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Olympus VR-350 Digital Camera Review
olympus20120501fa.jpgDigital Camera Review by: Katrina Putker

 

So the idiom goes: ‘you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ but when referring to the Olympus VR-350 it’s a matter of paying peanuts and getting a capable little point-and-shoot that would make a solid first camera for a child/teenager or any person previously unfamiliar with digital photography.

The VR-350 is riddled with brief in-camera written descriptions for many of the various settings and options available helping new users to identify the symbols and icons throughout and learn of their impact and significance when shooting.

The generous megapixel count of 16 is said to allow for printed enlargements of up to A3 in size and for prints smaller than that – which will more than likely be most given the point-and-shoot consumer this compact has been designed for – the ample megapixels will allow for some give when cropping into images to zoom and/or recompose in post-production.

Users can choose to crop and edit images either in-camera using the compress, trim, beauty fix, lighting fix and red eye fix options available or otherwise out of camera using appropriate software.

Nice to know too that utilising the editing options available doesn’t mean affecting the original image but rather creating adjusted copies. In other words, users are free to experiment with the tools available in the VR-350 without fear of losing or destroying the original image.

 

Appearance & Functionality


Design-wise the VR-350 is everything an affordable compact camera should be: both simple and clean in appearance and suitably easy-to-use. It’s neither super-small nor hedging towards bulky but instead sits comfortably somewhere in the middle – just where Goldilocks herself would like it.

olympus20120501fb.jpgThe VR-350 unit is available in expected colour standards black and silver with a slightly left-of-field pinkish purple option thrown in the mix as well. Its uncomplicated design sees a total of just ten moveable buttons and toggles including: power on/off, dedicated movie record, playback/review, okay/set, menu, guide, the zoom toggle, the battery and memory card release and a four-way directional round.

The dedicated movie record button is a particular favourite feature that is strangely often overlooked in the compact camera realm and yet its inclusion just makes life that little bit easier for the user: see something happening that you want to record and you can do so as quickly as your thumb can move – there’s no need to delve into the internal menu or rotate a dial through numerous options first.

The dedicated record button sits just to the right of the shooting-hand’s thumb grip making it highly accessible and with its universally recognisable red ‘record’ circle to boot it’s unquestionably hard to miss.

Handy four-second audio ‘grabs’ or ‘tags’ can be added to individual images in playback mode in order to record important information such as your location, the event you’re photographing, who you’re with etc. For those who store hundreds, if not thousands, of images in-camera before finding time to upload them, this is a handy little feature for helping to remember details and mentally place images you may have previously forgotten about.

A long list of some 15 scene modes are accessible in the VR-350 including standards such as portrait, landscape, night, sport, indoor, pet and fireworks (to name but a few) and interestingly, a 3D mode. When selected, this guides the user to take a pair of slightly different images of the same subject/composition (to simulate the vantage points of the right and left eye separately), which it then generates into a single final image.

Two sets of cardboard 3D glasses are included with the VR-350 upon purchase and these must be worn in order to see the effect created. It’s important to note that not all scenes and subjects make for good or properly discernable 3D viewing but when successful, having your own 3D photographs is a great little novelty that can be fun to share with others. Some practice and experimentation will be required however to truly get the best results from this mode.

In addition to its long list of scene modes the VR-350 also includes nine of what it calls ‘magic’ modes that can be used for both stills and videos including: pop art, pin hole, fisheye, drawing, soft focus, punk, sparkle, watercolour and reflection. These are essentially a set of creative filters that help bring an added artistic and creative flair to point-and-shoot images. Choose your desired mode, compose your shot and aside from that all the grunt work is done in-camera for you.

Particular favourites include ‘sparkle’ which adds a glittery starburst effect to all the sources of light and highlight points in an image, ‘pinhole’ which adds a dark vignette and a warm antique tone to images (akin to effects seen in popular smart phone photo apps such as Hipstamatic and Instagram), ‘fisheye’ which replicates the bulbous look of images shot with a fisheye lens and ‘watercolour’ which literally produces an image that looks like a watercolour painting and in fact results resemble a traditional digital image in no way at all.

The dedicated ‘guide’ button takes users into a digital resource menu allowing users to search by purpose, by keyword, by situation or for a solution and is a helpful and thoughtful addition that again points to the VR-350’s likely market of first-time camera users. This particular feature combined with the written descriptions and instructions throughout the internal menu system is likely to help first-timers get to know their camera and its functions in a limited amounted of time.

