Olympus VG-170 Review

February 15, 2012 | Matt Grayson | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


As part of the Smart series of cameras, the Olympus VG-170 is a dapper looking digital compact camera with a 14 megapixel CCD sensor, 5x optical zoom and a 3 inch LCD screen. The main addition to the VG-170 is the massive flash that sits in the top left corner above the lens. With a Guide Number of 8.8 it gives the range of the VG-170's flash around double of any comparable camera. Other key features of the VG170 include 720p HD movies, a range of magic filters, 3D still images and a retro design. Priced at just £99.95 / €100, the Olympus VG-170 is available in black, red and white.

Ease of Use

The first thing we thought of when we saw the Olympus VG-170 was "look at the size of that flash!" It dominates the front of the camera even more than the large lens barrel that houses the 5x optical zoom. On the white model that we had for review, the lens remains black, which is unusual but not bad looking. In fact it's a nice little camera to look at. Next to the lens is a small, leatherette grip to hold onto when shooting or carrying the camera between shots.

The top of the VG-170 holds the power button which is black to match the plastic strip that separates front from back. A silver shutter release sits next to it with the zoom rocker wrapped around it. The left side of the body raises up to accommodate the flash unit. A massive 3 inch screen sits on the left side of the camera at the back. To the right, only one button is allocated for menus which is joined by the navigation pad. A playback button and dedicated video record button also occupy the space that the screen isn't using.

We understand that there has to be some cost cutting involved in getting the camera under £100 so the USB cover is made from bendy rubber and not colour coordinated with the white body. Still, it's surprising to see a cover at all compared with what some other manufacturers do. The battery cover on the bottom of the camera has no metal reinforcement and bends badly.

Olympus VG-170 Olympus VG-170
Front Rear

The reason behind not having more than one menu button is simple - the Olympus VG-170 has a permanent menu system on-screen while shooting. It's similar to the function menu seen on Canon cameras which has been widely adopted by other companies and all you have to do with this one is press down on the navigation pad. This menu covers the most used features of the camera such as flash, including the long flash. This is the mode you need to be in to take advantage of the oversized bulb.

It's worth noting here that in long flash mode, the camera will knock the resolution down to 5 megapixels and use auto ISO to ensure a perfect shot. In the function menu, there's also access to macro, ISO, white-balance, self timer and drive options. For more core features, you must enter into the main menu by pressing the button at the bottom of the camera.

There are six tabs on the left when the Olympus VG-170's menu button is initially pressed. They each have an allocation to a specific area of the menu such as shooting, playback, video and set-up. The camera defaults to the selection box highlighting the options in the tabs. To highlight the tabs themselves (for quick navigation through the entire menu), pressing left will do this. Alternatively, pressing down will scroll through the many options available (seven on each tab).  The menus are easy enough to use. Everything is explained clearly with a small scrolling explanation at the bottom of each page. The design is black with white writing which is easy to see even for people who are hard of sight.

Olympus VG-170 Olympus VG-170
Front Top

Olympus have ditched the xD card format and now use the more popular and readily available SD cards, which slot into the compartment next to the battery. The VG-170 is also Eye-Fi compatible. If you're unfamiliar with this format, Eye-Fi cards are wifi enabled SD cards. They will send your pictures straight to your computer when they enter a free wifi hotspot – arguably the only time a hotspot makes a good spot. This will be of particular interest to younger generations travelling after university who want budget camera and don't want to carry a load of cards around with them.

In addition to this, the battery charger is built into the camera meaning that there's less to carry. Also, the lead will detach from the mains plug turning it into a normal USB lead for downloading to a computer or charging from a computer. That way, if you are travelling, you can go to an internet cafe and charge your camera. Should you decide against using Eye-fi, the camera is also SDXC compatible so can accommodate cards that have huge memory sizes.

It seems that Olympus DSLR technology is rubbing off on the compacts because the VG-170 is pretty fast at focusing., It seems to hunt a lot less than other digital cameras too. There are two macro facilities on the Olympus, Macro and Supermacro. Normal macro has a close focusing of 20 centimetres to infinity at wide while normal focusing is 60cm to infinity. Frankly, we saw no difference in performance keeping it in macro all the time and using those additional 40cm without having to go into the menu system. Supermacro can go as close as 5cm which is even better but using this mode disables the zoom. As well as being on the speedy side, the focusing system is also pretty sharp. We're impressed by the sample shots we got during our time with ithe Olympus VG-170.

Olympus VG-170 Olympus VG-170
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Pressing the playback button will display all the pictures you've previously taken. Pressing the info button - which is up on the navigation pad – will decrease the size of the image and provide shooting information such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white-balance among other details. Pressing the button again will bring the image back to full screen and display what file number the picture is and out of how many. In the bottom right corner the date and time the picture was taken is shown. I

n the menu, you can watch all the pictures as a slideshow, edit them, erase, protect and rotate them. Editing options include compressing the picture to create more space. This is useful if you need to free up card space and have a few full resolution pictures that you know for sure will only end up online in a Facebook album or similar. There's an option to crop the picture, add audio and there are three fix options for beauty, lighting and red-eye. They use digital effects and subroutines to assess the picture and make it "perfect".

