"Very handy and sturdy"4.0 starson by abmman
Pros: Lots of shooting modes, AA batteries, hot shoe
Cons: A bit on the slow side
Summary: I got the Olympus Sp-350 about a week ago. As a pro photographer I always carry a small camera in my pocket when I am not on an assignement. So far I have been using a Canon A520, which is a versatile little camera, but I needed a camera with a hot shoe, futhermore it had to be a camera with optical viewfinder, the option of manual shooting modes and of course with standard AA batteries. That did not leave many possibilities.
The camera is very light weight and seems to be solidly build. The handgrip is ergonomic and enables you to do one hand shooting (I am not a fan of this, mind you, but it comes in handy sometimes). The battery door seems very sturdy with a double lock - first you press it, it gives a click, and secondly you push a lock. Some cameras this size have a tendency to make small creaky sounds when handled, but not this one.
When using standard settings the pictures are well exposed (Olympus being famous for their metering) but a bit on the soft side for my taste. If you put a little gain on saturation and contrast, you get more true to life shots. Also you have to set sharpening to +2 or +3 as the pictures tend to be a little blurred in the details i.e. when shooting bricks in a building or foilage. Still, it is not the best resolution I have seen, but definitely above average for at 8MP point-n-shoot. The CCD which is used in the SP-350 is also used in Canons Powershot S80 which has a bit better resolution in the details, so Olympus: You guys can do better - I´ll be looking forward to the first firmware update!
Battery life with a couple of 2500 mAh NiHM batteries is better than what you are told in many reviews; OK the battery low warning lights up after app. 70 shots (half with flash and with extensive use of the screen) - I tried to continue shooting after the warning light went on, and I was able to take almost a 100 shots before the batteries run out - with the internal flash being fired in 90 of those mind you! So the SP-350 does not have a battery problem - it has a battery METERING problem!
The camera is capable of shooting in RAW mode..err..well yes, I use that sometimes under difficult light conditions on my Canon SLR, but I do not really see the idea putting the feature in a camera like this - and it is sooo slow (Olympus - please hurry with the new, fast XD card!). The 8 MP resolution also slows down the camera, as you have to wait some seconds for the the slow XD card to digest the information (Olympus - please hurry with the new, fast XD card!). Go down to 4 MP - the 350 will fire like a semi-automatic rifle, go down to 1,3 MP and it will fire like a machine gun (Olympus - please hurry with the new, fast XD card!).
There are a lot of scene modes - and they actually work rather well in contrast to many competitors! Also you have the possibility to save 4 different setting of your own - very nice - but mind one thing: When you first put batteries in the camera and turn it on, the first thing you have to do is press the menu button, go to mode menu - set - reset - NO (otherwise the camera will forget every parameters you set up and return to factory setting each and every time you turn off the power).
Noise seems to be below average when shooting in 50 to 100 ISO and is acceptable at 200 and 400 ISO - the SP-350 has a build-in noise reduction which helps a bit especially when doing night shots, but a better solution for this or other digicams is the freeware program Noiseware - you can find this at www.imagenomic.com - they also have a commercial version (with more features off course). A funny thing about noise on this (and other Olympus cameras) is that instead of a lot of blue and red dots in noisy pictures, you get af lot of small with dots!? Must have something to do with Olympus´ processors I guess?
The menu system is standard Olympus - it is like driving a French car; you either hate it or love it (yes I drive a Citroën . Have you had a Olympus before, you just start the engine and go - otherwise it takes at bit to get used to.
If you decide to get this camera - get an external flash as well. It has a standard hot shoe - so in manual mode you can use almost any flash unit. I am using a 30 year old Braun flash which I a bought for 4 Euros on a flee market - it has guide number 25 at 50 ISO and reaches some 30 feet - so you do not have to use a dedicated flash to get good results (the build-in flash is as good or as bad as most competitors - 10 feet at the most).
All-in-all I like the camera - actually I think I am going to like it almost as much as my previous favorite (a Rollei 35) when I get completely used to it.
If you need manual controls (and lot of other stuff to fiddle around with), standard batteries, external flash, small size and weight at a good price, than the SP-350 is it. If weight and price is not the issue - go for an SLR.