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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Olympus SP-550 UZ


   


Olympus SP-550 UZ Review

Review Date: May 7, 2007

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Olympus SP-550 UZ

HANDLING & FEEL

The Olympus SP-550 UZ is medium compact in size and it just boggles the mind that an optical 18x ultra zoom is housed in the handsome dark grey-finish body. The finish is a mixture of non-slip texturized rubber covering the handgrip and smooth satin grey hard polycarbonate plastic for the rest of the body, plus silver/chrome accents to tie it all together into a very good looking camera. The result is a tightly built body with excellent construction and balance. The handgrip is one of the best I've used on an ultra zoom and feels comfortably secure with all my fingers finding a resting place. The camera is a few mm wider (11mm), higher (4mm) and deeper (8mm) than the SP-510 UZ it replaces.

The zoom goes from a satisfying wide-angle 28mm to an incredible tele reach of 504mm (focal lengths throughout this review are expressed in 35mm equivalent). The 18x optical zoom is currently the longest available in an ultra zoom digital camera with its closest competitors maxing out at 12x optical zoom. Wide-angle and ultra zoom all in one! Kudos to Olympus for this impressive optical feat. And don't forget the CCD-shift image stabilization -- a first for Olympus ultra zoom digital cameras.

With the camera powered on, the lens extends approx. 23mm (< 1 in.) and takes approx. 2.5 sec. to do so. At full zoom, the lens extends approx. an additional 40mm (@1.5 in.) and takes approx. 3 sec. to do so. A lens cap sits on top of the lens barrel and is just loose enough that the extruding lens will not jam but will safely push it off the lens barrel should you turn on the camera and forget to remove the lens cap first. A retaining string ensures you do not lose the lens cap.

The camera is ready to go (lens extended, LCD on) in about 3 sec. This is about 1 sec. longer than for the SP-500 UZ and a relatively long startup time compared to the competition (about 2 sec.). Shot to shot time is also quite long, at about 4 sec. with most of that time apparently taken with writing the image to the xD-Picture Card. AF time is below average and can take up to 4 sec. at full tele to lock focus in low-light. Depending on your type of photography, this performance may or may not be an issue with you.

The SP-550 UZ sports a large 2.5-in. LCD screen with a high 230,000 pixels resolution. The EVF is excellent with a smooth display and the image appears bright (without hurting my eyes), clear and crisp letting you know when focus lock is achieved. There is a diopter adjustment that works very well. I can see the whole viewfinder display even with glasses on. As with other EVFs, exposure data and a framing grid or histogram can be superimposed.

STYLE
- Colours: overall grey with silver and chrome accents
- Looks: SLR-style, handsome
   
FEEL
- Comfortable grip
- Controls spaced well
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- Medium Compact: best carried hung around the neck or shoulder
- Dimensions: 116 x 78.5 x 78 mm /
4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 in.
- Weight: 365g / 12.9 oz. without batteries and media card
- Takes 4 AA batteries
   
SPEED OF OPERATION
- Below average startup with lens extending about 23 mm (0.9 in.) and LCD turning on in about 3 sec.
- Shot to shot time about 4 sec.
- AF feels a bit sluggish and can take up to 4 sec. at full tele in low-light
- Shutter lag in good light at wide-angle about 1 sec., more if AF time included, none if pre-focused
   

Included in the box are 4 AA Alkaline batteries. Battery life is excellent even using Alkaline batteries (@ 490 shots CIPA Standard). We recommend that you purchase 4 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and a battery charger.

Controls

Olympus SP-550 UZ Top View

The top of the camera has the Power Button, the Stabilizer button (customizable), the Shutter Release Button, the Zoom Lever around the shutter release button, and the Mode Dial. The Mode Dial has AUTO, P, A, S, M, My Mode (4 available), GUIDE, SCN (Scene Modes), Movie and Playback. The molded shape of the excellent handgrip is clearly visible from this angle.

The SP-550 UZ has full exposure flexibility, with PASM, plus Scene Modes. In addition, there is a GUIDE setting on the Mode Dial that attempts to answer the most common questions beginners ask by providing various solutions to a "problem." For example, if you take a picture and it turns out too dark, the GUIDE offers two ways that you can brighten it: 1) Dial in an exposure compensation (+1.0EV), or 2) Use fill-in flash (you need to pop up the flash up first, of course). You select the option you want and it's set! It's really helpful for beginners as a learning tool. There are 15 subjects covered in the GUIDE:

1 Brightening subject
2 Shooting into backlight
3 Set particular lighting
4 Blurring background
5 Adjusting area in focus
6 Shooting subject in motion
7 Targeting with assistance
8 Close up photo
9 Super close up photo
10 Shooting at night
11 Reducing blur
12 Hi-speed sequential shots
13 Don't miss the shot
14 Reducing red-eye
15 Adjusting image quality

The flash is of the pop-up kind (button on the left side) and needs to be manually popped up. Beginners who rely on the camera to fire the flash automatically will need to remember to pop up the flash first; every one else will be happy they have full control over when the flash fires. The flash can be set to fire front curtain or rear curtain, allowing you to take those streaking car light special effects.

