Olympus SP-800UZ Review

 
Camera Reviews / Olympus Cameras / Olympus Point & Shoot i Express Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Olympus SP-800UZ
Resolution: 14.00 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3"
Lens: 30.00x zoom
(28-840mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 50-6400
Shutter: 4-1/2000
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 4.2 x 2.9 x 3.3 in.
(107 x 73 x 85 mm)
Weight: 15.1 oz (427 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $350
Availability: 03/2010
Manufacturer: Olympus
Full specs: Olympus SP-800UZ specifications
14.00
Megapixels
30.00x zoom
1/2.3"
size sensor
image of Olympus SP-800UZ
Front side of Olympus SP-800UZ digital camera Back side of Olympus SP-800UZ digital camera Top side of Olympus SP-800UZ digital camera Left side of Olympus SP-800UZ digital camera Right side of Olympus SP-800UZ digital camera
Imaging Resource rating

3.0 out of 5.0

Olympus SP-800UZ Overview

by Mike Pasini, Mike Tomkins, and Zig Weidelich
Review Date: 10/12/2010

The Olympus SP-800UZ is based around a 1/2.3"-type CCD image sensor with an effective resolution of fourteen megapixels, coupled to a 30x optical zoom lens. Images have dimensions of 4,288 x 3,216 pixels or below. The Olympus SP800UZ's lens offers actual focal lengths ranging from five to 150mm, equivalent to a useful 28mm wide angle thru a very powerful 840mm telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/5.6 across the zoom range. Importantly, given the reach of the zoom lens, the SP800 does include mechanical image stabilization -- specifically, a sensor shift system. There's no optical or electronic viewfinder, with all interaction taking place courtesy of a 3.0-inch LCD display with 230,000 dots of resolution.

The Olympus SP-800UZ uses a iESP Auto contrast detection autofocusing by default, with the ability to switch to spot AF if desired. Both AF tracking and face detection functions are also included. Exposures are metered with Digital ESP metering by default, and both spot and face detection metering modes are also available.  2.0EV of exposure compensation is available, in 1/3EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four seconds. Seven white balance settings are provided, including automatic and six presets. Manual white balance isn't possible with the SP-800. As well as Intelligent Auto and Program modes, the Olympus SP-800 offers a generous selection of 17 scene modes that provide a modicum of control over the look of images.

The Olympus SP800UZ stores images in JPEG format, and is also able to record movies at high-definition 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) resolution or below, using MPEG-4 compression. Images and movies are stored on SD or SDHC cards, or in an extremely generous 1,783MB of available built-in memory. Connectivity options include both USB 2.0 High Speed data, and standard definition video output. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary LI-50B lithium-ion rechargeable battery, rated as good for 200 shots.

The Olympus SP-800UZ began shipping in the USA from March 2010 with pricing of about $350.

 

Olympus SP-800UZ User Report

by Mike Pasini

Where's Darwin when you need him? One look at the Olympus SP-800UZ and you know you've never seen this species before -- and yet it seems so familiar. It's a bird, but not like any bird you've seen.

Its evolution can be explained, no doubt. But running around with it for a couple of weeks, I often wondered if the SP-800UZ could earn Olympus its own branch on the evolutionary tree.

As a fan of megazooms (remember when they were just little old long zooms?), you'll notice one peculiarity about this bird right away. It has no electronic viewfinder.

It doesn't have a Mode dial either. And it doesn't have many buttons -- or a touchscreen -- while we're counting what's missing.

It does have a metal shell (and the heft that goes with it) along with a 30x optical zoom. And an HDMI port to view its 720p HD video. Which should speak to longevity, survival of the fittest, etc.

But after two weeks, I still can't tell if this species is on its last legs or fast legs. See what you think.

Look and Feel. Except for the textured grip and the black plastic barrel on the lens, the Olympus SP-800UZ is built like a tank. A stainless steel tank, in fact, although Olympus might prefer you think of it as the DeLorean of Ultrazooms (even if DeLoreans weren't long for this world). It's much heavier than the Pentax X90 (which is a featherweight in comparison) and a bit more awkward. It isn't molded to your hand. Your hand molds to it.

