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Olympus µ-9010
12.0MP | 28-280mm (10X) ZOOM | £221

Note: Unlike its predecessor the µ/Stylus 9000, the µ-9010 is not available in the United States.

The most striking thing about the µ-9010 is its weight - or rather its lack thereof. When we first picked up the camera, we were genuinely concerned that Olympus had sent us a display dummy, but no - it really does only weigh 170g, including battery and memory card. That's almost 100g lighter than the heaviest camera in this test, the Kodak EasyShare Z950. Olympus has managed to pack a lot in though (even if we're not quite sure how or where) including a 10x optical zoom, and a range of features designed to appeal to photo enthusiasts, like quick panorama, in-camera retouching, and 720p HD video.

  • 14.0 effective Megapixels
  • 28-280mm equiv lens
  • 720P video, MPEG format
  • 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
  • Dual Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • Perfect Shot Preview, Shadow Adjustment Technology, In-camera Panorama mode
  • Advanced Face Detection of up to 16 people
  • AF tracking
  • Magic filters and 'beauty' mode
  • HDMI output
  • In-camera Image Retouching

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Overview

Olympus should be commended for fitting so much functionality into such a small form factor, but the downside is that the µ-9010 lacks the reassuring rigidity of a camera like the Panasonic DMC-ZS7. It doesn't feel 'cheap' as such, just very, very lightweight. The advantage of course is that it is the easiest to carry around all day of all the cameras on test, and you won't even notice its modest weight in a pocket or handbag. Ergonomically, our experience is lukewarm - we like the large video capture button, which makes a lot of sense on a camera like this, but we're not keen on the tiny, cramped buttons on the rear of the µ-9010. It's hard enough to press them accurately at the best of times, but in the cold and wet, or with gloved fingers, it's barely possible.

In terms of features, the µ-9010 is well specified by the standards of its class. Nominal resolution is on a par with the highest-specified of the other cameras in this test, at 14 million pixels, and it offers a 720p HD video recording option, with footage captured in the MPG-4 format. The 10x zoom is optically stabilized, and ISO spans a wide range of 64-3200 (equivalent).

Like some of the other cameras in this roundup, the µ-9010 is equipped with various retouching options, some of which, like the 'beauty' mode operate on a quasi real-time basis and some of which can be applied post-capture. Beauty mode works in conjunction with face detection (and therefore won't work if the camera can't detect a face in your picture) and attempts to add what we presume is meant to be a 'healthy glow' to portraits as well as softening skin. Unfortunately, just like the 'Smart portrait' mode on the Nikon Coolpix S8000, the effect can be more startling than striking. Likewise 'quick panorama', unfortunately, which promises to create seamless panoramic images as the camera is panned, but in reality, doesn't work that well, and tends in our experience to put an ugly join down the center of images.

Of considerably more use, all things considered, is AF tracking. AF tracking can be found within the 'AF' sub-menu in setup, and is designed to follow a designated target across the imaging frame. In essence, it does exactly the same thing as face detection would with a single face, but the target can be locked from any area of the scene that you like. AF tracking is most useful, we've found, for creating off-center compositions that include non-human subjects.

Key Features

The 9010 is another camera in this test that doesn't feature even a minimal handgrip, but it's so light that this isn't really a problem. Your hands will never get tired of holding it.
The Olympus is the most compact camera in this comparison. Olympus made this possible by using a three- segment zoom lens while the competition's lenses have only two.
Another fairly puny flash, and again, its positioning is very poor, easily obscured by a finger when shooting.
The µ-9010's four-way controller (the dial is also a 4-way rocker switch) gives quick access to exposure compensation, focus, flash and self-timer settings. Pressing the question mark brings up the in-camera manual, which is helpful when you're still getting used to the various functions and (perhaps more importantly) where to find them.
There are only two controls on the camera's top: On/Off button and shutter release. The zoom buttons, which were on the top in the 9000, have been moved now to the upper right of the back of the camera.
The Olympus' three segment lens provides a 10x zoom range starting at a very useful 28mm. At F5.9 it's pretty slow at the long end though.
Fortunately, Olympus has ditched the graphic icon screen that we criticized in the 9000, and the new menu system, despite being a little more involved, is definitely more sensible.
The Olympus is the only camera in this test to offer exposure compensation preview. Pressing the exposure compensation button takes you to a preview screen from where you can choose the most suitable setting. We're not sure how much more useful this is than simply showing the effect on the main image. If anything, it might introduce confusion for beginner photographers.

