DigitalCameraReview.com
Olympus SP-570 UZ Review
by Howard Creech -  5/20/2008

The folks at Olympus pioneered the long zoom point-and-shoot digicam with the introduction of the 10x-zoom C2100 in 2000, and they obviously believe that size really does matter.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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The new Olympus SP-570 UZ (which replaces the SP-560 UZ) features the longest zoom lens currently available on a point-and-shoot camera – a whopping 20x optic that goes from the 35mm equivalent of 26mm to 520mm.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The SP-570 UZ features a 20x optical zoom, a 1/2.33-inch CCD imager, 10 megapixels of resolution, a 2.7-inch HyperCrystal LCD screen, a large, bright electronic viewfinder, a hotshoe, shutter speeds from eight minutes to 1/2000th of a second, plus Olympus's TruePic III processor and BrightCapture Technology.

The SP-570 UZ's sensitivity ranges from ISO 64 to ISO 6400, the camera also provides Dual Image Stabilization (which combines sensor-shift mechanical image stabilization with auto ISO boost), Digital ESP multi-pattern metering (default, spot, center-weighted, and face detection-linked metering), AE/AF linked Face Detection AF, Shadow Adjustment (on-board software fix that expands dynamic range to open up shadows while preserving highlight detail), 22 scene modes, macro focusing to a quarter of an inch, RAW image capture, and a 15 fps burst mode.

The SP-570 sports a fairly conventional list of mode options:

Overall, the SP-570 UZ provides the all the ease of use and point-and-shoot capability casual photographers want and most of the creative flexibility more serious photographers are likely to need.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Olympus sems to be trying to build the ultimate bridge camera with their UZ ("Ultra Zoom") series of sophisticated, feature-rich, and optically well-endowed imaging tools. Olympus's SP series is designed to span the gap between point-and-shoot consumer digicams and entry-level digital SLRs.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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While the SP-570 UZ is noticeably smaller than the most compact DSLR it features a 20x zoom – even a compact DSLR with a selection of zoom lenses to cover the same optical range (26mm to 520mm) would require a huge and incredibly heavy camera bag.

Styling and Build Quality

The SP-570 UZ is an attractive, relatively compact, light-weight, digicam that looks and handles rather like a scaled down DSLR...

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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...that is, until its big zoom comes telescoping out of the lens housing.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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The SP-570 UZ is robustly constructed, fit and finish are impressive, and the camera is durable enough to go just about anywhere.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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Vital build statistics for the SP-570 UZ include a no-battery weight of 12.9 ounces, and a body that measures 4.6 by 3.1 by 3.1 inches with the camera powered down and the lens retracted.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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Ergonomics and Interface

The SP-570 UZ has all the bells and whistles users have come to expect from high-end prosumer long-zoom digicams, but it also provides an impressive level of creative flexibility. In hand, the SP-570 UZ's rubberized ergonomic hand-grip nicely balances the camera for right-handed shooters. All controls are logically placed, easy to access, and quickly become intuitive.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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Olympus digicams have always been menu driven and the SP-570 UZ is no exception. Unfortunately, the SP-570 UZ's menu system is not logically presented, making navigation convoluted, overly complex, and somewhat frustrating. I suspect most SP-570 UZ users will only resort to the menu system when it is unavoidable and rely primarily on the camera's traditional controls.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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On the physical side of the interface, the SP-570 UZ's control layout is (like most of its competition) a little cluttered, which also makes the camera a bit harder to use than it really needs to be.

Display/Viewfinder

The SP-570 UZ features a relatively high eye-point electronic viewfinder (or EVF), which is essentially a smaller version of the camera's LCD. Significantly brighter and more accurate than an optical viewfinder on a non-SLR, EVFs simultaneously don't show quite as much detail as an optical viewfinder. However, EVFs (like optical viewfinders) narrow the photographer's vision of the world by eliminating everything except the field of view of the camera's lens. The SP-570 UZ's EVF provides very good resolution and it's hue-accurate and reasonably fluid. Shooters can use the display button to toggle back and forth between the EVF and the LCD screen – only one can be active at any given time.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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The SP-570 UZ's wide viewing angle (more than 140 degrees – left to right or up and down) 2.7-inch HyperCrystal LCD screen is usable even in difficult outdoor lighting. LCD images are bright, relatively sharp (230,000 dots), hue-accurate, and fluid. The display gains up in dim lighting, or users can also manually boost screen brightness. The LCD screen shows 100 percent of the image frame and provides all the information the camera's target audience is likely to need.

