Olympus SZ-20

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      A high-resolution compact digicam with a 12.5x optical zoom lens, Full HD video recording and some useful multi-frame capture modes.This year, Olympus has created a new ‘traveller’ category in its super zoom camera range with three models that are more compact than the SP-series models and more competitive with similarly-featured cameras from other manufacturers. Announced on 10 March, the SZ-20 sits bang in the middle of this range and is designed to suit both travellers and family photographers. . . [more]

      Full review


      This year, Olympus has created a new ‘traveller’ category in its super zoom camera range with three models that are more compact than the SP-series models and more competitive with similarly-featured cameras from other manufacturers. Announced on 10 March, the SZ-20 sits bang in the middle of this range and is designed to suit both travellers and family photographers.

      Each model in the SZ line-up provides a slightly different feature set, the two top models having slightly higher resolution than the SZ-10 plus high-resolution 3-inch monitors. All three provide some interesting multi-frame capture modes. The table below ranges the three new cameras according to price.





      Effective resolution


      14 megapixels

      Zoom range (35mm equiv.)




      Image stabilisation

      DUAL IS (CMOS-shift image stabilization & High-sensitivity shooting)

      Shutter speeds

      4 to 1/2000 second

      Macro mode focus

      to 10 cm (W) or 40 cm (T)

      to 10 cm (W) or 90 cm (T)

      to 10 cm (W) or 160 cm (T)

      Super macro focus

      to 3 cm

      to 1 cm

      Face detection

      up to 16 faces

      Burst mode

      Approx. 1.7 fps / 18 images (16M)
      Approx. 7 fps / 5 images (16M)
      Approx. 15 fps / 70 images (5M)

      Approx. 1.5 fps / 18 images (16M)
      Approx. 7 fps / 3 images (16M)
      Approx. 15 fps / 34 images (5M)

      Approx. 0.89 fps / 19 images (14M)
      Approx. 4.8 fps / 42 images (5M)
      Approx. 10 fps / 43 images (3M)


      3-inch LCD with 460,000 dots

      3-inch LCD with 230,000 dots

      Movie format

      MPEG-4 AVC/H.264


      Movie resolution

      1080p, 720p, VGA

      720p, VGA

      Internal memory

      64 MB




      Battery capacity

      200 shots/charge

      300 shots/charge

      200 shots/charge

      Dimensions (mm)

      106.3 x 68.7 x 39.5

      102.4 x 64.0 x 30.4

      60.2 x 105.6 x 37.9

      Weight (grams)








      Build and Ergonomics
      Size-wise, the SZ-20 sits between the recently-released XZ-1 and the now-discontinued Mju models. And, although its feature set is more like the latter, its styling is more sophisticated and user-friendly.

      The front panel of the camera is dominated by the 12.5x optical zoom lens, which retracts into the camera body behind a triple-flap lens cover. Containing nine elements in eight groups, it has four aspherical glass elements and two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements to minimise aberrations.


      Front view of the SZ-20 with the lens in the wide position. (Source: Olympus.)

      The focal length range of 4.2-52.5mm is equivalent to 24-300mm in 35mm format, which is a useful range for family and travel snapshots. However, the retracting design means it’s not particularly fast, with maximum apertures of f/3 at the wide position and f/5.9 at full tele zoom so low-light use is limited.

      A moulded grip is provided at the right hand end of the front panel with a textured cover that extends a third of the way around the adjacent side panel and to the edge of the ‘Full HD’ logo between the grip and the lens. A manually operated pop-up flash with a tiny flash tube is located just above the lens in line with the lens axis.

      Two microphone holes sit astride the flash mounting on the front panel, with an LED that doubles as AF-assist lamp and self-timer indicator just below the left side microphone hole. A 3D logo is located on the bottom corner of the front panel immediately below this light.


      Rear view of the SZ-20. (Source: Olympus.)

      A 3-inch LCD with 460,000 dots covers three quarters of the rear panel. It’s an above-average screen that’s bright, sharp and reasonably colour-accurate. Ranged along the right of the screen are the main camera controls plus a raised thumb rest with three dimples for a secure grip.

      Tucked into the lower left corner of the thumb rest is the dedicated movie recording button, which is used to start and end recordings. Below it lies the Play button, which sits just above the SZ-20’s version of an arrow pad. It consists of a ridged wheel controller with central OK button that can be tilted in four directions.

      Tilting it up selects the Info display, while down selects the Erase function. The horizontal directions select to left or right when symbols displayed on the monitor indicate the wheel controller is to be used by pressing, rather than turning. Below the Erase button are the Menu and Camera Guide buttons.


      Top view of the SZ-20. (Source: Olympus.)

