Olympus SZ-10 Review
The Olympus SZ-10 is a pocketable 14-megapixel travelzoom camera offering 18x optical zoom, mechanical image stabilisation, HD movie capture, in-camera panorama stitching and a range of “Magic Filters”. Like a number of other recent compact cameras from Olympus, it can also combine two separate photos into a single 3D image stored in MPO format. A large, three-inch rear screen, a 1cm super macro mode and Eye-Fi memory card compatibility round off the features list. The Olympus SZ-10 is available now, priced at around £155 / $250 in the UK and the US, respectively.
Ease of Use
Announced earlier this year, the Olympus SZ-10 is currently the most affordable – though not quite the smallest or lightest – model in Olympus' new SZ (Super Zoom) line of pocketable travelzoom cameras. Powered off, with its 18x zoom lens retracted for storage, the Olympus SZ-10 easily fits into a front jeans pocket, making it easy to carry around even on long journeys and tedious hikes. It has a small but well sculpted, textured hand-grip, which I much preferred over the somewhat bigger but much more slippery grip of the SZ-30MR.
Switch on the camera, and the lens extends in about two seconds; a very good performance given the massive focal range on offer. The lens goes from 5mm to 90mm, which is equivalent to 28-504mm in 35mm terms. It's worth noting that in most interchangeable-lens systems, you would need a minimum of three lenses to cover this range. While it isn't unprecedented to see so much zoom power crammed into a body this small (in fact the Nikon Coolpix S9100 and the Samsung WB700 are smaller still, while offering a similar zoom ratio, whereas Olympus' own SZ-30MR packs a 24x zoom lens in a marginally bigger body), it still amazes us, especially at this price point. It's a fairly fast lens too, with maximum apertures of f/3.1 at the wide end and f/4.4 at full telephoto. The latter value is especially remarkable considering that most competing models are f/5.6 or slower at the telephoto end. Low-light focussing is aided by an AF assist light located top left of the lens surround (if viewed head on).
The shutter release is found in its usual location, within easy reach of your right forefinger, encircled by the zoom lever. Right next to it is a small and recessed on/off button and a small LED that enables the photographer to quickly check if the camera is powered on. On the other side of the flash housing is a tiny spring-loaded switch for popping up the onboard flash. There's no hot-shoe, so the only way to sync up an external flashgun with the camera is to use an optical slave (of the variety that isn't fooled by the pre-flashes emitted by the built-in unit). Unlike some bigger and more expensive superzooms, the Olympus SZ-10 has no eye-level electronic viewfinder, either.
This means that the pictures can only be composed on the 3” TFT monitor that occupies most of the camera's rear plate. On paper, this is a good display, with a resolution of 460,000 dots. In actual use, it unfortunately did not prove to be quite as sharp and detailed as the specs would have you believe, and the colours also looked a lot more washed-out than they really were. To the right of the screen is a group of controls including a one-touch movie shutter release, a Playback button, a wheel controller that doubles as a navigation pad with a centred OK button, plus a Menu and a Help button. That's all - which means that the SZ-10's operation is, to all intents and purposes, almost entirely menu based. Even the most often used functions - such as exposure compensation or ISO sensitivity - are only accessible by way of a menu setting.
To be fair, there are a couple of functions mapped unto the wheel controller / navigation pad, but these are rather limited. 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 acts as an Erase button in Playback.
The Function Menu allows you to select the desired shooting mode (Program Auto, iAuto, Panorama, 3D Photo, Magic Filter or Scene - the camera offers no manual or semi-automatic modes), flash mode, macro mode, self-timer, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity setting and drive mode. Note that the some of these menu options may not be available in every shooting mode. As to the scene modes on offer, there are seventeen of them, including separate modes for taking pictures of cats and dogs. (In these two modes, the camera takes a photo automatically whenever it detects an animal of the given species in the frame. In other words, these modes represent a novel - though perhaps somewhat bizarre - use for the now-standard face detection technology.)
Like all Olympus cameras these days, the SZ-10 has a multitude of Magic Filters, including Watercolour, Sparkle, Punk, Soft Focus, Drawing, Fish-eye, Pinhole and Pop Art. These built-in filters allow users to apply special effects to their photos as they are being captured, rather than at the post-processing stage. As such, they are likely to be popular with the target consumer, who may not want to spend hours editing photos in front of a computer screen.
