The chart below expresses the same information as above in a more direct manor. The squares are the Stylus 500’s produced colors, while the circles are the ideal. The line linking the two shapes expresses the degree of error; the longer the line is connecting the two, the less accurate that particular tone.
The Olympus Stylus 500 relies on its TruePic Turbo image processor for accurate color representation and tonal reproduction. Unfortunately, with an 84.48% color saturation value and 10.5 mean color error score, the processor led the Stylus 500 astray, earning just a 6.07 overall color score. This is significantly lower than the Stylus 410's 9.16 overall color score. This decline is a bit disconcerting considering the Stylus 500's higher price tag, glorified marketing campaign and additional specifications.
In addition to the lack of color accuracy, the Stylus 500's 84.48% mean saturation score is substantially lower than most point-and-shoots on the market, a majority of which opt to oversaturate colors rather than diffuse them. Over-saturated colors will often lead the image to appear more vibrant, while under-saturated tones will often come across as muddy and drab. Observing images produced by the Stylus 500, the colors instantly lack the 'striking' feel of many similarly-priced cameras on the market. While the produced images were sharp, the colors were not.
**Still Life Scene
**Below is a copy of our majestic still life scene captured with the Olympus Stylus 500.
Click on the above image to view a full resolution version (CAUTION: the linked file is very large!)](../viewer.php?picture=Stylus500-StillLifeLG.jpg)
Resolution / Sharpness*(4.26)
*To evaluate the efficiency of the Stylus 500’s CCD sensor, we recorded several exposures of an industry resolution chart and ran the results though Imatest Imaging Software. The software detects the actual pixels used in forming the recorded images. We contrast these scores with the camera’s maximum advertised resolution and report a percentage of pixel used. When cameras actively utilize 70% of their potential pixels, it is regarded as a "good" score. When this value reaches 80-85%, it is considered "very good" and when the rare camera exceeds 90%, it is deemed "excellent."
Click on the above image to view the full res. image](../viewer.php?picture=Stylus500-ResCH-LG.jpg)
What the Stylus 500 lacks in color production, it makes up for in sharpness. The camera packs an efficient 5-megapixel 1/2.5-inch CCD and TruePic Turbo image processor, helping provide ample resolution for making up to 11 x 14-inch prints. In practice, we found that the Olympus Stylus 500 recorded images (at its largest image size) with 4.26 active pixels, this is 87% of its advertised resolution and a very good score - also a vast improvement from the dismal 66% score attached to the Stylus 410.
**Noise – Auto ISO ***(5.86)
*As a straight-forward point-and-shoot camera, the Olympus Stylus 500 will be relied on by many automatically-oriented users to produce proper exposures with minimal noise. With a general ISO range of 64-400, users should have some shooting flexibility with indoor shooting available when ample lighting is provided. The Stylus 500 earned a 5.86 automatic ISO score. This is actually quite good for a point-and-shoot camera. When tested in our controlled lighting setup (over 400 Lux), the Stylus 500 avoided a common flaw of many compact digital cameras in underestimating the available light. Many cameras will inaccurately read the scene and adjust the ISO value to a much higher rating than is necessary. The result is increased noise and decreased image quality because of the pushed sensitivity ratings. The Stylus 500 fortunately did not fall into this trap, accurately reading the scene and producing images that parallel the camera’s performance in our manual ISO tests at ISO 80.
Noise – Manual ISO*(6.51)*
While noise is inevitable in digital photography, some cameras are better at suppressing the monochromatic speckles. The Stylus 500 offers ISO ratings of 64, 100, 200, and 400. We tested the produced noise at each sensitivity rating and plotted the results on the graph below. The available ISO settings are placed along the horizontal X-axis, while the noise produced by the Stylus 500 is plotted on the vertical Y-axis.
As the above chart indicates, the Olympus Stylus 500 performed admirably when manually setting the ISO values. The camera produced smooth images with little distortion using the 64, 100, and 200 ISO ratings. There is a significant jump when switched to the ISO 400 setting; however, for a point-and-shoot camera, a good deal of clarity is retained.
Low Light Performance*(5.5)*
We tested the Olympus Stylus 500’s low light recording capabilities by exposing a series of images at decreasing light values. The images were captured without the assistance of a flash, with the camera set to its highest ISO rating. The low light test indicates how sensitive the image sensor is to light. The sequence of charts will help to illustrate the camera’s low light and night recording potential and pinpoint the camera’s point of limitation.
To simulate the camera’s performance is common low light shooting conditions, the Stylus 500 was tested at 60, 30, 15 and 5 Lux; 60 Lux appears to the eye as a bedroom might after dark, while 30 Lux is roughly the illumination given off from a single 40 watt lightbulb and 5 and 15 Lux indicate the camera’s recording potential in near dark situations.
With a limited ISO range and lack of control over shutter speed, the Stylus 500 is not a very strong low light performer. The camera can handle 60 Lux, but that’s about it. When the available light dips down to 30 Lux, colors lose their distinction and begin to bleed into one another. Throughout the low light tests, noise levels were extremely high, even at 60 Lux. At 30 Lux and below, image clarity substantially waned and the photos become coated with a sandpaper-like texture, making objects difficult to define.I would not recommend using this camera much without a flash unless shooting outdoors or under heavy fluorescent lighting.