      The top panel carries the shutter button with surrounding zoom lever. Between it and he flash is the power on/off button, which lies flush with the camera body. On the opposite side of the flash is a slider switch for raising the flash. The flash is pushed down manually to set it to the off position.

      The battery/card compartment is located under the grip and accessed via a lift-up panel in the base of the camera. The battery charged in the camera via a supplied AC adapter with a USB cable that plugs into the camera. The camera can also be charged directly by connecting this cable to a computer (which will prompt you to register the camera and install the software).

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor in the SZ-20 appears to be the same 1/2.3-inch type as used in the higher-featured SZ-30MR camera but, whereas the SZ-30MR has a Dual Engine TruePic III+ image processor, the SZ-20 appears to have a single TruePic III+ processing chip. Both cameras are JPEG-only models.

      The SZ-20 provides two levels of compression and seven image sizes for 4:3 aspect ratio shots plus two sizes at 16:9. The table below shows typical file sizes.

      Image size






      4608 x 3456




      3264 x 2448




      2560 x 1920




      2048 x 1536




      1600 x 1200




      1280 x 760




      640 x 480




      4288 x 2416




      1920 x 1080



      Video recording capabilities are quite extensive. The camera records in the MPEG-4 format with the efficient AVC/H.264 compression. Built in stereo microphones record ambient sounds with the movies, although the menu has provisions for recording without sound, which produces slightly smaller files.

      Four image sizes are available three of them with two quality levels. Up to 4GB of movie data can be recorded in a single clip, which limits HD recordings to 29 minutes. The table below shows typical recording times for a 1GB memory card.

      Image size



      Recording time per 1GB memory card

      With sound

      Without sound


      1920 x 1080


      7 min. 3 sec.

      7 min. 8 sec.


      10 min. 32 sec.

      10 min. 42 sec.


      1280 x 720


      10 min. 32 sec.

      10 min. 42 sec.


      20 min. 44 sec.

      21 min. 24 sec.


      640 x 480


      20 min. 44 sec.

      21 min. 24 sec.


      40 min. 10 sec.

      42 min. 45 sec.


      320 x 240


      40 min. 10 sec.

      42 min. 45 sec.

      Shooting Modes
      Although the SZ-20 provides no facilities for adjusting lens aperture or shutter speed settings, in addition to the iAuto and Program AE shooting modes it provides some interesting options for snapshooters. There are 16 pre-sets in the Scene sub-menu, including a self-portrait mode and Pet modes with separate settings for Cat and Dog.

      In these modes, the camera can automatically detect up to 10 faces of different dogs or cats. Setting the Auto Release function enables the shutter to be released as soon as the dog or cat who is the main subject turns to face the camera.

      The camera also comes with a Panorama mode with three settings. The Auto setting resembles the Sweep Panorama function developed by Sony and will capture a sequence of shots as the camera is swept across the scene. Stitching takes place within the camera, resulting in a 4656 x 720 pixel file. An example of images possible with the Auto setting is reproduced below.


      A shot taken with the Panorama mode; 4.2mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/800 second at f/3.
      Three frames are recorded with the Manual setting and combined in the camera. Guide frames are displayed on the LCD monitor and the user chooses when to press the shutter to record each shot. In the PC mode, the camera doesn’t process the images, leaving it up to the user to stitch them together with the supplied software. Up to 10 frames can be combined with this mode.

      The 3D mode enables users to take photos as stereos pairs for viewing on 3D-compatible TV sets and players. Two modes are available: Auto, where the camera automatically records both shots; and Manual where the user determines when to take the second shot through a guide displayed on the monitor. In both cases, images are recorded at 1920 x 1080 pixels using the MP (Multi Picture) format.

      There are also a couple of interesting multi-shot modes, such as Hand-Held Starlight, in which the camera records four frames at a time and merges them to produce a single shot with reduced noise and blurring.

      Five drive modes are available to capitalise on multi-shot recording. In addition to the single-shot setting, the SZ-20 also provides an Auto continuous mode that records up to 16 frames while the shutter button is held down. the camera determines the frame rate and images are restricted to 5M size.

      Three burst modes are available, each offering different frame rates and image sizes. For shots at full resolution, the fastest capture speed (Burst 2) is seven frames/second – but only for three frames. If you opt for Burst 1, you can capture up to 18 full-resolution images at approximately1.5 fps. The Burst 3 setting reduces image size to 5M and increases the capture rate to 15 fps with a limit of 34 images.

      The Magic mode provides access to Olympus’s Art Filters, which can be used when shooting stills and movies. The sub-menu provides eight settings: Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fish Eye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Sparkle and Watercolour. Four of these are new additions: Drawing, Punk, Sparkle and Watercolour and three of them introduce dramatic changes to the image.

