Olympus Mju 7010 digital camera

Looking to upgrade from your camera phone to a "proper" camera or just after an unobtrusive point-and-shoot for a weekend break? Having produced shockproof, waterproof and freeze proof compacts for its Mju Tough range, Olympus is, it seems, going further still by adding "magic" to its standard issue Mju.

Let us explain. The new 12-megapixel Mju 7010 incorporates what its manufacturer is calling "magic filters" – in effect a re-branding of the digital art effects offered by its most recent E-series digital SLRs, and the standalone E-P1 Digital "Pen".

Thus we get the ability to apply a vivid, colour boosted "Pop Art" ape-ing appearance at the point of capture, plus pin hole, fish eye and less visually arresting "sketch" effects (imagine a B&W image taken by the crudest security camera).

As a fun way of standing out from the crowd though it just about works, and on occasion we actually preferred the Pop Art look to the rather flat appearance of shots taken on standard settings.

The other big news regarding the beginner friendly Mju 7010 is that Olympus has cleverly shoehorned a 7x optical zoom into a slender camera with a depth of just 26.2mm. The usefully broad focal range is equivalent to 28-196mm on a 35mm film camera.

This enables users to capture both group portraits and landscapes at maximum wide angle, while providing the ability to bring faraway action or subjects closer at the extreme telephoto end.

Basically, there’s a greater range of creative scope available to users than usually found on a pocket snapper. Plus, to help combat the effects of camera wobble due to shaky hands, both electronic and (more preferable) mechanical image stabilisation is offered. Even if it’s not 100% infallible that’s still good news, as there’s not much of this rather svelte compact to get a firm, steady grip on when shooting handheld.

Neither heavy in your palm (at 125g body only) or truly heavy on your pocket, at a suggested UK retail price of £249 the Mju 7010 incorporates Olympus’ take on intelligent auto - point the camera at a subject and it’ll adjust its parameters accordingly – plus AF tracking to keep subjects keenly in focus no matter where they wander through the frame. If you’d rather make your own choices the feature can be disabled, or the rear dial can be turned another notch to program auto mode instead; also on board are face detection for up to 16 subjects, 15 pre-optimised scene modes, beauty mode and automatic exposure enhancing shadow adjustment technology. Video is an underwhelming standard definition 640 x 480 pixels.

The camera is however intuitive to use and quick to respond. With a press of the on/off button recessed into a mirrored chrome strip running the length of the Mju 7010’s top plate, the rear 2.7-inch, 230k-dot resolution LCD bursts into life and the lens extends to its maximum wide angle setting. The fact that this process takes just over a second is impressive for an entry-level compact, as is its lightning fast metering and focusing speed, AF point illuminated in green. A writing speed for a top resolution JPEG of 3 seconds is average for this class of camera however, as is the visibility provided by the screen in the absence of an optical viewfinder as an alternative for shot composition.

Go on to select the Mju’s alternative "beauty" mode (a features shared with the Samsung range) and the user is bombarded with rather twee Princess-type graphics and cross fading imagery resembling an acid trip visualised by Disney – all of which serves to distract the user while on-board software smoothes out skin tones, brightens eyes and removes blemishes. Double chins and receding hairlines however prove a task too far, whilst if your subject isn’t shot face-on to camera, it has trouble detecting it as such.

Verdict

The Mju 7010 is coolly minimalist in appearance and whilst at times less can indeed be more, here it’s simply a bit un-involving. Take away the better than average zoom range and the fun effects filters and this is just another run of the mill compact that fails to excel or excite, the blame for which is largely down to its output.

Pictures are rather flat and washed out in appearance when the Mju is left on its factory default settings. We selected Pop Art to provide a bit of much needed visual warmth and dynamism, but the "riot in the crayon factory" look won’t be for everyone. If Olympus had settled on a standard processing parameter somewhere between the two – mirroring the much warmer, more flattering images we regularly achieve when using competing Panasonic and Sony compacts, matters would be much improved.

We were also disappointed with the 7010’s variable white balance performance; and although this can be tweaked in an image editing package, inconsistency is the last thing you want from a supposedly "auto everything" camera. This is also not the ideal choice for photographers interested in naturalistic low light imagery; noise intrudes from ISO 400 upwards, with ISO 1600 being the maximum selectable option and one to avoid.

On a more positive note we are pleased to see Olympus has revamped its user interface with less dated (if still unthreateningly cartoon-ish) icons signifying its features and functions – with the new animation of your duff images being scrunched up and thrown in the trash can with a press of the delete button particularly satisfying and fun.

Incidentally, users can further stand out from the crowd with the Mju 7010 in that it’s available in a choice of titanium grey, candy pink and starry silver.