The margin of error is easier to see in the graph below. The 24 ideal colors from the original chart are shown as squares and the Olympus SP-500’s colors are shown as circles. The line connecting the two shapes displays the margin of error for each color. Unfortunately, many of the lines are quite lengthy. This tells us that the camera’s colors aren’t as accurate as they should be.
Indeed, the colors are quite inaccurate. The Olympus SP-500 UZ received an overall color score of 5.2. And while many digital cameras keep their mean color error score in the single digits, the SP-500 had a disappointing 11.5 color error score. The camera slightly over-saturated colors by 3.7 percent, which is typical for most consumer-level digital cameras. The overall color inaccuracy is abnormal though and is quite disappointing.
**Still Life Scene **
Below is a shot of our still life scene recorded with the Olympus SP-500 UZ.
Click on the image above to view a full resolution version (CAUTION: the linked file is very large!)](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/viewer.php?picture=SP500UZ-StillLife-LG.jpg)
*Olympus advertises 6 effective megapixels from its total of 6.37 megapixels. We tested the camera’s ability to maximize its resolution and keep images sharp by taking a series of pictures of an industry standard ISO 12233 resolution chart. After taking sets of pictures at a variety of focal lengths and aperture values, we imported the files into Imatest Imaging Software. We report the best results.
Click on the resolution chart above to view the full res image](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/viewer.php?picture=SP500UZ-ResCH-LG.jpg)
At a focal length of 19.6 mm, we found the Olympus SP-500 UZ to be the sharpest when using an aperture of f/4.5. Imatest analyzed this shot and determined its resolution in terms of line widths per picture height (LW/PH). Basically, this would be the maximum number of alternating black-and-white lines the camera could read inside its frame before they became too fine for the imaging system to distinguish and the camera would begin blurring them together. Traditional measurements for 35mm cameras are done in units of line pairs per picture height (LP/PH), but because that unit does not account for the various sizes of imaging sensors we use LW/PH.
Along the horizontal axis of the frame, the Olympus SP-500 read 1380 LW/PH. Vertically, the camera read 1293 LW/PH. This is much lower than we’d anticipated from a camera that advertises 6 megapixels. By contrast, the sharp 5 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix S5200 read 1639 LW/PH horizontally and 1607 LW/PH vertically. The SP-500 UZ was tested with its noise reduction system activated and its image sharpness option set to Normal, but it still slightly over-sharpened pictures. Horizontally, it over-sharpened by 10.6 percent; it did so vertically by 6.54 percent. For its lackluster performance, the Olympus SP-500 received an overall resolution score of 2.54.
Noise – Auto ISO*(1.51)
*The Olympus SP-500 was tested with its noise reduction feature on, but it didn’t seem to make all that much of a difference. When the ISO was automatically selected by the camera, noise levels reached the equivalent of ISO 250 in our brightly lit studio. For this, the SP-500 produced images with excessive noise and received a dismal 1.51 overall auto ISO noise score.
Noise – Manual ISO*(4.41)
*The SP-500 has an ISO range typical of a compact digital camera. Users can select from 80, 100, 200, and 400 manual options. We turned on the noise reduction mode and tested the noise levels at each of the camera’s four manual settings. Below is a chart with our findings. The horizontal axis displays the ISO settings and the vertical axis shows the amount of noise produced at each of them.
With an automatic score of 1.51, it wasn’t hard for the SP-500 to perform better in the manual ISO settings. After all, it couldn’t get much worse. The camera turned out a manual ISO noise score of 4.41, which ranks competitively with other compact models. In general, noise seems to be a consistent flaw of ultra zoom models and the SP-500 UZ performed in-line with the rest of the pack.
Low Light Performance*(6.5)
*To test the sensitivity of the SP-500’s imaging sensor, we evaluated its performance under decreasing levels of illumination. The first test was at 60 lux, which is roughly equivalent to a living room with a soft lamp and a glowing fireplace. The second test was done at 30 lux, which is the same amount of light emitted from a 40-watt bulb. While these two light levels are still common picture taking situations, the next two are a bit more unusual, and we run these tests to test the sensitivity of the CCD and see how it handles noise in longer exposures. The third test was at 15 lux and the fourth at 5 lux; both of these are very near darkness and forces longer exposures to maintain an adequate exposure.
The images get progressively noisier as the light diminishes and exposures are extended. Low light photography without the flash is definitely possible with the SP-500 UZ (assuming there is a tripod to keep the camera steady) and the images should retain illumination if the camera is set properly. Many cameras have trouble keeping pictures sharp and focused in the low light tests, but the Olympus SP-500 UZ kept edges relatively crisp. Still, the amount of noise is an issue. Below is a chart showing just how much noise there was during each of the four tests. The horizontal axis shows the length of the exposure and the vertical axis displays the noise levels at each of the four exposure times.
