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Olympus SP-620UZ review: Olympus SP-620UZ

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The Good Inexpensive; Long zoom; Good macro performance.

The Bad Bulky; Some washed-out colours.

The Bottom Line A good performance overall from the chunky Olympus SP-620UZ, but it's overshadowed by its slimmer sibling, the SZ-14. The lack of a bundled rechargeable battery or the ability to zoom while filming are disappointing, but the long lens and high resolution are both tempting, as is the price.

7.5 Overall

By far the chunkiest member of Olympus' refreshed consumer line-up is the SP-620UZ. It's a hefty beast of a camera, with four AA batteries in the grip and a 21x zoom to the front, equivalent to 25-525mm in a regular 35mm camera.

You can pick one up now for around £160.

SP-620UZ versus SZ-14

It's worth comparing it directly to its sibling, the Olympus SZ-14. The biggest difference between the two is resolution -- the SZ-14 tops out at 14 megapixels but this extends to 16 megapixels on the SP-620UZ, albeit on the same size sensor.

Despite their differences in size, with the SP-620UZ close to twice the depth and more than double the weight of the SZ-14, the latter actually has the longer zoom, stretching to 24x, or 600mm in a regular 35mm camera.

Olympus SP-620UZ angled
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Wrap your mitts around the SP-620UZ if you're more attracted to chunky fellas than the lithe and wiry SZ-14.

So why would you buy the SP-620UZ? Apart from the higher resolution, which will tempt those of you who shop on headline figures alone, the primary benefit is the brightness of the lens. While the SZ-14 is fractionally brighter at wide angle, with a maximum aperture of f/3.0, compared to the SP-620UZ's f/3.1, it's stepped down by more than one stop at full telephoto, stretching to just f/6.9 compared to the SP-620UZ's f/5.8.

Comparing these figures directly is a little unfair as we'd expect the SZ-14 to be a little darker on account of its longer zoom. But it's still a significant margin. That could well be enough to recommend the SP-620UZ to those who are willing to use the extra two megapixels to crop their shots, thus compensating for the shorter zoom, while benefiting from brighter results and shorter exposures at lower sensitivities.

Olympus SP-620UZ top
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The hand grip carries four AA batteries, rather than a single rechargable one, which is disappointing.

Test results

I started my tests with the SP-620UZ's macro performance. When set to super-macro, this gets you to within 1cm of your subject. With the camera set to iAuto throughout my tests, I let it self-select the regular macro setting, which gets you to 20cm in wide angle and 1.8m at full telephoto.

The results were very good, with a sharp sweet spot at the focal point and a pleasing fall-off in either direction from there. There's plenty of detail in this image of shells on a shore, with well handled reflections and clear differentiation between them, even where shells of very similar colours rest up against each other.

Detail test
The Olympus SP-620UZ's macro mode gets you to within 20cm of your subject in regular use, and a more impressive 1cm in super-macro (click image to enlarge).

When shooting at more conventional distances, the SP-620UZ kept up the high performance. This deserted funfair has plenty of bright colours and surface textures, each of which the camera took in its stride. However, while the colours are true to the originals, when you zoom to 100 per cent, there is a distinct dappling evident on some of the sharp contrasts. This can be seen at the point where the railing on the side of the ride passed in front of the helicopter, and where the red backplate meets the back of the seat.

Detail test
The colour in this shot is accurately reproduced, but very close examination reveals some dappling on the sharp contrasts (click image to enlarge).

I saw similar dappling with the SZ-14. As was the case with that camera, it's not visible unless you zoom in to full size. Should you be using your images online, or printing them, this won't be an issue unless you crop fairly tightly on your results and enlarge them.

The SP-620UZ handled bright colours extremely well, with the painted hoardings on this closed cafe closely matching the original.

Detail test
The SP-620UZ performed very ably in well-lit scenes, such as this beach cafe (click image to enlarge).

It did a similarly good job of exposing the very bright white walls of this seafront cafe that were exposed under full sunlight. However, it did less well with the sea itself and the sloped walkway leading down to the water. In this shot, there's a slight rainbow effect on the surface of the sea, while the walkway is muddied and indistinct, with lost details.

Detail test
The brighter portion of this image was very well handled, but definition was not as good on the walkway and sea surface (click image to enlarge).

Furthermore, when shooting cold colours in more subdued situations, such as under overcast skies, the results in some cases were pale and washed out. I used automatic white balance throughout my tests to replicate the manner in which most hobbyists will use this camera. As a result, the vibrant green of these bushes was rendered unattractive, with an unrealistic grey-green.

Detail test
Detail test
In each of the images above, the green foliage is washed out and not as vibrant as in real life (click each image to enlarge).

However, even under these conditions, there's plenty of detail across all texture types. In the shot below of a carved totem pole, it's easy to see both the grain of the wood and the individual carving chips used to expose the character.

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