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Olympus SZ-31MR Digital Camera Review

olympus20120501ba.jpgDigital Camera Review by: Keith Parsons

 

Olympus's latest release the SZ-31MR couples an incredible amount of practical features with a super 25-600mm zoom lens and touch screen to create an absolute workhorse of a travel camera. Sitting at the top the Olympus travel range it also oozes style with its sleek black and silver highlighted design, it will give the avid adventurer plenty to smile about with its street price of $499.

 

Appearance & Functionality


The SZ-31MR comes in either a silver or black model and either one speaks of sophistication with it's thin body and stylish silver highlights.

When initially gripping the camera you quickly realise Olympus has kept fatigue in mind when moulding the right handgrip and its ergonomical design feels both comfortable and natural. The cameras weighs in at only 226gms and this allows the user to easily shoot with one hand in most situations without even beginning to notice any weight.

The camera is cased largely in a coated plastic that appears quite sturdy although a metal plate ensures the entire front of the camera is better protected still. The function dial sits neatly on the top alongside the shutter release, power and zoom controls and is easy to read even in low lighting situations. Olympus has coupled the menu navigation controls on the rear panel together and even marked the movie recording button in red to clearly distinguish it from the shutter release (used for stills).

olympus20120501bb.jpgThe menu is effortless to navigate through with its clever colour scheme whereby the selected option is clearly highlighted in bold green on a black background. Headings run down the left hand side and provide logical access to either still or video options. Navigation is restricted to buttons only as the touch screen does not carry through to the menu which is a slight annoyance.

The playback menu utilises the cameras touch screen for easy navigation from image to image as well as simple to use zoom options. The playback menu also gives you details such as date, time, file number and for those more technically inclined it offers you exposure details and a histogram.

Olympus has included an absolute swag of usable creative filters all of which are accessible from a separate mode appropriately named “Magic”. Some of the better ones include “Dramatic” which automatically darkens sky tones and “Pinhole” which creates a vignette around the frame. Many of these filters are available in the movie mode as well.

A must for a travel camera is a decent Panorama function and the Olympus succeeds in this.

If its automatic functions you are after then the SZ-31MR has you well and truly covered with its “Scene” mode. It lets you select what you are shooting from a wide range of options such as landscape, night scene, sport, indoor, self portrait, 3D photo, sunset, fireworks, cuisine, beach & snow to name a few and then optimises the cameras settings to deliver better results. The Olympus caters especially for those who do not like to meddle with a cameras manual settings and whilst Program mode (P) claims to allow the user to set manual functions, there is no access to shutter speed or aperture. This is a minor hinderance really, as if it functions such as this you truly desire then look at other cameras in the Olympus fleet like the fantastic Pen range.

 

Image Quality / Lens Quality


The 16mp backlight CMOS sensor is incredibly advanced for a compact travel camera around this price range and right here is a leading difference over other models in the Olympus travel range. The design of the sensor allows more light to be captured compared to similar sized CCD sensors. This allows the camera to shoot at a lower ISO during bad lighting situations minimising noise. It is rare for the camera to need to shoot above 400 ISO though when it does noise slowly becomes more apparent the higher the ISO goes. Though images are still very usable at 800 ISO or for the braver types at 1600 ISO.

olympus20120501bc.jpgImages can be captured in 9 different sizes from the full resolution of 16m which will give you a high quality print up to A3 all the way down to smaller sizes that are suitable for web or mobile usage. Some people may expect to see RAW file availability in the top end of the compact range and although this is not to far off, the Olympus only offers JPEG files.

The lens is a massive plus for this camera with its 25-600mm zoom range. This allows the user to shoot both portraits of groups as well as zoom right in at sporting events, all on the one camera. It is interesting to note that Olympus has used its own brand of lens as many other manufacturers do not. Olympus has a strong reputation for exceptional quality lenses dating back to the early film days and many of their original lenses from the 70's and 80's are still sought after for use on DSLR cameras today.

The macro capability of the lens is quite outstanding with a minimum focal distance when set to “super macro” of just three centimetres. This feature is unbelievably useful for photographing tiny objects such as ladybugs on leafs or ants marching. 

