Olympus VG-170 £99
20th Mar 2012 | 12:55
New 14MP compact camera offers premium features at bargain price
Overview and features
The new Olympus VG-170 packs a host of features into an affordable, compact camera body. With a recommended UK price of £100 and available to buy for just £80 if you shop around, this camera falls firmly into budget compact territory - but comes with many more premium functions.
These include the ability to take 3D photos and HD videos, plus a 5x optical zoom that starts from a usefully wide 26mm.
Olympus is marketing the VG-170 as a small and simple point and shoot camera for novice photographers, and its price puts it at the same sort of level as rivals such as the Nikon Coolpix S6200, Nikon Coolpix S3100, Samsung MV800 and Canon PowerShot SX150 IS.
But the Olympus VG-170 has a standout feature: a flash that's around twice as powerful as most rivals' units. The company claims that in long flash mode you can even light up objects 15m away from the camera.
This 14 megapixel camera also boasts a 3-inch 460,000 dot LCD screen, a textured finger grip on the front and a retro, if slightly plain, design.
Other features include an intelligent auto mode, face detection, 15 Scene Modes and Magic Filters such as Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Sparkle, Water Color and Reflection.
It also features digital image stabilisation and a Beauty mode, where an individual's skin can be smoothed, brightened, make up effects can be added and teeth can be whitened.
Build quality and handling
The Olympus VG-170 has a small but chunky body, with an oversized flash and a textured grip on the front, and a high resolution 3-inch screen, four buttons and a four way control pad on the back.
Both the small grip on the back and the front grip have a golf ball-like mottled texture that provides some design interest but is barely more grippy than the rest of the camera.
The overall construction of the camera is sturdy enough, but the battery and SD card slot door feels very flimsy when open. The flex in the Olympus VG-170's plastic door also means that it would be easy to snap it off accidentally when closing it quickly.
Similarly, the rubber USB cover feels quite fragile when open.
The menu layout of the Olympus VG-170 is very simple, with Program Auto, iAuto, Panorama and Scene modes to choose from. Within each of these modes there's an on-screen menu where settings such as flash, ISO and exposure compensation can all be selected. In the pared down iAuto mode the only options are flash, self timer and image size, which makes the camera very easy to use.
The control layout of the camera is similarly straightforward, with a dedicated video record button, main menu and image playback buttons, plus the four-way control pad on the back.
The only other controls are the on/off button and shutter release with wraparound zoom rocker on the top of the body.
Packing so many features into such a reasonably priced camera begs the question, what corners has Olympus cut?
The 14 megapixel Olympus VG-170's 5x optical zoom starts at a wider than average 26mm and has a bright maximum aperture of f/2.8. However, zoomed into 130mm, the maximum aperture is just f/6.5, which means that even in broad daylight and on landscape shots the camera often chooses to fire the flash and/or up the ISO.
The camera's lens displays mild barrel distortion at 26mm, but distortion across the rest of the zoom range isn't noticeable.
Viewing images at 100% shows that image quality is compromised even in daylight, with smeared detail regardless of ISO setting and a dappled, textured look to images.
Sharpness is further reduced on images taken at the telephoto end of the Olympus VG-170's lens, but this is excusable considering the low price.
Exposure generally appears to be accurate, but the camera has a slight tendency to under-expose, and mild fringing is visible when photos are viewed at full size. Daylight shots also highlight the camera's limited dynamic range, with blown highlights and fuzzy shadow detail evident in photos taken in overcast conditions.
Noise levels are also high, with some visible noise in ISO 100 images when viewed full size, and a significant amount of noise in ISO 400 flash images.
As for the auto white balance, the camera has a slightly cold colour cast that, allied with the camera's low colour saturation levels, makes some scenes look quite dull.
The Olympus VG-170's Landscape mode features similarly down-key colours. However, several of the scene modes enliven images. Both the Pop Art and Pin Hole Magic Filters offer more saturated colours, with the Pin Hole setting adding a vignette for a retro look.
