Olympus SP-560 UZ Overview
by Mike Pasini
The Olympus SP-560 UltraZoom digital camera features a 1/2.35 inch CCD imager with a resolution of eight megapixels, coupled with an Olympus-branded 18x optical zoom lens with an extremely wide-ranging choice of 35mm equivalent focal lengths from 27 to 486mm and f/2.8 to 4.5 maximum aperture.
There's a choice of both an electronic viewfinder (specification unknown), plus a 2.5-inch LCD display with a resolution of 230,000 pixels. Autofocus is via contrast detection, and the camera can also be focused manually. ISO sensitivity ranges from 50 to 6,400 equivalent, controlled automatically or manually, and the Olympus SP-560 UZ also offers what the company calls "Dual Image Stabilization" mode, which combines both hardware image stabilization and software anti-blur. By default, exposures are determined with Olympus' Digital ESP multi-pattern metering, with spot and center-weighted metering options also available.
The exposure can be linked to the camera's face detection autofocus, metering on the point selected for focusing. Users can tweak the exposure with +/-2.0 EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3 EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, and the Olympus SP-560 UZ offers automatic or preset white balance control via six presets, plus a custom white balance mode. The Olympus SP-560 also includes a six-mode internal flash that is good to a distance of 21 feet at wide-angle, and offers beginner-friendly control over images courtesy of around twenty scene modes.
As well as still images, the Olympus SP-560 UZ can capture movies at VGA or lower resolution, at a rate of 30 frames per second. The Olympus SP-560 has a 12-second self-timer to let you get into your own pictures. The camera stores images on xD-Picture cards, or a reasonably generous 47MB of built-in memory, and also offers both video and USB 2.0 Hi-Speed computer connectivity (rather faster than the USB 2.0 Full Speed connections that some cameras are still using). Power comes from four standard AA batteries, with disposables of unspecified type in the product bundle.
The Olympus SP-560 UZ started shipping in October 2007 in the USA, priced at $450.
Olympus SP-560 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. Fans of the long zoom are currently enjoying an embarrassment of riches. Not more than a few months after Olympus resurrected the format, they're swamped with competition. At the elite end of the totem pole, Fujifilm and Panasonic join Olympus in offering 18x zooms.
But the SP-560 UZ is actually the company's second 18x zoom, following the SP-550 introduced earlier this year. Except for a chrome base under the Mode dial and Shutter button, and a chrome ring at the base of the lens, the two Olympus models are physically identical.
What's new is a bump up to 8.0 megapixels from 7.1, a zoom range starting at 27 rather than 28 (and consequently ending at 456 rather than 504, in 35mm equivalency), the addition of face detection technology, a faster USB port, and higher ISO sensitivity.
But the big news is the Olympus SP-560's improved performance.
Design. The Olympus SP-560 is a handsome box, sculpted to fit your hand with serious neck strap rings to attach to the eyelets on the body (which I did not install). It's too big for a pocket, but you won't want to pocket it anyway. With its 18x zoom, it can see more than you can.
As substantial as it is, the Olympus SP-560 is much smaller than even a compact dSLR. And with an 18x zoom that features excellent Macro focusing, you won't want to change lenses anyway. That convenience is matched with several image size choices that include a Raw format as well.
Another significant difference between this long zoom and a dSLR is the lack of buttons. There are really just a few, including the Navigator and OK button surrounded by the Menu, Playback, Display, and a Shadow Adjustment button, all on the back panel. Near the electronic viewfinder (required equipment on any long zoom) is a button to toggle the display between the 2.5-inch LCD and the EVF. On the top panel, the discreet Power button sits behind the Shutter button and Zoom ring, which are to the right of the Model dial and left of the Anti-Shake button.
The Olympus SP-560 is a pleasure to hold, with a rubberized grip that includes a thumb pad on the back panel. The only issue I had with the body design was the position of the Shutter button itself. It didn't bother me on the SP-550 but the minute I picked up the Olympus SP-560, I noticed I had to split my fingers and stretch my index finger backwards to reach the Shutter button. If you point the camera down, you won't even notice, but holding it horizontally, it bothered my wrist. Another quarter inch forward would have been perfect, though the location hasn't actually changed from the SP-550.
