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Quick Review

Olympus SP-310 Digital Camera

Olympus SP-310 QuickLook
By
Stephanie Boozer and Dave Etchells
Review Date
4/24/2006 
User Level
Novice - Experienced Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
digital camera Design
Point and Shoot, Full Manual Control
Picture Quality
Excellent
7.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Good-looking 11x17s
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$349

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Recommended Accessories
Design
Operation
Test Results
Specifications
Conclusion

The Olympus SP-310 features a 7.1-megapixel CCD, 3x lens, and the availability of full manual exposure control in a pocket-friendly, compact size. (It does drop the external flash hot shoe sported by its "big brother," the 8-megapixel Olympus SP-350. Other characteristics are very similar between the two cameras though, so readers already familiar with the SP-350 can save themselves some reading and just skip down to the Test Results section below.) In addition to the camera's automatic and manual controls, the SP-310 offers no less than 24 preset Scene modes, including a QuickTime Movie mode. With its small size, nice selection of creative controls, and high resolution sensor, the Olympus SP-310 is an excellent all-around camera suitable for novices and experienced amateurs alike.

 

User Report

by Shawn Barnett & Dave Etchells

When you first see the product shots of the Olympus SP-310, it's not impressive. Its big grip on the right really looks silly, especially in the front shot. Holding and using the camera, however, gives a very different impression.

The big grip gives you a far better hold on the camera than other small cameras in this class, yet the camera still travels well.

One other factor immediately changed our opinion of the Olympus SP-310 though: the printed image quality. We'd reviewed the Olympus SP-350 a bit before the SP-310, and were quite a bit more impressed with it than we expected to be when we first set eyes on it. The Olympus SP-310 produced a similar experience, but we really missed the hot shoe feature from the 350. The Olympus SP-310 produced very nice-looking images, and did better than most compact digital cameras at ISO 400 (handy for indoor shots), but the loss of the hot shoe made the $60 savings in street price relative to the SP-350 seem hardly worth it. That's an admitted bias of ours that many readers may not share though: If you never expect to use an external flash with your camera, the SP-310 represents an excellent value..

As was the case with the SP-350 before it, the Olympus SP-310's printed image quality really surprised us, although it was a step down from that of the SP-350. For a small camera like this to produce decent quality 8x10 prints at ISO 400 is no small accomplishment. You won't be able to do that with all subjects, because certain grays do still produce some noticeable color noise, but most photos print just great at 8x10, which is the maximum most people will expect. See the Print Quality section below for more discussion on this.

The only complaints we have about the camera are the slow write time to both internal and external memory, and the more pronounced shutter lag than we're used to. But if you're a patient photographer, or need a very good and small solution while traveling, you'll find the Olympus SP-310 a very satisfying camera to own, and a great bargain besides. (As we write this in mid-April 2006, the average street price is hovering right around $250, really an excellent price for a camera with the capabilities the Olympus SP-310 offers.)

 

Camera Overview

Though the Olympus SP-310 is compact, it packs in a lot of detailed features, including full manual exposure control, 24 preset Scene modes, an 7.1-megapixel CCD, and a large, 2.5-inch LCD monitor. The SP-310's compact dimensions are perfectly suited for shirt pockets and small purses, with an automatic lens cover that makes it quick on the draw as well. The included neck strap is handy when shooting over a boat rail or while riding on a ski lift, but I'd recommend picking up a soft case to protect the SP-310's flat-black body panels from scratches.

The Olympus SP-310 features a 3x, 8-24mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera). Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on the zoom setting. A set of lens threads lets you connect Olympus' accessory conversion lenses, extending the camera's wide angle and telephoto capabilities. The SP-310 employs an efficient contrast-detection autofocus system, with focus ranging from 7.9 inches (20 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. A Macro setting focuses as close as 11.8 inches (30 centimeters). There's also a Super Macro option that gets as close as 0.8 inches (2.0 centimeters), for real close-in shooting. By default, the camera uses an iESP autofocus area setting, which automatically sets the focus based on the subject's proximity to a range of AF points around the center of the image area. Through the Record menu, you can opt for a Spot AF setting, which will instead base focus only on the very center of the frame. There's also an Area AF mode, which lets you manually position the AF area just about anywhere in the frame. In addition to its 3x optical zoom, the Olympus SP-310 also offers 5x Digital Zoom. Keep in mind though, that digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD and thus results in lower image quality. The 7.1-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for prints up to 16x20 inches with good detail and sharpness, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5x7- and 4x6-inch prints.

For composing images, the SP-310 offers a real-image optical viewfinder and 2.5-inch TFT color LCD monitor, which features a very bright and clear display. The optical viewfinder has no dioptric adjustment, and a slightly low eyepoint. The LCD monitor provides a fairly detailed exposure-information display, and a histogram option is available for checking the exposure graphically. There's also a framing guideline option, which divides the image area into thirds horizontally and vertically, or adds diagonal lines, to help you line up difficult shots. In Playback mode, the LCD monitor provides image enlargement and an index display. And the SP-310 also features a helpful Guide button. Hold down the Guide button when in menus and the screen displays a context sensitive help message. With the Olympus SP-310, you're never lost and don't have to remember what everything means. Just press the Guide button.

Exposure control on the Olympus SP-310 is uncomplicated and straightforward, despite its optional full manual exposure control offering. The camera offers a range of exposure control modes, enabled by turning the Mode dial, as well as a wide selection of preset Scene modes for specific shooting situations. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system, which is fairly simple to navigate. An initial shortcut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, offering quick-access options for the camera's White Balance, Image Size, and Macro, or you can choose to just enter the main Record menu itself. The SP-310 offers full Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual main exposure modes. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, with a maximum eight-minute bulb option available as well. In addition to the available shutter speed and aperture settings, the user can also adjust Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken the image), ISO (the camera's sensitivity to light), White Balance (to adjust the color), a white balance adjustment tool, Metering (to read light from the whole frame or just the center), and Flash modes. The Olympus SP-310's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, and Off modes. There's also an external flash hot shoe, for attaching a more powerful flash unit. Through the Picture tab of the record menu, you can also adjust contrast, saturation, and sharpening.

