Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
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  • 14 megapixels
  • 5x optical zoom lens (26-130 mm)
  • 3.0-inch LCD viewing screen
  • AF Tracking
  • Shadow Adjustments
  • Face Detection
  • iAuto (Intelligent Auto)
  • 14 built-in scene modes
  • Magic Art Filters
  • 720p HD Video
  • Digital Image Stabilization
Pros
  • Recent price drop makes VG-160 a good value
  • Easy-to-use camera has only basic features
  • Very thin design
  • VG-160's features compare pretty well to other sub-$100 cameras
  • 3.0-inch LCD is nice to find in a low-priced model
  • Image quality with flash photos is surprisingly good
  • Lens retracts fully inside camera when powered down
  • Lens glass is protected by an automatic cover when camera is powered down
  • Battery life is better than average versus other low-priced cameras
  • Battery/memory card compartment door is of above average quality for sub-$100 camera
  • Start-up is pretty fast for camera in this price range
  • Shortcut menu makes it easy to change shooting modes
Cons
  • Focus is a bit soft almost any time the lighting in the scene isn't ideal
  • Camera's shot-to-shot delays are disappointing
  • Small image sensor paired with 14MP of resolution limits overall image quality
  • 5x optical zoom lens is below average in today's market
  • Very few menu commands make it tough to control the camera the way you want
  • LCD has some glare issues
  • Only two brightness settings are available with LCD
  • No full HD movie mode; no HDMI port
  • Zoom lens is locked when shooting movies
  • Very limited manual control options
  • Position of flash means you may often block it with your fingers
  • Control buttons are pretty small and aren't comfortable to use
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 2.3 seconds (with start-up image turned off)
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.5 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay without flash = 4.8 seconds between frames with minimum review time On (review cannot be turned Off)
  • Shot to shot delay with flash = 5.3 seconds between frames with minimum review time On (review cannot be turned Off)
  • Continuous Mode = 10 frames in 12.1 seconds @ 14M
  • High-Speed Mode 1 = 10 frames in 5.2 seconds @ 3M
  • High-Speed Mode 2 = 12 frames in 1.5 seconds @ 3M
  • All tests were taken using a PNY Class 10, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
The specification list and look of the Olympus VG-160 certainly aren't going to impress many photographers. Everything about this camera's look screams budget-priced underperformer. However, if you're someone who needs to shop for a camera in the sub-$100 price range, the VG-160 is going to give you a couple of surprising pluses. The VG-160 does a really nice job with flash photos, has a fast start-up, and has a 3.0-inch LCD screen. There certainly are plenty of drawbacks with the VG-160, but nothing that's a surprise for a camera in this price range. If you're shopping in the sub-$100 price point, the VG-160 will give you decent performance levels versus its peers.
Pick This Up If...
You're a beginning photographer looking for a thin point-n-shoot camera that has an extremely low price, but that can perform pretty well with flash photos and that provides good value versus its low-priced peers. 
If you're someone who's drawn in by the latest and greatest options in your digital cameras, you can probably stop reading right here. The Olympus VG-160 definitely does not provide a host of attention-grabbing, cutting-edge features.

However, if you're someone who's drawn in by a good value, the VG-160 could very well belong on your short list. 

With a recent price drop from Olympus, the VG-160 will carry a price tag below $100. If you need advanced photography features or if you have a bigger budget, the VG-160 probably isn't worth looking at, even with a really low price point. Similarly, if you're anyone but a beginning photographer, you're probably going to be pretty frustrated with some of this camera's drawbacks. The VG-160 isn't a fast performer, it doesn't shoot the sharpest photos, and it's LCD has some glare problems. However, if the budget for your camera is in the sub-$100 area, the VG-160 performs just well enough versus other low-priced models that it's going to be camera well worth considering.

The best feature for the VG-160 is its ability to perform well with flash photos. I was very surprised with the overall quality of images when using the small, yet powerful, built-in flash unit. Images are pretty sharp when shot with the flash. You may notice some dark areas at the edges of your flash photos, but versus other cameras in this price range, the VG-160 performs well above average when it comes to flash photos. 

One issue you may experience with your flash photos is related to the design of the camera. When holding the VG-160, it can be tough to avoid having the fingers on your right hand partially block the flash. It'll take a little practice to hold the camera properly and avoid this problem.

The Olympus VG-160 has a pretty fast start-up -- again, versus other similarly priced cameras -- as long as you turn off the automatic start-up image that Olympus includes as a default for whatever reason. Shutter lag is a problem with this camera, but it's not as troublesome as it can be with most bargain-priced models. Unfortunately, you probably will miss a few photos of fast-moving subjects because of the shutter lag, just not as many as with other sub-$100 models. 

Shot-to-shot delays are a significant problem for this camera. You're going to want to be sure that you've framed your photos correctly, because you must wait several seconds for the camera to respond to allow you to re-shoot the image. Oddly, you also cannot turn off the automatic review that occurs between shots, which increases the delay between photos.

