Olympus SP-500UZ Digital CameraMikey 32 comments
This is my 3rd digital camera since 1998, which in hindsight is surprising considering how often I like to upgrade my computer related accessories. The first camera was a 2.1 mega pixel Kodak DC210, which at the time was the bees knees of image quality capturing 1152x864 low quality jpgs.
In 2004 I upgraded to another Kodak, this time a DX4530 which easily managed 2580x1932 higher quality jpgs.
Both of these cameras have served well as a 'point and click' alternative to film, with over 7000 photos taken to date. I shudder at the thought of what that would have cost in film and processing.
Point and click solutions are fine for the family snapper, but all along I have craved something that will fuel my creativity. As a designer, the prospect of a digital camera with interchangeable lenses and insanely high resolutions over 6 megapixels has always been the dream. Only a few years ago a kit like that would have cost your first born and a leg.
Technology prices have taken a dive this past 12 months, with plasma screens, laptop computers and high quality digital cameras suddenly within reach of every day shmoes like you and me.
So after a lot of online research, purchasing the new Olympus SP-500UZ, with 6 million pixels, 10x optical zoom (with ability to add new lenses), and large 2.5inch LCD, was a no brainier decision.
This review will not go into details pertaining to ISO modes, white balance etc. There are plenty of other web sites out there that will do a far better job of that than I.
Here are the specs:
- LCD screen: 2.5" (6.4cm) colour LCD, approx. 115,000 pixel
- Exposure modes: P, S, A, M and 21 scene modes
- Shutter type: Mechanical + electronic
- Viewfinder: Electronic viewfinder with 201,600 pixels
- Sensor type: 6.37 million pixels (6.0 million effective)
- Image resolutions: 2816 x 2112, 2816 x 1880 (3:2), 2592 x 1944, 2288 x 1712, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480
- Lens Configuration: 11 lenses in 7 groups, including 2 double-sided aspherical lens elements
- Macro Focusing distance : Wide Angle: 7 cm (2.73") Tele: 120 cm (46.8")
- Super Macro : 3 cm (1.17") in wide angle
- Shutter speed: 1/1000 � 15 sec., and Bulb (up to 8 minutes)
- Sensitivity: Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400 ISO
- USB: 2.0 High Speed
- Memory: 10MB internal memory. xD Picture Card slot (no card provided)
Full specs can be found on the Olympus web site here.
- Olympus SP-500 UZ camera
- Lens cap
- Lens strap
- Neck strap
- Olympus Master software (CD)
- Printed basic manual
- Advanced manual (CD)
- Thin camera case
- USB cable
- TV output cable
- Warranty card
- 4 x AA batteries
Surprisingly smaller and lighter than it looked on the web sites, the form factor allows a snug fit in your right hand. The placement of the toggle wheel sometimes causes you to flick over to a different exposure mode with your thumb. I have to make a mental note not to do this.
The matte black metal casing looks great and feels incredibly strong for such a light camera.
Assembly was quick and painless, with neck and lens straps going in place as the manual described. Batteries insert easily. The battery door clearly indicated the position of each battery with no need to refer to the manual. The lens cap fits firmly over the lens which was a relief. My previous camera had a loose fitting cap.
After inserting a 256mb memory card (purchased separately), I pressed the power button (slightly counter sunk) to release the lens and activate the rear LCD. It is good to see such a large, vibrant high quality display. The display can be turned off in favour of the manual view finder if you want to conserve battery life.
Motion blur on screen was only slightly noticeable when moving the camera quickly, but this of course does not impact on your photos with the right shutter speed setting.
Ease of use.
Setting the exposure mode to Auto allows a reasonable amount of 'happy snapping' without having to worry about shutter speeds or ISO modes. This came in quite handy for my Fiance who only knows this method. Unfortunately this mode seems to produce mixed results. Ironically, it is the cheaper, less feature packed cameras that do this sort of thing better.
Scene mode, which is the next best thing to Auto mode, gives you a choice of several real world conditions in which to shoot. These include:
- Landscape and portrait
- Night scene
- Night and portrait
- Self portrait
- Available sunlight portrait
- Behind glass
Each selection shows a demonstration image along with a description. These modes automatically adjust exposure and shutter speed to suit the composition mode described. Having only had the opportunity to test sport, sunset, night scene and beach, all modes produced beautiful results.
