Olympus’ SH-25MR is another digital camera aimed at the ‘traveller-class’ according to the makers, designed to offer a balance between budget and shooting kit. Does it achieve this balance?
This ‘traveller-class’ cameras then is designed to offer a balance between budget and shooting kit, though to be fair, there’s not much this camera lacks, sporting as it does, almost everything found in its higher spec SZ-31MR ultra zoom compact we recently reviewed. So what do you get for the £229.99 asking price?
Olympus SH-25MR review – Features
The camera’s 16 CMOS sensor is the same as that also fitted in cameras such as the aforementioned SZ-31MR while the F/3 to f/5.9, 12.5x optical zoom lens and its 24-300mm focal length range, provides a superb balance between the wide end for landscape shots, say, and getting in close too. It’s also backed up with Olympus’s super resolution digital zoom which works well enough if you don’t mind the smudgy effect it creates on the shots in which it is used.
The camera’s metal bodywork is rather bland in a square sort of way, but can be bought in four liveries of black, a champagne-look gold colour, a striking pinky red colour (tested here) and white. There is GPS ‘hump’ on the top plate next to a recessed and LED illuminated on/off button, the shutter realise, with its easy to use lens zoom control and a tiny, but okay to use mode dial. Along with the GPS kit there’s a neat Electronic Compass, which downloads location data on the fly, but it takes around 7 to 15 seconds to get the data depending on the quality of the connection.
Of the main shooting modes available, you get the usual (for Olympus) suite of settings common to most Olympus compacts today and these include iAuto, there are 17 scene modes that range from Handheld Starlight and a 3D Photo mode to Pet Detection and more usual settings such as portrait and sports modes as well as a reasonably effective HDR (high dynamic range) mode.
You also have Beauty, Panorama, Olympus’s creative ‘Magic Filters’ and the excellent Multi-recording system (hence the MR in the camera’s name) that allows you to record Full HD 1080P video while you continue to shoot stills. There are also various high-speed continuous shooting modes that provide scope to capture the most fleeting subjects and the camera has the iHS technology. iHS stands for ‘Intelligent, High-Sensitivity, and High Speed’ according to Olympus and combines the best of the dual TruePic V image processors to get low noise, low light shots and keep things moving in terms of image processing.
Videos can be recorded at full 1080p with the optical zoom active throughout and benefiting from the very good Movie IS system to help keep shake to a minimum, overall then a comprehensive set of features that work well together.
Olympus SH-25MR review – Handling
The camera has a neat, robust, if bland ‚ metal body with a well placed, knurled grip on the front of the camera, though I feel a slightly more grippy surface would have helped during one handed shooting. A strip of controls down the right side of the camera’s rear act as additional hand support and combines those duties with control duties for the direct movie record button, at the top, the playback and menu buttons (both of which are difficult to read due to their text colour and typeface) and a four way jog control.
Any of you that may have used a recent Olympus camera will feel quickly at home when delving into the menu system; basic shooting options including the macro, self timer options, white balance (WB) control, resolution and ISO are ranged down the right hand side of the screen and can be got to directly via the four way jog control. A press of the OK button inside the four-way control activates, or chooses, any option selected.
The camera’s touch screen is responsive and nice to use and is also a rout to activate the camera’s focus system; press the touch screen at any point and it’ll focus at that point in the scene. Live Guide is also a great feature (in iAuto mode) that lets you change saturation, brightness, and image colour (from a warm look to cold) and that’s about it for the buttons.
The touch screen is crisp and bright but still it’s too hard to see in very bright conditions where framing, checking focus and reviewing images is very hard to do with any accuracy. As you’ve probably guessed, there’s no optical viewfinder to help save the day.
In terms of battery life, I shot for a week and got around 150 shots with video and with the GPS and compass on. GPS takes about 30-seconds to connect properly and the compass displays at the bottom of the display all the time when active. Olympus doesn’t give figures for the battery life, but on this showing it’ll be good for over 400-shots depending on the amount of flash, reviewing, video and GPS you use.
The flash is one area I had an issue with however because there are no external controls to activate it (i.e not software based). The flash unit is small, only really good enough to act as a fill-in and sits on the top left shoulder of the camera. But you cannot turn it on via a button or switch, it is only activated from the on screen menus, where it pops up as required (in auto mode) or is up all the time if switch to fill in.