Speed / Timing
Startup to First Shot (7.87)
The compact Olympus Stylus takes an average 2.13 seconds to start up and capture its first shot. This is significantly faster than the Stylus 410, largely due to the electronic lens cover. The lens cap snaps away from the lens and zoom extends quickly, but it still takes 2.13 seconds to grab that first exposure.
Shot to Shot Time (8.39)
The camera automatically sets itself to a highly compressed picture size, so in that mode, it takes the camera 0.61 seconds between shots. It can do this for 11 pictures before it takes a 5 second rest. When I set the camera to its finest resolution, it took only slightly longer at 0.7 seconds between shots for 5 consecutive pictures.
*Shutter to Shot Time (8.52) *
There is a bit of shutter lag on the Stylus 500. The camera pauses for 0.24 seconds from the time the user pushes the shutter release button to the time the picture is captured.
There are three small microphone holes on the lower right side of the lens opening on the face of the Stylus 500. Along the bottom left face in narrow black font is the Stylus 500 model name next to the "All-Weather" designation. On the left front of the camera is a raised, small spine that attempts to be a finger grip. It looks like a silver toothpick stuck to the front of the camera body and has about the same level of functionality. Above that is a sticker heralding the HyperCrystal LCD; this can be removed. Just below the sticker is the Olympus logo. The zoom lens is slightly off-center to the right. The lens cap is a single panel that snaps open inside the camera when it is turned on. Above the lens and to the left is the built-in flash and to the right is the LED indicator. Above the lens opening and to the right in black lettering are the words "5.0 megapixel."
The Stylus 500’s large square 2.5-inch LCD screen is placed towards the left side of the camera’s back face; the controls are clustered along the right. The LCD is surrounded by a black frame and has a white Olympus logo at the bottom. In the top right corner is the wide and telephoto bi-directional rocker switch with "W" and "T" embossed on the left and right sides. On the left side of the switch is the standard green checkerboard icon and on the right is an icon of a magnifying glass.
Below the zoom toggle on the left side is the built-in speaker, made of 21 holes. To its right is the mode dial, which has four icons on it. The dial is constructed of the same light colored silver aluminum of the rest of the Stylus 500, but its face has a smaller disk of darker grey with four pictograms on it: a small black camera for still image recording, a narrow black outline of a movie camera for the video mode, a green arrow for playback mode and a green notebook-like icon for the album mode. The dial is small and set to the right edge of the back of the Stylus 500’s body. Since it is basically flush with the camera body, it protrudes slightly from the right back edge to allow manipulation. Luckily, it is notched like a dime, and it can be easily turned (don’t worry: it’s not easy enough that you’d bump it out of place; it has just the right tension). A small two-color LED (red or green depending on the function) sits above the mode dial, while a black tag line sits to the left of it to point out which function is currently in use. To the left of the mode dial and below the speaker is a tiny Quick View button. Below it is the four-way navigational dial.
The dial looks like a squashed circle with a bowl-like curve in it. The center is a separate OK/Menu button, while the surrounding bowl-ring is a single panel. This causes problems later, when users try to scroll one direction in a menu and the camera registers a different direction. There are four features that can be activated at each cardinal point on the compass: Scene (top), Macro (right), Self-Timer (bottom), and Flash (left).
There is basically nothing on the left side. A single head screw secures a shiny silver metal band to the body.
The port door to the USB / A/V and DC in jacks is located on the Stylus 500’s left side. The cover is constructed of a gray plastic and opens towards the back of the camera. This isn’t exactly intuitive, as the finger grip to pry the camera open is on the bottom. It seems like you should open it toward the top, when it actually opens to the back - unnecessarily awkward! The hinge looks interrupted by the recessed wrist strap loop.
*On the narrow silver metal band that runs around the camera, small black letters advertise the HyperCrystal LCD on the top left. The power button is also labeled in bold black letters and miraculously, sits beside the small, smooth power button. It is very small and slightly recessed into a dimple in the camera body. To its far right is the shutter release button, a long raised metal oval that is smooth to the touch.
There is no optical viewfinder on this digital camera, but a tiny viewfinder will hardly be missed on this model. Olympus instead has opted to fill the additional space with an oversized LCD screen, which is much more accurate than an optical viewfinder would be anyway. The only downside to the absence of an optical viewfinder is that the battery power will be drained faster with the screen, which will be turned on constantly.
The Stylus 500 has a 2.5-inch LCD screen that makes reviewing your pictures easy on the eyes. The HyperCrystal screen is marketed with its anti-glare technology, which seems to work quite well. The screen’s brightness can be adjusted in the setup menu if it is ever difficult to view. With 215,000 pixels, there is enough resolution to get a good view of subjects when used as a viewfinder and provides a nice assessment of the recorded image in playback mode. The screen is flush with the back of the camera, and is unfortunately prone to collecting fingerprints. The LCD screen cannot be turned off, as it also acts as the viewfinder, so the added strain on the battery should be kept in mind.
The flash is intelligently placed away from where wandering fingers from either hand are likely to fall. This built-in flash takes five seconds to recharge between pictures, so it cannot be used in the burst mode. There are only four modes available: Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Fill, and Off. These can be selected by pressing the left portion of the four-way navigational dial. The flash on this model is not very powerful; in fact, when inspected closely, it looks pretty cheap. Within the oval shape above the lens, there is a smaller oval that is the flash – the rest of the shape is decorative and houses the LED indicator. The smaller flash has reflective material that wraps around all edges of the inside; in the model we received, it looked like the edges were peeling up a bit. When we tested the flash, it tended to blow out subjects that were close, so avoid it in macro shooting.