The Zoom Lever is around the Shutter Button and it takes about 3 sec. to zoom from wide to tele. The zooming is very smooth and I counted about 28 intermediate steps going from W to T and about 52 steps from T to W, which makes it possible to stop the zoom pretty much at the point where you want it to. Most of the SP-550 UZ's competitors have a manual zoom ring and a manual focus ring, and these would have made a tremedous difference to the enjoyment of this camera.

Stabilizer Button Camera Menu

To turn the CCD-Shift Image Stabilizer on, all you need to do is press the Stabilizer button and select ON. However, since the Stabilizer button can be customized to some other function, you can also set Image Stabilizer on in the MENU.

   

There are a number of Continuous shooting options and it's all a bit confusing figuring out when options are available and when they are not. The Instruction Manual is no help here. For example, the HI 1 and Hi 2 options are available only when ISO is set to AUTO or ISO 400 and above.

Only the Sequential option allows you to shoot at highest quality JPEG (none of the options allows RAW shooting) at 1.3fps for 3 frames max. Hi 1 takes up to 15 frames at 5fps at 2048x1536 (3M). Hi 2 takes up to 20 frames at 15fps at 1280x960 (1.2M).

A Pre-capture option on Hi 2 allows the 5 frames just prior to fully pressing the shutter release button. It's pretty neat and helps you "catch the moment" though at 1280x960 (1.2M) resolution.

AF drive mode adjusts the focus for each frame.

This means that you get the advertised high continuous shooting only if you are willing to live with low resolution and noisy images.

I used a 1.0GB Olympus xD-Picture Card Type M.

Video Storage Capacity
Internal
1GB
SHQ 640x480 30fps 10s 9m 28s or 15s
HQ 640x480 15fps 21s 18m 56s
SQ1 320x240 30fps 29s 25m 49s
SQ2 320x240 15fps 59s 51m 38s

You can record movies with sound limited only by the size of your memory card. You can store approx. 10 sec. of SHQ movie in the Internal Memory, or approx. 9 min. 28 sec. on a 1GB xD-Picture Card.

Note that if you are not using a High Speed xD-Picture Card (Type H), you'll be able to store only 15 sec. of SHQ movie (the other Image Quality options do not seem to be affected).

If sound is set ON, you cannot use optical zoom (you can use digital zoom) during movie recording nor use the Image Stabilizer. If the sound is turned OFF, you can use the optical zoom and the Image Stabilizer (though with Image Stabilizer ON, Olympus warns that the camera will heat up and may stop recording, in which case you need to remove the battery and allow the camera to cool down). If Full Time AF is ON, the sound of the focusing will be recorded.

No xD-Picture Card comes with the camera but there is approx. 20MB of internal memory.

xD-Picture Card Storage Capacity (approx.)
Quality Pixels IN (20MB) 1GB
RAW 3072x2304 1 97
RAW + SHQ 3072x2304 1 70
RAW + HQ 3072x2304 1 84
RAW + SQ1 3072x2304 1 90
RAW + SQ2 3072x2304 1 96
SHQ 3072x2304 4 246
SHQ 3:2 3072x2048 4 251
HQ 3072x2304 10 561
HQ 3:2 3072x2048 12 627
SQ1 2560x1920 High 7 412
2560x1920 Normal 16 841
2304x1728 High 8 418
2304x1728 Normal 19 1031
2048x1536 High 8 444
2048x1536 Normal 25 1305
SQ2 1600x1200 High 13 726
1600x1200 Normal 39 2063
1280x960 High 21 1122
1280x96 Normal 61 3198
1024x768 High 33 1728
1024x768 Normal 94 4920
640x480 High 82 4264
640x480 Normal 205 9999
16:9 1920x1080 27 1453

Unlike some digital cameras that only give you a few image quality / image size options, the SP-550 UZ gives you a plethora of image quality / image sizes combinations. (However, we can't help wondering if all that is really necessary.)

RAW can be saved by itself or in combination with a JPEG mode. It takes about 8 sec. to save a RAW file, and 12 sec. to save a RAW + JPEG files. At JPEG SHQ, 246 images can be saved on a 1GB xD-Picture Card. We recomend that you purchase either a 1GB or 2GB card, depending on the number of images you normally shoot in one session.

