So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Olympus Mju 9000 digital camera
The Olympus Mju 9000 is a small digital camera but it has plenty of features and a telephoto zoom lens
- 10x optical zoom, illuminated control buttons, great super-macro mode
- Auto modes tend to over-expose shots on bright days, possible to install battery the wrong way around, soft images, uses xD cards instead of SD, sluggish performance
There is plenty to like about the Olympus Mju 9000: it has a great zoom lens, useful in-camera editing functions and panorama stitching. You might have to play around with it in order to get the best image quality, but it can take clear and vibrant photos.
Price$ 599.00 (AUD)
It may be a small digital camera, but the Olympus Mju 9000 packs a stack of features, a 12-megapixel CCD sensor and a telephoto zoom lens. This makes it a versatile camera that's suitable for shooting anything from portraits to landscapes, but it does take some know-how to wrangle the best possible image quality out of it.
While it has auto and intelligent auto modes that can detect the best settings to use for a particular scene, it doesn't always select the best options. Many of out test shots on a bright day looked too blue and had blown highlights. We had to play with the scene modes to make our shots look more realistic and temper the exposure. For example, we used the Beach and Snow mode on a bright day in the city.
The Olympus Mju 9000 isn't set up to shoot photos at the highest detail setting by default; you have to change this in the configuration menu to ensure you're getting the sharpest possible photos.
Once the detail level and the scene mode have been set, the Olympus Mju 9000 can take some wonderful photos, but there are still some issues with their quality: images ended up looking soft, with noticeable haloing around objects that were well illuminated by sunlight. That's not to say the pictures lacked detail — in fact, the Mju 9000 can capture excellent detail with its 10x optical zoom — it just seems to struggle a little when handling bright situations. It works much better when the light isn't strongly hitting your subject. We also noticed some unwanted lens flare from sunlight creeping into our shots from the side.
There are only two metering modes to play with if you want to try and fix any exposure issues in your photos: spot and ESP. ESP is the mode that evaluates the exposure level based on the whole scene in the frame, while spot metering only uses the middle of the frame (it's best to focus it on the brightest spot in the frame). You can also play with the exposure compensation setting, which is quite useful as it shows you the results of four different exposures simultaneously on the LCD screen.
Olympus has included a sensor-based image stabiliser in the Mju 9000, which is handy when using the maximum (telephoto) zoom of the camera, and also in low light situations. In fact, maximum zoom and low light are related, as the widest aperture at the telephoto zoom level is f/5.9 (it's f/2.8 at the wide angle). If you use the zoom on cloudy days or indoors, the camera will compensate for the lack of light by boosting the ISO (anything above ISO 400 will introduce noticeable noise and discolouration) and slowing the shutter. Depending on how steady you can hold the camera, it is possible to take clear shots even when it uses a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second or slower.
The Olympus Mju 9000 performs very well at its maximum zoom level and is capable of capturing distant subjects with plenty of detail. This comes in handy when you want to take a clear picture of a small detail on your subject. If you choose not to zoom in on your subject and then want to crop in to a small detail, the image will look feathered around the edges. The zoom lever is located next to the rectangular shutter button at the top of the camera and it is easy to use; it offers 12 zoom steps.
Apart from the lens flare we mentioned earlier, the lens performed quite well in our tests and we are especially impressed with its minimal distortion. Only very slight curving could be seen at the widest angle along horizontal and vertical lines.
When it comes to innovations and in-camera aids, Olympus is king. The Mju 9000's controls illuminate at night, so you can clearly see what you are pressing. They are simply laid out on the rear of the camera next to the 2.7in LCD screen. There's a shortcut button that can be used to invoke the panorama mode (which can build panoramas in the camera as long as you use an Olympus xD card) and the multi-window mode.
The multi-window mode can be used to compare four different zoom, white balance, metering or exposure compensation settings on the LCD screen simultaneously. It's a very useful feature that clearly shows the difference between the different available levels in each setting. Use it to fix colour and exposure problems.
Other useful features of the Olympus Mju 9000 include Shadow Adjust, which does a good job of illuminating a shadowed area in a bright picture; beauty mode, which airbrushes portraits; face detection; and a super-macro mode. It can shoot macros from as close as 1cm away and its narrow depth of field blurs the image around a centrally focused subject. Many of these features are also available on other Olympus cameras we've reviewed recently, such as the Olympus Mju Tough 6000 and Mju Tough 8000.
The Olympus Mju 9000 isn't a fast camera when it comes to sequential shooting — it shoots at approximately 1.5 shots per second — and its single shot performance is a little slow, as it takes a second to write the image to its memory card. But it starts up quickly and its menu interface is responsive.
Overall, there is plenty to like about this camera — it has a great zoom lens, useful in-camera editing and panorama stitching. You might have to play around with it in order to get the image quality you're after, but it definitely has the ability to produce clear and vibrant images.
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