Olympus Stylus SZ-15 review
1/2.3in 16.0-megapixel sensor, 24.0x zoom (25-600mm equivalent), 221g
The 24x zoom in the Olympus SZ-15 is the biggest available from a pocket-sized camera – not bad considering the sub-£150 price. It's a little chunky at 30mm from the front of the lens to the LCD screen, but this gives room for a proper handgrip that allows comfortable one-handed operation.
There's no mode dial or rear wheel, which slows down access to the controls, but there isn't a huge number available anyway and this is a camera that will spend most of its time in fully automatic mode.
There's nothing wrong with simple controls, but the SZ15's poor performance is harder to forgive. Autofocus was slow, taking over half a second between pressing the shutter button and capturing a shot. Photos took about a second to appear on the screen after capture. The net result was that it took 2.8 seconds between shots, and slowed even further to 4.6 seconds after capturing four photos.
Continuous mode wasn't much better, lumbering along at 0.4 seconds. Other modes achieved much faster performance by dropping the resolution to 2.7 megapixels. One captured 21 shots at 15.3fps, taking eight seconds to same them. Another continued indefinitely at 2fps. These options are welcome, and the resolution is high enough for sharing online. However, image quality was compromised by heavy digital sharpening and a tendency to use excessively fast shutter speeds. Taking a 16-megapixel photo and resizing it to fit a computer screen produced much crisper details.
IMAGE AND VIDEO QUALITY
Shooting in bright light, these 16-megapixel photos looked pretty good on close inspection, too. Details were precise, and while focus deteriorated a little at the long end of the zoom, this was compensated by the extra range of this 25-600mm (equivalent) lens compared to rival cameras that max out at between 480 and 550mm.
The lens excelled for macro photography, too. While other cameras' macro modes only work at the widest zoom position, the SZ-15 has a Super Macro mode that zooms in a little and still focuses on subjects that are 3cm away. This made subjects that are 2cm wide fill the frame, and unlike rival cameras, the SZ-15's lens wasn't so close that it cast a shadow across the subject. It can also focus on subjects that are 40cm away when the lens is zoomed right in, capturing subjects that are 5cm wide – other cameras are limited to between one and two metres for tele-macro photography.
We've no complaints about this wide-angle shot. Details are crisp and colours are faithful
The Super Macro mode is capable of stunning results
Image quality deteriorates as the ISO speed goes up, though. Even at ISO 200, details are beginning to look mushy
By ISO 1600, they're a mess
Using the full zoom extension in in anything other than direct sunlight made the camera raise the ISO speed to avoid camera shake. Even modest ISO speeds of 200 and up resulted in heavy noise reduction that replaced fine textures with smudges. By ISO 400, details looked decidedly scruffy. As a result, the FZ-15 took last place in the majority of our comparative image quality tests.
It fared even worse in our video tests. Recordings are limited to 720p resolution, and even in bright light, shady areas fizzed with noise. Low-light clips were gloomy and grainy, and soundtracks were thin and scratchy. The inefficient M-JPEG codec generated huge files, at about 250MB per minute, and clip running times were limited to eight minutes.
We love the lens, and we've no complaints about the low price. However, there's little point in considering the SZ-15 when the Panasonic TZ35 is far more capable and only costs a few pounds more.