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All cameras reproduce colors differently, such as sky blues, forest greens, or skin tones. Some cameras "boost" colors by oversaturating them, making the colors look brilliant but unnatural, while other cameras undersaturate colors, making them look muted and dull. We test color accuracy by photographing a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart under bright, even studio lights, and comparing the colors the camera reproduces with the known colors of the chart. The ColorChecker contains 24 color tiles that represent colors from all over the color spectrum. The image below shows how the 560UZ’s colors measure up to the real colors of the test chart. The outside squares show the colors the 560UZ reproduces, the inside squares show the actual colors of the chart corrected for exposure, and the inner rectangles show the actual chart colors under a perfectly even exposure. The 560UZ is most accurate when slightly underexposed, which is why the inner rectangles look brighter than the squares.

560UZ-Colors.jpg

The most obvious issue with the 560UZ’s color reproduction is that most of the colors look quite dull. Look especially at the reds, yellows, and greens compared to the actual chart colors, and notice how washed-out they appear. Other colors, such as the blues and purples, look different from their ideal counterparts. This information is shown in another way in the graph below. The ideal chart colors are shown as squares on the color spectrum, and the 560UZ colors are shown as circles. The lines connecting the squares and circles show the "drift," or color error, for each color tile.

560UZ-ColorER.jpg

The graph reaffirms the blatant undersaturation we saw in the image above. Yellows, reds, and greens are extremely undersaturated, while blues and purples are shifted toward red. These color shifts will make landscapes appear dull and people appear pasty. There is a saturation control option in the camera’s menus, and you may have to use it to breathe some color back into your photos. Overall, the 560UZ scores poorly in color accuracy, surprisingly worse than its predecessor, the 550UZ.

Resolution* (5.61)

*The Olympus SP-560UZ features 8 megapixels, up from the earlier 7.1-megapixel SP-550UZ. To see how this improves resolution, we photograph an industry standard resolution test chart at varied focal lengths and exposure settings. We run these photos through Imatest, which measures resolution in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), the number of equally spaced, alternating black and white lines that can fit across the picture frame.

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Click on the chart above to view the full resolution file

The 560UZ shows its best resolution at ISO 50, f/5.6, and a focal length of 19mm. The camera resolves 1518 lw/ph horizontally with 5.5 percent oversharpening, and 1529 lw/ph vertically with 3.6 percent oversharpening. These numbers are rather disappointing, though the sharpening levels are low enough to prevent much image artifacting. The images stay sharp across the entire frame, but are subject to barrel distortion, which warps images. You can see this barrel distortion by looking at the black line on the bottom of the resolution chart; the line should look straight, but instead it’s bowed. Overall, the 560UZ scores worse in resolution than the fewer-megapixel 550UZ. Don’t get tricked into thinking more megapixels mean better image quality.

Noise – Manual ISO* (4.40)

*Image noise is an unavoidable nuisance in digital cameras that shows up as grainy patches spread uniformly over photos. Noise becomes more pronounced in dark areas of photos, and whenever the ISO speed is boosted. We measure noise by photographing our test chart under bright, even studio lighting at each ISO speed setting a camera has. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise in terms of the percent of image detail it drowns out.

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The graph above shows how the 560UZ handles noise throughout its ISO speed range. The camera keeps noise very low at ISO 50 and 100, but then rises to visible levels at ISO 200 and 400. Oddly, noise levels drop at ISO 800, indicating automatic noise reduction. Noise is very high at ISO 1600 and 3200, and the images take on a very ugly and distracting blue cast, which you can clearly see in the still life images further down the page. This disturbing effect is removed by turning Noise Reduction on in the 560UZ’s Camera menu. The blue noise is so ugly it makes you wonder why Olympus didn’t just make this Noise Reduction the default, since the camera is already applying some automatic noise reduction. Overall, the camera scores very poorly in manual noise.

Auto Noise* (2.24)

*We also photograph the test chart under the same bright, even studio lights as above, but with the camera set to Auto ISO. The 560UZ fires at ISO 125, which is a very reasonable ISO speed for this camera. At ISO 125, the images have very little noise.

White Balance* (7.36)

*Every light source has a different color cast to it, from bright sunlight to indoor fluorescent light. Cameras must be able to correctly adjust for these different color casts, which is called white balancing. We test white balance accuracy by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four different types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test both the Auto white balance setting and the appropriate white balance presets.

*Auto (7.33)

*The Auto white balance is very accurate using its flash, decent under fluorescent light and outdoor shade, and poor under tungsten. Almost all cameras have poor Auto white balance under tungsten light, however, and these results show that leaving the camera on Auto should be fine for most shooting situations.

*Preset (7.38) *

Using the white balance presets, the 560UZ is very accurate under white fluorescent light (using the "Fluorescent 3" setting), mediocre under tungsten lights, and poor under outdoor cloudy light. Use the presets when you’re shooting indoors and don’t like the color cast of your photos; otherwise sticking to Auto should be fine.

**Still Life Sequences

***Click to view high-resolution images.*

Low Light* (7.45)

*We showed you how the 560UZ reproduces color and handles noise in bright light, but how does it perform in less-than-ideal shooting conditions? We test image quality in low light by photographing the ColorChecker test chart at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. Sixty lux is about as bright as a room lit softly by two table lamps, 30 lux approximates a room lit by a single 40-watt bulb, and 15 and 5 lux are very low light that test the limits of the sensor. All shots are taken at ISO 1600.

Color accuracy is very poor in low light and even more undersaturated than we saw in bright light. Saturation levels get as low as 65 percent at 5 lux, even though the camera can expose properly. Noise levels are very high at such high ISO speeds, and have that ugly blue cast we described in the Manual Noise section. The 560UZ can expose properly in low light, but the photos don’t look very good.

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We also test how well cameras perform in long exposures. The 560UZ can take exposures as long as 15 seconds, and all shots were taken at ISO 400. In these long exposures, color accuracy suffers, though noise levels stay fairly low. However, the camera shows an imaging issue we haven’t seen in a camera for quite some time. Long exposure photos show an emanating blue glow coming from the upper and lower right corners of the photos that increase in size as exposure length is increased. This shows an obvious problem in the camera, and will make it very hard to capture nice photos with shutter speeds longer than 1 second.

