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Sample photos: Olympus SP-600UZ

Check out an examination of photo quality from the Olympus SP-600UZ, the camera maker's budget-minded 12-megapixel megazoom.

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ISO comparison

Despite its long lens, the 600UZ is an entry-level camera and its photo quality is typical for its class. By that I mean that it takes decent photos when it has a lot of light and you can keep the ISO setting at or below ISO 200. However, photos even at these settings look very soft and lack fine detail when viewed at anything but small sizes. Basically, if you shoot in full daylight, your shots generally go unedited, and they are destined for the Web, the 600UZ is OK.

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Photo quality at full zoom

This is a 100 percent crop of the inset image. Taken at ISO 100 with the lens fully extended, this is about the best fine detail you'll get with this camera. It's not bad, but chances are good that you'll need to use higher ISOs to help keep the shutter speed fast.

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3 of 12 Joshua Goldman/CNET


This is the same shot from the last slide. On the left is the original and on the right is the photo with some sharpening applied with photo-editing software. You wouldn't want to blow it up, but for small prints with no cropping a little bit of sharpening goes a long way with this camera.

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4 of 12 Joshua Goldman/CNET

ISO 800

To keep the shutter speed fast, I raised the sensitivity to ISO 800. Unfortunately that obliterates fine detail, leaving you with a soft, fuzzy image loaded with yellow blotching from noise. At small sizes--and I mean small--it would be usable depending on how picky you are.

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5 of 12 Joshua Goldman/CNET

Super Macro

Usually megazooms produce their best fine detail in their macro modes. Not so much with the 600UZ. It can focus at 0.4 inch from a subject, but at 100 percent, the results are still soft and fuzzy and sharpening only helps if you keep the photo small.

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6 of 12 Joshua Goldman/CNET

Zoom range

For a camera that can easily be found for less than $200, the lens has a nice range going from a wide-angle 28mm to 420mm (35mm equivalent).
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Lens distortion

At the wide end of the lens there is asymmetrical barrel distortion on the left side (top). With the lens extended there is pincushioning, though it's not as noticeable as the barrel distortion. The left side of the lens is also the least sharp, getting very soft and smeary, particularly in the corners. The center and right side of the lens are much better.
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Fringing in high-contrast areas of photos is at average amounts. You'll only really see it if you're viewing images at their full size.
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Color from the 600UZ is generally good, at least at the lower ISOs before noise starts to cause shifting. The white balance isn't very good indoors; the auto leans toward warm, while the presets are cool. On the upside, the Olympus' live view system lets you easily see how the white balance settings will look before you shoot. You can then just pick the one that looks the best to you. There is no manual white balance.
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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 the it put 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.

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Magic Filters

Olympus includes four of its Magic Filters on the 600UZ 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. (From top right clockwise: Pop Art, Drawing, Fish Eye, and Pin Hole.)
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Olympus ib software

I don't usually bother to discuss included software because it's typically pretty bad. However, Olympus embedded software in the 1GB of memory in the camera and it's actually decent for organizing and editing. It's from software developer Cyberlink, but skinned for Olympus.

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