The Bottom Line
The Olympus SZ-30MR ultra-zoom camera has a rarely seen mixture of stylish looks, a relatively thin and light camera body, and a large (24X) optical zoom lens. Someone seeking this type of camera will not regret the purchase, as it is a very nice model.
However, it has just enough quirks -- and a high enough price of just under $400 -- that I have a tough time giving it the highest possible rating. It just isn't going to be the perfect camera for everyone.
Shot to shot delays and shutter lag are a problem when shooting at the maximum zoom, which is nothing new for ultra-zoom cameras. This camera isn't quite as easy to use at times as I'd like to see, and its mode dial labeling is odd.
Still, this is a very nice camera. If it had a price point of about $100 lower, it would be very easy to overlook some of its flaws and highly recommend it. As it is, I can't recommend this model over the Nikon P500 ultra-zoom, unless you just really want a thin camera body to go with your large zoom lens.
One area where the SZ-30MR excelled -- and which surprised me -- was in its ability to shoot great photos over the maximum zoom range, in low light where a flash was required. Olympus did a really nice job putting a powerful flash in this camera. You probably will need to bump up the ISO setting a bit to get really well exposed photos in this situation, but I was surprised with the image quality on this type of photo.
This camera can create some impressive images that will be extremely sharp. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen on every photo, in large part because of some blur from camera shake. I'd recommend using a tripod with the SZ-30MR, especially for any indoor or low light photos.
With outdoor photos, the exposure is really good and the camera's autofocus tends to be extremely accurate. Most of the photos you'll shoot with this camera will be of very good quality, but there are enough problems with camera shake and slightly blurry images that it's a bit of a disappointment.
If you're looking to spice up an image, Olympus did include a few special effect modes with the SZ-30MR, such as panorama, watercolor, sparkle, punk, soft focus, drawing, and pop art. These are fun to use and work pretty well. You also can shoot in MR mode, which allows you to shoot two photos simultaneously, one that has a special effect activated, and one that is in normal mode.
When shooting movies, you'll find that the large zoom is not available, and you'll have to use a small digital zoom. Movie quality is OK with this camera.
I'll just say this about the SZ-30MR's response times: If you don't use the zoom, this camera works very quickly.
I'm kidding, of course, as no one is going to buy a 24X zoom camera and not use the zoom. However, if you're looking for lightning-fast performance, the SZ-30MR is a lot like other utlra-zoom cameras, as it has some areas where it will cause delays.
Unlike some thin, less expensive ultra-zoom cameras, the zoom lens on the SZ-30MR moves very fast and smoothly throughout its range. A 24X zoom is a great size, as you'll be able to shoot a large variety of photos from many different distances.
Shot to shot delays occur occasionally with this camera, as you'll see "busy" on the screen at times, especially with low-light photos and with photos shot at the maximum zoom. Shutter lag, as with most ultra-zoom cameras, is a bit of a problem when the zoom lens is fully extended. The SZ-30MR also has a few problems with shutter lag in low light conditions. Shutter lag will cause you to miss a few photo opportunities of moving subjects with the SZ-30MR.
For an ultra-zoom camera, the autofocus works pretty fast with this camera. However, you will see the autofocus work a little more slowly as you move closer to the camera's maximum zoom. To help the autofocus, try pre-focusing pressing the shutter button halfway.
You cannot reduce the review time, which is amount of time the photo you just shot remains on the screen between shots. This makes shooting multiple photos back to back a bit of a hassle. Although you can return to shooting mode by pressing the shutter button, you'll have to take another split second to re-frame the next photo, which may cause you to miss a picture or two.
Olympus did a nice job of organizing the menus for this camera, but some aspects of the camera are a little tricky to use, unless you have some experience with cameras. I'm not saying beginners shouldn't select this camera, but beginners might need to spend a little time with the user manual before having a full grasp on the SZ-30MR.
For an ultra-zoom camera, Olympus has done a nice job with the design of the SZ-30MR. It has a stylish look compared to other ultra-zoom cameras, which tend to look more like boring, larger DSLR cameras. The sleek lines and angles on the SZ-30MR are a nice change, and it's much thinner (about 1.6 inches) and lighter than most other cameras I've seen with a 24X or larger zoom lens.
When picking up this camera and feeling how light it is, you'd be very surprised to see that it offers such a large zoom lens. In fact, this might be one of the few ultra-zoom cameras that is easy and comfortable to operate one-handed.
You must open the flash manually with this camera, using a switch on the side of the lens housing. The flash will not fire unless it's extended.
I thought this was a sharp looking camera, as the mixture of glossy silver, dull silver, and black trim is very nice. My biggest complaint with the design of the SZ-30MR, that might seem minor at first, is the labeling on the mode dial. The SZ-30MR has quite a bit of shiny silver on its exterior. However, the text labels are white on the shiny mode dial, which makes them difficult to see if there's any significant external light, which could cause a glare on the mode dial. Being unable to see the mode dial labels will quickly annoy you after using this camera for a while, unless you don't plan to change modes very often.
You do have to charge the battery inside the camera, which is a hassle at times. The cover for the batter/memory card compartment is sturdy. Unlike some Olympus cameras of the past, the SZ-30MR does work with SD memory cards. Older Olympus models only would accept xD memory cards, which were Olympus' own brand.