Olympus Mju 9010 Review
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Announced at CES 2010, the 14-megapixel, 10x zoom Olympus mju 9010 (also known as the Olympus Stylus 9010) is the new flagship of the mju / Stylus range. Boasting a 28-280mm equivalent zoom lens in a compact body, the range-topping Olympus mju 9010 offers image stabilisation, 720p HD movie recording, an in-camera manual, 2GB of internal memory and SD / SDHC card support. Also on board is an iAuto mode that detects the five most commonly used scenes and adjusts settings automatically. A 2.7-inch rear LCD screen, Advanced Face Detection, AF Tracking, in-camera panorama stitching, Shadow Adjustment Technology and a range of "Magic Filters" round off the features list. Available in Champagne Gold and Midnight Black, the Olympus Stylus 9010 can be yours for £234.99 / $299.99.
Ease of Use
The Olympus mju 9010 (marketed as the Olympus Stylus 9010 in the U.S.A.) is somewhat thicker and heavier than its little sister the Olympus mju 7040 we reviewed last week. It also appears to be sturdier. One of the reasons for the extra weight is the longer zoom, which spans a focal range of 5-50mm, or 28-280mm in old money. In fact the only significant points of difference between the mju 9010 and the mju 7040 are the lens and the LCD screen, with the other differences being largely cosmetic in nature. The user interface and features of the two snappers are so similar that they actually share the same user manual. For this reason, we will use some of the text from our mju 7040 review, except where the two cameras differ from each other.
The front plate is one place where they do. If anything, the faceplate of the Olympus mju 9010 is even more polished and classy than that of the mju 7040. As on that camera, the left half of the front plate is occupied by the Olympus logo and the Greek letter mju, with the slimline flash unit and AF assist lamp sitting above them. The right-hand side of the camera's front is dominated by the lens which retracts fully into the body when not in use but protrudes quite a bit when zoomed to full telephoto. To the right of the lens is a barely noticeable pinprick indicating an on-board microphone. The top panel offers even less in the way of controls, featuring only a small on/off button with a LED power indicator sitting right next to it, and an elongated shutter release.
While the Olympus mju 9010 can be considered a successor to last year's mju 9000, you wouldn't tell that based on the appearance of the rear panel, which has undergone a total design overhaul. The only thing that remains unchanged is the 2.7-inch LCD screen. The layout of the controls to the right of the screen is completely new. Below the zoom buttons - which replace the mju 9000's top-mounted zoom lever - is an all-new movie record button that allows you to start recording a video clip without having to enter a dedicated movie shooting mode beforehand. Further down we find a slim Playback button that can be configured to act as a secondary Power button too - a good idea as you sometimes only want to turn on the camera to review your shots rather than to take new ones, in which case you do not need the lens to extend (and make noise doing so). A half-press of the shutter release takes you (back) to Record mode when you need it. A four-way pad with a centred OK button and an all-new control wheel, plus a Menu and a Camera Guide button round off the controls inventory.
The control wheel encircling the navigation pad may be new to the mju series, but it's not a complete novelty in the camera world. We have seen a fairly good (though not perfect) implementation of it on the Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS of 2008; but on the Olympus mju 9010 it feels redundant and quite pointless, as it does exactly the same thing as the Left/Right buttons in the main shooting menu and the Up/Down buttons in the setup menu and the on-board user's manual. The only use I have found for it is that it allows you to move across captured images in magnified view, making it easier to compare subsequent shots of the same subject in terms of critical sharpness.
Speaking of the Up/Down buttons, there are different functions mapped unto them, which are only accessible when the camera is in Record or Playback mode (i.e. not when it is displaying the Setup menu or the in-camera manual). The Up button cycles through the available information displays in Record as well as Playback mode. These include no info, restricted info and full info. In Record mode, the latter means all shooting menu icons plus a shooting grid and a very useful live histogram, whereas in Playback mode it comprises a thumbnail image, a luminance histogram and detailed shooting data. The Down button gives you quick access to the main shooting menu in Record mode, while it acts as an erase button in Playback.
The oft-mentioned main shooting menu offers up a set of user adjustable shooting variables, including the shooting mode - P, iAuto, Scene, Magic, Panorama and Beauty - and a range of other settings. These are limited to the flash mode and the self-timer in iAuto mode, while the full set - available in P mode - includes the macro mode, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity and drive mode as well. The other shooting modes offer varying degrees of user control that fall between these two extremes.
The last icon is invariably a >> sign, which takes you to the setup menu. It is here that you can adjust the file quality settings, the autofocus mode, the metering mode, the Shadow Adjustment feature - which lifts the shadows in a photo taken in contrasty light -, the image stabiliser, the video settings and a number of less frequently accessed items. The setup menu is always accessible, regardless of which shooting mode you are in, but you sometimes get a "Conflicting Settings" message if you want to change something, without the camera bothering to elaborate on what settings it thinks are in conflict and why.
