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Olympus SP-320 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 13/04/06
Rating: Recommended
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Introduction: Announced on the 26th of January 06, the Olympus SP-320 is a new 7 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens, a 2.5" screen and a compact plastic body - the SP-320 is an updated version of the SP-310. The 3x optical zoom lens is equiv. 38-114mm on a 35mm camera. The Olympus SP-320 is available from around £169, this makes it good value for money. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy plastic body and uses 2 AA batteries. The SP-320 records videos at 30fps and with a resolution of 640x480. The camera is thin at one end, and at the other offers a chunky hand grip - the body measures: 99.5 x 65 x 35 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 180g. The SP-320 adds Digital Image Stabilisation as a scene mode, and ISO 800 over the SP-310.

Olympus have this to say about the camera:

"An ideal digital camera for ambitious photographers, the SP-320 offers an array of impressive photographic options for creative freedom. The 6.4cm LCD lets you frame your pictures perfectly and 7.1 million pixels ensure excellent shooting results. Experiment with 25 scene modes and an expanded movie recording function. It has the high ISO setting capability of up to 800 for low light condition photography. Plus, with the added histogram function you can easily check and – if required – adjust the brightness of your motif, which makes it much easier to recapture the mood."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Pentax *ist DL DSLR)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, microphone, optical viewfinder, flash, focus-assist lamp.


Back - Optical viewfinder, 2.5" screen, Power on/off button, flash button, AEL button, DISP / Guide button, Quick View, 4-way controller, OK / Menu button.


Top: Shutter release, zoom control, mode dial.


Right: DC in, USB, AV Out, Memory card slot. (There's nothing on the other side)



Bottom - lockable battery compartment, plastic tripod mount, speaker.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Compared to the Panasonic Lumix LS2.


Size comparison, compared to the Olympus Mju 720SW.

Specifications / Features:

  • 7.1 Megapixels
  • 3x optical zoom (38mm - 114mm, 1:2.8 - 4.9, 6 aperture blades)
  • 5x digital zoom
  • 2.5" / 6.4cm TFT screen - 115,000 pixels
  • 2cm Super macro mode
  • Shutter speed: 15 – 1/2000 sec ( up to 8 min. in Bulb mode)
  • 640x480 / 30fps Movie recording with sound, digital anti-shake
  • ISO 64 / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800.
  • 25 Scene modes
  • 25mb Internal memory

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Strap,
  • USB cable,
  • audio/video cable,
  • 2 x AA Oxyride batteries,
  • OLYMPUS Master 1.4.
  • Basic Printed Manual
  • Full Manual on CDROM

Average box contents - There is no memory card provided with the camera - instead there is only 25mb of memory built in. Some kind of case would have been nice, as would a full printed manual.

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at 90 shots with 2x AA Oxyride bateries, and 330 shots with 2300mAh Ni-MH batteries. High powered Ni-MH batteries are highly recommended for the best battery life.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the top dial. This allows the choice of: Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, My Mode (4 custom 'My Modes' can be setup), Scene mode, Video mode, Playback.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen(s) as shown below: (menu screen shots from the SP-500, which are the same)

Camera menu Picture settings menu

Photo / Camera menu options: Metering (ESP, Spot, Centre-weighted), Macro (Off, Macro, Super Macro), Drive (Normal, Continuous, High speed continuous, AF continuous, Bracket (+/- 0.3 / 0.7 / 1.0 x 3 or x5)), ISO, Self-timer, Flash strength (+/- 2), Syncro Flash (Sync 1, Sync 2), Flash (Internal, Slave), Digital Zoom (on, off), Noise reduction, AF Mode (iESP, Spot, Area - can be manually set), Focus mode (Automatic, Manual), Fulltime AF, Panorama (with Olympus XD card), Audio, Timelapse.

Photo / Picture menu options: Image size / quality, White balance (Auto, Preset, Custom 'One Touch' White Balance), White Balance (+/-7 Blue / Red), Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation (+/- 5).

Photo mode Built in Guide (2cm on SP-320)

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above, right) The screen resolution with 115,000 pixels is average. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. The camera displays a coloured live histogram showing seperate Red, Green, Blue and overall histogram.

Built in Guide: Pressing the DISP / Guide button whilst in the menu will bring up a full screen explaining what the function does. This is a very useful feature and is basically a cut down manual built into the camera.

Optical / Electronic Viewfinder: The optical viewfinder does not has a diopter corrector. The optical viewfinder is quite small but usable even with glasses.

Setup Menu Scene modes / Auction

Setup menu options: Reset, Language, Power on setup, Power off setup, Record view, Volume, Beep, Shutter sound, My Mode setup, File name, Pixel mapping, LCD brightness, Date/Time, Dual Time setup, m / ft, Video out, AF illuminsator, Shortcut, Histogram (Off, On, Direct), Frame assist, Custom Button (customises AEL button, for quick access to preferred option).

