The VR-340 will be available this March, in black, white, silver, red, and purple.
The VR-340's all metal body is attractive for a compact camera. The new right hand grip has been brought toward the center of the camera, and the triangular upper lip of the feature is reminiscent of a Nikon SLR. The chassis' rounded corners are a bit last season, but this is certainly a visually appealing camera overall.
The menu interface has not been updated since the last season of Olympus cameras, but at least the company didn't opt for touchscreens. While we love the arrangement of the menu system into a separate quick menu and main menu, operation is generally slower than average. We experienced a couple delays and hangs within only seconds of picking up the camera.
Olympus tends to go with relatively simple button layouts, and the VR-340 is no different. Not too much has changed from the VR-320, except the upper video hockey has been shifted right, to make room for a new rubberized thumb rest.
Olympus' dedicated in-camera guide button also makes a return, and the guide is helpful for getting to know your camera without having to break open the paper manual.
The small camera is moderately comfortable to hold in either one hand or two. We appreciate the addition of a rubberized thumb rest on the rear panel, though we do wish this rubber had a grippier quality. On the front panel the right hand grip has been relocated to a more prominent position, but again this only aids handling in a subtle way.
The VR-340 has no hardware mode dial, not a great move in our opinion, but a virtual dial performs the same function in the quick menu. Program Auto is available, along with Intelligent Auto, a dedicated Scene mode, and a dedicated Magic Filters mode.
The VR-340's iAuto mode is a scene recognizing auto mode, meaning it will attempt to identify what type of picture is being taken (portrait, landscape, action, etc.) and adjust camera settings accordingly.
The VR-340 is a 720p video device, though it's also possible to shoot in 480p or 240p. Zoom control access is unlocked while a recording is in progress, so it's possible to zoom in or out on your subject without pausing the movie.
Continuous burst mode shooting will be possible, but Olympus has not yet revealed specifications for this feature. The self-timer will come in two varieties: 12 second and 2 second.
The playback menu is part of the tab-based main menu, and includes options like fullscreen display with 10x magnification, index display, and slideshow. In-camera editing options are also available from this menu.
Here again, operating speed is sluggish. Memory access is relatively slow, and browsing through multiple images can be a bit of a chore. This is a pretty common problem with inexpensive cameras, but it's odd to see this from an Olympus.
Six 4:3 resolution options of varying size are available on the SZ-12, as well as two 16:9 options. But the camera is not capable of lossless RAW encoding and JPEG compression quality is locked.
Like most fixed-lens cameras, the VR-340 uses contrast detection autofocus. And like most Olympus cameras, autofocus speeds are very quick. This camera was able to achieve lock almost instantaneously for the vast majority of our test shots.
Manual focus is not available, but the camera supports full scene auto, spot AF, face detection, and AF tracking modes.
The VR-340's metering abilities are slightly limited, even for an Olympus. Only evaluative metering is available (dubbed "Digital ESP" in this model), the aperture opening can only achieve f/3.0 while zoomed all the way out, and minimum aperture is f/15.4 at maximum zoom.
Total shutter speed range is 1/2000th to 4 seconds, and exposure compensation extends +/- 2 stops in 1/3-stop intervals.
Automatic ISO settings are divided into "Auto," which will choose from the most common value, and "High Auto," which will use all settings including this camera's maximum of 1600 if necessary.
In addition to the VR-340's automatic white balance, the camera supports One-touch custom white balancing right from the quick menu. Six presets are also included: Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and three Fluorescent variations. Direct color temperature entry in degrees-Kelvin is not possible.
The 620UZ utilizes sensor shift image stabilization, as well as a few digital techniques like increased shutter speed and ISO values to achieve clean shots. The system is noticeable while handling the camera, and makes a big difference while framing fully-zoomed shots.
Only seven of Olympus' cool "Magic Art Filters" are available while shooting stills and movies. They include Pop Art, Pin Hole, and Sparkle. Sadly some of the manufacturer's best effects, like Watercolor, Drawing, and Miniature, have been left out.
The VR-340's lens actually gets a reduction in optical zoom, down to 10x from the VR-320's 12.5x, We're encouraged when manufacturers reduce zoom ratio, because it often results in better overall image quality.
Sensor size remains the same, 1/2.3-inches, however resolution does get a boost to 16 megapixels.
The 3-inch fixed LCD display is a 460,000-dot model, and that's pretty decent resolution for an entry-level Olympus. The panel has a great viewing angle that will aid in video and overhead shooting.
The flash bulb is located in a decent spot on the righthand side of the front panel, mostly out of the way of the fingers. Aside from Auto and Off, there are settings for red-eye reduction and background fill-in.
The only connectivity terminal found on the VR-340 is a proprietary USB port adjacent to the battery / media compartment cover. The port is exposed, not protected by the cover, in a spot that's inconvenient for our tripod-based testing, but probably won't bother anyone else.
The VG-340 will be powered by an included lithium battery and will probably be charged in-camera. No word yet on CIPA performance ratings for this battery / camera combination.
The VR-340 will store data on SD, SDHC, or expensive SDXC memory cards. No internal memory is available.
Like most of the fixed-lens Olympus cameras introduced at CES 2012, the VR-340 seems to be a minor update at best. Did the VR-320 really need a replacement? Only the market can decide. With slightly improved features and a lower price point, we can hardly complain, it's just not the most exciting news in the industry.
Shooting with the VR-340 feels...okay. Not great, but passable. The interface can be simple for those who want it that way, but the sluggish operation will slow down experienced users. Physical handling is the same way: the new rubber is decent, but there's really not much that can be done about the ultracompact form factor.
Without taking this model into the lab and getting a scientific sense of image quality, the VR-340 is pretty "meh." There's nothing very compelling about the product at this point, other than the occupation of a semi-necessary spot in the Olympus lineup.
Our outlook for this camera is neither good nor bad. With features as plain as they are, and no information about image quality, it's just too early to tell. And with so many similar models out there in this highly competitive segment, we think the success of the VR-340 could go either way.
Meet the tester
Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.See all of Christopher Snow's reviews
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