Olympus SP-560UZ

Like Having 3 Lenses In 1

by Ron Eggers

Published February 2008

n an ideal world, every serious photographer would carry a close-up lens, a wide-angle lens and a long telephoto all the time, so that just about any situation would be covered. Carrying close-up and wide-angle lenses along most of the time isn’t all that much of a problem, since both are relatively compact, so they easily fit into a camera bag. Still, to always carry them along for those occasional times they’re needed, doesn’t make much sense.

Long telephoto lenses are even more of a problem. They’re often heavier and bulkier than standard lenses. If you’re going to be shooting wild game in Africa, it makes sense to take the equivalent of a 500 or 600 mm along. But it’s hard to justify carrying such a long lens on an extended excursion when you don’t have a specific need for it.

As with most camera gear that you lug around, it’s not a matter of if you’re going to be using a specific piece of equipment that you’ve packed. You’ll probably use every thing that you took at least once or twice, if nothing else than just to justify having packed it. The question really is, “Are you going to be using it often enough to lug it around all the other time?” In most cases, the answer is no. But then that one situation for a potentially great close-up, wide angle or telephoto shot comes up, if you only had the right lens with you.

Now it’s possible to have close-up, wide angle and long telephoto lens capabilities without having to lug various pieces of heavy glass around. The solution is the Olympus SP 560UZ, a mid-sized consumer digital camera with an extended lens range. With its 18X zoom range, the 4.7 to 84.2mm zoom lens can take close-up pictures, it can take wide-angle pictures and it can take long telephoto pictures. That’s actually the same zoom range as the previous model, the SP-550UZ, but since it has a slightly higher resolution, 8 megapixels as compared to 7.1, the zoom range is slightly different.

The 560UZ has the 35 mm equivalent coverage of 27 mm to 486 mm. That range is extended by a 5.6X digital zoom, which, in effect, results in a 100X total zoom range. The camera’s f2.8-4.5 lens was designed more like the lens of a pro camera than the lens of a consumer camera. It has 14 elements in 11 groups, including four aspherical elements and two high-refractive extra-dispersion elements for edge-to-edge sharpness. Olympus also has a lens adapter that extends the zoom range even further. The TCON 17 1.7X telephoto converter brings the action in another 70 percent closer.

Besides its remarkable wide-angle to telephoto zoom range, the 560UZ can also handle very close focusing. In the Macro mode, it can focus down to 3.9’’ while in the Super-Macro mode, it can close-focus down to 0.4”.

Upgraded Features

I’ve been a long-time fan of Olympus UZ cameras, ever since the 3-megapixel (3MP) models first were introduced. I shot with the SP-550UZ for a long time and found it to come in extremely handy in a variety of situations, letting me capture shots I couldn’t have gotten any other way. The 550 and the 560 look, feel and shoot very much alike. But it’s easy to tell the two apart: The 550 is brown while the 560 is black. I’ve been using the 560 for a while now and it’s quickly becoming a favorite.

The 560 has a maximum resolution is 3,264 x 2,448 pixels and it is able to capture either RAW images, which is generally only a capability found in professional cameras, and JPEG files. There are various other capabilities that put it closer to a professional camera than a consumer camera. For example, it has a maximum equivalent ISO of 6400. Not only does it have an Auto ISO setting, it also as a High Auto ISO setting for shooting in lower light situations.

Low light shooting, slower shooting speeds and higher ISO settings tend to introduce electronic noise into images. Automatic noise reduction kicks in with exposures slower than 0.5 of a second. It also has professional level image processing on board. Captured images are processed through the camera’s Truepic III image processor, which was initially developed for the company’s professional digital SLRs. That’s a major enhancement for the 560.

Another new feature is the SP-560UZ’s advanced face detection technology, which tracks multiple faces within a composition for the best possible portrait shots. It also includes dual image stabilization technology. There’s Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization, which compensates for camera shake, and Digital Image Stabilization, for even sharper images.