Dynamic Range* (6.25)

*Dynamic range is an important image quality factor that describes how well a camera can discern detail in both bright and dark areas of the same image. Good dynamic range is especially important for scenes with high contrast, such as wedding photos or landscapes in bright sunlight. We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer step chart, which consists of a long row of rectangles, each a slightly darker shade of gray varying from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles a camera can distinguish, the better its dynamic range.

560UZ-DynRangeGR.gif

The 560UZ shows excellent dynamic range at ISO 50 and 100, but decreases at higher ISO speeds. Keep this camera at low ISO speeds whenever possible to utilize the camera’s full potential. This is one of the few image quality areas where the 560UZ surpasses its predecessor, the 550UZ.

Speed/Timing – All speed tests are conducted using an Olympus 256MB xD-Picture Card, with the camera set to SHQ, unless otherwise noted.

*Startup-to-Shot (7.0)

*The 560UZ takes 3.0 seconds to turn on and fire a shot.

*Shot-to-Shot (8.9)

*The 560UZ has a slew of Continuous Shooting modes, including the normal Burst mode, HI 1, HI 2, PRE HI 2, and AF. In normal Burst mode, the camera takes 12 shots, each 1.1 seconds after the next. In HI 1 mode, the camera takes approximately 40 SQ1 quality (lower than maximum resolution) shots every 0.2 seconds. In HI 2 mode, it takes 40 SQ2 (even lower resolution) shots every 0.8 seconds. The PRE HI 2 mode is the same as SQ2, except that the first 10 images are recorded before the shutter is even pressed. AF mode autofocus between shots, allowing the camera to take 12 shots 1.8 seconds apart.

*Shutter-Shot (9.0)

*The camera has no measurable lag when the shutter is held halfway down and prefocused, but a 0.5second lag if not prefocused. *

Processing (7.4)

*It takes 2.6 seconds for the 560UZ to process one 3 MB SHQ photo taken at ISO 64.

Video Performance* (4.46)

Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux

*We record video footage of our video charts under bright studio lights set to 3000 lux to test Movie mode image quality. Color accuracy is excellent under such bright light, even slightly better than in still photographs. Noise stays very low, as well.

*Low Light – 30 lux

*Color accuracy isn’t nearly as good with the lights dimmed to 30 lux, but noise levels stay quite low, anyway.

*Video Resolution

*We also record footage of our resolution chart to see what video compression does to resolution performance. The camera resolves 295 lw/ph horizontally with 5.4 percent undersharpening, and 476 lw/ph vertically with 4 percent undersharpening. These values are decent, and don’t introduce extreme image artifacts.

*Motion

*We take cameras out of the lab to get a look at how they render the motion of moving cars and pedestrians. The 560UZ’s video has nice color and contrast, and avoids the ugly highlight bleeding that has plagued other Olympus Movie modes. However, there is still some exposure "flashing" evident, which happens when the camera tries to adjust metering; it changes the light level very abruptly and awkwardly. The focus also looks a bit soft, and motion has some jerkiness to it when subjects move out of the frame. Overall, the 560UZ has the best video we’ve seen from an Olympus yet, though it still isn’t at the level of other top ultra-zoom cameras, such as the Canon Powershot S5 IS or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18.

**

SP560UZ-viewfinder.jpg
Viewfinder ***(6.75)*

The Olympus SP-560UZ has an electronic viewfinder that protrudes from the back, almost like an extension from the flash in the front. The viewfinder is plastic and there is no cushy eyecup like on Canon’s ultra-zoom digital cameras. The SP-560’s viewfinder doesn’t protrude enough to keep noses off the LCD, either, so expect a bit of grease there (although I must say the LCD does well at repelling grease). Despite the lack of a cushy eyecup, the viewfinder is still nicely shaded and therefore more useful than the LCD in bright lighting.

The view itself is excellent, with proper contrast and a smooth refresh rate. It looks to be about a 60 fps feed, so even very quickly moving subjects appear nice and smooth. If you wear glasses, you can shed them and use the built-in dioptric adjustment, which has 16 steps.

Previewing subjects in the viewfinder is aided by the information and guide lines that can be added. The Info/Disp button can be pushed to add the shooting information, and an option in the Setup menu adds grid and cross lines.

Overall, I preferred the larger LCD screen most of the time simply because of size and convenience, but the electronic viewfinder was the best option in sunny and other bright lighting.

LCD Screen ***(7.5)*

**

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The SP-560UZ has the same LCD screen as its predecessor. It measures 2.5 inches diagonally and is populated with a healthy 230,000 pixels. It has a very wide viewing angle that extends from side to side and even above and below eye-level.

The view can be changed from the viewfinder to the LCD by pushing the button above the upper right corner of the LCD screen. The file information can be hidden with a touch of the info/display button below the multi-selector. The only item that always remains on the screen is the battery indicator in the upper left corner.

The Olympus SP-560UZ has a smooth live feed of about 60 fps, which is about twice as smooth as what most compact digital cameras have. The LCD’s brightness can be adjusted in full steps on a +/- 2 range.

Overall, the SP-560’s LCD screen is one of the best on the market. It is nicely-sized and has excellent resolution. The smooth view and ability to view it in just about any light are nice features, too. 

SP560UZ-flash.jpg
Flash *(7.75)*

The flash component is placed directly above the lens, which must be manually opened with a button on its left side. Even in Auto mode, the flash remains tightly clasped shut unless the button is pushed. The LCD or viewfinder displays a reminder if the camera thinks it needs it: a green dot next to a blinking red flash icon.

The flash unit is sturdy and looks just like the one on the SP-550. This is a major improvement over earlier SP-series cameras, which had flimsy flashes that had to be wiggled to snap in and pop out.

Once the flash unit is open, the Flash mode can be changed using the right side of the multi-selector. Available choices are Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in, Fill-in + Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Synchro, and Off.

