A compact, digicam with advanced shooting functions and a stabilised wide-angle, 20x optical zoom lens.In its Ultra Zoom (UZ) models, Olympus appears to be trying to bridge the gap between digicams and DSLRs. But, until larger sensors are used in these cameras, a large gulf will remain. With the new 10-megapixel SP-570 UZ, it has taken a big step forward by providing the longest zoom currently available on a compact digicam. Extending from the equivalent of 26mm (in 35mm format) to 520mm, it covers a magnification range of 20x and both optical and digital image stabilisation are provided. . . [more]
In its Ultra Zoom (UZ) models, Olympus appears to be trying to bridge the gap between digicams and DSLRs. But, until larger sensors are used in these cameras, a large gulf will remain. With the new 10-megapixel SP-570 UZ, it has taken a big step forward by providing the longest zoom currently available on a compact digicam. Extending from the equivalent of 26mm (in 35mm format) to 520mm, it covers a magnification range of 20x and both optical and digital image stabilisation are provided.
Physically, the SP-570 UZ looks a bit like a pared-down DSLR. Although its body is made mainly from polycarbonate (plastic), the SP-570 UZ is robustly built and, in the main, nicely finished. The rubberised coating on the hand grip is secure and comfortable for right-handed users. The cover to the battery compartment in the base of the test camera was rather stiff and difficult to open and close. But, otherwise, most key controls could be accessed fairly easily, despite the camera's convoluted menu system (see below).
Unlike many digicams, the zoom on the SP-570 UZ is controlled through a ring on the lens. When fully extended the front of the lens is approximately 11 cm from the camera's body, with the central barrel of the lens lengthening by six centimeters during the zooming process. The lens cap clips on and a tether is supplied for attaching it to the camera strap.
Because it is controlled electronically, rather than mechanically the zoom ring feels quite unresponsive and takes a second or so to react to any adjustments. This is very awkward when you're shooting subjects whose distance changes unpredictably. We also found the lens would lock up inexplicably when the camera was mounted on a tripod - even though there appeared to be no connection between the zoom ring and the tripod mounting.
The power on/off switch is located in the shooting mode dial housing. Beside the mode dial is a large control dial that is used for changing camera settings. On the other side of the mode dial is the viewfinder mounting, which includes the pop-up flash.
The flash is popped up manually and a hot-shoe is provided for accessory flash units. The camera includes a built-in wireless flash controller, a function that was only enabled in the SP-560 UZ via a firmware upgrade. Between the mode dial and the shutter button is a tiny button for adjusting exposure compensation.
The rear panel is dominated by the 2.7-inch HyperCrystal II LCD monitor, which has a line of buttons along its left side controlling playback/print, shadow adjustment/erase, menu and display functions. Right of the LCD is the arrow pad, which has a central OK/FUNC button plus four buttons that give quick access to the macro, custom, flash and self-timer settings.
The drive and manual focus buttons are located on the lens barrel, while the AE/AF lock and monitor/viewfinder switch sit above the LCD. The EVF (electronic viewfinder) replicates the functions of the LCD and has a relatively high eyepoint plus diopter adjustment. It's reasonably bright with adequate resolution and fast response times and colour reproduction is good - but not outstanding. One nice feature is the camera's ability to increase the brightness of the finder (and also the LCD) automatically in low light levels, which is an aspect of the built-in Nightproof technology.
The main monitor has a wide viewing angle but only average resolution (230,000 pixels) and its usability is no better than average in bright outdoor lighting. It shows the full shooting frame and its brightness is adjustable through five steps. You can overlay shooting data or a grid or diagonal guidelines on the screen or display a tiny live histogram to help with shot composition. But they can't all be displayed simultaneously.
Like other models in Olympus's SP Ultra Zoom series, the SP570 UZ is powered by four AA batteries. The camera comes with four alkaline cells, but we'd recommend buying rechargeables and a charger. Olympus does not provide a CIPA rating for the supplied batteries but the icon on the camera's LCD showed there was still plenty of power left at the end of our tests, which involved 108 shots.
According to the user manual, lithium batteries (including the CR-V3 battery pack), AA-manganese (zinc-carbon) and oxyride batteries cannot be used with this camera. It also says "Do not use alkaline batteries unless it is absolutely necessary. In some cases, alkaline batteries may have a shorter service life than NiMH. Alkaline battery performance is limited, especially at low temperatures. The use of NiMH batteries is recommended."