Shutter speeds range from 1/2000th of a second to 0.5 seconds in the auto mode, to four seconds in the Night Scene mode and 15 seconds in the Manual mode. In the Bulb setting, it’s possible to take exposures up to eight minutes. Focusing modes include iESP Auto, Spot AF, Face Detection AF, Full-Time AF, Selective AF Target, AF Lock, Predictive AF and Manual.

Exposure metering modes include Digital ESP Metering, Spot Metering, Center-Weighted Metering and Face Detection AE, when Face Detection autofocus has been selected. It even has multiple white balancing options, including iESP2 Auto, One-Touch and a selection of presets for common lighting situations, such as daylight and tungsten. These are all features and capabilities generally associated more closely with professional digital cameras.

It’s categorized as a dual LCD camera, which means it has a conventional LCD on the back of the body and it has a separate LCD in the electronic viewfinder. Dual LCD cameras are frequently referred to as “digital SLR-like” because the images that are seen through the viewfinder are exactly what will be captured on the sensor, just like with digital SLRs. The image in a viewfinder LCD, however, is not as good as an image in a DSLR viewfinder. With the 560UZ, as with the other viewfinder LCDs, images are often overly contrasted, making it difficult to see details. Fortunately, captured images are frequently better than the images displayed in the viewfinder.

Modes to Love

Casual photographers will like the 560UZ’s shooting modes. There are 33 different options, including multiple night photography modes, available light photography modes and several underwater shooting modes. (An optional housing is required to shoot underwater.) In the Scene modes, the camera sets all the required parameters for that specific type of shooting.

Another feature that consumers will like is the camera’s panoramic capabilities. Up to 10 images can be stitched together automatically with Olympus Master software. But you have to use the company’s own xD-Picture Cards to make it work. The camera also has video capabilities. It’s possible to capture video at a 640×480 resolution at a full 30 frames per second. Video is excellent for a still camera.

Minor Imperfections

There are some limitations to the 560UZ. For one thing, it’s relatively slow. It doesn’t have a lot of shutter lag for a consumer camera, but it’s relatively slow in focusing. It’s also slow at recycling. There were various times when I missed a second shot because the camera didn’t recycle quite fast enough. There are options available to take faster sequential shots. At the highest speed, it’s possible to take up to 15 frames per second. But when shooting at that speed, it can only capture images at a 1.2 megapixel resolution.

Also, focusing at the maximum telephoto setting was somewhat tentative. It wasn’t that the camera couldn’t focus at the maximum telephoto range, you just had to make sure that you really locked onto the primary focal point before firing. Otherwise, focusing would be soft. That made it difficult to shoot telephoto pictures rapidly.

It has a built in pop-up flash, but it doesn’t have a hot shoe for an external flash, or a sync cord connector for studio lighting. One way of firing external flash units is through the camera’s Slave function. With that function on, it’s possible to set the intensity level of the flash in 10 steps, so that the flash is powerful enough to fire the slave, but not so powerful as to impact the picture.

  • Size/Weight: 4.57″ x 3.09″ x 3.07″; 12.9 oz. w/o batteries.
  • Maximum resolution: 8 megapixels.
  • Zoom: 18X.
  • Lens Focal Length: 4.7 to 84.2m (35 mm equivalence of 27 mm to 486 mm).
  • Focusing capability:
    iESP Auto, Spot, Face Detection, Full-Time, Selective AF Target, AF Lock, Predictive AF, Manual Display: Dual LCD. (Electronic Viewfinder, 2 3/4″ rear LCD).
    Manual Exposure Control: Full manual setting.
  • Exposure Metering: Digital ESP, Spot, Center-Weighted, Face Detection AE (when Face Detection AF is selected).
  • Provided Accessories: Strap, Lens Cap, Olympus Master 2 software.
  • Power Source: Four AA batteries.
  • Warranty: 1-year Limited Warranty.
  • Contact: www.olympus.com.

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