There are more manual controls for the flash, too. Flash compensation has the same third-step +/- 2 range the exposure has. The flash sync can be set to one or two to fire at different times during the exposure. There is also an option to sync with 1-10 slave flash units. The Olympus SP-560 doesn’t have a hot shoe, but can supposedly operate with other flashes.

The SP-560’s flash produced even light when the lens was zoomed wide; in Telephoto mode, the flash looked brighter toward the top of the frame. The flash looks great most of the time. Even with portraits, the subjects’ foreheads didn’t look greasy or otherwise nasty, as sometimes happens with other digital cameras. I didn’t get a single red eye from the pre-production model we checked out a few months ago, and was pleasantly surprised that we got the same result this time. I nearly blinded myself and my subjects in attempting to eek out a red eye – and never got one.

Olympus’ specs state the built-in flash can reach from 0.98 to 21 feet when the ISO is set to 400 and the lens is zoomed out. When the lens is zoomed in and the ISO is set the same, the effective range shrinks to 3.9 to 13.1 feet, which, while still respectable, isn’t as impressive as the wide range. Most cameras publish flash range specs at lower ISO settings, too, so the SP-560’s specs probably sound better than what they really are.

Overall, the sturdy flash unit provides a huge amount of control that enthusiasts will appreciate. The light can be dimmed for sultry portraits or brightened to extend the reach. The flash is actually preferable to bumping up the ISO most of the time; the lighting cast didn’t look horrifically unnatural like on many cameras. It just looked like a little extra light in the frame – as it should. 

Zoom Lens ***(9.0)*

**

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The SP-560’s 18x lens is almost identical to its predecessor’s, but Olympus is making a big deal about it because it’s 1mm wider. Both SP-series models have an incredible 18x optical zoom that gets you up close and personal with your subject in almost any situation. Back-row seats to your daughter’s band concert? No problem, you can still get a shot of her fingers sliding the trombone.

Both lenses measure 4.7-84.2mm, but their 35mm equivalent ranges differ. The older camera has a 28-504mm range, while the new SP-560 sports a wider 27-486mm equivalent. Olympus claims this is the widest lens on an ultra-zoom digital camera on the market.

Like the Olympus SP-550, the SP-560’s lens has much of the same construction. It is built from 14 lenses in 11 groups that sport four aspherical lenses and two ED lenses to minimize distortion. Unfortunately, the specs didn’t translate to results: the images still show significant barrel distortion.

The Olympus SP-560UZ outdoes the competition with its 27mm wide lens. The closest competitors are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18, with 8.1 megapixels and 28mm 18x optical zoom lens, and the 8.1-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9’s 31mm 15x optical zoom lens. The SP-560 has an impressive 18x optical zoom lens, but then adds the option for up to 5.6x digital zoom, which should generally be avoided to keep the image quality pristine.

The lens has maximum apertures of f/2.8 when zoomed out and f/4.5 when zoomed in. The aperture on the pre-production model we received got stuck in a continuous rhythm of opening and closing, but that problem seems to be fixed on the production model. Kudos to the Olympus engineers.

The lens is backed up by optical image stabilization, which can be turned on and off in the Recording menu or with the half-moon-shaped button beside the shutter release/zoom control. The image stabilization system on the production model worked wonderfully in reducing blur in images; this was especially helpful when photographing without the flash and using the full 18x zoom.

Unfortunately the image stabilization and optical zoom lens don’t function in the Movie mode when the audio is turned on. You can record silent movies with zoom and stabilization, or you can record bumpy movies with sound.

The enormous 18x lens is controlled by a ring that surrounds the shutter release button. The ring has a small nub on the front that can be pushed to the right and left to zoom in or out. The lens zooms smoothly in, stopping at about 35 focal lengths. Zooming out is not smooth at all: the ride is jerky and the lens stops at only 25 focal lengths. When the lens tries to stop at a focal length while zooming out, it backfires and breathes before settling down. The good news is that it takes the camera three seconds to zoom in and the same back out. This feels just right. The little zoom ring doesn’t do justice to the big zoom lens, though: I kept wanting to rotate the rubber ring around the lens instead.

The very edge of the lens is threaded so conversion lenses can be attached. Olympus sells wide and telephoto conversion lenses for its ultra-zoom series cameras. Olympus’ proprietary lens is wide and can still cover the ball field with its massive 18x optical zoom range. 

**Model Design / Appearance ***(8.5)*

Olympus went with a tried and true design. They certainly didn’t tweak anything in this area. The SP-560 looks exactly like the SP-550, with a few icon changes on buttons and a new name badge on the front.

This design works well for this ultra-zoom camera. It is compact yet still has a comfortable rubber hand and thumb grip. Olympus combines a variety of textures, such as suede-like rubber, tough plastic, and slippery chrome, to make a cool digital camera. It isn’t a very sexy camera; not many (or any) ultra-zooms are. But it looks serious and is comfortable to hold at the same time.

Size / Portability *(5.25)*

The SP-560 has the same look as its predecessor, and even the same measurements. It measures 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 inches, the same as the SP-550. It weighs the same too, at 12.9 ounces unloaded. The camera feels heavy for its size. It requires four AA batteries, which add a lot of heft. On its sides are tiny neck strap eyelets, but they hang slightly off-kilter, so hanging it around your neck may be a little uncomfortable. The Olympus SP-560 is an ultra-zoom digital camera, so it’s chunkier than most compact cameras but is still small enough to carry around without needing a Sherpa. It will fit just fine in a tote or book bag, but should probably be in a fitted camera bag to protect its fine 18x optical zoom lens.

**Handling Ability ***(8.75)*

Olympus kept handling in mind when designing this camera. The ultra-zoom SP-560 has a wide lens barrel that the left hand supports while the right hand grabs the curvaceous and rubber-coated right side. The front of the hand grip has a marked divot fingers can comfortably wrap around. Meanwhile, the right thumb supports the back with a protruding rubber pad. All the camera’s buttons are correctly positioned so they can be accessed by the thumb or index finger. The overall handling of the SP-560 is fabulous; you’ll never want to hold a boxy point-and-shoot again.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(6.75)*

Although the SP-560 is shaped like an SLR, its controls are more reminiscent of compact digital cameras. There aren’t as many dedicated buttons, and some of the included buttons have cheap printed icons that look like they’ll rub off after a few photo shoots.

