Olympus may be leading in the lens-length wars with its 26x Stylus SP-590 UZ, but it takes much more than a long lens to make a decent megazoom--the same things it takes to make a good digital camera, like speedy performance, a competitive, useful feature set, and good photo quality. Unfortunately, the SP-590 doesn't really manage to distinguish itself from competitors in any meaningful way.
The design is typical: a big, solid body with a plasticky chassis and a large, rubberized grip accommodating the four AA batteries that power the camera. In a nice touch, the bottom of the camera extends out beneath the lens to provide a more stable platform when mounted on a tripod. Unfortunately, the camera takes two equally inconvenient forms of media: Olympus/Fujifilm's proprietary xD-Picture cards, or microSD cards that fit into an xD card adapter.
|Key comparative specs||Olympus SP-590 UZ||Nikon Coolpix P90||Canon PowerShot SX10 IS||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35|
|Sensor||12-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch CCD||12-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch CCD||10-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD||12-megapixel 1/2.33-inch CCD|
|Lens (35mm equivalent)||26x f2.8-5 26-676mm||24x f2.8-5 26-624mm||20x f2.8-5.7 28-560mm||18x f2-4.4 27-486mm|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 64 - ISO 6,400||ISO 64 - ISO 6,400||ISO 80 - ISO 1,600||ISO 80 - ISO 6,400|
|LCD||2.7-inch fixed; 230,000 dots||3-inch tiltable; 230,000 dots||2.5-inch articulated; 230,000 dots||2.7-inch fixed; 230,000 dots|
|Video (max resolution at 30fps)||640x480||640x480||640x480||1280x720 (AVCHD Lite)|
|Optical zoom during movie capture||Yes (no audio)||No||Yes||Yes|
|Exposure modes||Auto, PASM, Scene||Auto, PASM, Scene||Auto, PASM, Scene||Auto, PASM, Scene|
|Batteries (CIPA rating)||4 AA-size; 340 shots (alkalines)||Lithium Ion; 230 shots||4 AA-size; 340 shots (alkalines), 600 shots (NiMH)||Lithium Ion; 470 shots|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||4.3x3.5x3.6||4.5x3.3x3.9||4.9x3.5x3.4||4.6x3.0x3.5|
|Operating weight (ounces)||18.7||17.2||23.0||14.6|
Overall, the SP-590 is fairly straightforward to learn and operate if you've used a digital camera in the past couple of years. In addition to all the usual suspects on the mode dial, the SP-590 includes Beauty mode, which blurs skin slightly. Even if it worked extremely well, it's way too slow--approximately 20 seconds between shots--and the result is a 2-megapixel image. However, it also includes a MyMode, which holds up to four groups of custom settings, including the focal length settings at the time you saved them. An OK/Func button pulls up frequently needed shooting settings, including drive mode, white balance, ISO sensitivity, metering, image size, and compression. As well as the standard continuous-shooting, there are higher-speed drive modes, 6fps and 10fps, but they operate at reduced image sizes of 5 and 3 megapixels, respectively. This includes a precapture high-speed mode that shoots 10 3-megapixel frames at 10fps from focus lock until you snap the photo.
There are dedicated buttons for exposure compensation, flash, macro mode, and self timer, as well as toggling Shadow Adjustment and a custom button to which you can assign a variety of capabilities, including image stabilizer, focus/AE lock, and focus mode. You can exposure bracket up to 5 shots--most cameras limit you to 3--in +/- 1/3, 2/3 or full stop intervals. While the SP-590 supports optical zoom while recording video--at best the camera does 30fps VGA saved as Motion-JPEG compressed AVI files--you can't zoom and record sound. That's certainly one way to defeat lens noise. (For a full accounting of the SP-590 UZ's features and controls, you can download a PDF of the manual.)
With the exception of overly long shot lag in dim light, the SP-590 delivers pretty typical performance for a megazoom. It powers on and shoots in 1.6 seconds, which is actually pretty fast for its cohort. In good light it matches the focus-and-shoot speed of the best of its class--0.6 second--but in dim light it struggles, resulting in an overly slow 1.4-second delay. Its 2-second shot-to-shot time matches the rest of the crowd, and enables flash bumps up to a pretty typical 2.5 seconds. While its continuous shooting rate of 1.2 frames per second sits close to the bottom of its class, frame rate is almost immaterial with an EVF camera since your real constraint for burst usability is the blackout interval of the viewfinder, which is almost universally bad.