The rest of the SP-560's options are hidden in the rather obtuse menu system. Essentially the same as the one on the Stylus system, the Olympus SP-550 UZ's menu system has quite a few more options. But the star array of options on the top menu is just too confusing for me. Up to nine text labels are presented in three rows with three columns, the center item highlighted. I much prefer a sequential arrangement of some kind (tabs, say) to this scatter-shot approach.
This scatter-shot approach is the bane of the SP-560 in other ways, too. You'll see, for example, a zoom bar in Program mode that inexplicably disappears in Aperture Priority mode. You'll look for the Pre-focus mode in vain until you enable H2 continuous shooting. And sometimes the LCD will suggest pressing a button you just can't find (like the Go button).
The LCD itself is a 2.5-inch, 230,000 pixel viewfinder that's really not usable in daylight. But that's where the EVF comes in. Tap the toggle and the live view is show in the eyepiece, which has a diopter to adjust to your vision. The view through the EVF is identical to that on the LCD, if at a lower resolution. I became quickly accustomed to it and relied on it for most of the gallery images.
But it too exhibited inconsistent behavior. Snap the shot and the EVF goes blank. Where's the image review? On the LCD. OK, I can see the utility of displaying the image for review on the larger canvas, but if I can't see it for the sunlight, what's the point?
The lens features a wider 27mm focal length (from 28mm) in 35mm terms from the SP-550. But that shortens the reach to 486mm from 504mm. You still get 100x range with the 5.6x digital zoom, however. And it is seamless, making it pretty easy to compose. It's a bit fast, but it is smooth. It does zoom in movie mode, though a little more slowly to keep the motor from making too much noise on the recorded file. When moving from telephoto to wide angle, however, the zoom ratchets back when you stop zooming, not a great effect for videos. It also doesn't stop when you do, often continuing until it feels like stopping.
With such a long zoom, you need some kind of stabilization and Olympus provides two kinds. Optical image stabilization is provided by a sensor shift mechanism in the camera. But the SP-560 also includes Olympus's digital image stabilization, which bumps up the ISO to reduce camera shake. You can activate or deactivate digital image stabilization using the Anti-Shake button on the top panel.
Resolution was surprisingly fine, slightly exceeding the 1,400 lines of the SP-550. Corner sharpness wasn't nearly as good, but didn't fall off too far. I've seen worse on lenses with just 3x zoom.
A long zoom also suffers from more distortion than a zoom with a shorter range. There is noticeable barrel distortion at wide angel and pincushion distortion at telephoto as you can see in our tests shots (see the Optics tab). The question is whether that reach is worth it to you. If you shoot groups of people, for example, the wide-angle distortion that smears the faces on the edge of the frame would be unacceptable without some sort of post-processing correction.
You'll also find a good deal of chromatic aberration in the Olympus SP-560's lens, as our test shot shows in the corners (see the Optics tab, scroll down to Chromatic aberration). It tends to be worse at the edges than it is just inside them. Oddly enough, the Olympus SP-560 deviates from the norm here with much better results at wide-angle than at telephoto.
Modes. The highlight of the Olympus SP-560's shooting modes is really the manual control offered. Full manual, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, and Programmed Auto modes join Auto on the Mode dial.
Selecting aperture or shutter is as easy as pressing the EV button (the Up arrow) and then using the arrows to change the active value. In Manual mode, for example, pressing the EV button outlines both the shutter speed and aperture. Small blue arrows suggest which controls to use to change the values in which direction while a number to the right indicates the exposure value (white usually but red if you go too far).
Scene modes include Portrait, Landscape, Landscape+Portrait, Sport, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select1, Shoot & Select2, Beach, Snow, Smile Shot, Underwater Wide1, Underwater Wide2, Underwater Macro, Quick Shutter.With a brilliant sunset one evening, I grabbed the SP-560 and fired away in both Programmed Auto and Sunset scene mode. Color was better in Programmed Auto but the image blurred. Sunset mode captured a better range of hues and was sharp as well. I didn't have time to fiddle with the menu system to get what I wanted, but Sunset scene mode made it simple.
There are four MyMode settings available to save your most typical camera setups. A MyMode setting on the Mode dial recalls them.
Special Features. The SP-560 has a few tricks up its sleeve, too. Face detection is increasingly commonplace and we're glad to see it available on a long zoom. It's one of four autofocus options, among which are the Olympus iEPS automatic focus over the whole scene, Spot, and Area focusing.