Olympus SP-550 UZ Back View

The back is well organized: there is a large 2.5 in. LCD monitor, and the controls are on the right side, adequately well spaced out. The thumb area slopes up to the right to provide a comfortable and sure hold.

FUNCTIONS ACCESSIBLE BY CONTROL BUTTONS (clockwise starting from the EVF/LCD button)
- EVF/LCD toggles between the EVF and LCD. EVF has diopter adjustment.
- MENU
- Review/Playback
- Arrow Pad: UP (Exposure Compensation), RIGHT (Flash Auto, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Red-eye fill-in, Slow, Off -- only if flash is popped up), DOWN (Self-timer 12s, 2s), LEFT (Macro, SuperMacro)
- OK/FUNC (WB, ISO, Drive, Metering)
- DISP: Info (Normal), No info (Simple), Info + Grid (FRame Assist), Info + Histogram
- ERASE (only one image at a time)
   
EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
- Once set, the Exposure Compensation Indicator conveniently stays displayed on screen until it is reset to "0"
- Range: -2 EV to +2 EV (13 steps in 1/3 EV increments)
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you use
- Note: the exposure compensation value selected is retained even when the camera is turned off (so remember to reset to "0" after using it or the next time you turn the camera on, your shots may be over- or under-exposed.)
   
MACRO
- Normal Mode:
Wide: 3.94” (0.1m) – infinity
Tele: 47.24” (1.2m) – infinity
-

Macro Mode:
Wide: 3.94” (0.1m)
Tele: 47.24” (1.2m)

-

Super Macro:
0.39” (0.98cm) – infinity

- Note: Macro/Super Macro stays selected even when you turn the camera off and on again.
   
SHUTTER SPEED RANGES
- P: 1/2 - 1/2,000 sec. (no Program Shift)
-

A: 4 (NR on), 1/2 - 1/1,000 sec.

W: F2.8 - F8.0
T: F4.5 - F8.0

-

S: 4 (NR on), 1/2 - 1/1,000 sec.

W: F2.8 - F8.0
T: F4.5 - F8.0

-

M: 15 - 1/1,000 sec. (F2.8 - F4.0) - 1/2000 (F4.5 - F8.0)

W: F2.8 - F8.0
T: F4.5 - F8.0

-

BULB: Up to 8 min. with ISO 50, 100 or 200

   

The USB connector is covered by a square rubber flap. The bottom of the camera has a plastic [!] tripod socket and the battery compartment has a safety lock to prevent accidental opening of the compartment.

LCD & Menus

There is an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a large 2.5 in. LCD monitor with a high 230,000 pixels resolution. The EVF is one of the best I've used, bright, clear and crisp -- without hurting my eyes as most high resolution EVFs do.

The LCD has a fast enough refresh rate for a smooth display. The LCD monitor's brightness can be adjusted in MENU/SETUP. The LCD gains up very nicely in low-light. Also when you half-press, it will focus and the resulting display will gain up even more.

There is a very effective AF-assist which makes auto focus to be precise even in low-light situations. [Except in situations where the AF light cannot reach a subject that is too close to the lens, as in Super Macro mode.]

The Menu Structure has improved but is still quite hierarchical, which makes for lots of button presses and generally slow navigation.

CAMERA MENU

CAMERA MENU 1 of 5

- WB
- ISO
- Drive
- Metering
- Fine Zoom

CAMERA MENU 2 of 5

- AF Mode
- Focus Mode
- Fulltime AF
- AF Predict (for subject moving toward or away from camera)

CAMERA MENU 3 of 5

- AF Illuminator
- Image Stabilizer
- Flash Compensation
Flash - Syncro (SYNC1 = Front Curtain, SYNC2 = Rear Curtain)
- Flash (IN, SLAVE)

CAMERA MENU 4 of 5

- Voice memo
- Panorama
- WB Adjust
- Sharpness
- Contrast

CAMERA MENU 5 of 5

- Saturation
- Noise Reduction
- Timelapse
- Conversion Lens

WHITE BALANCE

- Auto
- Preset
- One-touch WB

WHITE BALANCE - PRESET

- Auto
- Sunny day
- Cloudy day
- Tungsten light

WHITE BALANCE 3 of 4

- Fluorescent lamp 1 (home daylight fluorescent)
- Fluorescent lamp 2 (desk lamps neutral white fluorescent)
- Fluorescent lamp 3 (office white fluorescent)

WHITE BALANCE - ONE TOUCH WB

 

ISO 1 of 3

- Auto (up tp ISO 400)
- High ISO Auto (up to ISO 1600 ?)
- 50
- 100

ISO 2 of 3

- 200
- 400
- 800
- 1600

ISO 3 of 3

- 3200 (SQ1 2048x1536)
- 5000 (SQ1 2048x1536)