There are some pretty cool things in the box with the VG-170 digital compact camera. Aside from the usual stuff consisting of a Basic Manual (5 pages out of 147 dedicated to each language), a CD with the full manual and Olympus Viewer 2, and a USB lead that doubles as a charger with the mains adapter and battery, there's also two pairs of 3D glasses for viewing the 3D pictures that the camera can take. That's right; 3D. But not this new fangled global craze 3D which is over-saturating a local cinema near you as we speak. No, this is old school. We're talking red and blue lenses so we look like 3-D from Back to the Future. It's disappointing that the glasses don't have arms so they have to be held in place. Still it's nice to use them and see some old-school 3D pictures, not these modern realistic types.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5Mb.


If you can get the weather nice enough or provide enough light, the low ISO pictures from the Olympus VG-170 are lovely and smooth. Not a sniff of noise, even when pixel peeping at more than full magnification. In fact, noise doesn't really appear until around ISO 800 and even then it's only subtle. Edge definition does break down earlier and if there were third stop exposures in the ISO range we would have been able to witness it decay more gradually. As it happens the picture are sharp until ISO 800 then boom!

It seems that the cameras is actually fitted with a jolly nice noise reduction system because at the top level ISO 1600, the pictures fail. Blue colour enters the pictures as big blobs in dark areas, alternative colours invade other areas of pictures around the mid-range. Edges are more choppy as well but even through all this, a picture is discernible and ok to use. An excellent performance from the Olympus VG-170. Of course with the large flash, there's no need to use a high ISO although the irony is that in long flash mode, the camera uses auto ISO locking the user out of the equation.

ISO 80 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

Focal Range

The Olympus VG-170's lens has a versatile focal range equivalent to 26-130mm in 35mm terms.




We sharpened a couple of the Olympus VG-170's test shots to see if they needed it. They certainly benefited it but even without, the pictures are sharp enough.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


File Quality

The Olympus VG-170 has two JPEG quality settings, Normal and Fine. The camera does not offer raw image capture.

14M Fine (100% Crop)

14M Normal (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations

We failed to find any traces of chromatic aberrations in the pictures. They generally appear on high contrast edges and with Winter in full swing, it's not easy to get that contrast. Still, we examined the sharp edges of pictures in the studio and still couldn't find any. It seems that the VG-170 has a very good lens built onto it.

Example 1 (100% Crop)


As we just mentioned, the Olympus VG-170's lens is good. We got nice sharp pictures in macro mode. There's a little bit of barrel distortion at wide angle and with the super macro, you can't zoom out to get rid of it. Still, pictures are sharp, have excellent edge definition and are well exposed.

Macro Shot

100% Crop


So far we're impressed with the VG-170 but the main feature of the camera is its over-sized, over performing flash. It can illuminate up to 8 metres instead of the usual 4-5 metres on a standard flash in a digital compact camera. There are downsides, though. It only records in 5 megapixel and locks most user input out of controls. Higher ISO is also added to the picture to increase the chances of a successful shot.

Suppressed Flash - Wide Angle (26mm)

Forced Flash - Wide Angle (26mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Suppressed Flash - Telephoto (130mm)

Forced Flash - Telephoto (130mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots.

Forced Flash

Forced Flash (100% Crop)

Red-eye Reduction Auto

Red-eye Reduction Auto (100% Crop)


Pictures at night can be done either in program or the night shot scene mode. In our tests, they came out very similar although the night scene will allow longer exposures if need be. The pictures were sharp enough but we couldn't find a white-balance or even set a custom one to deal with the street lights. We wanted them to look more balanced.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Olympus VG-170 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

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1280x720 at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 27 second movie is 88.8Mb in size.

Product Images

Olympus VG-170

Front of the Camera

Olympus VG-170

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Olympus VG-170

Isometric View

Olympus VG-170

Isometric View

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Turned On

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Function Menu

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Magic Filters

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Camera Menu


Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Movie Menu

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Playback Menu

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Settings Menu

Olympus VG-170

Rear of the Camera / Settings Menu

Olympus VG-170

Top of the Camera

Olympus VG-170

Side of the Camera

Olympus VG-170

Side of the Camera

Olympus VG-170

Front of the Camera

Olympus VG-170

Memory Card Slot

Olympus VG-170

Battery Compartment


What a surprise the little Olympus VG-170 has turned out to be. Not only is it a sexy little number but it also takes cracking pictures, and on top of that it's great fun to use. The design won't be for everyone because of the enormous flash that the body has to house but we respect Olympus for not simply making another rectanglular box. They've taken the opportunity to make something a little more creative. The zoom is modest at only 5x but we found that we didn't need any extra range for everyday shooting.