The Olympus SP-310's Scene mode (accessed by turning the Mode dial to the Scene position) offers Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Night + Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select 1, Shoot & Select 2, Beach, Snow, Underwater Wide 1, Underwater Wide 2, and Underwater Macro. Each mode on the Olympus SP-310 sets up the camera for specific shooting situations, and a concise explanation of each mode appears on the LCD screen as you scroll through. Most of the preset modes are fairly self-explanatory, as they handle very distinct situations. However, the Shoot & Select modes deserve some explanation. Both take a sequence of shots but Shoot & Select 1 locks focus on the first frame (great for faces) while Shoot & Select 2 adjusts focus for each frame (better for sports and action shots). When you've finished the sequence, the images are displayed so you can delete the unwanted ones. Another option on the Mode dial is the My mode, which lets you save as many as four sets of custom settings.

Other camera features include a Self-Timer mode, which provides a 12-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the image is actually captured. The SP-310 features three Sequential Shooting modes, which let you capture a rapid series of images while holding down the Shutter button. Actual frame rates and the total number of images will depend on the image size and quality settings, as well as the amount of available space on the memory card, but the burst length is limited to about four shots in large/fine mode. A High Speed Sequential option captures images at a faster frame rate, while an AF Sequential option sets the focus before each shot, thus slowing down the cycle time. As with many Olympus cameras, a Panorama mode is available on the SP-310 when using Olympus brand xD-Picture Card storage cards (but not cards from third parties), and records as many as 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image. There's also a 2in1 mode for capturing two images displayed side-by-side in a full resolution file, and a Timelapse Photography mode for capturing a series of images at preset intervals. The camera's Movie mode captures moving images with sound, at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, at 15 or 30 frames per second. Maximum recording time depends on the resolution and available memory space. Another interesting feature on the Olympus SP-310 Digital is the ability to save images in groups or albums. You can save as many as 12 albums, each containing a maximum of 200 images. The Album option in the Playback menu accesses saved albums, letting you select one for playback.

The Olympus SP-310 stores images on xD-Picture Cards, but does not ship with one. It does have 25MB internal memory, but you'll want to get a card along with the camera so you don't miss any important shots. Large capacity xD Picture cards are available up to 1GB, and I suggest buying at least a 128MB and preferably a 256MB xD-Picture Card. A CD-ROM loaded with Olympus' Camedia Master software accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Camedia Master provides minor image editing tools, and the ability to "stitch" together multiple images shot in panorama mode, as well as utilities for organizing images. A second CD-ROM holds the SP-310's more advanced instruction manual, which is more detailed than the basic manual that's included in book form. For power, the camera uses either two AA-type batteries or a single CR-V3 battery pack. I'd recommend picking up a set of rechargeable batteries and keeping two charged at all times. Read my NiMH battery shootout page to see which batteries currently on the market are the best, and see my review of the Maha C-204W NiMH battery charger, my current favorite. (Do note that early samples of the Olympus SP-310 had their battery cutoff voltage set too high to work well with NiMH batteries, a problem fixed by a firmware patch in later models. If your sample of the SP-310 seems to have poor battery life on rechargeable NiMH cells, visit the Olympus website to download the version 1.3 firmware update.) The optional AC adapter is useful for time-consuming tasks such as transferring images to a computer, but if you're using good-quality rechargeable batteries, you're never likely to need any other power source. Also included with the Olympus SP-310 is an AV cable for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for connecting the camera to your computer to transfer images.

Basic Features

  • 7.1-megapixel CCD
  • 2.5-inch color LCD display
  • Real image optical viewfinder
  • 3x, 8-24mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera), with threaded barrel for conversion lenses
  • 5x Digital Zoom
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/8
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, with a Bulb setting (maximum eight seconds)
  • Automatic, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure control, with 24 preset Scene modes
  • Built-in flash with five operating modes
  • External flash hot shoe
  • xD-Picture Card storage, plus 25MB internal memory
  • Power supplied by two AA-type batteries, single CR-V3 battery, or optional AC adapter
  • Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows

Special Features

  • TruePic TURBO Image Processor
  • A Guide button for help in most menus
  • Live histogram and grid overlay
  • Macro and Super Macro lens adjustment
  • Noise reduction for long exposures
  • Panorama mode for stitching together multiple images
  • "2 in 1" multi-exposure and Timelapse photography modes
  • White balance (color) adjustment with eight preset modes and a manual setting, and a fine tuning adjustment
  • Digital ESP (full frame), Center-Weighted, and Spot exposure metering options
  • Adjustable ISO to 64, 100, 200, or 400 equivalents, plus an Auto setting
  • Normal, High Speed, and AF Sequential Shooting modes
  • QuickTime movies (with sound)
  • "Calendar" organization of captured images
  • "Album" organization for favorite photos
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), PRINT Image Matching III, and PictBridge compatibility
  • DCF (Design rule for Camera File system) compatibility
  • Exif 2.2 compatibility
  • USB 2.0 High Speed with AutoConnect (no driver software needed) and USB cable
  • Video cable for connection to a television set

 

Recommendation
The Olympus SP-310 offers full manual exposure control and an 7.1-megapixel CCD, as well as very user friendly preset Scene modes and the convenience of point-and-shoot operation. With its small dimensions, understated stylish design, and a nice array of features, the SP-310 could be a good match for novices and more experienced amateurs alike. You get a large, bright 2.5-inch LCD monitor, a good-quality lens, and an excellent selection of shooting options, making the camera very versatile in a variety of situations. Novices will appreciate the ability to gradually step up exposure control, while more experienced photographers will enjoy the full manual control in a small package.

