Olympus SP-800UZ review: Olympus SP-800UZ

Unlike past S-series models, the SP-800UZ has no semimanual or manual shooting modes and is targeted at those who rarely if ever stray from fully automatic shooting. Its iAuto mode uses scene recognition to decide what settings to use for the best results. Generally, it works fine, but there is a Program Auto if you want to wrestle some control away from the camera, such as setting ISO sensitivity or white balance. There's a bracketing option, too, that will automatically take three shots at three different exposures.

Of course there are scene modes to play with as well--17 of them--and all the usual suspects are here such as Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sunset, and Fireworks. If your subject falls under one of those, I recommend using it.

The Panorama mode is a highlight. You press the shutter release with the camera aimed where you'd like to start your panorama shot and it puts a circle and a target on the screen. Put the circle in the center of the target by moving the camera to the right and it'll take the next shot when it's centered. Do that once more and it'll take your three shots and stitch them together in camera into a single 2-megapixel photo. If you want to shoot your panorama vertically or from right to left, the camera has manual panorama shooting options.

Olympus also includes a Beauty Mode for smoothing skin tone and texture in portraits and four of its Magic Filters--Pop Art, Drawing, Fish Eye, and Pin Hole--that let you get a little creative with your photos. You can't apply these after you've shot, though you can apply one of four color filters in Playback.

For shooting close-ups, the camera has Macro and Super Macro options. The former can focus as close as 5.9 inches from a subject while the latter lets you get up to 0.4 inch away. Usually megazooms produce their best fine detail in their macro modes, and that's at least partially true for the 800UZ. In its Macro setting, the lens is set to its widest position and produces good fine detail. The Super Macro extends the lens a bit so you can get closer to your subject, but in turn makes the photos softer. If your goal is to enlarge your close-ups to examine details, stick with the plain Macro setting.

If the photo quality problems didn't turn you off, the SP-800UZ's shooting performance just might. It has a pretty nasty shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed. In bright conditions, the shutter lag is 0.8 second. In dimmer lighting that time increases to 1.5 seconds. Shot-to-shot times aren't great either: 2.8 seconds without flash and 3.2 seconds with the flash. From off to first shot takes roughly the same time at about 3 seconds. Continuous shooting is the one high point, shooting at 1.1 frames per second at full resolution. It can't compete with cameras using faster BSI (backside-illuminated) CMOS sensors , but it's decent for a CCD-sensor camera. The 800UZ does have three reduced-resolution burst modes capturing 5-, 3-, and 2-megapixel images at 7.7 frames per second, 10.2fps, and 15.2fps, respectively. The photos are noisy and soft and lack detail, looking more like frame grabs from video than stills. They're best suited for Web use or very small prints with no cropping or enlarging.

Were it not for its few nice features and low price, the SP-800UZ probably wouldn't be worth considering at all. The camera is fairly comfortable to hold and use, but, again, the lack of an EVF makes it very difficult to hold still with the lens fully extended. Also, people with larger hands and clumsy fingers may have trouble pressing some buttons on the back as they are small and very close together. The menu system is easy to follow and looks pretty, too, though it is sluggish at times.

The camera uses a small rechargeable battery for power that simply doesn't last long. Using the zoom a lot and needing to use the 3-inch LCD for framing shots all the time doesn't help. As for ports, the camera has a multiconnector for connecting to a computer or A/V out and a Micro-HDMI output. The SP-800UZ can store photos and video to SDHC cards or to 1.8GB of available internal memory. The total amount is 2GB, but Olympus put a full, searchable user manual on the camera as well as software for organizing, editing, and sharing. It's Windows only, but the package is actually pretty good. Note: Though the 800UZ asks you to perform an "initialization" the first time you turn it on, you can skip this. It's just to set date and time, register the camera with Olympus, and install the software and user manual. The camera is usable with a Mac, but this initialization and software are for Windows computers only.

The Olympus SP-800UZ is a cheap but attractive megazoom camera with a decent feature set for automatic shooters. Its photo quality is only good in bright lighting conditions, preferably outdoors, and its shooting performance is best suited for stationary subjects and patient users. If you're after sharp photos indoors and outside, or need speedy shooting performance or more control over results, skip this camera.

Shooting speed in seconds
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Nikon Coolpix P100
1.8 
1.4 
0.6 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
1.8 
3.5 
0.8 
0.5 
Samsung HZ50W
3.9 
2.8 
0.9 
0.5 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40
1.5 
1.6 
0.9 
0.5 
Fujifilm FinePix HS10
2.2 
2.4 
1.1 
0.7 
Olympus SP-800UZ
3 
2.8 
1.5 
0.8 

Typical continuous-shooting speed in fps
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Full body
  • Optical Zoom 30 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CCD
  • Sensor Resolution 14.0 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (image sensor shift mechanism)
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.33"
  • Lens 28 - 840mm F/2.8