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Olympus SP-350

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Olympus SP-350 Compact Camera

    TechHive Rating

    The compact SP-350 delivers top-notch image quality and long battery life, but has few control buttons.

The 8-megapixel Olympus SP-350 is inexpensive ($325 as of August 25, 2006) for an advanced camera, yet it offers top-notch image quality. Its tiny, closely packed buttons, however, make the SP-350 most suitable for users who want the option of working with manual controls but don't plan to use them regularly.

In our lab tests, the SP-350 earned our top rating (Superior) for overall image quality. It also received very high marks for color and exposure accuracy, outscoring some significantly more-expensive models. Informal images I shot in macro mode were impressively sharp. Sometimes, however, the camera was a little slow to zoom, focus, and display images on its 2.5-inch LCD. The SP-350's CRV3 battery excelled in our battery life test, continuing to power the camera when we reached the test's 500-shot maximum.

The SP-350 measures just 3.9 by 1.4 by 2.6 inches, so it fits conveniently in a pocket or bag. At 8.2 ounces, it's significantly lighter than any other advanced camera we've tested recently, and more akin to a point-and-shoot model. The model's small size is possible in part to the SP-350's limited optical zoom range of 3X (many advanced cameras now sport a 10X or 12X zoom). Because there is room for only a few buttons, you have to dive into the on-screen menus to access settings such as macro mode and ISO. (Some advanced cameras offer dedicated buttons for these settings.) And since the SP-350's buttons are small and close together, people with large fingers may find the navigation a bit clumsy.

Useful features include a live histogram display, the ability to store four custom modes, and a flash shoe--though perching an external flash atop such a small camera could make the camera feel imbalanced.

In other respects, the SP-350 resembles a point-and-shoot. For example, it offers 24 scene modes--more than any other recently tested advanced camera. Some scene modes are so similar to settings in other modes--for example, "self portrait" (which resembles "portrait") and "auction" (which closely matches "indoor")--that they seem like overkill. Unfortunately, the control dial on top of the body doesn't include even the four most common scene modes (portrait, landscape, sports, and nighttime portrait), so you have to use the on-screen menu to select them.

Another weakness of the SP-350 is low-light photography. Its maximum light sensitivity of ISO 400 falls short of what some point-and-shoot cameras offer (some reach ISO 800). It doesn't allow you to make color adjustments either, though it does provide sharpness, contrast, and saturation controls. Some other advanced cameras include white balance bracketing and image stabilization, both of which the SP-350 lacks.

Nonetheless, if you can live without the fancier settings, this step up from a point-and-shoot delivers top-notch image quality for a very reasonable price.

Eric Butterfield

This story, "Olympus SP-350" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    The compact SP-350 delivers top-notch image quality and long battery life, but has few control buttons.

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