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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Olympus SP-500 UZ


Olympus SP-500 UZ Review

Review Date: Jan 23, 2006

Category: Beginner to Serious

Olympus SP-500 UZ


Monday, Jan 5, 2005 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • SP-500 UZ
  • No memory card (but 10MB Internal Memory)
  • 4x AA Alkaline Batteries
  • Shoulder Strap, Lens Cap, Lens Cap Retainer String
  • USB and A/V Cables
  • Documentation: Quick Start Guide; Basic Manual (English, French, Spanish)
  • Software CD: Olympus Master 1.3.1; Advanced Manual (English, French, German, Russian, Spanish)

The Olympus SP-500 UZ replaces the Olympus C-770 UZ (minus the hot shoe), the last model of one of the most popular ultra zoom series starting back with the C-720 UZ. The Olympus SP-500 UZ has 6MP resolution and a 10x optical zoom. Optional wide-angle and tele converters extend that reach from 26.6mm to a whopping 646mm.

I am always amazed how all the long zoom digital cameras are so compact and light, and the Olympus SP-500 is similarly designed. Because of the ultra zoom lens, it is however quite thick and this, together with the large handgrip, provides a comfortable and secure handling. It also means that you won't be able to comfortably carry it in a coat pocket; a nice shoulder strap is provided. Unlike some other lens cap we have handled, the lens cap of the Olympus SP-500 fits perfectly and securely over the lens.

The body is tough plastic and there's a feeling of quality in the construction. Ergonomics are near perfect. Your index finger falls right on the shutter release button which has the right tension for half-press and full press. The zoom lever is a collar around the shutter release and going from 38mm wide-angle to 380mm telephoto takes approx. 3 sec. There are 19 zooming steps going forward and 51 steps going backward, which allows you to quickly zoom forward and then zoom backward in smaller increments to finetune where you want to stop exactly. All control buttons are easy to press with your thumb and gives the right tactile feedback.

The Olympus SP-500 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and an extra large 2.5 in. LCD monitor. It is clear and easy on the eyes. I love a large LCD, but the use of a standard 115,000 pixels resolution on such a large screen means that the display seems a bit pixelated and it is not quite apparent looking at the captured image if focus has been achieved. The refresh rate is adequate but not as fast and smooth as we'd like. There is a dark coverglass that is anti-glare, and so the image is not as bright as it could be. You can adjust the LCD screen brightness in SETUP. We like the fact that the LCD gains up slightly in low-light to allow composing.

Improvement suggestion: the standard 115,000 pixels does not do the extra large LCD full justice, and a higher resolution is needed. Also, the refresh rate is quite good but a slghtly faster refresh rate would make for a smoother display.

This is a full featured digital camera, and the range of settings are tremendous for someone who wants to learn and grow in photography: Program AE, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority, full Manual, RAW+JPEG, exposure bracketing, 15 sec. long shutter speed plus Bulb, Selective AF Frame, live Histogram, etc.

There are also 21 Scene Modes to make it easy to automate the most common (and sometimes tricky) picture-taking situations. A concise Help Guide can be displayed if you need more help selecting the right Scene Mode for the situation.

If, like me, you usually use Program AE mode and set image quality to SHQ and ISO to 80, then there's one very important thing to remember when using Scene Mode: the camera defaults image quality to HQ and ISO to AUTO. And when you return to Program AE mode, the image quality and ISO does not change back to what you had set before. So be aware of this 'feature'.

Macro is at 7 cm (2.76 in.) and using Super Macro, you can get as close as 3 cm (1.18 in.). Macro settings (as well as exposure compensation settings) are retained even when the camera is turned off and then turned back on again.

The pop-up flash is very powerful and an intelligent feature is that it will progressively increase the shutter speed as the focal length increases (all the way up to 1/250 sec. at full telephoto) so as to reduce camera shake at long focal lengths. When the Flash is open, you can use the Flash button to turn it off (so it won't fire even though it is popped up). The Flash button does not serve any purpose when the flash is closed.

Exposure Compensation is conveniently always ON, and you just need to press the LEFT and RIGHT arrows to dial it in. Advanced photographers will like the fact that you can display a live Histogram. I also find the Framing Guide very useful not only in keeping your horizontals level, but also in using the Rule of Thirds composition.

There is a very effective AF-assist light, but in Super Macro mode, it can get tricky to achieve focus in low-light because the AF-assist light cannot reach a subject that is too close to the lens: the lens barrel is in the way.

You can zoom during Movie recording (320 x 240 @ 30fps) but only if you choose not to record any sound. Movie length is limited only by the capacity of the xD-Picture Card used.

Missing on this long zoom digital camera is image stabilization. Depending on your personal shooting style, this might not be strictly essential, but it is nevertheless very useful at the long telephoto range and when using a slow shutter speed in low-light. After all, it's been a while now since most other digital camera manufacturers have already equipped their long zoom models with image stabilization. There is, however, a Movement Compensation ("Anti-Blur") feature that helps reduce camera shake during movie recording.

As I mentioned, the ergonomics is near perfect -- except for the small square rubber Terminal Cover that is strangely and too tightly hinged at one corner only and so refuses to remain open. Small pet peeve of mine but everytime I have to connect the USB cable, this substracts from the enjoyment of the 'total experience'. This, of course, in no way detracts from all the good qualities of this camera.

I like the Custom Button on top of the camera. It is labelled AEL (AE Lock) so that must be its factory default, but you can customize it to a function you prefer. Besides AE Lock, it can also be customized to: AF Lock, ESP, Macro, Drive, ISO, My Mode, Self-timer, Syncro, Flash, Digital Zoom, Noise Reduction, AF Mode, Focus Mode, Fulltime AF, Voice Memo, AF Predict, Image Quality, WB.

Reviewing images in Playback is a bit on the slow side. It takes 2-3 sec. to move from one image to another.

Transferring images to your PC is simply a matter of connecting the USB cable and either using the Olympus Master software to index the images or simply drag-n-drop in Windows Explorer (on a OC running WIndows XP).

Olympus Master 1.31

The Olympus Master software is very user-friendly and displays all info on one screen, including very complete EXIF info. You can do basic image editing, re: red-eye reduction, brightness, saturation, hue, sharpness.

As usual for Olympus, the Olympus SP-500 only has a printed Quick Start Guide and Basic Instruction Manual. The Advanced Manual is on CD in pdf format (and therefore searchable).

No memory card is supplied in the box, but the camera has about 10MB of internal memory data that will help in a pinch should your memory card fill up. We recommend a 512MB, or even 1GB, xD-Picture Card.

The Olympus SP-500 UZ is well designed, enjoyable to use and very easy to get good pictures with. More importantly to the serious amateur photographer, the wide range of features means that this fine digital camera will take a long time to outgrow.

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