White Balance

Aside from the default auto setting there are seven white balance presets (tungsten, fluorescent 1,2 and 3, cloudy, evening sunlight and daylight) and a custom (manual) mode, plus an unusual white balance 'fine tune'. The auto white balance (AWB) system did a perfectly good job in daylight and fluorescent lighting, and incandescent lights only produced a fairly mild cast. We did find that the custom white balance (even using a gray card) was prone to producing images with a slight color cast, but nothing that couldn't be fixed in seconds using either the WB fine tune, or in post-processing.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red 0.1%, Blue -0.2%

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 0.1%, Blue -0.6%

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 3.6%, Blue -3.4%

Flash Performance

Overall flash performance is pretty good, with exposures very accurate even if you get too close. The pre-burst red eye reduction system works well too (and if it doesn't there's a crude, but effective automatic red-eye removal option in the playback menu). Range is pretty average for a camera in this class - up to 4.5m at the wide end of the zoom using auto ISO.

In fact our only complaint is the long recycle time when using red-eye reduction, which averages at around 5 seconds. The pre-flash itself is so long that most subjects have blinked - or moved - by the time the picture is taken, so I'd recommend turning it off.

Skin tone
Excellent color and exposure
Color chart
Good color (slightly warm) and exposure

Macro Focus

The SP-500UZ has two macro modes; standard macro and 'super macro'. The normal macro mode is nothing special, getting you as close as 7cm (W) / 120cm (T). At the wide end this allows you to capture an area just over 8cm across (with a fair bit of distortion, fairly strong chromatic aberration and noticeably soft corners). At the tele (380mm equiv.) end of the zoom things are little better; you can get close enough to capture an area under 14cm across (and there's less distortion, but almost as much corner softness). The Super Macro mode fixes the zoom position at around 65mm equiv., but lets you get a lot closer (3cm), capturing an area around 3.6cm (1.4 inch) across with remarkably little distortion.

Wide macro -
82 x 61 mm coverage
25 px/mm (633 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Fairly high
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm

Tele macro -
138 x 103 mm coverage
15 px/mm (376 px/in)
Distortion: Fairly low
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 65 mm
Super macro mode -
36 x 27 mm coverage
56 px/mm (1411 px/in)
Distortion: Fairly Low
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 380 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Distortion at the wide end of the zoom (around 0.7%) is on the low side for a lens of this type, and isn't going to cause significant issues for most everyday photography. There is only the slightest measurable (0.1%) pincushion distortion at the long (380 equiv.) end of the zoom range, which is admirable for such a long lens range. There is a little corner softness at both ends of the zoom, but unless you're likely to be shooting a lot of flat things you're unlikely to find it marring your everyday shots.

Barrel distortion - 0.7% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 380 mm

Specific Image Quality Issues

The main problems with the SP-500UZ show themselves only when shooting at the long end of the zoom, when the lack of image stabilization means camera shake is an ever-present danger, but missed focus is also far too common for our liking. The corners at the wide end of the lens are also pretty soft, and we found evidence of purple fringing and mild chromatic aberration at the edges of areas of extreme over exposure and in the corners in macro mode. On the upside color and white balance are generally excellent, and we saw far fewer problems with clipped highlights than we do with most of the SP-500UZ's 5MP competitors.