      So radical is the change produced by the Drawing filter that the camera actually saves two images, one with the effect applied and the other without. It can be difficult to use this filter in bright outdoor lighting because the fine lines on the screen are barely visible, as shown in the illustration below.


      The above illustration shows shots taken without (left) and with (right) the Drawing filter.

      The Watercolour filter can also be tricky to use in bright conditions because of the way it brightens the image and flattens contrast. Examples of the other filters are shown below.


      The remaining Magic Filters: top row – Pop Art and Pin Hole; middle row – Fish Eye and Punk; bottom row – Sparkle and Watercolour.

      Playback and Software
      The SZ-20 provides the standard suite of playback settings that you’d expect on a compact digicam, including single and multi-frame playback and playback zoom of up to 10x. Slideshows of all shots in memory or shots in Event or Collection folders can be played with or without background music. Five ‘themes’ are stored in the camera’s memory: Cosmic, Breeze, Mellow, Dreamy and Urban. (All are pretty bland.) You can choose between standard, fade and zoom transitions.

      Images downloaded to a computer via the supplied [ib] software can be saved as Collections and you can use the camera’s Photo Surfing to search for related images when Collections are imported back into the camera. Images can also be resized to VGA or QVGA format and cropped in-camera and you can add four-second sound bites to still pictures.

      In-camera editing functions include Beauty Fix (covering Clear Skin, Sparkle Eye and Dramatic Eye adjustments), Shadow Adjustment and Redeye Fix and shots can be erased individually or collectively, protected, rotated or DPOF tagged.

      The supplied Olympus Setup disk contains Olympus Viewer 2 for Windows and Macintosh, [ib] for Windows, a PDF version of the user manual and an online registration link. We were unable to open the MPO files produced in the SZ-20’s 3D mode in either software application but they were easily opened and edited with StereoPhoto Maker, a free download available at http://stereo.jpn.org/eng/stphmkr/.

      Pictures from the review camera showed the usual boosted saturation and contrast that characterise shots from most small-sensor digicams. However, colour reproduction was generally good and although the autofocusing system wasn’t particularly fast, it was accurate is reasonably bright lighting. Hunting was common in low light levels and digital zoom shots were visibly soft and slightly artefact-affected.

      Our Imatest tests showed showed resolution to be slightly below expectations for a 16-megapixel camera, although test results were remarkably similar across the zoom range of the lens, as shown in the graph below. Best performance was recorded with the 42.2mm focal length setting.


      Edge sharpness was better than we usually find with small-sensor digicams and Imatest showed only slight loss of resolution as sensitivity was increased, with a small decline at ISO 1600 and a major drop at ISO 3200. The graph below shows the results of our tests.


      Lateral chromatic aberration remained in the ‘moderate’ band at all focal length settings. In the graph below, the red line separates ‘negligible’ from ‘low’ CA, while the green line divides ‘low’ from ‘moderate’ CA. (Beyond the pink line, chromatic aberration becomes severe.)


      Despite the high chromatic aberration measured, very little coloured fringing could be seen in shots taken in contrasty lighting. However, high-contrast edges in such shots were noticeably artefact-affected and this may have masked any fringing.

      It was quite easy to make the lens flare and veiling could be seen in many (but not all) contre-jour shots. It was very noticeable when the sun was just outside the image frame but negligible with normal backlighting.

      Low-light shooting was limited by a lack of shutter speed controls. Nevertheless, test shots taken at dusk showed relatively little noise right up to ISO 1600, with both noise and image softening becoming noticeable at ISO 3200.

      The built-in flash failed to illuminate subjects further than 1.5 metres from the camera at ISO 80 and ISO100, largely because the aperture closes down to f/5.7 when the flash is used. However, the camera was able to produce well-balanced exposures from ISO 400 on. Slight softening was noticeable in shots taken at IOS 3200.

      The auto white balance setting failed to compensate for colour casts in shots taken under incandescent but produced close-to-natural colour rendition with fluorescent lights. Both pre-sets over-corrected. Manual measurement is not provided.

      Video quality was generally good, particularly at 1080p resolution. VGA and 720p clips were up to expectations for each resolution. Unfortunately, saturation was boosted in many clips and both softening and colour artefacts could be seen in clips where the lens was zoomed in.

      Autofocusing is possible while recording video clips but it can take several seconds for the lens to re-focus after a medium-to-long zoom. The stereo soundtracks met expectations for a point-and-press camera and produced good audio quality for the small size and close spacing of the microphones. The microphones were quite susceptible to wind noise, although they didn’t pick up much noise from the optical zoom when it was used during a shot.