You can try to limit the issues with the camera's delays by pre-focusing on your subjects by holding the shutter button halfway down. You also can use one of the VG-160's burst shooting modes, but the LCD goes blank during these burst modes, which makes it tough to shoot images that are well composed.

The 3.0-inch LCD screen is a nice touch by Olympus, as many budget-priced cameras have smaller screens. Glare is a bit of a problem with the VG-160's screen, and, unfortunately, you cannot adjust the the screen beyond one level of extra brightness to counteract the glare. It'd also be nice if the VG-160's LCD screen was a little sharper.

Thin and stylish cameras tend to dominate this segment of the market, and the Olympus VG-160 fits pretty well here. It measures only 0.8 inches in thickness, and it's available in four colors -- black, silver, red, and orange -- with silver trim. I like the look of having the lens housing occupy most of the front panel of the camera. Like many point-n-shoot cameras, the VG-160 has a rectangular shape with rounded edges. When the lens is fully extended, the camera's thickness is a little more than 2 inches.

Battery life with the VG-160 is pretty good versus similarly priced, thin cameras.

One area where the VG-160 disappoints pretty significantly is in its small optical zoom lens, which only measures 5x. The zoom lens mechanism works fast, moving through the entire zoom range in less than 1 second (of course, that's easier to do with such a small zoom lens). I counted nine distinct stops in the VG-160's zoom lens, although it can be difficult to make the lens stop on the exact magnification level you want because it moves so fast. 

A 5x zoom is at the low end of the digital camera market, and it means you won't have much luck shooting over a distance. Most of your photos are going to end up being portrait photos and group shots with the VG-160. 

I also didn't like the fact that Olympus chose to include a zoom switch on the back panel of the camera to control the zoom lens, rather than a zoom ring around the shutter button, which is a common design among today's cameras. It's just a little awkward to try to use your thumb to control the zoom while pinching the thin camera to hold it in place.

The other control buttons on the VG-160's back panel are pretty small. I didn't think they were very comfortable to use. Because the VG-160 doesn't offer very many manual control options, there aren't many buttons on this camera, which does make this Olympus point-n-shoot camera pretty easy to use. In other words, there won't be a lot of confusion on your part about which buttons to press.

Rather than using a mode dial or several buttons to make changes to the camera's settings, you can use the on-screen shortcut menu. This shortcut menu actually is pretty handy to use, and it'll be a nice feature for beginners. Unfortunately, the camera's primary menus are a little confusing to use with some odd commands included. I found the design of the primary menus to be an area that could use a lot of improvement from Olympus.

The VG-160's movie functions are poor. You can shoot at a maximum HD video resolution of 720p, and you really don't have much control over the settings for the recordings. Even worse, you cannot move the optical zoom lens once the video recording starts. Wherever you have the zoom lens set when you press the video recording button is where it's locked for the duration of the recording. Having a locked zoom for video is something that was common with low-priced cameras several years ago, but it's rare in today's market. 

Outside of the nice results in flash photos, the VG-160's image quality is average for a budget-priced camera, and it's well below average compared to the digital camera market as a whole. The focus is a little soft in far too many photos, and there will be some chromatic aberration (purple edges on objects) in photos where the flash isn't used. For a camera that has a maximum resolution of 14 megapixels, it's going to be difficult to make large prints because of the soft focus. Similar to most cameras in this price range, the VG-160 has a pretty small image sensor (measuring 0.43 inches diagonally), which is a significant reason why image quality is going to be only average at best.

Most of the VG-160's photos look pretty good on a Web site or in an e-mail, and they'll be more than adequate for sharing on social networks. Just don't expect to make large prints, even if you're shooting at the full 14MP of resolution, in large part because of the small image sensor. 

I was really disappointed to see that Olympus chose to only allow one resolution (2MP) for shooting 16:9 aspect ratio photos. Because the resolution is so low for this widescreen setting, it's pretty much unusable for prints of any size. All other resolution settings are for 4:3 aspect ratio photos. 

Noise levels are pretty bad at the higher ISO settings, and the VG-160 can only use a maximum ISO of 1600, which is below average. As with most budget-priced cameras, you're going to have far better results using the flash in low-light photos, rather than trying to bump up the ISO.

Bottom Line - Bargain shoppers are going to find plenty of aspects to like about the low-priced Olympus VG-160. Compared to its sub-$100 peers, the VG-160 shoots pretty nice photos with the built-in flash, has a fast start-up, and includes a 3.0-inch LCD screen. I was pleasantly surprised with the VG-160's performance levels versus other cameras in its price range. However, this camera has quite a few limitations, including a small 5x optical zoom lens, poor video shooting functions, soft focus in many photos, and significant delays between shots. If you have more money to spend, you're easily going to be able to find much better cameras than the VG-160. However, if you are limited to a $100 budget, the VG-160 is a pretty nice little camera for beginners or for kids. It isn't going to help you create large, sharp prints, but it'll work well for shooting small group photos with a flash that can be shared through social networks. 

Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.

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