Olympus SP-570 UltraZoom Overview
by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 10/02/08
Olympus' UltraZoom series of digital cameras are well known for their powerful zoom lenses, but the Olympus SP-570 UZ takes things up a notch with a whopping new 20x optical zoom lens boasting an equivalent focal length starting at a truly wide 26mm and extending to an ultra-telephoto 520mm.
The Olympus SP-570 UltraZoom digital camera features a 1/2.33-inch CCD imager with a resolution of ten megapixels, coupled with an Olympus ED-branded 20x optical zoom lens with an extremely useful 26 to 520mm equivalent focal length range and f/2.8 to f/4.5 maximum aperture. There's a choice of both an electronic viewfinder with diopter correction (precise specifications unknown), plus a 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,000 pixel resolution. Autofocus is via contrast detection, and as you'd expect Olympus has included AE/AF-linked face detection technology. The Olympus SP570UZ can also be focused manually.
The SP570's ISO sensitivity ranges from 64 to 6,400 equivalent, controlled automatically or manually -- a fairly impressive range, but it remains to be seen what image noise at ISO 6,400 from a small 10-megapixel imager is like. The Olympus 570UZ also offers what Olympus calls Dual Image Stabilization mode, which combines both sensor-shift type mechanical stabilization, as well as software tweaks to minimize the effects of camera shake. By default, exposures are determined with Olympus's Digital ESP multi-pattern metering, with options available for spot, center-weighted, or face-detection-linked metering options as well. Users can tweak their exposure with +/-2.0 EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3EV steps. Shutter speeds range from eight minutes to 1/2,000 second and both aperture and shutter speed can be controlled manually -- either separately or together. The Olympus SP570UZ offers automatic or preset white balance control courtesy of six presets, plus a custom white balance mode. The Olympus SP570 also includes an eight-mode internal flash good to a distance of 21 feet at wide-angle, plus a hot shoe for external flash strobes. Beginners will find a generous 23 Scene modes.
As well as still images, the Olympus SP-570 UZ can capture movies at VGA or lower resolution, at a rate of 30 frames per second. The Olympus 570UZ also has a twelve second self-timer to let you get into your own pictures. The camera stores images on xD-Picture cards, or 45MB of built-in memory, and also offers both video and USB 2.0 High Speed computer connectivity. Power comes from four standard AA batteries.
Pricing and Availability
The Olympus SP-570 UZ ships from March 2008 in the USA, with a list price of $500.
Olympus SP-570 User Report
by Mike Pasini
I liked the 8-megapixel Olympus SP-560 with its 18x zoom and was looking forward to the 10-megapixel SP-570 with its 20x zoom, which sits alone at the top of the long zoom hill.
But the one thing that has to work well about a long zoom is the zoom itself. And the Olympus SP-570 moves the zoom control to the lens with a lens ring that is simply out-to-lunch. It unfortunately isn't out to lunch alone. The autofocus system has gone along with it.
Still, there's enough interest in this package to muse about the Olympus SP-570. And at the rate Olympus is turning these out, it may be wise to consider the SP-570 further.
Look and Feel. The Olympus SP-570 body is new. It's remarkably compact, much smaller than it appears in photos, and easily managed with just a wrist strap. I did use a shoulder strap but only because it didn't fit in my pocket.
Despite the small size, the grip is very comfortable, with the Shutter button right where it should be, on the front slope of the grip. Just behind the Olympus SP-570's Shutter button is a Command dial that, while a little too stiff for my tastes, is the right idea.
Not so bright is the Olympus SP-570's Power switch, which is a lever under the Mode dial that you push left to power the camera on and right to power it off. It replaces a small button on the SP-560 that, while not ideal, was not quite so awkward to use. It's the same switch used on the Olympus E-420 digital SLR, but somehow it doesn't work as well here, being set forward too far from the back edge of the Olympus SP-570.
The Mode dial itself sits high on the top panel, easily accessed and clearly labeled. The dioptric adjustment next to the Olympus SP-570's EVF is a bigger, but thinner dial, making it a bit easier to adjust.
And unlike the SP-560, the Olympus SP-570 has a hot shoe behind the popup flash. There are four contacts on it, too, so it means business. With a $500 wireless flash available for it, no wonder.
The Olympus SP-570's back panel has been reorganized quite a bit. The left side of the LCD now sports four buttons that used to ring the navigator. They are Playback/Print, Shadow Adjustment/Erase, Menu, and Display/Help. Moving them to the left side of the camera means you have to use another hand to access them, but they are infrequently used anyway, so that may not be quite the inconvenience it first appears. On the other hand, why move them further away?
