Olympus recently refreshed its digital camera line-up by adding eight new models across various segments including point-and-shoot, travel zoom, super zoom and prosumer. One of the models is the Stylus VG-190 that’s aimed at those who want a compact point-and-shoot digital camera with a feature set better than the most basic models. Here’s what this pocketable shooter has to offer.

A pocketable camera with a powerful flash

A pocketable camera with a powerful flash

Design and features

The 16MP VG-190 is a successor to the VG-170 with only a few subtle changes. They look so similar that if kept side-by-side, it would be difficult to differentiate between the two if viewed from the front. They’re about the same size and even weigh about the same. At 103.7 x 62.2 x 22.5 mm, the VG-190 is quite compact to fit comfortably in the pocket. Also, weighing in at 151 grams, it’s lightweight courtesy a tiny lithium ion battery that powers it unlike a pair of AA batteries. 

Before we drill down to the details of the camera, here’s what hasn’t changed in the VG-190. First up, it sports the same lens that’s used in the VG-170. The lens starts from 26 mm (35 mm equivalent) and extends to 130 mm, translating to 5x optical zoom. A fairly large F2.8 aperture at the wide end should be helpful in low light, but F6.5 at the telephoto end may not sound quite appealing. This right away means you should avoid zooming too much in low light; however, it shouldn’t be a problem in broad daylight. It would have been nice if Olympus had added optical image stabilisation, but sadly, like the VG-170, the VG-190 too uses digital image stabilisation. Next up is the large high-intensity flash, which is the key feature that has been retained in the VG-190. With a guide number of 8.7, it’s about twice as powerful as flash strobes found in most entry-level digital cameras. The flash is the first thing that will catch your eyes when you view it from the front. It occupies a large area above the lens because of which the camera has a hump on the right side. Lastly, the 3-inch 460K dot LCD monitor too is left unchanged. It’s a notch better than the lousy low-resolution (230K dot) displays found in most entry-level digital cameras.

Available in elegant colour schemes

Available in elegant colour schemes

Now for the new features added in the VG-190. Both the VG-170 and VG-190 are available in an all-black shell. Apart from this, the VG-170 came in white and red shells with body-coloured grip over the battery compartment. The VG-190 too comes in two other body colours, but the colour schemes are more striking. One is champagne-coloured (both front and rear panels) with dark tan grip and chrome rims around the telescopic lens barrel. The other is dark blue with black grip and black rims around the lens barrel. None of the colours are flashy; instead, they’re sober and exude class. The top panel is a gun metal colour strip sandwiched between the front and rear panels. It has only the on/off button and the shutter release button with a zoom lever around it.

Slim profile and a simple control panel

Slim profile and a simple control panel

The design of the control panel is simple. There’s a dedicated button for video recording at the top right corner, right next to the thumb grip. All it takes to start recording videos is a press of the button. Videos can be recorded at up to 720p, 30 fps, but sadly, optical zoom isn’t available while you’re shooting—there’s only digital zoom. Moving down is the playback button, a 5-way D-pad and menu button. The right side is home to an eyelet for wrist strap and a USB port protected by a flap.

User interface

The user interface is typical of all Olympus digital cameras—if you’ve had an Olympus camera, you’ll get used to the VG-190 in no time. You press the OK button on the D-pad to bring up the stack of controls on the right side of the screen. It’s not labelled on the D-pad, but pressing the left and right arrow keys while shooting instantly lets you to set the flash mode and pressing the down key lets you set the self-timer (2 sec, 12 sec or off).

Intuitive user interface, but it could be snappier

Intuitive user interface, but it could be snappier

Right at the top of the control stack is mode selection. The available modes include Program, iAuto, DIS (digital IS), Beauty, Super macro, Scene, Magic filters and Panorama assist. The rest of the controls that are displayed depend on the selected mode. For example, you get white balance, ISO and burst mode settings in Program mode, but they’re unavailable in iAuto mode, which automatically takes care of all exposure parameters. Surprisingly, we found metering mode absent in Program mode. 

