Olympus SZ-20 review

12.5x super-zoom compact digital camera
Photo of Olympus SZ-20
£230

The Olympus SZ series of compact digital cameras is primarily intended to provide guaranteed high-quality images that remain blur-free, even when making use of a so-called ‘super zoom’. The SZ-10 was the prototype, and this has now been superseded by the SZ-20 and the SZ-30MR.

While the SZ-30MR has the headline-grabbing ability to capture Full HD movies and 16-megapixel stills simultaneously, and possesses a massive 24x optical zoom, the SZ-20 shares most of the remaining features of its big sister – at a significantly lower price (the SZ-30MR currently retails for about £300).

The words that come to mind when you first take the SZ-20 out the box are smooth, glossy and lightweight. Available in cool black or silver, it has a highly polished, curvy front, and although it’s considerably larger than the ‘credit card’ size compacts (measuring 102x64x30mm), it weighs a comparatively hefty 186g. One useful attribute is the manually controlled pop-up flash on the top, which avoids accidentally firing off more light than you need for moody shots – this sits comfortably next to the small power button and zoom-ring surrounded shutter.

Confusing controls
Control lay-outs have been problematic for some recent Olympus cameras (compare the wayward joystick on the TG-610), and unfortunately there are more issues here. Because the hand-grip on the front is so smooth that you have little purchase, instead you must rely more on the textured thumb rest at the back for a firm grasp – yet the tiny, recessed one-touch Full HD video record button has been slotted in awkwardly between this and the raised edge of the 3in LCD display.

Scrolling through the menus is accomplished using a decidedly loose daisywheel, which also looks after image delete. For some peculiar reason, the narrow menu and information tabs are squashed together beneath this. Why, too, does the LCD only boast 460,000 pixels when the TG-610 and many of its rivals now favour 920,000-pixel resolution?

Good low light performance
When it comes to performance, on the other hand, the SZ-20 is on much firmer ground. The 12.5x optical zoom (24-300mm equivalent) functions seamlessly, and the dual image stabilisation does a good job of keeping pictures steady at the end of the lens. Having an HDMI port means you can quickly replay the finely detailed 1080p Full HD movie clips.

Olympus’ set of Magic Filters are once more in evidence (we particularly admire Punk!), together with some new effects such as 3D stills and Smart Panorama. We also liked the fact that there seems more of a bias towards low-light shooting, with Hand-held Starlight now included in the scene modes next to Night Scene, Night Scene with Portrait, Indoor, Sunset and Fireworks. Indoor photos were very efficient at producing lifelike skin tones even without using the shadow adjustment settings and face detection (both human and animal) was always quick to lock in.

Company: Olympus

Contact: 01923 831 201

Positives
  • Good low-light picture quality.
Negative
  • Poor control layout.

Verdict

The Olympus SZ-20 is a glossy, well-featured 16MP super-zoom with good picture quality, Full HD movies and encouraging bias towards low-light photography - but its control layout is disappointing, and it's heavily overshadowed by its big sister, the SZ-30MR.