Olympus SZ-31MR: Total Recall

 
The Olympus SZ-31MR

The Olympus SZ-31MR

Supriya Joshi takes the superzoom Olympus SZ-31MR for a spin and experiences a feeling of stark familiarity.

Almost a year back, I had reviewed the superzoom Olympus SZ-30MR. One year later, the company released the SZ-31MR as a replacement for the previous model. Call it serendipity, but I got this camera to review. Some obvious questions came to mind… what will be different? What will be better? I spent some time with the camera, and found answers to my questions, all while remembering my testing experience a year back.

Features
So, what’s new with the SZ-31MR? Not much, really. The camera is built around a 16MP CMOS sensor, which seems to be the same one used in the previous camera. The 24x zoom lens is also unchanged, giving an equivalent focal length of 25–600mm in 35mm equivalence. No other compact camera features such a zoom range in a non-bulky body even today, but it is strange that Olympus did not up the ante since last year’s release.

What is new is the presence of iHS technology, which is supposed to dramatically improve low light performance, speed up the camera response time and enhance scene and subject recognition. Apart from the 24x optical zoom, the SZ-31MR also offers an additional 24x Super-Resolution Zoom. Olympus claims that this is a mode that does not show the image degradation that is usually seen in digital zoom, but we thought the results were not much to speak of.

The SZ-31MR has also inherited all of its predecessor’s shooting modes, including ‘Magic’ filters (with the addition of Reflection, Miniature, Fragmented and Dramatic), 17 Scene modes, a 360° panorama mode and a Multi Record (MR) mode that can simultaneously capture Full HD video and full resolution images. The lack of a Manual mode is still conspicuous, and may be a deterrent to the serious hobbyist from choosing this camera.

Handling
The LCD resolution has improved, from a 4,60,000 dots in the SZ-30MR to a 9,20,000 touchscreen in this new camera. There is also a stylus provided with the camera to navigate on the LCD screen. The touchscreen experience is not as good as the best smartphones, but it is useful in several small ways.

In terms of appearance, the SZ-31MR appearance, the SZ-31MR looks no different from its predecessor, with only minor differences. One of the design flaws of the SZ-31MR is its power button, which requires a very prominent push to switch the camera on or off.

Performance
The image stabilisation works well at most focal lengths, but at the telephoto end of the zoom, it is not as effective. The 1080p HD video with stereo sound is a real winner, and I had a lot of fun making high quality videos. Optical zoom is available during video recording, but the lens makes whirring noises while zooming, which is prominent during playback.

The Beauty Mode of the SZ-31MR did provide me hours of laughter. You can have smooth, clear skin, bigger eyes, higher cheekbones and a full face of makeup with just one click. The results were quite nice and amusing.

The flash does not perform too well either. The pictures look too burnt out and there is an orangish colour cast, which makes skin tones look quite unflattering.

Image quality is decent, but not the best in its category. The image quality is quite good up to ISO 400, beyond which details start smudging and you may need to downsize the image if you wish to use it. Oversharpening artefacts are also visible. The metering system also has the tendency to blow out highlights, so you would be well advised to use an EV value of –0.3 or –0.7.

Conclusion
As a standalone camera, the SZ-31 is good, but not great. Every camera successor is expected to outperform their predecessor, but I really could not find a lot of difference between the two. Packing in a 24x zoom lens in a compact body is still commendable, but one would expect a lot more from the performance department. In short, the SZ-31 does feature minor improvements from its predecessor, but there is still a long way to go.

The colours are good, and photos do not need much processing up to to ISO 400. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/4 (ISO 400). Photograph/Supriya Joshi

The colours are good, and photos do not need much processing up to to ISO 400. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/4 (ISO 400). Photograph/Supriya Joshi

Final Ratings
Features
24x zoom, Full HD video, no manual mode
24/30

Performance
Good video quality, purple fringing
26/35

Build Quality
Lightweight, mostly plastic
12/15

Ergonomics
Annoying power button, touchscreen not as fluid, simple menu, high-resolution LCD
12/15

Warranty & Support
Two year warranty, limited service centres
2/5

OVERALL: 76%
Value For Money: 2/5

Who should buy it?
Those looking for a massive zoom range in a tiny package.

Why?
No other compact features 24x zoom in a non-bulky body. The image quality is not great, but the camera will appeal to someone looking to make quick snapshots and videos.

Tags: december 2012, olympus camera, olympus sz31mr review, Supriya Joshi