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Olympus Stylus 500 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
By
Dave Etchells
Review Date
4/26/2005 
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
digital camera Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Very Good
5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
11x14s, 8x10s with heavy cropping
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
(As of April, 2005)
$349




Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Sample Pictures
Conclusion

The Olympus Stylus 500 is the latest in the compact Stylus line of digital cameras from that company. Featuring a 5.0-megapixel CCD, 3x lens, "all-weather" body design, and compact size, the Olympus Stylus 500 Digital breaks away from preceding Stylus Digital models by losing the manually sliding lens cover and the optical viewfinder. Instead, the Stylus 500 Digital offers a large, 2.5-inch LCD monitor for image composition, and protects the lens with a much smaller automatic lens cover that moves in an out of place when the camera is turned on or shut down. Like other Stylus Digital models though, the fully automatic system requires very little user intervention with only a handful of creative options, but has the benefits of 20 preset Scene modes and a QuickTime Movie mode (with sound). The all-weather body can withstand water spray from any direction, but isn't meant to be fully submerged in water. Still, rubber seals and a separate plastic chassis inside the metal body provide excellent protection against water splashes and rain. As long as you keep it from getting completely submerged, you needn't worry about taking this camera to the beach, on ski trips, sailing trips, etc.

 

Camera Overview

The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital updates this very popular line of cameras with a large, 2.5-inch LCD monitor that's surprisingly readable even in full sunlight, and a break from the traditional clamshell lens cover design that trademarked many previous Olympus digital cameras. Instead of the sliding lens cover, the Stylus 500 features a tiny Power button on top of the camera, and an automatic sliding lens cover that quickly slips inside the front panel when the camera is powered on. The telescoping lens zips out into place fairly quickly, making the Olympus Stylus 500 a little faster on the draw than previous models. The camera's trim, compact dimensions are perfectly suited for shirt pockets and small purses, and the all-weather body means you can take it just about anywhere. Although the camera cannot be submerged in water, it can withstand light rain and water spray without damage. The included wrist strap is handy when shooting over a boat rail or while riding on a ski lift, but I'd recommend picking up a soft case to protect the camera's attractive body panels from scratches.

The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital's metal body is one key to its all-weather rating, equivalent to IEC standard publication 529 IPX4 (which essentially means it can withstand water splashed from any direction). Inside the metal body, a plastic chassis provides the first level of protection against the elements. Rubber seals around compartment doors and even the lens mechanism also help prevent any leakage. Because the camera is so tightly sealed, Olympus designed an airflow control system to prevent the camera from overheating or building up air pressure from the zooming lens. Overall, the Stylus 500 Digital's all-weather design is an impressive feature on a digital camera, making it rugged enough to withstand much abuse -- from the weather or even a mischievous kid with a squirt gun. Water is anathema to most digital cameras, leaving me worried whenever I'm out shooting in even a slight drizzle. While the Olympus Stylus 500 isn't by any means an "industrial grade" digital camera, it's very comforting to know that random splashes of water and puffs of dust won't send it to an early grave.

The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital features a 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera). Maximum aperture ranges from f/3.1 to f/5.2, depending on the zoom setting. The Stylus 500 Digital employs an efficient contrast-detection autofocus system, with focus ranging from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. A Macro setting focuses as close as 0.7 feet (20 centimeters), and works across the camera's entire zoom range, which is often not the case. There's also a Super Macro option that gets as close as 2.8 inches (7.0 centimeters), for real close-in shooting. By default, the camera uses an iESP autofocus area setting, which automatically sets the focus based on the subject's proximity to a range of AF points around the center of the image area. Through the Record menu, you can opt for a Spot AF setting, which will instead base focus only on the very center of the frame. In addition to its 3x optical zoom, the Olympus Stylus 500 Digital also offers 4x Digital Zoom. Keep in mind though, that digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD and thus results in lower image quality. The 5.0-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for prints up to 11x14 inches with good detail and sharpness, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5x7- and 4x6-inch prints. For composing images, the Stylus 500 Digital did away with the real-image optical viewfinder, and offers only the 2.5-inch TFT color LCD monitor, which features a very bright and clear display. I'm not a particular fan of cameras without optical viewfinders, but the viewfinder on the Stylus 500 is better in some respects than many. Unlike many LCDs, the one on the Stylus 500 remains pretty visible in strong sunlight, so the need for an optical viewfinder in daylight shooting is largely eliminated. Under low light conditions though, the Stylus 500's LCD screen goes dark at light levels a good bit above those that the camera can actually shoot at, making me wish for an optical viewfinder in those situations. The LCD monitor provides a limited exposure-information display (shutter speed and aperture aren't reported), though a histogram option is available for checking the exposure graphically. In Playback mode, the LCD monitor provides image enlargement and an index display.

