Conclusion - Pros
- Bright, vivid and sharp results
- Low noise at low ISO settings, still fairly low at ISO 400
- Comprehensive photographic controls
- Rugged, lightweight construction and excellent handling
- Lots of scene/subject modes
- Huge range of advanced features including in-camera raw editing
- Highly customizable: menu customization, shortcut button, 'MyModes'
- Large, clear screen
- Very little purple fringing
- Good 'super macro' mode
- Good flash exposures
- Good battery life
- Excellent value for money
Conclusion - Cons
- Images a touch over-sharpened
- Occasional white balance problems in scenes with one predominant color
- Some smearing of low contrast detail (such as foliage and hair) - no worse than most competitors
- Mild exposure problems in high contrast / bright scenes
- Slow flash recycling
- Writing to xD picture card slow
- Raw mode has 10 second shot-to-shot time
- Focus can be slow in low light
The SP-310 is perhaps a camera that deserves more attention than it has so far received - it offers a comprehensive feature set at a remarkably low price in an easy to use and well put together package. Yes, the JPEG output suffers from the same over-sharpening artefacts as the recently-reviewed Stylus 800, but to a significantly lesser degree, and certainly not in a way that will adversely affect prints. And of course in mitigation SP-310 also offers the advantage of raw capture to those with the patience to wait 10 seconds between shots and to fine tune the conversion.
I was consistently impressed by the sheer depth of the SP-310's feature set, especially when you consider it is available for well under $350 if you shop around. It's the ideal 'first camera' for someone wanting to learn the craft of photography, yet has enough subject/scene modes to keep even the most adventurous 'point and shoot' user happy. Of course buying a camera at the low end of the price scale is always going to bring compromise - in the case of the SP-310 it's that some aspects of operation are on the slow side, especially card writing and flash recycling. It's also not the only camera offering true photographic control at a low price (the Canon A620, to be reviewed soon is one example), but it does have some unique features, and it is very compact and lightweight. The results are very good indeed - though I wouldn't describe them as excellent - and if you do shoot raw and have access to Adobe Camera Raw you can get some great images with a little work.
In conclusion this is a surprisingly powerful - and very rugged - little camera with several very cool tricks up its sleeve, but it's not without problems, and certainly not perfect. As ever I'd urge you to have a look at the sample galleries and see what you think of the JPEG output before making your own mind up.