Thursday, November 29, 2012

Olympus VR 340

 I wrecked my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot when it fell out of my shirt pocket while bending over to do something, I'm pretty sure, for the dog, like changing water. Just as well, the lens was too soft for a $300+ point and shoot, and it was not a real German Zeiss lens anyway. I then started using my aging but excellent Sony DSC-V3 while I waited to get rich enough to buy whichever Olympus PEN micro four thirds system I'll end up with. The Sony is big and not pocketable, so I decided to buy an interim carry-all-the-time point and shoot camera, the Olympus VR-340, because it has a 24mm lens, the focal length I prefer, and it is dirt cheap.

Back when I shot film, I made 8x10 prints and hung them on my walls. And that was a lot of fun. But now my photos go on my blog if I want someone to be able to view a decent resolution image, and also on facebook, where a decent resolution image is an impossibility and irrelevant. So for those uses, how does a sub $200.00 point and shoot camera perform? The answer is really well.

Here are some examples of what I want in a camera like this, and how this one does in making those type of photos:

1. I want decent documentary photos, unmanipulated, right out of the camera. No adjusting exposure, contrast, any of that. This camera does that well most of the time, so I shoot a few pictures of each scene like this one to make sure I get a usable shot. No hardship there, storage is virtually infinite.

Shot on P, no post processing. Perfectly serviceable
image of a dog and her fans.

2. Ability to make a photo indoors without flash. Flash on point and shoot cameras ruins most indoor photos because of the very low guide number on most on-camera flash. So I don't use it on point and shoot cameras, except for fill light outside. I prefer to use available light indoors.

No flash, handheld by me.
Pushed the ISO to 1600 for this, but got a photo that
shows what I wanted to show. Sometimes the the technical
quality of the image is less important than actually
getting a usable image.

Then again, flash indoors can work, and this little Olympus actually shines in that department. It prefires the flash a lot, usually when it should, and it seems to quench it when it should, like in this photo which should have been ruined by flash, but somehow wasn't. Nice going Olympus.

3. The ability to trick the camera into doing what you want it to do instead of what it wants to do. My first great lens was on a $150.00 film point and shoot, a Yashica T4. with a brilliant real Zeiss Tessar fixed 35mm lens, but no manual control over anything. I learned a lot about tricking a full auto camera into the exposures I wanted with that T4. This Olympus is just as willing to be led by the nose if you know how.

Driving in Elk City. Olympus VR 340. Mis-using one of the 'scene' modes to good, or some, effect.

4. I want good enough raw material to do my 'art' photos. I always come back to the same general place, adding Orton-ish effects, blasting contrast up, and boosting color beyond where it is in the natural world. This Olympus delivers there as well, a function of producing documentary images with enough information that I can push around digitally.

Route 40, New Mexico

5. Nice to have, but I've never seen it work well on any camera, the gimmicky "Scene" settings on this camera actually do work sometimes. This is not something I need, but would not have got this sunset unless I used the "Sunset" scene mode. If I had manual control over shutter speed and ISO, I could have got this shot in a few seconds. Navigating to sunset mode took a lot longer, and I had to know that such a mode existed, but I got the shot as an exercise in seeing if it would work. It did. This camera is also good in the mode where it selects the scene automatically based on what it "sees", but this cannot be trusted is if you really have to get a usable image. You'd be shooting a pro rig if that were the case anyway.

Bottom line: This is a perfectly usable point and shoot, with a good wide 24mm lens. Not the sharpest lens, but still better than some that cost more. For blogs and other online uses the photos you can make with this camera are just fine. For carrying around in your pocket all the time this is a great little camera.


  1. can you tell how you got the camera to do the light trail image from #3 please?

  2. can you tell how you got the camera to do the light trail image from #3 please?

  3. I was riding in the car as a passenger. I picked one of the scene modes that would force a long exposure, probably Night Scene. I also rotated the camera while it made the image. This isn't a good example of getting what I wanted, just getting the camera to make an image it was never intended to make.