Olympus Mju 1040

A Mju with plenty of mojo

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Olympus Mju 1040
  • Olympus Mju 1040
  • Olympus Mju 1040
  • Olympus Mju 1040

Pros

  • Stylish appearance, fast and reliable, lots of features for the asking price

Cons

  • Underpowered zoom and flash, occasional image issues, small and unwieldy buttons

Bottom Line

The Mju 1040 is an impressive compact camera characterised by style, portability and lightning-fast results. Aside from a few minor performance issues, it ticks nearly every box on a casual photographer's wish list.

Would you buy this?

While perhaps better known for its professional range of SLR cameras and lenses, Olympus is no stranger to slumming it in the ultra-compact arena. Like its chief rival Canon, the Nipponese optics company has made significant inroads into the entry-level market of late, with the Mju 1040 being its cheapest and thinnest compact yet.

Boasting an image resolution of 10.1 megapixels, a retracting 3x optical zoom lens, Intelligent Auto (iAuto), Face Detect and Shadow Adjust functionality, a professional-level Olympus TruePic III image-processing engine and a deluxe 2.7in LCD display, this camera is well suited to snap-shooters with an eye for image quality. What's more, it's probably the sleekest and most stylish model we've seen in this price range, earning it that most-coveted of accolades: a 'good all-rounder'.

The first thing everyone notices about this camera is its highly arresting design. Available in Mirror (silver), Phantom (black) and Hot Chilli (red) finishes, the 1040 certainly stands out from its similarly priced rivals. With dimensions of 88x20.3x55.5mm and weighing just over 100 grams, this truly is a camera that can be thrown into a purse or jacket pocket and forgotten about. Olympus is touting the Mju 1040 as a 'lifestyle accessory' for 'style gurus', which would normally earn it a rap across the knuckles. However, in this case we have to admit that the marketing pap is pretty accurate. Simply put, it's the type of camera you'd expect a shiny celebrity to pull out at an Oscars celebration.

Adding to the swank-factor is a sliding metal face plate that instantly powers up the camera when you pull it down (in lieu of a power button). This allows you to take photos as soon as the lens is exposed, with a start-up time of less than two seconds. Switching between camera and playback modes is also a remarkably zippy process, as is scrolling through individual photos (compare to the sluggish Ricoh R50, which threw up a ‘Processing’ message whenever we swapped between camera modes).

The back of the camera is dominated by its 2.7in LCD screen, which takes up roughly three-quarters of the available surface area. This leaves little room for camera buttons, and the Mju 1040 suffers slightly as a result. While they look suitably attractive, the embossed touch-sensitive buttons are far too small to make quick, intuitive selections with. This forces you to peer at the camera and carefully use your fingertip, which flies in the face of the Mju 1040's point-and-shoot nature.

On the plus side, the inclusion of iAuto (which automatically adjusts scene modes to suit the environment) helps to keep button-fiddling to a minimum. The onscreen menu is intuitively laid out and easy to navigate — provided you’re nimble-fingered enough to master the tiny directional buttons. Each menu is represented by a large icon with explanatory text to make the novice’s life easier. Feature highlights include Face Detection (for up to 16 faces), built-in red-eye removal, nine scene modes (including Portrait, Landscape, Night, Sport, Cuisine and Movie), adjustable white balance, in-camera image retouching, a ‘Nightproof’ LCD and a Shooting Guide submenu. Manual options are somewhat limited but this is to be expected from a sub-$300 ultra-compact model.

When it came to taking photos, the Mju 1040 managed to impress on most levels, although image clarity was not quite as sharp as we would have liked. The autofocus was also erratic at times, producing occasionally blurry results (despite the inclusion of a shake-proof ‘anti-blur’ mode). On the plus side we found noise levels to be impressively low for a camera in this price range, with images remaining relatively clean even at ISO 800. Unfortunately, the camera's low-grade flash took some of the shine off these otherwise impressive results: it required a sensitivity setting of ISO 400 or lower to light up a dim room. In addition, the camera’s relatively underpowered 3x optical zoom means you’ll need to regularly crop photos to attain close-ups — a situation that is obviously less than ideal.

Nevertheless, we remain quite pleased with the Mju 1040's overall performance. It provides decent image quality, loads of consumer-friendly features and an incredibly slick appearance — all for an ultra-low asking price. Cheerfully recommended.

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