White Balance

Aside from the default auto setting there are seven white balance presets (tungsten, fluorescent 1,2 and 3, cloudy, evening sunlight and daylight) and a custom (manual) mode, plus an unusual white balance 'fine tune'. The AWB system struggled under artificial lighting when shooting our test chart, fairly strong color casts. In real world use we found auto white balance to be consistently reliable when shooting in daylight and mixed lighting, though it is more easily fooled by scenes with a single predominant color than we'd like.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.0%, Blue 0.0%

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 5.2%, Blue -10.3%

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 4.4%, Blue -2.7%

Flash Performance

Overall flash performance is pretty good, with exposures very accurate even if you get too close. The pre-burst red eye reduction system works well too (and if it doesn't there's a crude, but effective automatic red-eye removal option in the playback menu). Range is pretty average for a camera in this class - up to 3.8m at the wide end of the zoom using auto ISO.

In fact our only complaint is the long recycle time, which averages at around 5 seconds when the battery is fully charged, but stretches to nearly 7 seconds as the battery starts to run down or when it is very cold. The red-eye reduction pre-flash takes so long most subjects have blinked - or moved - by the time the picture is taken, so I'd recommend turning it off.

Skin tone
Excellent color and exposure
Color chart
Good color (slightly warm) and exposure

Macro Focus

The SP-310 has two macro modes; standard macro and 'super macro'. The normal macro mode is pretty standard fare for this type of camera, getting you as close as 20cm (W) / 30cm (T). At the wide end this is less than impressive, allowing you to capture an area just under 14cm across. At the tele (114mm equiv.) end of the zoom things are a little better, and you can get close enough to capture an area under 10cm across (and there's a lot less distortion, but more corner softness). The Super Macro mode only works at the wide end of the zoom but lets you get a lot closer (2cm), capturing an area around 2.6cm (1 inch) across with remarkably little distortion.

Wide macro -
139 x 104 mm coverage
22 px/mm (558 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm

Tele macro -
96 x 72 mm coverage
32 px/mm (811 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Quite high
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm
Super macro mode -
26 x 20 mm coverage
115 px/mm (2924 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Distortion at the wide end of the zoom (around 1.5%) is on the high side for a lens of this type, but isn't going to cause significant issues for most everyday photography. There is only the slightest (0.3%) pincushion distortion at the long (114mm equiv.) end of the zoom range. There is a little corner softness at both ends of the zoom, but unless you're likely to be shooting a lot of flat things you're unlikely to find it marring your everyday shots.

Barrel distortion - 1.5% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.3% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm

Specific Image Quality Issues

No serious issues to speak of - the SP-310 suffers from the usual problems of clipped highlights in very contrasty situations, the occasional missed focus and a slight tendency to muddy low contrast fine detail (foliage and so on). On the upside there's little evidence of color fringing / chromatic aberration, exposure and white balance are fairly reliable (though the SP-310 can be fooled by scenes dominated by a single color), and the images don't suffer from the overly high contrast and saturation associated with many consumer cameras. For the average 'point and shoot' buyer there's little to complain about, and the more serious user on a budget can of course shoot raw and tweak the results to their heart's content.