High ISO modes

As is now the norm the SP-550UZ offers a range of high ISO options, with Olympus raising the stakes by going all the way to ISO 3200 and 5000, albeit at a reduced resolution (using pixel binning). Below you will find studio comparisons of the highest full size sensitivity on offer (ISO 1600) and one of the reduced resolution high ISO options (ISO 3200). If you'd like to see the ISO 5000 output (which looks very much like the ISO 3200 result) please click here.

Studio scene comparison (@ ISO 1600 & ISO 3200)

  • Olympus SP-550UZ: Aperture Priority mode (F5.6), ISO 1600, Default Image Parameters, Manual white balance, +0.70 EV compensation
  • Olympus SP-550UZ: Aperture Priority mode (F5.0), ISO 3200, Default Image Parameters, Manual white balance, +0.7 EV compensation
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI
Olympus SP-550UZ
Olympus SP-550UZ
ISO 1600, 1/640 sec, F5.6
ISO 3200, 1/640 sec, F5.0
3,685 KB JPEG

If ISO 800 was stretching things then it will come as no surprise that ISO 1600 (the highest ISO setting usable at full resolution, if you can really call this full resolution) is even worse. I guess if you don't intend to produce prints or look at them full screen - and you really need that extra stop of sensitivity - then there may be some point to ISO 1600, but I'd have to be backed into a corner with a gun to my head to consider using either of the much-touted ultra high sensitivity settings (ISO 3200 and ISO 5000 - not shown here, but even worse).

Pixel binning rarely produces decent results, and the SP-550UZ is no exception; the 3MP files are just plain unpleasant, and any detail there was in the scene has packed its bags and left long ago. For Olympus to put ISO 5000 (and 'Dual Image Stabilization' using it) so prominently in its promotional literature is, in my opinion, misleading to say the least; this is not photographic quality by anyone's standard. Although there's nothing wrong with including these 'last resort' options for low light tight spots, to suggest that (and I'm quoting here) 'The SP-550 UZ offers the highest ISO sensitivity of any ultra zoom for superior low-light and fast-action photography' would, I suggest, lead uninitiated buyers to expect something more than they're going to get.

One final note about the pixel-binned ultra-high sensitivity modes; the actual ISO as measured using our meter varies widely, with different exposure settings (up to two stops either way) often producing the same result. Although it doesn't really matter most of the time (you're unlikely to be shooting in manual mode at ISO 5000) it does lead me to wonder why they even bothered including two manually selectable ISO settings (rather than just an 'auto HI' ISO mode, which appears to be what they are)... unless it's just a marketing thing.

Update: metering issues at over ISO 800 have apparently been fixed with a new firmware version, announced March 26th.