Olympus SP-560 UZ

      Photo Review 8

      In summary

      A smart-looking ultra-zoom digicam with a wide choice of shooting controls and image formats and sizes.A strong competitor in the 18x zoom category, the Olympus SP-560 UZ has the same 18x optical zoom lens and lens shift plus ISO boosting image stabiliser as its predecessor, the SP-550 UZ. However its sensor is larger and has 8 megapixels instead of 7.1. The new model also sports the latest TruePic Turbo III image processor, which supports Face Detection and Shadow Adjustment technologies. . . [more]

      Full review


      A strong competitor in the 18x zoom category, the Olympus SP-560 UZ has the same 18x optical zoom lens and lens shift plus ISO boosting image stabiliser as its predecessor, the SP-550 UZ. However its sensor is larger and has 8 megapixels instead of 7.1. The new model also sports the latest TruePic Turbo III image processor, which supports Face Detection and Shadow Adjustment technologies.

      The ultra-zoom market has become very competitive recently, with Panasonic and Fujifilm snapping at Olympus’s heels. The SP-560 UZ has the same sized image sensor as the Fujifilm S800fd model and both are larger than the Panasonic FZ18’s sensor, although all offer the same 8-megapixel resolution. In theory, the larger sensors should equate to better image quality ““ all other factors being equal.

      The angle of view on the Olympus and Fujifilm cameras is marginally wider than the FZ18’s (27mm vs 28mm equivalent), which isn’t necessarily a good thing. In most other respects, key features of all three cameras are similar. Note: A comparison of key specifications for the Olympus SP-560 UZ and its rivals, the Panasonic FZ18 and Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd, can be found at the end of the FinePix S8000fd review.

      Compact for its zoom range and solidly constructed, the SP-560 UZ is physically similar to its predecessor. It has a similar moulded, rubberised hand grip, the comfort of which is impaired by a poorly-positioned strap eyelet on the right hand side. The lens is relatively large and a rather clunky clip-over lens cap is supplied with a strap and eyelet for tethering it to the camera.

      The top panel is half covered by the pop-up flash, which is raised with a button on the left side of the flash mount. Beside it is a mode dial with settings for Auto, P, A, S, M. My Camera (for personalisation), Scene, Guide, Movie and Playback modes. A zoom lever sits in front of the shutter button and moves around it through an arc of about 80 degrees, which is not quite large enough to support precise zooming.


      The rear panel is almost the same as the SP-550 UZ’s, although the quick review button now also accesses direct printing and the delete button switches the Shadow Adjust function on and off in shooting mode. Image stabilisation combines sensor-shift with ISO boosting. As with the SP-550 UZ, it’s switched on and off via a button behind the shutter/zoom control. We calculated it could provide an advantage of approximately two stops.

      The menu system is essentially the same as the earlier camera ““ and this is where the SP-560 UZ is disadvantaged against its rivals. Although it looks good and provides excellent coverage of the camera’s many functions, it requires too much toggling to set even the most frequently used functions. Olympus has gone some way to make the camera quicker to use by providing a separate sub-menu covering white balance ISO and drive settings, which is accessed via the OK/Function button.


      The main menu.


      The Function menu provides shortcuts to four key camera settings.

      Short cuts to the close-up, exposure compensation, flash and self-timer settings are provided via the arrow pad. But if you want to change resolution/quality settings or the AF mode or adjust the flash exposure levels, you’re faced with at least three button presses to get in and another two to get out. Two ‘macro’ settings are provided, one covering subjects from 20 cm to infinity and a ‘super macro’ setting focusing down the 1 cm.

      The SP-560 UZ also supports four continuous shooting modes: standard, Hi-1 (high-speed at normal image size), Hi 2 (which records 1.2-megapixel shots at 15 frames/second) and AF-High (which adjusts focus for each frame in the burst. Exposure bracketing is also provided and you can set the camera to Pre-Capture mode to allow 10 frames to be stored in memory before the shutter button is pressed all the way down.

