The SP-800UZ is a responsive camera in most respects. It turns on and off quickly, taking no more than a couple of seconds for each function. All buttons and dials work smoothly and menu operations are responsive. Overall shooting performance is good, except for one major failing, as mentioned in my "First Look" - no matter what lighting conditions I shot under, the camera continually took over three seconds between successive shots. The good news is that activation of the flash did not make shot-to-shot time any slower. Still, over three seconds is a long time to wait between photos.
As shown by the performance table, the SP-800UZ is a relatively quick performer compared to the competition, in this case the highly rated Pentax X90, Nikon P100 and Fuji HS10. For shutter lag, the time between pressing the shutter and taking the picture when the camera has already locked focus on the image, the SP-800UZ took only 0.03 seconds, which is virtually instantaneous.
For AF acquisition, the time between pressing the shutter and taking the picture without pre-focus, the SP-800UZ took a fairly quick 0.45 seconds, about the same as the Pentax and Nikon and quicker than the Fuji. However, these numbers are tempered by the SP-800UZ's problems in obtaining focus in dim lighting, which occurred indoors and occasionally outdoors as well. While the camera would sometimes obtain focus after several seconds it often failed, resulting in the display of a red X.
The SP-800UZ scored only 1.2 frames per second in continuous shooting mode, the lowest figure of the four cameras. This is actually faster than the speed claimed by Olympus, a very slow 0.85 frames per second for 24 consecutive images. Fortunately the camera does obtain faster speeds using fewer megapixels; 7.7 frames per second at five megapixels, 10.2 at three megapixels and 15.2 at two megapixels.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Nikon Coolpix P100||0.01|
|Fujifilm FinePix HS10||0.06|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix P100||0.44|
|Fujifilm FinePix HS10||0.64|
|Fujifilm FinePix HS10||7||12.3 fps
|Nikon Coolpix P100||6||11.3 fps
|Pentax X90||5||1.4 fps
|Olympus SP800-UZ||10||1.2 fps
The SP-800UZ uses Olympus's Dual Image Stabilization, which combines sensor-shift stabilization ("mechanical" image stabilization) and increases in ISO and shutter speed ("digital" image stabilization). It also employs AF tracking, which automatically tracks fast moving subjects and continuously adjusts the focus and brightness.
The camera uses an LI-50B lithium-ion rechargeable battery which Olympus says will last for 200 shots. This figure is short and in fact I did find that the battery icon started moving downward sooner than I would have liked. Battery life can be lengthened with infrequent use of the menus, video recording and use of the flash. It would probably be a good idea to purchase an extra battery and take it with you if you intend to a lot of shooting. The battery can be charged by connecting the camera to a computer with the USB cable or to a wall adapter that plugs into a power source (which will result in quicker charging).
When I began using the SP-800UZ I was thrilled to have the ability to capture items at very long distances using the 30x optical zoom. Zooming is quick and smooth and the long lens is very versatile and permits you to take close-ups of images that you can barely see with the naked eye. However, the long lens is a mixed blessing. As you use more zoom, it becomes more difficult to take a clear photo without the blurring effects of camera shake. Apparently there's only so much the camera's image stabilization system can do. With the ultrazoom I own, an 18x Panasonic, I can usually take a sharp picture at the long end of the zoom if I use the viewfinder while holding the camera against my face. But since the SP-800UZ lacks a viewfinder I had to find other ways to stabilize the lens. One method I arrived at was to pull the neck strap taut and hold my breath while snapping the shutter. This helped but I still experienced a large number of blurry photos when using the long zoom.
The lens was able to maintain good sharpness through the zoom range, even at the extreme long end once I was able to obtain focus. I did not see any evidence of vignetting and my photos seemed only a bit more blurry in the corners than in the rest of the image. I noticed chromatic aberration in situations of sharp contrast, which is especially noticeable when the photo is blown up. For instance, in the photo below, there is purple fringing on the edges of all the white portions of the building.
As the photos below demonstrate, there is significant barrel distortion at the extreme wide angle of the lens but no pincushion distortion at maximum telephoto.
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