A large mode dial sits in the middle of the top panel carrying the following mode settings:
Auto - in which the camera determines all exposure values and locks out the camera menu settings;
Program AE (P) - where the camera determines the aperture and shutter speed but allows the user to set the white balance, ISO, metering and autofocus mode and all other camera settings except the drive and digital zoom modes.
Aperture Priority AE (A) - where the user sets the lens aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed. Users can adjust the same camera settings as in the P mode.
Shutter Priority AE (S) - where the user sets the shutter speed and the camera sets the lens aperture. Users can adjust the same camera settings as in the P and A modes.
Manual (M) - which gives users full control over aperture and shutter speed and all camera settings.
My Mode - allows users to save up to four camera settings for quick recall when you wish to use them.
Scene (SCN) - allows the user to choose from 23 illustrated scene pre-sets.
Guide - opens a text-based guide with hints on how to handle particular shooting situations.
Movie - engages movie capture.
Playback - plays back the last picture taken and engages playback mode.
The SP-570 UZ sports the same TTL iESP contrast detection AF system as its predecessors and offers the following AF modes: single frame, face detection, predictive, macro and super macro. The macro and super macro settings can be engaged via the left side button on the arrow pad. The rest are accessed via the menu system.
The built-in multi-mode flash is popped up by pressing a button on the side of the viewfinder housing. It supports the following mode settings: Off, On, Auto (the flash pops up and fires when the camera detects low light levels), Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction and Fill Flash and Slow Sync (which combines the flash with a slower shutter speed for a more natural balance between flash and ambient lighting).
Flash exposure can be adjusted through a range of +/-2 EV in 1/3 EV increments. According to Olympus, the flash working range at ISO 200 is between 30 cm and 4.5 metres at the wide angle setting and 1.2-2.8 metres feet with the tele end of the zoom. The built-in flash head is close to and on the same plane as the lens, which tends to produce red eyes in flash shots. In-camera red-eye correction is provided through the camera's Editproof functions, which also include corrections for unbalanced lighting (dark backgrounds in flash exposures) and blurred images due to camera shake.
Most of the other new technologies that Olympus has introduced in the past 12 months are also provided. Thus, you get the Dual Shakeproof CCD-shift and high ISO stabilisation systems and proprietary Olympus Face Detect & Shadow Adjust Technology that came on board with the TruePic III Image Processor. The Smile Shot function is also provided for photographers who can tolerate the delays and unpredictability it incurs.
Image stabilisation modes are selected by pushing the Anti-Shake button on the camera's top panel which lets you switch IS on and off. Unfortunately, you can't choose between sensor shift and digital stabilisation; it's either both together or none.
Menus and File Sizes
Like other models in the UZ series, the SP-570 UZ is largely menu driven. We're not keen on Olympus's menu system, finding it requires too much toggling to change camera settings. However, the Function menu provided via the arrow pad is faster to use and slightly less labour-intensive.
To change settings via the Menu button you must first select the correct page and then toggle to the function you wish to adjust. (This often involves a lot of button pressing.) When using the Function menu, the arrow pad is used to select the function and the control dial changes the function's settings. A similar system is used in Olympus's DSLR cameras and it's a useful way to confirm camera settings before taking a shot.
The only dedicated buttons are for exposure compensation, shadow adjustment and drive mode selection. We would like to have seen dedicated buttons for ISO and white balance settings as well.
Like other 10-megapixel Olympus cameras, the SP-570 UZ offers seven JPEG sizes - but only two compression levels. However, unlike the Mju series models, the SP570 UZ supports raw file capture - without compression. Simultaneous recording of ORF.RAW and JPEG files is available and you can choose from the full range of JPEG options in this mode. Typical raw and JPEG file sizes are shown in the table below.
3548 x 2736
3548 x 2736
2048 x 1536
1600 x 1200
1280 x 960
640 x 480
Movie clips are recorded in AVI Motion JPEG format and photographers can choose between recording with or without sound. Unfortunately, despite offering a 16:9 aspect ratio for still images, the SP-570 UZ provides neither a high definition nor a widescreen mode for video recording. Typical clip lengths with a 1GB memory card are shown in the table below for the resolutions and frame rates supported.
