White Balance

The SP-560UZ offers six white balance presets (sunny, cloudy, tungsten lightbulb, and three fluorescent settings) as well as the usual auto white balance and a custom (manual) setting. Outdoors we found the auto white balance to be excellent, though in artificial light (as our tests show) it rarely produces a 'neutral' result - even using the manual presets. If you don't like color casts when shooting indoors at night you need to switch to custom white balance.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 6.1%, Blue -9.1%
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 2.7%, Blue -10.7%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 3.1%, Blue -19.1%
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 5.2%, Blue -12.6%

Flash Performance

The flash on the SP-560UZ offers pretty reasonable performance, reaching 4.5m (feet) at the wide end of the zoom at ISO 200. Its combination of preflash and post-processing also does well at avoid red-eye. It also offers the choice of front- or rear-curtain synch, giving a better choice over flash behavior than most similar cameras. Recycle times can be pretty pedestrian, but that is likely to be affected by the chemistry of the batteries you choose to use.

Skin tone
Good color, excellent exposure
Color chart
Excellent color, good exposure

Wireless flash

As well as having two synchro flash modes, the SP-560UZ has a feature not shared by any other compact we can think of: the ability to wirelessly control and off-board flash. With 'RC' mode engaged, the SP-560UZ can trigger the Olympus FL-50R or FL-36R flashguns. Arguably much more useful than a hot shoe, this allows much more professional lighting than most compacts can achieve (if you're willing to buy a flash that will cost nearly as much as the camera again). It can only control a single flash but even this allows much more subtle lighting than is possible with the onboard flash.

FL-50R flash used wirelessly Onboard flash

Macro Focus

The SP-560UZ has two macro modes; standard and 'super'. The standard macro mode lets you get as close as 10cm at the wide end of the lens (120cm at the long end), while the 'Super Macro' option reduces the closest focus distance to a very impressive 1cm (under half an inch), capturing an area just over an inch high. However, although the macro performance is pretty good, there is very little overlap between the focusing distances covered by Macro mode and those available in normal shooting modes, so you have to engage Macro mode to focus closer than 70cm at the wide end and 1.5m at the long end.

Although it's lovely to be able to say that the SP-560UZ can focus down to a 1cm distance, the reality is that it's almost impossible to ever do so. Because the lens is so large, it blocks out most light hitting your subject when you get that close.

Wide macro - 98 x 73 mm coverage
33 px/mm (846 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 27 mm
Wide Super Macro - 53 x 40 mm coverage
61 px/mm (1552 px/in)
Distortion: Moderate
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 56 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Considering the zoom range - 27-486mm equivalent - distortion is kept to a (just) acceptable level, though it is visible at both ends of the zoom.

Barrel distortion - 1.0% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 27 mm
Pincushion distortion - 1.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 486 mm

Specific image quality issues

As with all the cameras we review, we take around 500 real-world images in addition to the studio shots. You can see some of the best of these in the samples gallery at the end of the review but we also look through them to search for any characteristics that are visible in the real world that might not appear in our more formal tests. The SP-560UZ is a camera that has to make compromises in some areas in order to do all the things it does. And, to be completely fair, it does most things pretty well. It takes pleasant images with quite subtle, realistic color representation.

However, a couple of factors count against the Olympus when you're out and about using it. The low base ISO sensitivity means you risk losing image sharpness by shaking the camera during the relatively long exposures it brings, or losing it to noise and noise reduction if you try to up the shutter speed by increasing the ISO setting. The camera struggles to focus as soon as the light levels start to drop, again risking blurred photos. It also loses some sharpness and contrast at the long end of the zoom because of its ambitious design. The combined effect of these problems is that around 10 percent of our images (shot in a variety of conditions), were marred in some way.

Purple fringing

It a zoom as long as the one on this camera, fringing was always likely to feature, especially if our suspicions about it sharing a lens with the CA-prone Fuji S8000fd are correct. And, sure enough, it is visible in images taken at the long end of the lens. That said, it does appear better controlled than on the Fuji, suggesting that Olympus are devoting some degree of processing to the problem.

100% crop 486 mm equiv., 4.5

Contrast / tone curve

In common with many cameras built around small sensors, the SP-560UZ struggles in scenes with extremes of light and shade though its metering does a good job and rarely gives up on the highlights altogether. In extreme circumstances it will do, however. It is also somewhat prone to letting the red channel overexpose and 'clip' when confronted with saturated reds in a scene.

100% crop 45 mm equiv., F3.3