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Olympus SP-500UZ Review

February 2006 | By Simon Joinson

Review based on a production Olympus SP-500UZ

Five and a half years ago, long before Panasonic launched the FZ series, before Canon, Kodak, Minolta - or anyone else for that matter - had joined the 'big zoom' party there was the Olympus C-2100UZ. With its image-stabilized 10x zoom, electronic viewfinder and SLR-styling the C-2100UZ was a big success when it launched mid-2000 (the only alternatives at the time being Sony floppy disk cameras with camcorder lenses).

Fast forward to 2006. The super zoom market has got a lot busier and Olympus has lost its early lead, failing to offer a serious alternative to popular models like the Canon S2IS or the Panasonic FZ20, despite fairly regular upgrades to the compact C7XX series of ultra zoom cameras. The biggest problem is the lack of image stabilization, something that in today's market means 'budget' - and that's where the new, lower-priced (but still IS-free) SP-500UZ comes in.

The six megapixel SP-500UZ - announced last August - offers a 10x zoom, full manual control, RAW capture and a wealth of photographic and digital features. With a feature list as long as your arm, lots of beginner-friendly scene modes, a predictive AF function, which predicts the location of a moving subject at the moment the shutter closes, a nice 2.5-inch screen and a 3cm macro mode, the SP-500UZ certainly seems to offer an excellent 'bang for your buck', but is it good enough to compete in such a crowded area of the market? Lets find out, starting with a quick run-down of the key selling points:

  • 6.0 million pixels
  • 10x zoom lens (38-380mm equiv) F2.8-3.7, plus 5x digital zoom
  • Electronic viewfinder with 201,600 pixels
  • 2.5” LCD
  • Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and manual exposure
  • 21 scene modes
  • Focusing options: iESP auto focus and Spot incl. option for selectable AF area with 143 points, plus Predictive AF for back or forward moving subjects
  • Super Macro mode up to 3cm
  • Histogram function in shooting mode and playback
  • Recording in JPEG or RAW format
  • 10MB internal memory plus xD-Picture Card slot
  • TruePic TURBO image processor
  • Optional macro, tele and wide lens converters can be attached

Olympus SP-500UZ Key specifications

Street price • US: $370
• UK: £280
Body Material Plastic & metal
Sensor • 1/2.5" Type CCD
• 6.4 million pixels total
• 6.0 million effective pixels
Image sizes

• 2816 x 2112
• 2816 x 1877 ( 3:2 )
• 2592 x 1944
• 2288 x 1712
• 2048 x 1536
• 1600 x 1200
• 1280 x 960
• 1024 x 768
• 640 x 480

Movie clips • 320 x 240 @ 30/15 fps
• Up to the capacity of the memory card
• QuickTime Motion JPEG
• Digital Image Stabilizer

• 38 - 380 mm (35 mm equiv) 10x optical zoom
• F 2.8 - 3.7
• 5x Digital Zoom

Focus • Spot
• iESP auto focus
• Predictive AF
• AF area is selectable from 143 points
• Manual focus with enlarged focusing area
Focus distance • Normal: 0.6 m (wide)/ 2m tele
• Macro: Up to 7 cm (wide) / 120cm (tele)
• Super macro: 3cm (wide)
Metering • Digital ESP metering
• Spot metering
• Center-weighted
Shutter speeds 15 - 1/1000 (up to 8 minutes in Bulb mode)
Apertures (W) F2.8 - F8.0, (T) F3.7 - F8.0
Image Parameters • Brightness ± 5
• Saturation ± 5
• Contrast ± 5
• RAW data edit
• Red-eye fix
• Sepia
• Black and white
Shooting mode

• Program
• Aperture priority
• Shutter priority
• Manual
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Landscape and Portrait
• Night Scene
• Night & Portrait
• Sports
• Indoor
• Candle
• Self Portrait
• Available Light Portrait
• Sunset
• Fireworks
• Museum
• Cuisine
• Behind Glass
• Documents
• Auction
• Beach
• Snow
• Shot & Select 1
• Shot & Select 2
• 4 My Modes

Exposure compensation • +/- 2EV
• 1/3 EV steps
Exposure bracketing Up to 5 frames in 1/3 EV steps
Sensitivity • Auto
• ISO 80
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
White balance • Auto
• 7 presets (Overcast, Sunlight, Evening Sun, Tungsten, Fluorescent1, Fluorescent2, Fluorescent3.)
• Manual (custom)
• White balance fine tuning (7 steps, Red - Blue)
Continuous 2.5 shots per second up to 3 images ( High speed mode)
Flash • Built-in
• Modes: Auto, red-eye reduction, fill-in, off, fill in and red-eye reduction
• Range: 0.3 m - 4.5 m (wide) or 1.2 - 3.4 m (tele)
• Guide number: 9
• Flash compensation: +/-2EV
• Slave function for studio flash available
Storage • xD-Picture Card
• 10 MB internal memory
Viewfinder • Electronic viewfinder
• 201,600 pixels
LCD monitor • 2.5" TFT LCD
• 115,000 pixels
Connectivity • USB
• DC in
• AV out
Power • 4x AA (NiMH, NiCd, alkaline, lithium) batteries
• Optional adapter (C-8AC)
In the box*

USB cable
audio/video cable
4 x Alkaline battery AA
OLYMPUS Master 1.31.

Other features

• EXIF 2.2
• PictBridge
• Optional lens converters WCON-07& TCON-17 (via CLA-4 adapter)
• AF assist lamp
• Playback and record histogram
• Raw Data Edit (in-camera)
• Noise reduction on/off (0.5 second exposure or more)
• Saved image editing
Time lapse (interval) shooting - 2 to 99 shots, 1 to 60 minute intervals.

Weight (excl batt) 285 g (10.1 oz)
Dimensions 106 x 75 x 71 mm (4.1 x 2.9 x 2.8 in)

* Supplied accessories may differ in each country or area

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

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This article is Copyright 2006 and may NOT in part or in whole be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author.

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