When subjects were far enough away to diffuse some of the white-out effect, the flash hardly reached them. And when it did, it seemed to be spotty (the white forehead aesthetic). The Olympus Stylus 500’s flash can only reach 11.8 feet when the lens is zoomed out and a paltry 6.6 feet when the lens is zoomed all the way in. This is an extremely short range, even for a compact model.
The Stylus comes equipped with a fairly ordinary 3x optical zoom lens that is equivalent to a 35-105mm lens in 35mm format. When turned off, the lens retracts into the camera body and is protected from the elements by rubber seals and a snapping lens cover.
When shooting in macro mode with the Stylus 500, crisp images were easily attained; however, when attempting to utilize the lens’ maximum telephoto length, the Stylus 500 seemed stressed beyond comfort, as the resulting images were often blurry.
I also found the lack of a lockable 4x digital zoom function to be annoying - if you are so forced to or want to use the digital zoom, it has to be selected each time the camera is turned on and off.
Patience when using any zoom on point-and-shoots, especially the Stylus 500, is a virtue. Slow, incremental magnifications were also tricky at times. When zooming in, it takes about 15 subtle, slight clicks to span the range of the Stylus 500's zoom.
Model Design / Appearance*(7.5)*
The Stylus 500 looks something like a featureless satin silver bar of soap with a large round impression on the front leading to the lens. The lens is concealed behind a sliding cover that is slightly recessed and a bit off-center – very similar to the Stylus Verve. When extended, the lens moves out in a series of concentric circles. The lens design expresses a majority of the camera’s design character.
The right side of the camera has a slight, gentle slop to the edge, with the top featuring a more pronounced bevel that runs along the left side and bottom. The general styling of the Olympus Stylus 500 is minimalist with clean lines used throughout the body. The flash, smack in the top-center of the front of the camera, has a long flat oval shape and sits to the left of the self-timer lamp – just a wee black dot.
With an expansive 2.5-inch LCD consuming nearly the entire back face of the camera, the rear of the Olympus Stylus 500 seems to resemble a drive-in movie screen projected onto the side of a house.
The Stylus series of digital cameras is built to take a few splashes in the rain – but not a dip in the tub – with aluminum alloy all-weather housings. The Olympus 500 certainly doesn’t have the flair of the Stylus Verve, but it is designed with the rubber gaskets and solid construction of its cousin with far more attractive internal elements.
Size / Portability*(7.0)*
At 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.2 inches, the Stylus 500 is not small enough to fit into the current "ultra slim" or "ultra compact" categories, but it is also not huge for a point-and shoot digital camera. The camera may be slightly too large to fit into most pants pockets, though it should slip into a spacious handbag or roomy jacket pocket with ease. Again, the size is akin to a bar of soap and fills out a larger hand. The Olympus Stylus 500 has a recessed wrist strap loop to aid in portability, but stringing it through will require some patience on the part of the user.
While the smooth, satin finish of the Olympus Stylus 500 is pleasing to touch, the surface is void of texture and offers little to no grip. Sweaty-palmed users might find their Stylus 500 slipping during prolonged use, although the camera’s relatively substantial size and weight does apply some additional stability during shooting. There is a tiny ridge on the front of the Olympus Stylus 500 that is supposed to act as a finger grip, but in practice, it doesn’t work at all. It is more decorative than functional, being far too small and smooth to really have any effect.
Additionally, the camera’s zoom rocker is very narrow and a larger thumb will completely cover it. There is no separation between the wide and telephoto sides of the switch, so users may have to sneak a peek at their finger to register the correct direction and placement on the zoom. The four-way navigational dial is also difficult to utilize. The four directions are not separated, so sometimes the menus scroll in directions you didn’t intend.
Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(6.5)*
The Olympus Stylus 500 has a mode dial on that back that is so tiny, it resembles the old "bottle cap" candy in size and shape. The dial is recessed and very small, but fortunately sits along the right side of the back of the body and is slightly exposed on the right edge to allow a thumb or finger to manipulate it. The mode dial is also notched like a dime on its sides, so it is easy to grip and turn. Since there are only four functions on the small dial, its size ultimately shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
On the back on the camera body, due to the sheer size of the LCD screen, the controls have been crammed together. Also, the buttons are consequently smaller than might have been preferred and may create problems for those with chubby fingers (or those who ate too much salty ham and now have hands that look like catchers’ mitts – if you’re a "Kids in the Hall" fan); a less clustered grouping would have significantly helped handling and made essential functions easier to discern and access.
Unfortunately for users of the Stylus 500, that same four-way navigational dial that is slightly undersized is also a bit finicky. Sometimes it doesn’t register the direction you think you pressed; this can be enough to drive a photographer crazy and quickly make you reconsider your purchase. Overall, the buttons are small and some annoyances may emerge from the smooth-surfaced zoom toggle and the finicky four-way navigational dial.
*As with most Olympus digital cameras, the Stylus 500 has a matrix-like initial menu screen that appears when the OK/Menu button is pressed. Four menu options appear onscreen with yellow arrows to show which way to press for certain functions. In the recording mode, users can scroll up to adjust the exposure compensation, right for the main mode menu, down to adjust white balance, and left to change the image size. Icons are used for the exposure compensation and image size options; most users should catch on to the common exposure compensation symbol, but non-Olympus users may be confused by the image size icon.
