Olympus SP-560 UltraZoom
Olympus SP-560 UZ Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color and hue accuracy, slight oversaturation in bright reds and blues, undersaturation in yellows and yellow-greens.
Saturation. The SP-560 UZ does very little to enhance saturation in its images, resulting in somewhat muted color. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is because most people like color in their images to appear a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. Here, the SP-560 UZ performed well, producing good skin tones overall. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The SP-560 UZ showed very small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, only pulling cyan toward blue and skewing the oranges toward yellow, but there was so little deviation from the standard colors that it's hard to see any pronounced hue shifts. Hue is "what color" the color is.
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm casts with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. About average exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was warm and reddish in Auto white balance mode, while the Incandescent setting resulted in a more yellow color balance that actually looked more pleasing overall. Manual white balance got it just about right. The SP-560 UZ required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, about average for this shot. Overall color is a bit dark and yellow in Auto mode, making the blue flowers very dark and purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.
Good color balance overall, with fairly bright colors. Heightened contrast under bright outdoor conditions.
|Auto White Balance, +0.3 EV||Auto White Balance,
Outdoor shots showed better than average exposure accuracy, though with notably high contrast under harsh sunlight, blowing out the highlights. Strong highlights tended to produce slight underexposures, as in the house shot above, with a limited midtone range. Overall color looked pretty good, with bright reds and blues that nonetheless didn't look too overdone.
High resolution, 1,450 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to 1,450 lines horizontal||Strong detail to 1,450 lines vertical|
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,450 lines per picture height, with extinction between 1,700 and 1,800 lines. (The camera produced slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies though, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images with very good detail. Minor blurring of detail from noise suppression in areas of subtle contrast at low ISOs.
|Good definition of high-contrast elements. Just slightly soft, with minor sharpening artifacts.||Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the even shades of Marti's hair here.
The Olympus SP-560's images are quite sharp with just a little softening in the corners. Some evidence of edge enhancement, but not bad. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)
The crop at far right shows evidence of noise suppression, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited, blurry detail, though individual strands are visible where a lighted strand passes in front of a darker shadow area. On balance, the SP-560 UZ shows less detail lost to noise reduction at low ISO settings than average, but more at high ISOs. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, but very high noise and strong blurring at the higher settings, especially at ISOs 1,600 and 3,200.
|ISO 50||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1,600|
|ISO 3,200||ISO 6,400 (3.1MP)|
The Olympus SP-560's lower ISO settings (ISOs 50 to 200) produced low to moderate noise, with only slightly blurred detail in the dark areas, and a bit of chroma noise in the shadows at ISO 200. (Better than average in its class in this respect.) At ISO 400, chroma noise begins to become more obvious, and larger areas of fine detail are smudged. Starting at ISO 800, noise begins to obliterate most fine detail, while blotchy yellow and purple spots appear in darker areas. At ISOs 1,600 and 3,200, all fine detail is lost and shadows have a strong purple cast. ISO 6,400 is at reduced 3.1 megapixel resolution, and while it doesn't suffer from the purple blotches, it has very little detail.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but high contrast limits both highlight and shadow detail. Good low-light capabilities, sensitive enough to capture bright images under typical city street lighting.
|Default||+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV|
Sunlight. The Olympus SP-560 UZ had a hard time with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows. Shadow detail is limited, with noise and the effects of noise suppression very evident in the form of smudged detail and yellow blotches in deep shadow areas. The camera required below average positive compensation at +0.3 EV.
Note: Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. You can read details of this test here. In "real life" be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)
Low light. The Olympus SP-560 UZ performed well on our low light test, with good color from the Auto white balance setting. At the lower ISO settings (50 and 100), images were bright down to 1/4 foot-candle, which is about 1/4 as bright as average city street lighting at night. At ISO 200 they were bright down to 1/8 and at ISO 400, images were bright down to the lowest light levels we test. At ISO 800 and above, you can see by the slightly dim results that the exposure system struggled to accurately set exposure to deal with the 1/16 foot candle, regardless of the increased theoretical light gathering ability. At higher ISOs, the shots without noise reduction have an odd purple cast on the right side.
The camera's autofocus system worked well, able to focus down to below 1/8 foot candle unassisted by an autofocus illuminator, and well past the darkest light level we test with the AF-assist lamp enabled. Keep in mind that the long shutter times here absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
A useful flash range. Our standard shots required a little less than average exposure compensation.
|The flash did not reach out to
the 42 feet necessary to capture
this test target
|27mm equivalent||486mm equivalent|
Coverage. Flash coverage was a bit uneven at wide angle, and not powerful enough to deal with the extreme telephoto on the Olympus SP-560 (totally understandable, but good to know). In the Indoor test, the Olympus SP-560's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting a bit, requiring use of +0.3 EV flash exposure compensation to get reasonably bright results. The Slow-Sync flash mode needed +0.7 EV compensation, and though it resulted in more even exposure, it also has a strong orange cast from the ambient lighting.
ISO 100 Range. At ISO 100, flash power remained fairly bright to the 16-foot test distance at wide angle. At telephoto, it started out a bit dim at our closest range of 6 feet, but didn't drop in brightness until about 10 feet.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the shots above, the SP-560 UZ seems to perform exactly as Olympus says it will, producing good exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to Auto, but it boosted sensitivity to 400 to achieve it. In Auto ISO mode, the SP-560's flash photos do indeed show moderate chroma noise, especially in the gray and black areas.
Note: Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We also capture two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of their claims.
Great print quality, good color, crisp prints at 11x14 inches, usable ones at 13x19. ISO 200 images are usable to 11x14 inches, but ISO 400 images are better at 8x10. ISO 800 is mushy at 8x10, better at 5x7. ISO 1,600 images are better kept to 4x6. ISO 3,200 and 6,400 images are not usable.
The Olympus SP-560 UZ produced crisp prints at 11x14 inches, and somewhat softer but still acceptable ones at 13x19. ISO 200 shots started to soften at 11x14 inches, and chroma noise starts to appear in the shadows. ISO 400 images are better at 8x10. There's still some noise evident on close inspection, but it looks more like film grain. ISO 800 images really look mushy at 8x10, and the color starts to lose detail and wash out. Back down to 5x7, though, and 800 becomes usable. Oddly, ISO 1,600 images look decent at 5x7, too, but really mushy on very close inspection. That gets better at 4x6. ISO 3,200 images are very washed out and blotchy, and would be difficult to enjoy even at 4x6 inches. ISO 6,400? Forget about it. They're too blurry for anything but very small Web use.
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 the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus SP-560 UltraZoom Photo Gallery.
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...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus SP-560 UltraZoom 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!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.