The Olympus SZ-10's Panorama mode is also 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. (Here the SZ-10's implementation differs from that of the SZ-20, whose “Smart Panorama” mode is more similar to Sony's “Sweep Panorama” feature, with no target marks to worry about.)
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 PC software after being downloaded to the computer. Given that both the Auto and Manual modes result in a rather low-resolution panorama, PC mode is the way to go if you plan on printing your panoramic images.
There's a 3D image capture mode as well, which works exactly the same way as on the Olympus SZ-20, SZ-30MR and SP-610UZ. In this mode, you take a photo of your subject, then shift the camera by a few centimetres to one side and take another shot. The SZ-30MR then combines the two pictures into a single 3D image and saves it as an MPO file, which can then be viewed on a compatible 3D display device. As the camera's own screen is 2D only, you cannot check in the field how your 3D photos turned out (though you can view a 2D version as the camera saves a JPEG image alongside each MPO file).
Like most of the new Olympus compacts, the SZ-10 has a dedicated Help button. This gives you access to a searchable in-camera user guide that makes it easier to find answers to your questions than flipping through a printed manual. That said, we would love to be able to assign a user-defined function (say, ISO access) to this button as it would make the camera faster and easier to handle.
Movie recording on the Olympus SZ-10 is a mixed bag. The dedicated movie record button works well, eliminating the need to enter a separate video shooting mode. 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 audio, you can use the optical zoom while filming. If you want video with sound, however, you need to give up the ability to use the optical zoom while recording a movie - which is a bit frustrating on a camera whose main claim to fame is its 18x zoom lens. Exposure, gain or audio levels cannot be adjusted manually. Videos are compressed using the H.264 codec and stored in MPEG-4 format.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Photos and movies are stored on SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards, with the camera providing support for Eye-Fi media. This feature makes it easier to upload pictures and movies to a local computer or directly to the Internet.
The Olympus SZ-10 is powered by a proprietary lithium-ion battery that has to be charged in-camera, much like a cell phone battery. Olympus supplies a mains cable, an adapter/transformer and a USB cable - you can charge the battery by plugging the USB cable into the adapter or an available port on your PC or laptop. We aren't great fans of in-camera charging as this precludes the use of a spare battery while the depleted one is being charged at home. The SZ-10's own USB port / multi-connector - as well as the Type D HDMI socket - is sheltered behind a plastic cover on the right side of the camera, if viewed from behind.
Overall, we have found the Olympus SZ-10 to handle reasonably well for a pocket camera, but as mentioned we'd really like to see ISO mapped unto the Help button (at least as an option), and we'd also like to be able to set exposure compensation simply by spinning the wheel controller, as opposed to having to enter a menu and navigate to EC. The live histogram and grid overlay are immensely useful though.
This rounds off our evaluation of the camera's handling and feature set. Let us now move on the image quality assessment!
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5Mb.
A camera with a tiny, pixel-packed sensor and a large zoom ratio will always be a set of compromises, and anyone expecting top-notch image quality from such a device is bound to be disappointed. Within those constraints, though, the Olympus SZ-10 actually produces more than usable images, at least outdoors.
Noise reduction takes its toll on fine detail even at the camera's base sensitivity setting, and pictures taken in the telephoto range sometimes suffer from an overall lack of sharpness, but our photos have still turned out better than expected. Colours are vibrant without being over-saturated, and the pictures still hold enough detail to produce decent prints at normal sizes. Going up the sensitivity ladder brings more detail smearing and loss of saturation, especially from ISO 400 onward, but the output remains good enough for Web display.
One thing that the Olympus SZ-10 is definitely not optimised for is night photography, as the slowest shutter speed is limited to 4 seconds and in Night Scene mode you cannot set the ISO sensitivity manually. On a more positive note, Red-Eye Reduction for flash portraits worked well, and the camera has put up an excellent macro performance too.
The Olympus SZ-10 has six sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 64 to ISO 1600. The 100% crops below show what the quality is like at each setting.
ISO 64 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
The 18x lens has an extremely versatile focal range, as demonstrated by the examples below.
Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little bit soft at the default sharpening setting, and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Olympus SZ-10 does not save images in raw format. The available JPEG settings are Normal and Fine.
|14M Fine (100% Crop)||14M Normal (100% Crop)|
For a superzoom, the Olympus SZ-10 produced very little chromatic aberration. Evidently there is some clever processing going on in the background to eliminate all kinds of purple fringing - and it’s largely successful.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
The Olympus SZ-10 has a supermacro mode that lets you focus as close as 1cm from the front lens element. This allows you to fill the frame with an object that is significantly smaller than a CompactFlash memory card. The following example demonstrates how close you can get to the subject. We have included a 100% crop to show you what the quality is like.
The Olympus SZ-10 has a pop-up flash that has to be raised manually, using a switch. The available flash settings are Auto, Fill-In, Redeye Reduction and Off. The following photos of a white ceiling were taken at a subject distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (504mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (504mm)
And here are some flash portraits. The flash caused quite a bit of red-eye, but engaging the red-eye reduction function essentially solved this problem.
|Flash On (100% Crop)|
Red Eye Reduction
Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Olympus SZ-10 is not very well suited to night photography, as you cannot use truly slow shutter speeds. The photo below was taken in the Night Scene mode at a shutter speed of 4 seconds, sensitivity setting of ISO 250 and aperture of f/3.2, all chosen by the camera. The 100% crop demonstrates the quality you can expect.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
The Olympus SZ-10 has a mechanical image stabilisation system of the sensor-shift variety. The following crops demonstrate how effective it is. Both were taken at 1/40th of a second at ISO 200 and a 35mm equivalent focal length of 98mm.
On (100% Crop)
Off (100% Crop)
The Olympus SZ-10 has 8 so-called 'magic filters' including Drawing, Fisheye, Pinhole, Pop Art, Punk, Soft Focus, Sparkle and Watercolour.
This is a selection of sample images from the Olympus SZ-10 camera, which were all taken using the 14 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Sample Movie & Video
Front of the Camera
Rear of the Camera
Top of the Camera
Bottom of the Camera
Side of the Camera
|Side of the Camera|
|Memory Card Slot|
As the most affordable offering in Olympus' new line up of pocket-sized travelzoom cameras, the Olympus SZ-10 mates a whopping 18x zoom lens to a decidedly compact camera body. Its small yet effective hand-grip, faster-than-average lens and mechanical image stabilisation allow you to take blur-free hand-held shots of pretty much everything that cares to stand still for a moment, from landscapes to insects, people to wildlife and so on.
Considering its tiny, pixel-packed sensor and an ultra-zoom lens that naturally comes with its own set of compromises, the Olympus SZ-10 produces surprisingly usable images, particularly at base ISO. As is the case with most small-sensor digital cameras, image quality deteriorates quickly as you move up the sensitivity ladder, with ISO 400 already being characterised by heavy smearing of detail. At ISO 800 and 1600 you also lose quite a bit of saturation. That being said, we would not write off the SZ-10's high-ISO output as completely unusable - it's actually good enough for small prints and Web use. Just don't expect to see 14 megapixels' worth of detail at those settings, and you're unlikely to be disappointed. True low-light shooting is a different story - cameras like the Olympus SZ-10 are simply not meant for that kind of photography.
In terms of usability, the Olympus SZ-10 is very much an entry-level camera. You have no control over shutter speed or aperture, and even oft-used functions like ISO settings and exposure compensation are buried in the menu. This is unlikely to bother those who would simply like an affordable and small point-and-shoot camera with a large zoom ratio, but it's probably enough to put experienced users off buying the Olympus SZ-10. For a camera that is so obviously geared towards users who want as much automation as possible, it seems a bit inconsequential to have a flash that has to be raised manually - but otherwise it's a beginner-friendly package with a well-working Intelligent Auto mode, a host of fun “Magic Filters” and scene modes. Video capture is again quite basic - yes, it's HD but the fact that you can only use the optical zoom if you disable audio recording is a big disappointment on a camera whose main claim to fame is its 18x zoom lens.
In summary, the affordable, tiny Olympus SZ-10 represents a good value for anyone who wants a mostly automated digicam with a big zoom, for use outdoors in bright light - but those who want more control over the photo taking process should look elsewhere (and probably dig deeper in their pockets).
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||4.5|
Reviews of the Olympus SZ-10 from around the web.
Announced in February, the Olympus SZ-10 is part of the Super Zoom range of cameras from Olympus and is available in silver and black with an RRP of £199.99.
Read the full review »
The SZ-10 is nicely configured and slips easily into any pocket, thanks to its 38mm slimness. It’s only when the power button is tapped that the lens emerges, nearly doubling the body depth.