Autofocus on the compact camera is average, generally locking onto subjects but sometimes hesitating and occasionally taking slightly out of focus portrait shots indoors.
More irritating, though, is how long the camera takes to write pictures to memory in some modes, such as Beauty and 3D.
On the other hand, the flash lives up to Olympus's hype, since it's evidently much more powerful than most compact camera flashes. On the negative side, the flash can be dazzling, and occasionally flash images are out of focus.
The Olympus VG-170's large LCD display puts in a good performance with its size and high resolution, although it can be hard to see in bright light.
The camera's 720p HD video capture is another bonus, although zooming while filming isn't possible and image and sound quality aren't great.
Being able to record 3D images is another positive and some images taken in this mode really jump out of the screen with 3D glasses, which Olympus includes with the camera.
Battery life also seems good, with around 400 shots possible from a single charge.
As part of our image quality testing for the Olympus VG-170 we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the VG-170 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
See a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 80, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 100, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 14 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 12 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
Our analysis shows that the Olympus VG-170 has better signal to noise ratio results than the comparison cameras, and although its dynamic range performance at the lower end of the sensitvity range is beaten by the Samsung ST93, Ricoh PX and Nikon Coolpix S4150, from ISO 200 and above it achieves the best results.
JPEG Signal to Noise Ratio
JPEG images from the Olympus VG-170 have good signal to noise ratios across the sensitivity range beating the Ricoh PX and Samsung ST93 up to its maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600. The Nikon Coolpix S4150 just has the edge at ISO 1600.
JPEG dynamic range
This chart shows that the Olympus VG-170 has the lowest dynamic range in the group at low sensitivities, however from ISO 200 this chart shows that it out performs the Samsung ST93, Ricoh PX and Nikon Coolpix S4150.
BLOWN HIGHLIGHTS: In Program mode, colours are subdued and exposures are generally reliable, although the highlights in this image have blown.
MACRO: The Olympus VG-170 has a minimum focus distance of 5cm. Although it sometimes hunts for focus at macro distances, it focused perfectly on this flower.
NOISY BIRD: Although this scene was quite bright, the narrow aperture necessitated use of the flash and ISO 500, which has produced visible noise.
POP ART: The Pop Art filter nicely saturates colours compared to the dull colours seen in Program mode.
3D MODE: The 3D photo mode can produce convincing three dimensional images in conjunction with 3D glasses.
PIN HOLE: The pin hole mode creates retro-style images with attractive hues and a visible vignette.
LOST DETAIL: Even at ISO 200 in daylight, image quality is poor when viewed at full size. Fine detail is lost although colours remain accurate.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
The Olympus VG-170 packs a huge number of features into its small body and boasts a very attractive price. With headline figures of a 26mm lens, HD video, 3D image capability, a large flash and ease of use, this compact camera will appeal to many new photographers.
The easy to use Olympus VG-170 boasts a wide range of features for a bargain basement price. The camera's many features are all logically set out and enable even beginners to get the most of the camera.
Despite all the impressive headline statistics, the camera doesn't produce the highest quality images, and anyone wanting any manual control will be disappointed. Build quality could be better, and some functions feel slow in use.
For those starting out in photography who want an undemanding, simple to use camera, the Olympus VG-170 fits the bill. In the main, exposure, metering, white balance and speed are all good enough for casual photographers for whom ease of use and features outweigh absolute image quality.
However, anyone who wants any form of manual camera control or has exacting image quality standards would do better to look elsewhere.
While many of the Olympus VG-170's novel features are fun to experiment with, the camera would be improved if it covered the basics better, rather than trying to do everything.
It's great that the camera offers a high resolution, large flash, HD video and 3D images, but these are all compromised by the sometimes indecisive autofocus, the smearing of detail, noise levels and imperfect overall image quality.
For beginners who want a raft of quirky features and ease of use and aren't concerned about ultimate image quality, the Olympus VG-170 is a great choice. For everyone else, the slightly flawed image quality means that other similarly priced cameras might make a better choice.