Exposure control on the Olympus Stylus 500 Digital is uncomplicated and straightforward, as is the case with most of Olympus' consumer-oriented digital cameras. The camera operates under automatic exposure control at all times, but offers a wide selection of preset Scene modes for specific shooting situations. Unlike some digital cameras, the Stylus 500 doesn't report the exposure values it's selected on-screen. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system, which is fairly simple to navigate. An initial shortcut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, offering quick-access options for the camera's White Balance, Image Size, and Exposure Compensation, or you can choose to just enter the main Record menu itself. The camera automatically determines aperture and shutter speed (from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second in most modes, and a maximum of four seconds in Night mode), but Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken the image), ISO (the camera's sensitivity to light), White Balance (to adjust the color), Metering (to read light from the whole frame or just the center), and Flash modes are all user-adjustable. The Olympus Stylus 500's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, and Off modes.

Program Auto is the default Scene setting, but the Scene menu (accessed by pressing the up arrow) offers Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Portrait, Indoor, Sport, Beach & Snow, Behind Glass, Self Portrait + Self-Timer, Self Portrait, Sunset, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Cuisine, Documents, Candle, Underwater Wide, Underwater Macro, Shoot & Select 1, and Shoot & Select 2 modes. Each mode sets up the camera for specific shooting situations, and a concise explanation of each mode appears on the LCD screen as you scroll through. Most of the preset modes are fairly self-explanatory, as they handle very distinct situations. However, the Shoot & Select modes deserve some explanation. Both modes access the camera's continuous shooting mode. Shoot & Select 1 lets you capture four shots rapidly, and save only the images you like. With Shoot & Select 2 mode, you can capture a much larger series of images (a maximum of 200 frames consecutively), and still save only the ones you want to keep. In both modes, the actual frame rate and the total number of images will depend on the image size and quality settings, as well as the amount of available space on the memory card.

Other camera features include a Self-Timer / Remote Control mode, which provides a 12-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the image is actually captured. The Remote Control mode works with the optional remote control accessory, allowing you to fire the shutter from a short distance away, after a two-second delay. (This last can be very handy for shooting night scenes, when you don't want to jostle the camera by pressing the Shutter button.) The "2 in 1" photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side in one image, giving a split-screen effect. A Continuous Shooting mode lets you capture a rapid series of images as fast as 1.6 frames per second, while holding down the Shutter button. Actual frame rates and the total number of images will depend on the image size and quality settings, as well as the amount of available space on the memory card, but the burst length is limited to about 5 shots in large/fine mode. As with many Olympus cameras, a panorama mode is available when using Olympus brand xD-Picture Card storage cards (but not cards from third parties), and records as many as 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image. The camera's Movie mode captures moving images and sound, at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels, at 15 frames per second. Maximum recording time depends on the resolution and available memory space. The camera's Playback menu offers a nice range of effects to choose from, including sepia tone or black-and-white color options, and Fisheye and Soft Focus effects filters. You can also resize images to a smaller resolution more suitable for email. Another interesting feature on the Olympus Stylus 500 Digital is the ability to save images in groups or albums. You can save as many as 12 albums, each containing a maximum of 200 images. The Album setting on the Mode dial accesses saved albums, letting you select one for playback.

