Operation and controls

The SP-310 may sport a small price tag, but it's big on features. And unusually for a camera in this class, not only doesn't it hide all those features deep in menus, but it offers a fair degree of customization, so you can tailor it to your own shooting style. I'm not the biggest fan of the Olympus menu system, which can require many key presses to change even the most basic settings, but the SP-310 shows that - with customization options and plenty of external buttons it can be remarkably usable. If you like fast, easy control of shutter speed, aperture, white balance and ISO (which I do) then you can set the SP-310 up to make changing them easy; if you are more 'point and shoot' then the huge number of scene modes should keep you happy.

Rear of camera

Nothing too out of the ordinary here - the rear of the camera is dominated by the large (2.5-inch) screen, though there's still plenty of room for a smattering of buttons. To the right of the optical viewfinder are the main power (on / off), flash mode and AEL/Custom buttons - the latter can be configured to control virtually any shooting parameter. Down the right side of the screen are the DISP / GUIDE button (for changing the information shown on screen) and a dedicated 'QUICK VIEW' button - for checking recently captured images without going the whole hog and switching to playback mode. Finally the ubiquitous four-way controller (with an 'OK / menu' button in the middle).

Top of camera

The top of the camera is home to the mode dial and shutter release (which sits in the middle of the zoom rocker). The lens, shown here extended, retracts flush into the body when power is turned off.

Display and menus

The most basic record screen, in fully automatic mode - showing focus brackets, memory in use (internal or xD), current file setting and a 'memory gauge' - the grey line on the left, which turns green as the buffer fills. You can actually turn the last three off if you prefer a more uncluttered preview screen. Half-press the shutter and the display changes to indicate the focus area selected (in iESP mode). There's no exposure information (shutter speed/aperture) in auto mode, but a green dot shows correct focus, and the flash symbol turns red if it is turned off and the exposure is likely to result in camera shake (as shown above).
In program mode the main difference is the appearance of exposure (aperture / shutter) information and an AE compensation indicator (top right) - pressing the left or right buttons on the 4-way controller changes the value. In aperture or shutter priority modes the up and down keys change the relevant setting. On this screen you can also see the indicators for manual ISO and manual white balance.
The SP-310 offers several other display options in record mode. Pressing the 'DISP' button cycles through the various options, including 'rule of thirds' gridlines. Finally you can bring up Olympus's excellent live histogram.
In manual exposure mode the up and down arrows control shutter speed, the left and right aperture. The EV display changes to show how far from the metered exposure you are. It's a neat, and highly usable system for those who like total control, One nice touch is that the AE lock button can have almost any function assigned to it, including ISO and white balance.
The SP-310 has a grand total of 24 subject modes. Each mode is illustrated with a photo thumbnail and a brief text description of what it does.
Pressing the menu button in the middle of the four-way controller brings up this menu - pressing one of the arrow keys takes you to one of the four choices. Note that the top, left and bottom 'shortcut' can be assigned to almost any setting, so if you change white balance and ISO most often, you can put them here. The SP-310 offers a wide range of shooting sizes and quality settings, including RAW - something rare on this class of camera, especially in a 'budget' model.
The right arrow takes you to full - and extensive menus. There's four 'tabs'; camera, picture, card (formatting) and setup. The menus have options for virtually every shooting variable, from macro, burst and drive mode to ISO, white balance, focus mode, sharpness, saturation and contrast. The setup menu is where you change basic camera settings; audio, color schemes (for the menus) and startup images, LCD brightness and date/time. This menu is also accessible from playback mode.