The navigator itself is slightly different from the Olympus SP-560, too. The center OK/Function button remains unchanged, as do the Left/Macro, Down/Timer, Right/Flash buttons. But the EV button on top has become a Custom button. There is still an EV button (you need it to switch between aperture and shutter speed in Manual mode, after all), but it's been moved to the facet of the grip where the Shutter button is. That's not inconvenient, actually.
Above the Olympus SP-570's LCD the Display button that toggles between the EVF and LCD displays sits next to the Auto Exposure/Auto Focus lock (and Sequential Display) button.
On the side of the Olympus SP-570's lens are the only other two buttons on the camera. One is a slide switch to move between Autofocus and Manual focus. And the other is a Drive mode button.
The LCD is a spacious 2.7 inches, up from the 2.5-inch LCD of the Olympus SP-560. It may not be 3 inches, but it does have 230,000 pixels like the best of them, showing a good deal of detail and smooth type.
The Olympus SP-570's electronic viewfinder was easily focused by the dioptric adjustment on the left side, although we found ourselves at the limit of the adjustment (rather unusual). Resolution was not as good as the LCD, of course, but it was adequate.
The 20x zoom lens is just a bit wider than the lens on the Olympus SP-560, starting at 26mm. It extends to a 520mm equivalent in 35mm format. And with the 5x digital zoom (which is actually usable), your reach extends 100x to 2,600mm. Which is a good reason to have built-in sensor-shift image stabilization.
At wide angle, the Olympus SP-570 has a pretty fast lens, too, with an f/2.8 maximum aperture, which closes down to f/4.5 at telephoto. It closes down to just f/8 no matter the focal length. Shutter speeds range from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second.
With such a wide range, however, the lens does suffer the same optical issues of 18x zooms, particularly soft corners and chromatic aberration.
Modes. The Olympus SP-570 offers an excellent selection of shooting modes including the fab four: Programmed Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. There's also a full Auto mode which does not let you change camera settings.
The 23 Scene modes include Portrait, Landscape, Landscape+Portrait, Sport, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Multi-Firework, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select1, Shoot & Select2, Smile Shot, Beach, Snow, and Quick Shutter.
And there is a MyMode, which saves up to four camera configurations. And a Movie mode that captures AVI movies with sound at 640 x 480 and 30 or 15 fps, and 320 x 240 at 30 or 15 fps.
Normal continuous mode captures are recorded at only 0.8 frames per second at the full resolution image size of 10 megapixels. But High-speed1 mode captures 7.5 frames per second for 20+ frames at five megapixels, while High-speed2 captures 13.4 frames per second for 20+ frames at 3 megapixels. It also can tap into the Olympus SP-570's Pre-Capture technology, as we explain in the next section.
Playback has a few modes of its own, handling various editing chores. Those include, for still images: Red-Eye Fix, Lighting Fix, Resize, Rotation, Black & White, Sepia, Frame, Label, Calendar, Layout, Expression Edit, Face Focus, Raw Edit, and Cropping. For Movies: Frame Index, Movie Edit, and Still Image Cropping.
Special Features. Like the SP-560, the Olympus SP-570 has a few tricks up its sleeve. 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 iESP automatic focus over the whole scene, Spot, and Area focusing.
The Olympus SP-570 also features Shadow Adjustment Technology with a button alongside the LCD 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, which is Olympus' Help system, 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 carried over from the SP-560.
Digital image stabilization on the Olympus SP-570 simply tries to freeze movement in the scene by using a higher ISO and faster shutter speed than would otherwise be used. Using a lower ISO minimizes noise but requires a slower shutter speed and thereby risks capturing subject motion as blur.
The hot shoe is a welcome addition to the line, providing not only the use of a more powerful flash, but also the option of moving the flash off the camera. And with the Olympus SP-570 support for wireless flash, you can do that effortlessly.
Pre-Capture mode is a variation of High-speed2 that, when you half-press the Shutter button, records frames just prior and after completely pressing the Shutter button. Pre-Capture begins working as soon as the focus is locked, automatically archiving five frames in the camera's buffer memory prior to the shutter release. But writing the frames to disk takes several seconds, locking up the camera for some time after you've committed by pressing the shutter release. Any action that happens for several seconds after will be missed.
Storage and Battery. That big grip is home to four AA batteries. You'll want rechargeable NiMH batteries, preferably something like the Eneloops that hold most of their charge while sitting on the shelf.
Olympus claims 390 shots based on CIPA standards, but doesn't say what kind of batteries they used (I suspect NiMH rather than the very short-lived alkalines you should not put in this camera).
There is an AC adapter available as well.
The Olympus SP-570 uses tiny xD Picture Card memory cards, available up to 2GB sizes. It also has 45MB of internal memory available. That's large enough for three Raw images, nine 10-megapixel images at Fine compression or 25 seconds of video with sound.
Performance. Our performance ratings for the Olympus SP-570 were a mixed bag, sometimes hitting the above average mark and sometimes just average with a few low scores tossed in.