640 x 480 pixels
9 min. 25 sec.
9 min. 28 sec.
18 min. 44 sec.
18 min. 56 sec.
320 x 240 pixels
25 min. 26 sec.
25 min. 49 sec.
50 min. 7 sec.
51 min. 38 sec.
You can't zoom and record sound in movie mode at the same time but if you switch off the sound recording, the optical zoom is enabled. The rationale behind this strategy is that the microphone is likely to pick up the sound of the zoom motor. However, we feel many users would prefer to be able to use both facilities, especially if they plan to edit their video clips post-capture.
The drive button on the SP-570 UZ accesses seven settings: single frame, sequential, two high-speed sequential shooting modes, a pre-capture mode, AF sequential shooting and bracket shooting. When sequential shooting is selected, focus and exposure are locked on the first frame in the burst and the shooting speed varies with the image size selected. For high-resolution JPEGs or raw files we measured close to one frame/second with a limit of four frames.
Switching to the high-speed sequential mode changes the JPEG image size to 2560 x 1920 pixels (3M), pushes the ISO up to 640 and increases the capture rate to one frame every 0.14 seconds with the first setting and 13.5 frames/second with the second setting. The pre-capture mode sets the image size to 2560 x 1920 pixels, ISO to 640 and capture rate to 13.5 frames/second. When you half-press the shutter button, ten frames are recorded in the on-board memory, with the remaining frames captured when the shutter button is pressed all the way down.
AF sequential shooting re-focuses the lens with each frame and further slows the already slow sequential shooting rate. Bracketing involves only exposure levels and the focus and white balance are locked at the first frame in the three-frame sequence.
Considering the range of the zoom lens on the SP570 UZ, we weren't surprised to find the test camera tended to hunt at the longer focal length settings, particularly in low light levels and cloudy conditions when subject contrast was reduced. It also took a second or two to find focus at night, even with the wide-angle settings. In bright conditions, focusing was noticeably faster and AF lag was reduced to about half a second.
Test shots taken with the SP570 UZ showed the same slightly warm colour cast as we found in our tests of the E-420. JPEG images looked bright and detailed and, aside from the warm bias, most colours were natural looking and contrast was not overly high. Edge softening was not obvious but corner softening was visible in some test shots (and picked up in Imatest testing).
We weren't able to run Imatest tests throughout the SP570 UZ's entire zoom range because we didn't have enough distance leeway in our testing set-up. Nevertheless, we managed to evaluate the camera at five focal length settings, which provides a reasonable idea of its performance. These tests showed JPEG resolution to be below expectations for a 10-megapixel camera but better than the 10-megapixel Mju-series digicams we've reviewed recently (although not as good as the Ricoh R8). The graph below shows our results for JPEG files at different focal length and aperture settings.
Raw files from the test camera were slightly better than the JPEGs - but still not up to expectations for a 10-megapixel camera. Best performance was obtained at focal lengths of 8.9mm and 9.8mm and with apertures between f/3.5 and f/5.0. Resolution declined as ISO was increased with a significant drop occurring at ISO 800. The graph below shows the results of our tests for simultaneously-captured JPEG and raw files. (Note: ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 settings are not included because resolution is reduced in both cases and neither is available for raw capture.)
We obtained good - but not outstanding - colour accuracy in our Imatest tests on raw files that had been converted into TIFF format with the supplied Olympus Master 2 software, which has already been covered in our review of the E-420 DSLR. Saturation was shown to be very close to ideal and only minor shifts in hue and saturation levels were revealed. However, skin hues were not quite spot-on.
Imatest showed lateral chromatic aberration to be negligible or low. The graph below plots our test results for different focal length settings. The red line marks the border between negligible and low CA.
Slight barrel distortion was seen in test shots taken with the wide lens setting and minor pincushioning was observed at the tele end of the zoom range. Vignetting was not observed. Some coloured fringing was detected in wide-angle shots. A sample is shown below. Note the stuck pixel between the wires. It was one of several found in this test shot. (We also found a few in long exposures at night.)