The Olympus Stylus 500 stores images on xD-Picture Cards, and comes with a 32MB card. Larger capacity cards are available, with sizes currently topping out at 1GB, and I suggest buying at least a 128MB xD-Picture Card along with the camera so you don't miss any important shots. A CD-ROM loaded with Olympus' Camedia Master software accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Camedia Master provides minor image editing tools, and the ability to "stitch" together multiple images shot in panorama mode, as well as utilities for organizing images. A second CD-ROM holds the camera's more advanced instruction manual, which is more detailed than the basic manual that's included in book form. For power, the camera uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, and comes with a charger. For backup, I'd recommend picking up a spare battery pack and keeping it charged at all times, especially considering the large LCD monitor and lack of an optical viewfinder. The optional AC adapter is recommended for time-consuming tasks such as transferring images to a computer. Also included with the Olympus Stylus 500 is an AV cable for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for connecting the camera to your computer to transfer images.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD.
  • 2.5-inch color LCD display.
  • 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • 4x Digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control, with 20 preset Scene modes.
  • Built-in flash with five operating modes.
  • xD-Picture Card storage.
  • All-weather, metal camera body.
  • Power supplied by one lithium-ion rechargeable battery (included with charger) or optional AC adapter.
  • Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows.

Special Features

  • QuickTime movies with sound.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Panorama mode for stitching together multiple images.
  • "2 in 1" multi-exposure mode.
  • Black-and-White and Sepia color effects, plus Resize, Fisheye, and Soft Focus effects.
  • Macro and Super Macro lens adjustment.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes.
  • Digital ESP (full frame) and Spot exposure metering options.
  • Spot autofocus setting.
  • Adjustable ISO to 64, 100, 200, or 400 equivalents, plus an Auto setting.
  • "Album" organization for favorite photos
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • PRINT Image Matching III compatibility.
  • DCF (Design rule for Camera File system) compatibility.
  • Exif 2.2 compatibility.
  • USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed) and USB cable.
  • Video cable for connection to a television set.


Recommendation
The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital is yet another evolution in Olympus' popular line of Stylus digital cameras. To my eye though, it's one of the better Stylus models to date, able to accommodate a broader range of shooting conditions than its predecessors, and with a more solid "feel" in the hand. With its small dimensions, stylish design, and nice array of features, the Stylus 500 Digital could be a good match for novices and others interested in a compact, rugged, and highly portable camera. Its all-weather body design means it can go just about anywhere, and its small size makes it quite at home in your shirt pocket. You get a 5.0-megapixel CCD, a very large 2.5-inch LCD monitor, a good-quality lens, and an excellent selection of preset shooting modes, making the camera very versatile in a variety of situations.

 

Design

The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital makes a departure from previous Olympus digital camera designs, replacing the slightly bulky clamshell sliding lens cover with a sleek, automatic lens cover that slips behind the front panel when the camera is switched on. Small and compact, the Stylus 500 Digital fits into shirt pockets and small purses with ease. Its dimensions of 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.2 inches (99 x 56 x 31 millimeters) make the camera an excellent option for travelers. Despite its all-metal body, the Stylus 500 Digital is fairly lightweight at 7.1 ounces (201 grams) with battery and memory card. Although the camera is quite small, it fits the hand very well, and a thin, sculpted ridge on the front panel provides a fairly secure finger grip. One of the most exciting design features on the Stylus 500 Digital is its all-weather body, complete with a double chassis (plastic underneath the metal body panels) and rubberized seals around the camera's openings. The Olympus Stylus 500 is safe in rain, sleet, or snow, although it shouldn't be submerged in water. The all-weather design makes the camera that much more rugged, and likely to be taken everywhere you go. Although the camera is protected from the elements, I'd still recommend keeping it in a soft case to protect its fashionable appearance. The other exciting design element is the large and bright 2.5-inch color LCD monitor. Olympus eliminated the real-image optical viewfinder in favor of the larger LCD display, which is a more accurate framing tool anyhow.