Like many old school photographers I use the EVF or optical viewfinder to frame and compose most of my shots, but I do like being able to instantly see if I got the shot via image review. The SP-570 UZ, like most of its competition, automatically defaults to the LCD for image review, which is always a bit disconcerting. The SP-570 UZ features a live histogram display for a graphic readout of the tonal distribution range of what's shown in the image frame – useful for determining over- or under-exposure.


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag

The SP-570 UZ is about average speed-wise when compared to other digital cameras in the long-zoom camera class, but it isn't as fast as most point-and-shoot digicams with shorter zooms. (In spite of their serious shooter target market, long-zoom cameras have tended to be slower across the board than most other point-and-shoot digicams.) The boot-up cycle is between two and three seconds – fairly slow, because the camera has to extend its massive zoom.

AF lock from scratch is a relatively slow 0.6 to 0.8 seconds, but shutter lag with pre-focus is essentially real time, at .06 seconds. Shot to shot times are a bit slower than average and continuous shooting of four full-res JPEGs is possible in 3.2 seconds (for a rate of 1.25 fps), before the SP-570 stops to clear the buffer. In High-Speed Sequential Shooting mode the SP-570 UZ can capture (according to Olympus) up to 13.5 fps, but image size is limited to 3 megapixels. The SP-570 UZ's shutter lag is on the slow end of the average range for long zoom digicams.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
This shot of an American Bull Dog leaping from the top of his dog house to see over the fence nicely illustrates the SP-570 UZ's timing. I pre-focused on the dog as he hit the top of his leap, held the camera on that point, and pressed the shutter button when he leaped again. Enlarge the image to full size and you'll notice the slight motion blur in what should have been (pre-focused with image stabilization) a very sharp picture. (view large image)

Lens and Zoom

Long zoom digicams allow photographers to get much closer to the subject and cameras in this class are a good choice for wildlife lovers, and those who like to shoot pictures at concerts, events, and festivals. Longer zooms are inherently more complex optically than shorter zooms and as complexity increases lens faults (like chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, pincushion distortion, and vignetting) are magnified exponentially.

The SP-570 UZ's 26-520 mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom is the longest currently available, and it is a surprisingly good lens. The primary reason consumers buy extended zoom digicams is for the super long lenses that define this class of cameras.

Here's an illustration of the SP-570 UZ's 20x zoom range:

Olympus SP-570 UZ
Wide angle view of the Barn at the Farmington Historic House. (view large image)

Olympus SP-570 UZ
Telephoto view (shot from the same position) of the barn at the Farmington Historic House. (view large image)

Long-zoom digicams are capable of generating high-quality digital images, but due to the inherent complexity and super tight tolerances of their miniature (when compared to full sized DSLR zooms) multi-element construction, they are generally not up to the rigorous quality demands of professional photography. Still, the impressive range of the SP-570's single lens allows for a thorough exploration of the range of photographic techniques that extreme telephoto shooting opens up.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
This curious dog shot shows the 20x zoom's extreme perspective compression at full telephoto. (view large image)

Equally impressive on the short end, minimum focusing distance for the SP-570's wide-angle optic in Super Macro mode is advertised at a miniscule one centimeter (about .25 inches).

Olympus SP-570 UZ
Rain splattered Hosta leaves demonstrate the SP-570 UZ's capabilities in the Super Macro mode. (view large image)

Somewhat troubling is the traditional zoom ring at the base of the lens housing – the zoom ring moves the SP-570 UZ's long zoom jerkily "by wire" (that is electronicaly, rather than mechanically), and it takes the lens a moment or two to respond when the zoom ring is turned. All of this makes for less than precise zoming. While it's alright for static subjects, the SP-570's odd arrangement is a bit frustrating when trying to zoom in on the action.

