Olympus Stylus Verve (μ-mini) Digital Review
The Stylus Verve offers only the most basic of control over white balance - aside from the default auto setting there are just four presets (tungsten, fluorescent, cloudy and daylight). There is no 'manual' or custom white balance - hardly surprising in a camera of this class. The AWB system struggled under artificial lighting when shooting our test chart, though it's better than many of its direct competitors. In real world use we found auto white balance to be consistently reliable when shooting in daylight, though it was fooled slightly by the predominance of a single color in the frame - using the daylight preset is safer.
Outdoor - Auto WB
Fluorescent - Auto WB
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 3.9%, Blue -8.8%
Overall flash performance is very impressive, with exposure and color problems rare. Images of people suffer from being too contrasty, but this can be fixed in seconds in post-processing by lifting the mid-tones and shadows slightly. The range is limited (2.8m at the wide end, 2.0m at tele, auto ISO), but this is to be expected for such a small flash, and on a positive note we found the flash rarely 'burnt out' even when shooting subjects closer than the quoted minimum distance (0.3m wide, 0.2m tele).
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 over 6.5 seconds as the battery starts to run down or when it is very cold. We also found the red-eye reduction system to be mostly ineffective, mainly due to the close proximity of the flash and lens.
Excellent color and exposure
Excellent color and exposure
The Stylus Verve 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 at either end of the small zoom. At the wide end this is less than impressive, allowing you to capture an area just under 16cm across. At the tele (70mm equiv.) end of the zoom things are a little better, and you can get close enough to capture an area 12cm across (and there's a lot less distortion and corner softness too). The Super Macro mode only works at the long end of the zoom but lets you get a lot closer (8cm), capturing an area around 4cm (1.5 inches) across with very little distortion.
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
Whilst there is measurable distortion at the wide end of the zoom (around 1.3%), it is certainly no worse than we'd expect from an ultra-compact zoom camera. It certainly doesn't have a significant impact on real-world shots. Edge sharpness leaves a little to be desired, though it does improve as focus distance increases. There is virtually no (0.1%) pincushion distortion at the long (70mm 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 - 1.3% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
|Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 70 mm
Here for visual comparison are four identical shots taken at 64, 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. Unsurprisingly there's not a whole heap of difference between the ISO 64 and 100 results, and ISO 200 perfectly usable for standard sized prints. Overall the lower ISO results are slightly noisier than the best cameras in this class, but this is more a result of less aggressive noise reduction - and rather strong in-camera sharpening. At ISO 400 noise is much more visible, and is a little higher than average, and I'd avoid using it unless absolutely necessary.
|ISO 64 100% crop||ISO 100 100% crop|
|ISO 200 100% crop||ISO 400 100% crop|
Specific Image Quality Issues
OK, let's start with a disclaimer; the Stylus Verve is not designed for the sort of user who wants to spend hours tweaking images in post processing, or who cares a great deal about lines per mm or dynamic range. It's first and foremost a point and shoot compact designed for the mass of digital camera users who simply want a punchy, bright and vivid picture straight out of the camera.
In many respects the Stylus Verve does exactly this. From a technical point of view the results are way too contrasty, over-saturated and over-sharpened (look too closely and you'll see more halos than in a choir of angels). But this is exactly the kind of processing that produces the kind of print the average Joe in the street likes to see. On the positive side exposure is pretty good in most circumstances, focus is a lot more hit than miss (I'd estimate no more than one or two shots in a hundred are actually out of focus) and the color is, well, colorful. The amount of detail captured (over processing notwithstanding) is good for a camera at this level. There is a slight tendency to underexpose high contrast scenes, which preserves bright blue skies but tends to fill in shadow detail, exacerbated by the steep contrast curve applied during in-camera processing.
My only serious complaints are that the metering system is a little too easily confused by a bright sky in the frame (often resulting in under exposure), and the auto white balance that is too easily fooled by the predominance of a single color in the scene (irrespective of the light source). Overall the results are fairly consistent with what we've come to expect from this type of camera and are unlikely to disappoint the target audience (or even serious photo hobbyists looking for a pocket/social camera).
Not a major issue at all, we did find some purple fringing in areas - such as this - of high contrast and slight overexposure, but it is almost invisible until you zoom in to 200%. Excellent.
|100% crop||35 mm equiv., F3.5|
Contrast and dynamic range
As mentioned above the Stylus Verve produces very contrasty images which, when combined with the slight tendency to underexposure, means the results out of the camera tend to have very little shadow information. If you increase the exposure slightly you start to lose highlight detail, which is even worse. It's easy to lift the shadows a little in post-processing, but I'd rather see a less steep contrast curve being applied in-camera. On very bright days you will, as with any camera using this type of sensor, soon discover the fairly narrow dynamic range on offer, meaning clipped highlights or shadows are unavoidable.
|35 mm equiv., F3.5||37 mm equiv., F3.5|
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