March 6, 2013

OLYMPUS SP-800UZ


Last week we reviewed the Fujifilm FinePix HS10, which was a a point-and-shoot camera with an incredible 30x high zoom lens, and all the image customization options that would put a DSLR camera to shame. Today we have with us the Olympus SP-800UZ, which is closer to a standard point-and-shoot camera than a DSLR. It has a far simpler design and lesser image customization options than the HS10 but comes with the same incredible 30x optical zoom lens.

 


Design & Construction
The Olympus SP-800UZ looks like someone took a point-and-shoot camera and stuck a large lens on its front. Technically, that's what it is, actually. The main body of the camera is pretty slim, unlike the HS10. Unfortunately, this has it's disadvantages. The SP-800UZ doesn't offer a good grip. Since the camera is not very tall, the lower half of your hand has nothing to grip onto. Even the rubber grip in the front is very tiny. 


The lens on the SP-800UZ is pretty big when closed, but, unlike the HS10, it does not pop out nearly as much at its highest zoom level. On the top right of the lens is the microphone, on the top left is the focus assist lamp and on the bottom left is the loudspeaker. Above the lens sits the flash, which has to be manually opened every time you want it to fire. On top of the camera is the shutter button with the zoom ring and the power button. 


The back side of the SP-800UZ is rather bare. On the left you see the large wide screen display. The display quality is decent but since it is a wide screen display it is more suited for viewing videos, as the images only take the center portion of the display. One good thing is that the icons take up the black space on the side, so your view is not blocked. The display is your viewfinder on the SP-800UZ, as there is no optical viewfinder. 


On the right you will see the prominent red colored video recording button. Below is the playback button, the rotating jog dial and the menu buttons. I found that the jog dial was a bit too small and difficult to operate. It was easier to press it than to turn it.

The SP-800UZ, surprisingly, does not have any shortcut buttons for any of the functions. For everything you have to go into the menu and then adjust. This can get annoying and tedious while shooting.

The build quality and fit and finish of the camera is top notch. It has a well-weighted feel to it and feels sturdy. 



Performance

The start-up speed of the camera is rather slow. It takes two full seconds to show the image on the screen after starting the camera. The shot to shot time is acceptable though.

The image quality of the SP-800UZ is pretty good, even a notch better than the HS10 that we reviewed recently. Images were detailed and the colors were natural. The white balance indoors was inaccurate though and the camera would produce inaccurate colors under incandescent colors.







The long zoom really comes in handy. Unlike the HS10, the SP-800UZ does not have manual control over the zoom, so you will have to rely on the steps on the zoom mechanism. The image stabilization is really good and even at full zoom the images came out clear and blur-free. 



The SP-800UZ is capable of recording videos in 1280 x 720 (the HS10 could do full 1080p with slow motion modes). The video quality is pretty good and the dedicated control comes in handy. You can use the zoom while recording videos as well.


Verdict

The Olympus SP-800UZ is priced at Rs. 22,900. At that price you get a camera with an absurdly long zoom, good image quality and HD video recording. Unfortunately, the camera fails when it comes to manual control over the camera settings and the menu navigation isn't particularly intuitive or convenient. If better control is what you desire then you would do better with a cheap DSLR, such as the Canon EOS-1000D. But if all you need is a high zoom camera with basic features and good image quality, then the Olympus SP-800UZ fits the bill.

CANON POWERSHOT A3100 IS

The Canon A3100 IS is a low price, point-and-shoot camera. It has a 12.1 megapixel sensor, 4x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, and a 2.7" display.


The A3100 IS has a simple but attractive design. It is available in three colors; silver, red and blue, all of which look good. However, it does have a slight plasticky feel to it, which is suggestive of the low price of the camera. The overall fit and finish is good though.



On the top are the power button, the shutter button and the mode dial, along with the microphone. Due to the position of the mode select dial, it is not easy to rotate it while holding it in shooting position. You have to bring it down and use your thumb and index finger to rotate it properly. The shutter button also does not render a proper tactile response when you press it completely.



At the back, you can see the zoom keys on top, right where your thumb rests and hence within easy reach. Below is the playback key and the Face Select key that let you switch between multiple faces in a frame, so you can choose one to focus on. Right below is the 5-way D-pad with functions such as exposure, focusing mode, self timer and flash mode assigned to each of the four sides and the function key in the middle. Below is the display key that toggles the information on the screen and the main menu key. All the keys on the back are large and easy to press and offer a good tactile feedback.

On the left is the 2.7" LCD. The display is fairly large and of decent quality, and is easy to see even outdoors. Images generally tend to look a lot better on the A3100's display than on the computer's monitor.

On the right side of the camera underneath a plastic flap is the miniUSB port for connecting the provided USB cable or TV out cable. On the bottom is another flap covering the internal rechargeable Li-Ion battery and the SD card slot. Our test sample came with a laughable 32MB of SD card with it. Yes, that's right, 32MB! Although retail units will definitely ship with something bit more spacious.


Being a basic point-and-shoot camera, the image adjustment options are pretty low. From the mode dial you can switch to the Program mode, which is where you get to access all the features of the camera; Auto mode, which disables most of the settings; and Easy mode, which disables all the settings for a simplified shooting experience.






Other options on the dial include portrait, landscape, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, scene modes - which includes FaceSelf Timer that automatically starts the countdown timer when it detects a new face in the frame - low light, which boosts the ISO levels but drops down the resolution to 2 megapixels, super vivid, poster effect, beach, foliage, snow, fireworks and long shutter  - where you get to choose the shutter speed manually from 1 second to 15 seconds.

Overall we found the menu design and layout of the interface extremely intuitive and even beginners - whom the camera is targeted at - won't have any trouble operating it.

Performance of the camera was slightly on the slower side. The time from starting the camera and taking the first shot is 2.53 seconds. The shot to shot time is around 2.47 seconds, while on using the flash it increases to 3.56 seconds. Opening the image viewer was a bit slow (2.82 seconds), as was moving from one image to another (0.84 seconds). The zooming and panning was quick though. 


Image quality on the A3100 IS was surprisingly good for a budget camera. The detail levels were quite decent but could have been better and the images overall had a soft look to them. The colors were slightly pumped up and are aimed at looking good rather than being accurate. Noise levels were well under control most of the time, except when it was too dark. The low-light performance was a mixed bag. While closer objects came out decent even without flash objects that were further away (such as buildings) were blurred and barely distinguishable from the noise.




The video recording quality was average and on par with most point-and-shoot cameras. Unfortunately, you cannot use optical zoom while recording videos, although you can zoom before you start recording and then use the same zoom level throughout your videos.


The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS is prices at Rs. 8,995 MRP. For that price you get a good looking camera with good usability and decent image quality. It does lack a bit on features and we wished it was a bit faster, but overall, for that price, the A3100 is a pretty good buy.

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