 

LCD Screen / Viewfinder


olympus20120501bd.jpgA solidly built 3-inch LCD screen takes up the majority of the rear panel on the camera and shows incredible clarity and brightness in almost all lighting situations. The use of an LCD screen in direct sunlight is difficult on the best of cameras although the Olympus did make it possible, it was still not perfect.

The LCD has 920,000 dot resolution which is more than double that of some of the other cameras in the travel range. The SZ-14 for example only has a dot resolution of 460,000 across its 3-inch screen. The higher resolution shows finer detail on the screen giving a more accurate view of your images.

The most notable feature of the LCD screen is its touch capabilities. The user can choose between “touch shooting” whereby focusing and shooting occurs with a simple touch of the screen or just “touch focussing” which leaves the shooting function to the usual shutter release button on top..

 

Video


Full HD 1080p video is a relatively new addition to the compact market after taking the DSLR world by storm over the past few years. The Olympus has a built in stereo microphone and very good optical stabilisation within its video mode. An intriguing function of the camera is its MR or multi recording capabilities. Basically you are able to simultaneously capture video and still images at full resolutions in the same mode. This ensures that you will never miss that critical photo due to fiddling around between movie and still modes.

The camera's inbuilt flash is powerful enough to light a medium sized group at night and offers a number of functions that include a full auto mode and fill (for use during daylight). The flash itself is well placed. Its high enough above the lens to avoid red eyes so there is no excuse for that mid 90's devil eyed look anymore!

 

 

 

 

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Conclusion

 
The Olympus SZ-31MR is a do it all feature packed travel camera that will not disappoint the eager traveller or family snapper who likes their images sharp and contrasty without having to lug around a heavier bulkier camera.

The two biggest pluses were the backlit CMOS sensor, and very versatile, sharp lens. The Olympus SZ-31MR sits right on a knife's edge between compact and DSLR territory, with Olympus certainly giving the SZ-31MR enough power and features to warrant its purchase over a number of entry level DSLRs. I highly recommend this to the buyer who does not want to be caught up in manual operation but just wants to get out there and easily produce very high quality images.

 

Accessories Used During Testing:

Tamrac Aero 94 / 3394 Camera Bag  

SanDisk Extreme Pro 95MB/s SD Card 

 

Recommended Retailer:

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View / Buy The Olympus SZ-31 MR  

 

 

Appearance rating 5 stars
Functionality rating 4 stars
Image quality
4 stars
Video quality
4 stars
Lens quality
5 stars
LCD screen (Rear)
4.5 stars
Value for money 4.5 star
Street Price
$499
SPACER.GIF  
Effective Pixels 16 Mega pixels
Sensor Type
1/2.3" CCD sensor
Image Sizes 9 sizes / 2 ratios
Lens 25mm - 300mm, Wide(W) F3.0; Tele(T) F6.9
Lens Mount
-
Resolution Settings: Stills 16M  4608 x 3456
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  4608 x 2592
        1920 x 1080
Resolution Settings: Video 1080 60P Recording time: 29min.
720P Recording time: 29min.
720P / 60fps Recording time: Up to card capacity
GPS No
Face Detection Yes
Manual Focus No
Auto Focus Yes
Aperture Priority No
Shutter Priority
No
Shutter Speeds 1/4 - 1/1700 s / < 4 s (Night scene)
ISO AUTO / High AUTO ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
LCD Monitor Resolution: 920000 dots
Monitor size: 7.6 cm / 3.0 '' (3:2)
Monitor type: LCD - Touch Panel
Frame assistance: Yes
Brightness adjustment: +/- 2 levels
Protection panel: Yes
Viewfinder -
Flash Modes: AUTO, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off
Working range (wide): 0.1 - 13.2 m (ISO 3200)
Working range (tele):  0.4 - 5.7 m (ISO 3200)
Hot Shoe No
White Balance AUTO WB system: Yes
Preset values: Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Flourescent 1
One-touch white balance: 1 custom settings can be registered
Self Timer 2 / 12 s Pet auto shutter
Stills Format/s
JPEG
Video Format/s MPEG-4 AVC/H.2.64
Video Recording Time/s 29 Minutes / 4GB
Storage Type - External SD / SDHC / SDXC (UHS-I class supported)
Storage Type - Internal
-
Connectivity USB 2.0 High Speed
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 -
Dimensions 106.3 mm (W) x 69.2mm (H) x 39.7mm (D)
Weight 244g (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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