The 20x lens has an unsurpassed range, but it does exhibit strong barrel distortion at wide angle and strong pincushioning at telephoto. See what I mean about mixed bags?
Startup time is an average but slow 3.3 seconds while shutdown is a quick and above average 1.5 second.
Autofocus lag is another mixed bag. The combined wide angle and telephoto times range about average. But the important number is the telephoto autofocus lag and that's below average at over 0.8 second. Prefocus lag (which is a necessity on this camera) is an average 0.13 second. We had our problems finding focus with this camera, though, as we explain in the next section.
Continuous mode cycle time at 1.24 seconds was below average for a long zoom. Flash cycle time however was above average at just six seconds.
The 4,300 KB/s USB download rate is more than adequate for moving 10-megapixel images from the xD card over a USB cable to your computer. It's USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, after all.
The 2.7-inch LCD ranks average only because 3.0 LCDs are so prevalent. Optical zoom at 20x is, of course, well above average. And the 19.50-ounce weight is certainly below average.
Shooting. The air here was smoky when the Olympus SP-570 arrived. There had been a number of forest fires to the north and south of us and our sunny days had an orange cast to them. But the fog rolled in and knocked the particulate out of the air, clearing a bit on the ocean one afternoon, so I ran over with the Olympus SP-570 to zoom in that strange phenomenon for a shot.
I leaned out the kitchen window and zoomed in without tapping into digital zoom. But zooming on the Olympus SP-570 is a spiritual exercise. With a lever, it's clear which end is telephoto and which wide-angle. But on a ring, do you spin it clockwise or counter clockwise?
On a lens with a mechanical zoom ring, the slightest nudge sets you straight and you quickly learn. But with a fly-by-wire zoom ring that merely sends an electronic signal to the camera to change the focal length, there's a little delay between your movement and the lens' reaction. Unfortunately, that's just enough to make you wonder if you went the wrong way (it would be all the way out to wide angle to start with, after all). So you twist it the other way to see if it moves.
That's what happens with most such lenses, but the Olympus SP-570 was particularly slow to react to the ring movement. It was deal killer for me and I suggest you try it in person before committing to this model. You won't like it.
When I had finally gotten the lens to zoom out, I half-pressed the Shutter button to focus. But the Olympus SP-570 could not find focus.
This happens every now and then because most of the image out the kitchen window is sky and a center focus bias is not going to find enough contrast to focus. So I just lower the lens to some neighbor's yard a block away to get the lens to infinity and set the exposure by half-pressing the Shutter button.
But still, the Olympus SP-570 failed to focus. So I tried Manual focus. There's just a slide switch on the side of the lens. Then you crank the Command dial until you get focus in the enlarged center section of the LCD. Sounds good. But cranking the Command dial was absurd. It would have taken me an hour to crank out to infinity, according to my calculations.
I never did get the shot, in fact.
Probably the worst time I had with the zoom ring was on Twin Peaks where I zoom from wide angle to telephoto to full digital telephoto. That sequence was slow and moving through the digital range was even glacial. But getting back to wide angle was impossible. I resorted to turning the camera off and back on to reset the lens to wide angle.
I should also note that shooting at full telephoto and in the digital zoom range really does require a tripod. Even perching the Olympus SP-570 on one of the telescope stands at Twin Peaks wasn't enough support to compose the image. It's just a bit beyond the range you can hand-hold -- even with image stabilization on to help you see what you're pointing at.
I had a lot better luck with nearby subjects, particularly in Macro mode (and Super Macro mode). But that was all at wide angle. And you don't buy a long zoom to shoot wide angle.
Even the Jaguar hood ornament was a trial. I was standing on the sidewalk next to the car. But it took several minutes to zoom the lens to the composition I wanted. I took the shot in Manual mode to handle the high key subject and that part of the job went well. And the Olympus SP-570 did eventually find focus on that high contrast subject.
Connectivity. Plug a USB cable into the SP-570's USB port and the camera is smart enough to turn itself on and ask what you want to do: PC mode, Easy Print, Custom Print, Exit. Bravo. The lens stays covered and you get your images transferred. Quickly with the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed. Nice.
You can use zoom when recording movies (in fact, our movie sample is a good illustration of what's wrong with the SP-570's zoom control). But you're only allowed digital zoom if you're recording with sound; to use optical zoom, you have to turn sound off.
The Olympus SP-570 frustrated me most when I wanted to shoot some Raw images for the gallery. I could not for the life of me get the Setup page to enable the Raw options (Raw with JPEG or just Raw). I knew I couldn't select image size or compression quality (irrelevant to Raw files) but I couldn't see how to disable their selection either.
In the end I Reset the camera to its default values. Raw with JPEG was enabled and I took my shots.