I found the grip to be comfortable, if very narrow, and it makes it easy to carry the camera hung on your index finger if you're using a wrist strap. Coupling the body weight and narrow grip, photographers with larger hands may find the Olympus SP-800UZ a little tiring in extended shooting sessions, however. The lens cap has four fabric patches to hold it snug on the lens but nothing more. It will pop off if you turn the camera on with the cap in place, so it's a good idea to use the included string to tether it to your strap.

Personally, I find it slightly unattractive, but it has a style all its own that you might find charming in a minimalist sort of way.

But as far as handling went, I had no issues. The Power button was quick to find, thanks to a dimple around it, and easy to use. The Shutter button was right where it should be with a Zoom lever around it.

Oddly enough, the most significant ergonomic quirk of the Olympus SP-800UZ is its lack of an EVF. In the wind on Twin Peaks, I naturally wanted to bring this megazoom up to my eye to stabilize it against my rock-solid skull. Nothing doing, though. I had to hold it fluttering around at arms length to see what I was up to.

There's something to be said for being able to fit a 30x zoom with a Super Macro mode in your fanny pack, though. It's a temptation I find hard to resist.

Controls. There are very few controls on the Olympus SP-800UZ. That may have sounded like a good thing, once upon a time. I find it troublesome on sophisticated gear.

It wasn't so much that functions you might look for on a button (like manual focusing options) had been moved to the LCD Menu system. It was that they didn't even exist. Troublesome indeed.

So make no assumption about what the Olympus SP-800UZ includes. You can't focus it manually or set the lens to infinity, pretty much a deal breaker for a long zoom. Setting the lens to infinity is the preferred workaround for autofocus delays on a megazoom.

That there's no Mode dial either is troublesome, too. There are modes, but not many -- which would be fine on a $200 digicam or cellphone. But on a megazoom?

On the top deck, there's a Power button sitting in its dimple, and the Shutter button surrounded by the Zoom lever. I had a funny relationship with the Power button. More times than not, when I turned the camera off, put the cap back on and put it into my holster or fanny back, I was surprised to retrieve it with the power on.

And when it had gone to sleep, a simple tap of the Shutter button was slow to wake it back up. (It takes a few heartbeats, and the lens racks back and forth briefly). Pressing the Power button when the camera is asleep might seem to turn it off, as the orange indicator lamp goes off, but actually wakes the camera back up in the same manner. I would then have to wait for the power on sequence to finish, before pressing the Power button a second time to switch the camera back off.

On the back of the camera is the 230K-dot 3.0-inch widescreen LCD. To its right is a moderately-sized Movie button, painted red. Below that is a black wheel controller with an OK button in the center. Above it is the Playback bar, and below it are the Menu and Help buttons. It's an attractive panel.

The wheel controller is an odd duck, though. You expect to find the arrow keys doing double duty in Record mode. Flash, Self-timer, EV, Focus modes are common functions assigned to them. But not on the Olympus SP-800UZ. Instead, only the Up arrow has a second function, cycling through the Display modes on the LCD.

That's because the Menu system is almost always active and the arrow keys navigate it.

I don't really know why the wheel controller is a wheel. I tried spinning it to scroll down the side menu, but because it's so small, my finger slipped right off. It was easier to just down-arrow my way through the options.

The LCD isn't quite as high resolution as you might like at this price, but it was usable in direct sun and didn't smudge with fingerprints. No complaints about that.

Lens. If you're attracted to the Olympus SP800UZ, it's probably because of its 30x optical zoom. Defaulting to wide angle when you power the camera on, it doesn't stick its nose out very much -- just about a quarter inch.

Even fully extended at its telephoto position, it only protrudes about 1.75 inches from the barrel. That's pretty compact.

A stainless steel finger under the lens lets you sit the camera down flat, a nice feature. See the battery compartment image for an illustration.

It ranges from a 35mm equivalent of 28mm at wide angle to an insane 840mm. Toss in 5x digital zoom and, well, you do the math. As my zoom series from Twin Peaks shows, you'd never know the 28mm shot and the 4,200mm shot were taken from the same spot.

At wide angle, maximum aperture is a fast f/2.8 but it closes down to a rather dim f/5.6 at telephoto, despite the short extension.

Yes, don't worry, the Olympus SP-800UZ includes mechanical image stabilization -- a sensor-shift system, to be specific. And there's also digital stabilization to kick up the ISO.

