The Bottom Line
When you're shopping for a camera in the sub-$100 price range, you know you aren't going to find a lot of great features. These cameras are going to have some problems with image quality, as well as some problems with response times.
So when you're shopping in this price point, you have to make sure that you are comparing the inexpensive cameras to others in the same class, not comparing them to high-end cameras or other models that you cannot afford.
With that in mind, the Olympus VG-160 will offer a pretty good value to those beginning photographers who need a low-priced camera. It performs pretty well in low light when using the flash. It certainly has plenty of drawbacks, too, but nothing that's going to downgrade it significantly versus other sub-$100 cameras. It also would work pretty well as a first camera for a child.
With 14MP of resolution available, the VG-160 should be able to make some nice-sized prints. However, having a small image sensor (1/2.3-inch or 0.43-inch) limits the image quality that you'll find with this camera.
Overall, the Olympus VG-160's image quality is a bit better than what you'd expect from a low-priced digital camera. If you're comparing the VG-160's image quality to a high-end fixed-lens camera that costs three or four times as much, you're probably going to be disappointed. When comparing this camera to similarly priced models, though, the VG-160 has some pretty good results.
The VG-160 actually does its best work when you're shooting flash photos, which isn't a common occurrence with ultra-thin models. More commonly, the small built-in flash unit on a sub-$100 camera will cause washed out images and generally poor exposures. However, the VG-160 does a really nice job with its flash photos. If you're someone who wants a camera to shoot small group photos and portraits indoors with a flash, the VG-160 should do a pretty good job for you.
If you're looking to create large prints, however, the VG-160's image quality will be a disappointment. As with most budget-priced cameras aimed at beginners, this model struggles to create sharp focus, even when there's great light in the scene. You'll also notice some chromatic aberration with your photos shot with the Olympus VG-160. Such problems make it tough to make prints of any size. These photos should look pretty good when shared online or via e-mail, so you'll need to think about how you plan to use your photos before you purchase this camera.
Those looking for some strong video recording functions in a digital camera probably will want to skip the Olympus VG-160. This camera cannot record in full HD, and you may notice some of the same problems with soft focus when shooting movies.
The VG-160's start-up is pretty fast for a camera in this price range. Unfortunately, this is the fastest aspect of this model. Shutter lag is a problem with the VG-160, which is no surprise considering this camera's price tag. Try to pre-focus by pressing the shutter button halfway to eliminate the shutter lag issues.
The shot-to-shot delays with this camera are the most frustrating aspect of its operation and performance, though. You'll have to wait several seconds between shots before the VG-160 is ready to shoot the next photo. This camera's burst modes don't help too much because the LCD screen goes blank while shooting continuously, which makes it tough to frame your images properly.
The fact that Olympus only included a 5X optical zoom lens with the VG-160 is another disappointing aspect of this camera. Having such a small zoom lens makes it difficult to shoot anything but portrait photos with this camera. In addition, the zoom lens isn't able to be used while you're shooting movies. When digital cameras initially began shooting video several years ago, it was common for zoom lenses to be locked in place while video recording was occurring. However, most cameras on the market today can make use of the zoom lens while shooting movies. The VG-160's overall movie features are a significant disappointment.
One advantage to having a small zoom lens is that the camera should be able to move through the entire zoom lens pretty quickly, and the VG-160 succeeds here, going from wide angle to full telephoto in less than 1 second.
You will find a pretty good battery life with the VG-160. Olympus estimates that this camera can shoot about 300 images per battery charge. My tests didn't quite reach that number of photos per charge, but the VG-160's battery life is better than what you're typically going to find in a budget-priced camera. Unfortunately, you must charge the battery inside the camera.
The VG-160 sports a look that's pretty common for ultra-thin, budget-priced cameras. It's a rectangular shape with rounded edges, and it measures about 0.8 inches in thickness.
This camera has a 3.0-inch LCD screen, which is larger than many similarly priced cameras. The screen isn't particularly sharp, so you can't rely on it fully to determine the sharpness of your images. There's a bit of glare on this camera's screen, which may make it difficult for you to shoot some photos outdoors.
I liked the inclusion of a shortcut menu on the screen, which allows you to gain quick access to the most common shooting functions of the camera. The VG-160 doesn't have a lot of manual settings to change, but this shortcut menu does make it easy to find them.
The primary menus aren't quite as useful, because Olympus included some odd commands and organized them in a poor manner.
There are a few aspects of the design of the VG-160 that I didn't like. The control buttons on the back of the camera are far too small to be used comfortably. The placement of the built-in flash to the left of the lens (when viewing the camera from the front) makes it easy to block the flash with the fingers of your right hand. Additionally, the VG-160 has a zoom switch on the back of the camera, rather than a zoom ring around the shutter button, which is a more common design among camera makers in today's market.
The VG-160 doesn't offer many options for shooting at odd aspect ratios. Other than the 4:3 ratio options, your only other option is a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, which is limited to 2 megapixels of resolution.
I've listed quite a few drawbacks for the Olympus VG-160, but most of the problems this camera has are very common in the sub-$100 price point. This camera's flash performance is above average, which is perfect for many beginning photographers. So if your budget is limited, you're going to find a really nice value with the VG-160. This camera is far from perfect, but it compares well to similarly priced models.