Olympus SP-800UZ Camera Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Images from the Olympus SP-800UZ are quite usable at low ISO sensitivities. Even at ISO 50, the lowest setting, some noise is visible and fine details get smudged. For this reason, prints from the SP-800UZ have to be smaller compared to typical 14 megapixels cameras, up to 9x12" for brighter scenes. ISO 200 is not so different. Luminance noise increases at ISO 400 and 800 which can still be used for medium-sized prints. ISO 1600 is much noisier but can pull off a reasonable 4x6" print.
Colors from this camera are generally realistic with some punch without being over-saturated. White-balance is on the poor side, leaving stronger casts than usual, even in outdoor light where most cameras normally do very well. This is the one area where the SP-800UZ under performed its shorter-zoom sibling, the SP-600UZ
Olympus SP-600UZ. Choosing a preset white-balance helps somewhat but rarely gets it spot-on. There is no custom white-balance option in this camera, so poor white-balance cannot be fixed.
The Olympus SP-800UZ shows poor metering reliability. The LCD is not exposure-priority either, which makes matters worse as it is hard to say when the exposure is wrong versus the LCD being wrong. Overall, more exposure-compensation is required when using this digital camera than usual. The sensor's limited dynamic range means that there are plenty of scenes in broad daylight which cannot be captured. One of the benefits afforded by such a long lens though is to be more easily able to zoom into parts of a subject that are within the camera's ability.
Images from the SP-800UZ are a little soft with a noticeable increase in softness towards corners. The softness is more pronounced at wide-angle and becomes slight towards the telephoto end. The smudging of details does not help either which causes most images to look soft when seen between 50 and 100%. Given a 30X zoom range, we have to say that such softness seems very reasonable. The lens is bright at the wide-end and loses to stops by the time it reaches 840mm, which is once again very reasonable considering the zoom power.
Barrel distortion is certainly noticeable from the wide-end to a normal setting. Zooming-in further makes it go away and the longer half of the range is pretty much distortion-free. Purple fringing is virtually inexistent with this ultra-zoom. Some vignetting is noticeable at wide-angle but quickly disappears at other focal-lengths.
Performance of the SP-800UZ is quite snappy. It takes about 1.5 seconds to power on or off, with the lens having to extend out before images or video can be captured. The zoom is speedy, taking under 4 seconds to go from 28 to 840mm. Focusing is a little slow though, easily taking a second under most situations. There are more focus misses than usual, which the camera reports with a red-square on the LCD. Shutter lag is on the short side but the camera goes blank for 1.5s after each shot. This makes shot-to-shot speeds on the slow side, taking about 3s between shots.
Most button presses get an instant response. Navigating the menu is particularly speedy. It takes about a second to enter playback mode and another second to return to capture mode. This camera is shooting-priority, so returning to capture mode requires only a tap of the shutter-release. Playback mode is quite speedy, with a only a small delay between images to show a transition effect. Pan and zoom is very quick.
There are 5 continuous drive speeds on this Olympus ultra-zoom. Full-resolution sequential shoots takes up to 10 shots at 1 FPS. The screen goes blank between each shot, so following action would be difficult. At 5 megapixels, high-speed sequential shooting captures up to 45 images at 6.5 FPS. The LCD shows a continuous image with a slight lag, so following action is a little difficult. Going down to 3 megapixels high-speed sequential 2 mode, the SP-600UZ can capture up to 48 images at 10 FPS. The preview in this 10 FPS mode keeps up with action very well, making it usable for following action.
High-speed sequential 3 mode drops the resolution further to 2 MP by using only the central part of the image sensor. This means that the angle-of-view is reduced by about 20%, so you lose wide-angle capability. In this mode, the SP-800UZ shoots at 15 FPS for up to 65 frames. It keeps the LCD image fluid, so this time following action is possible here too.
The final continuous drive mode shoots at 0.3 FPS! Which is just about the same as pressing the shot-to-shot speed. Plus, since the LCD is blank most of the time, this mode will find very little use. The SP-800UZ also has a time-lapse mode which can take up to 99 images with an interval from 1 to 99 minutes between images. Power is provided by a tiny lithium-ion battery which translates into poor battery-life. up to 200 shots-per-charge according to the CIPA standard.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
The Olympus SP-800UZ, along with its near-twin the SP-600UZ, are the first two Olympus ultra-zoom cameras to record HD video. Video can be captured at up to 720p, which is 1280x720 @ 30 FPS with a widescreen (16:9) aspect ratio. There are also 640x480 (VGA) and 320x240 (QVGA) modes with traditional 4:3 aspect ratio.
Video recording starts about two seconds after pressing the dedicated video recording button. It stops instantly after pressing the same button. There are two quality settings and toggle options for stabilization, sound and continuous autofocus. Both quality settings produce smooth video using the efficient MPEG-4 codec. When the stabilizer or continuous autofocus is enabled, it is possible that the built-in mono microphone captures sound from either of these mechanisms.
HD video quality is on par with similar cameras, showing both crisp details and smooth motion. Continuous autofocus actually works and is very quiete, which minimizes its sound from being recorded. One needs to settle on a view for about ¼ second to get it in focus. Sound from any such tiny microphone is rarely great and this one is on the sensitive side. It can pick up sounds a few meters away but also any rustling from close by objects.
The Olympus SP-800UZ has several things going for it, most importantly its compact solid design and extreme 30X wide-angle optical zoom lens. The stabilization mechanism is very effective which greatly helps with such a long zoom range. Body handling is great and the interface is easy to use but the lack of function buttons means that operating this camera is rather slow. Speed of operation is average overall, with some speedy aspects and same slow ones as well. Notably, focus and shot-to-shot speeds are on the slow side.
Image quality is only average with a smudging of details at all ISO sensitivities, reasonably good exposure and mostly acceptable white-balance. The HD video is of good quality but the delay before recording starts and the difficulty of setting up initial framing makes it rather frustrating. The reduced-resolution high-speed continuous drive modes are usable for following action and shooting at up to 15 FPS which is rare among this type of camera.
Overall, choosing the SP-800Z is about accepting its moderate image quality and performance for its extremely long zoom in a relatively compact form-factor. Image quality is certainly good enough for the most common print sizes and even the highest sensitivity can be used for small prints. Compared to the SO-600UZ, this model improves white-balance while being somewhat less reliable with exposure. There is a slight improvement in speed in terms of autofocus and continuous shooting as well.
Olympus SP-800UZ Facts
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