Modes. While there's no Mode dial, you can't escape the Olympus SP-800UZ's modes. The right-hand side of the LCD displays the active mode when you enter Record mode. It disappears when you half-press the Shutter button, but it comes back when you hit the Menu button or one of the three unassigned arrow keys on the wheel controller.

I was disappointed by the absence of Manual, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority modes. And I likewise missed a Custom mode, which can be handy on a megazoom.

There's a Program mode which I hung onto as if my life depended upon it, plus an intelligent Auto mode that selects from a set of common Scene modes, a Scene mode with just a few options, a Beauty mode to flatter the faces in your family (you can apply beauty settings in the Playback Edit mode, too) and a Magic mode for some cute tricks (like fish-eye and drawing renderings), which surprisingly doesn't include a monochrome option.

Intelligent Auto can recognize portrait, landscape, night portrait, macro or sport scenes, and optimizes the Olympus SP-800UZ's settings for the scene it has identified, as well as indicating its choice with an icon when the shutter button is half-pressed.

The Scene modes are Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Multi-Fireworks, Multiple Exposure, Cuisine, Documents, Beach & Snow, Bird Watching, Soft Background, and Pet.

Magic mode offers four Creative Arts Filters: Pop Art, Pinhole, Fisheye, and Drawing. Pop Art renders color vividly, Pinhole vignettes the frame, Fisheye distorts the image so the middle is magnified, and Drawing renders the image as a black and white line drawing.

Panorama mode is a bit unconventional but a nice solution to the alignment problem. It won't let you sweep over the scene like Sony digicams. Instead, there are three different ways in which Panorama mode can operate. In Auto mode, after the first shot, the Olympus SP-800UZ will display a target and a pointer. You move the pointer to the target and the camera fires the next shot. It takes three shots total and then merges them in the camera. That's how Auto works. Manual works more conventionally, letting you fire the shutter and showing a ghosted alignment image on one side of the screen. And then there's PC mode, functions much like Manual mode, but leaves the stitching to your computer.

Beauty mode identifies a face and "gives the skin a smooth, translucent look." Don't despair if you forget to shoot your great grandmother using Beauty mode, though. You can apply a Beauty Fix in edit mode and select whether to apply Clear Skin (Soft, Average or Hard), Sparkle Eye (add contrast to the eyes), and Dramatic Eye (which yields a Lady Gaga-like enlargement of the eyes).

Movie mode isn't on the menu because you activate it by pressing the Movie button on the back of the camera. Settings are buried under the Setup option of the Menu system. The Olympus SP-800UZ takes MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 format video with monaural sound at 30 frames per second. Resolutions include 720p, VGA and QVGA. Optical zoom is supported while recording movies, but only if audio recording is disabled. Digital zoom is available with sound.

Click to view movie.

HD movie. 720p at 30 frames per second. (Click to download 12.1MB MP4 file.)

Olympus doesn't provide an HDMI cable, just an RCA cable that plugs into the USB port, but the Olympus SP-800UZ does have a Type-D micro HDMI port. And that's not all. The SP-800UZ features HDMI Control, which allows you to control the camera in Playback mode while tethered to your HDTV, using the TV's remote control. In some cases, anyway. Olympus suggests turning off the feature if it doesn't work with your TV.

So, in short, you get one traditional shooting mode and some fancy pants stuff to play with. Much of which isn't really suited to a megazoom.

Menu System. The Menu system was a little awkward to use. The modes are arrayed at the top of a column. You scroll side to side to see the next mode. When you find the option you want, you can scroll down to select settable items like ISO, EV or white balance.

When you get to an option, its menu slides out to the left with the current setting highlighted in yellow. It actually moves from the right side out into the screen, which I found disconcerting. I felt like I had to chase the setting with the arrow keys.

There aren't a lot of items to adjust, though. I had to resort to the seven-page Setup menu (the last item on the list) to switch between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio, for example.

So while I can't complain about a complex labyrinthian menu system, I kind of wish I could.

Storage & Battery. Yet another unusual feature of this camera is its generous internal memory. It has 2GB internal memory (1,783 MB for shooting). That's even enough for Movies.

