The Olympus VR-340 ($129.99 direct) is a modestly priced compact camera that, while not without its drawbacks, is quite capable when used in decent light. The 16-megapixel shooter uses a CCD sensor, so video is limited to 720p, but it does pack a 10x zoom lens and an impressive LCD into its compact, well-built chassis. If you’re looking for a compact camera on a strict budget you could do a lot worse—the VR-340′s performance falls right is in line with some of the better sub-$200 cameras we’ve tested, including the 8x-zooming Canon A4000 IS. Neither the Olympus nor the Canon equal our Editors’ Choice point-and-shoot, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150 in terms of image quality—but budget-minded shoppers will have to stretch to make that purchase.
Editors’ Note: The Olympus VR-340 is sold as the VR-350 at Best Buy stores. Aside from the model number, the two cameras are identical in terms of design and performance. Our tests were performed on the VR-350 version of the camera.
Design and Features
The VR-340 is compact at 2.4 by 4.1 by 1.1 inches (HWD) and rather light at 6 ounces. Its body is metal, and feels quite sturdy—a nice touch for such an inexpensive camera. It’s a little bit bigger than the 2.2-by-3.7-by-0.8 Samsung DV300F, a compact shooter that has a less ambitious 5x zoom lens, but does integrate Wi-Fi and a front LCD for self portraits.
The small size makes the 10x zoom lens all the more impressive. It starts out at a very wide 24mm and extends to cover a 240mm field of view (35mm equivalent). Its lens is wider than most in this class—the Canon A2400 IS starts out at 28mm—so you can capture more of a scene in your images without having to back up.
The rear display is 3 inches, which is standard on higher-end cameras but a nice touch on an entry-level model like this one. Its resolution is 460k dots, twice that of the Canon A2400 and A4000. Top-end point-and-shoots often have sharper screens, but I was still impressed by the sharpness exhibited by the VR-340′s LCD. It’s very bright, and the viewing angle is wide so you can look at it from the left or right—but it is a bit harder to see if you tilt the camera up or down.
There’s an Intelligent Auto shooting mode that controls almost every aspect of the camera’s settings for you—you can enable or disable the flash, set the resolution, set a Self Timer, and zoom the lens, but that’s it. More advanced shooters can set the camera to Program mode, which allows you to control the Flash output, Macro shooting mode, Self Timer, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, ISO, Drive Mode, and resolution. Physical controls are sparse—there are buttons to navigate through the software menus, to start video recording, and to delete photos during playback, but everything else must be controlled via the software menu. If you’d like to take more control over settings, consider a more advanced camera like the Samsung EX2F—it’s anything but budget, but it gives you almost as much control as a D-SLR.
Performance and Conclusions
The VR-340 lags behind other compacts in terms of speed. It requires 2.1 seconds to start and shoot, makes you wait 0.6-second between photos, and records a lengthy 0.5-second shutter lag. These delays make it all too possible to miss a crucial shot. The Canon A4000 IS takes a bit longer to start up (2.2 seconds), and makes you wait 1.4 seconds between photos, but it delivers a much shorter 0.2-second shutter lag.
The VR-340 scored slightly under the 1,800 lines per picture height we use to mark a sharp image in testing. Imatest tells us that images shot at the widest angle record 1,733 lines. It’s the edge and corner performance that brings this center-weighted score below our threshold, sharpness in the middle of images is fine. The Canon A4000 IS has a much sharper lens—at its widest setting of 28mm it records 2,301 lines.
Imatest also checks for noise, which can make images appear grainy as you increase the ISO sensitivity to capture more light. The VR-340 keeps noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 800, but images suffer noticeably in terms of detail at this setting. Our recommendation is to keep the camera set at ISO 400 or below in order to preserve these details. The lens is optically stabilized, so you should be able to get away with a lower ISO in darker situations—assuming that you are shooting a static subject. The Sony WX150 uses a CMOS sensor, which performs better at high ISO settings when compared with the VR-340′s CCD sensor. It keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 1600, and does a great job preserving details through ISO 800.
Video capture is limited to 720p30 in AVI format. The quality is good, but not great. It’s a little grainy, even under studio lighting, and you can’t zoom in or out while rolling footage. The audio quality is good—voices are clear and, as the lens doesn’t move when recording, its presence on the soundtrack is not a concern. There’s a proprietary USB port, which doubles as a charging port (like many recent point-and-shoots, no dedicated charger is included). Photos and videos are saved to standard SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards.
If you’re in the market for a point-and-shoot camera and don’t have a lot of money to spend, the Olympus VR-340 is a good choice. It doesn’t have the sharpest lens in the world—the Canon A2400 IS and A4000 IS both beat it there—but its 10x zoom lens is more ambitious on both the wide and telephoto end when compared to the Canon models. If you understand its limitations—it’s a bit slow to shoot, and for best results you should keep the ISO at 400 or below—the VR-340 will reward you with very good images—and it can capture wider views than your phone’s camera, and zoom in for tight shots as well. Its tradeoffs prevent us from awarding it with an Editors’ Choice award, but budget-minded photographers should give the VR-340 consideration.
More Digital Camera Reviews:
|Dimensions||2.4 x 4.1 x 1.1 inches|
|Battery Type Supported||Lithium Ion|
|Recycle time||0.6 seconds|
|LCD size||3 inches|
|Media Format||Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|Optical Zoom||10 x|
|Boot time||2.1 seconds|
|35-mm Equivalent (Wide)||24 mm|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||0 feet|
|Lines Per Picture Height||1733|
|LCD Aspect Ratio||4|
|35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)||240 mm|
|Shutter Lag||0.5 seconds|
|Sensor Size||6.2 x 4.6 (1/2.3") mm|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc