How does the Olympus SP-570 UZ compare in a now-crowded marketplace?
Superzoom cameras are an attractive choice for those looking for a smaller, cheaper option than a DSLR, and in many cases they offer a decent alternative.
There’s been a flood of them recently with most of the major manufacturers releasing new models. With so much competition, though, each new superzoom needs to offer something unique.
When it was announced in January 2008, the Olympus’s SP-570UZ broke the 18x optical zoom threshold of its competitors with a whopping 20x optical zoom lens – a first for a superzoom ‘bridge’ camera.
Its more common features include manual control, face detection, high ISO ranges and image stabilisation. Such features have established themselves as must-haves for these types of cameras, as consumers expect more control and functionality with regards to their operation. Some also go one step further, by allowing you shoot in Raw mode or to deactivate functions such as noise reduction.
Olympus claims that its SP-570 Ultra Zoom bridge camera sports the longest optical zoom of any compact camera in the world, with an impressive range of 26-520mm (35mm equivalent). Dual image-stabilisation technology is included, employing a combination of high ISO and sensor shift IS to counteract the effects of both camera shake and subject-based movement.
In keeping with most bridge cameras, the SP-570 reaches out to tempt would-be DSLR buyers with the inclusion of manual controls, including Aperture and Shutter Priority AE modes and full Manual mode. For convenience there’s also Program AE, Auto and 23 individual scene modes. A Guide mode, that’s essentially an alternative scene mode menu, has also been added which lists a number of photographic effects. For example, ‘Brightening the Subject’ automatically adjusts the settings to achieve that effect. ISO range is from 64 to 6400, with the option of auto selection and user-selected noise reduction (either on or off).
Like its immediate rivals, the SP-570 offers face recognition AF, along with Olympus’s own iESP autofocus, spot and wide focusing, as well as selectable area AF covering 143 AF points. In terms of focusing modes, the SP-570 offers continuous AF and predictive AF options, alongside manual focusing.
Metering comes via the Olympus ESP multi-zone evaluative system, together with centre-weighted and spot metering. There’s also a Shadow Adjustment feature which levels out the contrast to reveal shadow detail. Exposure compensation and bracketing is also available.
For sports fans, the Olympus SP-570 features continuous shooting at up to 13.5 frames per second, and there’s also a pair of shoot and select modes for shooting fast subjects, allowing you to save the best of the bunch.
Like the Panasonic FZ28, the SP-570 has a Raw option, as well as Raw+JPEG and JPEG-only recording. In-camera processing comes courtesy of the Olympus TruePic Turbo III processor. Olympus has also included a raft of post-processing options including Raw editing, colour corrections and black and white conversions, as well as novelty effects including the ability to add calendars and frames.
The camera offers a similar user experience to the Olympus DSLR range. The 2.7in LCD offers quick access to a number of functions, including metering, AF, colour modes and many more. The other menu system is more conventional and well laid out, while the Scene and Guide mode menus are easy to follow. The EVF is acceptable, but less accurate than the Nikon P80.
The zoom control uses an old-fashioned zoom ring on the lens, which allows for precise – though still electronically stepped – framing through the focal range. This is a pleasant alternative to zoom buttons and makes the camera far more DSLR-like. This is also true of the top-plate command dial for changing exposure settings, which also doubles as the function settings dial and to zoom in and out on image previews. The DSLR-like feel of the SP-570 is enhanced by the comfortable grip and the hotshoe, the latter accepting external flash units and also offering wireless flash capabilities. The camera buttons are mostly well placed, and easy enough to operate, though the power switch is a tad cramped and could be improved, but that’s a minor flaw. More important, it takes a long while to work out how to focus manually – the quick guide has no clues and the full manual is a PDF file supplied on disc.
The lens of the SP-570 pushes the optical limits and struggles to perform well with countless instances of purple fringing. The AF and image stabilisation systems also struggled at the extreme telephoto end, producing several out-of-focus shots. Colour is generally good, although in Natural mode it’s a little muted compared to other three models. This isn’t helped by the camera’s tendency to slightly overexpose either, leading to several wishy-washy images. Noise is well controlled up to ISO 200, but from ISO 400 it becomes visible and continues to worsen as you go higher.
The SP-570’s decent EVF and good zoom ring help it to stand out from the others; however it lacks the finesse of the Nikon P80, particularly in terms of image quality. Overall it’s a case of mixed blessings from Olympus.