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