Olympus SZ-20 Overview
The Olympus SZ-20 digital camera is targeted at travel photographers looking for a camera whose zoom range won't feel too restrictive, as well as sports fans wanting a quick-shooting camera with a strong zoom lens to help get them a bit closer to the action. Offering a fairly versatile 12.5x optical zoom, the SZ-20 not only has a relatively compact body, but also provides a focal length range that--for an interchangeable-lens model--would require a couple of bulky, expensive lenses to cover.
At the heart of the Olympus SZ-20 sits a 16 megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor. Sensors featuring backside illumination place their circuitry on the rear of the chip, and hence are typically more sensitive than standard types, since more of their front surface can be given over to light-gathering. The SZ-20's CMOS chip is mounted on a sensor shift mechanism that allows the camera to provide true mechanical image stabilization--a must for reducing the effects of camera shake at longer focal lengths, or in low ambient light. That's great news, because with focal lengths reaching out to the equivalent of a 300mm telephoto on a 35mm camera, the Olympus SZ-20 has quite a bit of reach, and even the steady-handed might otherwise struggle to handhold shots at less than 1/300th second. At the other end of the zoom range, the Olympus SZ-20 offers a generous 24mm wide angle, great for shooting indoors when you can't simply take a few more steps back from your subject to fit everything within the frame.
The Olympus SZ-20 doesn't include an optical or electronic viewfinder, so you'll be framing your images at arm's length. Thankfully, with a reasonably high resolution of around 153,000 pixels (comprised of 460,000 red, green, and blue dots), the three-inch LCD screen on the rear panel of the SZ-20 is reasonably well specified, and should provide a sharp image with which to judge focus and facial expressions. Like most fixed-lens digital cameras, the Olympus SZ-20 relies on a contrast detection autofocus system, and as is the norm these days, this includes a face detection feature that can automatically located human subjects, then ensure that the dominant subject is correctly focused.
A variety of shooting modes are available, each of which sets the camera up appropriately for a specific shooting condition. For photographers who want to do no more than frame their scene and press the shutter button, there's an iAuto mode in which the camera will do all the thinking. There's also a new hand-held starlight mode in which the camera combines four sequential shots into a single image with less blur and noise than you'd be able to manage with a single low-light shot. A smart panorama mode automatically stitches together a number of sequential images in-camera to create a panoramic image, and can create full 360-degree panoramas. There's also a selection of "magic filter" effects including two new additions: watercolor (simulates the painting style), and sparkle (mimics the look of twinkling lights). Additionally, a 3D mode which captures two sequential images as you pan the camera, then combines them into a single, standard Multi Picture-format image for viewing on 3D displays. Perhaps the most unusual capability of the SZ-20 is an auto-release mode intended for use with pets, which will immediately capture an image when your pet turns to face the camera, helping family documentarians to get a good shot of their beloved--but perhaps rather unpredictable--furry member of the family.
Thanks to the choice of a CMOS image sensor--typically much faster than the more common CCD chips--the SZ-20 is capable of shooting a swift seven photos every second, at full resolution. By dropping the resolution to five megapixels, this can be increased to a very useful 15 frames per second, great for analyzing a golf swing, or capturing a moment in time without needing the best reflexes in the world. (Just delete the unneeded frames when you're done!) Do note that at the current time, no information is available as to how many images in a row the SZ-20 can capture at either rate, though.
As well as still images, the Olympus SZ-20 can capture high definition video clips, with a maximum resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, commonly known as Full HD or 1,080p. Movies are recorded using H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression, a format that's friendly in terms of storage space, but which can require a recent computer for smooth viewing, and will certainly demand a powerful machine if you're planning to do significant movie editing.
The Olympus SZ-20 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. It's also compatible with Eye-Fi's wireless-capable SD cards, for cable-free upload directly from the camera. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary battery pack which, usefully, can be charged via the camera's USB connection--great if you already have other devices that use a USB charger, or will be bringing a notebook computer from which you can charge the camera directly.
In the US market, Olympus has set pricing for its SZ-20 digital camera at around US$300. At press time, the company had yet to disclose when the model would begin shipping.