The Mju 9000 is the world's smallest camera with a 10x optical zoom. It has a 12-megapixel sensor, is available in either black or champagne in Australia, and retails for AU$599.
From the outside, the 9000 looks like a slick picture taking machine. The chrome accents on either side, silver accents around the lens ring, shiny black body and slim footprint all lend themselves to this assumption. Certainly it's the most stylish camera in the current Olympus range.
Though you can't see it here, the Mju 9000 has some lovely backlit buttons. (Credit: Olympus)
From the outside it looks compact but it's actually quite heavy (at 185g) thanks to the 10x optical zoom housed inside. It is, however, the smallest and lightest compact available that has a 10x zoom. At the front is a curved flash unit nestled above the brand logo, and the lens itself takes up most of the remaining space.
Turn it around and the 2.7-inch LCD screen is flanked by semi-gloss backlit buttons and a mode dial that allows you to select between several options (from full intelligent auto, program, playback, movie, scene and beauty mode). The zoom rocker is a little fiddly at first, being relegated to a small switch next to the shutter button, but using it soon becomes easy. Overall it's quite a nice camera to hold, being evenly weighted and easy to grasp in one hand.
Stylistically it's quite similar to the Mju 1060, but it does have several notable upgrades (zoom length, megapixel count). The screen has been downgraded to 2.7-inch from 3-inch though.
The Mju 9000 is particularly impressive when you first look at its main calling card — the 10x optical zoom lens. Extending it is an experience in itself — it's quick to respond, and folds flat onto itself as you return it to its housing. The lens also only just protrudes slightly from the body. More good news comes with the widest end of the lens — 28mm — which is sure to impress. Maximum aperture is a little disappointing at only f/3.2 but seeing as there is no manual mode on the 9000 it's not that much of a downside.
Memory card format remains the same, using the standard xD (not nice) and microSD (slightly better). Image stabilisation is also provided. Beauty mode, as we first encountered on the Tough 8000, makes a repeat appearance here and is still suitably quirky, but mostly pointless. There is no HDMI output on the 9000 — for that feature you'll have to invest in the Mju 7000.
Performance and image quality
Start-up time was much slower than we anticipated, and strangely enough it wasn't because the lens needed time to extend (this was actually rather speedy once the camera had powered on). Instead it was the Olympus logo displayed on-screen that seemed to take up much of the initialisation time.
Chromatic aberration was kept under control nicely which was somewhat of a surprise given the extreme focal length (28-280mm) of the lens. There was only moderate barrel distortion at the widest end of the lens, though in dark situations at 28mm the camera sometimes exhibited vignetting (dark corners). Colours were nice and punchy without being oversaturated, which was a pleasant surprise. Images were also quite crisp compared to what we've seen before on other Olympus compacts, thanks to the improved lens quality and aspherical elements.
Despite the image stabilisation and dedicated scene modes for low-light photography, we still found that the 9000 tended to produce blurred shots without an incredibly steady hand.
Noise across all ISO levels except 100 was very prominent, exhibiting itself as coloured flecks across the image. It did depend on the type of shot taken, with less noise present across outdoor images in direct sunlight than images taken in enclosed, indoor situations.
The screen was incredibly bright, which had its ups and downs. Mostly it made it look like the camera had blown out highlights when we reviewed our photos, but on transferring them to a computer we discovered this was not the case. Another downside too was the inability to zoom during movie mode, making the 10x lens useless in this situation. Video is also only available at two low resolutions (VGA and QVGA).
In terms of appearance and overall functionality, the Mju 9000 is one of the nicest Olympus compacts we've tested in quite some time. It's a little bulkier than usual thanks to the 10x optical zoom but for the most part this is the pick of the bunch if you're looking at buying an Olympus.
Compared to its competitors from Panasonic and Canon (such as the Lumix TZ7 and the PowerShot SX200 IS), the 9000 is a more compact camera, and not as robust in terms of shooting capability and creative control. For AU$599 we would have liked to see more features, but if you are looking for an Olympus compact, the 9000 is the one to choose as long as you don't need a waterproof camera.