With 18x optical zoom, can Olympus deliver image quality too?

Product Overview

Overall rating:

86%
Overall score:86%
Features:90%
Value:85%
Image Quality:80%
Performance:85%
Design:90%

Pros:

  • Zoom range, DSLR style features, Ergonomic, Rubberised grip

Cons:

  • Slow writing Raw files, Noisy images

Product:

Olympus SP-550UZ

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£375.00

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When it comes to ‘bigger is better’ the SP-550UZ certainly had something over some of its rivals on its release in 2007 with its 18x optical zoom, but that’s only half the story.



Features


An impressive 28-504mm equivalent zoom fronts the Olympus SP-550UZ, backed by a 7.1MP sensor featuring CCD-based image stabilisation. The sensitivity runs from ISO 50 up to ISO 1600, though this can be increased all the way to ISO 5000 with a drop in resolution to 3MP. For image capture there’s DSLR-style PASM shooting modes in addition to auto and 23 scene modes, plus a Raw mode for the more adventurous users.



Design


The SP-550UZ looks like a mini DSLR with a shiny gunmetal finish, and the large-diameter lens adds to its purposeful appearance. The grey rubber on the front provides a solid hold on the camera and the generous size means there’s lots of space to rest your thumb without interfering with the neatly arranged controls.



Performance


It takes about three seconds for the SP-550UZ to spring to life, and the same time again to extend the zoom to its full extension, though the writing speed for Raw files isn’t quite as hot – a single Raw image takes around five seconds to write, rising to 30+ seconds when the in-camera noise reduction is activated.

On a more positive note, the electronic viewfinder is colour-accurate (which can’t be said for all viewfinders of this type) and the rear LCD is a high-resolution alternative for previewing and reviewing your shots.



Image Quality


There are few problems with the SP-550UZ’s auto white balance, and the ESP metering also does a fine job. However, the images it produces require quite heavy sharpening if they’re to be printed larger than A4 and you have to be careful with this as the SP-550UZ is quite noisy – sharpening makes this more obvious. Even at ISO 50 images viewed on screen at 100% have a texture to them, while colour noise disrupts midtone areas at ISO 400. Strangely, when you extend the ISO to 5000, noise is less of a problem – although as the noise reduction required to achieve this obliterates detail it is a delicate balancing act. Fringing is surprisingly well controlled given the zoom range.



Value For Money


With a world-beating zoom range, well-sized sensor and a full range of shooting modes, the SP-550UZ offers a lot for £375.

Verdict

The Olympus SP-550UZ’s zoom range is great, and if you can accept the slightly high noise levels it’s certainly one worth considering

Full Specification

White Balance:
AUTO, Sunlight , Overcast , Tungsten, Flourescent 1, Flourescent 2, Flourescent 3, Manual White balance (One-Touch), White balance adjustment -7 Red +7 Blue
ISO Range:
Auto / Manual 50-5000

Metering System:
-
File Formats:
Raw. JPEG

Shutter Speeds:
4-1/2000sec, Bulb
Exposure Modes:
PASM, 23 Sc, Mov

LCD:
2.5in LCD with 230,000 pixels + viewfinder
Lens:
4.7-84.2mm (28-504mm) f/2.8-4.5

Sensor:
7.1mp effective, 1/2.5in CCD
Flash Modes:
9

Memory Card:
xD + 20Mb internal memory
Connectivity:
USB 2.0

Power:
Li-Ion cell
Dimensions:
Refer to manufacturers website

Weight:
Refer to manufacturers website
Other:
-