This update to the original sleek and sexy Olympus Stylus Verve boasts 1 million more pixels and slightly improved performance, but it still suffers from average image quality, an anemic electronic flash, and a limited 2X zoom (35mm-to-70mm equivalent on a 35mm-film camera).
If you put a higher priority on stylish features than functions and options, this conversation piece provides acceptable snapshots for small prints with a minimum of user involvement. If you need manual controls other than EV adjustments, you're out of luck. However, the Olympus Stylus Verve S's 16 scene modes handle most shooting situations, and its clutch of special effects, including fish-eye and soft-focus looks, are fun to use. Its water-resistant "all weather" ruggedness, which includes a gasketed lens cover and battery compartment door, should make this camera popular among the outdoors set.
The 5-ounce Verve S's skewed oddball shape is more reminiscent of Gumby than your average digital camera, but at 3.7 by 2.2 by 1.1 inches, this rounded parallelogram is compact enough to fit in a pocket. You'll need a two-handed grip, though, if you want to operate the shutter-release button on top and the back-panel zoom rocker without shifting your hand. As with its predecessor, this Verve left us less than thrilled with the operation of the four-way cursor pad, which made it too easy to accidentally press the center OK/menu button and make a selection or activate a menu unintentionally. Because scene modes, macro, flash, and self-timer features are all activated by pressing the cursor pad up, down, or to either side, these goofs happened all too frequently.
The cylindrical mode dial, on the other hand, was easy to use and snapped in place securely when we selected photo, movie, or review functions. The only other buttons are the power switch and a quick-view key located to the left of the 1.8-inch LCD. There's no Delete button; when an image is visible onscreen, you just press the menu button and an erase option appears.
The 2X zoom range is a disappointment; we found it was often faster to change perspective by taking a step forward or back than to use the 35mm-to-70mm (slightly wide to not very telephoto) zoom. There's no manual focus control, but both multipattern and spot autofocus worked well in all three of the Verve S's focus ranges. Olympus has divided the macro features into two modes. Ordinary macro works from a useful 8 inches to infinity, so you can use it in a variety of situations if you don't mind the autofocus hunting over such a broad range. The Super Macro setting takes you as close as 3.1 inches.
The built-in flash is positively feeble, with a range of about 9 feet when the lens is set to wide-angle and no more than 6 feet at the telephoto position. When ISO is set to Auto, the Verve S automatically bumps up sensitivity to compensate for the lame flash range. We actually got some decent flash exposures out to 12 to 15 feet, but the prodigious visual noise at the ISO 400 selected by the camera was disappointing. Only auto, red-eye, fill, and off flash modes are available.
Control over exposure is limited to exposure compensation (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments) and your choice of evaluative or spot metering, with shutter speeds set from 1/2 to 1/1,000 second, or up to 4 seconds in Night scene mode. The aperture is fixed at f/3.5 or f/4.9 at the telephoto position. The 15 shooting modes allow a little user input. They include the automatic programmed mode, Portrait, Landscape, Landscape/Portrait, Night, Night/Portrait, Cuisine (with extra contrast and saturation), Beach and Snow, Self Portrait with and without a self-timer, and a Display Window mode for shooting through glass. There are also Indoors, Candle, Sunset, and Fireworks modes. Postprocessing special effects include Soft Focus, Fish-Eye, Sepia, and Black-and-White.
This Verve offered slightly improved performance, particularly in shot-to-shot times of about 2 seconds, more than a full second faster than the original. This camera also powered on to its first shot more quickly, in a respectable 2.5 seconds, and cut a 0.1 second from its shutter-lag timings, snapping off a picture in only 0.7 second under high-contrast lighting.
However, the Verve S is still slow when shooting with a flash, with more than 5 seconds between shots. It also paused for a 1.5-second shutter lag under dim, low-contrast lighting, probably partly because no focus-assist lamp is available.
Even a smallish optical viewfinder would have been helpful as a backup. This camera's LCD was a little dark under dim illumination, and outdoors, it was overwhelmed by even indirect sunlight. Ghosting was a problem when the camera or subject moved.
Burst mode was on the poky side: we got 6 full-resolution/minimal compression shots in 4.8 seconds and 133 VGA-resolution snaps in 2 minutes. However, dropping down one compression level let us capture 32 5-megapixel images in 31 seconds with minimal loss in image quality.
Of course, the Verve S doesn't have a lot of photo quality to spare, with a level of image detail that's just average for its ultracompact 5-megapixel class. We saw visual noise in our shots even at ISO 64, and ISO 400 is very noticeably noisy. JPEG artifacts also obscured details a bit, and we saw some moderate purple fringing around backlit objects. It seemed to be easier to blow out highlights with this camera, even if exposures were otherwise spot-on. While colors were fairly accurate and well saturated, this camera's red-eye preflash did little to prevent glowing red pupils.