The mode menu is where users will spend most of their time. In the recording mode, the menu has three tabs vertically aligned along the left of the screen: Camera, Card, and Setup. In the Camera tab, the following menu options are available: Metering, Drive, ISO, Digital Zoom, AF Mode, Microphone, Panorama, 2 in 1, and Histogram. Most of the options are text; however, the metering, microphone, and histogram functions are depicted as icons. The 2 in 1 option is a bit mysterious, although I discovered that this activates the ability to take two pictures consecutively and merge them into a single image file on the camera - the effect is more like merging negatives during printing than it is like a double exposure, but will give a similar appearance.
In the Card section of the menu, only a Format function is offered. The Setup menu provides many more options: All Reset, Language, PW ON Setup, Color, Volume, Shutter Sound, Rec. View, File Name, Pixel Mapping, LCD Brightness, Time, and Video Out. Once again, the listed options are a mix of text and graphics. The Language, Volume, LCD Brightness, and Time options are all represented by icons, but are all easy to understand.
The Stylus 500's movie mode has a similar setup to the still recording mode, except its Metering, ISO, and Digital Zoom options are truncated. There is no live view of ISO selections; the only live views available are Exposure Compensation and White Balance.
The camera's matrix menu options change when in Playback mode. The top setting has a playback icon and represents the slide show option. The right side lets the user enter the mode menu. The bottom erases individual frames and scrolling left files the picture into an on-camera album. The playback mode's menu has four tabs at its side: Play, Edit, Card, and Setup. The Play menu is made up almost entirely of icons that are fairly easy to recognize: Protect, Rotate, Print, Microphone, Info, and Histogram. The Edit tab houses the picture effects and other features: Soft Focus, Fisheye, Black & White, Sepia, Resize, and Crop. The Card tab adds only an Erase All option and the Setup menu is the same as it is in the recording mode.
Overall, the menus are fairly intuitive; it is always clear which direction the user should scroll for certain options. The only hindrance to the menu is the physical button - the four-way navigational dial. Sometimes it does not register the direction that the user meant to press it in, which can get very annoying very fast. It should also be noted that each time the camera is powered on, image size on the camera defaults to its second largest setting - a pain when you want to shoot in full resolution.
Ease of Use*(6.0) *
The Olympus Stylus 500 has some pros and some cons in the ease of use department. The large 2.5-inch LCD screen makes viewing subjects and menus easy on the eyes. The scene menu, containing textual explanations and sample images, makes choosing from the long list far less difficult. A few live views in the exposure compensation and white balance menus help less informed users as well.
The Stylus 500 is designed for point-and-shooters, so it should pass this test with flying colors. It does have many automatic features that are easy to use and a host of automatically-oriented modes and settings, but there are also a few things that hinder the usability of this model. The physical buttons are one hindrance. Most are too small, such as the Quick View button. The four-way navigational dial doesn't always register where you want it to go, which can be annoying and forces attention away from the shot and onto the controls. Also, the few manual controls that exist are buried within menus that are mostly labeled with icons, which will require deciphering or some time spent studying the manual.
Most modes are fairly intuitive; however, it took a substantial amount of time to figure out how to use the album feature on the camera. And once figured out, I concluded that it takes way too many clicks and scrolls to really be easy to use. It was more frustrating than anything. This camera doesn't impress me with its ease of use, but a good sitting with the advanced manual (on CD-ROM only, so boot up the computer) will certainly help.
The Olympus Stylus 500 was built for point-and-shoot users and it has plenty of automatic scene modes to prove it. The Program Auto mode is the closest thing to purely automatic as this camera gets, which is strange because it's also the closest thing to manual control too. Hmmm. Here's the catch. The Program Auto mode has the most access to functions such as white balance, flash mode, ISO rating, and other features, so it has the most manual control. However, it is the only mode on the camera that doesn't have a specific purpose (i.e. all of the other modes are scenes for specific situations like photographing food and landscapes). Therefore, if users want a quick catch-all mode, it's likely to be Program Auto. Luckily, the Stylus 500 has the memory of a goldfish. It forgets all of its previous settings when it is turned off and on again. So when users boot up the little camera, its default is the Program Auto mode with automatic ISO and automatic white balance. This will be a blessing to some users and a curse to others.*
Like many other cameras in its class, the Olympus Stylus 500 can record movies with sound and play them back. The Stylus 500 can save movies either at 320 x 240 and 160 x 120, both at 15 fps. You can record one minute and 23 seconds worth of video on the Stylus 500's packaged card. There is digital zoom in the playback mode that will allow you to magnify and inspect the funky lights on that flying saucer you recorded hovering outside your trailer window last night. However, the digital zoom on the Stylus 500's movie mode is honestly horrible (as it is with all cameras); you can't tell if things are in focus as you zoom out and looking through the LCD. Also the limited 15 frame per second recording rate won’t help legitimize the UFO story as the recorded motion will look choppy and jarring.
Additionally, the sound captured with the Olympus Stylus 500's movie mode is insultingly bad. The mic, located at the bottom front of the camera, picks up ambient room sounds, but also captures the charming click of the zoom switch being pressed. So you’ll need an attuned ear to catch your baby's first words, muted by the click, click, click of the zoom switch.
