Olympus' 26x optical zoom giant
With a strong heritage of superzoom ancestors before it, Olympus’s SP-590 may only appear as an incremental update on previous models, but its 26x optical zoom lens qualifies it as having the highest magnification factor on any current bridge camera. Starting at the same 26mm equivalent focal length as the others, the lens culminates at a whopping 676mm, and also features image stabilisation to help at longer focal ranges. This works by shifting both the 12MP sensor and the camera’s sensitivity, the latter again encompassing a range of ISO 64-1600 as standard, with extensions up to ISO 6400 at 3MP.
Olympus SP-590 Features
Exposure controls are also similar to those offered by the Nikon P90, with the PASM options joined by a selection of scene and automated controls. The camera’s LCD screen falls a little short by comparison, though, being of the fixed variety and measuring 2.7in in size. Sadly there’s also no Raw recording, which is a little surprising given that the preceding SP-570 model was one of the few to offer this function.
Yet, the camera does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Functionality with Olympus’s wireless flash system is offered, as is Face Detection which claims to work on up to 16 faces, while Shadow Adjustment Technology adjusts the brightness of images to tease out shadow detail. There’s no HD movie function, though the HDMI interface does allow you to relay images and movies to monitors should you want to use it.
Olympus SP-590 Design
I usually find superzoom cameras to be a little lacking with regards to a well-sized grip, but the SP-590 suffers from no such foible. In fact, some may consider the unusually deep grip to be a little too large for comfort. Furthermore, there seems to be a little less space around the buttons than on some of the other models, and the mode dial is a little shallow for comfortable turning. Yet, the menu system is clear, colourful and about as user-friendly as they come.
While it’s handy that you can zoom that little bit further with the SP-590, in poorer lighting conditions it takes a while for the camera to bring subjects into focus at the telephoto end. The EVF is generally good, with a good size and brightness to it, though some may find the LCD screen a little dim at default. It reacts well to changes in brightness but does so incrementally, occasionally needing a nudge from the shutter release to register that the shooting conditions have changed.
Another issue I have is with speed; as the high-speed ‘H’ type xD cards have now been discontinued, buyers would need to invest in microSD cards (which may be used with the included adapter) to enjoy faster performance. With standard xD cards, the camera can be a little slow with regards to processing images and shot-to-shot times.
One thing that sets the camera apart is how easy it is to access virtually every commonly-used setting, from ISO and white balance, to the histogram and Shadow Adjustment.
Olympus SP-590 Image Quality
Image quality is a bit of a mixed bag with the SP-590. Barreling is pronounced at the wide end of the lens, and images are very soft at both wide and telephoto ends of the lens. This is, however, improved upon in the mid-ranges (and once the aperture has been stopped down a touch). White balance accuracy is also hit-and-miss, with magenta tones forming over lighter areas, and making blue skies appear slightly more purple than the other cameras on test. Noise control is another area where the camera falls down, with its images typically being the noisiest out of the four, and chromatic aberrations are apparent in many images (despite the used of ED glass in the optic). Colour is a little flat which gives images a neutrality, but this may be adjusted in camera to taste. There’s some highlight clipping in certain situations too, though exposures are generally good – even when the camera is faced with challenging conditions. The biggest shame, perhaps, is the omission of a Raw shooting facility, where many of these issues may – to some degree at least – have been rectified.
There are some nice things about the SP-590 and it’s cheap, but the image quality and performance are sadly not up to scratch.