 

Design

The Olympus SP-310 is something of a dichotomy: While it's quite narrow at one end, it tapers out to a big grip, an unusual shape, but it emphasizes the camera's big capabilities in a small package. Measuring 3.9 x 2.6 x 1.4 inches (99 x 65 x 35 millimeters), and weighing only 223 grams (7.9 ounces) with batteries and memory card, the SP-310 is perfect for travelers. Although the camera is quite small, it fits the hand very well, and the sculpted handgrip is substantial enough for a firm hold.

The Olympus SP-310's front panel contains the 3x zoom lens, built-in flash, and the self-timer / AF assist lamp. Also visible is the optical viewfinder window, with the camera's microphone just beside it. The inside lip of the lens barrel is threaded, for attaching the optional accessory lenses. A shutter-like lens cover automatically opens when the camera is powered on, allowing the lens to extend. The right handgrip is large enough for a good hold, and features a rubbery strip on its inside edge for fingers to cling to.

On top of the Olympus SP-310's right side is the tight wrist strap eyelet, which requires some finesse to slip the wrist strap through. Below that is a rubbery, plastic compartment door for the Video Out / USB and DC In connector jacks. Just below is the xD-Picture Card compartment, beneath a hinged plastic door.

The opposite side of the Olympus SP-310 is featureless, except for the secondary neck strap eyelet.

The top of the Olympus SP-310 features the Shutter button, surrounded by the Zoom lever, as well as the Mode dial.

The few remaining external controls are located on the Olympus SP-310's rear panel, along with the large, 2.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor and optical viewfinder eyepiece. Next to the optical viewfinder are two small LEDs, that light to indicate focus and flash status. Above the top right corner of the LCD monitor are the Power, Flash/Erase, and AE Lock/Print buttons. The Display/Guide and QuickView buttons extend down the right side of the display. A Four-Way Arrow pad is in the lower right corner, with the OK/Menu button at its center. Its four arrows serve not only as navigational tools, but also adjust camera settings like Exposure Compensation, Flash, Macro, and Self-Timer modes.

The Olympus SP-310 has a reasonably flat bottom panel, featuring the camera's speaker, plastic threaded tripod mount, and the battery compartment. The tripod mount is too close to the battery compartment to allow quick changes when shooting with a tripod, though this likely won't be much of a concern for most users of this camera, given its very portable design.

 

Camera Operation

The SP-310's user interface offers a wide range of exposure control options, though relatively few external buttons. As a result, learning to use the camera shouldn't take too much time. Pressing the power button opens the lens cover and extends the lens, while the Mode dial sets the camera's operating mode. The Four-Way Arrow pad on the back panel serves several functions and navigates through on-screen menus. It also scrolls through captured images in Playback mode. The LCD menu system accesses the rest of the Olympus SP-310's exposure options (like ISO, White Balance, Resolution, etc.). Even first-time beginners should get the gist of it after a few minutes.

Record Mode Display: The Olympus SP-310's Record mode screen always shows an information overlay that displays the exposure mode, flash mode, ISO, image quality, exposure information, and shots remaining on the memory card, among other camera and exposure settings. A brief battery icon also displays in the upper left corner, reporting the approximate charge level. Pressing the Display/Guide button cancels the information overlay except for the focus brackets. A third press returns the information display, while the fourth dismisses the LCD entirely. You can optionally enable a live histogram display (which replaces the pixel dimensions in the information overlay) or a "Direct" display, which highlights any strong highlights or shadows in the display.

Playback Mode Display: In Playback mode, you can choose to have more or less image information shown in the overlay display; but regardless of the amount chosen, the overlay disappears after a few seconds of not touching the controls, so you can always (eventually) see just the photo itself. A press of the Olympus SP-310's Display button blinks any overblown highlights or plugged shadows, in bright red and deep blue respectively. Using the zoom control, you can zoom out to a thumbnail display showing four, nine, 16, or 25 images at once, a calendar view, or zoom in and check fine details or focus.

 

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Sitting far forward on the SP-310's top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway depressed. Fully depressing the button triggers the shutter to open.

Zoom Lever (see image above): Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom (when the latter is enabled) in any record mode. In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of captured images and also accesses the index display modes.


Exposure Mode Dial
: Behind the Shutter button on the top panel, this notched dial controls the camera's operating mode. Choices are Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, My Mode, Scene, and Movie exposure modes, as well as Playback mode.


Power Button
: Tiny and recessed into the Olympus SP-310's rear panel next to the optical viewfinder, this button turns the Olympus SP-310 on and off. When turned on, the camera extends the lens into its operating position (unless the Mode dial is set to Playback).


Flash/Erase Button
: Directly right of the Power button, this button cycles through the available flash modes in Record mode. In Playback mode, this button displays the erase menu.


AE Lock/Print Button
: Right of the Flash/Erase button, this button locks the exposure independently of focus when pressed in Record mode, and holds the setting until the button is pressed again or the shutter is fired. In Playback mode, this button enables direct printing when the camera is connected to a printer.


Display/Guide Button
: Adjacent to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button cycles through the Olympus SP-310's LCD display modes, showing more or less information with each press. It also serves as the Guide button, activating a help screen for most menu items when held down.


Quickview Button
: Below the Display/Guide button, this button displays the most recently captured image on the LCD monitor.