**Speed / Timing **
*Start-up to First Shot (7.22)
*The Olympus SP-500 acted more like a compact digital camera than a DSLR for this test. It took 2.8 seconds to turn on and take its first shot when using an Olympus-branded xD-Picture card.
*Shot to Shot (9.14)
*The SP-500 has a few burst modes, but they’re only available if the noise reduction mode is turned off. Continuous shooting went for 19 shots at an average pace of 0.76 seconds between captures. The AF Burst mode varied in its shot to shot time because the camera refocuses between shots. It’s slow for a burst mode, but it can capture pictures up to the capacity of the memory card. The AF Burst shot a photo at an average of every 0.79 seconds in our testing. The bracketing mode takes either 3 or 5 shots at the same 0.8-second rate. The fastest burst mode on the SP-500 is the High Speed mode, which takes 3 frames in one second before taking a breather to write to the memory.
*Shutter to Shot (8.6)
*The amount of shutter lag depends on the situation and subject because the lag is mainly attributable to the auto focus system. Low light slows the camera’s reaction times down, as do fast-moving subjects. In our testing under strong lighting and with a stationery subject, the camera had 0.2 seconds of lag time between the shutter release button being pressed and the moment the picture was taken.
*The front of the Olympus SP-500 UZ looks like the front of an extremely compact single lens reflex camera. The left side has a comfortable handgrip that protrudes quite a bit from the rest of the body. On the inner edge of the grip is a textured rubber strip of material that makes a nice landing pad for the fingers. At the top of the grip and slanted between the top of the camera and the front is a shutter release button surrounded by a zoom toggle.
On the right portion of the front is the Olympus ED lens barrel that sticks out just a bit more than the handgrip – even when the digital camera is off. When powered on, a single barrel protrudes even farther from the outer barrel. The end of the lens is threaded for attaching conversion lenses and filters. Directly above the lens is the pop-up flash with the Olympus logo visible when closed. When the flash is open, there is a gap between the bottom of the flash and the top of the camera body. Between the top of the lens and the handgrip is a built-in microphone with an auto focus illuminator below it.
*While the front has characteristics of a SLR, the back of the SP-500 UZ looks more like the back on a compact model. Its 2.5-inch LCD screen graces the left side of the back; an Olympus logo appears below the monitor. Above the LCD and slightly off-center to the left is the electronic viewfinder. It is constructed of plastic and has a rectangular window through which the user can view subjects. To the right of this protrusion is a round black button that is used to pop up the flash. To the right is a silver button that switches the view from the viewfinder to the LCD screen and vice versa.
The rest of the buttons are located to the right of the screen. The multi-selector is located at the bottom. It consists of four directional buttons and a large OK/ Menu button in the center. Above this feature are three circular buttons. On the right, there is a flash mode button. To its left is a Quick View button and above that is a Disp./ Guide button. In the top right corner of the back, the mode dial protrudes just enough for the thumb to twist it to where it needs to be.
*The right side is very plain, but it still has a few features. The side looks smooth, but there is a door toward the back that opens to reveal the slot for an xD-Picture card. Above this is a small rubber cover for the power adapter jack. Above and to the right of this feature is a bar set within a niche; this is the eyelet for the neck strap.
Left Side* (6.5)
*On the center of the left side is a feature that looks like a manhole cover. This is in fact the built-in speaker. Above and to the right of this is a rubber cover to the A/V / USB port. There is a tiny sliver where users can jam their fingernails in to pry the cover up, but it’s not easy at all. In the center of the top is an eyelet identical to the one on the right side.
*The top of the Olympus SP-500 UZ looks relatively flat with only a slight protrusion of the flash and viewfinder on the left side. The right side is more control-oriented. The shutter release button and zoom toggle are visible at the top of the handgrip. Below it is a power button on the left, an AEL button to the right, and the mode dial on the far right. The mode dial has a few options – enough to make it look populated but not so many that users become overwhelmed.
*The bottom of the Olympus SP-500 UZ has a tripod socket roughly centered under the camera. Many tripod users prefer that the mount be directly under the lens, because it simplifies adjustments. (Here's now that works: If the lens is 2 inches to one side of the tripod, pivoting moves the lens sideways, as well as turning it. If the lens is exactly on top of the tripod, the center of the lens stays still as it turns.) The tripod socket on the SP-500 UZ appears to be plastic. It looks tougher than the body plastic, but we're concerned about how durable it will be with excessive tripod usage.
The battery compartment is inside the hand grip, and the access door takes up the bottom of the grip. The door has a secure latch, so we don't expect that users will have problems with batteries falling out accidentally, if they slide the latch closed after loading batteries. Oddly, the latch does not lock automatically. Closing the door and locking the latch involves pushing against pretty firm springs – it's possible that someone with compromised hand strength – through arthritis, for instance – would have trouble swapping out the batteries on the SP 500 UZ.
