Olympus Stylus Verve
The Olympus Stylus Verve's sexy Euro design is sure to attract the attention of snapshooters using more-conventional digital compacts, but so-so image quality and middle-of-the-road performance hamper this study in style over substance. Lacking manual controls other than exposure compensation, the Verve compensates with lots of interesting scene modes, along with post-shot editing that lets you add special effects such as fish-eye and soft-focus looks. If you can compose all your shots on an LCD without an optical viewfinder and your goals involve small prints and owning the trendiest camera in your crowd that doesn't also place phone calls, this might be what you're looking for.
The Verve has a mostly metal body and is available in wardrobe-matching silver, red, orange, blue, and white. Although its rounded parallelogram shape resembles a well-used bar of soap, its design is more chic than ergonomically practical. The odd contours of this 5-ounce camera make one-handed shooting awkward, especially if you want your index finger poised over the shutter release while resting a thumb on the zoom rocker. Worse, it's difficult to manipulate the four-way cursor pad without accidentally depressing the center Menu/OK button and activating a setting. Similarly, when you're pressing the cursor pad up to change scene modes, to the right to adjust flash settings, to the left to change macro mode, or down to activate the self-timer, it's easy to find yourself viewing a menu instead.
On the plus side, the cylindrical mode control looks like it belongs on a micrometer and can be spun quickly to select shooting, movie, or playback mode in a flash. A gasketed full lens cover, which slides shut on power-down like the doors on the Starship Enterprise, and a gasket on the battery door make this camera moderately water-resistant. The only other controls to fuss with are a quick-review button to the left of the 1.8-inch LCD, and the top-mounted power switch.
The 2X zoom range provides the equivalent of a 35mm-to-70mm lens on a 35mm camera. Olympus wisely sacrifices the telephoto end to provide a usable wide-angle view, recognizing that it's easier to take a few steps closer to your subject than flatten yourself more tightly against an unmovable wall. The lens's autofocus takes you from 20 inches to infinity in normal mode and from 8 inches to infinity at the macro position. A supermacro option operates between 3.5 and 8 inches. The built-in flash is less versatile, however, reaching out to just 9.2 feet with the lens set to wide-angle and no more than 6 feet at the telephoto position.
Although the Verve makes most of the decisions for you, there are scene modes to accommodate most common shooting situations. These include Portrait, Landscape, Landcape/Portrait, Night, Cuisine, Beach & Snow, Self-Portrait (with and without self-timer), and Display Window for shooting through glass. Add in Sunset and Fireworks modes, plus special indoors and candle settings that lock the camera at 1,280x960 or lower resolution, and you're ready for just about any shooting environment. Shutter speeds are set automatically between 1/2 and 1/1,000 second, although the night scene mode can extend exposures to as long as 4 seconds. After you've taken your best shot, you can apply several special effects, including soft focus, fish-eye, sepia, and black-and-white. The Verve retains the original, unprocessed shot, too, in case you change your mind. Motion-picture capture is limited to 320x240 pixels at 15fps, with sound. You can also annotate stills with 4-second audio clips.