Auto Focus

The SP-570 UZ features the same TTL iESP contrast detection AF system as its predecessors with modes for Single Autofocus, Face-Detection AF, Predictive AF, Macro AF, and Super Macro AF. AF is consistently accurate and AF lock is relatively quick in outdoor shooting venues. Indors and in dim lighting the SP-570 UZ's AF is slower and tends to hunt a bit for focus.

Flash

The SP-570 UZ's built-in multi-mode flash provides an average range of lighting options including Off, On, Auto (fires when the camera determines that ambient light isn't sufficient), Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction and Fill Flash, and Slow Sync (balances flash output and a slower shutter speed with ambient light for a more natural look).

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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Flash exposure can be adjusted +/-2 EV in 1/3 EV increments. Maximum flash range (according to Olympus) at the wide end of the zoom is 14.8 feet at ISO 200, and 9.2 feet at the telephoto end of the zoom. Like most point-and-shoot digicams, the SP-570's built-in flash is positioned too close to and on essentially the same plane as the lens, making red eyes a problem. SP-570 UZ users can eliminate or ameliorate red-eye problems via the Red-Eye reduction mode. The SP-570 UZ also features a dedicated flash hotshoe, allowing Olympus's FL-50R and FL-36R external flash units to be used; this camera also supports wireless flash use.

Full-power flash recycle time is 8.7 seconds average flash recycle time is 2.2 seconds.

Image Stabilization

Camera shake is a big problem with long-zoom digicams – the longer the zoom, the more likely the camera is to produce blurry or fuzzy photos due to the amplified effects of involuntary camera movement, so image stabilization is almost a prerequisite for capturing blur-free images.

The SP-570 UZ provides both mechanical (sensor shift) IS and digital (automatically boosts ISO sensitivity to force the camera to select a faster shutter speed) stabilization – Olympus calls this hybrid IS system Dual Image Stabilization. Dual Image Stabilization automatically compensates for the virtually unavoidable camera shake and allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three stops slower than would have been possible without IS. Users can select the stabilization mode by pushing the Anti-Shake button on the camera's top deck.

Battery Life

The SP-570 UZ draws its juice from four available-everywhere AA batteries.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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Olympus includes four disposable alkalines in box with the camera, and the manufacturer claims the SP-570 UZ is good for an outlandish 390 exposures with AA alkalines. Note that only alkalines and NiMH rechargeables can used. Per the user's manual:

"In addition to the batteries provided with the camera, the following types of battery can be used... AA Alkaline Batteries, AA NiMH Batteries (rechargeable batteries). The following types of batteries cannot be used – Lithium battery pack (CR-V3) AA (R6) Manganese (Zinc-Carbon) batteries/AA (R6) Oxyride batteries/AA (R6) Lithium batteries."

I used the camera pretty heavily for a bit more than three weeks and I went through three sets of AAs: the included batteries lasted for approximately 70 exposures, the second set (Energizer Titanium AAs) lasted for about 90 exposures ,and the third set (also Energizer Titanium AAs) lasted for almost 100 exposures. Clearly OTC alkalines are not the way to go: even if Alkaline AA's lasted as long as Olympus claims (and based on my experiences with the camera, they don't), most SP-570 UZ purchasers will probably want to buy high-capacity AA NiMH's and a fast charger.


IMAGE QUALITY

Olympus's long-zoom digicams have been known for their very good to excellent image quality, and IQ is where the SP-570 UZ really shines.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
This window light environmental portrait nicely illustrates the SP-570 UZ's image quality. (view large image)

Overall, images from the SP-570 UZ are very good indeed – easily capable of reasonable 8x10 or 11x14 enlargements. Default resolution is very slightly soft with average contrast and bold, bright, and hue-accurate (if slightly over-saturated) colors.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
This intimate landscape shows just how good the SP-570 UZ is outdoors. (view large image)

Exposure, Processing, and Color

The SP-570 UZ's exposure and image processing are consistently and dependably accurate in the auto-exposure modes in virtually any adequate lighting.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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There is a very slight tendency toward overexposure and occasional burnt-out highlights.

In addition to the camera's default color mode, additional Natural and Vivid processing options allow users to either boost or cut the camera's saturation and alter the overall image tone.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
Vivid (view large image)
Olympus SP-570 UZ
Natural (view large image)

Note that there are no black and white or sepia shooting mode options on the SP-570.