*The Olympus SP-500 UZ has an electronic viewfinder that is slightly raised from the back of the camera body. There is a plastic eye cup surrounding it that is certainly neither comfortable nor functional. The surrounding surface isn’t raised enough to keep outside lighting from producing a glare in the viewfinder.
The SP-500’s viewfinder resolution is adequate at 201,000 pixels, but it is not as good as some of its competitors. Still, most of the ultra zoom competition is priced above the SP-500’s $379 tag. The electronic viewfinder does not have a diopter adjustment, so photographers who wear glasses could have trouble with it. This Olympus adds framing assists to break the frame into thirds like a tic-tac-toe board and has a diagonal line framing assist as well. Overall, the electronic is nice to have to save battery power, but is far behind where it needs to be to really help out when checking focus.
LCD Screen* (6.25)
***The Olympus SP-500 has a 2.5-inch LCD screen that is indeed nicely sized but lacks adequate resolution. Its 115,000 pixels don’t do the images justice. To its credit, the screen has a wide viewing angle and doesn’t solarize easily. However, the view itself just is not great quality. The individual pixels are visible, so pictures don’t look very smooth. There is a button that changes the view from the electronic viewfinder to the LCD screen and vice versa. The LCD brightness can be changed in the Setup menu. It’s buried deep within a pile of options, but once it’s found users can select from 15 stops on a scale and have a live view as well.
*This Olympus model has a pop-up flash that must be manually opened, even in the auto mode. The flash is engaged with a round button to the right of the viewfinder and the flash mode is selected by a button above the multi-selector. The flash is built-in and there is no hot shoe for accessory flashes, although there is a slave flash option with an intensity control from 1-10.
The flash is effective from 0.98-14.76 feet when the lens is at its widest and 3.94-11.15 feet at the 63mm telephoto end of the lens, which is fairly typical, but perhaps a bit more generous than most comparable cameras. Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Fill, Fill with Red-eye Reduction, and Off are the available modes. These flash modes can be adjusted on a +/- 2 intensity scale so faces aren’t ghostly and blown out, also enabling users to control the flash for fill and contrast. When set correctly, the Olympus SP-500’s flash evenly lights subjects. The flash has a front and rear curtain sync option: Sync 1 mode is for front curtain and Sync 2 is for rear. Overall, the SP-500 offers a variety of flash options, but the lack of a hot shoe does create limitations.
***The lens on the Olympus SP-500 protrudes from the body even when the camera is powered off, telescoping out farther when the camera is ready to shoot. The Olympus ED 10x optical zoom lens extends from 6.3 to 63 mm, which is equivalent to a 38-380mm lens in 35mm format. Constructed of 11 elements in 7 groups, the lens has two aspherical elements to minimize distortion. It has a max aperture of f/2.8 at its widest and closes to f/3.7 at its 63mm telephoto end. It’s also threaded on the end to fit 55mm filters, polarizers, and conversion lenses. Olympus has a WCON-07 wide conversion lens available that minimizes magnification by 0.7x and a TCON-17 lens that increases the magnification by 1.7x. Each of the Olympus lenses retails for about $150.
The lens (and its zoom power) is certainly the SP-500’s main selling point; the SP-500 has the longest lens of any of Olympus’ SP-series digital cameras and is designed to compete with the offerings elsewhere in the ultra zoom digital camera market. Overall, the lens is certainly one of the Olympus SP-500 UZ’s strengths, but would have been better complemented by image stabilization, which is included on many ultra zoom offerings by other manufacturers.
The Olympus SP-500 UZ has 5x digital zoom that the Olympus web site calls 'seamless,' but it will degrade picture quality and compromise image clarity.
Model Design / Appearance* (6.5)
*This digital camera has some physical characteristics of both DSLRs and compact models – although it is definitely more on the compact end. The Olympus SP-500 UZ has a thick body, a bit of heft (thanks to 4 AA batteries), and a matte black finish typical of single lens reflex cameras. It also has a wide ergonomic handgrip with a shutter release button tilted toward the front like an SLR. Still, this model is definitely designed for a less serious photographic crowd. Its components are and feel inexpensive when compared with an SLR. The SP-500 UZ’s viewfinder is plastic and uncomfortable. The body itself is built of plastic with rubber components.
The Olympus SP-500 UZ can be purchased for much less than other similar models, reflecting the quality of the construction. The camera’s large LCD is typical of compact models, as is its sub-par 115,000-pixel resolution. The simplistic layout and feature offerings are also typical of an upper level compact digital camera. The camera body looks neither awkward nor attractive and is quite plain; its appearance is nothing to draw one’s eye.
