There are plenty of decent 12-megapixel compacts to choose from these days, so can the Olympus mju 5000's 5x zoom, 8 frames per second shooting, and beauty-fix mode elevate it above the ordinary? With all this and a rather chic design, this camera doesn't sound bad for around £160.
The 5000 is near the bottom of Olympus' mju range, but it doesn't look it. Ours came in a very attractive dark blue mirror finish but you can also get it in black. On the back is a mode dial and a set of flush-mounted 'buttons' that are like a membrane-style keypad but much, much better. You get a smooth, wipe-clean surface and there's nowhere for dust to get trapped. The buttons are clearly labelled, with white graphics on a black background, and the whole set-up works extremely well.
It's a pleasant camera to use, too. Despite the 5x zoom, it's easily slim enough to slide into your pocket, and it also starts up quickly. The LCD screen is good, even in bright sunlight, and both the zoom and autofocus are fast.
The lens isn't bad, either. The definition is good at short-to-medium focal lengths, it's sharp right to the edge of the frame, and there's far less barrel distortion than you get with most compacts. The definition drops off slightly at full zoom, but this is typical of zoom lenses generally, especially those with a longer-than-average reach.
While Olympus is keen to push the beauty and shadow-adjustment modes, the panorama mode is worth a mention too. You can stitch panoramas on the spot, in-camera, or save them for stitching later on a computer. The panorama feature isn't new, but Olympus is no longer restricting this feature to its own-brand memory cards.
Ah, yes, memory cards. The xD-Picture Card format never did really catch on. Fujifilm, the only other maker to use it, seems to be quietly migrating over to the SD format, while Olympus is hedging its bets with a microSD adaptor, assuming people might be tempted by a camera with the same memory-card format as their mobile phone. Well, maybe they will. MicroSD is cheap enough, and, once you've slotted the memory card into the supplied adaptor, it'll be like using a standard xD card.