A compact, long-zoom camera with lots of user-adjustable controls. Some interesting scene modes plus adequate picture quality for stills and movie clips.Top model in the Olympus Ultra Zoom range, the new SP-500UZ sports a 6-megapixel CCD sensor plus a fast (f/2.8-3.7) 10x optical zoom lens and plenty of features for both enthusiast and hobbyist photographers. Unlike some other long-zoom models, the SP-500’s lens lacks in-built stabilisation but digital camera movement compensation is provided in movie mode (it crops the field of view). The SP-500UZ is chunkier than the SP-350 model but has a similar suite of controls, although the location of some buttons is different. [ia] . . [more]
Top model in the Olympus Ultra Zoom range, the new SP-500UZ sports a 6-megapixel CCD sensor plus a fast (f2.8-3.7) 10x optical zoom lens and plenty of features for both enthusiast and hobbyist photographers. Unlike some other long-zoom models, the SP-500’s lens lacks in-built stabilisation but digital camera movement compensation is provided in movie mode (it crops the field of view). The SP-500UZ is chunkier than the SP-350 model but has a similar suite of controls, although the location of some buttons is different. [ia]
Ergonomically, the camera is a mixed bag with a rather Spartan black plastic body and extending lens. The right hand grip is comfortable and secure but the left side of the camera lacks decent gripping points. Covering most of the camera’s rear panel is a 2.5-inch LCD with four display options: AF frame and battery status only; additional shooting data; shooting data plus grid screen; or shooting data plus histogram. Focusing options include ‘iESP’ and Spot autofocus plus Predictive AF for subjects moving towards or away from the camera. Focus area is selectable across 143 points, using the arrow pad controls.
Above the display is a non-adjustable electronic viewfinder, which is not particularly sharp nor colour accurate. It is also small and surrounded by hard plastic which lessens viewing comfort, especially if you wear glasses. This viewfinder also has a fairly slow refresh rate and moving subjects often look choppy. Right of the viewfinder is a button that pops up the flash while further right is another button for toggling between the EVF and LCD. Below and right of this button is a Display/Guide button that cycles through various display options. As well as the capture options outlined above, in playback mode, you can toggle between several levels of data, shooting data as well as displaying s histogram with a thumbnail of the shot. You can also opt for an uninterrupted image display.
The top-mounted mode dial carries settings for Auto, P, A, S and M modes, a customisable My Mode setting, Scene selection, Movie and playback settings. Twenty-one illustrated scene modes are provided, including some interesting ones like Auction, which captures three bracketed shots at the appropriate size for online auctions. There are also two Shoot and Select modes for capturing fast-moving subjects, the first locking focus on the first shot, while the second refocuses continuously. Pressing the shutter in either mode makes the camera record shots continuously. When you release the shutter, you’re presented with the last five shots from which you can save only the shots that worked. The rest are deleted.
Movie clips can be recorded with or without audio at QVGA quality with a frame rate of 15 or 30 fps. For the former option, the optical zoom and focus are locked when recording starts to prevent noise pick-up. Sound bites can also be added to still images and the microphone produces good quality audio from distances up to about one metre.
The test camera produced sharp images with reasonable colour accuracy and well-controlled colour saturation, although exposures were pitched to favour shadows over highlights. Highlight detail was often lost in shots taken in bright sunlight. The digital zoom was a fair performer, producing good detail for the degree of magnification. The white balance also performed reasonably well but delivered better colour accuracy with the pre-sets and custom measurement than the auto setting. The flash underexposed shots slightly at ISO 100, but delivered well-exposed pictures at ISO 400. Top flash synch is at 1/250 second.
Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments of image quality but showed the SP-500UZ’s actual resolution to be slightly below expectations. Chromatic aberration was also higher then expected and could visibly affect prints at A4 size and larger. We found a slight trace of barrel distortion at the widest angle of view of the lens but little evidence of pincushioning at the tele end.
Capture lag averaged 0.6 seconds, while pre-focusing reduced this delay to a consistent 0.2 second gap. The high-speed burst mode recorded three high-resolution shots at 0.6 second intervals, while the standard burst setting captured a stream of medium-resolution shots at 0.8 second intervals. It took 4.5 seconds to empty the memory buffer after a burst of shots and just under 14 seconds to process a RAW+JPEG file. 
Image sensor: 5.34 x 4.01mm CCD with 6.37 million photosites (6.0 megapixels effective)
Lens: 6.3-63mm f2.8-3.7 zoom (38-380mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 10x optical, up to 5x digital
Dimensions (wxhxd): 105.5 x 74.5 x 71.0mm
Weight: 285g (without batteries and memory card)
Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.21), RAW; Movies – QuickTime Motion JPEG with Sound (QVGA at 15/30fps)
Shutter speed range: 15 – 1/1000 sec. plus Bulb mode up to 8 min.
Focus system/range: CCD contrast detection AF with spot and iESP AF, AF area selectable from 143 points; range 60cm to infinity; macro to 3cm
Exposure metering/control: Digital ESP, spot and centre-weighted metering; P, A, S and M shooting modes plus 21 scene modes.
White balance: Auto, Overcast, Sunlight, Evening Sun, Tungsten, Fluorescent (x3). WB adjustment -7 (red) to +7 (blue)
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, on, off
ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400.
Sequence shooting: 2.5fps
Storage Media: 10MB internal memory plus xD-Picture Card slot; internal memory holds 1 high-resolution image or up to 43 VGA shots
Viewfinder: EVF with 201,600 pixels
LCD monitor: 6.4cm/2.5-inch’ colour TFT LCD monitor with 115,000 pixels
Power supply: 4x AA alkaline or NiMH batteries
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 8
- Image quality: 7.5
- OVERALL: 8.5