Olympus SP-550 UZ Digital Camera Announced: 18x Optical Zoom

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Olympus has a couple "worlds first" claims to make with their newly announced SP-550 UZ. It is the world’s first 18x optical zoom camera and has the world’s fastest sequential shooting (at a lower resolution though). Not only does the camera’s lens reach out to a 35mm equivalent of 504mm, it can do a wide angle of 28mm (35mm equivalent) and macro shots as close as 1cm. The Olympus SP-550 UZ also features 7.1 megapixel capture resolution, a 2.5 inch LCD, and dual image stabilization. It will be available in March 2007 for $499.

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The feature of the SP-550 that is most likely to grab headlines is the f2.8-4.5, 18x optical zoom lens, which blows away the current 12x zoom offerings in the point and shoot, ultra-zoom field. They’ve also managed to allow the long lens to take 28mm wide angle shots and macro shots as close as 1cm. The other very important feature, to help out with blurriness from camera shake, is the dual image stabilization. The SP-550 UZ will utilize a sensor-shifting image stabilization system to counteract camera movement, and high ISO digital image stabilization to counteract subject movement.

The SP-550 also features high speed sequential shooting and a "pre-capture" feature that captures several frames before you even push the shutter. In normal sequential mode, you can take up to 7 full-res images at 1.2 frames per second. Moving up to "high speed 1", you can capture 15 images at 3MP and 7 frames per second. At "high speed 2", you can take up to 20 frames at 1.2MP and 15 frames per second. The pre-capture mode works with "high speed 2" and will start shooting as soon as you partially press the shutter and get a focus lock. Once the shutter is fully depressed, the 5 most recent pre-captured shots are saved to the memory media.

To take advantage of the nice, big lens, the SP-550 UZ has a full complement of shooting modes. In addition to auto and 30 preset shooting modes, you’ll also find program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure modes. You can capture images as JPEG and RAW file formats. A movie shooting mode can take TV quality (640×480 @ 30 fps) movies with sound.

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The 2.5 inch LCD has 230K pixels of resolution. If you prefer, there is also an electronic viewfinder with diopter adjustment.

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Olympus has included its Bright Capture technology on the SP-550 UZ which allows you to preview and capture images in low light without a flash. The camera is capable of boosting its light sensitivity up to ISO 1600 in full 7MP resolution and to ISO 5000 at 3MP resolution.

The SP-550 UZ does use the TruePic Turbo imaging processor. It also has a threaded barrel that can accept telephoto or wide angle conversion lenses. An underwater housing will be available to allow the SP-550 to reach depths of 130 feet underwater.

Images can be saved to 20MB if internal memory or an xD-Picture Card in the expansion slot.

Olympus claims that the SP-550 UZ will be able to take 500 shots on 4AA alkaline batteries.

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