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Timing & Performance

Unsurprisingly the SP-500UZ sits roughly in the middle of the 'super zoom' pack performance-wise. In use it feels very 'snappy', though focus can be very slow at the long end of the zoom and in low light (to be fair the low-light focus is a lot more reliable than many competitors). The slow xD picture card read / write speeds mean scrolling through images can feel slow in playback mode, and the time taken to empty the buffer after a burst of shots in continuous mode feels like an eternity. Note that we originally tested the SP-500UZ with a standard xD card, then re-tested it with one of Olympus' new 'High Speed' cards, which improves write speeds considerably, but seems have little or no effect on read speeds.

Timing notes

All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 2816 x 2112 SHQ JPEG image (approx. 3,300 KB per image). The media used for these tests was an Olympus High Speed 512MB xD-Picture Card.

Action Details
Time, secs
Power: Off to Record   2.5 *1
Power: Off to Play Image displayed 6.0
Power: Record to Off All activity ceased 2.5
Power: Play to Off When buffer is empty, lens extended 2.6
Power: Play to Off When buffer is empty, lens already retracted 1.5
Record Review Image displayed ~0.6
Mode: Record to Play   2.5
Mode: Play to Record   1.9
Play: Magnify To full magnification (10x) ~1.2
Play: Image to Image Time to display each saved image ~1.7
Play: Thumbnail view 2 x 2 thumbnails ~0.9
Play: Thumbnail view 3 x 3 thumbnails ~2.0
Play: Thumbnail view 4 x 4 thumbnails ~3.6
Play: Thumbnail view 5 x 5 thumbnails ~5.9

Action Details
Time, seconds
Zoom from Wide to Tele 38 to 380 mm (10 x) 2.1
Half-press Lag (0->S1) Wide angle ~0.6 *2
Half-press Lag (0->S1) Telephoto ~0.9 *3
Half to Full-press Lag (S1->S2) LCD live view ~0.06
Half to Full-press Lag (S1->S2) Viewfinder ~0.06
Full-press Lag (0->S2) LCD live view, wide angle ~0.6
Off to Shot Taken LCD live view ~4.5
Shot to Shot Flash off 2.1*4
Shot to Shot Flash on (with red eye reduction off) 2.7*4
Shot to Shot Flash on (with red eye reduction on) 5.0*4
*1 This is the time it takes for the preview image to appear - you cannot actually take a picture until around 3.5 seconds after you've pressed the 'on' button.
*2 Average timing in good light. In low light or when the subject lacks contrast the time to focus can stretch to as much as 1.5 seconds.
*3 Average timing in good light. In low light or when the subject lacks contrast the time to focus can stretch to as much as 4.0 seconds.
*4 Until the buffer is full (around 5 shots in SHQ mode)

Continuous mode

The tables below show the results of our continuous shooting test, indicating the actual frame rate along with maximum number of frames and how long you would have to wait after taking the maximum number of frames before you could take another shot. The media used for these tests was an Olympus High Speed 512MB xD-Picture Card. Shutter speed was kept above 1/200 sec during these tests.

Continuous drive mode

The SP-500UZ has three burst modes; standard, high speed and 'AF'. The standard burst mode manages a best performance of around 1.9 frames per second (lower than the advertised figure). The number of shots in a burst depends on the image size/quality used, and appears to be limited only by the size of the card once you drop to 2MP or below. The High Speed burst mode allows you to take three shots in rapid succession, and the AF mode - which is much slower - refocuses between each shot (in the other modes focus and exposure are fixed at the first shot). You cannot use RAW mode in any continuous drive mode.

Image Type
Mode
Avg. frames
per sec
Frames in a burst *1
After
burst
2816 x 2112 (6MP) JPEG SHQ Burst 1.2 fps 5 ~6.0s delay *2
2816 x 2112 (6MP) JPEG SHQ Burst-High 1.9 fps 3 ~5.5s delay *2
2816 x 2112 (6MP) JPEG SHQ Burst-AF 0.7 fps *3 ~6 ~5.5s delay *2
2816 x 2112 (6MP) JPEG HQ Burst 1.3 fps 12 ~6.6s delay *2
2816 x 2112 (6MP) JPEG HQ Burst-High 1.8 fps 3 ~5.2s delay *2 
2816 x 2112 (6MP) JPEG HQ Burst-AF 0.7 fps *3 ~15 ~6.0s delay *2
2048 x 1537 (3MP) JPEG HQ Burst 1.2 fps 13 ~8.0s delay *2 
2048 x 1537 (3MP) JPEG HQ Burst-High 1.8 fps 3 ~4.9s delay *2
2048 x 1537 (3MP) JPEG HQ Burst-AF 0.8 fps *3 ~15 ~6.0s delay *2

*1 In a single "burst" (finger held down on shutter release).
*2 Once the buffer is full no more pictures can be taken. The figure shown is the approximate time you have to wait before the next full burst can be started. You can actually take one picture after around 2.0 seconds
*3 Speed varies according to focusing speed. The exact number of shots per burst also varies according to the burst rate - if focusing is slow the buffer can keep up for longer.

Compared to many of its competitors the SP-500UZ's continuous shooting capabilities are a little pedestrian, but for occasional use they will be more than adequate for most users. If you want fast consecutive shooting with fast buffer clearing this isn't the camera for you.

File Write / Display and Sizes

Timings shown below are the time taken for the camera to process and "flush" the image out to the storage card, the timer was started as soon as the shutter release was pressed and stopped when the activity indicator went out. This means the timings also include the camera's processing time and as such are more representative of the actual time to "complete the task". The media used for these tests was an Olympus High Speed 512MB xD-Picture Card. If you use a slower (standard xD) card it takes around 30% longer to write the files.

Image Type
Time to store
(secs)

Time to display
(secs)

File size *1
(approx.)
Images on a *2
512MB Card
2816 x 2112 RAW ~5.6 *3 ~6.8 8,806 KB *3 57 *3
2816 x 2112 JPEG SHQ ~2.6 ~1.8 3,300 KB 126
2816 x 2112 JPEG HQ ~2.1 ~0.9 1,150 KB 347
2288 x 1712 JPEG HQ ~2.2 ~1.0 1,700 KB 178
2048 x 1546 JPEG HQ ~2.2 ~0.8 1,250 KB 221
1600 x 1200 JPEG HQ ~2.0 ~0.6 900 KB 363

*1 All file sizes are an average of three files. As is the case with JPEG it's difficult to predict the size of an image because it will vary a fair amount depending on the content of the image (detail and noise).
*2 Camera estimation.
*3 The SP-500UZ offers the option to save a JPEG file with each RAW image. These figures are for RAW files only (i.e. with this option turned off). The save time increases slightly and the number of images you can fit on the card decreases if you turn on the JPEG option.

The slow read/write speed of xD-Picture card is obvious when you look at these figures - even using the fastest 'H' type cards the write speed is around 1.6MB/s. That said, the fairly large buffer (big enough for 5 SHQ shots) means that - unless you're shooting RAW or trying to take a lot of shots in rapid succession the slow write speed won't cause a significant bottleneck.

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