Olympus SP-500UZ Digital Camera

Mikey 32 comments
Olympus SP-500UZ Digital Camera

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.

Olympus SP-500UZ

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.

Package contents.

  • 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

First impressions.
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.

Powering up.
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:

  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Landscape and portrait
  • Night scene
  • Sports
  • Night and portrait
  • Indoor
  • Candle
  • Self portrait
  • Available sunlight portrait
  • Sunset
  • Fireworks
  • Museum
  • Behind glass
  • Cuisine
  • Documents
  • Auction
  • Beach
  • Snow

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.

Macro mode.
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.

Panoramic photography.
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.

Battery life.
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.

Image quality.
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.

Video quality.
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.

Overall impression.
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
  • Affordable
  • High quality lens
  • Option to add lenses
  • Huge 10x optical zoom
  • Lighweight
  • 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.

Macro photos.

Olympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZ

Zoom Photos.

Olympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZ

Night Photos.

Olympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZOlympus SP-500UZ

Panoramic. (Not using the provided Olympus software, but using the superior Autostitch)

Olympus SP-500UZ

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Wednesday 21st December 2005 | 09:32 PM

Thats some mighty nice pictures. Are you a professional photographer?

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Thursday 22nd December 2005 | 04:34 PM

Ben says: Are you a professional photographer?

Cripes no. Just a practising amateur. It is a hobby of mine. I guess that is testament to the this camera's quality. All you need is a good eye for composition.

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Wednesday 28th December 2005 | 10:21 PM

Greetings from Canada !!! Thanks for the review of the SP 500. They have been few and far between on the internet. I bought this camera a week ago and haven't had a chance to play around with it. I did a lot of research before I bought it, being a rookie to digital cameras. I am impressed with the photos you took. They are sharp and the color is great. I hope that I can have the same results when I get into the photo mode. I think that I have a winner.

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Thursday 29th December 2005 | 01:24 AM

Hi Jerry, Welcome to Australia :-) I am glad you found the review useful. The camera is great. You won't be disappointed. I have since become more adept at using it over the past couple of weeks, in particular with macro modes. Checkout https://rustylime.com/content_images/spider.jpg" target="_blank">this nasty I spotted in our backyard.

Good luck snapping. Feel free to post your experiences with the camera here any time.

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Monday 2nd January 2006 | 01:20 PM

I think i tried this camera in Dick Smith the other day.  I loved it's ease of use to work out without the manual and it's focusing abilities.  Does this camera have a weird angle ie one side is bigger than the other?  I think they had it for $469.
At present i'm using a Kodak DC4800 3.1  The quality is fantastic but seeing the next step up with yours is mindblowing.

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Monday 2nd January 2006 | 01:48 PM

Hi Amico,

I got mine from Dick Smith as well - Perth City. Actually came with a free pair of http://images.google.com.au/images?q=olympus%20dpc%20i&;hl=en&btnG=Search+Images&sa=N&tab=wi">Olympus DPC I binoculars which are really good. I take them to the golf course :-)

Not sure what you mean by the weird angle but if you mean the side that you hold the camera, it petrudes outwards (towards subject) and has a grip so you have something to hold onto for steadier shooting. A Google image search should show you the http://images.google.com.au/images?svnum=10&;hl=en&lr=lang_en&safe=off&q=sp500uz&btnG=Search">camera from different angles.

Ceratainly a massive step up from the DC4800. 10 optical zoom and 6 million pixels will blow your mind :-) Let us know how you go with it.

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Sunday 8th January 2006 | 06:24 AM

I just ordered my 500UZ online. It has yet to arrive. I am impressed by it and was wondering if there is a place for amature digital photography on the net. I have found a few places buts always good to know more. This is my first digital camera... infact this is pretty much my first camera. =) i'm a tech freak and a musician so the learning curve should not be to bad.

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Sunday 8th January 2006 | 12:24 PM

Hi Dan.

http://www.megapixel.net/html/articles.php">Megapixel.net has great articles/explanations on digital camera basics right through to the more advanced stuff. Right under Camera Basics are the Photography Tips, which are also well written and informative. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of the camera as do. I have just started using the timelapse photography feature and it pretty cool. Feel free to post your experiences here.

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Tuesday 10th January 2006 | 02:37 AM

Do you know any good sites to post our photos on that are free? I thought I saw one you could post on and people could buy them from you. Not just family prints... but the other stuff as well.

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Wednesday 11th January 2006 | 12:01 PM

Hi Dan,

A quick Google search revealed http://www.shutterpoint.com/">shutterpoint.com, which allows you to submit photos which essentially go into thier stock photography catalogue for people to purchase.

These  also offer the same services: http://www.printroom.com/">printroom.com, http://www.stockxpert.com">stockxpert.com, and http://www.morephotos.com/">morephotos.com. I hope that helps.

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Tuesday 17th January 2006 | 03:03 AM

Great shots.... you have helped me to to decide. Definitly the Oly SP500. Thanks

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Tuesday 17th January 2006 | 05:21 AM

Hi - Thank you so much for your wealth of information on the camera I just purchased as a somewhat novice digital photographer. I am an artist and will be using my new "baby" to shoot my artwork for professional use. Do you have any input as to what exposure mode might be best for shooting my paintings outside (black backdrop, partial sun, fairly large works)? All of the modes confuse me; perhaps I have to try them all and somehow note which images were shot with which modes? www.grabarskystudio.com

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Tuesday 17th January 2006 | 11:14 AM

Hi Sheila. Your most welcome. I would suggest some experimentation, although my first thoughts would be to try indoor shooting (windows open) with a slightly longer shutter speed, and mount the camera on a tripod of course. This should make the colours quite vibrant, but maybe too vibrant for your liking.