Still, I felt naked without an SD/SDHC card in the camera. You can get around 140 images at 14 megapixel resolution with fine compression on a one gigabyte card. Using the 16:9 aspect ratio, this increases to 187 images. Alternatively, you can record 19 min. 54 sec. of 720p HD video with sound on a 1GB card.

The Olympus SP-800UZ is powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery (LI-50B) that Olympus claims is good for 200 shots. That doesn't sound like a lot these days, but with a megazoom you will be zooming quite a bit to compose your shots, so that's not a bad number. And if you don't use flash (which is pretty useless at megazoom telephoto ranges), you'll get more shots.

I never got a low battery warning and I didn't charge the camera between adventures. So the capacity seemed adequate to me.

You can also opt for a $39.99 AC adapter (D-7AC).

Shooting. "What could be better than a 30x zoom with Super Macro," I thought, when I visited the Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park recently. The rainforest dome features exotic birds, butterflies and fish. And the aquarium is full of photogenic species. The natural history museum even has a gallery of stuffed carcasses that look like they're modeling in the studio.

And it's such a pricey ticket that you really should bring a camera along just to get your money's worth.

So off I went.

The rainforest dome is very well illuminated by natural light, and the birds and butterflies provide very colorful subjects. They'll even sit still for you while you try to compose your shot. And that was helpful, because it took a while to compose with the Olympus SP-800UZ.

The problem wasn't the zoom, which was quick, responsive and smooth. A pleasure to compose with, really. No, the problem was with autofocus.

There are four autofocus options on the Olympus SP800UZ: Face / iESP, Spot, AF Tracking, and Area. Area uses a target to mark the part of the frame you want to focus on. Since this varies from shot to shot, I didn't select it. AF Tracking targets an object in the frame and follows it -- a great feature when you need it. I didn't use that either, because it was awkward to target a moving subject, and there's no point in targeting a still one (unless you expect it to move). Spot focuses on a very small area of the screen, too small for the way I composed these shots. All three of those are really solutions for special circumstances. I wanted a general solution.

That's usually the default focus choice. In this case, the default was Face / iESP. And it's a common approach on many digicams, like the Olympus SP-800UZ that feature face recognition technology. The camera tries to find a face first and, failing that, finds a high contrast subject in the frame to focus on. It happens quickly enough, you can't tell that it didn't find a face.

But I missed a lot of shots because the camera couldn't find focus. I don't mean simply that a bird flew off while the Olympus SP-800UZ was racking the lens in and out trying to find focus. I mean that it could not focus on anything in the scene at all. It just gave up.

I thought I had Macro mode on, but no. I even tried switching Focus modes, but no. It had no trouble with shots like the dinosaur skeleton or the big dinosaur. But butterflies drove it batty. High contrast, brightly colored butterflies. Go figure.

There are a few butterfly shots in the gallery. None are particularly sharp. But they were the best I got. Very disappointing.

In the aquarium, I had a different problem. Autofocus wasn't nearly as bad as it had been in daylight. Shooting through the aquarium glass in Program mode was surprisingly well focused. The glass didn't fool the camera.

The problem was the generally low levels of available light. The Olympus SP-800UZ has three approaches to ISO sensitivity. You can use the Auto setting, a High Auto setting or select a fixed value from these options: 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600 or 3,200. Olympus doesn't divulge the difference between Auto and High Auto, but my experience suggests Auto runs up to ISO 400 and High Auto to ISO 1,600.

With High Auto set for my aquarium shots, ISO preferred a noisy 1,600. Some noise reduction smooths it out, although shadows are still pretty blotchy. And if all you want are 4x6 prints, you may not mind at all. But our gallery full-screen (not full-resolution) 800-pixel images still show some troubling noise patterns in the shadows. Take a look at the catfish for a good example.

On the other hand, ISO 1,600 did stop some of these fish in their tracks so I was actually able to get the shot. Or nearly so, anyway. In a number of the images you can see a bright blue afterimage of the moving fish.

Zoom Range. 28mm to 840mm to 5x digital zoom.

The 2.5 acre living roof of the Academy is home to 1.7 million native plants. Those shots came out very well. I particularly appreciated the 16:9 aspect ratio (even though I had to dig through the Menu system to set it).