The Olympus Stylus 500's movie playback can be paused by pressing the ok/menu button, allowing frame-by-frame inspection of the short video clip. Forward and reverse is controlled by the left and right on the main control button. Volume is also controlled by that same button; the up and down arrows can manipulate the sound levels. Overall, the Stylus 500's movie mode offer users the fortunate opportunity to capture video clips with their digital still camera, but as far as quality goes, it is extremely compromised.
**Drive / Burst Mode ***(3.5)*
This burst mode doesn’t do much bursting, as it can only shoot 1.5 frames per second for 5 frames. This is somewhat average for a compact digital camera, but I do expect a bit more from a model that retails for $349.99. The burst mode can be found in the mode menu under the Drive option; it is available in most modes (obviously not the Night Scene and Candle and such).
There are multiple ways to get at images captured on the Stylus 500 for review. The most intuitive way is through the Playback option on the mode dial. Another way is with the Quick View button, which instantly enters playback mode from the other modes.
One drawback of the Stylus 500 is the lack of a dedicated trash function or "delete all" button. What this means is that each picture has to be deleted one at a time with the quick option on the main playback menu – or you have to dig deep for the Erase All function. This is unfortunate because deleting pictures is a pain on the Stylus 500 as it is.
Deleting photos in playback is accomplished either by reviewing a single photo on the LCD or by right clicking the left side of the zoom button which brings up thumbnails of all the pictures you've just taken; you can then scroll across and pick the one you want to delete by highlighting it and pressing OK. The deletion process involves users pressing the OK/Menu button and scrolling down to the Erase button on the LCD. From there you will have choices of Yes on the top and No on the bottom of the LCD. A click up or down on the navigational dial and then a click of OK expunges the lackluster image.
Pictures can be viewed in index displays of 4, 9, 16, or 25 photo thumbnails in the Stylus 500. Photos can also be magnified in review by using the Stylus 500's 8x function. Other review functions on the Stylus 500 include slide show, rotation, calendar, album, and histogram. Photographs can also be saved into 12 multi-page albums, though not easily. Up, down, left, right, press ok, then you get the photo into the album. In reality, it’s much easier to do it than read how to do it, but once again albums will be stored in the Stylus 500's memory card since it possesses no internal memory. Without consulting the manual, getting pictures into the Stylus 500's albums isn't very easy, but you can figure it out eventually.
Quietly tucked into the Stylus 500's functions is a calendar playback view that pops up when you click the left side of the zoom switch in playback mode. This produces a calendar which has a thumbnail of a photo taken on that date. The Olympus Stylus 500 is a gem when it comes to playing movies back. Movies can be reviewed normally, reversed, or frame by frame. The audio also plays back, although it is not very good quality in the first place. However, fast forwarding and rewinding through the footage is pretty enjoyable on this model.
Custom Image Presets*(8.5)
*The available custom image presets stand as the core of the Olympus Stylus 500. The Stylus 500 has a long list of scene modes, available when the top of the four-way dial is pressed (it is also labeled "Scene"): Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Portrait, Indoor, Sport, Beach & Snow, Behind Glass, Self-Portrait + Self-Timer, Self Portrait, Sunset, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Cuisine, Documents, Candle, Underwater Wide, Underwater Macro, Shoot & Select 1 and 2. This selection definitely goes beyond the basics of portrait and landscape scene modes. It even gets specific enough to include a mode for taking pictures of food and one for taking pictures of schools of fish.
The scene mode menu is one of the more visually interesting screens on this Olympus digital camera. The Stylus 500 displays text and a sample image with each mode. For example, when users highlight the Sunset mode, the following text appears with an image of a setting sun: "For shooting setting/rising sun. Vivid reproduction of reds and yellows." Most of the scene mode titles are self-explanatory – except for the Shoot & Select modes. I found that these two modes take a series of up to four pictures, then let users instantly select one picture to save. Isn’t this the beauty of digital cameras anyway? To take lots of images and delete the unwanted ones instantly? Olympus felt it necessary to include this as a preset mode – or two. The first mode takes pictures at a more rapid clip than the second. Once four pictures are taken, they appear on the LCD screen, where users are directed to choose one to save. Unfortunately, users cannot save more than one.
As with all compact cameras’ preset modes, there are a few quirks. The flash cannot be used in the Behind Glass mode. This is for obvious reasons. However, the Indoor and Candle modes can only shoot at image sizes up to 1280 x 960 – with no justification given (though I presume it’s to minimize the visibility of noise which is present from the higher ISO setting that’s needed).
**Manual Control Options
**If you're looking for manual control, you should probably quit wasting your time reading this and start looking for another digital camera. As stated before, this camera was built for the point-and-shooter. There aren't many manual controls on this digital camera nested between its lengthy list of scene modes. Most of the available manual settings are available in the Program Auto mode, which is a bit ironic considering the second word of the mode. All of the controls are located within the mode menu, so be prepared to dig a little. The white balance and exposure compensation are two of the four options on the first matrix menu that appears, so those won't be hard to find. However, everything else is buried in the mode menu. So from the matrix, scroll right to the Camera tab and right again to the list of options that includes things like Metering and ISO.
Using a contrast detection system, the Stylus 500's auto focus can be a little finicky. It only focuses on the center, and does so only when the shutter release button is pressed halfway down. Most compact digital cameras are like this, so this isn't much of a surprise. The focus tends to have problems with fast-moving objects moving across the frame, so if you're taking pictures of sports, learn to pan the camera with a centered subject. In the normal shooting mode, the camera can focus from 19.7 inches to infinity. In the macro mode, the Olympus 500 can shoot from 7.9 inches to infinity. The super macro mode lets users focus as close as 2.8 inches.