The Olympus SP-560 also features Shadow Adjustment Technology with a button below the Navigator to conveniently activate it. Shadow Adjustment Technology is designed to brighten faces shot against a bright background like a sunset. On a video camera you'd call it Backlight. Focusing mode is set to Face Detect and metering to ESP.
The Guide option on the Mode dial takes you to an intriguing Effects Preview that splits the screen to display four renderings of the live scene. Options include Exposure Effects (EV settings), Color Effects (white balance options), Metering (ESP or Spot) and Movie Smoothness. It's a terrific idea.
I was less enthralled with Pre-focus, although I spent more time with it on the Olympus SP-560 than I did with the SP-550. The big problem is the reduced resolution of the image. And the long processing time after you press the Shutter button doesn't help. You end up with a set of 14 shots that are 1,280 x 960 pixels each. They're displayed as one image in the camera, but you can see them all by pressing the Expand button (the Anti-Shake button in Record mode). When transferred to your computer, they're individual files.
Raw capture results in approximately an 11.6MB ORF file. But it also severely slows down capture as the file is written to the memory card. You'll wait a few seconds between each shot to regain control of the camera.
On the other hand, you can achieve 15 fps shooting speeds -- if you restrict the image size to 1.2 megapixels. That's pretty snappy (about half speed of broadcast Movie mode). But at that file size, it's more of a stunt than a feature.
Storage and Battery. The Olympus SP-560 has 47MB of internal storage, which is really quite generous for emergency use. But for regular use, you'll want to invest in a large xD Picture Card. Be aware, however, that very large cards require their own card reader.
A 1GB card can store about 85 Raw images or 253 high quality JPEGs at the highest resolution of 3,264 x 2,448 pixels. That same card can only store about 40 seconds of high quality video (640 x 480 with sound), although it stretches to 29 minutes at 320 x 240 with sound.
The Olympus SP-560 uses four AA-size batteries or an AC adapter. Olympus doesn't publish CIPA numbers for NiMH battery performance, but they claim up to 380 shots with AA alkalines, which is impressive. We went on several outings with the camera and explored it for this review without running down the four GE/Sanyo Eneloop NiMH batteries that powered it. Those are 2,000 mAh cells but they have the virtue of retaining their power longer than typical NiMH batteries.
Performance. Happily, the Olympus SP-560 has cranked up its performance significantly over the SP-550. I still recall trying to photograph birds with the SP-550 and getting very few shots. There aren't many birds around in the Fall, but I was able to track and even snap a few seagulls with the Olympus SP-560. The gallery image could have been sharper, but I was in Programmed Auto instead of Shutter Priority mode at the time.
But let's look at the raw numbers. Startup, shutdown, autofocus lag, and pre-focus lag are all above average for a long zoom. Startup and shutdown are the same as the SP-550, actually, but there's a big boost in Autofocus lag (halved) and pre-focus lag (down to 0.059 from 0.090 second). That's huge.
It's also worth remarking that both wide-angle and telephoto focal lengths enjoy that quick shutter response. You'd think at telephoto, autofocus would have to work a lot harder to find focus and shutter lag would consequently be much worse than at wide-angle (where everything is in focus from your arm's length out). But the Olympus SP-560 actually takes longer at wide-angle (0.77 second) than at telephoto (0.74 second).
Download speed is greatly improved thanks to an upgrade to Hi-Speed USB. And the Olympus SP-560 is just a bit lighter than the SP-550.
Flash cycle time has increased to 10 seconds from 7 seconds, but that's the only performance mark that has taken a dip.
Shooting. I'm a sucker for a long zoom. And the Olympus SP-560 has a zoom that won't quit. I found myself unable to resist the temptation to slip into digital zoom (even live there) at 100x. And while digital zoom isn't as sharp as optical zoom, the things that camera saw at 100x were really beyond what the naked eye can notice. That's the fun of a long zoom.
And the fun started at Twin Peaks where I took my usual zoom range images. It wasn't the clearest air so the shots don't show the best possible contrast, but there's still detail. Like the cars on the Bay Bridge or the window panes on the dome of City Hall (and while those were digital zoom, they weren't full on).
But the same lens was sensitive to detail close up. And that's my other weakness. Macro mode itself was too tame for me, but Super Macro hit the spot. The blue Point of View raised lettering on the telescope shows how sharp Super Macro stays for how long at f/5.6.
