Olympus Stylus-550WP Overview
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Review by Shawn Barnett, Dave Etchells
and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 07/15/09
The attractive exterior of the 0.8-inch thick Olympus Stylus-550WP hides a secret - waterproofing that allows the camera to be used at depths of up to ten feet underwater. Inside, there's the combination of a 1/2.33"-type ten megapixel image sensor and an Olympus-branded 3x optical zoom lens which offers focal length equivalents from a tight 38mm wide angle to a 114mm telephoto. A 2.5-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution offers the Olympus 550WP's only option for framing and reviewing images, as there's no optical viewfinder on this model. There's also no mechanical image stabilization, with the Olympus Stylus 550WP instead offering only what Olympus refers to as "Digital Image Stabilization" - essentially a setting that causes the camera to raise ISO sensitivity (along with shutter speeds and image noise) in an attempt to freeze motion. ISO sensitivity ranges from a low of ISO 64 to a maximum of ISO 1,600 equivalent.
Olympus' Stylus-550 employs a contrast-detection autofocus system operating off data streaming from the camera's image sensor, and the Olympus 550 also includes face detection capability, capable of simultaneously detecting up to three faces in the framed scene. Olympus' Face Detection function is linked to both the autoexposure and autofocus systems, ensuring that your subjects' faces are taken into account when determining both these variables.
A total of 13 scene modes are offered in the Olympus 550 WP, allowing users some degree of control over their images without needing to understand the subtleties of shutter speeds and apertures. There's also an Intelligent Auto mode which can automatically select the correct mode from a subset of these - either Portrait, Landscape, Night + Portrait, Macro or Sports.
For viewing images on a television, the Olympus Stylus 550 WP has NTSC / PAL audio / video output connectivity, while images can be transferred to a PC over a USB 2.0 High-Speed connection. A rechargeable LI-42B Lithium Ion battery with charger is included with the Olympus Stylus 550, which is CIPA rated at only 140 shots per charge. Also included is Olympus' Master 2 software for viewing and modifying photos. Images are stored on xD-Picture Card memory cards. As with the company's other cameras since August 2008, Olympus is also including an MASD-1 microSD to xD-Picture Card adapter in the Stylus 550WP's product bundle, allowing the use of microSD cards in the camera as well.
The Olympus Stylus-550WP began shipping in the USA from February 2009 with pricing of about US$180.
Olympus Stylus-550WP User Report
by Shawn Barnett
If all you're concerned about is having a camera that can stand up to a little water, Olympus thought of you when they designed the Stylus Water 550WP. This non-shockproof, non-freezeproof digital camera can handle depths up to 10 feet, and that's it. Before their line of proof-everything cameras, that was enough for most of the market. The Olympus 550WP's other major feature is its low price, coming in at under $200. Still, it includes a 2.5-inch LCD, face detection, and Intelligent Auto mode.
What it lacks is a wide-angle lens, ranging from 38-114mm, and there's no optical image stabilization; though the Olympus 550WP will raise the ISO to compensate for low light, something Olympus calls "Digital Image Stabilization." Don't pay that much attention.
Look and feel. Available in blue and black, the Olympus 550WP is an attractive little camera, more pocket friendly than most of the others. Its lens is well protected inside the protruding circle, ringed by metal, and covered by a metal door that slides open upon powerup. A small bulge on the front serves as the only major grip, weakly assisted by 12 small bumps on the back. Still, the 5.3 ounce (150g) Olympus 550WP is easy enough to hold even when wet.
The flash, unfortunately, is easy to mistake as a finger grip, and I found myself covering it often.
Controls. The shutter and power buttons are quite small, and the shutter button is particularly mushy, making it difficult to discern half-press from full-press.
Buttons on the back are decent, but the four-way nav buttons are probably too small for those with larger thumbs. The zoom rocker is also small and slow to react.
Switching modes is cumbersome with the Olympus 550WP, because it's done with a single button rather than a dial as on the other two Olympus models. It's theoretically easy to just press the button to cycle through the five options, but the icons flash and stutter as they move, making it look like the 550WP is having a hard time with the operation. It fits with the rest of the camera's operation, unfortunately.
Shooting. The Olympus 550WP is the most difficult camera to shoot with of this roundup. Shortly after distributing three cameras among my three children to test, my four-year-old son William swam toward me holding the 550WP up, "This one doesn't work very good." I thought that summed up my experience with the camera quite well. You can see that moment captured in the image at right.
The Olympus 550WP's performance comes close to the 1050SW's. It's slow to wake up and start focusing, it's very slow to register your full shutter press, slow to capture the image -- especially if flash is involved, and slow to save your image. It reminded of digital camera performance circa 1999. That's not good.
Our test numbers bear that out. The Olympus 550WP takes 0.90 seconds to focus at wide angle, plus a full 1.33 seconds to focus at telephoto. Prefocused shots are better, but still fairly slow at 0.37 seconds. Even powerup and shutdown times are long, taking 3.3 seconds to start up, and 2.2 seconds to shut down.
As a result, the Olympus 550WP was just not fun to use. I managed to get a shot or two, but image quality was insufficient to make much effort, it turns out. Corners don't look bad, applying the expectation for softness, but when you move your eye to the center, it doesn't get any better. Something about how the camera processes images makes all edges soft and uneven, to put it mildly.
Movie mode works well enough, limited to 640x480 or 320x240 at 30 or 15 fps, but the audio isn't very good, and sunlight reflections create streaks that go from the top to the bottom of the frame. The Olympus 550WP also doesn't include an audio speaker for movie playback, so your videos are mute until you get back to the computer.
Overall, the best thing about the Olympus 550WP is that it's waterproof. But because it's main function -- taking snapshots -- is slower than any camera on the market, there's not much reason to recommend it.