There is no manual focus available on the Olympus Stylus 500.
*The camera’s two metering options can be found at the top of the Camera tab of the mode menu. Olympus’ multi-pattern metering system is titled ESP (Electro Selective Pattern). When users so choose, they can also select the Spot Metering option. This works especially well when a subject is backlit. I tried this one on a person standing in front of a row of windows on a sunny day and was pleasantly surprised to see that the spot metering mode really does work; the picture was properly exposed and the facial details were all visible. The available settings seems to work amply for straight-forward shooting conditions, although for more clustered frames and shots with extended depth of field, a few additional metering options would be helpful.
*Olympus includes a list of 20 still shooting modes that all automatically adjust the exposure. In every mode, exposure compensation can be adjusted from +2 to -2 in 1/3 steps. This is the typical range for compact digital cameras. The Stylus 500 provides users with a live view as they scroll through the numerical options, making it easier for users to choose the value.
*This camera’s white balance is one of the easier features to change. It is located on the first matrix menu that appears when the menu button is pressed. The white balance menu is composed completely of icons, but most are intuitive. The options are presented on gray boxes in the middle of the screen with live views to both sides. The following options are available: Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, and Fluorescent 3. The only confusion I foresee is between the three fluorescent modes. This is a common flaw with digital cameras; how are users supposed to know that the 1 is for shooting in daylight fluorescent lamps and the 2 is for the desk lamp-type of fluorescent lamps? Fortunately, the live view lets users see lighting changes take effect on their subjects – which is more powerful than text for visually oriented photographers. One quick complaint on the white balance: there is no manual setting. I realize this camera is for the automatically oriented and therefore offers a host of presets, but a manual white balance feature would have been a nice touch nonetheless.
Located in the mode menu, users of the Stylus 500 can set the sensitivity of the camera to the following ISO options: Auto, 64, 100, 200, and 400. When users scroll through these options, there is no live view available like some compact digital cameras offer. All of the modes provide access to the ISO option, so it can be manually set at any time. The Stylus 500's ISO options are comparable to other compact digital cameras, as most have this standard range.
*Shutter speeds cannot be manually set on the Olympus Stylus 500, rather the camera automatically selects them from a range of 1/2-1/1000th of a second – except for in the Night Scene mode, where shutter speeds can go as slow as 4 seconds. Each scene will have its own range of shutter speeds, with modes like Candle and Indoor having slower speeds. This range of shutter speeds should be fine for most point-and-shooters– if the camera selects the right one.
The Olympus Stylus 500 has the same automatic aperture selections that the earlier Stylus 410 has. With f/3.1 as the maximum aperture available in the wide zoom setting and f/5.2 in the telephoto setting, the Stylus 500 has an average range of apertures for a compact digital camera, although the limited opening will slow down shutter speeds. The aperture cannot be manually adjusted.
Picture Quality/ Size Options*(6.5)*
Every time the camera is turned on or the recording mode is re-entered, it returns to its default image size setting of 2560 x 1920 or the HQ mode. This is its highly compressed 5-megapixel image size; not its finest resolution. For users who want the camera to remain in a certain image size, this can be VERY annoying. But for those patient photographers, the image size options are available from all modes, although the Indoor and Candle modes cannot shoot above the SQ2 resolution:
2560 x 1920 (SHQ)
2560 x 1920 (HQ)
2048 x 1536 (SQ1)
1600 x 1200 (SQ2)
1280 x 960 (SQ2)
1024 x 768 (SQ2)
640 x 480 (SQ2)
With 5 megapixels and these 4:3 formatted options, the Olympus Stylus 500 should have no problems producing a decent 8 x 10 or possibly even an 11 x 14-inch print with adequate sharpness and detail.
Picture Effects Mode*(7.0)*
In the Stylus 500, you will find Black & White, Sepia, Resize, Trimming, Rotation, Soft Focus and Fisheye picture effects. All of these selections can be added in the Edit section of the Playback menu - only after images are recorded.
Like looking through the eyehole on a door, the Stylus 500’s fisheye effect can make noses look absolutely huge and grins really toothy. It is simply (insert appropriate 60’s hippie music) far out, man. This will assuredly get some giggles out of the kids. The Soft Focus effect is reminiscent of the all-too-familiar high school senior portrait pose that always seemed to involve a girl, a rose, and a mirror.
Picture effects are saved as separate image files on the Stylus 500, so it doesn't erase the original, which is good. However, you'll need a memory card with lots and lots of space.
Photos taken in the Stylus 500's Black & White mode appear to be more of a muddy grayscale than a nicely contrasted black and white. This can be fixed in the software, but will just require some extra time. The sepia effect will likely require some tweaking as well. It just doesn't look quite right. True sepia needs to be a bit on the rusty side, and the Stylus 500’s Sepia mode has too much red and not enough brown in its mix.