Overall, I have found the menu system of the Olympus mju 9010 more straightforward to use than that of the earlier models in the mju / Stylus series, but a bit slow for my taste. Accessing the setup menu is a notably sluggish affair, as is toggling between Record and Playback. And I really missed a one-button shortcut to exposure compensation - it takes way too many button presses and too much time to get to this important function. In this respect, the previous model's otherwise less attractive user interface worked better. I also find it a bit frustrating that you cannot pick an AF point manually - you either entrust the camera with this task (in iESP mode) or use the central AF point only. There is a third auto-focus mode as well, called AF Tracking, but I did not find it particularly useful - an elderly person walking slowly toward the camera was enough to cause the focus system headaches.
Some of the mju 9010's features are worth expanding upon. These include the four Magic Filters - Pop Art, Pinhole, Fish-eye and Drawing -, the Beauty and the Panorama modes, as well as the video mode. Olympus' Magic Filters made their début on the E-30 digital SLR camera of 2008 under the name "Art Filters". That's what Olympus still calls them when they appear in a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds camera, but ever since the introduction of the mju Tough 6010, they have been calling them Magic Filters on their compacts. The Olympus mju 9010 has the same Magic Filters as the mju 7040, and they work the same way as on that model. To wit, the Pop Art filter boosts saturation and contrast, the Pinhole filter alters the colours somewhat and adds a very obvious vignetting effect, the Fish-eye filter causes straight lines to bend outwards as if the picture was shot with a fish-eye lens (it does not recreate the ultra-wide angle of view though), while Drawing does exactly what it says on the tin and converts your photos into black-and white drawings.
The Beauty mode, first seen in last year's Olympus mju Tough 8000, is an on-board solution to touch up portraits. In this mode, you take a picture of a person, then the camera identifies the face and tries to remove blemishes and other minor imperfections, giving the skin a smooth look in the process. The resulting image is then saved alongside the original. Alas, the whole hocus-pocus takes way too long, and renders your camera useless until it's over.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Slot|
The mju 9010's Panorama mode is more interesting, at least on paper. There are three options on offer, including Auto, Manual and PC. In Auto mode, you only have to press the shutter release once. After that, all you need to do is move the camera to the next position, so that the target marks and pointers overlap, and the camera automatically releases the shutter for you. Three frames can be taken this way, which are then combined into a single panoramic image automatically in camera. The problem with this mode is that it's almost impossible to stop moving the camera exactly when the target marks and pointers overlap, which ultimately results in image blur and poor-quality stitching. In Manual mode, you can also take three frames with the help of an on-screen guide, but you have to release the shutter manually. After that, the camera stitches the frames as above. Finally, in PC mode, you can take up to 10 photos, which can be stitched using the supplied [ib] software after being downloaded to the computer.
One feature offered by the Olympus mju 9010 that wasn't present in the mju 9000 is the ability to shoot 720p high-definition movies. As mentioned earlier, you can begin filming at any time by pressing the dedicated movie record button on the back of the camera. The video settings can be adjusted beforehand via the setup menu. The options are limited to resolution (720p, VGA or QVGA) and quality (Fine or Normal). You can also tell the camera whether or not to record sound along with the footage, and whether or not to provide image stabilisation. If you opt to turn off the sound recording, you can use the optical zoom while filming, and the camera will refocus on the fly as needed (though not terribly quickly, might I add). If you want video with sound, you need to give up the ability to zoom while recording a movie, and focus will also be fixed at the beginning of the clip (sometimes at the wrong setting, which results in blurry footage). Videos are compressed using the H.264 codec and stored in MPEG-4 format. The Olympus mju 9010 has an HDMI port that allows users to play back their movies on an HDTV.
A big novelty on the mju 9010 - and all Olympus models in the Class of 2010 - is the presence of an SD card slot. While Olympus offered SD card support for its Micro Four Thirds cameras from day one, it had hitherto stuck with xD-Picture cards in its compacts. It appears that xD is officially dead now, though owners of older Olympus compacts wishing to trade up can probably use their existing xD-Picture cards via an adapter. New owners have the choice of getting an optional SD or SDHC card - strangely enough, SDXC memory cards are not supported - or rely on the mju 9010's generous 2GB built-in memory. Just remember that while 2GB is plenty for stills, it may prove inadequate if you plan on shooting a lot of high-definition video.
The Olympus mju 9010 is powered by a proprietary Li-ion battery that shares its compartment with the memory card. You can charge the battery in the supplied mains charger or in camera, via USB. If you - like me - tend to "chimp" a lot, do not expect the battery to last very long. Getting a spare is definitely a good idea.
This concludes our evaluation of the Olympus mju 9010's ergonomics, handling and feature set. Let us now move on to the image quality assessment!