At the top of the hand grip is the shutter release button, slightly recessed in a bowl-like zoom control ring. The ring looks domed from the side but has a carved out spot at the top for the big shiny shutter release button. The zoom ring has a relatively large nub on its front so it can easily be pushed right and left to move the lens. This control isn’t bad, but still doesn’t seem to do the 18x optical zoom lens justice. The lens is just so big that I find myself wanting to rotate the rubber ring around the barrel!

The mode dial is also atop the camera and is nicely sized and labeled. It is quite tall and has a nicely grooved edge that makes it really easy to rotate.

On the back of the camera are those compact camera-like buttons. There is a circular multi-selector flanked by two buttons above and below it. All the buttons have printed white icons on the gray-colored background. The round multi-selector has a chrome ring around it that is mostly decorative but is part of the control and can be pushed.

Overall, the controls are easy to find and activate. They are all properly labeled and within easy reach. The multi-selector is a bit crammed with the surrounding buttons so users need to take care when pressing around down there.

**Menu ***(6.0)

*The SP-560 has the same type of menu included on other Olympus digital cameras. When the menu button is pushed, a dark screen appears with randomly placed text that can be selected to access different options and menus. The font is readable, but in all capital letters, and sometimes unfamiliar icons are used in place of text.

First we will have a look at the Function menu, which is found only in the Manual modes by pushing the button in the middle of the multi-selector.  

This button is preferable to the main Recording menu because it provides large live previews. The Recording menu has its place, though; it includes many more features to choose from.

When the menu button is pushed, the screen appears with a dark background and white text. It looks like the randomly placed menus on other Olympus digital cameras. In the center is the Camera menu. Above it is the Image Quality option. To the right is a link to the Setup menu. To the lower right is a Silent mode and directly below accesses Scene mode. To the left of the center is a Reset link. The following is the Camera menu. 

There are five tabs on the left side of this lengthy Recording menu, but no icons, so unless you remember that Image Stabilizer is under submenu three, you’ll have to flip through the whole thing. The background of the menu is dark, so there aren’t many live previews. There is a preview for the white balance, but it’s hard to see, so this setting is much more user-friendly from the Function menu.

The Setup menu is available from the initial menu screen and includes the same options found on the Olympus SP-550. 

Admittedly, I am not a fan of this menu style. The capital letters remind me of spastic e-mails that predict my certain death if I don’t forward it along to at least 10 friends. The initial screen is a bit confusing; when I push a menu button, I expect a list to appear rather than randomly placed text. And the length of the menus combined with the numerical organization doesn’t help me find menu items any faster than just flipping through the entire list.

Ease of Use*(6.25)*

The SP-560 can be easy to use but won’t be interesting unless you dig into the more intricate menus and features. Sure, my technologically naïve great aunt could pick this up and find the Auto mode just fine. She could probably even take a picture with the enormous shutter release button intuitively placed. But if you ask her about shadow adjustment or even the Burst mode, she’d probably give a strange look. The lengthy menus would be far beyond her reach. To really use all the SP-560 has to offer, you need to delve into the menus and features – which aren’t easy to use.

**Auto Mode ***(6.75)*

The Olympus SP-560’s Auto mode is easily found on the mode dial. It does what it supposed to: automates everything. Well, almost everything. It doesn’t automatically pop up the flash unit when needed. The flash must be manually opened, even in the Auto mode. There is a reminder; a green dot next to a flashing red flash icon appears on the monitor on in the viewfinder. In the Auto mode, users can still change the image quality and enter the Setup menu, but there is no access to the Recording menu at all. The functions on the multi-selector still work too: Macro, Self-Timer, and Exposure Compensation.

Movie Mode*(6.75)*

The Movie mode is easy to find on the mode dial and is fairly easy to use. It truncates the menus, but many options are still available. The white balance and metering are still fully accessible in the Function menu. The following Motion JPEG video sizes are available: 640 x 480 at 30 fps, 320 x 240 at 15 fps, and 160 x 120 at 15 fps. Most cameras have a 30 fps option for the 320 x 240-pixel size too, but Olympus seems to have skipped that. Other options available in the Movie mode include exposure compensation, macro, self-timer, and even shadow adjustment.

The pre-production model’s Movie mode wasn’t functioning, but the final model is working just fine. There are some pros and cons, but we’ll start with the good stuff. The Olympus SP-560UZ has excellent color reproduction in movies – even better than in still images. Noise also remains low, making the video from this camera the best we’ve seen from an Olympus digital camera in awhile.

The Movie mode is still far from perfect, though. The most annoying quality is that the 18x optical zoom lens and its image stabilization system only work when the audio is turned off, so users are forced to choose whether they want to zoom in on their subjects or hear them. You can’t have it all with the SP-560. But this is an ultra-zoom digital camera; you should be able to use the zoom at all times, without having to sacrifice audio or anything else. Another downside to the Movie mode is its soft focus and finicky metering system that flashes as light and dark subjects move across the frame. There are more details in the Testing/Performance section.

Overall, the Olympus SP-560UZ’s Movie mode is the best we’ve seen from this manufacturer, but its inability to zoom while recording audio is annoying.

Drive / Burst Mode *(4.5)*

The Drive modes are accessed from the Recording menu in the Manual, Priority, and Program modes. The rainbow of options include Single, Continuous, Hi-Speed 1, Hi-Speed 2, AF Continuous, and Bracketing.

Olympus’ published specs say its normal Burst mode snaps at a rate of 1.2 fps for up to seven shots. Additionally, there are two high-speed modes. The first high-speed mode shrinks images down to 3 megapixels and then snaps away at 7 fps for up to 23 shots.