Olympus Stylus-550WP Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft upper left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Softest lower right corner
Sharpness: At the Olympus Stylus-550WP's wide-angle lens setting, blurring in the corners is quite strongthe worst of it occurring in the top corners of the frame, and extending nearly half the way to the center of the frame. At telephoto, corners were slightly soft as compared to the center of the frame, though less intense than at wide angle, and persisting perhaps only a quarter of the way toward the center.
Wide: Slightly above average barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: Average pincushion distortion; noticeable
Geometric Distortion: The Olympus Stylus-550WP's wide-angle lens setting produced slightly above average barrel distortion (about 0.9%), which is noticeable in its images. At telephoto, pincushion distortion is about average (0.2%), and is also distinct in several images.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle
is quite visible here, with a lot of bright red pixels, and a few bright cyan
pixels as well. Telephoto, however, exhibits much less distortion.
Macro: The Olympus Stylus-550WP's standard Macro mode captures a sharp image, with only mild blurring in the corners of the frame and minimal chromatic aberration. Minimum coverage area is 3.61 x 2.71 inches (92 x 69 millimeters). Enabling the flash results in a fairly bright exposure, though with slightly hot reflections on the coins and brooch. Still, the flash could come in handy with normal macro shots. The camera's Super Macro setting captured a much smaller area (1.91 x 1.44 inches or 49 x 37 millimeters), though blurring is much stronger in the corners and along the edges of the frame.
Olympus Stylus-550WP Image Quality
Color: In terms of color, the Olympus Stylus-550WP performed a bit below average, with hue shifts in cyans and light blues that were stronger than we see in most cameras, and most images had a slight pinkish cast to them. Strong reds are oversaturated a little, which is common among consumer digital cameras, while bright yellows and greens are a little muted. As for hue accuracy, cyans are pushed toward blue, reds toward orange, and yellows toward green. Darker skin tones show a big push toward orange, while lighter skin tones definitely have a stronger red cast. As noted, most cameras we test shift cyans toward blue, we think in an effort to provide better-looking sky colors. The shifts we saw in the Stylus 550WP were a good bit larger than usual, though.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Fine detail is already quite soft
at ISO 100, becoming progressively softer with each increase in ISO. While the
camera's noise suppression efforts do help minimize the visibility and clarity
of chroma and luminance noise, detail definition suffers as a result. See the
Printed Results section below to see how this affects printed images.
Wide (13.5 ft.):
Dim and noisy
Tele (9.5 ft.):
Slightly dim, noisy
Incandescent: The Olympus Stylus-550WP's Auto white balance had trouble with our tungsten lighting test, and produced a very warm image. Incandescent mode performed much better, though it was just a little on the cool side. (Despite the slight coolness, we think that the results at Incandescent are still preferable to the overly warm Auto mode.)
Printed Results: Low-ISO images from the Olympus Stylus 550WP could be used to make good-looking prints as large as 13x19. They were slightly soft at that size, but probably acceptable for display on a wall and perusal at normal viewing distances. Low-ISO prints are quite sharp at 8x10 inches, although even there, the camera loses subtly contrasting subject detail to its noise reduction processing. As usual, image quality drops as ISO increases, and we found that the highest sensitivity setting we could use and still get good-quality 8x10 inch prints was ISO 400. At that level, images were surprisingly clean, with good detail. As we went to ISO 800, though, the image noise jumped pretty dramatically, and detail suffered a little as well. Consequently, 5x7 inches is the limit for ISO 800 shots, but they really look much better at 4x6. At ISO 1,600, even 4x6 inch prints looked pretty grainy, to the point that we think most consumers would find them unacceptable.
Olympus Stylus-550WP Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is sluggish, at 0.90 second at wide angle and 1.33 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.37 second, which is slower than average.
Cycle time: Cycle time is also relatively slow, capturing a frame every 3.95 seconds in single-shot mode.
Flash Recycle: The Stylus-550WP's flash recycles in about 6.5 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average for a compact.
Olympus Stylus-550WP Conclusion
Available online for under $150, the Olympus 550WP is one of the least expensive waterproof cameras on the market. It lacks the ruggedness of its big brothers, the Stylus Tough 6000 and 8000, but if all you need is a waterproof rating to 10 feet, it's about the cheapest way to go. Optical and image quality are better than many waterproof models, but clearly fall short of the best - But for the price, it's hard to beat. Even taking its price into account, though, we still found its sluggish performance hard to accept: It was one of the slowest cameras in our underwater/rugged camera roundup, and a "snapshot" camera should be able to grab shots in a snap. The only competition at its exceptionally low price point is the Fujifilm Z33WP, and each has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. The Olympus 550WP's optical and image quality are clearly a notch above the Fuji's, and its shots up to ISO 400 are noticeably sharper and cleaner. (Beyond that point, the noise levels are fairly similar.) For its part, the Fuji wins on shutter response by a good margin (although it's only slightly faster from shot to shot) and scores big points for style. As we also note in the Z33WP's conclusion, which one you choose may depend on who you are and what you want from the camera. The Fuji Z33WP would be a hands-down winner for kids, who'll appreciate its sleek lines, cute-as-a-button styling and who'll be more likely to need its faster shutter response -- but who probably don't care about prints larger than 4x6 inches. If you're a little less style-forward and able to wait (and wait, sometimes) for your shots, the higher image quality of the Olympus 550WP will probably make it your choice. You'll still give up some image quality relative to the best cameras in the field, but if your budget is limited, you'll probably appreciate having the 550WP along on trips where you couldn't bring your non-waterproof digicam or SLR. (Read Dave's article Good Photos or No Photos? for his perspective on the value of accepting image quality tradeoffs, for the sake of having a camera with you on special vacations.)