But if you prefer outdoor with natural light, the Auction scene mode might be good because it takes 3 photos autmotically while adjusting the exposure on each. Oh, and I would also shoot from far back and zoom in. But as with everything, experimentation is always the best. Digital 'film' affords us this luxury.

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Tuesday 17th January 2006 | 11:54 AM

thanks Mike!

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Thursday 19th January 2006 | 04:17 PM

Is it possible to post a few pick here or do I have to have them hosted somewhere else with links?

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Thursday 19th January 2006 | 06:27 PM

Dan says: "Is it possible to post a few pick here or do I have to have them hosted somewhere else with links?"

Awfully sorry but I can't host the pics here for you. But if you host them elsewhere you can certainlly link to them from here if you like. It would be good to see what other photos people have taken with this canera.

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Friday 20th January 2006 | 12:52 AM

The issue is that most photo sites require that you regester with them to view the photos which is silly in some ways and a marketing strategy in others. I just need a place of my own to host them and I have not done that.

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Friday 20th January 2006 | 01:23 AM

Most ISP's give you your own web space with your account. Might be something to look into.

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Jerry Aubrey

Saturday 28th January 2006 | 09:59 PM

Greetings again from Canada !!! Just an update on my Olympus 500 SP UZ camera. I just returned from a vacation in Ixtapa Mexico. Yahoo !!! Great vacation !!! I got to use my new camera for the first time and it was great !!! I tried several of the modes, sunset, night shots and some of the other modes just fooling around. I took some really nice pictures with this camera, probably around 120 of them. I am still on my first set of batteries and this is with showing and playing around with the pictures on the LCD screen. I was very impressed with the picture quality. I shot some pictures of the full moon over Ixtapa with the night scene mode and they were very nice. The detail was incredible. All in all I am very impressed with this camera and I think that anybody looking for a new digital camera should look at this one very closely. Thanks again for your review and happy shooting. Jerry 

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Monday 30th January 2006 | 09:55 AM

Hi Jerry. Thats great. Hope you had a good vacation. I still can't get over how good the battery life is either. If you ever post your pics online somewhere feel free to link to them in this thread.

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Tuesday 31st January 2006 | 05:31 PM

Here are the better of the pics I have taken with my 500-SP. http://muzik316.myphotoalbum.com

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Monday 27th March 2006 | 06:18 AM


Thanks for a nice privat preview. Do you miss the anti stabilisation at maximum zoom? Do you realy need a statief (sorry, it's u dutch wordt, I don't now de english word for it), or can you take a "steady hand" picture with a short shuttertime. And if so, which shuttertime you need with max zoom?

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Monday 27th March 2006 | 01:30 PM

Hi Gert, Thanks for stopping by.
I have not had the need for a triopod or any other method of stablisation at this stage, although some stabilisation would have been nice. At maximum zoom in, 95% of my pictures have been fine without assistaed stabilisation. But maybe I have a steady hand :-)
I just use the 'beach' setting for more stuff, a sit has a short shutter time, so even if I didn't have a steady hand the pictures would probably be OK.

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Tuesday 1st August 2006 | 09:54 PM

I just bought this camera on the weekend after I read your reviews . It's my first ever digital camera , just wanted to say thanks for your info , I am very happy with my purchase.

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Wednesday 2nd August 2006 | 09:02 AM

Hi Tracey. Glad to be of service :-) Feel free to post a link to your photos here is you are so inclined. The more people who can see the abilities of this camera the better I say.

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Shortyn from Denmark

Sunday 6th August 2006 | 04:21 AM

Hey I just paid 63 euro for a 1 gb card to my camera..

It turned out that it was good to make videocamera and it worked perfect as a normal camera ;-) Good stuff and cheap too..

Greetings from the North Denmark

Hi from Shorty

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Sunday 13th August 2006 | 10:10 PM

Good review. Thanks for reviwing this camera I am bying one now. Good photos too.

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Karina Timmermans

Wednesday 28th February 2007 | 10:45 AM

Wauw it take's beutifull pictures!
I Saug your website on google i was looking for a own digital camera i'm sure of it this one it's going to be i most like the pictures in the dark most of the pictures i take are in dark.

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Mark Blasingame

Tuesday 5th June 2007 | 03:15 AM

Hi Mike, and thanks for pointing something out. I bought an XD picture card. Well, I found out yesterday that panorama is not available. I had no idea why until I read your review.

Also, for Dan. I use Flickr to post pictures. What's nice about it to me is that it is free, but also there is a group devoted specifically to the SP-550 UZ. I have had a problem with macro shots being really blurry, so I posted a question and got an answer the same day.

Thanks again!



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Thursday 1st November 2007 | 08:23 PM

How can i set my camera to 320 pixels high x 240 pixels wide.

I need some help

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Thursday 1st November 2007 | 09:02 PM

Hi Maxy,

The lowest res this camera does is 640 x480, exactly double what you require. The video capture however is 320 x 240, so you could use that and then capture stills from it later using your prefered video editor. Hope that helps.



Tuesday 28th April 2009 | 12:02 AM
No total kudos

how do i view recorded viedo on my olympus sp-500uz?

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