The Olympus SP-590UZ continues to lead the ultra zoom category with a whopping 26x wide-angle optical zoom lens (26-676mm equiv.) that allows you to take pictures of large groups and wide landscapes as well as reach out to whatever speck you see far off on the horizon and capture it Up Close & Personal in full 12 megapixel resolution. In Super Macro mode, you can get as close as 1 cm (0.4 in.) to your subject. Add in PASM mode, Sensor-shift Image Stabilization, and lots of useful features, and there's not much not to like about the SP-590UZ.
While other ultra zoom digital cameras also have similar features, I believe the Olympus SP-590UZ has succeeded in putting them all together into one package that works quite well. One of the very first thing I check for in a new camera is the AF. There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to get a focus lock on your subject. Well, the SP-590UZ has no problem in that department: AF is fast and precise in both good light and low light -- consistently good.
I love long zooms. Olympus more or less invented and/or popularized the ultra zoom category and I remember the first one I used that started my love affair with ultra zooms: the Camedia C-770 UZ with "only" 10x zoom. I am like that happy camper in the Olympus marketing picture above. The message in that marketing picture is, of course, that the SP-590UZ, with its 26x zoom, is equivalent to or better than the DSLR with the gargantuan lens the poor bloke on the right is using. And, look Ma, no tripod!
But reality strikes as soon as you zoom max and take a few test shots. As much as the tele reach on the new ultra zoom digital cameras is attractive and incredible, we need to pause and take stock. First, it was the megapixels race, and now it seems that the megazoom race has started. Consider that at 676mm (35mm equivalent), you'll need to use a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. without the Image Stabilizer turned ON or at least 1/250 sec. (assume a 2 stop gain with the Image Stabilizer turned ON) to obtain blur-free hand held shots. This means that you can use that max telephoto only in very bright sunny conditions, unless you use a tripod (or monopod). Whether you personally will be able to use that max tele hand held will depend a lot on how stable you can hold your camera.
Some early users of the SP-590UZ reported AF problems on the forum boards. I have not had any AF problems, but as I mentioned above, it can be quite challenging to avoid camera shake at the long end of the zoom and this might result in blurred shots.
I suggest that you take a few test shots hand held at different focal lengths in good lighting (and with the Image Stabilizer turned ON), starting at wide-angle and zooming in each time. Then review your pictures and see when your shots start to show blurring. You'll then have a pretty good idea when you need to further stabilize the camera -- i.e. use a tripod (and you'll need to then turn the camera's Image Stabilizer OFF). That's in good light -- expect that it will be even more challenging in low light.
The SP-590UZ has a very nicely implemented Area
AF where the AF Frame can be moved about on the
screen for off-centre focusing. The SP-590UZ
Area AF has 13 across x 11 down =
123 positions that go almost to the edge of the
screen! You select AF Mode = AREA in the
MENU. At first, I could not figure out how to operate the Area AF. It does not matter what button I pressed, nothing happened. Back to the Instruction Manual and I find that you have press and hold the OK/FUNC button for about 1
sec., then use the ARROW Keys to position the AF frame on
screen. Then press and hold the OK/FUNC button
for another 1 sec. to set it in its new position.
Easy and intuitive enough once you know how it works -- though the 1 sec. hold does slow
things down slightly.
Olympus likes to do things differently from other camera manufacturers. We've seen this result in many innovations as well as a number of quirky operational functions. The menu is one complaint we've had for some time now and we're glad to say that it has improved tremendously. One thing it still retains is the "main menu" screen which, I have to admit, looks very attractive in its newest design. I can live with it but should point out that it still slows things down a bit because you cannot go from Shooting Menu to Image Quality or Setup; you have to first exit one, bring up Main Menu again and navigate to the other one. A small improvement suggestion is to convert this Main Menu to "real" tabs. The current numbered tabs in the sub menus do not mean anything right now; they're just page numbers and don't help us jump from one group of options to another quickly. But like I said, I am very happy with the menu.
Another improvement suggestion that is a little more important is the online Instruction Manual. Olympus really needs to review this manual completely, from the [too many] number and types of fonts used, the large numbers, the busy design, the lines and shading, the two column format, etc. that make for a cluttered and difficult-to-read manual. It can be quite challenging finding the right information, even using the index. The manual is also not complete, or else I just could not find what I was looking for. It's OK if this camera is targeted to beginners only, but serious and advanced photographers will want answers to continuous shooting speed, shutter speed ranges in the different shooting modes, etc.
For example, I could not figure out why the histogram option was greyed out in the menu. The manual is silent about this and it is only through trial and error that I finally figure it out and so now I have a question for Olympus: Why can't the Live Histogram be displayed when Area AF is on? There is also a setting combination where the Live Histogram will display only in the EVF but not on the LCD, but I don't remember how I got that.
A digital camera targeted to serious and advanced
photographers should have a Live Histogram. There
is nothing like a Live Histogram to help you determine
whether your image is correctly exposed. You cannot
rely on the LCD monitor no matter how clear and
detailed it is because today's LCD monitors tend
to adjust its display (usually, brighten) to present
a bright picture. So it's quite easy to mistake
an underexposed picture as correctly exposed on
such LCD monitors. The SP-590UZ has two (2) Live Histograms!
Besides the traditional
histogram with a distribution curve, you can
also opt for a display of bright and dark areas.
The Olympus Master 2 software is very user-friendly. It displays all info on one screen, including
very complete EXIF info. You can do image editing,
resize, crop, insert text, brightness & contrast,
color balance, tone curve, gamma, auto tone correction,
hue & saturation, monochrome & sepia,
sharpness & blur, distortion correction and
red-eye reduction. It also processes RAW files: exposure compensation,
white balance, picture mode, contrast, sharpness,
saturation, B&W filter, picture tone, gradation,
noise filter and color space. Notice the YouTube icon that allows you to easily upload a video (limited to 10 min and 100MB) to your YouTube account.
The Olympus SP-590UZ has most everything a beginner or serious amateur photographer needs ( only RAW file format and hot shoe are missing). Consider: super macro at 1 cm, satisfying wide-angle at 26mm, incredible tele reach at 676mm, full exposure flexibility with PASM, sensor-shift image stabilization, fast and precise AF in good and low lighting, a much improved menu system, and, more importantly, all of this packaged together so they work as a complete whole.