One of a pair of new Olympus travel zoom cameras, the 12.5x optical zoom, 16 megapixel SZ-20 is the more affordable and comparably modest sibling to the whopping 24x zoom SZ-30. The 'SZ' of course stands for 'super zoom'. This whole sector has experienced massive growth in recent years and as such there is stiff competition from the likes of the Canon Power-shot SX220 HS and SX230 HS, the Lumix DMC-TZ20 from Panasonic – the company which has arguably pioneered this class of camera - plus the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR, Sony Cyber-shot HX9, Nikon Coolpix S9100, Samsung WB650 and Casio EX-H30... So what has Olympus come up with for the SZ-20 to help it stand apart from the pack?
Well, unusually for a pocket compact these days, Olympus has seen fit to feature something approaching a proper grip to the edge of the SZ-20. Most of the SZ-20's rivals haven't bothered with this aid to steadier shots, preferring slimmer bodies instead, but it has to be said that any additional support is welcome when shooting towards the telephoto end of the zoom.
The broad focal range on the Olympus SZ-20 is equivalent to an ultra wide 24mm to 300mm in 35mm terms, so just a little more modest than the Nikon S9100, Canon SX220 HS and Panasonic TZ20. But then the Olympus is around £30 cheaper than the current most affordable of these three, the SX20 HS, if going by the best street price we could find at the time of writing.
As well as ensuring a comfortable hold Olympus has made a stab at future proofing its model by including a 3D shooting mode, being the first stills camera manufacturer outside of those that also produce compatible TVs (Sony, Panasonic), and Fujifilm's standalone true 3D model in the FinePix W3, to do so. Unlike the Fuji, the Olympus features neither two lenses nor two sensors with which to produce its single stereoscopic image. Instead it merely takes two separate images and combines them. A ghostly version of the first image taken remains on the screen whilst the user lines up the second shot. The camera then automatically fires its shutter when it deems the images sufficiently in sync - so in this respect Olympus keeps things simple.
This process generates an MPO image file that is only viewable on a 3D TV, though a low res 2D JPEG, which can be viewed on the back screen as normal, is also produced alongside for reference. It's a fun extra and another selling point, as is a Smart Panorama mode, similar to Sony's Sweep Panorama. The camera automatically generates an elongated image as the user sweeps the camera through an arc, though the result looks distinctly low resolution, so you probably won't want to hang it on the wall.
As with competitors the SZ-20 further offers Full HD video capture, with a red record button provided where the thumb naturally lands top right of the backplate. HDMI connectivity is also present courtesy of a port sitting under a side flap, along with a combined USB/AV output. For its asking price then the SZ-20 would seem to have most boxes ticked, with the exception of cost boosting built-in GPS, for anyone looking for a comprehensively featured travel zoom.
But does the whole of the SZ-20 add up to more than the sum of its disparate parts? Read on to find out...