Having a far-reaching optical zoom in a compact camera means the world to some photographers. They won't be disappointed with the offering on the Olympus SZ-14. Don't be confused about the model name, though; there's very much a 24x optical zoom packed inside.
Like several of the other zoomy compact cameras that are on the market, the SZ-14 is geared towards those who simply like to point and shoot. As such, the configuration is pretty basic and easy for beginners to use. It's a superzoom, but it misses out on some important features that would make it ideal for travel purposes — for example, it misses out on a GPS.
The camera fits comfortably in the hand, thanks to the protruding grip at the front, as well as a small textured plastic thumb rest at the rear. Exterior casings are all plastic, which ensure that it doesn't outstay its 216g welcome. However, it doesn't feel as finished or polished as some of the other Olympus compacts.
The lens has a maximum aperture range of f/3.0-6.9 from the wide-end to the telephoto end, respectively. Sitting over the lens is a small, pop-up flash that is activated by flicking the switch around the lens barrel. The SZ-14 sports an HDMI and a proprietary USB connection port. It's powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and uses any variant of the SD card format.
Around the back is a 3-inch LCD screen, as well as a range of control buttons. There's an instant-on record button to immediately start shooting HD video (only 720p), as well as a rotating control dial that can be used to navigate through menus and change controls on the fly. There's no mode dial here, which means that you need to adjust any particular shooting settings through the camera's on-screen interface. Like other Olympus compacts around this price range, you only get automatic controls. Fortunately, the iAuto mode is pretty good, and there's also program mode to adjust a few components like white balance and ISO, as well as a 3D photo mode, panorama and scene modes.
The camera comes with nine of the Olympus magic filters, which are creative effects applied to images in-camera. They are: pop art, pin hole, fish eye, drawing, soft focus, punk, watercolour, reflection, miniature and fragmented.
The reflection magic filter is one of the most fun options.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Olympus rates the battery for approximately 220 shots. The SZ-14 has a regular continuous shooting mode (measured above), which takes shots at the full 14-megapixel resolution, as well as two high-speed modes. High Speed 1 reduces the resolution to 5 megapixels and ups the frame rate to 5.3fps, while High Speed 2 reduces the resolution to 2 megapixels and can shoot 10fps.
The SZ-14 is not going to set the world alight with its image quality, but it's perfectly serviceable for snapshots and photos for sharing to the web. Image quality does start to deteriorate at ISO 200 and above, with visible over-processing. The SZ-14 has a maximum sensitivity rating of 1600, but at this stage there's a lot of smearing present that recovering much detail, even with noise-removal software, is tricky.
There's a lot of noise and colour shifting going on as the ISO sensitivity climbs.
Composing and reviewing shots is not helped by the LCD screen, which doesn't give an accurate indication of colour, and it is particularly difficult to judge when highlights have been blown. There were numerous occasions when we took a photo and thought that an area of the image, such as the sky, was severely overexposed just by looking at the screen. Reviewing the image on a computer showed that there was, in fact, some detail there. The SZ-14 has a histogram provided on-screen, which can take some of the guesswork out for more experienced photographers, but we highly doubt that point-and-shooters will have the time or inclination to learn how to read one.
This photo was taken at the full extent of the 24x zoom lens. While it's fine for web use, the 100 per cent crop inset shows the over-processing and smearing of detail present. We chose to underexpose by a value of 0.7 here, as it was really difficult to tell just how the photo was going to look when viewed on a computer screen, because the shot metered at what the camera thought was the correct exposure looked far too overexposed.
Colour is generally accurate, and the SZ-14 has a tendency to slightly underexpose in anything other than bright, sunny situations. While there are some distortions present at the wide end, it's not enough to concern snap-shooters.
Video quality is fine for a camera of this class. There's no chance that you could create cinematic masterpieces here, as there's some noise across the image, the microphone doesn't come with a wind cut filter in the menus and the image stabilisation has trouble steadying video at any extent of the optical zoom. As you may have guessed, the SZ-14 lets you use the optical zoom while filming.
Exposure: 1/30, f/3, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/640, f/3, ISO 80
Exposure: 1/40, f/5, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/30, f/3, ISO 125
The SZ-14 is a fun camera to shoot with, offering a long, 24x optical zoom lens and plenty of creative filters to boot. Image quality is not good enough to make this a wholehearted recommendation, however, as there are some serious noise problems as the sensitivity climbs, and the image-stabilisation system just can't cope in video mode.