Mustek 832z Review
The MDC832Z is the first camera that we have reviewed from Mustek, we also reviewed its little brother, the 5-megapixel MDC 530z. The affordable 832z offers 8-megapixels of resolution, a 3x optical zoom lens 2.0-inch color LCD as well as a VGA (640x480) 20fps movie mode. This is a very simple to use point-n-shoot that has an exposure mode that will match the experience level of any beginner to novice user. The 832z can be fully automatic operation with either the Auto or pre-programmed scene modes, while it still offers a bit more control with the program AE, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, and Manual modes.
Ergonomics are good for a consumer model. The metal accented body fits well in your hands with the controls placed within the reach of your fingers. Its menu system was logically organized, making for easy navigation. While the camera does feature a large 2.0-inch LCD, I found it was a bit hard to use outdoors. The surface of the display is very reflective, and I found myself cupping it in order to frame a shot, or using the zoom-coupled optical viewfinder (just remember it only views about 80% of the captured image.) When shooting indoors it works very well, "gaining up" nicely to ensure you can see your subject.
The 832Z's shooting performance was average. Power up to first image captured was about 3.6 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured 3/10 of a second when pre-focused and 5/10 of a second including autofocus. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged about 4 seconds without the flash and 4.5 - 5.5 seconds with flash, depending on the distance from the subject and the available battery life. These times are slower due to the fact that you can not turn off image preview; which is about 1 second. The 832Z does offer a burst mode that allowed me to capture 3 shots in just 1.2 seconds. It then takes about 6 seconds for the camera to preview and process the shots, before you can continue shooting. Our tests were done using an Sandisk Ultra II 512MB SD card, 8M *** quality, Program Auto mode, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, photographer response, media, etc.
The most important feature of any digicam is of course, image quality. While the 832Z's 8M *** images are not the best 8-megapixel photos I have seen, they aren't bad when you consider the MSRP of this camera. The majority of our test shots are sharp and well exposed, however, I did see some edge blurring. Colors are richly saturated, almost to the point of over saturation. Noise levels are above average, especially in areas of high/low contrast. Its 3x optical zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 36mm-108mm, offering some versatility for composing your shots. This is a typical range for a consumer model, allowing you to capture decent landscape and group portraits with its moderate wide angle, while helping produce frame filling portraits using the telephoto end. We saw noticeable barrel distortion present at full wide angle as well as slight pincushioning.
Portrait mode seemed to produce good results both indoors and out. Indoors, you will have to work with the very limited range of the flash. Mustek claims it has a maximum coverage of 8.9 feet. I captured our indoor portrait sample from about 5 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. Even at such a close range the flash had trouble illuminating our subject. However, when shooting outdoors, it worked very well as a Fill-in flash, adding a pleasing little sparkle in my subject's eyes. The issue I had outside was that the white balance system tends to produce pictures with different color temperature, even though the subject did not change.
The 832Z allows you to capture video at 640x480 (fixed 20fps) with audio. The length of a clip is limited only by the amount of available memory. Our movie samples were merely Ok, showing visible compression noise and overexposure. However it is still useful; just be sure you have a large SD card as it consumers about 1.2MB per second. Clips are saved as .asf files, and I found QuickTime does not like to play them.
Battery life was not what we have come to expect from a consumer model. I exhausted two pairs of 2500 mAh cells, and only captured about 70 sample images and concluded many of our other tests. Luckily, this model does feature an optical viefinder, which will help save precious battery power. While you can use Either Alkaline or NiMH batteries, we always recommend the NiMH. They offer better life and they'll save you money in the long run.
Bottom line - When you first see the key features of Mustek's MDC832Z, it looks like a tempting model in the affordable compact digicam category. After using it however, you will see what the differences between this model and a model from a more noted manufacter. While it offers average performance and image quality, at $250, I feel you could find a much more capable camera. You may loose a few megapixels with models like Canon's PowerShot A530 or Panasonic's Lumix LZ3, but you'll gain much better image quality and performance as well as save a few bucks!
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