      The review camera powered-up in less than a second and shot-to-shot times averaged 1.5 seconds without flash and 2.5 seconds with. We measured an average capture lag of 0.8 seconds, which reduced to 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. It took 3.5 seconds, on average, to process each Large/Fine JPEG file.

      The SZ-20 supports three continuous shooting modes. The fastest was able to record 23 frames at a resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixels in 1.4 seconds. It took 15.7 seconds to process this burst. At the highest resolution (4608 x 3456 pixels), the review camera was able to record eight frames within 4.2 seconds. It took 12.1 seconds to process this burst.

      Between them is a high-speed mode that can record at seven frames/second – but only for three frames. This burst took 4.8 seconds to process.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You’re looking for a pocketable camera for taking snapshots.
      – You’d like a digicam that can record widescreen Full HD video clips with stereo soundtracks.
      – You like bright, saturated colours in shots.
      – You would enjoy using the ‘Magic Filters’ for shooting still pictures and video clips.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You want the ability to capture raw files.
      – You want to adjust aperture and shutter speed settings.
      – You require an optical viewfinder.
      – You need fast autofocusing for video and for shooting stills in dimly-lit places.





      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      Low-light level exposure at ISO 100; 1/4 second at f/3.9; 7mm focal length.


      Low-light level exposure at ISO 800; 1/13 second at f/3.9; 7mm focal length.


      Low-light level exposure at ISO 3200; 1/50 second at f/3.9; 7mm focal length.


      Flash exposure at ISO 100; 42.5mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/5.7.


      Flash exposure at ISO 800; 42.5mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/5.7.


      Flash exposure at ISO 3200; 42.5mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/5.7.


      4.2mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/320 second at f/7.9.


      52.5mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/320 second at f/5.9.


      Digital zoom; 52.5mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/320 second at f/5.9.


      Macro mode; 7mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/1000 second at f/3.9.


      Super macro mode; 7mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/160 second at f/9.9.


      15mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/250 second at f/5.


      10mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/4.5.


      4.2mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/30 second at f/3.


      52.5mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/15 second at f/5.9.


      Veiling flare; 4.2mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/250 second at f/3.


      32mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/200 second at f/5.8.


      Crop from 100% enlargement of the above image showing the artefacts along edges where contrast differences are high.


      42mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/400 second at f/5.9.


      Stereo pair captured with the 3D mode; 6mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/320 second at f/3.7.


      Still frame from video clip recorded in the 1080p mode.


      Still frame from video clip recorded in the 720p mode.


      Still frame from VGA video clip.


      Still frame from video clip recorded in the 1080p mode with the lens at 4.2mm, showing heightened colour saturation.


      Still frame from the same video clip with the lens zoomed in to 52.5mm.


      Use of the Watercolour filter for movie recordings.




      Image sensor: 6.16 x 4.62 mm CMOS sensor with 16.8 million photosites (16 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: TruePic III+
      Lens: 4.2-52.5mm f/3.0-5.9 zoom lens (24-300mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 12.5x optical, up to 5x digital
      Image formats: Stills: JPEG (Exif 2.2); Movies: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
      Image Sizes: Stills: 4608 x 3456, 3264 x 2448, 2560 x 1920, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 760, 640 x 480; 16:9 (4288 x 2416, 1920 x 1080): compression ratio: 1/4 or1/8; Movies: 1080p, 720p (max. 29 min), VGA; max. movie file size: 4GB
      Shutter speed range: Auto: 1/4-1/2000 (Night Scene max 4 sec.)
      Self-timer: 12 seconds delay
      Image Stabilisation: CCD Shift; up to 4Ev correction
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in 1/3EV steps
      Focus system/range: TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection; range 0.1(W)/0.9(T) m to infinity; macro to 10 cm (W)
      Exposure metering/control: ESP/Spot metering
      Shooting modes: iAuto, P, Sensor-Shift Image Stabilisation, Panorama, Magic Mode, 3D Mode, Scene (Portrait, Beauty, Landscape, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach & Snow, Pet (Cat), Pet (Dog)), HD Movie
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 64 to 3200
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten and Fluorescent (x3)
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in, OFF; range 0.6 – 2.3 m (ISO 100)
      Sequence shooting: Approx. 1.5 fps / 18 images (16M); Approx. 7 fps / 3 images (16M); Approx. 15 fps / 34 images (5M)
      Storage Media: 64MB internal memory plus SD/SDHC expansion slot
      Viewfinder: n.a.
      LCD monitor: 3-inch LCD with 460,000 dots
      Power supply: Li-50B Li-Ion rechargeable battery; CIPA rated for approx. 300 frames/charge
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 102.4 x 64.0 x 30.4 mm
      Weight: 186 grams






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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.0
      • Still image quality: 8.0
      • Video Quality: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 8.5