Another week and another 10-megapixel compact arrives and it’s the Olympus Mju 1000, the 11th model in the Mju range. The 1000 is a very smart, stainless steel bodied compact that certainly looks very pretty. It is also weatherproofed; that all metal body means it is tough enough for most knocks.



The weatherproofing conforms to the IEC standard publication 529 IPX4, according to Olympus, this means it can withstand splashing from any angle; rain for example, but it is not fully submersible.

Therefore, while the camera’s tough, svelte – weighing a very pocketable 140g without the battery – and nice to look at, the 10-megapixel sensor looks like Olympus is playing the numbers-on-the-box-game. This is particularly evident since the 7-megapixel Mju 725 I recently tested provided more detail than many other 10-megapixel models including this one. More pixels does not always equate with better quality images.

In terms of handling, controls are laid out neatly, a mode dial on the back is simple to use and gets at all the main shooting options, playback mode and the nice video mode that provides 640 x 480-pixel, 30fps movies with sound. Menus are nice and simple and well laid out as are feature options such as access to the 20 scene modes that include the beach, snow landscape, portrait, and a sports mode.

The lens zoom control is quite small to use however, but otherwise the four-way jog buttons, central OK/Function menu are standard fair accessing the flash settings and self-timer among other modes. It also allows scrolling through menus and images in playback.

Other neat kit housed within the 1000’s small body includes a key features, Olympus’s BrightCapture technology. This boosts the ISO to 400 in low light and increases the brightness of the large, 2.5-inch colour screen. A unique-to-this-market 6400 ISO setting (at a reduced 3-megapixel resolution) provides an impressive sensitivity boost along with the “normal’ range of ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 and Auto. But there are issues, as we will see later.

White balance settings include the usual modes such as daylight, tungsten and Auto mode while image quality (compression) levels include Olympus’ Super High Quality mode, that makes for nearly flawless JPEG files, particularly at the lower ISO settings.

There’s a modest range of manual shooting modes, in fact, you get just Program and Auto modes. There’s a 2-EV exposure compensation range that provides some extra control in difficult lighting however and you get a nice flash unit with range of up to five meters at the wide end of the lens. In addition, that lens is a sharp one, offering a 35-105mm focal range and good maximum apertures of F/2.8 to F/4.7.

The camera’s starts up very quickly too; in under a second in fact and it’s ready to rock. However, the camera’s focus system is slow out of the blocks, particularly in low light where it seems to take an age to lock onto a subject.

In lower lighting conditions, there’s an electronic image stabilisation system included, where in-camera processing attempts to remove motion blur but at the expense of detail that, disappointingly, is smoothed over by the processing algorithms used.

The image stabilisation can even be applied retroactively via the camera’s Perfect Fix mode so if you take a shot with motion blur the camera attempts to correct it. Other neat “post snap” features include automatic adjustment of white balance and redeye reduction, all very useful. Shots adjusted in camera are saved as new, separate images; originals are not overwritten.

Images are stored onto xD PictureCard external memory that slots into a port on the camera’s base alongside the excellent rechargeable lithium-ion battery. And those images are very nicely exposed, the camera’s iESP metering working a treat in even very harsh lighting situations while colour rendition is very good too, not overly saturated but boosted to just the right amount, even in subdued lighting or shadows.

Bar the low light focusing issues, the shots are sharp but marred by a general softness round the edges at the wide end of the zoom, so the lens losses a point or two here. Also, detail suffers from the sheer density and small size of the pixels. For instance, purple fringing in high contrast image areas and barrel distortion enter the mix along blue fringing across the entire shot; a common problem on small, high-resolution sensors. Which all means the small pixels are not able to cope and spill charge to surrounding pixels.

But worse are the noise problems, with all ISOs over 200 suffering and anything over 800 being extremely bad. ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400 are practically useless and the only bright spot in terms of noise is it is film grain-like in nature. You’ll get away with smaller 6x4-inch prints, but any larger prints (over 6x4’s) from images at high ISOs will not look pretty.

Verdict

This is a camera that has an Achilles heel, one it has in common with almost all other 10-megapixel compacts.



It is the sensor itself, which is just too small for the number of pixel it contains, cramming so many in means problems with noise, fringing and detail loss. Less is so much more (as evidenced by the recently reviewed Mju 725) in terms of detail and reduced noise problems.

The Olympus Mju 1000 is a well made and extremely pretty to look at, it’s svelte wedge-like shape making it a pure, take anywhere compact, particularly when you consider the weatherproofing.

Remake this camera with the same sensor as found in the Mju 725 and it would be almost perfect.

As it is, it would make a nice snapper for anyone not wanting larger prints, but for anyone wanting big prints, look elsewhere.