Size / Portability* (6.0)
*With a boxy frame, the Olympus SP-500 UZ has a thick body and several protrusions to boot. The camera body measures 4.15 x 2.93 x 2.8 inches at its thickest points. The right-hand grip protrudes significantly as does the 10x optical zoom lens – even when the camera is off. Even without the lens and grip, the body is still quite thick. The SP-500 weighs 10.05 oz without the batteries and card. Those elements add substantial weight, especially the four AA batteries that this Olympus uses. Fortunately, there are eyelets on each side of the camera body so the included neck strap can be attached. The body is too boxy for a purse or pocket, but would do well in a small camera bag.
*There is some heft to the SP-500, but the handling is otherwise quite effortless. All of the control buttons are located on the right side of the camera (when viewing from the back), so users can access controls quite easily and do it without major shooting interruptions. There is a nice ergonomic handgrip that is wide enough to provide comfort for the palm while also providing a textured rubber finger grip for stability. Users can operate the SP-500 UZ with one hand, although two is certainly recommended.
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size ***(7.0)
*The control buttons and general layout of controls on the Olympus SP-500 UZ is in-line with other compact models. The buttons placed on the back of the camera are adequately sized and positioned. The mode dial is exceptionally large and easy to rotate. The multi-selector is also quite large with a big OK/ Menu selection button in the center. Many compact models with this type of multi-selector have an undersized selection button, but the SP-500 does not have that problem. All of the buttons are placed within easy reach of the right thumb, so the controls are easily accessible. However, those users who prefer an array of exterior controls may be a bit disappointed as the SP-500 UZ does bury some essential shooting functions in menus.
*The SP-500’s menus are printed in all capital letters; finicky users might be irritated by that. The words themselves are also quite large, which might appeal to farsighted users. When the designated Menu button is pressed, a matrix-type menu appears with four options. Three of the options are shortcuts that can lead to selections in the longer Mode Menu option that is always on the right side of the screen. The shortcuts are selectable, so if users find themselves adjusting the white balance constantly they can make one of the three shortcuts jump to the white balance option in the mode menu.
These shortcuts are much needed as the mode menu is quite lengthy. It consists of four folder-like tabs. The tabs along the left side of the screen are Camera, Picture, Card, and Setup. The Camera menu consists of these options: Metering, Macro, Drive, ISO, Self Timer, Flash Intensity, Flash Synchro, Flash, Digital Zoom, Noise Reduction, AF Mode, Focus Mode, Fulltime AF, Panorama, Sound, Timelapse, and AF Predict. The Picture tab reveals these options: Image Size, White Balance, White Balance Compensation, Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation. The Card tab only contains Format and Backup options, while the setup menu is much longer. The Setup tab contains these options: Reset, Language, Power On Setup, Power Off Setup, Rec. View, Volume, Beep, Shutter Sound, My Mode Setup, File Name, Pixel Mapping, LCD Brightness, Time, Dual Time Setup, m/ft, Video Out, AF Illuminator, Short Cut, Histogram, Frame Assist, and Custom Button.
The color coded design of the SP-500 UZ’s menus help with organization; the tabs are gray, the menu options are blue, and the selected option is yellow; the menu box is superimposed atop the live view on the LCD screen. Navigation in the menus is simple with the multi-selector that has four directional buttons and a large Menu / OK selection button in its center. The only drawback to the menu is the abundance of non-intuitive icons. Some digital cameras pair unknown icons with text that appears when the option is highlighted; this isn’t so with the Olympus SP-500 UZ. The icons are difficult to decipher and there is no text option to help out; confused users must consult the user manual, which is unfortunately located on a not-so-handy CD-ROM.
Ease of Use* (7.0)
*The Olympus SP-500 UZ is fairly easy to use, but it does have a few quirks. The menus have a large font, but are insanely long and full of icons that are tough to figure out. When users can’t figure out what the icons mean, there is a small Disp./ Guide button that provides some explanation. Overall, the SP-500 is quite simple to figure out (which is good since the advanced manual is only available on CD-ROM). The handgrip is comfortable, the designated buttons are organized and properly labeled, and the camera can easily transform into a point-and-shoot with a flip of the mode dial to the Auto position.
Auto Mode* (7.0)
*The auto mode takes over the camera and lets the user worry only about zooming, focusing, and snapping the right moment. Menu options are quite truncated so users will only have access to picture size, self-timer, and macro mode. If users want to use the flash, they must remember to pop it up manually – the flash never pops up automatically. Point-and-Shooters graduating to a longer lens should find the SP-500 will make for a relatively seamless transition.
