Olympus SZ-14: The Affordable Zoom

 
Olympus SZ-14

Olympus SZ-14

The company describes the Olympus SZ-14 an “ideal companion for travel and events.” Supriya Joshi discovers if this really is the case.

Released in January 2012 alongside the 14MP SZ-11, the Olympus SZ-14 is one of the latest cameras in Olympus’ travel series. Not only that, at Rs. 16,999, this is the cheapest camera in the market today to feature a 24x zoom. But how does it fare in the performance department? Let us find out.

Features
The Olympus SZ-14 is a 14MP compact camera that features a CCD sensor and 720p HD video recording. The camera features an extensive range of Automatic and Scene modes to help novice photographers along their way; however, the Manual mode is conspicuously missing from the list. One can also make 3D images using the camera, though these images are not viewable in camera.

The camera is capable of recording panoramas using the Panorama mode in three ways—Auto (where a sweeping motion of the camera records a panoramic image), Manual (where you have to shoot a series of images and the camera stitches them) and PC (where you can shoot several pictures to later stitch on a computer using any image-editing software). There are 11 Magic Filters, essentially filters for fun effects. They are Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fish Eye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Sparkle, Watercolor, Reflection, Miniature and Fragmented. Apart from Fragmented, all the filters can be used while recording video as well.

Handling
In spite of packing in such a large zoom range, the camera is quite lightweight and pocketable. While the front of the camera is made of metal, it needs to be handled delicately. The chassis is very smooth and not textured, but the grip on the right of the camera offers a finger hold. I suggest you fasten the camera strap around your wrist at all times.

The back of the camera houses a dedicated video button, an image playback button, Menu and a four-way controller. There is also a Help button which explains the various features of the camera and allows you to change settings depending on what shooting situation you are in. For someone new to photography, this can be a helpful feature. There is a flash switch on the zoom barrel which controls the pop-up flash.

The camera’s battery is charged within the camera, using an AC adapter. However, I wish Olympus had provided a microUSB instead of their proprietary USB cable.

Performance
So far, the SZ-14 comes across as a featurepacked camera, but it performs only moderately well. The focusing speed of the camera at the wide end is quick, but becomes quite sluggish at the telephoto end.

The 720p HD video quality is reasonably good. It does its job alright, but there are audible IS, focus and zoom motor sounds, which are amplified more when you are recording videos in a quieter environment.

Images shot at lower ISOs have a good amount of detail in them, but beyond ISO 400, the images get noisy and grainy. Colours start smudging at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 seems to be present only for emergency purposes. A large amount of purple fringing was noticed prominently at the edges as well. From the list of Magic Filters, I particularly enjoyed Fragmented and Reflection, where the former makes a quick collage of the image you just shot and the latter gives you a mirror image. The other Magic Filters, unfortunately, are not so magical.

Conclusion
At Rs.16,999, getting a pocketable camera with such a large zoom range is rather unique. While this novelty alone can persuade you to consider this camera, there are far better compact cameras in the market today which will not burn a hole in your pocket as well as offer you great images and video.

The Reflection Magic Filter forms a mirror image of the subject, sometimes with stunning effects. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/3 (ISO 80). Photograph/Supriya Joshi

The Reflection Magic Filter forms a mirror image of the subject, sometimes with stunning effects. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/3 (ISO 80). Photograph/Supriya Joshi

Final Ratings
Features
24x zoom, limited usability of Magic Filters, no Manual mode
24/30

Performance
Colour noise at higher ISOs, extreme purple fringing, slow focusing speed
21/35

Build Quality
Partly metal body, plastic feel
12/15

Ergonomics
Slippery grip, pocketable
12/15

Warranty & Support
Two years warranty, seven service facilities
3/5

OVERALL: 72

Value For Money: 2/5

Who should buy it?
Zoom fanatics who would not mind compromising on image quality.

Why?
For those looking for a large zoom range at an affordable price, this camera can serve the purpose. It may not be that great when it comes to video and image quality, but its sheer affordability can be a viable point.

Tags: 14MP, 3D, 720p HD, August 2012, Olympus, olympus sz-14, panorama, superzoom camera, Supriya Joshi, zoom