Olympus’s SZ-31MR is the latest compact travel-zoom digital camera from Olympus, with a whopping 24x zoom and 16 megapixel sensor. We find out if it’s any good.
Performance and Verdict
Olympus SZ-31MR review – Performance
The cameras overall performance is pretty good with fast start up times accompanying very slight shutter and AF lag, so slight as to be negligible, especially shooting using the touch shutter system where touching the screen activates the focusing at that point and fires the shutter. Impressive stuff then. Some low light situations proved hard for the focus system to latch on to, even with the bright AF assist beam shinning brightly across a room, say, it struggled a couple of times.
The camera is capable of capturing great colour, blues and greens are very dynamic indeed and adding punch to landscape shots but disappointingly, I had pronounced redeye in many of my portraits taken indoors with flash and the skin-tones look a tad peaky to me. In the Sport mode, where the sensitivity is pushed higher to help attain faster shutter speeds things look good although as you climb over the ISO 400 mark, noise becomes more evident although not distractingly so. Set the ISO over 800 however and noise is more noticeable, over ISO 1600, noise suppression removes detail and colour leaches slightly and at ISO 3200 or 6400, noise is heavily suppressed, so much so that colour is further leached and detail is smoothed out horribly.
And so how does the SZ-31MR’s lens deliver? It seems more than up to its task of capturing detail for the 16-megapixel sensor, images that are well exposed images have great colour reproduction with purple fringing barely noticeable.
Detail is particularly good in the centre of the images, but at the corners, things are much softer than I’d have liked and at the lens – minimum focus distance of 3cm, (in Super Macro Mode) you can get some superbly decent macro shots with bags of lovely detail. White balance (WB) performance is good, particularly the auto WB pre-set performing well in most lighting situations except under mixed lighting, indoors, where it produced a familiar orange cast. In other words, it’s more or less what you’d expect at this level.
The sweep panorama mode works well enough with the usual caveat that it produces such a narrow image, with reduced vertical resolution, that while they look good, they cannot be used very big. It does not beat stitching full resolution images together, though it is a lot more fun and certainly faster to achieve.
The camera’s Digital Filters offer a range of clever effects for creating a funkier, more creative look to your shots and the Dramatic tone filter is my favourite producing some impressive, well, dramatic shots, and best used on a part cloudy day.
Using the camera’s digital ‘Super Resolution Zoom’ feature where the camera provides the equivalent of a 48x zoom ratio (so that’s the equivalent of a 1200mm lens here) it provides rather smeared detail but use quite small, it is acceptable. I even managed to shoot a couple shots of the setting sun (bear in mind the sun was low, near the horizon and partly obscured by clouds – don’t ever try this with a full on sun) at the equivalent of the 1200mm digital zoom, imaging what appear to be a couple of sun spots (check out my example shots for the test) and all hand held. If I’d had a tripod handy no doubt the result would be a little clearer, but this is still impressive (if slightly murky) for a hand held compact.
The Olympus SZ-31MR costs a penny shy of £300 at the time of testing, with other similar cameras including the Pentax Optio VS20, Nikon’s Coolpix L310 and the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS plus the recently tested Fujifilm FinePix F770 EXR spanning a price range from around £150 to £300 and so it’s at the top end of the scale and as such fits neatly into the market housing as it does a good balance between features and performance and price point.
Olympus SZ-31MR review – Verdict
While the market has an ever-growing array of long zoomed compacts, few are as svelte as this Olympus, fewer still as attractive. This makes the Olympus SZ-31MR an ideal option for anyone looking for a compact camera for a holiday or those travelling and not wanting the bulk of a system camera.
Images are excellent particularly the colour reproduction but portrait shots are a little disappointing; the battery life is good and the fast high-speed shooting and full 1080p HD video recording with stereo sound and the clever iAuto setting and Magic filters all combine to make the camera well worth serious consideration. In short then, the Olympus SZ-31MR an amazing zoom lens crammed into a (relatively) tiny body and its image quality and overall performance mean it is indeed an ideal travel camera.