When I turned around to look at the de Young museum across the way, I racked out the 30x zoom to its 635mm equivalent to get the Birth of Impressionism show title. That was impressive. Especially since I was just hand-holding the camera.

The band was playing, too. I sat a good deal away from the musicians but was able to frame some nice, intimate shots at 840mm. No trouble focusing there either, interestingly.

I was a bit miffed that there's no monochrome setting to shoot black and white. Sure, you can desaturate any image at home on your computer. But it's fun to see how a scene renders in black and white if you decide to shoot that way one afternoon, say. It helps you to think in black and white.

Creative Filters. Normal (top), Pop Art, Pinhole, Fisheye, Drawing

Instead, the Olympus SP-800UZ offers a Magic mode, which offers four special effects or, as Olympus calls them, Creative Art Filters (as opposed to the uncreative arts). They include Pop Art, Pinhole, Fisheye, and Drawing filters. The gallery shows them in comparison with a straight Program mode shot of a red dahlia.

The first three were a bit subtle for my taste, but I had a lot of fun with Drawing. The EV setting didn't seem to make any difference. And, as the dahlia shows, a brightly colored subject will get you nowhere. But overhead wires or garden furniture really rendered well. Take a straight shot with it and you can have fun coloring in-between the lines too. At home on your computer, that is.

I had to wait a week for the fog to burn back behind Twin Peaks, but when it did, I could see for miles. That's not Hawaii on the horizon of my shot of the Pacific Ocean but the Farallone Islands, 27 miles away, at 840mm.

I was wearing polarized shades as I tramped around the peaks so I was a little disappointed I couldn't cut the haze with a filter on the front of the Olympus SP-800UZ. But the SP-800UZ is not alone in that among megazooms, unfortunately.

The color rendering of the LCD was also a bit unfair to the captured image. The sky tended to look blown out and rarely did the colors I saw in front of me end up on the LCD. But when I got the images up on the monitor at the bunker, things looked a good deal better. You can enable a live histogram on the shooting display and I'd recommend that, but don't be put off by the color you see there.

The zoom range series is spooky. At full digital zoom (840mm times 5) you're looking at a part of the roof of the Bank of America building that it will take you a few blinks to find in the 28mm shot. You'd never know they were taken from the same spot.

Alongside the Olympus SP-800UZ, I shot with the competing Pentax X90. Much as I enjoyed carrying and shooting with the Pentax, I was surprised by the results I got at long telephoto focal lengths. I shot a couple of similar shots with the SP-800UZ and they were much better. The picture of Alcatraz at full resolution does indeed look over-processed. But at the 800 pixel size, it looks surprisingly sharp and detailed. Even at full resolution, the shot of the Golden Gate Bridge clearly shows the cables and detail on the towers. I don't think I've ever gotten a better shot of it.

On the other hand, the lizard (which posed still as stone) mystifies me. The warm road is in perfect focus but, I found out when I got home, the lizard's head is soft. I was standing a bit away, the lens racked out. What happened?

Pretty maddening. Some scenes confused autofocus. Some were inexplicably soft. Others showed detail I didn't expect to see. Noise reduction was a little heavy even at lower ISOs. But color was natural (even with red dahlias).

In the end, it was really hard for me to decide whether the Olympus SP800 was a dying breed or an evolving species.

 

Olympus SP-800UZ Lens Quality

Note that the Olympus SP-800UZ's full telephoto focal length (147mm or 840mm eq.) is too long for our lab lens quality test shots, so the telephoto lab shots below were taken at approximately 83mm (465mm eq.).


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Softest in lower right
Tele: Sharp in Center
Tele: Softest in upper left corner

Sharpness: The Olympus SP-800UZ's lens produces slight to moderate blurring in the corners at wide-angle and telephoto. At wide-angle, the strongest blurring is in the lower corners, while at telephoto the upper corners that are the softest. The softening didn't extend very far into the frame at wide-angle, but blurring did extend further into the frame at telephoto, and could be worse at full telephoto. We also observed strong blurring in larger areas of the frame at intermediate focal lengths, such as the left-hand side in our Still Life shots, taken at 20.2mm or 112mm equivalent.