*The Stylus 500 comes with version 1.1 of the Olympus Master Software, which takes about five minutes to load onto a personal computer. There are a few catches though. Don't throw away the packaging to the CD-ROM because a serial number printed on it is needed to upload the software. Once you've bypassed this obstacle, there will be a few pop-ups that ask you to register your digital camera. You can opt to register later. Once the software is loaded, a main menu appears with randomly placed icons and the following options: Transfer Images, Online Print, Print Images at Home, Browse Images, Create and Share, Backup Images, and Upgrade. To edit pictures, users must first browse. There are two browser views, one in a calendar format and the other in the traditional thumbnails with a larger preview screen. Photos can be transferred from the camera or computer files and memory cards. Across the top bar of the program, the following items are available: Browse, Properties, Rotate, Find, Edit, Raw, Print Menu, Email, Transfer, Online Print, and Share Online.
The included Olympus Master Software provides more editing options than the average program that comes with a compact digital camera. Images can be cropped and rotated, of course. There is also the popular instant red-eye fix function. This program even has a color balance setting that allows users to tweak individual red, green, and blue colors. All of these editing options have a preview available, so you don't have to worry about permanently tarnishing the image. However, if you do happen to render an unwelcome change, there is an Undo button that allows you to step back again and again. This proves to be a very useful feature. Editing options extend beyond the basics with the following features in the Filter menu: Brightness/ Contrast, Tone Curve, Gamma, Hue/ Saturation, Monochrome, Sepia, Sharpness, Blue, and Distortion. Overall, the Olympus Master Software is easy to use (it even has a Help menu if you happen to get lost) and offers plenty of editing functions.
*Jacks, Ports, Plugs (7.0) *
The Stylus 500 supports all the same external cables that most cameras support: USB, A/V out, and DC in. The USB and A/V out cables share the same jack, but it's not like you'll ever have them hooked up at the same time. The two jacks can be found beneath a plastic port door on the right side of the camera body. The door has a notch at the bottom right corner, supposedly for easy opening. However, my first instinct was to pry it upward, when I found later it should be pried outward - it's awkward.
*Direct Print Options (6.0)
*The Olympus Stylus 500 does not have a designated Print button like many compact cameras coming out these days. However, it is PictBridge compatible and can print from the playback menu. When shot at the finest resolution, this camera should be able to produce quality 11 x 14-inch prints.
The Olympus Stylus 500 comes with a thin Li-ion rechargeable battery L1-12B and a charger for it. The charger is not a wall mount, but must be connected with a cord to the outlet (so there are actually two separate parts to it). When the battery is charging, the device gets extremely hot - so don’t leave it unattended!
The Olympus Stylus 500 missed the popular point-and-shoot feature of the year, internal memory. However, it does come with a 32MB xD-Picture Card. And while photographers may miss the convenience of never having to look for a card, 32MB is a nice chunk of memory to be included. Most compact models include up to 16MB cards; very few offer 32MB. Thankfully, the Stylus 500 is one of the few. The camera is compatible with xD-Picture Cards up to 512MB. While it can accept any brand of xD card, the Olympus brand is recommended (of course). The Panorama mode that stitches ten pictures together only works with the Olympus-branded memory card. When the camera shoots at its finest SHQ setting, the card can save 8 shots. The camera's standard image size is a compressed 5-megapixel image size setting; when shooting at this size, photographers will have enough space for 26 pictures.
Panorama Stitch Assist -* The Panorama mode can be selected in the recording menu from just about any mode. When it is selected, blue grid lines appear on the LCD screen so users can easily line up subjects. With the included Olympus-brand xD-Picture Card and the included Olympus Master Software, panoramas can be stitched together with up to 10 frames. It takes a few minutes to figure out where the automatic stitch button is in the software, but once you find it, your panorama stitches together quickly and automatically.
2 in 1 Mode - This mode seems a bit ridiculous, but can be entertaining I guess. Users can take two images in succession and save them as one image file. Perhaps this would be good for making postcards to send to the grandparents or something, but I assume most interested users would likely do most of this play on Photoshop or a similar software application. I don't see much advantage for including it on the camera itself.
Self-Timer - The Stylus 500 has a common self-timer option available, with two selectable settings. When activated from the four-way dial, it can be set to take a picture 2 or 12 seconds after pressing the shutter release button.
Looking at other comparable digital cameras, the value can only be determined by assessing the features most important to you. If you want 5 megapixels to make nice 11 x 14-inch prints and don't care about manual functionality, there are cheaper models than the Olympus Stylus 500. However, if a large LCD screen is what's important to you, then this could be your choice, as the Stylus 500 has a large, high-quality LCD screen for this price range. This Olympus seems overpriced to me, as users are paying the $349.99 retail price mainly for the said large 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD screen.
***Olympus Stylus 800 *- This digital camera is the most recent addition to the Stylus line and has not yet been released; it is scheduled for July 2005. The Olympus Stylus 800 will have 8 megapixels on a larger 1/1.8-inch CCD, but will be paired with the same TruePic Turbo image processor. The Stylus 800 is marketed to perform better than most compacts in low light with a 3x optical zoom lens that has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and ISO settings reaching to 800 and 1600 available at reduced resolution. The Stylus 800 is slightly larger than the 500 at 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 inches, but still keeps the all-weather durability that is the hallmark of the Stylus series. The Olympus Stylus 800 is expected to retail for $449.99.
Olympus Stylus 410 - This model in Olympus' Stylus line was released last fall for $349, but can be found around $200 now. The 4 megapixel Stylus 410 looks incredibly tacky with gold highlights on a brushed silver body, but the all-weather camera is the same size as the 500 model. It also has a 3x optical zoom lens, but with a sliding lens cover that the user must open manually. This point-and-shoot lacks some of the 500's fancier features; instead, the 410 has a 1.5-inch LCD screen, horribly slow startup time (4+ seconds), no ISO control, and only basic scene modes. The Olympus Stylus 410 comes short of the 500 model, but still offers basic functionality for point-and-shooters.
