Considering its extreme zoom range, the SP-560UZ is a pretty compact camera. It's also a fairly pretty compact camera, with a smooth, understated appearance. The rather retro, convincingly metallicized mode dial gives off really nice 'camera' (rather than consumer electronics), vibes. It's just a pity that the surrounding buttons and levers don't continue the aesthetic. Olympus should also be commended for the excellent choice of materials employed on the SP-560UZ - the faux-magnesium alloy finish and use of thick plastics and weighty chunks of rubber make the camera feel much better built than its competitors. Whether this translates into real-world durability isn't really something we can sensibly test but it does make the camera feel a bit special.
In your hand
The SP-560UZ is a very comfortable camera to hold. The front of the body has been molded into a smooth rubber grip. Although it isn't as bulky or prominent as a grip on an SLR, it fits very comfortably in the hand and the prominent thumb support on the back of the camera encourages a good grasp on the body.
As we already pointed out in our review of the FujiFilm S8000fd, the the lens in the Olympus and the Fuji are remarkably similar. Specification-wise, they both cover the range from 4.7 to 84.2mm with a maximum aperture that falls from f/2.8 to 4.5 across the zoom range.
The SP-560UZ uses AA batteries which have been well-sited within the body to leave the whole thing feeling well balanced. Rechargeable AA's won't last as long as a dedicated Li Ion battery would but they're cheaper and much more readily replaceable in those 'I've put the batteries to charge - at home, 200 miles away' moments.
Unlike its FujiFilm opposite number, the SP-560UZ accepts only the unloved xD Picture Card format. xD cards are not available in the larger capacities or the faster speeds of the more popular SD / SDHC format. The effects of this choice will become apparent on our timings page.
The SP560-UZ's 2.5-inch screen has a high resolution (230,000 pixels), LCD display. In bright light, the Electronic View Finder (EVF) can be used instead.
The SP-560UZ has a similarly small electronic viewfinder to that found on the Fuji S8000fd, though Olympus give no details of size, resolution or refresh rate. It appears to show the same view as the LCD and features adopter adjustment for the wearers of glasses.
Hidden under a rubber flap are the SP-560UZ's power input socket and a combined USB/AV socket.
The SP-560UZ features a very nice mode dial, the appearance of which is let-down somewhat by the slightly plasticy zoom lever and surrounding buttons. We'd also question the need to include a 'play' mode on the mode dial when there is a 'play' button on the back of the camera.
The lens is likely to be the main reason most people buy the SP-560UZ.
A lens covering such an extreme zoom range inevitably brings compromises but if you're willing to accept these drawbacks, then it's a very flexible tool.
Like the FujiFilm S8000fd, the Olympus lens covers a range from 27mm to 486mm in 35mm equivalent terms. Starting at a relatively wide 27mm equiv. is just as much a factor in making this camera flexible as is the extremely long 486mm end of things.
Mounting the flash further away from the lens than would be possible in a compact camera helps reduce red-eye. This, combined with pre-flash and in-processing all-but eliminates red eye.