Despite a name that Stephen Hawking would be more familiar with, the µ (Mju) series has given Olympus a much-needed foothold in the mid-range compact zoom market. Its popularity owes a lot to its pleasing aesthetics and truly excellent build quality.

The first Mju models were launched three years ago with 3 and 4-megapixel sensors. The Mju 600 is the most recent model in the series and looks certain to be a vital player in the sub-£200 compact market.

Luckily for us camera lovers, camera design has improved dramatically over the last 12 months in tandem with rapidly falling prices.

Not so long ago you'd expect to pay well over £300 for a metal-bodied 6-megapixel model such as the Mju 600, but with prices as low as £180 on web-based camera retailers, it's clear the digital camera landscape has changed dramatically since this time last year.

While the Mju 600 retains all the signature curves and smooth lines we've seen in earlier models, the body design has been refined and has a more sophisticated feel. It's arguably a better-looking beast than the flagship Mju 800.

The all-metal body is available in Navy Blue, Ruby Red and Arctic Silver finishes, with the camera's 3x optical zoom housed behind a large protective sliding lens cover that dominates the design of the camera's fascia.

Flip the Mju 600 over and the rear is almost completely filled by the 2.5-inch LCD screen. There's no optical viewfinder because Olympus has incorporated its proprietary 'BrightCapture' technology, which is designed to increase definition and brightness when composing shots in dimly lit conditions.

In fact, the claim that the screen is up to four times brighter than a conventional LCD stands up to our tests. We were able to clearly see subjects that were in near darkness. To further assist you in composition, the camera can also be set to display an on-screen grid.

A simple array of controls surrounds the giant LCD and fall easily beneath the thumb, enabling the user to browse and activate the various functions with ease.

The mainstay of the exposure controls is the comprehensive collection of 23 scene modes that provide you with the ideal settings for just about any subject imaginable. All the usual situations are covered, such as Portrait, Landscape and Sports, as well as the unusual Cuisine, Behind glass and Underwater.

There are also two Shoot and Select modes designed for constantly moving subjects such as children playing in the garden. With these enabled the camera takes a succession of frames and presents the sequence for you to select and save the best.

At the heart of the scene selection are three modes that use the camera's BrightCapture technology to record shots in low light conditions. Here the camera pushes the sensor sensitivity up to ISO2,500, but it reduces the maximum image size to just 2 megapixels.

Memory matters

Not only is the Mju friendly to use, it's also fast and responsive and can rattle off shots within 2 seconds of starting up, with a smooth zoom which drives the f3.1-f5.2 lens through the 35-105mm focal range.

Images can be stored on the rather limited 8Mb internal facility or on to an xD-Picture card. However, since the camera is supplied with only a 16Mb card, you'll need to invest in one with more capacity. A 128Mb xD-Picture card, for example, retails at around £20, but to take advantage of the camera's onboard Panorama mode you'll also need to use a special Olympus memory card.

Despite the power demands of the large screen, battery performance on the Mju 600 is excellent, with up to 300 shots available from one charge. Other features include a live histogram display and an impressive array of in-camera editing functions incorporating a Red-eye removal and a Photo album mode for storing and organising shots.

The Mju 600 produces decent 6-megapixel images with apparently little effort. As you'll read in the Photo Results panel, performance from this tidy little compact is well above average, especially when you consider its sub- £200 price point.

If you're looking for an affordable compact that delivers decent enlargements and no-fuss controls, the Mju is definitely the camera for you. What's more, the build quality and design make it an extremely handsome and fashionable companion to have on you. Tim McCann

Via PhotoRadar