Wide: Moderately high barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: A small amount of barrel distortion; barely visible

Geometric Distortion: The Olympus SP800's lens shows higher than average (about 1%) barrel distortion at wide-angle. The effect is noticeable in some images. At telephoto, there's a small amount of barrel distortion (about 0.1%), but distortion is likely higher at full telephoto.


Wide: High and bright
Tele: Also high and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is high and bright, with noticeable magenta and blue pixels fringing high contrast edges in the corners. C.A. extends fairly deep into the frame, but gradually reduces until it's negligeable in the center. At telephoto, chromatic aberration is also high and bright with magenta and green pixels, and is likely even stronger at full telephoto.


Macro
Macro with Flash
 
Super Macro

Macro: The Olympus SP-800UZ's normal Macro mode captures a sharp, detailed image in the center, though corners are quite soft (as is often the case at these distances). Minimum coverage area is about average, at 2.62 x 1.97 inches (67 x 50mm). Flash performance is hindered by the long lens, which creates a strong shadow in the bottom half of the frame. The flash overexposed the top half of the frame somewhat. In Super Macro mode, the minimum coverage area is a tiny 0.95 x 0.71 inches (24 x 18mm). Detail is quite good, though exposure is uneven and chromatic aberration is quite evident in brighter areas.


 

Olympus SP-800UZ Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Olympus SP-800's LCD monitor showed just over 100% coverage at both wide-angle and at telephoto. Very good results here.


 

Olympus SP-800UZ Image Quality


Color: The Olympus SP-800UZ produces vibrant color, though accuracy is slightly below average. Bright blues, reds, greens and browns are moderately oversaturated, which is typical for a consumer model. Cyan and yellow are on the other hand slightly muted. Some color shifts are noticeable as well, such as cyan toward blue, magenta toward red, orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green, but this is not unusual. Darker Caucasian skin tones are a touch cool, while lighter skin tones show a little pinkish-reddish tint. Overall, a fair performance in terms of color reproduction, hampered somewhat by the lack of a manual white balance setting.


Auto WB:
Quite warm
Incandescent WB:
Good, a touch green

Incandescent: The Olympus SP-800UZ's Auto white balance system had some trouble with our incandescent lighting, producing a very warm image. The Incandescent setting was pretty good, just slightly cool and greenish. As mentioned above, the SP-800UZ does not offer a manual white balance mode.


Horizontal:
~2,000 lines
Vertical:
~1,800 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns up to about 2,000 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 1,800 lines in the vertical direction. Extinction of the pattern occurred at 2,400 to 2,600 lines per picture height.


Wide: Bright
Tele: Bright
Auto Flash
Manual Flash, +0.3 EV

Flash: In our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) the SP800's flash performs to Olympus' specification. Olympus specifies the flash range at wide-angle at 41 feet using ISO 1,600. That range is too far for our lab, so we shot at the equivalent range of 10.2 feet at ISO 100. As you can see, the resulting image is bright. The telephoto test also came out bright at the specified 20.5 feet, though we kept the ISO at 1,600 since that range was workable in our lab.

Auto flash mode produced a slightly dim image of our indoor portrait scene at ISO 100. (This shot is taken at about 5 feet in typical indoor lighting.) The Olympus SP-800UZ chose a shutter speed of 1/100 second for this shot, which should avoid most instances of motion blur for typical portraits. In manual flash mode, tweaking exposure compensation a notch to +0.3EV produced a bright image at ISO 100, which is a good performance.


50
100
200
400
 
800
1,600
3,200
(4.9MP)

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is a little soft even at the base ISO of 50, with stronger blurring becoming noticeable as early as ISO 200. By ISO 400, blurring due to noise reduction is quite aggressive, eliminating a lot of fine detail. Chroma noise is also noticeable in the shadows starting at ISO 400. At ISO 800 luminance noise takes a large jump, while chroma noise is also high. At ISO 1,600 both luminance and chrominance noise are higher, obliterating detail and altering color. ISO 3,200 has so little detail, the camera renders it at reduced resolution (4.9-megapixels), though color is better than ISO 1,600. To see how this translates to printed images, refer to the Printed Results section below.


Printed: The Olympus SP800 has some trouble with softness in the corners, so bad that even at the lowest ISOs, the softness affects all but 5x7-inch prints or smaller. As such, you're better off limiting most prints with the SP-800UZ to this size.