Scenes: Digital image stabilisation, Portrait, Landscape, Landscape and Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Night Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available light portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction (shown above). Shoot and Select 1, Shoot and Select 2, Beach, Snow, Under water wide 1, Under water wide 2, Under water macro. (Under water modes are for use with the optional underwater case available for the SP-310, SP-320 and SP-350)

A quick note on shoot and select 1 and 2 - this takes 4 photos in quick succession, you then choose the ones you want to delete by putting a tick next to them! Originally I thought I had to put a tick next to the one's I wanted to keep only to see them get deleted! Surely a big red cross should be put on the ones you don't want, and big green ticks on the ones you want to keep!

Playback (Review) mode/menu:

Playback mode (basic info) Playback mode (further info)

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is a bit sluggish / slow. The zoom is very quick. There were numerous different playback views: Calendar view by date, Normal - with the option of additinal info, histogram, thumbs - showing 4, 9, 16, or 25 thumbnails. Further photo information was available by pressing the display button.

Playback menu Playback edit menu

Playback menu options: (left) Protect, Rotate, Slideshow, Print, Audio.

Playback edit menu options: (right) Raw data edit, Resize, Crop, Redeye fix, Black and White, Sepia, Frame, Title, Calendar, Layout, Brightness, Saturation.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number will fit in the provided memory:

Mode
Image Size
Number Stored
RAW
3072 x 2304
1
SHQ
3072 x 2304
2
3072 x 2304 (3:2)
2

HQ

3072 x 2304
7
3072 x 2304 (3:2)
8
SQ1
2592 x 1944 (5mp)
High
2
Normal
8
2288 x 1712 (4mp)
High
3
Normal
10
2048 x 1536 (3mp)
High
4
Normal
13
1600 x 1200 (2mp)
High
7
Normal
21
SQ2
1280 x 960 (1.3mp)
High
11
Normal
32
1024 x 768 (1mp)
High
17
Normal
50
640 x 480 (VGA)
High
43
Normal
109

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and compression options.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Olympus SP-320:

Find the latest prices for XD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £15.47, 512mb: £29.71, 1gb (1000mb): £48.94 - You will need an Olympus XD memory card to use the built in Panoramic mode!
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in around two seconds, and is able to switch on and take a photo in around 2.3 seconds. Focusing seemed fairly quick, taking around 0.4 seconds. The playback mode is a bit sluggish, with photos taking a second or two before displaying when going from photo to photo - however the zoom is very quick. The camera shutter response seemed very quick when pre-focused, with a response time of less than 0.1 seconds. Shot to shot time was average, with a delay of around 2 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was quite quick with shot to shot time only slightly slower than without the flash. The cameras menus seemed quick. On the High Speed continuous shooting mode, shot time is quick, at roughly 2fps, with a shot taken every 0.5 seconds for upto 2 shots at the highest resolution. On the normal continuous shooting mode, shot time is slightly slower at roughly 1fps with a shot taken every 1.1 seconds for upto 3 shots at the highest resolution.

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the large screen (most options are easily accessible by use of the ok button and the direction arrows) which makes it easier to use. The built in guide makes using the camera even easier to use the more advanced (and more basic) options.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There aren't too many buttons on the camera, which should make it simpler to master the cameras basic functions. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small. The shutter release is good. The four-way controller could have been used better as well, but providing quick access to most common functions such as self-timer, macro mode etc, except currently you have to press the OK/Menu button to get to a menu before you can switch on the self-timer etc. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, with an excellent size hand grip, despite the generally small size, with the mode dial, and the shutter release and zoom very well positioned. The camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera, despite the plastic construction.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Olympus SP-320 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has very good colour, with accurate skin tones and good saturation. It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is slight red-eye in the photo, and there is some in other group photos. Red-eye can be removed in playback mode using the built in red-eye removal edit feature. It has a very good flash, and copes well with group photos - being able to light up the group photo above, which was in a large dimly lit hall. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept fairly low in these photos - and noise levels were acceptable even at ISO200. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light, thanks to the focus assist lamp

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 7 megapixel, 3x optical zoom lens Olympus Mju 720SW.

ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash off unless otherwise stated. Olympus SP-320 on the left, Olympus Mju 720SW on the right.

Olympus SP-320 Olympus Mju 720SW
ISO64 - Actual Pixels ISO64 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels

Personally I would say that ISO64 - ISO200 is useable on the SP-320, with low noise on ISO64 and ISO100. ISO400 is borderline acceptable / unacceptable depending on your tastes. ISO800 appears too noisy for general use, but could be useful for printing smaller photos or for use on the internet when resized.

Outside:

Liverpool Shops (ISO64) Daffodils (ISO64)

Outside, the camera has accurate colour, with good saturation and contrast levels (without being overly saturated). There was good detail although some images seemed a little soft. Noise seemed low for ISO64 / 100 photos. I turned up the quality to maximum to avoid jpeg artefacts. Exposure seemed very good.