Four-Way Arrow Pad
: Dominating the lower right corner of the rear panel, four arrow buttons point in a different direction (up, down, left, right). In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through the Olympus SP-310's menu options. In Program AE, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority, the left and right buttons control the Exposure compensation. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the up and down buttons adjust the available exposure variable. In Manual mode, the left and right buttons control the aperture setting, while the up and down buttons adjust the shutter speed.

In Playback mode, the Right and Left arrows scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged with the zoom control, all four arrows navigate within the view.

Menu / OK Button (see image above): In the center of the arrow pad, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes. It also serves as the "OK" button to confirm menu selections.

 

Camera Modes and Menus


Auto Exposure Mode
: Accessed by turning the Olympus SP-310's Mode dial to the Auto position, this mode puts the camera in charge of the full exposure, with the user only able to adjust zoom, flash, and image quality and size settings.


Program AE Mode
: A simple "P" marks this mode on the Mode dial. Here, the camera maintains control over the actual exposure, while the user can adjust all other settings.


Aperture Priority Mode
: The letter "A" indicates this mode on the Mode dial, which puts the user in control of the aperture setting, while the camera selects the most appropriate corresponding shutter speed.


Shutter Priority Mode
: Opposite of Aperture Priority mode, this mode puts the user in charge of the shutter speed, while the camera selects the best aperture setting.


Manual Mode
: Marked with an "M" on the Mode dial, this mode puts the user fully in control of all camera settings.


My Mode
: This mode allows the user to register a set of custom camera settings, for quick recall later.


Scene Mode: Indicated by the word "Scene" on the Mode dial, this mode provides access to no less than 24 preset Scene modes. Each choice is accompanied by an example photograph and an explanation of the mode's purpose (rather than show all of them at right, we're showing the first five as an example). Choices are: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Night + Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select 1, Shoot & Select 2, Beach, Snow, Underwater Wide 1, Underwater Wide 2, and Underwater Macro.


Movie Mode
: A small icon of a movie camera indicates this mode on the Mode dial. Movie mode records moving images with sound, for as long as the internal memory or memory card has available space.


Playback Mode
: The Playback symbol on the Mode dial indicates the camera's review mode, which displays images and movies. Images can be set up for printing, enlarged, viewed in an index or calendar display, or resized.

Record Menu:
The following menu options are accessible by pressing the OK/Menu button in record mode, though all options may not be available in all modes. A shortcut menu appears first, for quick access to the camera's White Balance, Quality, and Macro options. The Mode Menu option displays the full menu.

  • White Balance: Sets the color balance to Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Sunset, Incandescent, Fluorescent 1 [Daylight], Fluorescent 2 [Neutral], or Fluorescent 3 [Cool]), or Manual options.
  • Image Size/Quality: Sets the image resolution and quality level. Choices are:
    • RAW: Records all information from the CCD at full resolution, you can record a single RAW image, or one in conjunction with a JPEG image at either SHQ, HQ, SQ1, or SQ2 quality settings.
    • SHQ (Super High Quality): Records images at 3,072 x 2,304 or 3,072 x 2,048 (3:2 ratio).
    • HQ (High Quality): Also records at either 3,072 x 2,304 or 3,072 x 2,048 (3:2 ratio) resolutions, but with more image compression used to create smaller files at some cost in image quality.
    • SQ1 (Standard Quality): Offers 2,592 x 1,944; 2,288 x 1,712; 2,048 x 1,536; and 1,600 x 1,200 resolutions, each with High and Normal quality settings.
    • SQ2: Offers 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels, also at High and Normal quality settings.
  • Macro: Enables Macro or Super Macro modes.

  • Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page, tabbed menu system:
    • Camera:
      • Metering: Controls the camera's exposure metering system, selecting either Digital ESP (multi-pattern metering), Center-Weighted, or Spot (reads only from the center of the frame).
      • Macro: Enables the Macro or Super Macro modes.
      • Drive: Selects One-Shot, Sequential (Continuous) Shooting, High Speed Sequential, AF Sequential, or Auto Exposure Bracketing capture modes. (Continuous modes not available when Noise Reduction (see below) is enabled.)
      • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 64, 100, 200, or 400 equivalents.
      • Self-Timer: Turns the self-timer mode on or off.
      • Flash Exposure Compensation: Adjusts the built-in flash power from -2 to +2.
      • Flash Syncro: Sets the Slow-Syncro flash mode to fire with the first or second curtain.
      • External Flash: Controls the behavior of the external flash. Options include the internal and external flash, the external flash only, or Slave, which sets the external flash to control other flash units.
      • Digital Zoom: Turns digital zoom on or off.
      • Noise Reduction: Turns the camera's Noise Reduction option on or off.
      • AF Mode: Lets you choose the autofocus area, either iESP, Spot, or Area.
      • Focus Mode: Puts the focus into auto or manual focus modes.
      • Fulltime AF: Turns Fulltime AF on or off.
      • Panorama: Available only with Olympus brand cards, this mode captures as many as 10 consecutive shots to be stitched together on a computer into one panoramic image. Alignment guidelines appear on the screen to help line up each shot.
      • Voice Memo: If enabled, this lets you record a short sound clip to accompany an image.
      • Timelapse: Enables the Timelapse photography mode. If enabled, you can set the number of pictures (from two to 99), as well as the interval between shots (from one to 99 minutes).
    • Picture:
      • Image Size/Quality: Sets the image resolution and quality level. Choices are:
        • RAW: Records all information from the CCD at full resolution, you can record a single RAW image, or one in conjunction with a JPEG image at either SHQ, HQ, SQ1, or SQ2 quality settings.
        • SHQ (Super High Quality): Records images at 3,072 x 2,304 or 3,072 x 2,048 (3:2 ratio).
        • HQ (High Quality): Also records at either 3,072 x 2,304 or 3,072 x 2,048 (3:2 ratio) resolutions, but with more image compression used to create smaller files at some cost in image quality.
        • SQ1 (Standard Quality): Offers 2,592 x 1,944; 2,288 x 1,712; 2,048 x 1,536; and 1,600 x 1,200 resolutions, each with High and Normal quality settings.
        • SQ2: Offers 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels, also at High and Normal quality settings.
      • White Balance: Sets the color balance to Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Sunset, Incandescent, Fluorescent 1 [Daylight], Fluorescent 2 [Neutral], or Fluorescent 3 [Cool]), or Manual options.
      • White Balance +/-: "Tweaks" the white balance by adding more red or blue in arbitrary increments.
      • Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness, from -5 to +5 in arbitrary units.
      • Contrast: Adjusts the image contrast from -5 to +5.
      • Saturation: Increases or decreases the overall color saturation, from -5 to +5.
    • Memory:
      • Memory Format: Formats the xD-Picture Card or internal memory, erasing all files (even write-protected ones).
    • Setup:
      • Reset: Resets all of the camera settings to their defaults.
      • Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese.
      • Power On Setup: Selects the picture displayed when the camera is turned on, as well as the sound. You can also register your own picture for display at power up.
      • Power Off Setup: Selects the picture or screen displayed when the camera is powered off. You can also select a shutoff sound.
      • Record View: Turns the instant image review on or off. When activated, instant image review briefly displays the just-captured image after you trip the shutter.

