Olympus Mju Tough 3000 Review
The Olympus Mju Tough 3000 (also known as the Stylus Tough 3000) is the newest member of Olympus' extensive range of shockproof and waterproof digital camera range. The Mju 3000 features high-definition video recording for the first time on a Tough camera, offers a number of Magic Filter effects for easy in-camera processing, and features SD / SDHC card support rather than Olympus' proprietary xD format. Waterproof to a depth of 3m, shockproof against falls to 1.5m, and freezeproof down to -10°C, the metal-bodied Mju Tough 3000 should survive pretty much anything that you subject it to. Other standout features include a 12 megapixel sensor, 3.6x wide optical zoom with sensor-shift image stabilisation, 1GB of internal storage, In-Camera Manual and an HDMI port. The Olympus Mju Tough 3000 is available in Oxide Red, Turquoise Blue, Hot Pink and Emerald Green for £199 / $230.
Ease of Use
From the outside the Tough 3000 looks a lot like its recent stablemates, the 6010 and 8000 models. It's about the size of a pack of cigarettes, but weighs substantially more due to being made of (mostly) metal, weighing in at 160g. Most of the front plate is covered in a glossy plastic and features a tiny hole for the microphone, an activity LED, built-in flash and the 3.6x, 28-112mm lens, which is always hidden behind a clear plastic cover regardless of whether the camera is in use or not. This can quickly get covered in dirt and fingerprints, so make sure to keep it clean. The lens is also positioned right in the corner of the camera body, making it easy for a finger to stray into shot.
On the top plate of the Tough 3000 are the disappointingly cheap-feeling plastic On/Off and shutter release buttons, set into a black plastic with two metal screws, and which have a very spongy and unresponsive action. The external controls are one of the areas where Olympus have clearly cut some corners to hit the sub £200 / $250 price-point.
Most of the camera's rear is taken up by the 2.7", 230,000-dot monitor which, in the absence of an optical viewfinder, serves as the only means of framing your shots. In the top right corner, when viewed from the back, we find the - rather small - zoom rockers for operating the 3.6x lens. Directly beneath them is a small button with a red dot which is for one-touch movie recording, a useful control that saves having to dip into and out of the menu system, and a round speaker.
In the bottom right corner, there is a button cluster that will be familiar to almost anyone who has ever handled a digital compact camera. This comprises a four-way controller with direct access to Info, which lets you cycle through various sets of overlaid information, including compositional grid-lines and a live histogram - though sadly not both at the same time - and Delete, plus a centered OK button for confirming actions. Around this navigation pad are the usual Menu and Playback buttons, plus a button for accessing the camera's fairly handy built-in Help system.
The ever-present Function menu is a vertical column of icons which runs along the right side of the LCD screen. These icons provide access to the camera's main features - shooting mode, flash, macro, self-timer, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, burst mode, and finally the Setup menu. While this system centralises all the important features in one place, constantly having to press the OK button and navigate through the list quickly becomes tiresome, especially as the camera doesn't remember which function you were previously using. You can also preview the effect of some of the settings in real time in a multi-frame window, for example exposure compensation. While this is cool, it is perceivably slower to load than the simple scales employed by other cameras.
I also can't understand why Olympus didn't assign the ISO speed and exposure compensation to the left and right navigation pad buttons, as on other Mju Tough models. Compounding the general lack of finesse is the fact that all the rear buttons are part of a spongy and unresponsive rubberised panel, with a press of a button often resulting in nothing happening. I found that pressing down with a thumbnail was the most reliable method. Given that this is a camera that can be used at temperatures as low as -10 degrees Centigrade, when people tend to wear gloves, this can be even more of a problem, especially as the Mju 3000 doesn't offer the innovative "tap control system" of other Tough models.
The right-hand side of the camera has a large wrist strap eyelet plus a multi-connector hidden behind a sealed and lockable door. The shared battery / card compartment - the Mju Tough 3000 thankfully uses SD / SDHC cards, as well as offering a very handy 1Gb of internal memory, enough for 82 high-res pictures - opens to the bottom, and also houses the HDMI port for easy connection to a HDTV and a USB port which can be used to recharge the camera by connecting it to a PC or other suitable device. There are no controls on the left side of the Tough 3000, while the bottom houses a centrally positioned metal tripod socket.
