Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
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  • 10x super wide optical zoom lens (24-240 mm)
  • 16 megapixel CCD image sensor
  • 3.0-inch LCD view screen
  • AF Illuminator
  • Magic Art Filters
  • Beauty Make-up Mode
  • AF Tracking
  • 720p HD video
  • Very similar to VR-340 and VR-360
Pros
  • VR-350 is an inexpensive camera
  • This model is very easy to use
  • Dedicated Help button is nice for learning more about the camera, along with general photography tips
  • Beginners will appreciate on-screen explanations of features 
  • Battery/memory card compartment has a sturdy latch
  • 16MP of resolution
  • Art filters can be fun to use
  • Small flash works pretty well for low-light photos
  • When powered down, lens retracts fully inside camera, and lens glass is protected by an automatic cover
  • LCD is a good size and is sharp
  • Shortcut menu gives you quick access to settings
  • 10x optical zoom is a nice feature
  • Colors in photos are realistic and bright
  • VR-350 has 3D photo mode
Cons
  • Camera is a little chunky versus other low-end point-n-shoots
  • Control buttons are too small and aren't comfortable to use
  • Very limited number of manual control settings
  • Number of menu choices are extremely limited
  • Some menu options are very odd, and some expected menu options are missing
  • Menus respond very slowly when you press buttons
  • Video options are limited, including no zoom availability
  • Only can shoot 720p HD video
  • No cover for USB port
  • No HDMI port
  • Camera's response times are slow
  • In-camera editing options are limited
  • Camera has some softness in images
  • Flash's position makes it easy to block with a finger
  • Similarities of VR-350 to VR-340 and VR-360 may confuse some photographers
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 3.2 seconds (with start-up image turned off)
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.6 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay without flash = 5.3 seconds between frames with minimum review time On (review cannot be turned Off)
  • Shot to shot delay with flash = 5.6 seconds between frames with minimum review time On  (review cannot be turned Off)
  • Continuous Mode = 5 frames in 9.4 seconds @ 16M
  • High-Speed Mode 1 = 10 frames in 6.8 seconds @ 3M
  • High-Speed Mode 2 = 12 frames in 1.2 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 Olympus VR-350 (which is almost identical to the VR-340 and VR-360) has some specifications that will grab your attention in its price point of a little over $100. With 16MP of resolution, a sharp 3.0-inch LCD, and a 10x optical zoom lens, the VR-350 provides a good value. However, this camera's performance level isn't very good, about like what you'd expect to find in a camera with such a low price tag. The VR-350 responds slowly to commands, has some softness in images, and its video capabilities are well below average. However, its nice zoom lens and easy-to-use configuration - coupled with the low price - make those problems easier to handle for a beginning photographer.
Pick This Up If...
You're a beginning photographer who wants a larger zoom lens, and you're willing to sacrifice some performance to save some money to get that 10x optical zoom lens.
Before digging into the pluses and minuses of the low-priced Olympus VR-350 point-n-shoot camera, it's probably worth clearing up some potential confusion about this model. 

For some reason, Olympus has created three almost identical cameras in the VR-350, VR-340, and the VR-360. To add to the confusion, you also may see these cameras called the D-750, D-755, and D-760 in areas of the world outside of North America.

The differences between the three models are subtle. The VR-340 and VR-350 are almost identical, other than the fact that the VR-350 can shoot 3D still images and has a couple of extra special effect shooting options versus the VR-340. The VR-360 has a slightly larger optical zoom lens (12.5x) and includes an HDMI port versus the other two models. These cameras are so similar that Olympus only created one user manual for all three models.

Basically, if you see the VR-340 or VR-360 on a store shelf, those Olympus cameras are almost certainly going to have a performance level similar to the VR-350 that's reviewed here.

With that out of the way, the VR-350 is a lot like many inexpensive point-n-shoot cameras on the market right now: It has a low price for a reason, as its performance levels are below average.

Still, if you think you can live with a few of this camera's disappointing performance options, you're going to be pleased with a few of its features, specifically the 10x optical zoom lens, the 16MP of resolution, and the bright and sharp 3.0-inch LCD.

The Olympus VR-350 is a little thicker than some other inexpensive point-n-shoot cameras on the market today, measuring 1.1 inches in depth. The overall look of the VR-350 is pretty standard with a rectangular shape and rounded edges. 

The large lens housing occupies a large portion of the camera's front panel. It has a slightly raised area on the front of the camera, providing a bit of a grip for your right hand. Depending on where you are in the world, you may find the VR-350 in silver, black, red, purple, and white. Some of the cameras have silver trim.

When the lens is fully extended, this camera is almost 3 inches in depth, which is quite large for this type of camera. Having a little bit of thickness in the VR-350 may disappoint some beginning photographers who prefer as thin of a camera as possible, but I thought this model was pretty comfortable to hold. In addition, having a slightly thicker camera allowed Olympus to create a slightly thicker rechargeable battery, which leads to better battery life versus many similarly priced point-n-shoot cameras. Olympus estimates about 300 photos can be shot on a full charge, and my tests showed that number is only a little high.

However, the placement of the flash in the upper left area of the front of the camera (when viewed from the front) makes it pretty easy to partially block the flash with the fingers of your right hand. I lost track of the number of times during my tests that I shot a flash photo, only to have to reshoot it after seeing some of the light from the flash reflect off my inadvertently placed finger. It will take some practice to learn to hold the camera without compromising the light from the flash.

Once you're able to hold the camera correctly, you'll be pleased with how the VR-350 performs while you're shooting flash images. Most point-n-shoot cameras in this price range struggle with flash photos, but the VR-350 did a pretty nice job.

