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Compared to... Panasonic DMC-FZ8

Although the SP-550UZ effectively sits in a category of its own thanks to that huge 18x zoom range it is obviously designed to go head-to-head with the established leaders in the compact 'super zoom' market; Panasonic, Canon and Sony. We'll start by looking at how the SP-550UZ compares with the Panasonic DMC-FZ8, which offers a broadly similar feature set in a slightly more compact body and with a slightly less ambitious 12x (36-432mm equiv.) focal length range.

We've included comparisons at each camera's lowest ISO setting (SP-550UZ: 50, FZ8: 100), ISO 400 and ISO 800. For the SP-550UZ's higher ISO options please see later in the review.

Studio scene comparison (SP-550UZ @ ISO 50, FZ8@ ISO 100)

  • Olympus SP-550UZ: Aperture Priority mode (F5.0), ISO 100, Default Image Parameters, Manual white balance, +1.0 EV compensation
     
  • Panasonic DMC-FZ8: Aperture Priority mode (F5.0), ISO 100, Default Image Parameters, Manual white balance, +0.7 EV compensation
     
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI
Olympus SP-550UZ
Panasonic DMC-FZ8
ISO 50, 1/25 sec, F5.0
ISO 100, 1/60 sec, F5.0
3,712 KB JPEG
3,241 KB JPEG

There's no doubt that the FZ8's Leica lens is producing sharper, more detailed, less distorted results across the frame (save for the slightly soft bottom right-hand corner), and is retaining more of the texture of the scene. The SP-550UZ's JPEG output is a little soft despite there being evidence of fairly strong in-camera sharpening going on. Color is fairly subdued (you can increase saturation in-camera if you wish), which is generally a good thing. Unusually there is mild purple fringing visible in our studio shot, and the reds are a little pale (almost pink).

As mentioned elsewhere in the review the output is far from poor - yes it's a little soft (though very clean), but with 7 megapixels to play with you need to be regularly printing at over 5x7 inches or displaying on a huge high resolution monitor for this to be a problem, and it is possible to eke better output from the camera if you shoot raw and invest a little time in post-processing. But don't expect miracles.

It's worth mentioning here that the SP-550UZ was one of the most frustrating cameras we've ever used in the studio thanks to the rather flaky custom white balance (which often gets it wrong even when used with a gray card and tends to drift if exposure levels or ISO settings are changed) and an autofocus system with a mind of its own. The whole process took a whole day, where it normally takes a couple of hours.

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