The second high-speed mode shrinks the images even smaller, to only 1280 x 960 pixels, and clicks away even faster: this is the highly publicized 15 fps Burst mode. It can take up to 40 pictures at a time, but it takes about 12 seconds to record them all to the memory card. Like everything else on this camera, the processing time is awfully slow. There is a Pre-Capture mode that records with the same specs, but captures pictures even before the shutter release button is pushed. Once again, there is a long pause before the camera can capture more pictures. Lag is also apparent when trying to access the photos in Playback mode.

The Continuous AF mode takes a picture about every 1.5 seconds. The Bracketing mode has options to take three or five pictures at exposure value steps of +/- 0.3, +/- 0.7, and +/- 1. This Bracketing mode doesn’t automatically snap a string of pictures like most cameras do, though. Users must hold down the shutter release just like normal Burst mode shooting – so if you want three pictures, hold the shutter release down longer.

Something new on the Olympus SP-560 is the burst folders. After one of the Burst modes is used, the string of pictures taken appears in a folder. To open the folder in the Playback mode, press the image stabilization/burst folder button on top of the camera. This seems like a cool feature, as it helps organize the many pictures taken in a burst. It does take awhile for the camera to access it, and the slow processing times plague this cool feature. The self-timer is available from the bottom of the multi-selector and has two and 10-second options. 

Playback Mode *(7.25)*

The Playback mode can be accessed using the mode dial or the button on the back of the camera. I prefer the button on the back because it’s easier to flip between Recording and Playback mode.

Pictures can be viewed one by one or in screens of four, nine, 16, or 25 pictures. There is also a calendar view available from the initial screen that pops up when the menu button is pushed. Pictures can be magnified up to 10x in Playback mode. This mode’s menu has a plethora of functions: Slide Show, Edit, Print Order, Setup, Silent Mode, Erase, Calendar, Perfect Fix, and the standard Playback menu.

The Standard menu isn’t very exciting. It consists of three options: Protect, Resize, and Voice Memo. The slide shows are interesting, although there aren’t zillions of options for customizing displays. Background music can be turned on and off. You will want this turned off. The music consists of about 10 seconds of elevator music that plays and replays and replays - it’s very annoying. Transitions can be chosen, too: normal, scroll, fader, slide, zoom up, zoom down, checkerboard, blinds, swivel, and random.

There are tons of editing options:

RAW Data Edit: This allows users to fully adjust the image quality, white balance, white balance compensation, sharpness, contrast, and saturation. This didn’t work on the preproduction camera but works flawlessly on the production camera. All of the menu options come with live previews of the image and give users a lot of flexibility. This feature probably won’t replace Photoshop for most hobbyists, but is a nice touch nonetheless.

Resize: Users can choose from e-mail-friendly 640 x 480 and 320 x 240-pixel choices.

Crop: The zoom ring can be used to crop images to any form.

*Color Edit: *The camera displays four preview images of the selected image in four different Color modes; black and white, sepia, vivid, and muted colors. Users scroll and pick one. The result is saved as a separate file. Many cameras have Color modes, but this preview setup is really nice.

*Frame: *There are 13 frames to choose from. None of them look super professional, but could be fun for printing pictures to put in a high school locker.

*Label: *Ten phrases are available that are common on greeting cards. 'Congratulations' and 'Happy Birthday' are among the options.

Calendar: Not to be confused with the calendar display option. This allows users to choose from eight layouts so pictures can be printed on a calendar page. No need to buy that expensive photo calendar from the online retailer.

*Layout: *Scrapbookers rejoice. This option aligns pictures on pages with six different layouts.

*Expression Edit: *The specs indicate that this feature can save the largest face in an image as a separate file (if detected by the face detection system in the first place), but this didn’t seem to work, even on the production model. A "face detect error" message appeared every time, even when the face was recognized by the face detection system. After 40+ portrait shots, we’ve just about given up on this feature.

*Face Focus: *This keeps the center of the image in focus and blurs everything around it. Because I used a picture of a tightly cropped face from the previous editing option, the nose was perfectly focused, with all other features blurred. Not flattering in that case.

Perfect Fix: Allows users to fix red eyes, lighting, or both. I didn’t have any red-eye pictures to test, so I tested only the lighting portion of this feature. It seems to work very well. It fixes images that looked a little washed out and adds contrast where needed. It also shows before and after images side by side for a moment – perhaps just to show how awesome the feature is.

*Video Editing: *Movies can be played back and edited. The preproduction model didn’t show this option, but the final product shows that videos can be split. The new file can be saved separately or overwrite the old one. The audio, if recorded, sounds great with the big speaker. Users can fast forward and rewind, and play back the movie in slow motion.

Overall, the Playback mode has a great medium on the high-resolution, wide-viewing-angle LCD screen, and has lots of cool editing options to enhance pictures and print cards and projects directly from the camera. 

Custom Image Presets*(7.0)*

The Olympus SP-560UZ has a healthy set of 25 Scene modes located conveniently in a 'SCN' position on the mode dial. Most of the custom image presets are seen on other Olympus digital cameras, but there are two new to the bunch. Here is the list:

Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Sport, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available Light, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select 1, Shoot & Select 2, Smile Shot, Beach, Snow, Underwater Wide 1, Underwater Wide 2, Underwater Macro, and Quick Shutter.

The new modes are Smile Shot and Quick Shutter. Smile Shot crops images to a tiny 1600 x 1200 pixels and takes two pictures in a quick burst when the shutter release button is pushed. In our opinion, this isn’t worthy of a whole new Scene mode. The Quick Shutter mode is fairly self-explanatory: it’s made for photographing action.

Some of the Scene modes automatically shrink the image size. The Smile Shot mode shoots only 1600 x 1200 pixels. The Available Light and Candle modes shoot 2048 x 1536-pixel images. The Auction mode shoots 640 x 480-pixel images. If you shoot in the Auction mode and post your pictures to an online auction site, let’s just hope your customers don’t request larger images for closer inspection of that handmade Persian rug you’re trying to sell.

The Scene mode menu has a nice setup. It shows a small example picture along with a brief explanation of what the mode does. Overall, the Scene mode selection covers the basics and more.

