Timing Test Results
|The Olympus SZ-10 is a competitive super-zoom camera in the sub $300 category. With easy to use exposure options, good shooting performance, and pleasing image quality in various shooting conditions, the SZ-10 is one to consider. |
Pick This Up If...
|.....You are looking for a super-zoom camera for $250 or less. |
Trying to keep things simple, Olympus chose to incorporate fully automatic exposure options on the SZ-10. This allows you to spend less time worrying about what settings to use for a specific shot, and spend more time enjoying friends and snapping photos. With options like iAuto, Program AE, and 16 scene modes, you can just sit back, frame the shot, and let the camera do the rest of the work. While not giving much manual control, Olympus hasn't left you creative shooters out. Program mode does offer access to some more advanced settings; like ISO, White Balance, etc. However, the real creativity options on the SZ-10 are the 8 Magic filters; Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fish Eye, Drawing, Soft focus, Punk, Sparkle, and Watercolor. These allow you to have a bit more fun with your photos, without having to spend a bunch of time post processing later on your PC or Mac. Lastly, Olympus has included their 3D still image mode, which helps you creative 3D images using two still photos from different angles. You can choose to manually control this option, or let it work automatically; you just move the camera after the first photo and the camera will snap the second image for you once it's lined up.
In my humble opinion, Olympus did a great job designing the exterior of the SZ-10. While measuring only 4.2" x 2.6"H x 1.5" (WxHxD), the SZ-10 fits well in your hands thanks mostly to an enlarged hand grip on the right hand side of the camera. This affords a good grip on the body, and allows for simple one handed shooting. Thanks to the well placed controls, you can even zoom, or record video one handed. The other controls are placed in comfortable positions when using two hands. On the SZ-30MR (the SZ-10's big brother), we mentioned having some issues with the control wheel mounted around the 4-way controller. While the design is the same on the SZ-10 I can say we did not have the same problems when using this model. Comparing the wheels side by side, I felt that the SZ-10's wheel had slightly more resistance; which would help with the problem we noted in our SZ-30MR review (the wheel was too easy to move).
The SZ-10 uses the same high-quality LCD screen we saw on the SZ-30MR. This 3.0-inch screen boasts 460,000 pixels, which gives you a nice live image with pleasing detail and color. During our testing, we had no problem viewing the display in various lighting conditions. In harsh direct light (like outdoors in bright sunlight), we did see some angles which reflected the light making it more difficult to see. However, the SZ-10 does offer various brightness adjustments via the Setup menu, so you can boost up the brightness outdoors if needed; we never had an instance where we could not frame our subject outdoors in bright sunlight.
Probably the most dominant feature on the SZ-10 is the 18x optical zoom lens. This unit covers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 28 - 504mm. This gives you a great deal of versatility in composing your photos. The zoom mechanism is nice and smooth; and relatively quite too. It was not quite as precise as we saw with the SZ-30MR, so you still might find yourself zooming with your feet a bit if you are looking for uber precise framing; however, with 14-megapixels you have plenty of resolution for cropping. Thanks to the SZ-10's Dual IS (sensor-shift IS + Digital IS) system, we found this lens helps the camera capture sharp photos throughout the zoom range. Even our hand held, full telephoto shots look good. Overall this lens really sells this camera, especially when you consider the price tag of just $249 US or less.
Looking closely at the photos we captured, we found that the SZ-10 captures pleasing 14-megapixel images the majority of the time. iAuto mode produced appealing photos in most conditions, thanks to increased saturation and contrast. Our outdoor photos show plenty of detail, even when pixel peeping. Images are sharp throughout, with only some slight edge softness present. Colors are more natural when using Program mode compared to iAuto, due to the increased color saturation we mentioned earlier. When shooting people photos, the SZ-10 did well. The face detection system finds faces quickly, and for the most part produces nice photos with exposure and focus set for the faces detected. I did see quite a bit of noise when viewing at 100%, however at full screen the photos look great. This was even when the camera chose a lower ISO setting of 100 or 200. Moving indoors posed some concern. While the flash is quite powerful, I found that iAuto was not the best choice indoors. For some reason it reduces the flash output and boosts up the ISO (likely to create a brighter overall image), however the side effect of this is not pleasing; you can see an example on our samples page. The camera produced a soft image with white balance issues, along with a great deal of noise. We found using Program mode with the ISO set low produced better results indoors. Speaking of noise, although you can see it at the lowest ISO 64 setting, levels stay consistent all the way up to ISO 400. The 800 setting starts to show a step up in noise, and 1600 is riddled with it. Another issues we noticed indoors was with Red-eye. Most all of our indoor people photos showed instances of red-eye; some slight, some strong.
When it comes to video, the SZ-10 can record at three resolutions; 1280x720, 640x480, or 320x240. With the 720p and VGA modes, you can also choose Normal or Fine quality. Like we saw on the SZ-30MR, Olympus has also incorporated a dedicated video recording button on the back of the SZ-10. This makes capturing video a breeze, no matter what shooting mode you are in. When using the Magic Filters, the effect of the filter carries over to video as well, which allows you to shoot some very interesting movies. The optical zoom is not available while you are recording, which was a bit of a bummer considering it is available on the SZ-30. You'll just have to preset the desired focal length before recording starts. Overall, our videos look decent. The AF and AE systems do well in mixed lighting, and playback is very smooth. The Microphone picks up quite a bit of background noise, which is typical. We can also see a good amount of noise, however not enough to cause any viewing issues. You can watch the videos in-camera, or on your TV set with the supplied RCA-type video cables. The SZ-10 does have HDMI output via a mini HDMI port; however you'll need an optional HDMI cable if you want to watch the 720p movies on your HDTV.
The SZ-10's battery life was average for a camera in this price range. The included LI-50B 925mAh Li-ion battery pack is claimed to have enough juice to power the SZ-10 for up to 300 still photos; using CIPA Standard testing (50% no flash, 50% with flash). We were able to capture about 115 still images, various short video clips, and conclude our other tests before exhausting a pack. Like the SZ-30MR, the SZ-10's power supply is charged inside the camera, with the included USB cable. This means you can either use a USB port on your PC, or the included AC adapter. While this is convenient, it makes having a spare pack on hand difficult. While 300 stills should suffice for most, if you are going on vacation an extra pack is highly recommended.
Bottom Line - Olympus has created an affordable super-zoom camera that is stuffed inside a very petite frame. With ease of use in mind, they have incorporated a plethora of easy to use exposure options, along with eight Magic Filters that allow you to explore your creative side. Overall we were pleased with the performance and quality the SZ-10 has to offers, however like most cameras we did have a few annoyances (red-eye, iAuto issues indoors, etc.). That said, we feel the SZ-10 offers a good value for a camera sporting a price tag of $249 or less, especially for those looking for a versatile zoom lens in a small camera body.
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