Movie Mode* (7.5)
*The SP-500 UZ’s movie mode records QuickTime movies up to the capacity of the memory card. Video clips are recorded at either 640 x 480 pixels or 320 x 240 pixels. The VGA clips have a smooth frame rate of 30 fps while the QVGA size shoots at a choppier – but easier to email – 15 fps. Like a handful of other ultra zoom models from this year, the optical zoom can be used in the movie mode, but there is no image stabilization system to keep telephoto footage from looking like footage of an earthquake. Audio is recorded but subjects must be pretty close for the microphone to pick up their voices. Despite these drawbacks, overall the image quality in movie mode is quite good under optimal conditions.
Drive / Burst Mode* (4.5)
*The burst mode on the Olympus SP-500 UZ is more representative of such a mode on a compact model. Its high speed mode can take 3 frames at a rate of 1.75 frames per second. The speed is average, but the endurance is really something to laugh at. The mode bursts a bit longer when the resolution is reduced to 2816 x 1880. At that size, the SP-500 can shoot 1.2 frames per second for up to 13 consecutive shots. There is also a bracketing mode that can take either 3 or 5 shots, moving in +/- 0.3, 0.7, or 1 EV increments. Unfortunately the offered burst modes are unavailable when the noise reduction setting is activated and when shooting in RAW file format.
Playback Mode* (8.5)
*The SP-500’s playback mode, accessible via a convenient shortcut located on the mode dial, is one of the most thorough available. It lets users view pictures with histograms and file info and provides editing and printing options. Users can organize photos into albums or into a calendar – all on the xD card of course. Users can also access several in-camera editing effects. Photos can be resized and cropped as well as adjusted for brightness and saturation. Images can be changed into black and white or sepia copies too.
The playback menu is almost more extensive than the SP-500’s included editing software. There is a red-eye reduction option, but when I used it, oddly enough, only one red eye was fixed. Brightness and saturation can also be tweaked in-camera. The Olympus SP-500 has one of the most elaborate slide show functions of any digital camera. It has nine different transition effects (Normal, Scroll, Fader, Zoom Down, Zoom Up, Checkerboard, Blinds, Swivel, and Random), displaying the obvious influence of their M:Robe.
When individual photos are selected, users can easily make them into birthday cards or postcards with the in-camera frames. This Olympus has 13 frames to choose from and ten text titles that can be custom colored. Congratulations, Thank You, Happy Birthday, Good Luck, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, Best Wishes, Missing You, Love, and Smile are the text titles available. With these, users can potentially snap a shot, add a frame and title, and print holiday cards directly from the camera. Movie playback isn’t quite as involved, but it does have a VCR-type setup with rewind, fast forward, stop, and play options. Users can also view movie clips frame by frame and even pull frames and make them into still images.
Custom Image Presets* (8.0)
*The Olympus SP-500 UZ has a lengthy scene mode menu complete with photo examples, text, and explanations if the Disp./ Guide button is pressed. Twenty-one of the twenty-seven recording modes on the camera are scenes. This is more than what is offered on most digital cameras and includes the following options: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape and Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Night and Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, Shoot and Select 1, Shoot and Select 2, Beach, and Snow. (Phew.) Most of these scenes are self-explanatory. The Shoot and Select 1 mode locks the focus on the first shot, so this would work for portraits and still subjects. The mode takes pictures as long as the user holds down the shutter release button, then displays them onscreen and lets users delete what they don’t want right away. The concept is similar for the second Shoot and Select mode, but the camera refocuses before each frame. Overall, there are plenty of scene modes that are easy to use, and they seem to work well.
**Manual Control Options **
The Olympus SP-500 UZ offers degrees of manual control for various skill levels. Beginning photographers can take advantage of the vast number of scene modes available, while intermediate photographers can explore the aperture and shutter priority modes. More adventurous photographers can engage the SP-500’s manual mode and choose to manually set the exposure, white balance and even manually focus (although I wouldn’t recommend using this camera’s manual focus) if they so choose. For photographers with generally consistent preferences, shooting styles, or favorite shooting scenarios, there are four 'MyMode' settings. Users can select the recording mode, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, LCD or viewfinder display, zoom, flash mode, metering, macro setting, burst mode, ISO, self-timer, flash compensation, flash sync mode, flash to be used, digital zoom, noise reduction, auto focus mode, focus mode, fulltime auto focus, panorama mode, voice memo, time lapse, predictive auto focus, image size, white balance, white balance compensation, sharpness, contrast, saturation, information display, histogram, and even a frame assist. As you can tell, the list is comprehensive to the point of absurdity and lets users control just about any aspect of the camera.
*Auto Focus (6.5)
*The Olympus SP-500 has a CCD contrast detection auto focus system that is a bit slower than average for still photography and faster than average in the movie mode. Focus modes include iESP Auto, Spot AF, Selective AF target, and Manual. There is also a Predictive auto focus mode to help focus on subjects in motion. This mode uses an algorithm to approximate where subjects are moving and focuses accordingly. In low light, the camera sends out an orange beam of light to assist the auto focus system. Overall, the auto focus works well but lacks a bit in low light.
