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Conclusion - Pros

  • Phenomenal zoom range that includes real wide-angle to long telephoto capability
  • Huge range of features
  • Reliable exposure
  • Good ergonomics
  • RAW mode (though very slow)
  • Bright, immediate 'consumer friendly' output
  • Good detail and color at lowest ISO settings
  • Shadow Adjust helps produce nice portraits
  • Fix Lighting helps make the most of the camera's dynamic range
  • Control of off-board flash is both useful and simple
  • Image stabilization
  • Manual controls available
  • AA battery convenience
  • AF illuminator
  • Face detection system
  • Large, clear, screen
  • Surprisingly good electronic viewfinder

Conclusion - Cons

  • More features than you will know what to do with (many of them gimmicky)
  • Unwieldy menu system
  • Corner softness at shorter focal lengths
  • High contrast tone curve tends to clip shadows or highlights
  • RAW mode so terribly slow
  • Limited AA battery life
  • Evidence of noise reduction smearing at anything over base ISO
  • ISO 400 and above noisy and showing heavy noise reduction
  • Plastic tripod mount
  • Manual focus requires a lot of guesswork
  • Focus hunting in low light, at long end of zoom and in macro mode
  • Some aspects of performance feel a little sluggish compared to best competitors

Overall conclusion

We described the Fuji S8000fd as trying to be all things to all people, but that was before we really got to grips with the Olympus SP-560UZ. The number of features and options available on the Olympus is frankly comical. You could use this camera for years without ever finding all the (often fairly pointless) things it can do, so numerous and deeply buried in menus are they.

The SP-560UZ has more features than most users will ever discover, let alone want to use. This isn't helped by the rather brief manual that glosses over much of the camera's functionality only being included as a PDF on a CD. This kind of cost-cutting isn't unique to Olympus but is hard to justify in a camera this feature-laden. The mysteries of "one-touch" white balance and area auto focus mode are only clarified by spending time clicking through the PDF manual.

For instance, while Olympus is to be commended for the inclusion of RAW mode, it should also be shot withering looks for sticking to a memory format that makes using it so slow. This is just one of the examples of nice ideas that haven't been applied quite as well as they could have been. We'd rather see fewer functions perfectly implemented, rather than being overwhelmed by things that aren't quite as useful as they appear.

We are delighted, however, to see an easily controlled wireless flash mode. Using one of Olympus's offboard flashes (FL-50R and FL36R), the SP-560UZ is instantly able to take much better flash portraits than any of its direct rivals. The Shadow Adjust mode also seems genuinely useful for anyone who simply wants the camera to take nice portraits of their friends. And that's the flip-side of the camera's rather keen feature set - if one of its features is particularly useful for you, then it is probably worth overlooking any of its other niggles for.

None of which is to say that the Olympus isn't a good camera - it is. It's not particularly fast but has a good metering system and well thought-out processing that helps it to produce good images at low ISO settings. And, of course, it has the incredibly flexible lens which will continue to offer: "I wonder whether I can... Wow!" moments. At base ISO, the image quality of the Olympus is at least the equal of its two most obvious rivals but that base setting is so low it can leave you struggling with low shutter speeds even outdoors during daylight. And, given that it's hard to recommend its performance above ISO 200 as being particularly special, it's a camera you'll get the most out of outdoors.

The real problem that the Olympus faces is not so much that it has any major failings, but that it's not competitive on price with the Fuji (particularly in some markets), and it's not quite as well thought out or focused as the Panasonic. Ultimately, it's a perfectly capable camera with a very nice body and a comprehensive feature set. The problem is, so are its rivals. Another cautious, rather than wholehearted, recommendation.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 9.0
Image quality 7.0
Optics 7.0
Performance (speed) 7.5
Value 8.0

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