The Scene mode offers 14 presets to shoot various types of subjects and scenes including Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents in addition to the ones usually present, such as Portrait, landscape, Sport and Pet. Magic filters are nothing but Effect filters that are offered by most digital cameras these days. So, you get the usual bunch of filters such as Pop art, Fish eye, Pin hole (similar to Toy Camera) and Miniature plus Reflection, Sparkle (Star filter) and Punk, which are exclusive to Olympus digital cameras.

What we found most interesting was Beauty mode, which is meant to make your subject look more beautiful—it’s like a digital makeup kit. After shooting a portrait (with face detection on by default), you’re taken to another interface with a slew of controls. It goes beyond just skin smoothening and brightening. Here you can fix blemishes, puffy eyes, enlarge and brighten eyes, change eye colour, whiten teeth and apply eye liner, lipstick and blush. With these, you can either make your girlfriend look like a doll or turn your guy friend into a drag queen! Jokes apart, if used sparingly, the faux makeup can actually make your subject look more beautiful.

How not to use the Beauty Mode!

How not to use the Beauty Mode!

Beauty Mode yields good looking results if used sparingly

Beauty Mode yields good looking results if used sparingly

Overall, the user interface is quite intuitive. It’s definitely snappier than the VG-170, but we feel faster animation or doing away with animation would have sped things up, especially while navigating controls.

Build quality and ergonomics

Being a premium point and shoot camera, we expected the VG-190 to feature a metal-jacketed shell, at least for the front panel. Nevertheless, the shell is of good quality plastic and thankfully, there aren’t any glossy surfaces on the shell that easily get scratched. The only glossy bit is the LCD display for which we recommend buying a screen protector film at the time of purchasing the camera. The quality of buttons and D-pad is very good.

Being quite slim and compact, the VG-190 is comfortable to use even single-handed. The thumb grip and the grip on the front look like they’re rubberised or made of leatherette material. However, they’re of plastic with leather-like texture, which lends a good grip. Olympus has got the placement of buttons correct. They’re within comfortable reach of the thumb for strain-free operation.

Performance

Starting with the ISO test, the VG-190 handles noise best at up to ISO 200. ISO 400 and higher should only be used as the last resort in extremely low light conditions. But then, you have a powerful flash that can help expose subjects up to 15 metres away.

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 400

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600

Moving on to the outdoor tests, the camera does very well so long as the subjects aren’t under direct sunlight. Shoot in shade and you’ll get best results—excellent details, punchy colours and good skin tones. Photos of subjects and scenes shot in direct sunlight appear washed out due to incorrect exposure. Also, distant objects appear fuzzy and lacking in details. Another problem area is purple fringing around objects against bright backlight. This was more apparent around the corners and borders of the frame and less in the centre.

Click on the photos for full view.

Outdoor scene: Bright highlights and lack of details

Outdoor scene: Bright highlights and lack of details

A 100 percent crop of the above shot—note the patchy details

A 100 percent crop of the above shot—note the patchy details

Looks good because it was shot in shade with fill flash

Looks good because it was shot in shade with flash

Shots look good when rescaled, but not quite at full zoom

Shots look good when rescaled, but not quite at full zoom

Shot at full zoom—note the fuzzy details in distant objects

Shot at full zoom—note the fuzzy details in distant objects

Purple fringing in full glory

Purple fringing in full glory

Crisp macro shots, this one had a warm tone

Crisp macro shots; this one had a warm tone

We say the overall performance of the VG-190 is average. The only forte of this camera is its powerful flash – not to mention Beauty Mode, which is fun to use.

Verdict and Price in India

For the kind of performance and features it offers, we found the Olympus Stylus VG-190 quite steeply priced at an MRP of Rs 8,490. Just the addition of a large flash doesn’t quite justify the premium. Also, drawbacks such as lack of metering mode and optical image stabilisation restrain us from recommending it. For the same price, you’d be better off with the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS.

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