DRIVE 1 of 2

- Normal
- Sequential
- Hi Speed 1 (2048x1536)
- Hi Speed 2 (2048x1536)

DRIVE 2 of 2

- AF
- AEB

METERING

- ESP (Multi-Pattern)
- Spot (Center)
- Center-weighted average

AF MODE

- iESP
- Spot
- Area (13 horizontal x 11 vertical = 143 areas, pretty much up to the screen edges)

- With AREA, press and hold OK button down to activate and set it

FOCUS MODE

- AF
- MF

PANORAMA

- Horizontal Left to Right or Right to Left
- Vertical Top to Bottom or Bottom to Top

Only with Olympus xD-Picture Card

 

SETUP MENU

SETUP 1 of 5

- Format
- Backup
- Language
- Power on Setup (Screen, Sound)
- Screen Setup

SETUP 2 of 5

- Beep
- Warnings
- Shutter Sound
- Volume
- Rec View

SETUP 3 of 5

- File Name
- Pixel Mapping
- LCD Monitor Brightness
- Clock
- Dual Time

SETUP 4 of 5

- Alarm Clock
- Video Out
- Frame Assist
- Histogram
- My Mode Setup

SETUP 5 of 5

- m/ft
- Custom Button

LANGUAGE

 

FRAME ASSIST

- Grid
- Verticals (to obtain absolute center of screen)

HISTOGRAM

- Off
- Live Histogram
- Direct (Black and white areas)

CUSTOM 1 of 4

- Image Stabilizer
- AE Lock
- AF Lock
- Image Quality

CUSTOM 2 of 4

- Fine Zoom
- Digital Zoom
- AF Mode
- Focus Mode

CUSTOM 3 of 4

- Fulltime AF
- AF Predict
- Syncro
- Flash

CUSTOM 4 of 4

- Voice Memo
- Noise Reduction

 

SCENE MODE MENU

 

SCENE MODE 1 of 5

- Portrait
- Landscape
- Landscape + Portrait
- Sport
- Night Scene

SCENE MODE 2 of 5

- Night+Portrait
- Indoor
- Candle
- Self-Portrait
- Available Light

SCENE MODE 3 of 5

- Sunset
- Fireworks
- Cuisine
- Behind Glass
- Documents

SCENE MODE 4 of 5

- Auction
- Shoot & Select 1
- Shoot & Select 2
- Beach
- Snow

SCENE MODE 5 of 5

- Underwater Wide 1
- Underwater Wide 2
- Underwater Macro

SCENE MODE HELP

- After approx. 4 sec. a help screen appears for the selected Scene Mode

 

FUNC - White Balance 1 of 2

- AWB, Sunny day, Cloudy day, Tungsten light, Fluorescent lamp 1 (daylight / home), Fluorescent lamp 2 (neutral white - desk lamps), Fluorescent lamp 3 (white - offices)

FUNC - White Balance 2 of 2

- One Touch WB

FUNC - ISO 1 of 2

- Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400

FUNC -ISO 2 of 2

- 800, 1600, 3200, 5000

FUNC - DRIVE 1 of 2

- NOrmal, Sequential, HI 1, HI 2, HI 2 Pre-capture

FUNC - DRIVE 2 of 2

- AF, AEB

FUNC - METERING

- ESP (Multi-Pattern), Spot, Center-weighted average

 

IMAGE QUALITY

IMAGE QUALITY 1 of 2

- RAW
- SHQ
- HQ
- SQ1

IMAGE QUALITY 2 of 2

- SQ2
- 16:9

SILENT MODE

- Turns off operational sound (warning beeps, shutter sounds, etc.)

 

PLAYBACK MENU

PLAYBACK MENU OPTIONS

- Protect
- Rotate
- Voice Memo (4 sec.)

ERASE MENU

ERASE - ALL

ERASE - ALL Confirm

- It takes 7 button presses to earse all images on your camera

 

 

PROGRAM

- Battery indicator, Program, 1/30 sec. shutter speed, F2.8 aperture, +0.7EV exposure compensation
- 2s self-timer, Flash on
- Image Stabilizer
- One Touch WB
- ISO 100, Macro
- Sequential, xD-Picture Card
- Image Quality SHQ, Image Size 3072x2304, Space left for 245 images
- Frame assist displayed

LIVE HISTOGRAM

- Cannot display both grid and histogram at the same time

The Olympus SP-550 UZ has very good build and construction, an excellent handgrip, and well spaced controls. It has lots of useful features, a very good EVF and LCD monitor that gains up very well in low-light situations. Overall, Olympus has given its ultra zoom a new SLR-like look and feel, and this works very well. Only letdown is the sluggish performance and lack of manual zoom and focus rings.

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