Zoom: The Olympus 3x optical zoom lens provides an normal zoom range. The camera provides a 5x digital zoom - digital zoom simply degrades image quality and better results can often be obtained using software. I've included examples below, simply to show what is possible using the optical zoom and digital zoom, although I personally wouldn't recommend the use of digital zoom.

Wide-angle 3x optical zoom Full optical and digital zoom

Exposure and metering on the photos of the clock tower seems very good, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and only slight highlight clipping / overexposure on the white clouds in the wide-angle photo.

Lens noise and zoom: Lens noise is slightly higher than average - although nothing to worry about. There are around 12 steps between wide angle and telephoto! This gives very good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Chromatic aberration / colour fringing was visible in the wide-angle and telephoto clock tower photo near the edges of the frame with a green and pink outline, however it was fairly minor. Purple fringing on the other hand, seemed very low. An example of this can be seen here.

Macro:

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The super macro mode is very good and allows you to be 2cm away from the subject - this allows you to get very good, close-up, detailed macro photos. Custom white balance helps acheive better colour as well.

Video mode: The camera features a 640x480 video mode at 30fps with sound and digital anti-shake. The optical zoom can be used when recording videos if audio recording is switched off. This is slightly better than average.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good, the images have very good accurate colour, with good saturation, contrast and detail, with fairly low noise except for the higher ISO settings. Images were slightly soft straight from the camera and could benefit from sharpening. Color fringing / purple fringing was quite low, although red-eye did creep in occassionally. The camera did a good job focusing, with low light focusing aided by the focus assist lamp. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options (including RAW mode). Auto white balance and metering, and exposure seemed to be good to very good. The camera gives very good control over image quality - selecting different picture modes allows allows you to change the saturation, contrast and sharpness. The super macro mode was excellent, allowing you to get very close to the subject. The movie mode was good, and featured digital anti-shake. (8/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is quite compact and pocketable, assuming you have baggy pockets. The camera is stylish with a dark grey plastic body. The camera has good 2.5" screen, although the resolution is quite low. The fairly small optical viewfinder and screen can be used in bright sunlight. The camera feels well built, and is very comfortable to hold with a decent sized hand grip. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls, although the abundance of features and options are accessed mainly through the menu system which could cause some people problems. The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, good flash recharge time, slightly sluggish / slow playback mode, quick menus, and fairly speedy but limited continuous shooting. The camera has a large range of features, including RAW support, bulb-mode, time lapse photography and playback photo editing, such as red-eye removal, brightness and saturation options as well as excellent control over saturation, contrast and sharpness before the the picture is taken. Battery life is good with high power rechargable batteries. The cameras video mode features digital anti-shake, with good resolution and frame rate. (7/10)

Value for Money: The Olympus SP-320 at around £169, is very good value for money for a compact and fully featured 7 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens and a 2.5" screen. It is currently one of the cheapest 7 megapixel digital cameras available. Alternative 7 megapixel cameras to consider include the Casio Exilim EX-Z120, the Canon Powershot A620, and the Sony Cybershot DSC-P200. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: I was generally very pleased with the Olympus SP-320's image quality straight from the camera, as pictures came out with low noise, accurate colour, and good saturation, contrast and detail. The camera also provides excellent control over image quality, with saturation, contrast, and sharpness options, and full aperture, shutter and manual controls. The SP-320 is a comfortable camera to hold with a good sized hand grip and a fairly compact but sturdy body. This camera is easy to use (in auto mode) especially with the built in help guide and numerous scene modes, although it offers a mixed bag with regards to camera speed. The camera offers good battery life with high powered rechargeable bateries. The camera has very good controls and features, such as custom white balance, digital image stabilisation, excellent macro mode, and good video features. The SP-320 is excellent value for money as one of the more competitively priced 7 megapixel digital cameras. If you are looking for an easy to use, compact, high resolution digital camera with advanced controls then I would definitely recommend the Olympus SP-320.

Olympus SP-320 Rating: Recommended (8/10)
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What I like:

  • Aperture / Shutter / Manual Modes plus numerous other controls
  • Saturation / Contrast / Sharpness / Brightness / Red-eye controls
  • Very good exposure / metering
  • Very good colour - accurate, with saturated colours - but not overly saturated
  • Very good value for money
  • Excellent macro mode
  • Built in guide / help
  • Good battery life (with Ni-Mh rechargables)
  • Digital Anti-shake mode
  • One-touch custom white balance
  • Good video mode, with digital anti-shake
  • Focus assist lamp - camera focuses well, even in low-light
  • 2 Year Warranty

What I don't like:

  • Advanced manual is on CD
  • Low screen resolution (115k pixels)
  • Panoramic mode is only available with Olympus XD cards! (Olympus should give customers an easy to use Panoramic mode regardless of what brand XD memory card they bought!)

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Olympus SP-320 Sample Photo Gallery.

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