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In playback mode the SP-350 offers some interesting features. The Edit menu option allows you to crop, resize, adjust brightness and saturation, choose black and white or sepia, and automatically remove red-eye, all of which you might expect, but it also allows you to add a decorative border to your picture, turn it into a calendar, give it a title or make it part of a document layout or contact sheet. These are all clever features, but all of these things can be done better and quicker in image editing software, such as the excellent Olympus Master program that is supplied with the camera.
So, the SP-350 is a mixed bag in terms of performance, so what about picture quality? Here too there are good points and bad points. Olympus metering systems are legendary, so it’s no surprise that colour rendition and exposure are superb. Image noise is extremely well controlled at all sensitivity settings, and shots taken at 400 ISO are quite usable. However there is an overall softness to the SP-350’s images that robs them of a lot of fine detail. The SP-350 does have a RAW mode, but it doesn’t offer any real advantage in overall picture quality. This may be partly down to the lens, but this softness has been reported in other cameras using the same Sony 8MP CCD. The Canon S80 is one of the few cameras using this sensor that manages to avoid the problem, but sadly the SP-350 suffers quite badly.
The 3x optical zoom 8-24mm (38-114mm equiv) F2.8-4.9 lens may not be at fault for that, but it does have its own problems. At wide angle it suffers from very noticeable barrel distortion, as well as blurring at the corners of the frame. However its overall performance is good, although not really up to semi-pro standards. In fact, that’s a pretty good summary of the whole camera.
It doesn’t have the performance or picture quality to be the compact semi-pro model that it pretends to be, and it does have a few significant flaws, but nonetheless the Olympus SP-350 is a decent camera, with very good build quality and handling, excellent high-ISO noise control and a useful range of photographic controls and extra features.