Retracting the flash (push it back down) does not turn it off in the latter mode either, you have to change the setting back to off or auto in the menu again to stop it popping up. I can see why it’s been done this way but cannot see why pushing the flash down in fill-in mode cannot also switch it off in the menu system as well.
Performance and Verdict
Olympus SH-25MR review – Performance
In terms of the cameras performance, from focusing to shutter response, the camera does rather well. The shutter fast enough for the subjects I photographed while the focus works well, particularly using the touch AF system on the display; I did not miss any of the shots I wanted. However the start up to snapping the first picture is a disappointing three-seconds and it’s a similar story using the flash with almost three seconds between a snap, the flash recycling and taking another picture.
Both of the camera’s sequential shooting modes shoot at a full 16-megapixel resolution but the high-speed modes recording at a much reduced 3-megapixels but the cameras still takes a while to process the pictures, particularly when shooting at the 60fps mode.
I found the camera’s landscape mode produced great, highly detailed and colourful images and similarly to many recent Olympus compacts, the blues and greens appear to be boosted. Red-eye in portraits with flash is not too much of a problem. The sport mode accesses faster shutter speeds, as you’d expect and using the pet detection setting is fun as it automatically fires the shutter when a pets face is detected. And it works, a little too well if you ask me, as it leaves little time to compose your shot properly.
The SH-25MR’s metering system provides two modes of ESP and spot metering and it delivers generally well exposed images, with excellent colour reproduction. The lens provides plenty of crispness and purple fringing is only hardly noticeable. Detail captured is great in the centre of my images, but things are much. much softer in the corners and around the edges of images.
There’s a minimum focusing distance of 3-cm, which provides plenty scope to get very close for smaller subjects and macro and again, it packs in plenty of detail. As for the ISO and image noise performance at ISO 80 there’s no noise to speak of while at ISO 100 there’s slight amount of noise appearing. At ISO 200 there’s more and it steps up, as you’d expect, at ISO 400. At the ISO 800 setting images are softer as noise processing does its work, small details become smoother and less defined.
This loss of detail continues through ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 while at the top ISO 6400 boat loads of detail sets sail for the horizon and is lost and very soft images are the result. Avoid ISO 6400 is my tip. The auto WB performance preset has a slight orange cast under mixed lighting but using the correct setting fort the light at hand (sun for sunlight and so on) and it performs well, so try to use the correct white balance for the light your trying to capture. The smart panorama mode makes good panoramas and is quite fun to use too, although, viewed at full size a little ghosting visible where some images have been miss-aligned.
The camera’s magic filters allow for a smidgen of extra creativity the dramatic filter is particularly impressive, particularly on a cloudy day but it cannot shoot at the top resolution, only a minimum of 5-megapixels and given it’s one the better filters on offer, this is disappointing as its natural fit is to shoot landscapes, where ordinarily you’d need as much detail as you can get.
The SH-25MR makes a nice snapping camera and provides a lot of features but lacks full manual control, though +/-2EV of exposure compensation is on offer for harder to meter subjects. At the time of writing, the costs a penny shy of ¬£230 and is pretty much mid-table in terms of pricing compared to many similar 16-megapixel models such as Nikon’s Coolpix 14x zoom S8200, the Sony Cybershot W690 with its 10x zoom and Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-SZ, also equipped with a 10x zoom.
Images and video are stored on SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I class supported) memory card that slots into place on the cameras base next to the battery, both housed under a rather flimsy feeling flap, the weakest link (in terms of build in the entire ensemble).
Olympus SH-25MR review – Verdict
The Olympus SH-25MR has an impressive set of features that make it a real contender if you need a new camera with the emphasis on travel, though to be fair, the feature set would help anyone anywhere. The decent zoom range and GPS system make it even more versatile.
It may not be ideal for portrait shots though, skin tones suffer rather and although the lens is an otherwise good one, for most subjects, bear in mind it is still soft at the corners of images. Good colour capture, seemingly great battery life and the excellent set of his speed shooting systems means the Olympus SH-25MR is worth close consideration.