Image quality and performance

When we tested the Olympus µ-9000 last year, we found it to be one of the fastest cameras in our test, and it is good to see that the µ-9010 is similarly speedy. Startup time is par for the course, at approximately 2 seconds, and focus is achieved in around 0.8 seconds. Zooming is very quick though, and the Olympus takes a mere 1.1 seconds to traverse its entire zoom range. Images appear on the rear LCD almost instantaneously after capture, although it does take roughly 2 seconds between taking a picture and the camera being ready to take another one. Continuous shooting isn't the 9010's strong point though - at its highest resolution, the Olympus is limited to roughly one frame every 2-3 seconds, up to a maximum of two frames.

Unfortunately, something that the Olympus has in common with its predecessor is slightly sub-par image quality compared to a lot of the other cameras on test. At 14 million pixels it has the joint highest pixel count of all the cameras in this group, but this doesn't translate into any real advantage in actual resolution. To be fair, this criticism applies for all of the 14Mp cameras in this group, not just the Olympus, but the µ-9010 is the worst of the bunch when it comes to absolute detail reproduction, and it isn't helped by the slightly sketchy quality of its 28-280mm lens towards the edges of the frame.

This said, the Olympus gets a lot of things right. Crucially, exposure, white balance and AF systems are accurate and reliable in most situations, including when using flash. The only point at which the 9010's focusing system falls down is in low light, if there isn't enough contrast for it to lock onto. Unfortunately, unlike most of the cameras in this test, the 9010 lacks an AF assist light. In daylight, the 9010 is perfectly capable of producing lovely pictures, with bright, punchy colors, and enough detail to satisfy a 5x7in or even letter-sized print (if you don't look too closely at the edges).

The Olympus µ-9010's produces some of the poorest image quality in the test when viewed critically, including obvious noise reduction artifacts (with a resultant loss of fine, low contrast detail) at all ISO settings. However, in good light, at normal print sizes the 9010 gives very pleasant results, and its small size and low weight make it a great carry-everywhere camera.

Summary

The main selling point of the µ-9010, like its predecessor, is its small size and low weight. The mere fact that Olympus has managed to pack a 10x zoom lens into a body that weighs 173g (including battery and card) will appeal to a lot of potential buyers, and although you'll find better image quality elsewhere in this group test, the 9010 is good enough for most purposes, most of the time, and it is addictively portable.

There are more versatile zoom lenses elsewhere in this group, but the Olympus's 28-280mm (equivalent) covers a useful range, and aside from moderate corner softness, images are free from noticeable distortion and any serious aberrations. No doubt the camera's processing engine is partly responsible for tidying things up, but it's the end result that counts.

In conclusion, night owls should look elsewhere, but if you want a small, light, uncomplicated camera for daylight use, the µ-9010 should definitely be on your shortlist.

  • We like: Very small, very light, responsive, generally accurate AF, WB and exposure in most lighting conditions, clear and bright LCD (albeit not particularly high-res)

  • We don't like: Critical image quality lower than most other cameras in this group, sketchy video quality, slow image write times, poor low-light performance (no AF assist lamp).
Olympus Stylus 9010 (mju 9010)
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Anyone looking for a fast and simple compact that is happy to let the camera do the thinking
Not so good for
More advanced users, and anyone with big hands.
Overall score
63%
The Olympus Stylus 9010 is the easiest of all of these cameras to tote around all day, and as such it makes an excellent travel companion. Sadly, its tiny plastic controls and sub-par image quality (especially in video mode) let it down. But if you like small, simple and fast, the Stylus 9010 is an excellent choice.
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