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Olympus SZ-31MR iHS Digital Camera Review$399.99
For beginners, an Intelligent Auto setting is available from the mode dial. This is a scene-detecting auto mode, so in addition to automating all shooting variables, the software will also account for ambient lighting conditions and subject. We spent most of our time in the Program Auto mode, which is more customizable but requires more experience. Program shift is not available, leaving no way to directly specify shutter or aperture values.
Buttons & Dials
Olympus adjusted the button layout from the SZ-30's, but this has not been a change for the better. On top, the power button has found its way to an even less convenient position, and is now indented into the frame, requiring that little bit of extra effort to turn the camera on or off. The mode dial is smaller than full size, but has weak resistance, and rotates easily in a bag or pocket.
Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes
Olympus sure goes all out when it comes to extra filters and effects. 17 scene modes are available, from basics like Landscape and Sports, to niche options like Documents or two different Pet Modes. But the real treat here is Olympus' "Magic Filter," which overlays some remarkably convincing digital effects like Watercolor, Drawing, and Pop Art.
The menu system isn't bad, but Olympus has long struggled in this area. The quick menu overlay is very convenient, however the white balance bar is too ambitious with the processor, and causes annoying hangs that delayed our inputs. The main menu is a vertical tab-based system, very legible, but falls into the same "long list" configuration that Olympus can't seem to escape. The extra detail is welcome, and simplicity is a good thing, but speed and intuitiveness aren't quite there yet.
The SZ-31 ships with an unhelpful quick start guide, but curious owners will want to load the electronic version of the full length instruction manual from the included CD-ROM, or download it from the company's website. This document isn't quite complete either though, and was missing a few bits of information that momentarily hindered our review process.