      Olympus has added a new Smile Shot setting to the SP-560 UZ’s Scene menu. In this mode, the shutter only fires when a smiling face is detected. It will then take three shots in quick succession and photographers can choose the best ones to keep. Another handy Scene mode is Quick Shutter, which engages full-time AF and selects a fast shutter speed for freezing action.

      File Formats
      The SP-560 UZ offers a bewildering array of image size and quality settings, including raw file capture using the Olympus *.ORF file format. You can’t shoot raw files when the mode dial is set to Auto or Scene mode and you cannot record burst of raw files. However, you can elect to combine a raw shot with a JPEG at SHQ, HQ, SQ1 or SQ2 resolution. Typical file sizes for both file formats are shown in the table below.


      Image Size


      Typical File Size


      3264 x 2448




      3264 x 2448




      3264 x 2176



      3264 x 2448



      3264 x 2176



      2560 x 1920





      2304 x 1728





      2048 x 1536






      1600 x 1200





      1280 x 960





      1024 x 768





      640 x 480






      1920 x 1080



      The camera also has a Raw Data Edit setting in the menu system, which lets users adjust image size/quality, white balance, sharpness, contrast and saturation in the camera, after raw files have been recorded. The adjusted file can then be saved as a new JPEG file, taking about 15 seconds to make the conversion.

      We were unable to open raw files from this camera in either Adobe Camera Raw or Phase One’s Capture One 3.7.7. The only way to access them is via Olympus Master software, which is supplied with the camera. This application has most of the functions you need, including image browsing, download support and a basic suite of editing tools.

      Raw file conversion is pretty slow with this application and there’s not much difference between converted raw files and JPEGs shot at the highest resolution and quality setting, particularly at low sensitivities, although at high ISO settings, noise is amplified by raw processing.

      Video capture capabilities are pretty standard, with only three quality settings provided: VGA at 30 fps or QVGA and QQVGA at 15 fps. There’s no widescreen mode. Video clips are recorded in Motion JPEG format, with WAV format sound. Optical zoom cannot be used when shooting movies because the built-in microphone picks up the sound of the zoom motor. Digital zoom can, however, be used. Prolonged use of the image stabiliser during movie recording can cause the camera to become warm so it’s best to set the stabiliser to off. Typical video capacities are shown in the table below.


      Frame size/rate

      Recording time with

      47MB internal memory


      640 x 480 @ 30 fps

      26 seconds


      320 x 240 @ 15 fps

      2 minutes & 22 seconds


      160 x 120 @ 15 fps

      9 minutes & 28 seconds

      Photographs taken with the test camera were reasonably sharp and colour accurate but slightly soft in appearance, particularly at longer focal lengths. The AF system was at its best in bright lighting but, even then, it could be difficult to find focus at the longest zoom setting. In dim conditions, ‘hunting’ was common. The Shadow Adjustment system worked well, as shown in the illustrations below.


      Without Shadow Adjustment.


      With Shadow Adjustment.

      Imatest showed resolution to be slightly below expectations for an 8-megapixel camera but revealed minimal deterioration right up to ISO 1600 sensitivity (a sharp decline was seen at ISO 3200 and beyond). A slight fall-off in edge sharpness was also observed ““ and confirmed through our Imatest results. We also found some barrel distortion at the widest angle of view and pincushioning with longer focal lengths. Neither was severe enough to affect normal photography.

      Colour accuracy was good, according to our Imatest evaluation, which revealed minor shifts in cyan and yellow and slightly elevated saturation in red and blue hues. Overall saturation was modest. Imatest also showed lateral chromatic aberration to be low ““ but not negligible. Coloured fringes were detected at the periphery of shots taken in bright outdoor conditions, although they only became obvious with substantial magnification.


      Coloured fringes

      White balance performance was well above average. The auto setting produced close-to-neutral colours with both fluorescent and incandescent lighting, although a trace of orange remained with the latter. Both the pre-sets and manual measurement delivered neutral colour rendition.

