Olympus’s line of digital cameras span the range from affordable entry-level units right the way up to single-lens reflex models aimed at professional use. The SP-series, launched with three models in late 2005, emphasises feature set, versatility and image quality. January 2006 saw the addition of a further SP- model, the Olympus SP- 320.
The SP-320 is based around an Olympus-branded 3x optical zoom with a 38 – 114mm equivalent focal length range and F2.8 – 4.9 maximum aperture, coupled with a 7.1 megapixel imager and 2.5″ LCD display that has 115,000 pixels. Somewhat uncommonly amongst modern digicams, the SP-320 couples this with a separate optical viewfinder – an excellent move that will allow you to conserve battery life by switching off the LCD display when precise framing isn’t necessary (and will also let you get the shot when bright sunlight makes it more difficult to see an LCD image).
Autofocus is via contrast detection, with the ability to focus manually when necessary. ISO sensitivity ranges from 64 to 800 equivalent and can be controlled automatically or manually. The SP-320 also offers what Olympus calls “Digital Image Stabilization” mode – which should not be mistaken for true hardware image stabilization, where either lens elements or the image sensor are moved based on sensors that detect camera shake. The SP-320 is simply boosting ISO sensitivity to gain a faster shutter speed, which will reduce blur at the expense of noise and/or image detail.
By default, exposures are determined with Olympus’ Digital iESP multi-pattern metering, with center-weighted and spot metering also available. Users can also tweak the exposure with +/-2.0EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 15 seconds, and the SP-320 offers the ability to control exposure completely manually, or to set either the aperture or shutter speed as desired while the camera controls the other. White balance can be controlled automatically, or manually courtesy of seven presets and a custom white balance mode. The SP-320 also includes a five mode internal flash, and offers beginner-friendly control over images courtesy of a rather generous 24 scene modes.
As well as still images, the camera can also capture movies at VGA or lower resolution, with clip length limited only by available storage space and battery life. The SP-320 also has a twelve second self-timer to let you get into your own pictures. The camera stores images on xD-Picture cards, or 25MB of built-in memory. It also offers video and USB 2.0 Hi-Speed computer connectivity – much faster than the USB 1.1 or 2.0 Full-Speed connections that some cameras are still using. Power comes from two AA batteries.