorescent modes. 

The big selling point on offer with this camera is the optical zoom range. In short the range is excellent. The 25mm (wide) - 600mm (telephoto) zoom, Olympus have nailed it. The wide 25mm is excellent for taking large group photos indoors or squeezing the top of a building in when taking holiday snaps (that might otherwise be cropped). And the ‘super-zoom’ is just that, super. At 600mm you really can zoom right in on the action.

He zoom is fast and responsive. So considering the optical zoom is travelling quite a distance, of up to 600mm, be ready to have a steady hand, or at least be leaning against a wall or post. The way people shoot now with digital compact cameras holding them out in front provides for more camera shake than the days of film, where the photographer had their arms bent/ folded in close to the body (tripod like) while looking through a viewfinder which also acted partly as a stabiliser. 

Panorama mode is fun and comes in a couple of different operation modes. Like its competition it has a sweep mode, but second for of more fiddly capture requires the photographer to line up images as they’re shot using an on-screen guide. It’s a little more technical, likely to appeal to the more tech savvy, but achieves a similar result at the end of the day. One note though, as each panorama created requires 3 images to be taken, then stitched automatically in camera there is some time lag between finishing one panorama and creating the next.

 

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LCD Screen


The 3-inch 460,000 pixel LCD screen is bright clear and clean. Viewing outdoors in shaded areas is quite good, but like every other camera in the market from entry to professional, the LCD in direct sunlight struggled. 

There’s loads of on-screen information available telling the photographer exactly what’s going on with their  stills image capture and all easily altered using the dial on the back of the camera next to the LCD. And for those who don’t want the information on screen displayed, it can easily be turned off so you can view the screen and image to be captured in all its glory.

Video


The HD video at 720p is quite good. Filming indoors produced very good results for its price range and is an excellent ‘extra’ to a device that is primarily a ‘stills’ camera. As expected, in bright daylight outside the video capture is punchy and crisp.

Zoom during video is smoother and quieter than in stills capture mode, however it seems to be achieved at the expense of a slower zoom with the aim of eliminating zoom noises as the lens moves in and out. It’s worth noting though, by no means is the zoom slow, as in stills capture mode the zoom does actually zoom quickly.  Knocking the edge off it to reduce noise picked up in the audio / video capture is a wise move.
 
 


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Conclusion


At $349 it’s actually a tough segment to satisfy. On one side of the ledger you’ve got buyers wanting plenty of options, features that perform and an expectation that $349 of their hard earned must give them a good return. The other side of the ledger is more about a price that actually represents the SZ-14’s truly great value for its price bracket.

So with that in mind, Olympus have done extremely well with the new S-series model. The camera ticks many boxes from design, megapixels, an impressive zoom range, to scene / magic options and a large 3-inch LCD. 

At the end of the day, Olympus have stayed more than competitive on a price front, delivered and over-specked camera for its market segment and most importantly done it all well.  
 
Appearance rating 5 stars
Functionality rating 4.5 stars
Image quality
3.5 stars
Video quality
4 stars
Lens quality
4 stars
LCD screen (Rear)
4 stars
Value for money 4 star
RRP (AUD) Body only $349.00
SPACER.GIF  
Effective Pixels 14 Mega pixels
Sensor Type
1/2.3 '' CCD sensor
Image Sizes 8 Sizes2
Lens 24 x WIDE) 4.5 - 108.0 mm (25 - 600 mm 35mm Equiv)
Lens Mount
Sony E-mount lenses
Resolution Settings - Stills 14M     4288 x 3216
8M       3264 x 2448
5M       2560 x 1920
3M       2048 x 1536
2M       1600 x 1200
1M       1280 x 960
VGA     640 x 480
16:9    4288 x 2416
16:9    1920 x 1080
ResolutionSettings - Video 720P recording time: 29min.
Face Detection Yes, Face Detect iESP/Spot/tracking
Manual Focus No
Auto Focus Yes
Aperture Priority No
Shutter Speeds 1/4 - 1/1700 s / < 4 s (Night scene)
Shutter Priority No
ISO AUTO (ISO100-800), ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
LCD Monitor 7.6 cm / 3.0 '' TFT, 460,000 Dots, +/-2 Levels
Viewfinder Electronic viewfinder (colour), 100% Field of view, OLED Tru-Finder at 2,359k dots (XGA) resolution
Flash Yes, Built-in (GN 7), Auto, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off
Hot Shoe No
White Balance One-touch white balance, Auto WB, Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Flourescent 1 and Custom 1
Self Timer 12 and 2 seconds
Stills Format/s
JPEG
Video Format/s MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, Files up to maximum 4GB
Video Recording Time/s 720P Recording time: 29min, VGA Recording time: Up to card capacity
Storage Type - External SD/SDHCSDXC
Storage Type - Internal
59MB
Connectivity HDMI (CB-HD1 Type D); AV cable (CB-AVC3)
Power Source In-camera via USB, Optional LI-50C external charger
Battery Options LI-50B Lithium-Ion Battery
Battery Life Approx. 220 shots
Dimensions 106.5 mm (W) x 68.7mm (H) x 39.5mm (D)
Weight 216 g (including battery and memory card)
















 


 

 
 

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About Olympus

 

In Greek mythology, Mt.Olympus is the home of the twelve supreme gods and goddesses. Olympus was named after this mountain to reflect its strong aspiration to create high quality, world famous products.

"Olympus" has been used as a trademark since the time of Takachiho Seisakusho, the predecessor of Olympus Corporation.

In Japanese mythology, it is said that eight million gods and goddesses live in Takamagahara, the peak of Mt.Takachiho. The name "Olympus" was selected as the trademark because Mt.Olympus, like Mt.Takachiho, was the home of gods and goddesses. This trademark is also imbued with the aspiration of Olympus to illuminate the world with its optical devices, just like Takamagahara brought light to the world.

Takachiho Seisakusho was renamed Takachiho Optical Co., Ltd. in 1942 when optical products became the mainstay of the company. In 1947, the name was changed again to Olympus Optical Co., Ltd. in an attempt to enhance its corporate image.

And in 2003, the company made a fresh start as Olympus Corporation, to show its willingness to establish a dynamic corporate brand by unifying the corporate name and the well-known brand.

In recent years, Olympus Corporation has focused on "Opto-Digital Technology" as its core competence, technological strengths that competitors cannot easily imitate, to maximize corporate value and to become one of the top optical instrument manufactures.

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