The camera's front panel contains the 3x zoom lens, built-in flash, the self-timer lamp that counts down the 12-second delay before the shutter fires, and the remote control receiver (to the right of the flash when looking at the front). The automatic sliding lens cover slides out of the way and behind the front panel when the camera is powered on, allowing the lens to extend forward. When closed, the circular cover fits neatly over the lens, and keeps the camera free of any protrusions that might hang on pockets. A thin, sculpted ridge extends vertically down the opposite side of the front panel from the lens, providing a small, but adequate, finger grip. Also visible on the front panel is the camera's microphone, just below the lens.

On the camera's right side is the xD-Picture Card and connector jack compartment. The plastic compartment door opens toward the rear of the camera and is hinged to the camera body with a metal pin so it can open as wide as necessary to access the card. Lined up beneath the card slot are the Video Out / USB and DC In connector jacks. The central portion of the door hinge serves as the wrist strap eyelet. The compartment door snaps shut quite firmly. It's a little difficult to open the compartment door with the small tab at its bottom edge, but if you open the battery and memory card compartment below, it's a little easier to pull it open with a fingernail.

The opposite side of the camera is smooth and featureless.

The top of the Olympus Stylus 500 Digital holds only the Shutter and Power buttons.

The remaining external controls are all located on the camera's rear panel, along with the large, 2.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor. In the top right corner is the zoom control, below which is the camera's speaker and a tiny indicator LED that lights whenever the camera is accessing the memory card. Below these are the Mode dial, Quick View button, and the multicontroller and OK / Menu button combination. The four arrows of the multicontroller not only serve as navigational tools, but also adjust camera settings such as Scene, Flash, Macro, and Self-Timer modes.

The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital has a reasonably flat bottom panel, which holds the plastic battery compartment door and plastic threaded tripod mount. The tripod mount is too close to the battery compartment door to allow for quick battery changes while mounted on a tripod. However, I doubt users of this super-portable camera will find this a problem. A sliding plastic door, hinged on the back side, protects the compartment and operates fairly smoothly.

 

Camera Operation

Like several preceding "advanced point & shoot" Olympus digital cameras, the Stylus 500 Digital's user interface offers limited exposure control and relatively few external buttons. As a result, learning to use the camera shouldn't take too much time. Simply opening the lens cover puts it in Shooting mode and extends the lens. The Mode dial on the rear panel puts you in either Record, Movie, Playback, or Album modes. A multicontroller on the back panel serves several functions (including accessing Macro, Self-Timer/Remote, Flash, and Scene Program modes), and navigates through on-screen menus. It also scrolls through captured images in Playback mode. The LCD menu system accesses the majority of the camera's exposure options, and features four pages of options (although most pages have only a few settings), displayed as subject tabs down the left side of the screen. The initial shortcut screen quickly takes you to often changed settings, making operation even easier. Anyone already familiar with Olympus LCD menu systems should have no trouble, and even first-time beginners should get the gist of it after a few minutes.

Record Mode Display: The Stylus 500's record-mode screen always shows an information overlay that displays the scene mode, flash mode, single/continuous mode, image quality, and shots remaining on the memory card. You can optionally enable a live histogram display as an exposure-determination aid, which replaces the pixel dimensions in the information overlay, at the bottom of the screen.


Playback Mode Display: In playback mode, you can choose to have more or less image information shown in the overlay display, but regardless of the amount chosen, the overlay disappears after a few seconds of not touching the controls, so you can always (eventually) see just the photo itself. Using the zoom control, you can zoom out to a thumbnail display showing as many as 25 images at once, or zoom in up to 4x to check fine details and focus. A histogram option available via the play mode menu shows a histogram, a small thumbnail of the image, and basic information including image quality and white balance settings, exposure compensation and ISO settings, and the date/time when the photo was captured.

