If you're looking for classy styling, look no further than the Olympus Mju 1200. This 12-megapixel point-and-shoot with a 3x optical zoom retails for AU$599, so we put it through its paces to see if its performance and features justified the price tag.
The 1200 certainly looks the part. The body is made of sturdy metal, with weatherproof seals protecting the slots. It's finished in a business-like yet stylish two-tone glossy black and matte gunmetal, with angled chrome trim. The tapering design wasn't to our taste, but it did make it easy to slip the camera into trouser pockets.
Despite the glossy styling, we had a couple of quibbles with the design. We found the control layout fussy. The raised surface mode wheel interferes somewhat with the action of the zoom rocker, which is itself as clunky as most rockers. The wheel is stiff, and annoyingly does not revolve 360 degrees.
The menu screen that necessitates some extra button-pushing is just one of a number of control quirks.
There are nine buttons to the right of the large 2.7-inch LCD screen, which is at least one too many. The playback button is superfluous, duplicating a setting on the mode wheel.
Still, the chromed buttons look good, with none of the dated brashness of the squared buttons of the Mju 780. The light-up buttons are a nice touch, as ever.
The camera is easy to get to grips with and straightforward to use, as there are only the most basic of manual options. An excellent help function also explains what each button does when you press them.
The 1200 is feathery on features, and those it does include are limited: continuous mode only offers a low-resolution burst, and the self-timer merely gives you a 10-second option. It does have face detection, and smile-spotting shutter, but we're yet to be convinced of that feature's usefulness.
However, we were very pleased that in pressing the exposure compensation button, we could see real-time previews for each possible setting, so we could decide which option is the best for the scene.
Overall, though, we found the controls to be slightly idiosyncratic. The menu button takes you to a choice of menus rather than straight to the camera menu, requiring an extra button push. More annoying is the lack of one-touch exit from the menus.
When you have navigated a couple of levels into the menu system, you have to exit by going back through those levels. On other manufacturers' cameras, pressing the shutter often exits menus. Here, holding down the shutter button previews your image, but when you release the button you're back to the menu screen. The ability to preview changes made in the menus is a good idea, though.
Another spanner in the works is that the scene modes are only accessible by rotating the mode wheel to SCN. Changing to a different scene preset requires turning the wheel to another setting and back to SCN, which is very inelegant. The superfluous playback button might have been better employed to call up the scene modes.
Olympus still haven't got the memo that xD cards aren't as handy as the near-ubiquitous SD and SDHC cards. Fujifilm is supporting both memory formats in their newer cameras, but Olympus is sticking with the proprietary xD. To add insult to injury, you have to buy Olympus own-brand xD cards to use the panorama stitch feature, which is pretty laughable.
Thankfully, the 1200 has barely any appreciable shutter lag. It's not so great on shot-to-shot time, taking 2 or 3 seconds to be ready for another picture with the status light blinking for 5 seconds after every image. Its 2.5 frames per second in burst mode is good, but you only get 25 images and all at lower resolution.
As a point-and-shoot, the 1200 is efficient. Exposure is well-balanced and naturalistic even when available light is weak. Portrait mode gives a warm skin tone, even with the flash. Dark tones aren't as rich and solid as they should be, giving low-light images a slightly washed-out effect, but it's reasonably safe to use the flash in darker environments as it isn't as harsh as some we've seen.
Image noise, the eternal bane of compact cameras, peers around the corner at ISO 400. Above this setting, it's combatted by the camera's automaic noise reduction, which has the side effect of softening detail. Images at ISO 1,600 are nastily speckled but the noise reduction actually gives a nice balance of softness over noise to create passable images. At the highest speed, ISO 6,400, images are both too soft and too noisy.
The Olympus Mju 1200 is certainly capable and stylish. It's perfect for those search of a good-looking, pocketable point-and-shoot, and don't want to worry about the mechanics of photography. It's pricey, though, heading down the Canon IXUS route of style and megapixels demanding a premium despite a paucity of features. At least the Canon IXUS 860 IS has a bigger screen for a similar price, as does the Kodak EasyShare V1253.