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
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).
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,
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
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.