The SP-500 has a focus range from 23.6 inches in wide and 78 inches in telephoto to as far as one can see. The macro mode focuses from 2.76-23.62 inches in wide and 47.24-78.74 inches in telephoto and the super macro mode keeps its focus around 3 cm.
*Manual Focus (2.0)
*The SP-500 UZ has a manual focus option, but it is so horrible that it’s essentially unusable. A sliding bar is displayed on the left side of the LCD screen showing distances in meters or feet (this is selectable in the setup menu). Users can zoom in and out, then focus with the directional arrows of the multi-selector. Unfortunately, when these buttons are pressed, a box appears in the center of the screen to magnify whatever is at the center. This is supposed to aid users in focusing. However, the screen resolution is so incredibly poor that I couldn’t focus the camera at all! Just pretend this feature isn’t available. Using it will only ruin your pictures.
*The metering is the first option in the mode menu’s long list. Users can decide among the Digital iESP multi-pattern auto TTL, spot metering, and center weighted metering. The selection is easier with the AEL button, though. This button acts as a shortcut and only displays the metering choices instead of the entire mode menu. This is nice because users can actually see a live view and select accordingly.
*The Olympus SP-500 UZ helps users to get the right exposure by offering live histograms and a standard exposure compensation scale of +/- 2 EV in 1/3 increments. Shutter speed and aperture are manually controllable too and when adjusted, an exposure value appears to give users an idea of the lighting available in the shot.
White Balance* (7.5)
***The SP-500 has a nice list of white balance presets, but its best feature is its manual white balance. It is easy to set (so easy, Olympus calls it 'one-touch') and use. When one touch is simply too much, the through-the-lens automatic white balance setting is available. And when there’s enough time to make a specific selection, the following white balance preset modes are available: Overcast, Sunlight, Evening Sun, Tungsten, and 3 Fluorescent modes. All of these modes are represented by icons, so the live view is quite helpful. A live view also comes with the white balance compensation that is available in all of the modes. A 15-step scale edges the tones toward red or blue. The white balance modes are all easy to use and accurate.
*The ISO range on the Olympus SP-500 UZ is more typical of a compact digital camera with its 80, 100, 200, and 400 manual settings. The camera can also adjust the ISO automatically. Users can scroll through the options in the recording menu, but there isn’t a live view.
*The shutter speed can be automatically chosen in the auto and scene modes or users can manually adjust it in the shutter priority and manual modes. Using the up and down arrows of the multi-selector, users can scroll from 1/1000th of a second to 15 seconds and even use a bulb option. Many compact models have a wider range of about 1/2000-30, but most also do not offer the bulb setting. The Olympus SP-500 automatically uses a noise reduction system at shutter speeds slower than a half second; this is intended to eliminate the speckles of noise that appear in longer exposures.
*In the manual or aperture priority modes, users can manually adjust the aperture in its f/2.8 - f/8 range. By pushing the left and right arrows of the multi-selector, the full range of apertures can be used at the lens’ widest setting and a shortened f/3.7 - f/8 range is available at the 63mm telephoto end. When the aperture and shutter speed are adjusted, the exposure value appears on the screen along with the live view that dims or brightens with each push of the button. This is helpful especially for beginning users. The aperture is controlled by five small petals that tighten and loosen within the Olympus ED lens.
Picture Quality / Size Options* (7.5)
*There are so many size options available on the SP-500 that it’s almost ridiculous. RAW photos can be taken, and so can nine different sizes of JPEG files – each with a High or Normal compression setting. The following still image sizes are available: 2816 x 2112, 2816 x 1880, 2592 x 1944, 2288 x 1712, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, and 640 x 480. Most of these sizes are in the standard 4:3 format, but the 2816 x 1880 size is 3:2-formatted for perfect 4 x 6-inch prints. Many of these options are optimized for something: the 640 x 480 size is made for TV, the 1024 x 768 size is made for computer screens, etc. Users may not want to switch the image size setting for every other photo, so there are cropping and resizing options in the playback mode.
Picture Effects* (8.0)
*The Olympus SP-500 UZ has several picture effects, some of which can be used before grabbing the shot and others added in postproduction in-camera. Contrast, saturation, and sharpness all have a +/- 5 scale in the Picture tab of the recording menu. The more typical black and white and sepia color modes can be accessed from the playback menu. Both color modes look great and images are saved as separate files when the colors are added. Also in the playback mode, users can select the brightness and saturation options for automatic fixes that are also saved separately from the original file. Overall, the SP-500 has plenty of picture effects. More and more digital cameras are including image parameters like contrast within the menu. This streamlines the editing process for photographers who want to snap a shot and print it straight from the camera since no postproduction editing is needed.
