Olympus SP-600UZ review: Olympus SP-600UZ

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The Good Nice features, design for its price; 1GB of built-in storage; one-touch movie recording.

The Bad Soft, noisy photos above ISO 200; long shutter lag; ineffective image stabilization.

The Bottom Line The Olympus SP-600UZ is easy on your wallet for a megazoom, but its photos and performance require a lot of compromise.

6.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Image quality 6

As with many things in life, expectations play a big part in whether you'll like the Olympus SP-600UZ. The two main attractions are its wide-angle lens with 15x zoom and its price; it can easily be found for less than $200. The rest of its features, which include one-press recording of 720p HD movies, 1GB of internal memory, and AA batteries, are good for the money, too. Based on looks, specs, and features, the SP-600UZ is a good deal.

However, those expecting excellence at this price will likely be disappointed by this camera's shooting performance and photo quality. For the SP-600UZ, that mainly means it doesn't do well in low-light conditions or indoors without a flash and is too slow for regularly shooting moving subjects like kids and pets. If you need a camera for those things, I wouldn't buy this Olympus. Even if you're considering it for shooting other subjects, you'll probably want to read on just to be certain it'll meet your needs.

Key specs Olympus SP-600UZ
Price (MSRP) $249.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.3x2.8x3 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 15.4 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/none
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 15x, f3.5-5.4, 28-420mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4AVC/H.264 (MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,968x2,976 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, CIPA-rated life AA (4; alkaline included), 340 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC; 1GB internal memory (829MB available)
Bundled software Olympus ib (Windows)

A wide-angle lens with a 15x zoom is very seductive for many consumers. Just a few years ago it would have been impossible to find a camera with the SP-600UZ's lens at this camera's price and size. Yes, you can find smaller cameras now with that kind of shooting flexibility, but they'll cost you more than $200. Despite its long lens, though, the SP-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 and your shots generally go unedited and are destined for the Web, the SP-600UZ is OK. If you're willing to do a little sharpening with editing software, you'll get a bit more usability.

Extending the lens, though, may require you to bump up the ISO to keep the shutter speed fast enough to help with motion blur and hand shake. (It has mechanical image stabilization, but it didn't seem all that effective when we tried it.) The problem with raising the ISO is that it obliterates fine detail, leaving you with a soft, fuzzy image loaded with yellow blotching from noise. Add in color shifting from noise and noise suppression, and the results are, again, really only suitable for use at small sizes.

Color from the SP-600UZ is generally good, at least at the lower ISOs before noise causes the aforementioned problems. The white balance isn't very good indoors; the auto leans toward warm, while the presets are cool. On the upside, the camera's Perfect Shot Preview system lets you easily see how the white-balance settings will look before you shoot. You can then just pick the one that looks best to you. There is no manual white balance.

At the wide end of the lens there is asymmetrical barrel distortion on the left side. 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. 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.

Video quality is on par with a basic HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and undiscriminating TV viewing. Panning the camera will create judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras. The zoom lens does function while recording, but you have to shut off the mic before you start shooting. In other words, you get zoom but no audio, or you get audio but no zoom.

General shooting options Olympus SP-600UZ
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, 2, and 3
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Program Auto, Panorama, Beauty Mode, Magic Filter, Scene
Focus modes Multi AF, Spot AF, Tracking AF, Face AF
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide); 5.9 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Spot, Face
Color effects High Saturation, Low Saturation, Black & White, Sepia (available in Playback only)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 9 shots

The SP-600UZ is targeted at those who rarely if ever stray from fully automatic shooting. Its i-Auto mode uses scene recognition to decide what settings to use for the best results. Generally, it works fine. There is a Program Auto if you want to wrestle some control away from the camera; there is no control of shutter speed or aperture, though. There are 14 scene modes, too, and all the usual suspects are here such as Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sunset, and Fireworks. If your subject falls under one of those modes, I recommend using it.

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