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Olympus SP-590 UZ review: Olympus SP-590 UZ

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MSRP: $449.99

The Good MyMode holds four groups of custom settings.

The Bad Image noise and softness even at low ISO sensitivities.

The Bottom Line Aside from a debatably useful 26x zoom lens, there's little that's notable about the Olympus SP-590 UZ.

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6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 6

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
Mfr. Price $449.99 $399.95 $399.99 $399.00

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.

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