 

External Controls


Power Button
: Tiny and recessed into the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on and off. When turned on in either record mode, the camera extends the lens into its operating position.


Shutter Button
: To the right of the Power button, this long and thin button sets the camera's exposure when halfway depressed. Fully depressing the button triggers the shutter to open.


Zoom Rocker Button
: In the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom (when the latter is enabled) in Shooting mode. In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of captured images, and also accesses the index display mode.


Mode Dial
: Below the Zoom Rocker button, this ribbed dial controls the camera's operating mode, placing it into Record, Movie, Playback, or Album modes.


Quick View Button
: To the left of the Mode dial, this button enables an image review screen of the most recently captured image. Pressing this button a second time, or half-pressing the Shutter button, returns to record mode.


Four-Way Multicontroller
: Dominating the lower right corner of the rear panel, each of the four arrows on this rocker button points in a different direction (up, down, left, right). In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through menu options.

In Record mode, the up arrow displays the Scene menu, letting you choose between 20 different preset Scene shooting modes using the up and down arrows. The down arrow controls the Self-Timer and Remote modes, and the left arrow button selects Flash modes, cycling through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Off. Finally, the right arrow activates the Macro shooting mode.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged with the zoom control, all four arrows navigate within the view.


Menu / OK Button
: In the center of the multicontroller rocker button, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes. It also serves as the "OK" button to confirm menu selections.

Camera Modes and Menus


Record Mode
: Activated by turning the Mode dial to the camera icon, this mode sets up the camera to take still pictures. Twenty preset Scene modes are available by pressing the up arrow of the multicontroller on the rear panel.


Movie Mode
: This mode is marked on the Mode dial with a movie camera icon. Here, you can capture moving images with sound at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels, at 15 frames per second.


Playback Mode
: The traditional green Playback symbol marks this mode on the Mode dial (a green arrow inside a green rectangle outline). Here, you can scroll through captured images, add an audio caption, apply special effects filters, or crop and resize images.


Album Playback Mode
: A green outline of a photo album denotes this mode on the Mode dial. The Stylus 500 Digital lets you set up as many as 12 photo albums, each of which can contain 200 images. Album mode lets you view the images in each album. Albums are created through the Playback menu.

 

Record Menu:
The following menu options are accessible by pressing the OK/Menu button in either record mode. Some options may not be available in all Scene modes or in Movie mode:

  • White Balance: Sets the color balance to Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent 1 (Daylight), Fluorescent 2 (Neutral), or Fluorescent 3 (Cool White) settings.
  • Image Size/Quality: Sets the image resolution and JPEG compression level. Available resolutions are 2,560 x 1,920; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. Quality choices include SHQ (Super High Quality), HQ (High Quality), and SQ (Standard Quality) JPEG compression levels. Movie mode options are 360 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels.
  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2.0 to +2.0 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments.


  • Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu system:
    • Camera:
      • Metering: Controls the camera's exposure metering system, selecting either Digital ESP (multi-pattern metering) or Spot (reads only from the center of the frame).
      • Drive: Selects One-Shot or Continuous Shooting capture modes.
      • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto or to 64, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
      • Digital Zoom: Turns digital zoom on or off.
      • AF Mode: Lets you choose the autofocus area, either iESP or Spot.
      • Audio Recording: Enables a four second recording that starts 0.5 seconds after the shutter is tripped.
      • Panorama: Available only with Olympus brand cards, this mode captures as many as 10 consecutive shots to be stitched together on a computer into one panoramic image. Alignment guidelines appear on the screen to perfectly line up each shot.
      • 2 in 1: This mode lets you capture two vertically-oriented "half" images which are fused together and saved as one file (images are placed side-by-side). Thus, you can capture two individual portraits and have them placed together in the same image, like a split-screen view.
      • Histogram: Enables a histogram display that is overlaid in the image display on the LCD monitor. The histogram graphs the tonal range of the image area, helping you gauge whether the highlights are too bright, shadows too dark, or the tonal range is too limited.