Unfortunately, the camera's response times when using the flash are poor. You will have to wait several seconds for the Olympus VR-350 to recover after a flash photo. To be fair, the poor response times of this camera can't be completely blamed on the flash, because the VR-350's performance when you aren't using the flash is only slightly better. Because of this camera's delays for shutter lag and between shots, you're probably going to miss a few spontaneous photos. 

The camera is ready to shoot its first photo a couple of seconds after you press the power button, as long as you turn off the start-up image in the on-screen menus, something that most beginning photographers won't know to do. Failing to turn off the start-up image can add up to a second to your start-up time, which can be the difference between capturing that great photo and having the subject move outside the frame. I'll never know why camera manufacturers choose to make the start-up image part of the start-up process, causing the camera to respond more slowly.

You can pre-focus on your subjects to negate some of the problems of shutter lag, but pre-focusing isn't always possible with moving subjects. The VR-350's basic burst shooting mode helps the shot-to-shot delays a little bit, but this mode still operates pretty slowly, requiring almost 10 seconds to shoot five photos at full resolution. The LCD goes blank between shots in this mode, too, making it tough to frame images.

The shooting performance isn't the only area where the VR-350 suffers delays. Although the camera's menu structure has a very limited number of commands available, it still works very slowly. I felt myself wanting to work through menus much more quickly than I was able to because of slight delays as the camera shifted from menu to menu.

Speaking of the VR-350's menu structure, it's odd at best. There aren't many commands from which to choose, and Olympus seems to have left out some commonly used commands, while including some odd choices. For example, you cannot turn off the review screen that appears between shots, which leads to a slight increase in shot-to-shot delays. However, you can choose whether you want the Playback button to serve as a second on/off button.

Some of the labels and icons for commands are odd, too, and they're tough to decipher. During my tests, I had to refer to the user guide a few times to try to figure out what a few commands did. I normally don't need to refer to the user guide very often during testing, so figuring out the VR-350's odd menu labels required some extra time, which was frustrating.

One aspect of the VR-350's menus that works well is the shortcut menu that's always listed along the right side of the screen as you're preparing to shoot photos. Through this shortcut menu, you can control most of the shooting functions, including the flash setting, shooting mode, burst mode, and resolution. 

There are some other really nice aspects of this camera. The 3.0-inch LCD has 460,000 pixels, which results in a screen that's really sharp. It's also has good brightness, although if you want to make the screen even brighter, the camera's menu will limit you to only two brightness settings: Normal and Bright. Most cameras offer at least five different brightness settings.

The camera's 16-megapixels of resolution are at the top end of the market right now, which is great. However, with a small 1/2.3-inch CCD image sensor (0.43 inches diagonally), the overall image quality that the VR-350 can produce is not quite as good as you might find with a larger image sensor or with a CMOS image sensor. In addition, Olympus included a very limited number of resolution settings and aspect ratios with the VR-350, which is disappointing. Basically, you only can shoot 4:3 aspect ratio photos, other than one 16:9 widescreen ratio setting, which is limited to 2MP of resolution. (The VR-360 has a larger, 12MP resolution option for widescreen shooting.)

Options for shooting video are very limited, too, which is another significant disappointment. The maximum HD video resolution is 720p, and there's no high-frame rate option at a lower resolution. You're limited to 15 or 30 frames per second. You can set the white balance and the exposure value when shooting movies, but you have no other manual controls.

However, the most annoying feature when shooting movies is the fact that the zoom lens cannot be moved. Whatever zoom setting you're using when you press the video button is the zoom setting you're stuck with for the duration of the video clip. This was a common problem with point-n-shoot digital cameras a few years ago, but most newer cameras allow you to use the zoom while shooting video. Overall, the VR-350's video capabilities are far below average.

Because the 10x optical zoom lens is the star of this camera model, the inability to use it while shooting video is even more puzzling. However, the 10x zoom found here is definitely a great level of magnification to have for shooting still images with an inexpensive point-n-shoot. The zoom mechanism works pretty quickly, running through the entire range in a little more than a second, which is pretty fast for a camera in this price range. You'll have 12 distinct stops in the zoom range, which also is pretty nice for this type of camera.

The VR-350's autofocus mechanism is accurate most of the time. However, the focus in the photos just isn't quite as sharp as I'd like to see it on a consistent basis. Most cameras in this price range suffer from a little bit of image softness, so the VR-350 isn't much different in that regard. Color accuracy is pretty good, and photos look nice - as long as you don't plan to print them at really large sizes. You will have some photos that are really sharp, but it doesn't happen as often as I'd like to see.

Bottom Line - The Olympus VR-350 has a pretty nice set of starting features for a camera in this price range. It offers a 10x optical zoom lens that works quickly, a large and sharp 3.0-inch LCD, 16MP of resolution, and an extensive set of help screens aimed at beginners. The VR-350 is really easy to use as a point-n-shoot camera, as long as you don't have to decipher the odd menu icons and labels too often. The VR-350 has some problems, though, including slow response times and some shutter lag issues. It creates some photos that are slightly soft, and its movie functions are poor. All of these are problems that point-n-shoot cameras in this price range have from time to time, but to have all of them in one camera is a bit of a disappointment. However, among cameras in this price range, the VR-350's feature set is above average. So, if you can live with some of the deficiencies you'll find with the Olympus VR-350 - or with the VR-340 or VR-360, for that matter - this camera is worth considering, especially if you can find it at a bargain price.

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