White Balance

The SP-570 UZ provides users with an adequate selection of white balance options including TTL Auto (White Balance iESP II), Sunlight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Manual WB, and WB fine-tune (on a red/blue axis of -7 red to +7 blue).

The auto white balance setting is fairly accurate even in difficult lighting, but like most consumer digicams the SP-570 UZ's auto WB setting produces colors that are slightly warmer than the actual colors under incandescent light.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light (view large image)

Lens Faults

Barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the zoom is about average for long-zoom digicams. Pincushion distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom is a bit better than average.

Chromatic aberration/color fringing is slightly above average at the wide-angle end of the zoom range and visibly above average at the telephoto end of the zoom. Corners are noticeably soft at the maximum aperture, but sharpen up nicely as the aperture gets smaller. I didn't notice any vignetting, but with a zoom this complex it is almost a given that some dark corners will show up from time to time at the wide-angle end of the zoom range.

Sensitivity and Noise

The SP-570 UZ provides an impressive range of sensitivity settings including auto and user selectable settings for ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, and 6400.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 64
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 64, 100% crop

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 100
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 100, 100% crop

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 200
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 200, 100% crop

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 400
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 400, 100% crop

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 800
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 800, 100% crop

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 1600
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 3200
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 6400
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
ISO 6400, 100% crop

Images shot at ISO 64 to ISO 200 have extremely low noise levels and are dependably very good to excellent with accurate colors, decent shadow detail and acceptable highlight detail, and accurate Caucasian skin tones. Noise levels start to pick up at slightly after ISO 200, and ISO 400 shots show some obvious loss of detail. The SP-570 UZ's ISO 800 and ISO 1600 images are slightly soft (visible loss of detail) with flat contrast and dull colors. The reduced-resolution shots from ISO 3200 and ISO 6400, which is outside the range of the camera's ability to accurately control exposure given our studio lighting, show substantial detail loss, flat colors, and very high noise levels.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
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Olympus SP-570 UZ
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CONCLUSIONS

 

Up to the point when I opened the box containing the Olympus SP-570 UZ, the Canon S5 was my all-time favorite long zoom digicam. Having now spent some time with the SP-570, that's no longer the case. Serious shooters looking for that mythical point-and-shoot digicam that adequately replaces a DSLR and a bag of lenses could do much worse than the SP-570 UZ. The SP-570 UZ has a couple of irritating shortcomings and it's a poor choice for those who like to shoot in low/dim light and those who shoot primarily action, but for just about everyone else (in my opinion) this camera stands head and shoulders above the bloated long-zoom digicam field.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Olympus SP-570 UZ Specifications:

Sensor10.0 megapixel, 1/2.33" CCD
Zoom20x (26-520mm) zoom, f/2.8-4.5
LCD/Viewfinder2.7", 230K-pixel HyperCrystal LCD with five steps of brightness adjustment
SensitivityISO 50-6400
Shutter Speed15-1/2000 seconds
Shooting ModesAuto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, My Mode, Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization, Scene, Movie
Scene PresetsPortrait, Landscape, Landscape-Portrait, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Multi-Firework, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select 1, Shoot & Select 2, Smile Shot, Beach & Snow, Pre-Capture Movie, Underwater Wide 1, Quick Shutter
White Balance SettingsiESP 2 Auto, One-Touch, Daylight, Overcast, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, White Balance Compensation
Metering ModesDigital ESP, Spot, Center-Weighted, Face Detection AE
Focus ModesiESP Auto, Spot AF, Face Detection AF, Full-Time AF, Selective AF, Target AF, AF Lock, Predictive AF, Manual, Macro, Super Macro
Drive ModesNormal, High Speed, Exposure Bracketing, Interval Shooting
Flash ModesAuto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
12 seconds, Off
Memory FormatsxD-Picture Card
Internal Memory
45 MB
File FormatsJPEG, RAW, AVI
Max. Image Size3648x2736
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During VideoNot Specified
Battery4 AA batteries
ConnectionsUSB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional FeaturesDual Image Stabilization, TruePic III processor, Face Detection, Perfect Shot Preview, Shadow Adjustment Technology