    • Card:
      • Format: Formats the xD-Picture Card, erasing all files (even write-protected ones).



    • Setup:
      • All Reset: Resets all of the camera settings to their defaults.
      • Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese.
      • Power On Setup: Selects among three preset screen sounds and scenes that activate on power up. Also offers volume control.
      • Color: Offers four menu color settings: Normal (gray and orange), Blue, Green, and Pink.
      • Beep: Controls the camera's speaker volume.
      • Shutter Sound: Selects among three shutter sounds and Off.
      • Record View: Turns the instant image review on or off. When activated, instant image review briefly displays the most just-captured image after you trip the shutter.
      • File Name: Allows user to reset the file name counter.
      • Pixel Mapping: Checks the camera's CCD and image processing functions, maps out bad pixels. (You shouldn't need to do this more than once a year or so.)
      • LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
      • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
      • Video Out: Sets the camera's Video Out signal timing to either NTSC or PAL.


Playback Menu: The following playback options are available through the Playback settings menu:

  • Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the xD-Picture Card. (One press of the Menu button cancels the playback.) If a movie file is the first displayed, than "Movie Play" appears here instead.
  • Album Entry: Displays the album setup screen. Here, you can select images to file in one of the 12 albums. You can also select an image to display as a thumbnail in a graphical calendar display.
  • Erase: Erases the currently-displayed image, with an option to cancel.

  • Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu:
    • Play:
      • Protect: Write-protects (or removes protection) from the currently displayed image. Write-protection locks the image file so you can't accidentally erase it or change the file in any way (except by formatting the card).
      • Rotate: Rotates the displayed image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
      • DPOF: Marks the displayed image, or all images on the card, for printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printer. You can also establish the number of prints, whether or not the date and time are printed over the image, or remove the print mark.
      • Record: Enables a four second sound recording that is saved with the image as an audio caption.
      • Info: Turns the Playback screen information display on or off.
      • Histogram: Enables a histogram graph of the recorded image, showing any over or underexposure.




    • Edit:
      • Soft Focus: Applies a soft focus filter to the recorded image.
      • Fisheye: Applies the fisheye filter to the image, which mimics the distortion of a wide-angle, fisheye lens.
      • Black & White: Converts the displayed image to black-and-white and saves it as a new file.
      • Sepia: Converts the displayed image to sepia tone, giving it the appearance of an old-fashioned picture, and saves the converted image as a new file.
      • Resize: Allows you to resize the displayed image to a smaller resolution (320 x 240 or 640 x 480 pixels). The resized image is saved as a separate file. (Handy for photos you want to email.)
      • Cropping: Lets you crop a portion of a captured image and save it as a separate file.




    • Card:
      • All Erase: Erases all files on the xD-Picture card, except for those that are write-protected.
      • Format: Formats the xD-Picture card, erasing all files on the xD-Picture Card (even write-protected ones).





    • Setup: The Playback mode setup menu is very similar to the one in Record mode, the main differences being a volume control setting for playback of recorded sounds, and an option to select one of your own images as the startup image of the camera. No screenshots are shown here, but the menu looks very similar to the Record mode setup menu shown above.
      • All Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
      • Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese.
      • Power On Setup: Selects among three preset screen sounds and scenes that activate on power up. Also offers volume control.
      • Screen Setup: Lets you choose a captured image to appear as the startup screen when the camera is powered on.
      • Color: Offers four menu color settings: Normal (gray and orange), Pink, Green, and Blue.
      • Playback Volume: Sets to Low, High, or Off.
      • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off.
      • LCD Brightness: Adjust the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
      • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
      • Video Out: Sets the camera's Video Out signal as NTSC or PAL.
      • Index Display: Determines whether 4, 9, 16, or 25 images are displayed on the Index Display screen.


In the Box

The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital ships with the following items in the box:

  • Stylus 500 Digital camera.
  • Wrist strap.
  • 32MB xD-Picture Card.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Lithium-ion battery and charger.
  • CD-ROMs loaded with Olympus Master software, drivers, and instruction manuals.
  • Basic manual and registration kit.