ISO 50 shots are sharp enough in the center for 13x19-inch prints, but as mentioned, they're very soft in the corners, extending a long way into the frame (which we'll stipulate from here on).

ISO 100 shots are softer, and better printed at 11x14 inches.

ISO 200 shots are too soft for 11x14, looking better at 8x10.

ISO 400 images are mushy and have dark shadows at 8x10. The dark shadows remain, but the detail improves with reduction to 5x7.

ISO 800 images are usable at 5x7.

ISO 1,600 are grainy but usable at 4x6.

ISO 3,200 shots no longer look like photographs, but might be considered usable at 4x6.

Overall, this isn't a very good printed performance; one of the worst we've seen, in fact. If you don't think you'll print larger than 5x7 at most focal lengths, and you don't crop much, you'll never notice.


 

Olympus SP-800UZ Performance


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is a little slower than average, at 0.82 second at wide-angle and 0.84 second at telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.133 second, also slower than average but still reasonably fast.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is good, with the Olympus SP-800UZ capturing a frame every 1.08 seconds in single-shot mode. We measured 0.97 frames per second for 10 frames in continuous mode at full resolution, which is slower than average. The SP-800 also has a number of high-speed continuous shooting modes, with Olympus claiming up to 7.7 fps bursts at 5-megapixels, and 15.2 fps bursts at 2-megapixels , though we did not test them.


Flash Recycle: The Olympus SP-800UZ's flash recycles in a sluggish 7.3 seconds after a full-power discharge.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system had a little trouble with low lighting, able to focus down to just above the one foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled. That's below average performance. The Olympus SP-800UZ was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled, though.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Olympus SP-800UZ's download speeds are very fast. We measured 10,593 KBytes/sec.


 

In the Box

  • Olympus SP-800UZ digital camera
  • LI-50B Lithium-ion battery
  • USB-AC adapter
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Camera strap
  • Lens cap and cord
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Instruction manual and ib software on internal memory
  • Warranty card

 

Olympus SP-800UZ Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • 30x wide zoom with image stabilization
  • Relatively compact
  • 3-inch LCD
  • Good build quality
  • Powerful flash
  • Good single-shot cycle time
  • High-speed burst modes (but at reduced resolutions)
  • 720p30 MPEG4 movies
  • Multiple exposure mode
  • Super Macro mode gets in really close
  • Time-lapse feature
  • HDMI output
  • Creative art filters
  • Shadow adjustment
  • Generous amount of internal memory available for storage (1,783MB)
  • Charges via USB
  • Fast download speeds
  • AF tracking
  • Soft images even at base ISO due to strong noise reduction
  • Soft corners at both wide-angle and telephoto
  • Our sample had strong blurring on the left side at intermediate focal lengths
  • High chromatic aberration
  • Higher-than-average barrel distortion at wide-angle
  • No EVF
  • No mode dial; very few external controls
  • Slow, sometimes unreliable autofocus
  • No manual focus
  • Sluggish flash recycling time
  • Poor low-light focusing
  • Slow full resolution continuous mode
  • No manual white balance option
  • No aperture/shutter priority or manual exposure modes
  • Below average battery life
  • Poor print quality limits print size to 5x7

 

The Olympus SP-800UZ is a bit of a different duck among a raft of competing megazoom cameras. While other megazooms try to emulate dSLRs, the SP-800UZ seems to have no aspirations higher than a digicam.

So you get digicam functions like intelligent Auto, Scene modes, Beauty mode, in-camera Panorama stitching, and Magic mode. But you lose Manual, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority.

You get a nice 3.0-inch widescreen LCD. But without the electronic viewfinder.

You get Super Macro and Macro modes. But you can't focus the lens manually at infinity.

So the Olympus SP-800UZ is designed for the digicam owner who wants to move up to a 30x zoom with Super Macro. But not the dSLR owner looking for a travel companion or bird watching camera.

While I liked the image quality of the shots I brought home, I was disappointed that the Olympus SP-800UZ's autofocus problems prevented me from bringing home a lot more. Well, I was mad, actually. And I'm a happy-go-lucky guy, too.

There are enough problems with the Olympus SP-800UZ that it doesn't merit a Dave's Pick. But there's enough right with it to seriously consider if the feature set appeals to you.

 

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