Ultra Zoom indeed: 18X optical
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Introduced in August 2007 as part of massive product intorduction of nine new consumer cameras, the SP-560UZ is the latest in Olympus's "Power & Versatility" class that also includes the SP-510UZ and the SP-560UZ. "UZ" stands or Ultra Zoom and this is what these cameras are all about. They do have power and versatility, but their long optical zoom lenses are the primary attraction. The 7.1-megapixel SP-510UZ had a 10X optical zoom, and the 8-megapixel SP-550UZ got up to 18X. The new SP-560UZ is also a 8-megapixel camera with an 18X optical zoom, but it adds a series of new features, some of them major.
The Olympus SP-560UZ
As stated, this camera is all about getting very close with a massive zoom lens, and this dictates the camera's shape and size. The SP-560UZ is definitely not one of those little slivers that you can stick into any pocket. When you look at the pictures, it looks like a digital SLR, which it is not. Due to this visual association it also looks a lot larger than it actually is. In fact, it measures 4.6 x 3.1 by 3.1 inches and weighs less than a pound.
Its 8-megapixel image sensor can deliver pictures as large as 3264 x 2448 pixels. The 2.5-inch high resolution LCD has a 5-step brightness adjustment. The camera is easy to use, with logical controls and layout. The design is very ergonomic and the camera fits nicely into most hands.
The focal point of the SP-560UZ is its 18X optical zoom lens that goes from a wide 27mm all the way to 486mm equivalent. There is also a 5.6X digital zoom, which means total magnification can be an astounding 100X. You need a tripod for that, but it certainly opens up amazing possibilities. Oh, and if even this magnification is not enough, Olympus offers the US$149.99 TCON-17 tele conversion lens that multiplies overall magnification by 1.7X.
The SP-560UZ's lens also lets you get very close. Like many Olympus models, it has both a macro mode and a super macro mode. Macro lets you get as close as four inches. With super macro you can get as close as a centimeter, 4/10th of an inch. Amazingly, all three modes - normal, macro and super macro - can range to infinity, so there is no need to constantly switch between them.
You might wonder why with the SP-560UZ Olympus introduced a camera with the same resolution and the same zoom length as one that is already in its lineup, the SP-550UZ. The reason is that the company wanted to include a variety of new features. These are:
- Face Detection Technology tracks faces within the frame. It automatically focuses with Face Detection Auto Foucs, then optimizes exposure with Face Detection Auto Exposure for sharp portraits. Face detection even works if subjects are moving. The camera then continuously tracks the subjects' faces.
- Shadow Adjustment Technology compensates for difficult lighting situations with subjects in front of bright backgrounds where the shadows on a subject may render the picture unusuable. Shadow adjustment lets you preview and then capture images the way you see them with the naked eye, increasing the detail in highlights and shadows to produce more balanced picture.
- The TruePic III Image Processor reduces graininess in images for sharper, more vivid photos even at high ISO sensitivity settings. It also enhances color and generally improves speed.
- Perfect Shot Preview lets you preview and select various photographic effects on the LCD screen before taking the picture.
- Dual Image Stabilization -- this is a big one! The 560 combines the benefits of sensor-shift image stabilization and digital image stabilization for blur-free pictures. In a camera with such a long zoom, this is invaluable.
- A in-camera panorama mode automatically captures three images and stitches them together to create one panoramic picture.
- High-Speed Sequential Shooting captures images at 15 frames per second. The number of images varies with image size. Pre-Capture technology works in conjunction with High-Speed Sequential Shooting and lets you capture the action before and after fully pressing the shutter button. Pre-Capture begins working as soon as the focus is locked, automatically archiving five frames in the camera's buffer memory prior to the shutter release.
Unlike most of the other consumer cameras Olympus offers, the SP series models do offer manual control in addition to scene modes.
You can set the SP-560UZ to aperture priority, shutter priority or even use it in completely manual mode. You select the mode of operation via a control dial located on top of the camera. The dial lets you select all-automatic, program (automatically sets shutter speed and aperture), shutter and perture priority, manual, My Mode (uses all your own settings), Guide (uses menus to guide you to the perfect setting), movie, playback, and scene.
In Scene mode, you can select from no fewer than 32 shooting modes in addition to auto. They are portrait, landscape, landscape+portrait, sport, night, night+protrait, indoor, candle, self portrait, available light portrait, sunset, fireworks, cuisine, behind glass, documents, auction, shoot & select 1 and 2, beach, snow, quick shutter, underwater wide 1 and 2, and underwater macro. For the underwater modes you need the US$379.99 PT-037 underwater housing (the same that fits the SP-550UZ).
With the SP-560UZ you don't have to worry about running out of battery power and not being able to find a backup battery. That's because it is one of the few cameras that still uses standard AA batteries, which are cheaply available anywhere. They are fairly heavy, of course, but a good solution for a camera like this.
The 560 comes with 48MB of internal memory to tide you over when a storage card is full. The camera uses the xD-Picture card format.
ISO sensitivity can be set up to a huge 6400. That value is limited to 3-megapixel pictures or lower, but you can shoot at ISO 3200 at all resolutions.
The move mode can record 640 x 480 video with sound at a full 30 frames per second. One limitation is that you get digital image stabilization or sound, but not both at the same time.
There is a time lapse mode where you can have the camera shoot up to 99 pictures in intervals between a minute and 99 minutes.
At US$499.99, the SP-560UZ is not inexpensive and approaches digital SLR territory. However, it justifies that price by combining a body that is much smaller and handier than any digital SLR with a huge 18X zoom lens. Add the optional 1.7X tele conversion lens or play with the additional 5.6X digital zoom, and things get REALLY close. On the other end of the spectrum, the super macro mode lets you get within 0.4 inches of a subject. You also have full manual control, including manual focus, or you can use one of the over 30 scene presets. Olympus also packed all of its latest features an innovations into this camera, things like face detection, shadow adjustment, very fast sequential shooting, selective shot preview, and most important of all, dual image stabilization. All of this makes the SP-560UZ not just a camera with a big lens, but an amazingly competent and smart camera.
Not so much:
- 18X optical zoom!
- Dual image stabilization
- Bright hi-res 2.5-inch LCD with adjustable backlight
- 640 x 480 movies at a full 30 fps
- Advanced face detection mode
- As close as 0.4 inches in super macro mode
- Full manual modes in addition to 33 scene modes
- PreSet Shooting Mode lets you select best setting
- Underwater modes with otpional underwater housing
- No voice recording mode
- Remains at 8 megapixel
- xD-Picture card harder to find and more expensive