 

Recommended Accessories



Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Images

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my standard test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

"Sunlit"
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy



"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Olympus Stylus 500, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the Stylus 500.

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Olympus Stylus 500's "pictures" page.

For a look at some more pictorial photos from this camera, check out our Olympus Stylus 500 Zoom Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus Stylus 500 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Generally good/pleasing color, a slight tendency toward warm, reddish casts. Good performance under incandescent lighting. The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital had a tendency toward warm, reddish color, and tended to oversaturate reds a fair bit. Skin tones were a little on the reddish side, and the blue flowers of the bouquet in the Outdoor Portrait were a little dark and purplish. Technicalities notwithstanding, shots of random, non-test subjects all looked quite nice: I think most consumers will find the Stylus 500's color quite pleasing. One positive note was how well the camera's Incandescent white balance setting handled the difficult Indoor Portrait (without flash) quite well, with only a slight magenta tint. Overall, good results from a point & shoot camera.

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, but high contrast. The Olympus Stylus 500 handled my test lighting quite well, though the somewhat high native contrast resulted in somewhat harsh-looking images under the deliberately difficult lighting of the "Sunlit" Portrait and the outdoor house shot. Interestingly though, despite its high contrast, the camera did better than I'd have expected at holding onto highlight detail on those tests. (There was some loss of both highlight and shadow detail in the outdoor house shot, but the net result was somewhat better than average for cameras of this class.)

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,250 - 1,300 lines of "strong detail." The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart for its 5.0-megapixel class. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,200 lines per picture height horizontally, and about 1,000 lines vertically. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines horizontally, 1,250 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,700 lines.

  • Image Noise: Low image noise at ISO 100 and below, noticeable at ISO 200, pronounced at ISO 400. Image noise in the Stylus 500 was low at ISO 64 and 100, noticeable at ISO 200, and very apparent at ISO 400. That said, prints at 5x7 inches and below from images shot at ISO 400 looked just fine. (And some people might find even 8x10" prints of ISO 400 shots acceptable for wall display.)

  • Closeups: A tiny macro area with excellent detail and good color. Gets incredibly close in Super Macro mode. The camera's flash performed well in normal macro mode also. The Olympus Stylus 500 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.54 x 1.15 inches (39 x 29 millimeters) in the normal macro setting. In Super Macro mode, the minimum area was a very tiny 0.95 x 0.72 inches (24 x 18 millimeters). Resolution was very high, with a lot of fine detail visible in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details in the dollar bill were even stronger in the Super Macro shot, you almost see the individual fibers of the paper itself. Details softened very slightly toward the corners of the frame, though the effect really wasn't very strong. (Most digital cameras produce images with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes.) The Stylus 500 Digital's flash also performed well here, despite a reflection from the brooch. All in all, a great choice for macro photography.

  • Night Shots: Slightly limited low-light performance, but sensitive enough for average city night conditions. Slightly warm color and moderate noise, but still fairly good results overall. Excellent autofocus performance in low light. The Olympus Stylus 500 Digital produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level at ISO 400, down to 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) at ISO 200, down to 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux) at ISO 100, and only down to 1 foot-candle (11 lux) at ISO 64. Overall color was a little warm with the Auto white balance setting, but better than average overall. Noise was low to moderate in most shots, though it increased to a fairly high level at ISO 400. The biggest surprise was the Stylus 500's autofocus system, which appeared to work fine to well below 1/16 foot-candle, a very impressive performance. Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, the Stylus 500 Digital should do well enough for after-dark photography in typical outdoor settings. (The one downside for after-dark photography with the Stylus 500 though, is that its flash is rather weak, with a useful range of less than 8 feet.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: An accurate LCD monitor. The Olympus Stylus 500's LCD monitor was quite accurate, showing about 98 percent accuracy at wide-angle and telephoto zoom settings. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the camera's LCD monitor performed well here.