 

Image Quality / Lens Quality


The VR-350 houses a triple-tiered 24-240mm 10x optical zoom lens that offers users a wide field of view at 24mm so you can squish all of your family and/or friends into a single shot or cover the entire scene of a beautiful landscape with greater ease.

olympus20120501fc.jpgObjects in the distance can be honed in on with the 240mm telephoto capabilities of this unit although indoors and in low light conditions doing so requires quite a steady hand if you’re looking for perfectly sharp results. Best to ensure the flash is on and being utilised in such situations.

A fairly limited ISO range of 100-1600 is available and indeed anything beyond ISO 400 starts showing obvious noise and compromise of image clarity and detail. Keeping in mind the affordability of the VR-350 however, this is no surprise.


If you want a camera that copes exceptionally well in low light conditions and with higher ISOs you’re shopping in the wrong market here. The VR-350 performs as well in this area as you could expect any other compact camera in its class to. Exceptionally bright skies and backlit scenes don’t always render well but again, this is not abnormal across the board for these highly affordable compact camera units.

The VR-350 is a solid little performer – not a magician. In common shooting situations such as well-lit areas and when using flash it will produce pleasing results. It will only be on the odd occasion in low light with no flash or extremely contrasty conditions that images produced may not be those headed straight for the mantle.

 

LCD Screen / Viewfinder


The 3-inch LCD screen dominates the back of the VR-350 and offers a bright and crisp display. The real time preview shows only the tiniest signs of lag that unless you’re specifically looking for are more than likely going to go completely unnoticed.

olympus20120501fd.jpgAs its becoming increasingly more common with compact point-and-shoot cameras, there is no optical viewfinder present on the unit nor is there an option to attach one. For most users and certainly for the likely target market of this particular unit however this is of little to no relevance.

The majority of shooting options such as mode, flash settings, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation etc. are each accessible via the digital menu column that sits to the far right of the LCD when in shooting mode and when selected, each expands to offer the full range of options available.

Scrolling through the settings panel is an intuitive process if not one with a slight delay between pressing the directional pads and the selector heeding your instructions.

 

Video


HD video in 720p format at 30 frames per second is available with the VR-350 although utilising the 10x optical zoom whilst recording said video is unfortunately not an option. The internal microphone does a decent job of picking up on available sound although picture quality overall is not outstanding but certainly sufficient for most situations and once again particularly given the tiny price of this neat little Olympus unit.

 

 

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Conclusion

 
The Olympus VR-350 overall packs a slightly bigger punch than both its tiny weight (170g) and price tag might suggest. It hosts a 16mp sensor that shoots both stills and video, has a long list of selectable scene and ‘magic’ modes and offers a good sense of user-friendliness with its various guide modes and notes throughout - not to mention its simple build.

It boasts a 3D shooting function for that extra little bit of razzle dazzle and overall proves to be a unit ideal for ever-experimenting children and teenagers or first-time digital camera users.

The VR-350 is highly affordable and though not without fault it competes well against similar units in its class and price range and thus is worthy of a look in.

 

 

Accessories Used During Testing:

SanDisk Extreme Pro 95MB/s SD Card 

Tamrac Aero 94 / 3394 Camera Bag 

 

Recommended Retailer:

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View / Buy The Olympus VR-350 

 

 

Appearance rating 3.5 stars
Functionality rating 4 stars
Image quality
3.5 stars
Video quality
3.5 stars
Lens quality
4 stars
LCD screen (Rear)
4.5 stars
Value for money 4 star
Street Price
$199.95
SPACER.GIF  
Effective Pixels 16 Mega pixels
Sensor Type
1/2.3" CCD sensor
Image Sizes 8
Lens 24mm - 240mm, Wide(W) F3.0; Tele(T) F5.7
Lens Mount
-
Resolution Settings: Stills 4608 x 3456
4608 x 2592
3264 x 2448
2560 x 1920
2048 x 1536
1920 x 1080
1600 x 1200
640 x 480 
Resolution Settings: Video 1280 x 720
640 x 480
320 x 240
Face Detection Yes
Manual Focus No
Auto Focus Yes
Aperture Priority No
Shutter Priority
No
Shutter Speeds 1/2 - 1/2000s (Candle scene longest 4 sec)
ISO Auto, High Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
LCD Monitor 3.0 Inch, TFT color LCD, 460,000 pixels
Viewfinder -
Flash Yes
Hot Shoe No
White Balance Auto, daylight, fluorescent 3, overcast, tungsten, one touch
Self Timer 12 and 2 seconds
Stills Format/s
JPEG
Video Format/s AVI Motion JPEG
Video Recording Time/s Maximum file size is 2GB
Storage Type - External SD/SDHC
Storage Type - Internal
-
Connectivity USB 2.0 High Speed, 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 104.3 mm (W) x 60.2mm (H) x 28.3mm (D)
Weight 170g (including battery)
















 


 

 
 

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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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