Kodak EasyShare C340 - The 5 megapixel Kodak EasyShare C340 offers 12 scene modes and the same level of manual control as the Olympus Stylus 500 (exposure compensation, metering, white balance, and ISO), with similar user-friendly features like in-camera cropping and color modes. The Kodak C340 has a boxier shape than the Stylus 500 at 3.6 x 2.6 x 1.4 inches, but still comes with a 3x optical zoom lens. The EasyShare C340 has a 3 fps burst mode and 16MB of internal memory. The C340 is also much more intuitive to use - and it's cheaper with a retail price of $249.95. The downside? The LCD screen is only 1.6 inches.*
Nikon Coolpix 5600 -* With a similar 3.3 x 2.4 x 1.4-inch body, the Nikon 5600 offers 16 scene modes and a similar gamut of manual control. The 5 megapixel Nikon digital camera touts a 3x optical zoom lens and 14MB of internal memory. It has a similar burst mode to the Stylus 500 with a 1.3 fps recording rate and 15 fps video recording rate in movie mode, although in three different sizes. If the size of the LCD screen matters to you, this may not be your camera. It has a 1.8-inch LCD. The Nikon Coolpix 5600 retails for $279.95.*
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33 -* This Sony point-and-shoot appeared on the market in March, catering to those photographers who prefer a slimmer, sexier camera. The 5 megapixel Sony T33 is meant to fit in a pocket with a non-extending 3x optical zoom lens. The Sony T33 measures 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.8 inches and has much sharper lines than the Stylus 500. As far as manual and automatic control, these cameras are equals. The Sony model has a more powerful flash and a movie mode that can shoot 640 x 480 pixels at 16 fps or 30 fps with the Sony MemoryStick Pro card. The slim Cyber-shot T33 has a large 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels and retails for $450.
Who It’s For
Point-and-Shooters - These consumers want a camera to take simple pictures. Like just about every other camera that comes out these days, the Stylus 500 will do exactly what the photographer demands of it – you can turn it on, take a picture, and turn it off. With plenty of automatic scene modes and a large viewing screen, this is the quintessential point-and-shoot model.
Budget Consumers - At $349, this might be an expensive first purchase, but to the general consumer the lure of 5 megapixels and the 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD screen may be too enticing.
Gadget Freaks - The Olympus Stylus 500 has just enough gizmos to make the novice gadget freak smile and go "oooh and ahh." There is an Album Mode which allows individual photos to be sorted and saved into albums, which can be accessed via the back mounted mode dial. Also, the Stylus 500 can play a three-second sound clip over a photo when reviewed in playback. There is also a 2 in 1 mode where two photos taken in sequence on the Stylus 500 can be merged into one file. For gadget freaks looking for a "trippy" experience, then take a shot and review it in "fisheye" mode. The view will have the distortion as if it had been taken with a fisheye lens. Sort of like a look into a fun-house mirror or a weekend with the late Hunter S. Thompson. There is also a soft focus function for those warm and fuzzy moments caught on the Stylus 500, as well as the obligatory black and white/sepia selections.
Manual Control Freaks - The Stylus 500 is far from a manual freaks’ dream. It is a 5 megapixel camera with obligatory auto modes and a handful of bells and whistles. With "manual" control over only ISO, exposure compensation, and selection of a preset white balance, manual fans will probably look right over the Olympus Stylus 500.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists - If a pro or hobbyist shooter is going on vacation to some far flung tropical destination, the Olympus Stylus 500 will be in their bag - if they could not find a disposable camera on the island. In other words, this will be at the bottom of the serious photographer’s choice of cameras. Not saying it’s a bad camera, just saying it would most likely be used as a silvery paperweight on the desk of a pro.
**The Olympus Stylus 500 enters into the highly-sought area of the digital camera market, offering a 5 megapixel 1/2.5" CCD sensor, 3x optical zoom lens, and 2.5-inch LCD screen. The Stylus 500 may have trouble competing, depending on how flexible its retail price turns out to be. Olympus tagged it at $349.99, which seems incredibly overpriced for limited capabilities. However, over time, retail prices always bend – especially with increased consumer delay.
The Stylus 500 comes with a lengthy list of scene modes that are displayed on a colorful user-friendly menu. While that menu is simple, the camera’s overall ease of use is not much to speak of. There isn’t a designated print button, nor a designated delete button. In fact, the buttons on this model all seem to be slightly undersized and add unnecessary confusion to the user interface. However, the Olympus 500 makes up for it with its large 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD screen and abundance of automatic scene modes. The fixed LCD monitor is large and remains bright and visible under just about any lighting. The camera’s all-weather housing is a standard in the Stylus series, but is still an anomaly for overall compact digital design. The camera’s body may look a bit trite, but don’t let the look deceive you. There are surprisingly unique features inside. The Fisheye picture effect was a favorite to play with, as was the Calendar playback function. The Stylus 500 comes packaged with a rechargeable battery, a 32MB xD-Picture Card, and Olympus Master Software. The camera’s overall lack of manual control may scare away seasoned photographers, but with a drop in price, the camera will attract an audience of point-and-shooters looking for a traditionally functional digital camera.
**Specs Table **
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