Olympus SP-600UZ Camera Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Images from the Olympus SP-600UZ are quite usable at low ISO sensitivities. Even at ISO 100, the lowest setting, some noise is visible and fine details get smudged. For this reason, prints from the SP-600UZ have to be smaller compared to typical 12 megapixels cameras, up to 9x12" for brighter scenes. ISO 200 is not so different. Luminance noise increases noticeable 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 in broad daylight is accurate enough but when light levels drop it leaves a distincly orange tint, even under natural light. Automatic white-balance indoors is below average and leaves too much yellow. Choosing a preset white-balance helps somewhat but rarely neutralizes colors completely. There is no custom white-balance option in this camera, so poor white-balance cannot be fixed.
Exposure was good with the SP-600UZ, although it showed some inconsistency at different ISO settings. The LCD is not exposure-priority, so things looked more often overexposed than they actually were. Overall, less exposure-compensation was required with this camera than average and rarely more than -2/3 EV.
Images from the SP-600UZ are a little soft with an increase in softness around edges. There is certainly some complex variance in softness as some images were softer in different areas. The smudging of details does not help either which causes most images to look soft when seen between 50 and 100%. The lens is not too bright on either end of its range but considering it reaches 420mm, a maximum of F/5.4 is quite reasonable.
Distortion is extremely controlled for such a long zoom. There is a slight amount of barrel distortion at the widest setting but zooming in a little makes it dissappear. Towards the second half of the zoom, a very slight pincushion distortion can be noticed. 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-600UZ is quite snappy. It takes about 2 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 roughly 3 seconds to go from 28 to 420mm. Focusing is a little slow though, easily taking a second under most situations. There is sadly a particularly high amount of focus misses, 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 4 continuous drive speeds on this Olympus ultra-zoom. Full-resolution sequential shoots takes up to 5 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 19 images at 5.5 FPS. The LCD shows a continuous image with a slight lag, so following action is not so difficult as long as it's not too fast. Going down to 3 megapixels high-speed sequential 2 mode, the SP-600UZ can capture up to 14 images at 11 FPS.
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-600UZ shoots at 15 FPS for up to 32 frames. It keeps the LCD image fluid, so this time following action is possible.
Power is provided by a set of 4 AA batteries which give a 340 shot battery life according to CIPA measurements standard. This is above average for a modern camera but not quite class-leading. The powerful flash has a good reach and takes 5 seconds to recycle. A blinking flash icon indicates when the flash is charging.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
The Olympus SP-600UZ, along with its near-twin the SP-800UZ, 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 is a little slow, probably to minimize its sound from being recorded. One needs to settle on a view for about ½ 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-600UZ has several things going for it, most importantly its compact solid design and versatile 15X 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 but not so good white-balance and no custom option to fix it. 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-600Z is about accepting its moderate image quality and performance for a relatively compact form-factor and very versatile zoom lens. Image quality is certainly good enough for the most common print sizes and even the highest sensitivity can be used for small prints. Also, the use of standard AA batteries and SDHC memory cards make the SP-600UZ one of the most affordable ultra-zooms currently available.
Olympus SP-600UZ Facts
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