This update to the original sleek and sexy Olympus µ-mini Digital boasts 1 million more pixels and slightly improved performance, but it still suffers from average image quality, an anaemic electronic flash and a limited 2x zoom (35mm-to-70mm equivalent on a 35mm-film camera).
If you put a higher priority on stylish features than functions and options, this conversation piece provides acceptable snapshots for small prints with a minimum of user involvement. If you need manual controls other than EV adjustments, you're out of luck. However, the Olympus µ-mini Digital S's 16 scene modes handle most shooting situations, and its clutch of special effects, including fish-eye and soft-focus looks, are fun to use. Its water-resistant 'all weather' ruggedness, which includes a gasketed lens cover and battery compartment door, should make this camera popular among the outdoors set.
The 116g µ-mini Digital S's skewed oddball shape is unusual, but at 94 by 56 by 28mm, this rounded parallelogram is compact enough to fit in a pocket. You'll need a two-handed grip, though, if you want to operate the shutter-release button on top and the back-panel zoom rocker without shifting your hand. As with its predecessor, this µ-mini left us less than thrilled with the operation of the four-way cursor pad, which made it too easy to accidentally press the centre OK/menu button and make a selection or activate a menu unintentionally. Because scene modes, macro, flash and self-timer features are all activated by pressing the cursor pad up, down, or to either side, these slip-ups happened all too frequently.
The cylindrical mode dial, on the other hand, was easy to use and snapped in place securely when we selected photo, movie, or review functions. The only other buttons are the power switch and a quick-view key located to the left of the 48mm (1.8-inch) LCD. There's no Delete button; when an image is visible onscreen, you just press the menu button and an erase option appears.
The 2x zoom range is a disappointment; we found it was often faster to change perspective by taking a step forward or back than to use the 35mm-to-70mm (slightly wide to not very telephoto) zoom. There's no manual focus control, but both multipattern and spot autofocus worked well in all three of the µ-mini Digital S's focus ranges. Olympus has divided the macro features into two modes. Ordinary macro works from a useful 200mm to infinity, so you can use it in a variety of situations if you don't mind the autofocus hunting over such a broad range. The Super Macro setting takes you as close as 80mm.
The built-in flash is positively feeble, with a range of about 3m when the lens is set to wide-angle and no more than 2m at the telephoto position. When ISO is set to Auto, the µ-mini Digital S automatically bumps up sensitivity to compensate for the lame flash range. We actually got some decent flash exposures out to 4 to 5m, but the prodigious visual noise at the ISO 400 selected by the camera was disappointing. Only auto, red-eye, fill, and off flash modes are available.
Control over exposure is limited to exposure compensation (±2EV in 1/3EV increments) and your choice of evaluative or spot metering, with shutter speeds set from 1/2 to 1/1,000 second, or up to 4 seconds in Night scene mode. The aperture is fixed at f/3.5 or f/4.9 at the telephoto position. The 15 shooting modes allow a little user input. They include the automatic programmed mode, Portrait, Landscape, Landscape/Portrait, Night, Night/Portrait, Cuisine (with extra contrast and saturation), Beach and Snow, Self Portrait with and without a self-timer and a Display Window mode for shooting through glass. There are also Indoors, Candle, Sunset and Fireworks modes. Postprocessing special effects include Soft Focus, Fish-Eye, Sepia and Black-and-White.
This µ-mini Digital offered slightly improved performance over its forebear, particularly in shot-to-shot times of about 2 seconds, more than a full second faster than the original. This camera also powered on to its first shot more quickly, in a respectable 2.5 seconds, and cut 0.1 seconds from its shutter-lag timings, snapping off a picture in only 0.7 seconds under high-contrast lighting.
However, the µ-mini Digital S is still slow when shooting with a flash, with more than 5 seconds between shots. It also paused for a 1.5-second shutter lag under dim, low-contrast lighting, probably partly because no focus-assist lamp is available.
Even a smallish optical viewfinder would have been helpful as a backup. This camera's LCD was a little dark under dim illumination, and outdoors, it was overwhelmed by even indirect sunlight. Ghosting was a problem when the camera or subject moved.
Burst mode was on the poky side: we got 6 full-resolution/minimal compression shots in 4.8 seconds and 133 VGA-resolution snaps in 2 minutes. However, dropping down one compression level let us capture 32 5-megapixel images in 31 seconds with minimal loss in image quality.
Of course, the µ-mini Digital S doesn't have a lot of photo quality to spare, with a level of image detail that's just average for its ultracompact 5-megapixel class. We saw visual noise in our shots even at ISO 64, and ISO 400 is very noticeably noisy. JPEG artefacts also obscured details a bit and we saw some moderate purple fringing around backlit objects. It seemed to be easier to blow out highlights with this camera, even if exposures were otherwise spot-on. While colours were fairly accurate and well saturated, this camera's red-eye preflash did little to prevent glowing red pupils.
Edited by Aimee Baldridge
Additional editing by Nick Hide