*The SP-500 UZ comes with Olympus Master Software version 1.31, which looks rather primitive. The opening screen has a slew of randomly placed icons: Online Print, Print at Home, Transfer Images, Browse Images, Backup Images, Create and Share, and Upgrade. Users must first transfer images into the program, which can be imported from the computer or camera. Users can view pictures in a calendar format or in a normal thumbnail format. Once a picture is selected, users have the following options: Properties, Rotate, Find, Edit, Raw, Print Menu, Email, Transfer, Online Print, Share Online, and Help. Printing and emailing is made quite simple: users can still resize the image and select the number of copies and so forth. Most users will access the editing options, but they may be a little disappointed. Rotate, Crop, Instant Fix, Red-eye, and Color Balance are the only options here. There are lasso and magic wand tools to help with selection, but their power is limited because of the options. I realize that there are saturation, contrast, and sharpness options on the camera, but it would be nice to see those options in the editing software as well.
When the Olympus Master Software is loaded onto the computer, a shortcut to ImageMixer appears on the desktop. When I tried to open the program, a window appeared letting me know that it wasn’t available unless the Master Software was upgraded. When I tried to upgrade, the program accessed the Internet and took me to a site that asked for my camera’s serial number and twenty bucks. Needless to say, I saved myself a few dollars and didn’t get the Camedia Master Pro Software, so I can’t tell you what the ImageMixer is like. It’s a gimmick if you ask me.
*Jacks, Ports, Plugs (4.5)
*The Olympus SP-500 has a small rubber door on each of its sides. The left side’s door reveals the jack for both the A/V and USB 2.0 cables. The right side has a port to an optional power adapter. All of the doors are labeled with black lettering, which is a bit difficult to see.
*Direct Print Options (8.0)
*Printing from this digital camera is made simple with the Easy Print button atop the camera. The AEL button has a green print icon next to it and serves as just that in playback mode. The SP-500 must be connected to a PictBridge compatible printer with the USB cable for the Easy Print button to really work (otherwise, you’ll get a command to hook it up). With the SP-500’s 6 megapixels, if users don’t crop they can print safely up to 11 x 14 inches and perhaps a bit more.
*The Olympus SP-500 is powered by 4 AA batteries that add some heft to the body. AAs are easy to find at convenience stores, but they are not as efficient as the thinner lithium-ion battery packs that are included with many digital cameras. Olympus sells an optional B-9OSU NiMH quick charger and battery set for $40, which may be worth the cash by the time you’ve run through scores of AA batteries. The charger still takes a bit over 4 hours to fully charge.
*The Olympus SP-500 comes with 10 MB of internal memory, which quite frankly isn’t enough to do anything. If you plan on using the movie mode or take more than five pictures, consider purchasing an xD-Picture card. The SP-500 accepts xD-Picture cards up to 1 GB.
Other Features* (7.0)
Audio Snapshot –* This feature must be activated in the mode menu before the picture is taken if the user wants to utilize it. This is a pain, especially if you only want a sound clip with one picture. The camera attaches 4 seconds of glorious monaural audio with each picture in either the recording or playback modes. This is great if you want to capture the 'Surprise!' from the crowd as the birthday boy walks into the room.
Panorama Mode – This mode is found within the recording menu and superimposes blue lines on the viewfinder or LCD screen so that users can accurately line up panoramic pictures. When the images are downloaded to the included Olympus Master Software, the program can automatically stitch up to 10 frames together.
*Pixel Mapping – *This is found within the setup menu and is a pretty rare feature on digital cameras. I tried it (the only option is 'Start'), heard a few clicks, and saw a 'Busy' message appear on the screen, but didn’t see any noticeable difference. That’s a good thing, I guess. The whole idea of pixel mapping is that the camera can check itself for dead pixels – which every camera has – and replace the missing info with surrounding live pixels. So if everything still looks the same, the camera was probably just fine to begin with. Some digital cameras that don’t have this option must be sent to the manufacturer every few years for this service, so having a pixel mapping option on the camera is a nice touch.
Self-Timer – This Olympus lets users activate the self-timer and get in the picture in a time span of 12 seconds. The orange light on the front of the camera glows steadily for about ten seconds, then blinks and beeps four times before taking the picture.
*Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is value. I say that this 6 megapixel model has a lot of nice features, but most of them show their inexpensive construct. The 2.5-inch LCD screen is nicely sized but has poor resolution. The electronic viewfinder is an addition on most SLR-shaped models, but the SP-500’s is plastic and not very comfortable. There is a 10x optical zoom lens, but no image stabilization system to support its telephoto recording. Still, the price is right at $379, which is a low price for an ultra zoom. And for consumers who want to snap a shot and send out customized holiday greeting cards ten minutes later, this is definitely the right model at the right price.
