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Olympus SP-560 UZ review: Olympus SP-560 UZ

Olympus SP-560 UZ

Will Greenwald
4 min read


Olympus SP-560 UZ

The Good

Superlong, yet wide lens; manual exposure controls; good body design; supports wireless flash.

The Bad

Softness and noise hurt picture quality; middling performance.

The Bottom Line

Olympus' 8-megapixel ultrazoom generally improves over the SP-550UZ, but suffers from many of the same problems.

Last year, Olympus released the SP-550UZ, a 7-megapixel digital camera with an impressive 18x zoom lens. We loved its lens' long reach and wide angle, and appreciated its great body design. Unfortunately, the camera was plagued with performance and picture quality issues. Now Olympus offers the SP-560UZ, an 8-megapixel follow-up. It carries over both good and bad aspects of last year's camera, but overall presents an improvement.

Body design was one of our favorite aspects of the SP-550UZ, so we were pleased to see that the new version looks and feels almost identical. Every design aspect is carried over, from the pop-up flash to the comfortably large, flat buttons. It even weighs nearly the same, standing at a hefty but manageable 16.4 ounces with four AA batteries and an xD memory card.

A whopping big lens stands out as the SP-560UZ's most prominent feature, just like its predecessor. The 27-to-486mm-equivalent lens is slightly wider and shorter than the SP-550UZ's 28-to-504mm-equivalent lens, but still offers the same f/2.8-4.5 range and 18x optical zoom. I could easily frame the spire of the Empire State Building from Hoboken, N.J., thanks to the camera's long reach. Sensor-shift image stabilization helps reduce camera shake, a vital feature when pushing the camera to its full zoom without a tripod to stabilize it.

Unfortunately, the SP-560UZ's biggest feature is also one of its greatest weaknesses. While its lens is long and wide, it simply isn't very sharp. Regardless of the lens position and focus, pictures taken on the SP-560UZ generally look soft. Fine details, like text focused upon from a great distance, can appear fuzzy regardless of focus, shutter speed, or ISO sensitivity. Beyond the softness, significant noise further hurts the camera's pictures. Notable grain appears at ISO 200, and gets significantly worse as sensitivity gets higher. At ISO 400 and higher, noise consumes fine details, rendering textures muddled.

Like most superzooms, the SP-560UZ targets experienced users, and so it is packed full of useful, advanced features. An electronic viewfinder offers a great alternative to the camera's 2.5-inch LCD screen for framing shots, especially when shooting in direct sunlight. The camera toggles between EVF and LCD screen, so you can't have both running at once. However, when shooting with the EVF, pictures still appear on the 2.5-inch LCD screen by default, so you have to take your face away from the viewfinder to review what you just shot. The SP-560UZ also includes a full selection of exposure controls, including Program/Aperture-priority/Shutter-priority, and Manual shooting modes.

While it didn't come loaded on our review sample, version 3.1 of the SP-560UZ firmware adds support for Olympus wireless flash units. If you install the optional firmware upgrade through the included Olympus Master 2 software (instructions can be found on Olympus' support site), the camera can be set to function on one of four different channels to wirelessly control Olympus' FL-50R or FL-36R flash units. This is the first time we've seen this feature on a non-SLR camera, and it can be useful for users who want to set up a small studio.

In our lab tests, the SP-560UZ far surpassed its slow predecessor but otherwise showed middling performance; it's responsive enough to shoot without much trouble, but it feels sluggish at times. After a 2.4-second wait from power-on to first shot, the camera could record a new JPEG every 2.1 seconds with the onboard flash turned off. With the flash enabled, that wait bumped up to 2.5 seconds between shots. RAW shooting was quite slow, capturing a single uncompressed picture every 13.5 seconds, though that's not abnormal for a non-SLR. RAW shooting is a welcome feature on any non-SLR camera, but the extra long shot-to-shot time definitely limits its usefulness. The shutter lagged a slightly sluggish 0.6 seconds with our high-contrast target, and 1.5 seconds with our low-contrast target. In burst mode, the camera captured 11 full-resolution JPEGs in 9.7 seconds for an average rate of 1.1 frames per second. The camera also features a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 15 still photos a second, though it can only record at 1280 x 960 or lower resolution, and doesn't refocus between shots.

If you want a camera with an extremely long lens for less than $500, the Olympus SP-560UZ is one of only a few choices available by retail. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 has a mere 15x optical zoom, but its slightly nicer pictures offset its slightly shorter lens. Otherwise, you'll need to invest in a digital SLR with a very long lens, and together they can cost a lot more.

Find out more about how we test digtal cameras.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
Olympus SP-560 UZ
Nikon Coolpix P5100
Olympus SP-550UZ

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)


Olympus SP-560 UZ

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6Image quality 5