Is the Olympus LS-20M a camera with better than average sound, or an audio machine with video capability? That’s academic, because it’s actually a really clever, well designed and brilliantly executed little device ($299, street).
The overall design and ergonomics are like one of the other LS (audio-only) models that have been rolled flat and thin. This makes it easier to grip and tends to make less handling noise. A small, greyscale LCD screen shows settings, and a larger color one that shows what you’re filming. A neat t rick is the ability to flick the video image on its head, so that you can hold the LS-20M aloft, with the screen pointing downwards (good for live events). In the base are a USB connection and mini HDMI output. There’s also an SD card slot, and mini-jack sockets for external microphone and headphones.
The stereo mic pair can be set to low or high sensitivity. Record levels are set manually (I’d suggest leaving the mics set to low, to avoid preamp hiss, and simply boosting the recorded files later in your DAW). Soundwise, the LS-20M can record either as an mp3 at 320 or 256 kbps, or as a PCM wave file, at sample rates up to 96k/24-bit.
Sitting between the mic capsules is the lens for the video camera, which has an electronic zoom (4x). The exposure can’t be set manually, but there is an exposure compensation feature to alter it incrementally. As standard, the white balance is set automatically but you can do this yourself or use a range of presets There’s also the capability of changing the exposure metering from a matrix to spot.
The LS-20M can record video at three rates. 640x380 is recommended for use on the web. At this setting, the audio is an mp3. Next comes 1280x720, which comes with PCM sound, and finally there’s 1920x1080, also with PCM audio. The video is processed and stored as .MOV files.
I’ve used the LS-20M mainly in Video mode, and the results have been impressive, the audio clean and sharp. Other models in the LS range come with foam windshield. But with the lens location, a similar solution won’t work on the LS-20M .
The LS-20M is not something that leaps out as having an instant “I need to one of those for...” appeal. But in recent days, I can imagine situations where a camera that doesn’t look like a camera, and isn’t held at eye level like one, could be useful to news teams (Olympus says that its target markets are “film makers, musicians, sound recordists, students and journalists”). Olympus has to be applauded for raising the bar with a small high-quality video device that also has “proper” audio.