Olympus step up the pace with the SP-570UZ bridge camera. It has a bigger zoom than others in its class, but is it the teachers pet or the dunce?
Olympus SP-570 UZ: Specification
Optical zoom: 20x
Sensor type: CCD
Focal length: 26-520mm
Max aperture: f/2.8-4.5
Screen size: 2.7in
Card format: xD Picture card
Power: 4x AA
Image size: 3648x2736
Minimum focus distance: 10mm
Just shy of £284, the Olympus compares price-wise with the Nikon P80 at £282. Part of the Nikon large zoom range it has a smaller 18x optical zoom, the same 10Mp resolution and both have image stabilisation.
Similarly, the Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd with a lower price of £266, a lower 18x zoom but the same resolution and a super close 1cm macro mode.
Olympus SP-570 UZ: Modes and features
The main feature of this camera that needs to be talked about in this camera is the huge 20x optical zoom which doesn't seem to have added to the size of the lens when compared with other large zoom models or previous Olympus models in this range.
The zoom is manual and in operation has to be rotated anti-clockwise which is the opposite direction to most other cameras. It's also pretty unresponsive and even though it's on a zoom ring, still works in the annoying steps found when using a zoom rocker switch.
On the lens barrel is the drive button for Continuous Shooting and there are six options to choose from. They are: Single, Sequential, High Speed 1, High Speed 2, Pre-Capture, AF Sequential and Bracketing.
High Speed 1 mode selects a lower burst rate to retain image quality while High Speed 2 selects a higher burst rate but at the expense of resolution. The AF/MF switch sat below that allows you to choose between Auto or Manual Focus.
Moving up to the top of the camera, the flash pop-up button is sat on the left shoulder of the camera below the flash. The film plane icon is stamped into the side of the camera approx 1cm behind the button. The Olympus SP-570 UZ features a built-in flash as well as a hotshoe for attaching external Olympus dedicated flash units. As with DSLRs, the hotshoe sits on top of the viewfinder and the one fitted to the SP-570 is electronic. It's relatively bright with the same effect found when using a viewfinder on a camcorder. However the motion blur is pretty cranky and moving the camera from side to side makes the image jump along as though the frame rate it runs at can't keep up.
As always with cameras of this classification, the mode dial is sat next to the flash and viewfinder on the right shoulder and on the SP-570 the power switch is located under the dial. It has the usual PASM controls for creative shooting along with Auto, Playback, Video, Scenes and a Custom option.
Next to the dial is a thumb wheel for adjusting things such as the shutter speed and aperture or for zooming in on images already taken. The exposure compensation button is on the crest of a ledge in front of these two dials and the shutter release button sits in a concave dip designed to fit your finger.
The back of the camera has so much happening it's difficult to know where to start. A dioptre control wheel is next to the viewfinder for controlling the focus of the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Down the left side are four buttons to access playback, shadow adjustment, the main menu and info. Interestingly, the info button doesn't just change the display of the screen or EVF, although if you're using it for that you can take advantage of a rule-of-thirds grid and histogram. Otherwise the info button will give you a brief description of the mode you're looking to choose in the menu systems which is a nice touch.
The 2.7in HyperCrystal LCD screen sits slightly off centre from the EVF putting it more to the middle of the camera. The display button to switch between the screen and EVF is directly above with the AEL/AFL button next to it.
A thumb pad takes up the top right quarter of the camera and a small navigation pad sits at the bottom. The four buttons help steer you through the tangled menu systems and also double up as quick access to macro, flash options, self-timer and custom which allows you to set a defined feature to it.
The function button will bring up the functions that are enabled or disabled and this display can be explored using the navigation buttons. Unusually, they can't be accessed at this stage but have to be changed in the normal menu which I can't understand.
The main menu is the same as other compacts and has seven separate areas to choose and they are laid out like thumbnails. The camera menu for shooting modes is the primary menu and therefore located at the centre and highlighted by default. The other menus are the for resolution, reset functions, set-up, silent mode, panorama and scenes. The panoramic mode will only highlight if a compatible xD picture card is put in the camera, ie, an Olympus one and the scenes menu will blank out if the mode dial isn't set to Scene.
Olympus SP-570 UZ: Build and handling
Long zoom compacts such as the Olympus SP-570 UZ have a good build quality as standard. The glass is Olympus' ED lens and everything feels solid. The zoom ring is smooth and has just the right amount of tension for easy use although even after a few days of using it, I still can't shake off years of zooming in the opposite direction.
The tripod bush is metal to ensure a longer lifetime and staying under the camera, the batteries are AA taking up most of the grip to house them.
Ergonomically, the grip is styled nicely although the shutter release is a bit too far over right for my hands but someone with shorter fingers shouldn't have a problem with this issue.
Olympus SP-570 UZ: Flash options
Flash options are accessed by pressing the right arrow key on the navigation pad. They will only come up on screen when the flash has been activated by pressing the pop-up button on the left shoulder.
Your options in the sub-menu are Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-In (Forced on), Red-Eye and Fill-In, Flash Off, Slow Shutter, Slow Shutter with Red-Eye and Slow 2.
The difference between Slow Shutter and Slow 2 is when the flash fires. In Slow 2, the flash fires as the shutter closes instead of when it opens.