But it is when customising the exposure mode accordingly to suit your composition that the best results can be achieved.
This is something I have always wanted to play with but alas was never able to produce real results with my previous cameras.
With the ability to now capture subjects as close as 30mm in high resolution glory, my worst arachnaphobic nightmares have now become larger than life. In particular, see the spider photo at the bottom of this review. I actually could have gotten closer but I feared what might happen if I fell into it's web.
Having a steady hand helps and I have rarely had to break out the tripod.
With 10x magnification to play with (and 17x if you snap in a T-con 17 lens), getting that much wanted evidence of your neighbors cat urinating on your car has never been easier.
Zooming from full in to full out takes approximately 1.5 seconds which is good for adjusting your composition on the fly.
According to Olympus, you need an original Olympus branded memory card to take panoramic photos. This is nothing more than a cheeky way to lock you into their product cycle. Using the provided software, panoramic stitching is not possible unless it detects the photos were indeed captured on said brand of memory card. If you have no intention of using the sticthing feature then there is no reason in the world to use an Olympus memory card.
Creating a panoramic photo requires taking several shots along an x or y axis while assuring parts of each photo over lap the previous shot. The software looks for similarities along the photo edges and does it's best to stich them seamlessly together. Unfortunately, from the 3 attempts I had at completely different scenes, the software did a terrible job. It was clearly evident where each photo was joined, and it did not compensate for slightly different lighting conditions.
Using a 3rd party application, like Autostitch by Brown and Lowe, panoramic photos are flawlessly stitched together while correcting the contrast and lighting. If you intend on taking panoramic photos, grab this program. No need to use an Olympus memory card either.
If I had known this was going to be the case, I would have purchased a less expensive memory card with a larger capacity.
This took me completely by surprise. Batteries last nearly 3 times as long in this camera than in my previous camera, yet it has a significantly larger screen and more motor movement produced by lens retraction/contraction. I took nearly 700 photos before I had to replace them, and all of that time was spent with the LCD on while I learned the camera functions.
Breathtaking, as the images below clearly indicate. Chromatic aberration seems to be completely absent, with nary a purple haze to be seen. In addition to standard highest quality Jpgs, (artefacting is not even noticeable), the SP500-UZ has every digital photographers best friend: RAW mode.
RAW is essentially the photograph taken without the camera doing any processing. As a result, images create significantly higher file sizes, at around 9mb each as opposed to around 1mb when compressed as a Jpg. But the quality is nothing short of supurb.
Additionally, RAW photos take longer to write to the memory card (at around 10 - 15 seconds), which makes taking constant snap after snap impossible. But then, RAW is not intended for that purpose.
With a RAW photo, you need a RAW photo reader. I use photo raw for Photoshop, which coincidentally added support for my camera in the most recent version. You can also use the RAW reader in the Olympus software suite provided.
Although only able to record in compressed Quicktime format, videos are good at 30fps and 320x240 resolution. Indoor videos are a little grainy without adequate lighting, and outdoor videos show a light chromatic aberration in high contrast situations. Sound recording is actually disabled by default which I thought strange. When enabled the sound is average quality.
Without a doubt the best money I have spent on a digital camera. At around $AU500, and with a free pair of included, the SP-500UZ is one impressive piece of hardware. A wealth of features and optional accessories at your disposal, this camera encourages creativity at a price most people can justify.
- Great for professionals and amatures
- RAW mode
- Large LCD screen
- Informative onscreen dialog
- Intuitive interface and controls
- 6 million pixels
- Brilliant image quality
- High quality lens
- Option to add lenses
- Huge 10x optical zoom
- Astonishing battery life
- Timelapse photography
- High resolution images
- Various scene modes for quick shooting
- Rare chromatic aberration
- Dynamic onscreen realtime histogram
- Firm lens cap
- Pop-up flash
- Compact and light
- Awkward manual viewfinder shape
- Curiously placed selection wheel
- Can be daunting to novice users
- Panoramic stitching software is afwul
- No optical stabilisation
- Misguided attempt to lock you into memory card product cycle
- A pitiful 10mb of internal memory
Some real world examples.
Here is a small selection of photos I have taken recently. I have deliberately scaled them down (to 1027 x 768) and optimised them for the web for bandwidth conservation purposes. But for the people who want to know, actual image sizes on highest quality are 2816 pixels wide by 2112 pixels high. Click on any image to view the large version.