We have a digital SLR and tiny point-and-shoot cameras. We were looking to buy something in between. Our first digital camera ever was the Olympus D-500L, we loved it and figured we might look into this manufacturer again. What we wanted was a camera that offered manual control as well as full auto. We went out and tested the new Olympus SP-550UZ camera with the 18x optical zoom lens.
- Nice looking camera
- Excellent zoom range
- Pics taken at full zoom length were sharp and color rich – no blur – image stabilization worked superbly.
- Camera uses proprietary USB cable
- Filter diameter (38 mm) is non-standard making it impossible to buy an after market UV or polarizing filter from your local photo shop, not available from Olympus either.
- Picture quality suffers along with the light – the nicer the day the nicer the pictures. The camera switches between ISO settings with preference for higher end settings and the result is higher noise.
- Zoom and focus are very slooow, and cause of frustration: many lost photo opportunities.
- Focus is often inaccurate or camera is unable to focus, the longer the lens the worse it gets.
- Considerable shutter delay (slower than my Exilim point-and-shoot).
- Lowest F-stop is F8 – poor choice for folks who like long exposures.
- Panorama feature available only with Olympus brand XD cards (NOT included)
To certain extent the above situations can be overcome by the use of the MY MODE SETUP feature. This feature allows the user to specify how the camera behaves in a given situation. One can choose type of light measuring, focus, sharpness, saturation, etc and assign them to 4 separate setting represented by the dial sign “MY”. Lots of users complain about the focus as having the mind of its own and the MY setting is a away to allow it to follow your mind – simply change focusing type to SPOT (This feature is not available under full AUTO mode). Still – focus is extremely slow and often inaccurate.
Another thing that earns a definitive Thumbs Down was the inability to fire the flash under Pre-programmed SCENE settings.
Imagine this: A nice red sunset; you set set the camera on a tripod, position your family in front of you with a sunset in the background; you pop up the flash, set the timer and join the family; camera fires but the flash does not – the result is a nice sky but your family pic is ruined, faces are nothing but black spots. Reason for using the flash in such a backlit situation is to highlight the foreground – most if not all point and shoot cameras allow you to use flash in combination with any setting if that is your desire; Olympus SP-550UZ does not. Sure you can take a full AUTO pic or use full Manual mode to adjust all settings, including the flash, but the results are just not quite what you expect. To make things worse – Olympus decided to use automatic ISO settings for Sunset, Night and other situations requiring a tripod. What it means is that pics are very grainy (ideally you would not use ISO higher that 50 or 100 for night pics taken on a tripod – but you cannot choose with Olympus).
The following picture would NOT be possible with the Olympus SP-550UZ if using the Sunset mode – the dog would turn out a black blotch.
Taken with Casio Exilim, Sunset Mode + Forced flash to illuminate the dog.
If you buy this camera for the pre-programmed Scene modes you should be aware of the limitations.
- Fresh set of rechargeable NiMH 2300 mAh batteries took about 250 pictures, including some reviewing, flash, etc – regular camera use. Batteries died without advance warning: the green icon on screen (representing state of battery) changed red and the camera stopped functioning. This means you need a spare set or charge batteries daily. Subsequent battery charges delivered about 150-180 pictures.
During the several-weeks long trial the camera exhibited several problems:
- Upon powering on the camera would not fully initialize citing “zoom error”. This happened at least once a week.
- After about six weeks the rubberized grip started to peel off. It is no small matter – the rubberized grip is essential with this camera if you want to be able to hold it comfortably.
Here’s why we decided against the camera:
- AA batteries
- XD cards.
In that order.
Folks, after owning the cameras we own, we would never go back to AA batteries again. No way are we going to bother with all this additional crap of spare batteries and chargers for them. We want a camera that will take several hundred shots on a single charge – we need to know that batteries will last a weekend without having to worry about spare and charging. Admittedly this is our choice, but you may sympathize: how much more can a traveler carry in addition to all those cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, GPS receivers and all the accessories that come with them? Not us.
Second thing: XD cards. The choice here was simple: every other electronic equipment that travels with us uses SD cards. This is also the reason why we won’t buy Sony electronics – card incompatibility.
Too bad. We liked the camera but alas…
Now, for the last word: once you manage to overcome the annoyances and the evil of the focus, picture quality is excellent. Color-rich and sharp images are a pleasure to look at.
Sample pics taken with Olympus SP-550UZ below (we loved the extreme macro and pictures were great):
Shot using Macro feature + enhanced saturation