      • Volume: Controls the speaker volume, with choices of Off, Low, or High.
      • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds. You can choose between two sounds, with Low and High volume options.
      • Shutter Sound: Assigns the shutter sound, with two options and a volume setting.
      • My Mode Setup: Lets you reset the My Mode settings, or create a new bank of settings.
      • File Name: Allows user to reset the file name counter.
      • Pixel Mapping: Checks the camera's CCD and image processing functions, maps out bad pixels. (You shouldn't need to do this more than once a year or so.)
      • LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
      • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
      • Dual Time Setup: Useful for setting and keeping time in two different time zones.
      • Meters/Feet: Sets the manual focus units to meters or feet.
      • Video Out: Sets the camera's Video Out signal timing to either NTSC or PAL.
      • AF Illuminator: Turns the AF assist lamp on or off.
      • Short Cut: Sets the short cut icons for the shortcut menu. (The menu you see first when you press the menu button in record mode.)
      • Histogram: Enables histogram display option, as well as a Direct setting, which shows overexposed areas in bright red, and underexposed ones in bright blue.
      • Frame Assist: Sets the frame assist to either horizontal and vertical lines or diagonal lines, or disables it.
      • Custom Button: Customizes the function of the AE Lock/Print button, to one of a list of exposure options.

Playback Menu: The following playback options are available through the Olympus SP-310's Playback settings menu. As with the Record Menu shortcut screen, the Mode Menu takes you to the full menu system for Playback mode.

  • Edit: Goes straight to image editing menu tab.
  • Album Entry: Displays the album setup screen. Here, you can select images to file in one of the 12 albums. You can also select an image to display as a thumbnail in a graphical calendar display.
  • Calendar: Goes straight to calendar menu.

  • Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu:
    • Play:
      • *Protect: Write-protects (or removes protection) from the currently displayed image. Write-protection locks the image file so you can't accidentally erase it or change the file in any way (except by formatting the card).
      • Rotate: Rotates the displayed image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
      • Playback: Provides Normal (one at a time), Fader (next picture fades in), Slide (next picture slides in from the top of the screen), and Zoom (next pictures grows from top left of the screen) automatic playback options.
      • DPOF: Marks the displayed image, or all images on the card, for printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printer. You can also establish the number of prints, whether or not the date and time are printed over the image, or remove the print mark.
      • Sound Memo: Records a short sound clip to accompany the displayed image.

    • Edit:
      • RAW Data Edit: Allows minor editing of files captured in the RAW data format, saving the result as a JPEG image.
      • Resize: Allows you to resize the displayed image to a smaller resolution. The resized image is saved as a separate file. (Handy for photos you want to email.)
      • Trimming: Lets you crop an image and save it as a separate file.
      • Red-Eye Fix: Removes red-eye, saving the image to a new file.
      • Black & White: Converts the displayed image to black-and-white and saves it as a new file.
      • Sepia: Converts the displayed image to sepia tone, giving it the appearance of an old-fashioned picture, and saves the converted image as a new file.
      • Frame: Adds a frame to the current image and saves it as a new file.

      • Title: Adds a title to the current image and saves it as a new file.
      • Calendar: Adds the current image to a calendar and saves it as a new file.
      • Layout: Offers a selection of page layouts for the camera's Album feature.
      • Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the current image.
      • Saturation: Adjusts the saturation of the current image.

    • Memory/Card (one or the other depending on whether there's an xD card inserted):
      • All Erase: Erases all files (even write-protected ones).
      • Format: Formats the xD-Picture Card or internal memory, erasing all files (even write-protected ones).
    • Setup (Similar to Record menu above, but lacking items only relevant to image capture):
      • Reset: Resets all of the camera settings to their defaults.
      • Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese.
      • Shooting Mode Button Power On: Enables the Shooting Mode button to also power the camera On or Off.
      • Power On Setup: Selects the picture displayed when the camera is turned on. You can also register your own picture for display at power up.
      • Power Off Setup: Selects the picture or screen displayed when the camera is powered off. You can also select a shutoff sound.
      • Screen Setup: Selects a saved image to be used in the Power On or Power Off setup.
      • Volume: Adjusts the camera's speaker volume.
      • Sound: Adjusts the camera's indicator volume.
      • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds. You can choose between two sounds, with Low and High volume options.
      • LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
      • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
      • Dual Time Setup: Useful for setting and keeping time in different time zones.
      • Video Out: Sets the camera's Video Out signal timing to either NTSC or PAL.

