Timing Test Results
|The SZ-30MR is a very appealing digital camera with powerful features, pleasing still image and video quality, and robust shooting performance. We had very few negative things to say about the SZ-30MR during our tests. |
Pick This Up If...
|...You are in the market for an easy to use digital camera that offers a powerful zoom range, while still being somewhat compact. |
Thanks to 100% automatic exposure control, the SZ-30MR is a breeze to use. With iAuto and 16 scene modes, all you have to worry about is framing the shot. For those who want to be a bit more creative, the SZ-30MR has plenty of options. These include Program mode, which gives you access to more advanced settings like ISO, White balance, and Exposure compensation. Then, you have 8 Magic filters, which really allow you to explore your creative side. For those who love 3D, you have the options to create 3D still photos from two separate exposure, and finally the newest addition; Multi-recording. Multi-frame technology is nothing new, however with the SZ-30MR Olympus has taken it a step further. Instead of capturing multiple frames for a HDR effect, the SZ-30MR offers several MR (Multi-Recording) modes that allow you to capture stills with video, magic filter with normal exposures, etc. This adds to the overall fun of the camera. While I was happy to see such a wealth of exposure options, I was hoping for at least an Aperture priority option for more advanced users.
The look and feel of the SZ-30MR is reminiscent of older SP series models; however with a more compact approach. The SZ-30MR measures approx. 4.2"x2.7"x1.6" (WxHxD), and weighs in at about 8 ounces without the memory card or battery installed. While only slight shorter and thinner than the SP-810, the SZ-30MR is almost half the weight.
The body ergonomics are pleasing, thanks mostly to the enlarged hand grip on the right hand side of the camera. All of the controls are placed in comfortable positions, just within reach of your finger tips. The hand grip also allows for simple one handed shooting; and thanks to the zoom control being mounted around the shutter release, you can eve zoom while shooting with one hand. All of the controls seems to move/operate well, with the exception of the scroll wheel that is mounted on the 4-way controller. While this is a very handy feature for making quick changes to settings, we found the wheel was a bit too easy to move. While trying to use the 4-way controller to scroll through options in the shortcut menu, I found myself accidentally changing settings due to the wheel rotating at the same time I would press "Up" or "Down" on the 4-way. This was very frustrating at times; especially one instance where it changed the white balance. Other than the small annoyance of the scroll wheel, we were very happy with the control layout and operation on the SZ-30MR.
Olympus has included a high-quality rear display for your framing and viewing needs. This 3.0-inch LCD screen offers a very pleasing picture, thanks to 460,000 pixels. The live image in record and playback modes is bright, sharp, and display accurate colors. With various brightness adjustments via the Setup menu, you can see the display in most all lighting conditions. However, like many LCDs, the screens cover does have a few angles which reflect bright sunlight, which might cause difficulties in framing. We also noticed that the screen collects fingerprints very easily; so carrying a soft cloth to clean the screen is recommended.
When shooting in the great outdoors, you will find the SZ-30MR's 24x optical zoom a true pleasure. This lens not only offers a vast equivalent zoom range of 25-600mm, but it also gives you several steps from wide angle to full telephoto; which allows for more precise framing. The lens can cover almost any subject, whether you're shooting a wide sunset type scene, or zooming across the football field; just be sure you have a sturdy camera support. Although the SZ-30MR features Olympus' Dual IS technology (sensor-shift IS + Digital IS), we still highly recommend you use some form of camera support when using the telephoto capabilities of a compact camera; tripod, monopod, etc. This will help increase the number of "keepers" you capture.
Image quality from the SZ-30MR was quite good for a consumer point-n-shoot. The majority of our outdoor photos were sharp with plenty of fine detail, and showed pleasing colors. Exposure was slightly on the strong side, which did cause some blown out highlights at times when shooting under bright sunlight. I believe this was due to the camera's Shadow Adjustment technology trying to boost the gamma (aka brightness) a bit to increase detail in darker areas of the photo. Regardless, the images still look pleasing. If one wanted to tone down the exposure a bit, switching to Program mode gives access to exposure compensation. The zoom lens helped the SZ-30MR capture sharp results throughout the zoom range, and I was actually quite impressed with the amount of detail seen at full telephoto when hand holding the camera. This tells me that Olympus equipped the SZ-30MR with some nice glass, and that the Dual IS system works quite well. Lens distortion is also well controlled. We saw only slight barrel distortion and pin cushioning at the wide angle and telephoto extremes, along with a few traces of purple fringing (AKA Chromatic Aberrations) in a select few photos.
Moving indoors, the manual pop-up flash unit really comes in handy. Although small, I was surprised to see that the flash was quite powerful; by modern day point-n-shoot standards. Olympus quotes an effective range of up to 30.5ft (9.3m) at wide angle, or 13.1ft (4.0m) at telephoto; using ISO 1600. While we used ISO Auto most of the time, we did set the ISO at 80 for our M&M man photo and the flash was still able to provide some good illumination. This is a big plus for the SZ-30MR, as most digicams have a very week flash. When shooting indoor portraits of family members, I found using Program Auto mode produced the best results. For some reason, in iAuto mode the camera throttles down the flash output, and raises the ISO. This causes not only increased noise, however you also get some white balance issues as the camera can not handle the strong mix of lighting (the output of the flash, plus the incandescent ambient lighting). For the best results indoors, I highly recommend you use Program mode.
Speaking of image noise, the SZ-30MR handles noise well for a point-n-shoot camera. While you can see traces even at the lowest ISO settings, you have to be critically inspecting images at 100%. I found noise levels were acceptable all the way up to ISO 800. The 1600 and 3200 settings show much more noise, however they are still usable for smaller sized prints.
Olympus has incorporated a very handy, dedicated video recording button. This allows you to start recording full HD video at any moment, no matter what exposure mode you are in. You have various resolution settings to choose from (1080p, 720p, 360p, 180p, VGA, QVGA), with a frame rate of 30fps. The optical zoom is available while recording, which is a very nice feature that is not standard among digicams. When zooming, the lens moves slowly, allowing the autofocus system to keep up. Our video samples show the SZ-30MR can record usable HD video. Is it on par with a digital camcorder; No. However, you can capture pleasing video of friends and family that can be shared online, on your PC, or a HDTV thanks to the camera's HDMI output; optional cable required.
Battery life is pretty average for a point-n-shoot. Olympus claims the LI-50B, 925mAh Li-ion battery pack can power the SZ-30MR for up to 300 shots on a single charge. We were able to capture about 200 still photos and several short 1080p HD video clips, with extensive use of the menu any playback systems before having to recharge the battery to complete our tests. With less use of the menus and playback functions, it's feasible that one could capture 300 photos on a single charge. The downfall with the SZ-30MR's power supply is the charging method. Like many cameras nowadays, the SZ-30MR charges the battery pack inside the camera, in conjunction with the USB cable. You can use a USB port on your PC, or the included AC adapter. This makes charging a spare pack difficult, since you do not have an external AC charger.
Bottom Line - The Olympus SZ-30MR is a feature rich, compact super-zoom camera that is packed with appealing features. The camera boasts a impressive zoom lens, great image quality, speedy shooting performance, full HD video, and loads of creative exposure options. We would have loved to see a bit more manual control, however the average consumer will be quite happy with the options available. While no camera is perfect, the SZ-30MR's strong points greatly out weigh the small annoyances or issues we found while using this powerful little camera. With an average retail price of $319 - $399 US, the SZ-30MR isn't the cheapest camera on the block. But, with the quality, options, and specifications it offers, we feel that it's worth the investment if you are looking for an easy to use digital camera with a powerful zoom range.
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