Review: Olympus SP-570UZ

SP 570UZ 3q

Reviewing point-and-shoot cameras for you guys, no matter how complex, is like writing about light beer for a wine magazine. What can you say but that it goes down smooth and tastes great? Can you talk about the vat-grown malty flavor? Can you talk about the bottle and clever spelling of “lite?” Absolutely, but you and I both know we’re doing each other a disservice.

Me, for reviewing a point-and-shoot that aspires to be a DSLR and you for thinking about buying a point-and-shoot when you know that a nice Nikon or Canon with a good, basic lens costs about $700 on a bad day and will take great pictures without any of the lag, drag, and sag found in most point-and-shoots. That’s why I’m so bitter about the Olympus SP-570UZ. I was excited, nay, supremely interested in the camera and now I feel like I had to drink a case of Mickey’s Big Mouth.

The SP-570UZ is a 10-megapixel camera with image stabilization and 2.7-inch LCD screen. Its real claim to fame is a huge 20X zoom, offering an effective range of 26-250mm. Add in a 5x digital zoom and you’ve got 100x zoom. I’m all for big zoom range. It’s fun. You can sit on a bench and take pictures of people a few hundred yards away. Outdoors, this camera is a tourist’s dream. Indoors, however, it is problematic.

Even in Auto mode, the camera needs a flash indoors, regardless of lighting, and the flash does not pop up automatically. This means it’s hard to take good pictures indoors without washing out the picture and causing sharp shadows and to get that flash you have to press another button. That’s fine for most photography, but the camera has so much untapped power that this failure in Auto mode turned me off completely, initially, and I was afraid to even review it. A point-and-shoot camera that is not good indoors in Auto mode is an abject failure. It ignores its audience and forces folks who might not want to learn about fancy things like “f-stop” and “taking good pictures” to read the manual, something an entry level camera shouldn’t require you to do. At about $499, this camera is exactly that: something you pick up when you want to move one step above your old tiny digicam but aren’t quire ready to figure out what all those lenses and filters do in DSLR land.

Olympus does throw us a bone by adding an on-screen guide, but the guide is fairly truncated. In Guide mode, you have the option to brighten the subject. Their advice? Turn on the flash. That’s it, basically. No automated shutter speed fixes, no ISO levels. Just pop on the flash and get an ugly picture. Ok. End of rant. How about the good stuff?

We took this camera on a trip to Majorca with us and as a tourist’s camera it’s great, presuming you’re outdoors. As you can see, I tested the zoom and found it quite impressive. The picture below shoes a sort of before-and-after. Before is a shot of the scene and a playground about a hundred yards away. After is a close up of my wife and son on the playground using only the zoom. The picture is fairly sharp — sharp enough to blow up safely — and quite bright. I did the same with a number of shots and even took some nice macro shots. This camera excelled outside.
So why was I so upset initially? Because a point-and-shoot must not be initially difficult. Even a DSLR takes acceptable shots out of the gate, but this Olympus frustrated me so much initially that I almost gave up. Imagine someone picking this up and ruining shot after shot of a kid’s birthday party, fiddling with the settings until suddenly figuring out that you have to physically press the flash button to get anything good out of this camera.

Another pet peeve is that it supports only xD cards and a proprietary USB connection port. It also does not come with a rechargeable battery. Overall, this camera is very uneven. It takes great zoom pictures outdoors, in bright sunlight but begins to fall apart indoors. Thanks to the other little details, I’m hard-pressed to recommend it to novices and to skilled amateurs I’d suggest just getting a DSLR. This camera sits uneasily between two extremes and, aside for the rare ornithologist, doesn’t satisfy a few important basic requirements for the price.


* 20x optical zoom (equivalent to 26-520mm*) – from extreme close-ups to stunning scenes
* Avoids blur thanks to Dual Image Stabilisation
* Don’t miss the moment with high-speed 15fps sequence shooting**
* Face Detection Technology for perfectly focused and exposed faces plus correct exposure of other image areas
* P/A/S/M exposure modes for creative freedom
* 22 scene modes for the best results in different situations
* 10 Megapixels to make poster-size prints
* See and share images on the 6.9cm/2.7″ LCD
* Better low light shooting thanks to BrightCapture Technology
* Great for shots of flowers and detail from as close as 1cm with Super Macro mode
* Liven up your memories with movie recording with sound
* TruePic III image processor for faster image handling and higher image quality
* 38 languages on board
* Dioptric correction
* Flexible shooting with internal memory or using xD-Picture Card
* Supplied with Olympus Master software 2.03 including Muvee Pack trial version plus four AA batteries
* TCON-017 teleconversion lens and CLA-10 adapter ring optionally available for maximum of 884mm (or 4420mm when combined with digital zoom)