An interesting file naming issue came up with the Raw images, incidentally. Olympus continues with sequential file naming when writing the Raw with JPEG image. So the same image may be named P7000901.ORG for the Raw and P7000902.JPG for the JPEG, rather than P7000901.JPG to go with the Raw. Very unusual.
Image Quality. A lens with this kind of range is a lens made with some serious optical compromises. You can see it in the chromatic aberration and the soft corners evidenced in our lab tests. They may be average for a long zoom, but the question is how much they detract from ordinary viewing on screen and in print.
Add to those concerns the general one of high noise at high ISO and the SP-570's ISO 3,200 and 6,400 settings are another area of concern. Noise reduction is applied automatically to images with shutter speeds of 0.5 second or longer, Olympus notes, but we didn't shoot that slow.
So let's look at our lab shots to see the verdict.
The Still Life shot at ISO 100 looks sharp throughout, even though there isn't anything in the corners themselves. But we can see the chromatic aberration along the fringe of the white cloth under the dark coffee mug, and in the shadows. The Hellas label shows the dark mosaic design quite well and the Samuel Smith label next to it does not bloom very much at all. These results are above average, except for the chroma noise in the shadows.
The Multi Target test shows slight chromatic aberration in the corners and about 1,500 lines of strong detail in the resolution targets.
Our gallery shots show the practical implications of these traits.
Color, to start with, was natural, with only a slight oversaturation of the reds. Unfortunately, saturation fades as ISO rises, and detail disappears from most colors.
Printed results were disappointing, degrading at ISO 100 to the point that they were better at 8x10 than at the 11x14-inch print size supported by ISO 64. The two highest settings, 3,200 and 6,400 are better left untouched, while ISO 1,600 produces a grainy but usable 4x6-inch print. We've come to expect better from a modern digital camera, unfortunately.
Appraisal. The SP-570 is a very attractive long zoom, available in a black body, and now with a hot shoe, too. The 20x optical zoom is unsurpassed in range and does about as well as 18x zooms when it comes to corner softness and chromatic aberration. But the electronic zoom ring is much too sluggish and autofocus too slow to really put this camera to work in the field, and image quality is compromised at anything but ISO 64. The Olympus SP-570 would serve as a great take-anywhere snapshot camera if 8x10-inch prints are all you're looking for. You might not even notice the geometric distortion in most pictures. The lens does have good sharpness over most of the frame, a significant high point, and the flash range is decent, but overall the Olympus SP-570 UZ falls short where it matters.
Olympus SP-570 Basic Features
- 10-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch CCD sensor
- 20x optical zoom (26 to 520mm eq.) with 14 lenses in 11 groups, 4 aspherical lenses, 2 ED lenses
- 5x digital zoom for 100x maximum zoom range
- EVF/LCD viewfinders
- 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels
- ISO sensitivity from 64 to 6,400
- Shutter speeds from 15 to 1/2,000 seconds (up to 8 minutes in Bulb mode)
- Apertures from f/2.8 to f/8 at wide angle and f/4.5 to f/8 at telephoto
- 45MB internal memory
- xD Picture Card memory support
- Four AA batteries
Olympus SP-570 Special Features
- 20x optical zoom
- Dual Image Stabilization combines sensor-shift image stabilization with high ISO sensitivity and fast shutter speeds.
- 31 Shooting modes including full PASM modes
- Hot shoe for external flash
- Face Detection technology
- Burst rate of 13.5 fps and 3-megapixel Pre-Capture mode
- ISO 6,400 (with some limitations)
- TruePic III image processor
- Raw format
- Smile Shot control
In the Box
The Olympus SP-570 ships with the following items in the box:
- The SP-570 digital camera
- Lens cap and lens cap string
- Shoulder strap
- Four AA batteries
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Olympus Master 2 CD-ROM
- Warranty card and instruction manual
- Large capacity xD memory card. Get the biggest one you can, which is currently 2GB.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection. Olympus offers an Ultra Zoom Accessory Kit for $39.99 that includes a nylon case, four NiMH batteries and an overnight charger.
- FL-50R external flash adds wireless flash capability for $499.99.
Olympus SP-570 Conclusion
Just as it did when it introduced the 18x zoom, Olympus has broken the long zoom barrier again with the 20x SP-570. At the same time, the company added a hot shoe (and wireless flash support) and a command dial to bring the SP-570 even closer to digital SLR standards.
While the 20x zoom suffers the optical flaws of all long zooms, including chromatic aberration and soft corners, that isn't the big problem with this camera. The unforgivable sluggishness of the zoom ring, which has been moved from around the Shutter button on the SP-560 to the lens itself on the SP-570, is the deal killer.
Toss in the relatively slow and often unsuccessful autofocus and wait for the SP-580 to challenge for a Dave's Picks. The SP-570, unfortunately, falls far short.