  • Optical Distortion: Low barrel distortion at wide angle, no distortion at telephoto. Very low chromatic aberration, better than average corner sharpness. Geometric distortion on the Olympus Stylus 500 Digital was low at the wide-angle end, where I measured about 0.16 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end did even better, as I couldn't find so much as a pixel of either barrel or pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was very low as well at all focal lengths. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The Stylus 500's images also showed better than average sharpness in the corners. All in all, a very impressive performance from the Stylus 500's lens.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Average to slightly better than average speed. Very fast shutter response when prefocused. For the most part, the Olympus Stylus 500 is a tad faster than average, but is quite fast starting up, and has a lightning-quick shutter response if you first "prefocus" it by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before snapping the shot. On the whole, not blazingly fast, but not bad for a basic point & shoot camera.

  • Battery Life: Good battery life. With a worst-case run time of 115 minutes (just shy of two hours) in capture mode, the Olympus Stylus 500's battery life is better than average for a compact model. The camera goes into "sleep" mode after three minutes of resting, so a couple of hours of run time can easily translate into the better part of a day's worth of off-and-on photo snapping. The camera also powers up very quickly, so mind turning it off when you're not using it doesn't carry as big a risk of missing a key shot. I'd still recommend purchasing a second battery along with the camera, but the Stylus 500 does better in the runtime department than most compact digital cameras I test.

  • Print Quality: Slightly soft at 13x19 inches, tack sharp at 11x14. ISO 400 shots marginal at 8x10 inches, perfectly fine at 5x7. Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See our Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) I normally rate 5-megapixel cameras like the Olympus Stylus 500 as being able to produce prints as large as 11x17, but I found that even 13x19's from the Stylus 500 were reasonably sharp. 11x14s were tack-sharp. With high-ISO shots, the question becomes one of how large you can print them before the image noise becomes an issue. In the case of the Stylus 500, that point will probably be somewhere between 5x7 and 8x10 inches. At 8x10, ISO 400 shots are noisy-looking but perhaps OK in a pinch. At 5x7, the noise drops out almost entirely. Color-wise, the shots are bright and natural looking, and highlight detail was again better than I would have expected, given the Stylus 500's somewhat contrasty tone curve.

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Water-resistant design
  • Good resolution, sharp images for a compact model
  • Good/pleasing color (slight tendency toward reddish casts)
  • Auto white balance does better than average with household incandescent lighting.
  • Excellent close-focusing for macro shots
  • Good lens, better than average performance for a compact model
  • Good startup time
  • Nice big LCD display
  • LCD viewfinder good in sunlight
  • Good battery life for a compact
  • Supports an IR remote, unusual in compact models
  • Nice case design, more solid feel to the controls than some previous Stylus models
  • Slightly high contrast (But pretty good highlight detail)
  • Somewhat pinkish skin tones
  • No optical viewfinder
  • LCD viewfinder poor for low light framing
  • Rather weak flash
  • High image noise at ISO 400
  • No shutter/aperture info displayed, in either record or playback mode

 

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As the latest in that company's "Stylus" line of compact digital cameras, the 5-megapixel, 3x-zoom Olympus Stylus 500 Digital is to my mind the best Stylus Digital model to date. Its body design is trim and compact, with much better-feeling controls than those found on earlier models. It offers the same water resistance that makes the rest of the Stylus line so practical for go-anywhere photography, and sports a big, beautiful 2.5-inch LCD monitor to view your photos on. While the LCD on the Stylus 500 does much better than average in bright sunlight, and offers a wider than average viewing angle, I do wish that Olympus had kept an optical viewfinder for low light shooting, as the Stylus 500's LCD has a bit of a hard time there. That quibble aside though, the Olympus Stylus 500 is a very capable, highly portable point & shoot camera, with good image quality and a better than average lens. Its point & shoot simplicity and 20 preset Scene modes make it easy for even novice users to bring home great-looking photos. Another Dave's Pick for Olympus!


 

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