Conclusion - Pros
- Decent results with good detail and natural color
- Low noise at low ISO settings, still fairly low at ISO 400
- Comprehensive photographic controls
- Rugged, lightweight construction and excellent handling
- Lots of scene/subject modes
- Huge range of advanced features including in-camera raw editing
- Highly customizable: menu customization, shortcut button, 'MyModes'
- Large, clear screen
- Better than average low-light focus accuracy
- Good 'super macro' mode
- Good flash exposures
- Good battery life
- Fairly keenly priced
Conclusion - Cons
- JPEG images look soft compared to much of the competition
- Mild exposure problems in high contrast / bright scenes
- Writing to xD picture card slow (much better with newer high speed cards).
- Raw mode slow (much better with newer high speed cards).
- Playback quite slow
- Focus can be slow in low light
- Focus errors at the long end of the zoom too common in good light
- No image stabilization
- No dioptre control on viewfinder
- Mediocre continuous (burst) shooting capabilities
- Mediocre movie mode
- Ridiculous 10MB internal storage, no card supplied
Taken on its own merits the SP-500UZ is a more than capable camera with a huge feature set, great handling and perfectly good results - at a very competitive price point. But the 'super zoom' sector is one of the most fiercely competitive markets in digital photography, and a 10x zoom model without image stabilization needs to offer a lot more in other areas, or to be priced very aggressively to stand a chance. Unfortunately the SP-500UZ has neither; the feature set is impressive, but (aside, perhaps from RAW capture) there's nothing here that jumps out and says 'buy me instead of a Panasonic / Canon / Sony'. The extra megapixel over most of its direct competitors makes little - if any - difference to the quality of results, and although noise is fairly well controlled, the images are pretty soft and the number of shots lost to camera shake or focus errors (at the long end of the zoom) is high.
Sure, the SP-550UZ is well priced, but if you shop around you can get a Panasonic FZ5 for maybe $60 more, and if you are prepared to increase your spend by a hundred dollars or so you have a huge choice of image-stabilized big zoom cameras.
Ultimately, the SP-500UZ is a perfectly good camera, and one with some very nifty tricks up its sleeve, but unless you rarely use the long end of the zoom or are happy carrying a tripod with you at all times, the lack of image stabilization negates most of the benefits of such a big zoom range. It's not because of any really serious faults that we can't really recommend this camera, it's just that in the face of such stiff competition from so many other models it simply can't hold its own, which is a real pity given the heritage Olympus has in the 'ultra zoom' market, and how promising the SP-500UZ looks on paper.