Read the full review »
The Olympus SZ-10 ($249 MSRP) has enough special features – huge 18x zoom, 3D, and panorama shooting – and an attractive price to entice consumers. However, the utter lack of manual controls will lose the budget-minded that are still looking for something with more than an entry-level feel.
Read the full review »
|Effective pixels||14 Megapixels|
|Filter array||Primary colour filter (RGB)|
|Full resolution||14.5 Megapixels|
|Type||1/2.3 '' CCD sensor|
|Optical zoom||18 x (WIDE)|
|Focal length||5.0 - 90.0 mm|
|Focal length (equiv. 35mm)||28 - 504 mm|
|Maximum aperture||3.1 - 4.4|
|Structure||11 lenses / 8 groups|
|Aspherical glass elements||1|
|ED glass elements||2|
|Enlargement factor||4 x / 72 x combined with optical zoom|
|Monitor size||7.6 cm / 3.0 ''|
|Brightness adjustment||+/- 2 levels|
|Method||TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection|
|Modes||iESP, Face Detection AF, Spot, AF Tracking|
|Standard mode||0.1m - ∞ (wide) / 1.6m - ∞ (tele)|
|Makro mode||0.1m - ∞ (wide) / 1.6m - ∞ (tele)|
|Super Macro mode||Closest focusing distance: 1 cm|
|Modes||ESP light metering, Spot metering, Centre weighted metering|
|Histogram in shooting mode||Yes|
|Modes||i-Auto, Programme automatic, Scene Modes, Magic Filter, Panorama, Movie, 3D Photos|
|Shutter speed||1/2 - 1/2000 s / < 4 s (Night scene)|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2 EV / 1/3 steps|
|Enhancement function||Mechanical Image Stabilizer
Shadow Adjustment Technology
Advanced Face Detection Technology
|Number of scene modes||16|
|Modes||Portrait, Beauty, Landscape, Night Scene, Night Scene with portrait, Sports, Indoor, Candle, Self-portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach and Snow, Pet (cat), Pet (dog)|
|Types||Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Sparkle, Water color|
|Auto||AUTO / High AUTO|
|Manual||ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|AUTO WB system||Yes|
|Preset values||Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Flourescent 1|
|Modes||AUTO, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off|
|Working range (wide)||0.6 - 2.3 m (ISO 100) 6.4 m (ISO 800)|
|Working range (tele)||1.6 - 3.2 m (ISO 400) 4.5 m (ISO 800)|
|Sequential shooting mode (high speed)||10 fps / 43 frames (in 3MP mode)
4.8 fps / 42 frames (in 5MP mode)
|Sequential shooting mode||0.89 fps / 19 frames (Full Image Size)|
|Correction of saturation||Yes|
|Modes||Single, Index, Zoom, Slide show, Event, Photo Surfing|
|Index||4x3 / 6x5 frames|
|Zoom||1.1 - 10 x|
|Image protect mode||Yes|
|Histogram in playback mode||Yes|
|Modes||Frame by frame, Fast forward, Reverse playback|
|Still Image Recording|
|Movie Recording System|
|Image Stabilisation Mode||No|
|Magic Filter||Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Water color|
|Movie quality||720P Recording time: 29min.
VGA Recording time: no limit
Note: maximum file size 4GB
|Sound Recording System|
|Sound recording||Yes , format: AAC|
|Image footage||4 s|
|Removable Media||SD / SDHC / SDXC|
|Eye-Fi Card compatible||Yes|
|Internal memory||59 MB|
|14M||4288 x 3216|
|8M||3264 x 2448|
|5M||2560 x 1920|
|3M||2048 x 1536|
|2M||1600 x 1200|
|1M||1280 x 960|
|VGA||640 x 480|
|16:9||4288 x 2416
1920 x 1080
|Menu languages in camera||39|
|Self timer||2 / 12 s Pet auto shutter|
|Perfect Shot Preview||Yes|
|Panorama function||In-Camera Panorama|
|Battery||LI-50B Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Combined A/V & USB output||Yes|
|USB 2.0 High Speed||Yes|
|HDMI™||Yes Type D *
* "HDMI", the HDMI logo and "High-Definition Multimedia Interface" are trademarks or registered trademarks of HDMI Licensing LLC.
|Dimensions (W x H x D)||105.9 x 67.3 x 37.9 mm|