Somewhere between the pocket cam and pocket recorder market segments, Olympus has introduced a hybrid called LS-20M. The concept is simple: offer a full-HD pocket cam capable of recording good-quality audio, making the LS-20M the first real competitor of the Zoom Q3 HD, which is currently the only product in this market segment…
The battle between the two, promises a lot: while Zoom is the leading manufacturer of pocket recorders with the H2, Olympus is the leader of dictation systems. Moreover, Olympus is also one of the leading manufacturers in the cameras/lenses market, so it might become a serious challenger for Zoom, and even for the top dogs in the pocket cam market like Kodak, Cisco, Sanyo and Sony.
In The Box
Olympus included almost everything you can expect inside the box. Besides the device, you’ll find a battery, a 2GB SD card and a dual-function USB cable. The cable will be useful to transfer all data recorded on the LS-20M to your computer, and also to load the battery either via the USB port of your computer or an external PSU. The package also includes the user’s manual in six different languages. And that’s it! No transport bag for the device, no wrist-strap, no HDMI cable — and, since we are complaining, the 8″ USB cable is really short…
The design is quite nice: the device is a bit thicker and longer than a smartphone but less bulky than a Zoom Q3HD (it has a finer design). It has many controls and connections on its small housing made out of different mat and glossy plastic materials in metal finish. The main colors are black and anthracite. On the top of the device, the two mics are placed on both sides of the camera under chrome-like baskets. Everything looks very serious, even if it would be more reassuring to get a silicone or padded leather case to prevent any damages in case of a fall.
Front and Side Views
Now it’s time to have a closer look at the device. Starting with the left side that provides a power on/off+hold switch, a connector for an optional remote control, a mic in and a headphones out on stereo minijacks. The mic input can be switched to line input and fed with phantom power, which is a decisive advantage over the Q3HD that only has a line input (making the connection of external mics impossible). With the LS-20M, you can use a shotgun mic, a lavalier mic or a good old SM58. This feature will attract users who want to use external mics — just notice that using the mic input mutes the internal mics, so don’t expect to be able to mix both signals…
On the right side, a switch allows you to toggle between audio/video modes while a small slot allows you to access the SD card. The bottom side of the device includes a miniUSB and a HDMI connector hidden behind a blind plate. Everything looks pretty good, and this also applies to the rear side, which provides an access to the battery, a tiny 2/3″ speaker (it’s not a ghetto blaster but it’s convenient for raw monitoring in quiet environments), and a thread insert allowing you to mount the LS-20M on a camera stand… instead of a microphone stand, which would be more convenient in most cases.
Between the two mics on the top side of the device, you’ll find a LED indicating signal overloads and (surprise!) the lens of the camera. The surprising position of the camera changes the handling of the device quite radically. To shoot what is happening in front of you, you have to hold the LS-20M horizontally —not in parallel to your body like with most pocket cams— and aim at the scene you want to capture like you would do with a remote control. At first glance this seems more intuitive.
Now let’s take a closer look…
The LS-20M provides good quality video and high quality audio recording. With numerous useful options, especially in the video department, the LS-20M is a dangerous competitor for the Zoom Q3HD. The awkward position of the camera is certainly its main disadvantage in many situations: except in some rare occasions (shooting above a crowd or recording people who are seated while you’re standing), the camera position is not very practical and makes things more difficult for the user. Now you have all the information you need to choose between these two rivals or you might even consider a third solution: an Apple iStuff plus a microphone kit. It’s up to you…
- Nice overall look
- Seems rather rugged
- Compact size (it even fits inside your hip pocket)
- Picture quality on the same level as the best pocket cams on the market, but with a much higher sound quality
- No need to switch to macro mode for close-ups
- Video pickup angle wider than most other pocket cams
- High-quality sound with detailed high frequencies
- Many audio and video settings and functions
- All-in-one concept: cam, field recorder, webcam, multimedia jukebox
- Position of the camera — more disturbing than advantageous
- Few accessories: no protection bag, no wrist-strap, etc.
- The small buttons are not backlit and their silk screen is hardly readable
- Many buttons, many menus for a somewhat old-fashioned design
- Renaming files and folders is impossible
- High-frequencies a bit too sharp, slight lack of low-end
To read the full detailed article with video demos please see: Olympus LS-20M Review