Manual Control Options

The Olympus SP-560UZ packs in plenty of manual controls for enthusiasts and others who care to experiment beyond the realm of the Auto mode. Users can change everything from the shutter speed and aperture to the flash compensation and white balance.

**Focus

***Autofocus (7.75)*The SP-560UZ has a CCD contrast detection system that includes a new face detection system. This finds faces in the frame and automatically focuses on them; this technology is included on many other digital cameras. The SP-560 is one of the first Olympus cameras to include face detection. Some cameras include a button specifically for face detection, such as the Fujifilm FinePix F40fd. The Olympus SP-560UZ instead opts to stash it among other menu items.

In the Recording menu, the Auto Focus modes include Face Detect, iESP, Spot, and Area. The Face Detect mode is quick, but not as quick as systems on Panasonic and Canon digital cameras. Sometimes it finds a face and places a green box around it, but it didn’t track well. It loses contact when heads turn, as well. It recognizes up to three faces when testing. The Standard Auto Focus modes work fairly well, albeit a bit on the slow side. The SP-560 has a Predictive Auto Focus mode, but it doesn’t show significant improvement in focus from the standard mode. Subjects in the Movie mode aren’t focused well. We thought this was a preproduction phenomenon, but the problem of soft subjects still exists on the production model.

The SP-560 can focus from 3.94 inches to infinity when the lens is zoomed out and 47.24 inches to infinity when zoomed in. The Macro mode gets up close and personal and can be found on the left side of the multi-selector. There is also a Super Macro mode that can focus as close as 1 centimeter. In the Recording menu is an option to turn the full-time Auto Focus on and off, along with on and off options for the autofocus assist lamp.

Overall, the SP-560’s Auto Focus system has great specs, but its face detection is behind the competition and is generally slow. *Manual Focus**(3.75)*

The Manual focus is available in the Recording menu. When it is engaged, a vertical bar appears on the left side of the LCD. There are guide numbers to help find the correct point of focus. The center of the image is magnified, and it is often difficult to see just how sharp the subject is within the magnified area because of the preview’s noise and the LCD’s resolution (which is good, but not good enough to support this).

ISO*(9.0)*

The SP-560UZ outdoes its predecessor with a wider ISO sensitivity range. The new model has Automatic and High ISO auto settings, along with a robust selection of manual settings: 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, and 6400. The SP-550’s top ISO was 5000, although both cameras max out at 1600 in full resolution. The SP-560’s top two sensitivity settings shrink the image size to 3 megapixels.

The ISO correlates to the amount of noise that appears in images. Included on the camera’s new image processor is a second-generation advanced noise filter Olympus claims has 'evolved further to reproduce subjects faithfully and reduce noise by isolating the image and noise signals accurately.' This noise reduction system seems to kick in right around ISO 800, where noise levels drop significantly. More details are available in the Testing/Performance section, but the SP-560’s ISO settings produce more noise than the average digital camera.

White Balance *(8.0)*

The white balance can be changed in the Function or Recording menu, although the first menu is preferable due to its large live preview. The Recording menu has a live preview, but it’s hidden behind much larger text. The following options are available: Auto, One-Touch, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, and Fluorescent 3. There is no flash preset, but the other presets seem to cover the basics.

Changing the custom white balance is a simple process. There are on-screen directions that prompt users to frame something white and press the OK/func button.

White balance compensation can be tweaked in the Recording menu up seven steps toward a blue hue or down seven steps toward red. This isn’t quite like Panasonic’s more involved white balance compensation, but is still included, unlike many other similar models that don’t include this feature at all.

We tested the accuracy of the white balance presets and the automatic setting in our imaging lab. The full results are in the Testing/Performance section, but the basic idea is that the auto setting works in most situations, and the presets are preferable only when indoors and dissatisfied with the hue in images. 

Exposure *(8.0)*

The exposure can be manually adjusted with access to the aperture and shutter speeds. There is also an all-purpose exposure compensation adjustment that is available in almost every exposure mode. Its +/- 2 EV range in 1/3 steps is typical of consumer digital cameras. There is a Bracketing mode available that can take three or five pictures to ensure just the right exposure is captured. Unfortunately, it works more like a Burst mode, so users need to remember to continuously push the shutter release button; the camera doesn’t automatically snap all those pictures.

Users can monitor the exposure with the histogram, turned on or off in the Setup menu. A 'direct' option shows highlights in the image as red and shadows as blue.

Recent Olympus digital cameras pay special attention to extreme portions of the exposure such as highlights and shadows. The Olympus SP-560 has a button specifically for shadow adjustment so details aren’t lost to dark portions of the image. This option also automatically activates the face detection technology. 

Metering*(8.5)*

Like other digital cameras, the Olympus SP-560UZ has three Metering modes available: ESP, Spot, and Center-Weighted Average. They can be changed in the Recording or Function menus. The Function menu is preferable because it provides a preview of what the exposure will look like, whereas the Recording menu has an opaque background. When the face detection system is activated, the camera meters directly from the face wherever it may be in the frame.

Shutter Speed *(7.5)*

The Olympus SP-560UZ has a typical shutter speed range of 15-1/2000 of a second, although the longer exposures are cut to a maximum of four seconds in the Auto and Scene modes. There is a bulb setting in the Manual mode for longer exposures of up to eight minutes. Beware of long exposures, though, because tests in our lab showed large glowing spots in lengthy exposures. The SP-560’s shutter speeds can be manually adjusted via the exposure compensation portion of the multi-selector and the OK/func button. In the Manual mode, the full range of options is available, with the caveat being that the 1/2000 setting can only be accessed if the aperture is smaller than f/4.5. Olympus included an improved noise reduction system in the camera to keep longer exposures clean; it automatically turns on when shutter speeds are slower than a half-second.

Aperture *(7.0)*

The aperture can open to f/2.8 when the lens is zoomed out to 27mm. When zoomed in, the max aperture shrinks to f/4.5. The smallest aperture available is f/8. The aperture can be accessed with the exposure compensation portion of the multi-selector and the OK/func button. The aperture on the preproduction model we reviewed a few months ago had a lot of problems, but those have been ironed out.