 

In the Box

The Olympus SP-310 Digital ships with the following items in the box:

  • SP-310 Digital camera
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Two AA-type batteries
  • CD-ROMs loaded with Olympus Master software, drivers, and instruction manuals.
  • Basic manual, Quick Start guide and registration kit

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Results

We ran the Olympus SP-310 through our usual battery of tests, and have summarized our findings here. To see the full set of our test images, with explanations of what to look for in them, see the Olympus SP-310 Sample Pictures page. For a complete listing of all our test and "gallery" shots, go to the Thumbnails page.

A collection of more random, pictorial images can be found in the Olympus SP-310 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus SP-310 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Lens

Zoom
A typical 3x optical zoom range, with good performance.

38mm
114mm
5x Digital Zoom

The Olympus SP-310 zooms over the equivalent of a 38-114mm range, fairly typical for its class. Though a little soft at wide angle, the SP-310's lens performs quite well, with fairly good corner sharpness. (There's some softness, but it doesn't extend very far into the frame.) The 5x digital zoom takes it out to 15x total, albeit with the loss of quality that you'd expect.

Macro
Only average or sub-average performance in normal mode, but Super Macro mode produces a very tiny area, also with good detail and resolution. Flash throttles down pretty well, though with uneven coverage.

Standard Macro Macro with Flash Super Macro

The Olympus SP-310's macro captures a slightly large minimum area in its normal macro setting, at 4.99 x 3.74 inches (127 x 95 millimeters). In Super Macro mode, however, the SP-310 captures a very tiny minimum area measuring only 1.02 x 0.76 inches (26 x 19 millimeters). Detail and resolution are both high, both at the normal and Super macro settings, with moderate blurring in the corners from the lens. (Most cameras have some softening in the corners in macro mode.) The flash throttles down pretty well, though with some falloff in the corners of the frame. (Plan on using external lighting for the Super Macro mode though, as the on-board flash won't accommodate the close shooting range.)

Distortion
Very high barrel distortion, though low pincushion.

This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel--usually at wide angle) or inward (like a pincushion--usually at telephoto). The Olympus SP-310's 1.2% barrel distortion at wide angle is quite high, and noticeable in full wide angle shots. At the telephoto end, the SP-310's 0.2% pincushion is low.

Barrel distortion at 38mm is 1.2%
Pincushion at 114mm is 0.2%

Chromatic aberration
High at wide angle with moderate effect on images, though low at telephoto.

Wide: high, top left @ 200% Wide: high and bright, top right @ 200%
Tele: low, top left @200% Tele: low, top right @200%

Chromatic aberration is rather high at wide angle, showing about 9-10 pixels of very bright coloration on either side of the target lines, but decreases to low levels at telephoto focal lengths. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Corner Sharpness
Fairly strong blurring at full wide angle, but it doesn't extend far into the image area, and there's much less distortion at telephoto.

Wide: soft in the upper left corner. Wide: sharper at center.
Tele: slightly soft in the upper left corner. Tele: still slightly soft at center.

The Olympus SP-310 produced soft corners in some shots, most noticeably with the lens at the full wide angle position. Corners were slightly soft at telephoto, but as shown above, not much softer than details at the center of the frame. Even the worst case softening at wide angle was confined to the very corners, not affecting much of the image at all.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good results with both Incandescent and Manual white balance settings, about average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV
 
Manual White Balance +1.0 EV  

The Olympus SP-310's Auto white balance had a little trouble with the incandescent lighting in this shot, and produced a strong red cast. However, both the Incandescent and Manual white balances produced pleasing results with only slight warm casts - I felt Manual was the most accurate, but some users may prefer the slightly warmer tone produced by the Incandescent setting. The camera required about average positive exposure compensation, at +1.0 EV. Overall color looks good, though the blue flowers are dark and purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Good color balance, bright colors. Slightly better than average exposure accuracy, high contrast under harsh lighting.

Auto White Balance, +0.7 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed nearly accurate exposure, though with slightly high contrast and very bright highlights. Exposure accuracy overall was slightly better than average though, as the camera required a bit less exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing with consumer digicams under these conditions.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,200 - 1,300 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,200 lines per picture height vertically, perhaps 1,300 horizontally, with extinction at around 1,700. (The camera also produce slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,500 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,300 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,200 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Strong detail, though slightly soft overall. Some noise suppression in the shadows, but still good results.

Pretty good definition of high-contrast elements, but slightly overdone sharpening. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the midtone and darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The SP-310's images are slightly soft overall, though detail definition is still pretty good. The camera's internal image sharpening does coarsen fine details somewhat, but resolution overall is quite good. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop at far right shows this in the larger areas of darker midtone and shadow, though individual, brighter strands are quite visible.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the normal sensitivity settings, high noise that decreases fine detail at the higher settings, but better than average high-ISO prints.

ISO 64 ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400

The Olympus SP-310's lower ISO settings produced fairly low noise, with only slightly blurred detail in the dark areas. Even at ISO 200, noise is only moderately high, though details are a bit blurred. At ISO 400, noise is higher with less definition in the finer details, but the grain pattern is small and tight, so the resulting images look surprisingly good when printed at large output sizes. (See the Output Quality section below.)