Olympus SP-570 UZ: Performance
In the modes and features section, I previously listed the different continuous shooting modes available. In standard continuous, the Olympus SP-570 UZ managed a grand total of seven shots in 10 seconds. Not a blistering start, but moving onto the next option of High Speed 1 which lowers the resolution to 5Mp allowing a faster frames-per-second (fps) rate than usual.
The camera gave a brilliant result as it managed 30 images in only five seconds which equates to 6fps. However, the camera got to 30 frames and had to stop and download the buffer which took a further six seconds taking me over the 10 second limit. The High Speed 2 mode lowers the resolution down further to 3Mp for an even faster fps rate and managed to take 30 shots in 2.5seconds before downloading. Similarly to the previous mode, the camera stops at 30 frames and downloads from the buffer to the memory card and again this took over the 10 second limit.
Colour reproduction is on and off depending on the area you're looking at. The primary colours look balanced enough with the mono tones coming out evenly. The skin tone looks more peach than skin which is unfortunate but may be a benefit with warmer tones if portraits are your thing.
Opening up the EXIF data on the landscape image shows the exposure program as biased toward depth-of-field which signals landscape mode was used and the ISO is a low 64 rating for smooth images. However, the aperture has been set to f/5.6 by the camera which only serves to send the background out of focus. The bars are in the shade so the contrast from them is reduced. The white writing on the wall of the lock is showing slight fringing as is the slit of white paint that can be seen on the lock winch to the left of the image.
The macro mode has two options of macro and super macro. The super mode can get in as close as 1cm which is great but proves frustrating trying to avoid casting a shadow from the camera when it gets too close.
In a similar way, the Olympus SP-570UZ has a 20x optical zoom to ensure those far away objects come in as close as possible. Add to that a digital zoom and you're laughing. Just be careful as image quality does start to deteriorate with the digital zoom.
The wide angle focal length is 26mm which isn't going to win any awards, but when the 20x optical zoom comes into play, it ensures a top end focal length of 520mm. Frankly this could win an award as long as it gives decent pictures.
Of course with a great zoom comes great responsibilty. Olympus have to ensure that the image at full zoom is still going to be sharp and looking at the image on the right, I'm happy. The image stabiliser starts to work when the shutter button is half pressed and works as a slurry delay style reminiscent of camcorders.
Lens quality is showing through as the aperture is a decent f/4.5 at the top end. To give you an idea of the capability of the zoom, the image on the right is the full telephoto of the image above. The house can be seen on the enlarged version of the wide-angle shot just off-centre to the right of the frame next to the light strip which is actually a dam wall of a reservoir.
You can look at the larger version by simply clicking on the image. You can also zoom in with the default magnifier.
A number of cameras are also focusing on dynamic range adjustment and the Olympus SP-570UZ has a feature called Shadow Adjustment. It's the second button down the side of the screen on the back of the camera and also serves as the delete button in playback.
It works by analysing the image and increasing detail in shadow areas giving a more balanced exposure. This can prove unfortunate if you're the type that enjoys contrast in your images, as you're likely to be disappointed with the results.
The standard shot is taken in Landscape mode to add some colour to the green and blue. It shows a lot of shadow on the left hillside because of the sun's positioning to the left of the image.
The sky is a nice blue and the greens are rich with good definition. Looking at the image with the Shadow Adjustment on you can see that the grassy area to the right of the path has lost a lot of its detail.
The two trees in the centre of the frame and the bushes either side have paled in colour beacuse the highlights and lowlights have been more balanced. Where the feature does work is on the dark area on the hillside to the left of the frame. In the original, this primarily dark area needs a boost and the Shadow Adjustment has done just that, but the rest of the picture has suffered as a consequence.
Even the sky has lost some of its punch which can really only be seen in the clouds as they are lacking in definition and have turned more of a grey colour.
If portraits are your thing then the portrait mode of the Olympus SP-570UZ gives a slightly warmer tone to the skin. The background is a balanced neutral tone which gives a good result.
Powering the flash in the portrait mode gives the necessary catchlights, does its job filling in shadows and it's not overpowering which I like.
Olympus SP-570UZ: Noise test
Looking at the photographs from a distance won't cause any problems for you until you get to ISO800 and higher, when the noise causes a greying of the overall image. Moving into full size, the noise actually starts showing at ISO200 which is just shy of an acceptable performance for a camera with a dedicated processor.
The top ISO rating is ISO6400 which actually knocks the resolution down to 5Mp in an attempt to repair damage from noise, but it's still a shocking picture.
The ISO64 test.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
The ISO6400 test.
Olympus SP-570UZ: Verdict
There are some questions raised regarding the design of this camera: Why is the zoom working in steps when a ring is used? Why can't I access the quick menu from the back screen instead of going into the main menu?
I can't help but think that the camera has been released because Olympus wanted to stick a 20x optical zoom into a camera and raise its profile over the top of the other models that are in the same classification. It's a shame that simple areas are lacking as that has the possibility of sullying Olympus' new found respect in the performance camera arena thanks, in part to the DSLRs doing so well.
If you're looking for a camera that has a stupidly large zoom bolted on the front, then this camera is right up your street, just be careful that the rest of the camera can come up to scratch for your needs.
Olympus SP-570UZ: Plus points
Large 20x optical zoom
Info button for quick knowledge
Olympus SP-570UZ: Minus points
Inaccessible quick menu
The Olympus SP-570UZ costs just under £284 and is available in the ePHOTOzine shop here.