Picture Quality / Size Options *(9.0)*The Olympus SP-560UZ upgrades to 8 megapixels from its predecessor’s 7.1 megapixels. The CCD is slightly larger, too, at 1/2.35 inches instead of 1/2.5 inches. The image size can be changed by following the text link on the initial menu screen. The following resolutions are available: 

There are plenty of image size options on the Olympus SP-560UZ: everything from RAW to e-mail-sized images. Plenty of formats are here, too, including the standard 4:3, the 4 x 6-inch print-optimized 3:2, and the widescreen television-optimized 16:9.

Unfortunately, the image size is affected by other factors, such as ISO sensitivity and Exposure mode. The manual ISO settings extend to 6400, but anything beyond 1600 automatically shrinks the image size to 3 megapixels. Many of the Scene modes, such as Smile Shot and Available Light, also shrink the image size. Images also shrink in such gimmicky modes as the 15 fps Pre-Capture Burst mode.

If you want to shrink the image, there is a resizing option in the Playback menu that has 640 x 480 and 320 x 240-pixel choices. If you want complete control there is RAW shooting available. The white balance and ISO are the only controls available before shooting in RAW, but there are lots of editing features for RAW images in the Playback menu. Unfortunately, the Olympus SP-560’s 8 megapixels didn’t prove to be the most effective when tested in our lab. It performs below average – disappointing for such an expensive digital camera touted for hobbyists.

Picture Effects Mode *(7.5)*

There are a few picture effects in the Shooting modes, but many more available in the Playback mode. In the Recording menu there are +/- 5 scales for adjusting the sharpness, saturation, and contrast.

There are plenty of ways to manipulate the picture in the Edit portion of the Playback mode’s menu. There is a color edit option that shows four previews with different effects: Vivid, Muted, Black and White, and Sepia. Users can choose from 13 frames, 10 labels, eight calendar layouts, and six scrapbook-like layouts to ease the printing and post-production process. The Face Focus effect keeps the center of the image in focus and blurs everything else around it – so hope the face is in the center.

The most visible picture effect is the Perfect Fix function in the initial Playback menu screen. This option corrects red eyes, exposure, or both. I didn’t get to test the red-eye because the flash performs all too well (that’s a good thing, of course), but the lighting fix works very well. 

Connectivity

*Software (8.0)

*The Olympus SP-560UZ comes with the second version of Olympus Master Software. It is compatible with Windows and Macintosh operating systems. It also includes a trial version of Olympus muvee theaterPack, but only on Windows.

The program takes about 10 minutes to install and load existing pictures from the computer; this figure probably depends on the quality of the computer and how many pictures it is loading, though.

The second version of the Olympus Master software is exponentially better than its previous version. It has a much more intuitive layout and is more visually pleasing – something important to photographers, of course. It is also easier to use. When it starts up, a Quick Start guide appears and explains how to perform certain functions like browsing and printing.

Along the top of the window are plenty of access points: Transfer, Slide Show, E-mail, Print Menu, Edit, RAW, Panorama, Option, Update/Language, Quick Guide, and Help are arranged from left to right. There are organizational features along the left side of the window.

There are a decent number of editing options. It is still not as elaborate as Photoshop, but it is easier to use for the majority of point-and-shooters. From the Edit button, users can resize, crop, insert text, adjust the brightness & contrast, color balance, tone curve, gamma, auto tone correction, hue & saturation, monochrome & sepia, sharpness & blur, distortion correction, and red-eye reduction, as well as crop.

SP560UZ-ports.jpg

All in all, the included software with the Olympus SP-560UZ is above average compared to what is normally supplied with compact digital cameras. 

*Jacks, ports, plugs (7.0)

*On the left side of the camera is a rubber door that can be pried open. Beneath it are two ports: one for the DC in power adapter and the other for the USB/AV cables. *

Direct Print Options**(6.25)*

Olympus included lots of picture effects in the Playback menu so users can print all kinds of projects directly from the camera: calendars, scrapbook pages, greeting cards, and of course good old-fashioned pictures. Printing is done through the Playback menu, where print orders can be created in the Print Order link from the initial menu screen. When this is pushed, users can scroll through and select pictures and choose to print 0-10 copies. If you want to print one of everything, there is an option to do that, too. Users can also choose to attach the date, time, or

SP560UZ-battery.jpg
both. There is a playback button on the back of the camera with a print icon on it; this transfers the print order to the printer when the USB cable is connected.

Battery (4.5)

The Olympus SP-560UZ is powered by four AA batteries that fit into a compartment below the hand grip. The compartment is secured by a plastic door with a sliding lock on it. Once the door is closed, it won’t fly open. However, cramming it closed is tough because the batteries seem to want to spring out. There is a green battery life indicator on the LCD screen that shows only two levels; it would have been more helpful to have at least three levels so there is a little more warning before the batteries die. *

Memory**(3.0)*

SP560UZ-memory.jpg
The Olympus SP-560 comes with 47 MB of internal memory, which is currently the most offered in any ultra-zoom digital camera. The camera has a plastic door on the right side that opens to a slot that fits xD-Picture cards. This type of media is generally used only on Olympus and Fujifilm digital cameras, as opposed to the more widely-used SD media. Unfortunately, the SP-560 can support cards only up to 2 GB, which will go quickly when shooting RAW images and recording clips. 

**Other features ***(7.0)*

*Panorama *– The SP-560 is just like other Olympus digital cameras. The Panorama mode provides guide lines, but not even a translucent sliver of a previously taken image like on most digital cameras. The pictures don’t stitch together in the camera, either; they must be loaded into software to do that. This feature can take up to 10 pictures and requires an Olympus-branded xD-Picture card to function.

Time Lapse – If you are into shooting butterflies hatching or buildings being built, the Olympus SP-560 has a built-in time lapse photography feature. It can take 2-99 pictures at intervals of 1-99 minutes.

*Alarm Clock *– The alarm clock can be turned on and off in the Setup menu. It can be set to go off once or every day. A snooze option can be turned on and off and users have a choice between three equally annoying alarm sounds. The volume has three levels of adjustment, too.