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail and color. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and much darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Olympus SP-310 performed fairly well here, considering the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above. Contrast is a little high, but midtones are reasonably bright. Shadow detail is moderate, and the highlights hold onto a bit more detail than average as well. I chose the +0.7 EV exposure because of the overall appearance, though the shadows and midtones are a little dark. At +1.0 EV, the highlights were too bright, resulting in a less balanced exposure. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
64
Click to see SP31LL06403.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
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6 sec
f2.8
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13 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
ISO
100
Click to see SP31LL10003.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
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5 sec
f2.8
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10 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see SP31LL20003.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
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2.5 sec
f2.8
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5 sec
f2.8
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10 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
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15 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see SP31LL40003.JPG
1/2 sec
f2.8
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1.3 sec
f2.8
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2.5 sec
f2.8
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5 sec
f2.8
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10 sec
f2.8
Click to see SP31LL40007XNR.JPG
10 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Olympus SP-310 was did pretty well in low lighting, producing bright images at the lowest light levels we test at, at the ISO 200 and 400 settings. At the lower ISOs, images were bright to the 1/8 foot-candle light level, about 1/8 as bright as average city street lighting at night. The camera's autofocus system worked well with the AF assist light, able to focus on the subject down to the darkest light level. Without AF assist, the SP-310 was a bit more limited, focusing successfully only down to the 1/2 foot-candle light level. Still, good results overall, more than adequate for typical urban night scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Strong reds and blues are somewhat oversaturated, but skin tones look good. Generally good hue accuracy.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.
Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Olympus SP-310 does overdo the strong red and blue tones a little, but not enough to be problematic. In fact, the boosted reds and blues add vibrancy. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. Here, you could argue that skin tones are a little warm, but I believe most consumers will find them appealing.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The SP-310 performed well in regard to hue, though it did shift cyan colors toward blue and red toward orange. (The cyan-blue shift is quite common, apparently a way digicam makers achieve better-looking sky colors.) Still, good color overall.

(See our Olympus SP-310 Photo Gallery for more shots taken with the camera.)

Viewfinder

Coverage
Optical viewfinder quite tight and skewed to the upper right. Very good accuracy from the LCD monitor though.

38mm eq., optical viewfinder 114mm eq., optical viewfinder
38mm eq., LCD monitor 114mm eq., LCD monitor

The SP-310's optical viewfinder was quite tight, showing only about 79% of the final frame area at both wide angle and telephoto lens settings. However, the LCD monitor showed close to about 100 percent frame accuracy.

Flash

Coverage and Range
Slightly limited flash range with a warm cast, though pretty good performance up close. Our standard shots required more average exposure compensation than average in the slow-sync flash mode.

38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent
Normal Flash +1.0 EV Slow-Sync Flash +1.7 EV

Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, though a little more uniform at telephoto (just a little falloff in the corners). In the Indoor test, the flash on the SP-310 underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get bright results, about average for this shot. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced more even lighting, but required a larger than average exposure boost at +1.7 EV to get a bright shot. The longer exposure here increased the orange cast from the background incandescent lighting, however.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see SP31FL08.JPG
1/100 sec
f4.9
ISO 100
Click to see SP31FL09.JPG
1/100 sec
f4.9
ISO 100
Click to see SP31FL10.JPG
1/100 sec
f4.9
ISO 100
Click to see SP31FL11.JPG
1/100 sec
f4.9
ISO 100
Click to see SP31FL12.JPG
1/100 sec
f4.9
ISO 100
Click to see SP31FL13.JPG
1/100 sec
f4.9
ISO 100
Click to see SP31FL14.JPG
1/100 sec
f4.9
ISO 100

The Olympus SP-310's flash is brightest at eight feet, but incrementally decreases in intensity from there. At the furthest test distance, flash power is quite dim. This short flash range is somewhat typical of compact digital cameras, although we'd expect to see a bit better performance from a camera the size of the SP-310.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, somewhat soft but very usable 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images look surprisingly good at 8x10, excellent at 5x7.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The SP-310 was a bit of an unusual camera when it came to printed output, in that the perceived sharpness of its prints seemed to depend very strongly on the local contrast of the subject. High-contrast details really popped off the page, but areas of more subtle contrast tended to look rather soft. This can be a good thing in portrait shots, where it would tend to de-emphasize minor skin blemishes, but soft foliage could come out a little mushy-looking. The camera's default image sharpening also tends to coarsen fine, high-contrast details slightly. This makes prints at 13x19 inches look a little coarse, but output at 11x14 and under looked great.

High-ISO shots are always the toughest challenge when it comes to print size, and the SP-310 did very well there. Its shots at ISO 400 were a little noisy when printed as 8x10s, but were well within a range that most consumers would be satisfied with. At 5x7 inches, ISO 400 shots looked great by almost any standard.

Color-wise, the Olympus SP-310's images were bright and snappy-looking, without looking overdone: Strong reds and blues do get oversaturated, but in the subjects we shot, the oversaturation wasn't particularly objectionable, and in fact should be quite appealing to the typical consumer.

Timing and Performance

Olympus SP-310 Timing
Decent shot to shot speeds, but shutter lag is on the slow side of average these days.