Canon PowerShot S2 IS – This digital camera has a similar shape, but isn’t quite as compact as the Olympus model. The Canon S2 IS has 5 megapixels and similar manual, priority, and automatic modes. With its 12x optical zoom lens and optical image stabilization system, the S2 has fancy features. It also has a 1.8-inch LCD monitor that folds out from the body and rotates like a camcorder screen. While this screen is a lot smaller than the SP-500’s, they both have the same 115,000-pixel resolution. The Canon PowerShot S2 IS may have fewer megapixels, but it has a nicer lens and a coveted image stabilization system so it has a higher retail price of $499.
Fujifilm FinePix S5200 –The Fujifilm S5200 has a SLR-like body in a compact form and a 10x optical zoom lens that is compatible with conversion lenses. It shoots in RAW and JPEG and has an electronic viewfinders as well as an LCD screen. Sound familiar? The Fuji and the Olympus have their differences though. The Fuji has 5 megapixels on its 1/2.5-inch Super CCD, and the S5200 has a smaller 1.8-inch LCD screen. The cameras both have manual and priority modes, but the S5200 has fewer scene modes. Both the S5200 and the SP-500 run on four AA batteries.
*Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6 –*The strangely shaped Z6 is visually comparable to a Star Wars TIE Fighter because of its bulky right-hand grip, protruding lens barrel, and skinny midsection connecting the two (as illustrated here). The 6 megapixel digital camera has a 12x optical zoom lens that is coupled nicely with anti-shake technology. The easy to use Z6 has similar mode offerings, but its exposure settings are a little different The DiMAGE has a shorter 4-1/1000th shutter speed range and a maximum aperture of f/4.5 at the telephoto end of the lens (f/2.8 in wide). The Z6 has a pop-up flash that must be manually opened like the Olympus, but it is not as powerful as the one on the SP-500. The Konica Minolta digital camera has a 2-inch LCD screen with 114,000 pixels and in-camera editing of the contrast and sharpness. The Z6 eats through its 4 AA batteries quite quickly. The Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6 retails for $399.
*Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 –*This model is similarly shaped and has a long 12x optical zoom lens, but has one megapixel less than the Olympus SP-500. Sony included a nice optical image stabilization system on a body that has a fast start-up and hardly any shutter lag. The H1 has a LCD screen with similar 2.5-inch, 115,000-pixel specifications. The Cyber-shot produced relatively low noise as well. The 5 megapixel digital camera is the flagship of Sony’s 'enthusiast' series and it too is compatible with conversion lenses. It has 32 MB of internal memory and retails for $499.
**Who It’s For **
Point-and-Shooters – These consumers will love the auto mode and the lengthy list of scene modes. And perhaps someday they will come to appreciate the more manual aspects of the Olympus SP-500 UZ. Still, this would be a great camera for a point-and-shooter that may do more than point and shoot in the future.
*Budget Consumers – *Manual controls, a 10x optical zoom lens, and a 2.5-inch LCD screen are all fancy options for a $379 digital camera. Budget consumers will definitely give the SP-500 a look and perhaps even buy it without a discount or rebate.
Gadget Freaks – There aren’t exceptionally cool gadgets on the SP-500. There is a pixel mapping option, but that’s not exactly something you’d whip out to show your friends. There are frame and title options in playback that make direct printing pretty fun, but this is an otherwise average camera.
Manual Control Freaks – Shutter speed and aperture can be manually adjusted. There is a manual white balance mode and plenty of other options that can be manually selected. Manual control freaks can control nearly every aspect of the shot. Manual control freaks can even attach conversion lenses, but alas there is no hot shoe for flash accessories.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists – For someone who is really into digital photography, this probably isn’t the right model. The LCD has poor resolution, the electronic viewfinder is almost unusable, the body makes it look more like a compact model, and the lack of a zoom ring is enough to drive any serious hobbyist into a funk.
**The Olympus SP-500 UZ has a cheap plastic body but includes a lot of nice features and manual functionality at a very reasonable $379 price. With 6 megapixels, this digital camera has a complete set of recording modes: manual, priority, automatic, movie, and an extensive list of 21 scene modes. These are complemented by the Olympus ED 10x optical zoom lens that works in the movie mode as well as the still image recording modes.
Olympus cut costs by omitting an image stabilization system, which would have greatly benefited users and is included on much of its ultra zoom competition. Olympus also cut costs a few other ways too: the 2.5-inch LCD screen has only 115,000 pixels, the electronic viewfinder doesn’t have the cushy padding its competitors have, and the body is constructed from plastic. The burst mode is slow and the colors aren’t fantastic, but the Olympus SP-500 still has some very interesting features. With its in-camera editing, users can take a picture and add a frame and text, then print it with the Easy Print button – all within a matter of two minutes. All in all, the Olympus SP-500 UZ is a fine option for those who want an inexpensive ultra zoom model; it’s tough beat its $379 retail price.
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