Guide Mode – This is located on the mode dial and walks beginners through basic photography lessons. There is a long list of common problems covered, such as brightening subjects and choosing Scene modes.

**Value ***(6.5)*

The revamped Olympus SP-560UZ will retail for $499, the same introductory price as the SP-550. This price is expected as the old model is, well, old. And the new model isn’t very different than the old one. Sure, it adds face detection and an ever-so-slightly wider lens, but that doesn’t justify any major price hike. As for value, $499 is at the high end of what most consumers want to pay for a non-DSLR camera. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 has a 15x optical zoom lens and costs $479. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 has an 18x optical zoom lens and retails for $399. Overall, the SP-560 is expensive and probably won’t be on clearance any time soon.

Comparisons

COMP-560UZ.jpg
Olympus SP-550UZ – The Olympus SP-550 has the exact same looks and handling, but with only 7.1 megapixels. It has many of the same exposure modes with the exception of two Scene modes, Quick Shutter and Smile, omitted on the older model. The SP-550 doesn’t have face detection, as it has an older image processor. Its ISO range tops out at 5000, as compared to the SP-560’s ISO 6400. Both cameras still max out at ISO 1600 in full resolution, though; anything higher shrinks the image size to 3 megapixels. Both cameras have an 18x optical zoom lens with image stabilization, but the SP-550’s is 1mm narrower. That isn’t a huge deal, but Olympus seems to be making it so. The two cameras have the same flash and LCD components and retail for $499, although now that the newer model is out the Olympus SP-550 will probably be marked down.

 
COMP-S5-IS.jpg
Canon PowerShot S5 IS –
Going for the same $499 retail price, the Canon S5 comes with 8 megapixels but a much shorter 12x optical zoom lens. Canon’s S-series is known for its hybrid abilities: the S5’s lens is fully functional in Movie mode. The image stabilization keeps videos looking smooth, stereo audio sounds great, and features like selectable audio sampling rates and a wind filter give the S5 the edge when it comes to movies. It takes great pictures, too, and includes a full set of manual and automated exposure modes. The Canon S5 has a 2.5-inch LCD monitor that folds out from the camera and rotates. Unfortunately, its resolution isn’t as good, with only 207,000 pixels. It tested decently with very accurate colors and excellent low light performance, but produces a lot of noise and isn’t a star performer when it comes to dynamic range.   *
COMP-S8000fd.jpg
Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd –
* With a similar SLR shape and design, the S8000*fd* comes to the market with 8 megapixels and a familiar 18x optical zoom lens. It has the same wide 27mm focal length as the SP-560 and also packs optical image stabilization. This FinePix also has a similar 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels. It has plenty of manual controls, including an ISO range that reaches 1600 at full resolution. The S8000*fd*’s face detection system is fast and can recognize up to 10 faces at a time, and even has an automatic red-eye removal feature that syncs with the system. This ultra-zoom digital camera retails for $399.   *

COMP-FZ18.jpg
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 –
* The 8.1-megapixel FZ18 shares much in common with the Olympus, including an 18x optical zoom lens. The FZ18’s lens is 1mm narrower, but reaches farther with its 28-504mm focal range. The lens is backed up with optical image stabilization. Like the Olympus, the FZ18 has full manual controls and plenty of features, including RAW file shooting. It has a faster 3 fps Burst mode for full-resolution pictures and is overall one of the best cameras we’ve tested in our imaging lab. It produces excellent resolution, accurate colors, low noise, excellent dynamic range, and is even a star in low light. The FZ18 has the same 2.5-inch LCD screen but a lower 207,000-pixel resolution. That’s about the only compromise consumers would need to make with this camera: it sells for much less at $399.  
COMP-H9.jpg
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 –
There’s a little less zoom but many more features found on this camera. The 8.1-megapixel Sony H9 has a narrower 15x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization that is fully functional whether snapping pictures or shooting videos. It is loaded with trendy features like face detection, high definition output capability, infrared photography, and a 3-inch LCD monitor that folds out from the camera and tilts up and down. Full manual controls are on the docket, including ISO settings that range from 64 to 3200. The 9-point autofocus system is also a nice touch. The H9 accepts up to 8 GB of Sony Memory Stick Duo or Duo Pro media. It costs $479.  **Who It’s For**

Point-and-Shooters – The SP-560 won’t fit in a pocket and takes a little more know-how to fully utilize, but it does have a Guide mode that walks beginners through common photography problems. The camera also features an Auto mode. It’s not for the beginner, but could be considered by the point-and-shooter looking for a camera to grow with.

Budget Consumers – This new ultra-zoom won’t be in many budgets, but perhaps its predecessor will get a mark-down.

Gadget Freaks – The 18x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization is tempting. Shadow compensation and a few other interesting features may catch the attention of gadget freaks.

Manual Control Freaks – There are enough manual controls to keep these consumers happy.

Pros / Serious Hobbyists – This may enter the radar for serious hobbyists but as a second camera, but for slightly more, they could also purchase a low-end SLR.

Conclusion 

Olympus’ newest ultra-zoom digital camera comes with face detection and a slightly wider, but still incredibly long lens. The Olympus SP-560UZ keeps some of its predecessor’s best features: a high-resolution 2.5-inch LCD screen, lots of great picture effects, and a sturdy body.

The 18x optical zoom lens is the headline feature, and it delivers with a nice range that can be used in almost any circumstance. The 8.1-megapixel SP-560 retails for $499, which is at the high end of what most consumers are willing to pay for a non-DSLR camera.

The Olympus SP-560UZ improves upon its predecessor, but still falls short of its competition. Its colors are inaccurate and there are still problems with basic features like focus and continuous shooting modes: they aren’t fast and the focus can be soft, especially in movies. In the end, there are more things to dislike about the SP-560 than there are to like. There are better ultra-zoom digital cameras out there for less expensive prices.  

Sample photos

***Click on the thumbnails below to view the full resolution images.
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Specs Table

Meet the tester

Emily Raymond

Emily Raymond

Editor

Emily Raymond is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

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