The Macro setting produced acceptable results but we had to switch to the Super Macro setting for outstanding close-ups. Bokeh in these shots was soft and attractive. Digital zoom shots taken with the Fine Zoom setting (which crops the image) were close in quality to the optical zoom shots. Shots taken with the Digital Zoom setting (which magnifies and interpolates) were slightly soft.
Long exposures at night confirmed our Imatest results with respect to resolution. Between ISO 64 and ISO 200, our test shots were almost noise free. However, by ISO 800 noise was quite obvious and images taken at higher ISO settings were badly noise affected. Interestingly, the main difference between shots taken at ISO 1600 and those taken with the ISO 3200 and 6400 settings (which reduce resolution) was in apparent image sharpness. Shots taken at ISO 3200 and were visibly unsharp.
The auto white balance produced better-than-average colour reproduction but failed to totally remove the orange cast of incandescent lighting, although it produced close-to-neutral colours under fluorescent lights. Both manual pre-sets over-corrected but the Custom measurement system delivered close-to-neutral colours with both incandescent and fluorescent lighting.
The test camera produced well-balanced flash shots throughout the ISO range - even with the ISO 64 setting. Our test shots were evenly exposed with a good balance between flash and ambient lighting right up to ISO 6400 (where only minimal flash fill was required). Noise was less obvious in the flash exposures than in our long exposures but still evident at ISO 800 and above. The ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 flash shots remained slightly unsharp.
The test camera powered up in approximately 2.5 seconds, which is pretty slow (but not unexpected for a long-zoom digicam). We measured an average capture lag of 0.55 seconds, which dropped to 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. It took 3.1 seconds to process a 10M JPEG image and just under 11 seconds to process a high-resolution RAW+JPEG file when using the type M xD-Picture card supplied with the camera.
Using a type H card cut these processing times in half. (It's a pity Olympus didn't swap to SD cards for this camera as they would provide better response times and higher capacity.) Shot-to-shot times were a bit slower than average with intervals of about 3.5 seconds without flash and close to five seconds with flash, although the average flash recycle time for obtaining full power was just under nine seconds. It took just over 20 seconds to process a full burst of 20 images in both the sequential shooting and high-speed sequential shooting modes.
The graphs below show JPEG resolution.
The graphs below show the results from converted ORF.RAW files.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
A shot taken with the wide-angle setting.
A shot from the same position at full telephoto zoom.
Zooming in closer with the Fine Zoom setting.
A digital zoom shot from the same position as the wide-angle shot.
A close-up shot with the Macro setting.
The Super Macro setting allows closer focusing.
A sample shot showing the slightly warm skin tones.
A 15-second exposure at ISO 100.
A 10-second exposure at ISO 1600.
A four-second exposure at ISO 6400.
Image sensor: 7.4 x 5.6 mm CCD with 10.7 Million photosites (10.0 megapixels effective)
Lens: 4.6-92mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens (26-520mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 20x optical, up to 5x digital
Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.21), ORF.RAW; Movies – AVI Motion JPEG with sound
Image Sizes: Stills - 3648x2736, 2560x1920, 2304x1536, 1920 x 1080, 1600x1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480; Movies - 640 x 480 at 15/30 fps, 320 x 240 at 15/30 fps
Shutter speed range: 15 sec. - 1/2000 sec. (manual mode)
Image Stabilisation: CCD-shift type plus Digital
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in 1/3 step increments
Focus system/range: TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection; range 10 cm to infinity; super macro to 1 cm
Exposure metering/control: iESP, centre-weighted and spot metering; Auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes plus 23 scene mode settings
ISO range: Auto, ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance: Auto, Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Fluorescent (x3); WB adjustment from -7 red to +7 blue
Flash modes/range (ISO 100): Auto, Red-eye reduction. Fill-in, Fill-in+Red eye reduction, Slow synchro, Off; range 0.3-4.5 metres
Sequence shooting: 1.2 fps (7.2 fps at 5MP or 13.4 fps at 3.5M in high-speed mode)
Storage Media: 45MB Internal memory plus xD-Picture Card expansion slot
LCD monitor: 2.7-inch HyperCrystal II LCD screen (230,000 pixels)
Power supply: 4x AA MiMH batteries
Dimensions (wxhxd): 118.5 x 84 x 87.5 mm
Weight: 445 grams (without battery and card)
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