The Mju Tough 3000 is a purely point-and-shoot camera with no user control over aperture and shutter speed. You do get a large selection of scene modes, plus an iAuto mode that analyses the scene in front of the lens and automatically picks one of the five most often used scene modes based on this analysis. There is a P mode as well, denoted with a camera icon, which gives you control over things like white balance and ISO. The macro mode offers a choice of normal macro and supermacro, the latter providing a closest focusing distance of 2cms. The optical zoom and the flash are only usable in the standard macro mode - the lens is fixed at the wide end in the supermacro mode, and the flash is turned off.
The Tough 3000 also adds in-camera digital effects in the form of Magic Filters. These are basically a junior version of the Art Filters found on E-series DSLRs and Digital Pens. Here we get the colour saturation boosting Pop Art, the corner darkening Pinhole camera, charcoal pencil-like Sketch and 180° Fisheye options selectable via the cartoon-ish icons that pop up with a press of the menu button on the Mju's backplate. As we found with the Mju 6010 that we reviewed last year, results vary and, though the temptation is to do otherwise, the filters are best deployed sparingly. The beauty mode located in the shooting mode menu smoothes or rather blurs skin tones free of obvious blemishes, while the Panorama mode can automatically stitch 3 images together, although not as intuitively as on Sony compacts.
The camera's performance was OK for its class. Start-up took about 3 seconds, and committing 12 megapixel Fine JPEGs to an SD card required nearly four seconds. While you don't have to wait this long to take the next picture - shot-to-shot times averaged 2 seconds in single-shot mode - you cannot enter playback until the camera finishes writing the just-captured image to the card. In addition, the Mju Tough 3000 has two different sequential shooting modes. The "regular" burst mode is around 1 frame per second for up to 21 pictures, but there is a high-speed version that can capture 11 photos at 5fps. The downside is that this latter mode limits the resolution of just 3 megapixels.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
As regards the auto-focus, its speed was acceptable for a camera in this class, but I wasn't always happy with the way it worked. There are three types of AF available in Program mode, Face Detection, iESP and Spot. Face Detection worked as long as the faces were well lit and not positioned at too sharp an angle, but struggled otherwise. When no face could be detected, the camera would default to iESP, an AF mode where "i" stands for "intelligent". In this mode, the camera picks an AF point on its own - but alas, not all that intelligently. Spot AF was at least reliable, but there is no way to manually select an off-centre focus point.
Like virtually all digital compacts - and now an increasing number of DSLRs - the Mju Tough 3000 can capture movies as well as stills. The movie mode is has been upgraded to 1280x720 pixels at 30fps (with VGA and QVGA also available), bringing the Tough 3000 up to speed with several recent rivals. The maximum recording time is 29 minutes at the highest quality. By default, mono sound is recorded with your videos, but sadly you cannot use the optical zoom. There is a special function in movie mode, called DIS. It continuously steadies the image while recording a video clip. This is different to the sensor-shift mechanism used for stills, but works well nonetheless.
The Mju Tough 3000 has one feature that is quite unique, especially for its class: pixel mapping. Unfortunately, the manual does a poor job of explaining what this is, even though it's quite simple. Digital camera sensors contain millions of pixels and usually there are a few that do not work. These are referred to as "stuck" or "dead" pixels, and their numbers might increase somewhat during the camera's lifespan. These can be seen as tiny bright white spots in an image. These pixels can be mapped out, but most manufacturers require you to send your camera in to a service centre for this, and perhaps also to pay a fee. Users of the Olympus Mju Tough 3000 can do this themselves simply by activating the Pixel Mapping function from the menu. The whole thing takes less than half a minute.
In summary the Olympus Mju Tough 3000 adds a smattering of must-have features for 2010, most notably HD movies, but suffers from an unresponsive control system that's too difficult to use whilst wearing gloves or underwater. Now let's take a look at the camera's image quality...