Startup/Shutdown:
Power On to first shot 1.5 seconds
Shutter response (Lag Time):
Full Autofocus Wide
0.88 second
Full Autofocus Tele
0.69 second
Prefocused
0.144 second
Cycle time (shot to shot)
Normal large/fine JPEG 2.17 seconds
Flash recycling 8 seconds
Continuous mode 0.78 second
1.28 frames/second
(4 large/fine frames)
Continuous mode, High Speed 0.4 second
2.5 frames/second
(2 large/fine frames)
Download speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0 2269 KBytes/sec

The Olympus SP-310's overall performance is on the slow side of average, though its startup time is pretty good at 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag at wide angle is a little laggardly at 0.88 second, though it speeds up slightly at telephoto. "Prefocusing" the camera by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the final exposure results in a more zippy time of 0.144 second. Shot to shot cycle times are decent if not impressive, at about 2.17 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, and it only captures up to four shots this quickly before it has to slow down to an irregular pace of around 4.6 seconds per frame. Continuous-mode speed is slower than average, at about 1.28 frames/second, for up to four shots in succession. Switching to High Speed mode speeds up the process a good bit, to 0.4 second or 2.5 frames per second, but you're limited to only two frames per series. The flash takes about eight seconds to recharge after a full-power shot, also somewhat slow. Connected to a computer, download speeds are very fast, so you won't really need a separate card reader. Bottom line, while not a first choice for sports or other fast-paced action, the SP-310 should handle average consumer shooting needs pretty well, though you might want a faster continuous mode (or one permitting more shots in a series) for kid photography.

See full Picky Details page.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery
Good battery life with the LCD on, somewhat better when LCD is switched off.

Operating Mode
Battery Life
(1600 mAh AAs)
Still-image capture mode
LCD on
140 minutes
Still-image capture mode
LCD off
194 minutes
Image playback
325 minutes

The Olympus SP-310 uses two AA batteries for power, and ordinary alkaline batteries are included with the camera. The table above shows maximum run times based on our power measurements and "standard" 1600 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries. (Note though, that current high-capacity NiMH cells can easily deliver 25% more capacity than the cells referenced. - A run time in capture mode of almost 220 minutes is quite good, particularly for a 2-cell camera.) To get the best run times from the camera, you'll definitely want to pick up a couple of sets of high-capacity NIMH AA cells, and a good-quality charger.

(NOTE: In our testing, we found the Olympus SP-310 to be very finicky about battery voltage, to the point that it would run for only a very short time on NiMH rechargeable cells. When we contacted Olympus about this, we learned that a firmware patch would adjust the camera's cutoff voltage to a lower level, appropriate for NiMH batteries. If your sample of the SP-310 seems to have poor battery life on rechargeable NiMH cells, visit the Olympus website to download the version 1.3 firmware update.)

Storage
No card is included with the Olympus SP-310, although it accepts xD Picture cards; 25MB RAM is built into the camera.

Image Capacity with
25 MB Internal Memory
RAW Fine Normal
3,072 x 2,304 Images 2 5 15
File Size 10.7 MB 5.2 MB 1.8 MB
2,592 x 1,944 Images - 7 21
File Size - 3.7 MB 1.3 MB
2,288 x 1,712 Images - 9 27
File Size - 2.9 MB 981 KB
2,048 x 1,536 Images - 11 33
File Size - 2.3 MB 785 KB
1,600 x 1,200
Images - 18 53
File Size - 1.4 MB 497 KB
1,280 x 960
Images - 28 82
File Size - 914 KB 320 KB
1,024 x 768
Images - 44 127
File Size - 594 KB 208 KB
640 x 480
Images - 110 275
File Size - 240 KB 96 KB

We strongly recommend buying at least a 128MB card, preferably a 256MB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings.

See full Picky Details page.

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Full range of exposure modes from full manual to 24 scene modes
  • Good skin tones
  • Very small macro area in Super Macro mode
  • Very compact size and light weight
  • Very simple user interface
  • Fun to use
  • Innovative Help system
  • Accurate LCD viewfinder
  • Good low light capability
  • Case design fits both large and small hands well
  • Excellent print quality, even at high ISO
  • Optical viewfinder is overly tight
  • Contrast is a little high, tends to lose highlight and shadow detail under harsh lighting
  • Slightly warm color in Auto white balance mode
  • Slightly slower than average cycle times
  • Flash coverage a little uneven at wide angle
  • Saving images to card takes too long
  • High distortion and chromatic aberration at full wide angle
  • Scant internal storage, you definitely need to buy a card along with the camera.
  • We miss the hot shoe the SP-350 has (but if you're not interested in that, the SP-310 will save you about $60 at "street" prices)
  • SP-350's print quality at high ISO is a bit better

 

Free Photo Lessons

Check out the Free Photo School program for lessons and tips on improving your photographs!
Simple pro lighting and use tips let you snap stunning photos. Check out our free Photo School area!

The 7.1-megapixel, 3x-zoom Olympus SP-310 is an excellent performer where it counts: printed image quality. It has a wealth of features in a surprisingly compact body; and though it's not the most attractive design (in our eyes, anyway) you'll start to like it right away when you shoot with it. Featuring a full range of exposure control, in addition to 24 preset Scene modes, the SP-310 caters to a large audience. Novices will appreciate the availability of pure point-and-shoot operation, while more experienced users will enjoy the option of full manual exposure control. A large 2.5-inch LCD monitor provides accurate framing, and a great place to view pictures, with a real-image optical viewfinder available to save battery power, a feature disappearing from most digicams with a large LCD. Though the camera's Auto white balance setting tends toward a warmer color cast, overall color is generally pretty good, and exposure is usually about right. (It does tend to produce contrasty images under harsh lighting though.) Though the slow shutter lag numbers could have been better, the printed image quality of the SP-310 really surprised us, and it's an excellent bargain at the roughly $250 street price it's selling for as of this review date in mid-April, 2006. Even at high ISO, its images were usable at larger print sizes than most competing models. For the traveler or hobbyist photographer looking for a small capable camera that has impressive output, the Olympus SP-310 is a clear Dave's Pick. If you want a very similar camera but with even better high-ISO print quality and a hot-shoe flash mount (a real rarity in consumer digital cameras these days), check out the Olympus SP-350, the SP-310's "big brother."

 

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