Taking pictures is easy enough with the VG-170. We found that the Program mode will easily handle everything you throw at it and the Magic filters are great fun to use. Pictures come out nicely exposed while focusing is fast and sharp. We had great fun editing the pictures in-camera too. The beauty options in the main menu are great and family members enjoyed adding make-up to our self portraits. Of course that wasn't funny and they've now been destroyed but the features work very well such as face slimming and eye liner.

What's most interesting is the price point. £100 for this little camera is a real bargain. We think it would be perfect for a child's first camera. Travellers will also enjoy the portability of the camera because of the slim design, SDXC card compatibility and USB lead/camera charger.

In fact, it's because of the features on the camera and the modest price that we've awarded the Olympus VG-170 such a high mark. WSure, it has its faults in the build quality but that's to be expected at this budget price point. If you fit into the category we described above, you need to take a serious look at the new Olympus VG-170.

4.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 4.5
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 4.5
Value for money 5


Image Sensor
Effective pixels 14 Megapixels
Filter array Primary colour filter (RGB)
Full resolution 14.5 Megapixels
Type 1/2.3 '' CCD sensor
Optical zoom 5 x (WIDE)
Focal length 4.7 - 23.5 mm
Focal length (equiv. 35mm) 26 - 130 mm
Maximum aperture 2.8 - 6.5
Structure 7 lenses / 5 groups
Aspherical glass elements 5
Digital Zoom
Enlargement factor 4 x / 20 x combined with optical zoom
Resolution 460000 dots
Monitor size 7.6 cm / 3.0 ''
Monitor type TFT
Frame assistance Yes
Brightness adjustment 2 levels
Protection panel Yes
Focusing System
Method TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection
Modes iESP, Face Detection AF, Spot, AF Tracking
Standard mode 0.6m - ∞ (wide) / 1.0m - ∞ (tele)
Macro mode 0.2m - ∞ (wide) / 0.6m - ∞ (tele)
Super Macro mode Closest focusing distance: 5 cm
AF illuminator Yes
Light Metering
Modes ESP light metering
Exposure System
Modes i-Auto, Programme automatic, DIS mode, Scene Modes, Magic Filter, Panorama, Movie, Beauty & Make-up
Enhancement function Digital Image Stabilisation
Advanced Face Detection Technology
Shutter speed 1/2 - 1/2000 s / < 4 s (Candle Scene)
Exposure compensation +/- 2 EV / 1/3 steps
Scene Modes
Number of scene modes 15
Modes Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night Scene with portrait, Sports, Indoor, Candle, Self-portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach and Snow, Pet, 3D
Magic Filter
Types Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Sparkle, Water color, Reflection
Manual ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White Balance
AUTO WB system Yes
One-touch white balance 1 custom settings can be registered
Preset values Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Flourescent 3
Internal Flash
Modes AUTO, Red-eye reduction, Long flash, Fill-in, Off
Working range (wide) 0.2 - 8.8 m (ISO 800)
Working range (tele) 0.6 - 3.8 m (ISO 800)
Sequence Shooting
Sequential shooting mode (high speed) 15 fps / 20 frames (in 3MP mode)
2 fps / 200 frames (in 3MP mode)
Sequential shooting mode 0.6 fps / 200 frames (Full Image Size)
Image Processing
Pixel mapping Yes
Noise reduction Yes
Shading compensation Yes
Distortion compensation Yes
Image Editing
Resize Yes
Trimming Yes
Beauty Fix Yes
View Images
Modes Single, Index, Zoom, Slide show
Index 5 x 4 frames
Zoom 1.1 - 10 x
Auto rotation Yes
Image protect mode Yes
View Movie
Modes Frame by frame, Fast forward, Reverse playback
Still Image Recording
EXIF 2.3
DPS PictBridge
Movie Recording System
Recording format AVI Motion JPEG®
Image Stabilisation Mode Digital Image Stabilisation
HD Movie quality 720P Recording time: Up to card capacity
Movie quality 640 x 480 / 30fps Recording time: Up to card capacity
Note: maximum file size 2GB
When shooting 720P movies use SDHC class 6 or higher.
Magic Filter Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Water color, Reflection
Sound Recording System
Voice playback Yes
Sound recording Yes , format: WAV
Image footage 4 s
Speaker Yes
Removable Media SD / SDHC (UHS speed class not supported)
Internal memory 34.9 MB
Eye-Fi Card compatible Yes
Image Size
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 1920 x 1080
Menu languages in camera 40
Other Features
3D Photo Shooting Mode Yes
Panorama function Image marker (Software)
Self timer 2 / 12 s
Menu guide Yes
Date imprint Yes
Power Supply
Battery LI-50B Lithium-Ion Battery
Internal Charging Yes
DC input Yes
Combined A/V & USB output Yes
USB 2.0 High Speed Yes
Dimensions (W x H x D) 103.7 x 62.5 x 22.2 mm
Weight 147 g (including battery and memory card)

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