Review Date : Mon, 4 Sep 2006
Author : WDC Team
Similar to the SP-350, this is a compact that still offers Raw files
Pros: Compact but fully featured, with Raw, viewfinder and nice LCD. Good exposures and colour Cons: Two-handed holding can be awkward, Some fringing, Image resolution realistically lower than the 7MP sensor promises
If an SLR, or large bridge camera, is a bit too bulky to take with you everywhere, you may consider a smaller compact with a full feature set, capable of good results in a pocket-sized package. There are a few choices available, notably the Canon A series and the recent spate of SP models from Olympus, of which the SP-320 is the latest.
The SP-350 had an 8MP sensor; for the less-expensive SP-320, Olympus is offering 7.1 million pixels. It also lacks the hotshoe of the 350, relying instead on the built-in flash. In other ways, the two cameras are similar, with a host of features to cover most conceivable photographic situations and shooting preferences. To this end, then, the camera has a manual mode, along with aperture and shutter priority and program AE modes. There is also a set of 25 Scene modes as well as a simple Auto point-and-shoot mode.
The camera continues its enthusiast heritage with a choice of JPEG and Raw recording, keeping the camera in a small and seemingly dwindling elite of compacts that have Raw. Enthusiasts will probably also like the idea of an optical viewfinder. It may not be as accurate as an LCD or EVF, but it provides a clear image whatever the weather conditions, and it provides that all-important third point of contact to reduce camera shake.
Apart from the lack of a hotshoe, there’s a resemblance to the SP-350 in design. The LCD is the same size at 2.5in, while the body uses the same materials, button layout and styling. The SP-320 is traditional in looks, with AA batteries held in the right grip, so is useful for travel where a recharging power supply may not be readily available.
Those used to more conventional cameras will appreciate the feel and layout of this one. Its start-up and shutter release time are quick enough, though the AF occasionally struggles to decide which area to lock onto.
A big advantage of this camera is the Raw recording, and using Photoshop at least allows you to adjust some minor flaws, namely fringing in high-contrast edges. I’d be wary of printing images too large – sharpness can lack bite and this is more noticeable the larger you go. Colour and contrast is very good, and exposures too. I was impressed by the noticeable, but well-controlled, noise at ISO 800.
Value For Money
As a backup or lightweight alternative to a DSLR, or even as a digital toe-dipper for film buffs, the SP-320 isn’t bad value. Performance and features outpace many other contemporaries.
For a similar current street price you could buy the more highly specced SP-350 if you shop around. However, this is still a nice model and offers more than many competitors released around the same time.