      Flash performance was also competent. Even at ISO 50, the built-in flash was able to illuminate an average-sized room ““ albeit a tad dimly. We noticed some colour shifts in the form of a slight warming of the image at ISO 1600 and above but suspect this could be due to the influence of the ambient lighting.

      Long exposures after dark presented the image processing system with many problems and image noise was obvious from ISO 400 on. With the ISO 6400 setting, resolution had deteriorated to the point where shots looked mushy. We would not recommend using this setting at all, although the ISO 3200 setting could be usable provided print sizes were kept to 6 x 4 inches or smaller. Under normal lighting the ISO 3200 setting also delivered reduced image quality, particularly with respect to colour reproduction. Colours were inaccurate and flat.


      Long exposure at ISO 400.


      ISO 3200


      ISO 6400

      The test camera took just under three seconds to power up and extend its lens and closed down within 2.5 seconds. We measured an average capture lag of 0.5 seconds, which was almost totally eliminated by pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged 2.8 seconds without flash and 4.5 seconds with. It took just under three seconds to process a JPEG file and almost eight seconds to process a raw file. When we switched to RAW+JPEG capture, it took just under 20 seconds to process a shot.

      Continuous shooting is only available for JPEG files and we found the standard mode recorded one shot every 0.85 seconds. It took 4.9 seconds to process a burst of 10 high-res JPEGs. In Hi-1 mode, we were able to record 20 shots at 7 frames/second and the test camera took 12.3 seconds to process the burst. Switching to Hi2 mode allowed us to capture 30 shots at 15 frames/second. The camera took 5.1 seconds to process the burst.

      The SP-560 UZ is a mixed bag, containing features that are designed to help novice users take better pictures and controls to please photo enthusiasts. If you stay clear of the high sensitivity settings and fast frame rates and use a tripod and mid-range aperture at the longest zoom setting, it’s a pretty good performer ““ although not quite as good as the Panasonic FZ18 (although it’s $80 cheaper).

      That said, the SP-560 UZ would still be a worthwhile choice for travellers who want a compact, versatile digicam with good still and video recording capabilities. As long as it’s used in reasonably bright conditions, it should be up to most shooting situations ““ although you may have problems shooting action in low light levels and capturing fast-moving wildlife or children.





      Auto white balance with incandescent light.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent light.


      Short exposure at ISO 50.


      Short exposure at ISO 3200.




      Super macro


      Digital zoom




      Softening at long focal length settings.





      Image sensor: ‘1/2.35-inch’ type CCD with (8.0 megapixels effective)
      Lens: 4.7-84.2mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom (27-486mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 18x optical, up to 5.6x digital
      Image formats: Stills ““ RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.21); Movies ““ AVI (Motion JPEG/WAV)
      Image Sizes: Stills ““ 3264 x 2448, 3264 x 2176 (3:2), 2560 x 1920, 2304 x 1728, 2048 x 1536, 1920 x 1080 (16:9), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480; Movies ““ VGA at 30 fps, QVGA, QQVGA at 15 fps
      Shutter speed range: 15-1/2000 second
      Image Stabilisation: sensor-shift plus ISO boost
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Focus system/range: TTL iESP with contrast detection; range 70 cm to infinity, macro 20 cm to infinity; super macro to 1 cm
      Exposure metering/control: iESP, Spot, Centre-weighted metering; Auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes plus 25 scene presets
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 50-6400
      White balance: Auto, Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Fluorescent (x3), Preset
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Fill-in+Red eye reduction, Slow synchro, Off; range
      Sequence shooting: 1.2 fps
      Storage Media: 47MB internal memory plus xD-Picture Card expansion slot
      Viewfinder: Electronic
      LCD monitor: 2.5-inch LCD (230,000 pixels)
      Power supply: 4x AA batteries
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 116 x 78.5 x 78 mm
      Weight: 365 grams (without batteries and card)






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