The 5x optical zoom lens that the Olympus VG-160 includes isn't going to turn any heads among camera shoppers. Very few cameras have an optical zoom measurement that's smaller, although some high-end point-n-shoot models are pairing a small zoom lens with top-end glass and a large image sensor for great portrait photography. The VG-160 isn't one of these types of cameras, so the small zoom lens in the VG-160 is going to cause some people to ignore this camera immediately.
The lens has an 35mm equivalent measurement of 26 - 130 mm. The VG-160's aperture range is F2.8 to F6.5.
The exterior of the lens housing is slightly raised away from the camera's body, but not enough to really add much to this model's 0.8-inch thickness measurement. The lens housing occupies almost the entire right side of the camera's front panel (as viewed from the front). When you turn on the camera, the lens extends about 1.5 inches from the camera body, both at minimum and maximum zoom. Actually, when you're shooting at the middle of the zoom range, the lens extends about 1 inch from the camera body, so the lens retracts a bit and then extends again as you move through the zoom range.
When the VG-160 is turned off, the lens retracts fully inside the camera, and a cover automatically protects the glass.
The measurements for focus range for the VG-160 are:
Normal: 2 ft. (60 cm) to infinity (wide); 3.3 ft. (100 cm) to infinity (tele)
Macro: 0.7 ft. (20 cm) to infinity (wide); 2 ft. (60 cm) to infinity (tele)
Super Macro: 0.16 ft. (5 cm) to infinity
The lens leads to a 1/2.3-inch CCD image sensor (measuring 0.43 inches diagonally), which is the smallest you'll find in a digital camera on the market right now. With 14-megapixels of resolution paired with the small image sensor and occasional problems with soft focus, the VG-160's ability to create large prints isn't very good.
As with most ultra-thin point-n-shoot cameras, the VG-160's flash is very small and is placed in the upper left corner, rather than being centered over the lens. This design leaves it a little difficult to hold the camera comfortably without partially or fully blocking the flash with the fingers on your right hand.
Even with these design problems, the flash works pretty well for basic indoor photos. You may notice a few dark areas at the edges of your flash photos from time to time because the flash isn't very powerful. And if you're too close, you may see some hot spots on the subject because you can't control the intensity of the flash. However, compared to other budget-priced cameras, the VG-160's flash photo quality is above average.
There is a bit of extra delay between shots when using the VG-160's flash. However, because this camera's shot-to-shot delays are pretty poor to start with, the delays from the flash aren't overly noticeable.
If you like your camera controls simplistic, the VG-160 delivers. The top panel contains two buttons: A rectangular On/Off button and a rounded shutter button.
The power button is depressed a bit versus the camera's top panel, which makes it a little tough to find and press when you're in a hurry. The VG-160 is ready to shoot about 2.5 seconds after you press the power button, which is pretty good for a camera in the sub-$100 price range.
The shutter button is a good size, making it easy to find the shutter when you're blindly stabbing for it while staring at the LCD to frame the photo. However, Olympus chose not to surround the shutter button with a zoom ring, which is a pretty common design feature on today's point-n-shoot cameras. The zoom switch is on the back panel, which means you have to try to use your thumb to both hold the camera steady and press the zoom switch. I prefer designs where the zoom ring surrounds the shutter button for this reason, so you may want to try this model before you buy it to test its design
Having a 3.0-inch LCD screen (measured diagonally) in a sub-$100 camera is pretty nice. Most low-priced digital cameras contain a 2.7-inch LCD. The VG-160's LCD screen isn't as sharp as one you may see on a more expensive camera, as it contains about 230,000 pixels. However, compared to others in this price range, the VG-160's LCD screen is more than adequate.
As with most LCD screens on low-priced cameras, the VG-160's screen has a few problems with glare in bright sunlight. Unfortunately, Olympus only included two brightness settings with the VG-160's screen -- Bright and Normal -- which makes it much more difficult to counteract the glare problems. Having more options for increasing the brightness would be nice.
Not surprisingly with a small cameras, the control buttons on the VG-160's back panel are pretty small. They're not comfortable to use.
Along the top of the right side of the back panel is the zoom switch that I mentioned earlier, with W (wide) for less magnification of the zoom and T (telephoto) for more magnification of the zoom.
Just below the zoom switch is the video button (marked with a red dot), through which you start and stop video recording. The Playback button is just below the video button, through which you can view any images you have stored on the memory card.
Next is the four-way button, which surrounds the OK button. The upper part of the four-way button is the Info button, through which you can make changes to the data that's displayed on the screen, either when reviewing images in Playback mode or when shooting still images. The bottom of the four-way button contains the Delete/Trash function, through which you can delete any images stored on the memory card. The right and left side of the four-way button don't have specific functions associated with them, but you can use them to open the on-screen shortcut menu. Use the OK button to make selections in the on-screen menus.
Just below the four-way button you'll find the Menu button on the left and the Help button on the right. You can open the camera's primary menus -- but not the shortcut menu -- using the Menu button. The Help button only works when you're viewing the primary menus, causing an explanation of certain features to appear on the screen. The Help button is disabled much of the time.
Along the right side of the VG-160, you'll find a USB port behind a panel that snaps in place.
Olympus has placed the memory card slot and battery compartment on the bottom panel of the VG-160. The hinged door snaps into place, but it has no locking mechanism. The hinge was of a good quality and it had no give or wiggle to it, which is pretty rare among cameras in this price range.
The VG-160 will work with SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards.
The battery Olympus included with VG-160 is pretty thin, which is common among low-priced ultra-thin cameras. Unfortunately, the trade-off for such a thin battery is that the amount of power it can hold is limited. Olympus estimates the VG-160's battery can hold enough power to shoot 300 photos. However, my tests showed the actual results were between 225 and 250 photos, which actually is a pretty good battery life result for a camera in this price range.
Olympus did not include a separate battery charger with the VG-160, which means you must charge the battery inside the camera. As having the camera plugged into an AC adapter during the charging process will leave the camera unusable, you may want to purchase a second battery so you can have longer shooting sessions.
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