Can Olympus's latest pocket wonder, with a 24x optical zoom, please both gadget lovers and photographers?
Camera manufacturers are always looking for new ways to woo customers, but Olympus has really pushed the boat out with the SZ-31MR. The 24x optical zoom is the star of the show – it's the biggest we've ever seen in a pocket-sized camera. This lens also excels for macro photography, zooming in a little so you don't have to get so close that the camera casts a shadow over the subject. With the help of the huge 16-megapixel resolution, we were able to turn tiny bugs into terrifying hairy monsters.
The bright, detailed screen is touch-sensitive, which is handy for choosing which part of a scene to focus on. Most other functions are controlled using a pair of dials – one on the top to select the shooting mode and another on the back to adjust individual settings. Panorama mode lets you capture a 360-degree panorama simply by rotating the camera. Another mode, labelled Magic, applies creative effects such as Watercolour, Pinhole Camera and Dramatic – the latter produces punchy images with lots of contrast.
These days it's common for cameras to have separate buttons for photo and video capture, but the SZ-31MR goes one better with the ability to record both at the same time. Press the red button to start recording 1080p high-definition video, and you can still use the shutter release button to take up to 24 photos. Video quality was excellent, with rich colours and lots of detail. Soundtracks were peppered with clicks and whirrs from the various motors inside the lens, but they only became distracting in very quiet scenes.
Photo quality was pretty good too, but while the 16-megapixel resolution is useful for capturing lots of detail in brightly lit conditions, it also produced grainy image noise in low light. The SZ-31MR is by no means the worst offender in this respect - and it's better than any smartphone's camera – but certain rival cameras such as the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS cope better in low light.
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Stuffed to the gills with genuinely useful features and it gets the basics right too
Massive zoom for a compact camera; Lots of clever shooting modes; Easy to use
Rival cameras are better in low light; Audible motors in video soundtracks
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