Olympus has refreshed its mju line of compact cameras. The new mju-7040 is an upgrade of the mju-7010 model that we liked so much. The resolution's been increased from 12 to 14 megapixels, and there are some design and layout changes too. But is it worth the asking price of £240 or thereabouts?
There's plenty to like about this camera. One of its main attractions is its 7x wide-angle zoom. It doesn't just cover a wide range, it's remarkably speedy too. If you want to be more precise about your compositions, you can switch to the slower 'fine zoom' mode instead.
In fact, considering the zoom range, the 7040 is a very compact little camera. It's halfway to being a superzoom, but without the bulk. Its interface is very clearly laid out, too. Everyday adjustments are carried out using an on-screen menu running down the side of the screen and, at the bottom, is a full menu option for the more involved settings. It's a much clearer and simpler control system than that of previous mju models.
The real advances, though, aren't obvious from the outside. The 7040 now has 2GB of internal memory, and in-built photo-browsing software. The manual is stored in the internal memory too, so you can check up on how to do things while you're walking around. On top of that, the 7040 has a 720p movie mode, activated by a prominent red button on the back.
Interestingly, this camera takes standard SD and SDHC memory cards. It looks like the xD-Picture Card and microSD slot used by Olympus in its previous generation of compacts was a stopgap, and that the xD format is finally dead.
Feel the noise
But there are some problems. It seems there's a new 14-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch chip on the block. It's hard to see any resolution advantage, but there's certainly noise -- and hence noise reduction -- at all ISOs. The 7040 goes right up to ISO 1,600, but the picture quality's on the slide even by ISO 200. Indeed, the camera's auto ISO seems extremely reluctant to go past ISO 200, risking camera shake at full zoom rather than pushing up the sensitivity. The only way around this is to switch to the auto-high-ISO option and put up with the loss in quality.
At very low ISOs, the picture quality is good, although there's sometimes some purple fringing round very bright highlights, and the camera does tend to over-expose in very bright, high-contrast lighting.
The spinning navigation dial on the rear is rather pointless too. The action is very heavy for the size of the controller, and, unless you develop a knack for turning the dial without pressing it down, you'll probably stick to using the four-way navigation buttons, which do all the same jobs anyway.
With the mju-7040, Olympus has squeezed a big zoom into a little body, producing an attractive and versatile pocket-sized camera. The 2GB of internal memory, high-definition movie mode, and built-in manual and software are smart features too. But, while the jump to a 14-megapixel sensor might do wonders for sales, it's done nothing for the picture quality.
Edited by Charles Kloet