But mate it with ISO 800, which has about the limit of acceptable grain in the full resolution image, and you get a very nice, painterly effect. Knock back to ISO 100 and you have a real moment.
Color was faithful (no small thing), particularly at the beach where the ice plant didn't detract from the waves. A particularly difficult shot into the sun yielded a very pleasing result. That's not what it looked like, believe me, but the SP-560 recovered more highlight detail than my blinded eyes could make out.
The SP-560 offers the photographer a lot of control and I wish I had taken advantage of that a good deal more. A number of shots in the gallery might have been taken with completely different camera settings (as I realize now <g>). My shot of the two flying seagulls would have profited from manual focus to cure the softness.
And a few ocean scenes might have been even more compelling shot at 16:9 rather than 4:3, but I didn't switch aspect ratios.
One quibble that crystallized into a complaint is zoom in Movie mode. Yes, the SP-560 will let you use zoom but you really can't control it. It starts suddenly, zooms too quickly for video and when you stop, it stutters, as our sample movie demonstrates. And that sample was take five. I thought it was me at first.
Appraisal. With a new 18x zoom and 8.0 megapixels, the Olympus SP-560 is a welcome tool for long zoom fans. And new features like the Effects Preview and Shadow Adjustment Technology just make the package sweeter. But the big news is the improved shutter response. That makes the Olympus SP-560 a serious contender in this category.
- 8.0 megapixels 1/2.35 inch CCD
- 18x zoom (27-486mm 35mm equivalent)
- EVF viewfinder with 2.5 inch LCD with 230,000 pixels
- ISO sensitivity from 50 to 6,400 (6,400 at reduced image size)
- Shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second, plus Bulb to 8 minutes
- Max Aperture of f/2.8 at wide-angle and f/4.5 at telephoto
- xD Picture Card support up to 2GB
- Four AA batteries for power
- 18x optical zoom plus 5.6x digital zoom, seamless to 100x
- 14 lenses in 11 groups, four aspherical lenses, two ED lenses
- Dual image stabilization with sensor shift optical image stabilization and digital image stabilization
- Face detection technology
- Effects preview for EV, white balance, metering, and Movie smoothness
- 15 fps sequential shooting (at a 1.2 megapixel image size) and pre-capture
- TruePic III image processor
- Raw file format option
- Shadow Adjustment Technology
- Full Manual control
- Focus ranges include Normal (to 3.9 inches), Macro (to 3.9 inches), and Super Macro (to 0.4 inch)
- Focus modes include iESP Auto, Spot AF, Face Detection AF, Full-Time AF, Selective AF Target, AF Lock, Predictive AF, and Manual
- White Balance modes include iESP 2 Auto, One-Touch, Presets (Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and 3 Fluorescents), and White Balance Compensation
- Scene modes include Portrait, Landscape, Landscape+Portrait, Sport, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select1, Shoot & Select2, Beach, Snow, Smile Shot, Underwater Wide1, Underwater Wide2, Underwater Macro, Quick Shutter
- Playback Edit effects include for still images: Red-Eye Fix, Lighting Fix, Resize, Rotation, Black & White, Sepia, Frame, Label, Calendar, Layout, Expression Edit, Face Focus, Raw Edit. For movies: Frame Index, Movie Edit, Still Image Cropping
- 47MB internal memory
In the Box
The Olympus SP-560 UltraZoom ships with the following items in the box:
- SP-560 UZ digital camera
- Four AA batteries
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Lens cap and string
- Strap and strap rings
- Warranty card
- Large capacity xD memory card. These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 4GB should be a minimum.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- AC Adapter (C-7AU)
- TCON-17 Tele conversion lens (increases magnification by 1.7x)
- CLA-10 Conversion lens adapter (required for conversion lenses)
- PT-037 Underwater Housing
Long zooms used to be 10x or maybe 12x, but 2007 was the year that Olympus introduced the 18x zoom; and before the year goes out, Olympus has rolled out an improved version with more resolution, and speed enhancements galore. In addition to its 8.0 megapixel sensor, the Olympus SP-560 also sports new features like the Effects Preview and Shadow Adjustment Technology. More importantly, shutter lag is greatly reduced, making the Olympus SP-560 nearly irresistible. Though the zoom is a little wonky in movie mode, the long zoom, 27mm wide angle lens, optical image stabilization, and respectable image quality make the Olympus SP-560 an easy Dave's Picks in the Long Zoom category.