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Olympus SP-800UZ review: Olympus SP-800UZ

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With the introduction of the Olympus SP-800UZ and its lower-end linemate, the SP-600UZ, Olympus turned its S-series models into nothing more than snapshot cameras with long lenses. The new models have no manual and semimanual shooting modes and instead focus on automatic and scene mode shooting. While this might disappoint Olympus megazoom fans, the move makes sense given competing models from other manufacturers, as I'm sure there are plenty of people who just want a simple megazoom point-and-shoot.

Olympus SP-800UZ
5.6

Olympus SP-800UZ

The Good

2GB of built-in storage; one-touch movie recording; full, searchable user manual stored in camera.

The Bad

Soft, noisy photos above ISO 200; long shutter lag; ineffective image stabilization; no electronic viewfinder; poor battery life.

The Bottom Line

If you care more about having a long lens at a low price than photo quality or manual controls, the Olympus SP-800UZ is an option.

However, those expecting excellent photo and shooting performance at the 800UZ's low price will likely be disappointed. It doesn't do well in low-light conditions or indoors without a flash and is too slow to use regularly for 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-800UZ
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.2x2.9x3.3 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 15.1 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 30x, f2.8-5.6, 28-840mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4AVC/H.264 (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,288x3216 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 200 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes
Storage media SD/SDHC; 2GB internal memory (1.8GB available)
Bundled software Olympus ib (Windows)

A wide-angle lens with a 30x zoom is very seductive for many consumers. Just a few years ago it would have been impossible to find a camera with the 800UZ's lens at this camera's price and size. However, like many inexpensive megazoom cameras, this Olympus has photo quality typical of low-end point-and-shoots: It takes OK 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 (close-ups are the exception). Basically, if you shoot in full daylight, photos will look decent--just don't do a lot of cropping or enlarging or viewing at full size. You probably don't want to use it indoors or with fast-moving subjects, either.

Sometimes increasing the ISO is unavoidable, such as when using the zoom lens and to keep the shutter speed fast enough to help with motion blur and hand shake. (The 800UZ has mechanical image stabilization, but it didn't seem all that effective and keeping such a long lens still without the benefit of an electronic viewfinder is frustrating.) The problem with raising the ISO is that it obliterates fine detail, leaving you with a soft, fuzzy image loaded with yellow and blue blotching. Add in color shifting from noise and noise suppression and the results are, again, really only suitable for use at small sizes, if at all.

Color from the 800UZ 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, Olympus' 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.

Olympus doesn't do any in-camera correction for barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. Pincushioning when the lens is extended is not a problem, though. Center sharpness is not good and the image gets visibly softer out to the sides, especially the left side and corners, where subjects can look downright smeary. Olympus also doesn't do anything to improve fringing in high-contrast areas of photos. It gets particularly bad when the lens is extended.

Video quality is on par with a basic HD pocket video camera; good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating 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-800UZ
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, 2, and 3
Recording modes iAuto, Program Auto, Panorama, Beauty Mode, Magic Filter, Scene
Focus modes Multi AF, Spot AF, Tracking AF, Face AF, Selective 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) 24 shots

Unlike past S-series models, the SP-800UZ has no semimanual or manual shooting modes and is targeted at those who rarely if ever stray from fully automatic shooting. Its iAuto mode uses scene recognition to decide what settings to use for the best results. Generally, it works fine, but there is a Program Auto if you want to wrestle some control away from the camera, such as setting ISO sensitivity or white balance. There's a bracketing option, too, that will automatically take three shots at three different exposures.

Of course there are scene modes to play with as well--17 of them--and all the usual suspects are here such as Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sunset, and Fireworks. If your subject falls under one of those, I recommend using it.

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 it puts 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.

Olympus also includes a Beauty Mode for smoothing skin tone and texture in portraits and four of its Magic Filters--Pop Art, Drawing, Fish Eye, and Pin Hole--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.

For shooting close-ups, the camera has Macro and Super Macro options. The former can focus as close as 5.9 inches from a subject while the latter lets you get up to 0.4 inch away. Usually megazooms produce their best fine detail in their macro modes, and that's at least partially true for the 800UZ. In its Macro setting, the lens is set to its widest position and produces good fine detail. The Super Macro extends the lens a bit so you can get closer to your subject, but in turn makes the photos softer. If your goal is to enlarge your close-ups to examine details, stick with the plain Macro setting.

If the photo quality problems didn't turn you off, the SP-800UZ's shooting performance just might. It has a pretty nasty shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed. In bright conditions, the shutter lag is 0.8 second. In dimmer lighting that time increases to 1.5 seconds. Shot-to-shot times aren't great either: 2.8 seconds without flash and 3.2 seconds with the flash. From off to first shot takes roughly the same time at about 3 seconds. Continuous shooting is the one high point, shooting at 1.1 frames per second at full resolution. It can't compete with cameras using faster BSI (backside-illuminated) CMOS sensors, but it's decent for a CCD-sensor camera. The 800UZ does have three reduced-resolution burst modes capturing 5-, 3-, and 2-megapixel images at 7.7 frames per second, 10.2fps, and 15.2fps, respectively. The photos are noisy and soft and lack detail, looking more like frame grabs from video than stills. They're best suited for Web use or very small prints with no cropping or enlarging.

Were it not for its few nice features and low price, the SP-800UZ probably wouldn't be worth considering at all. The camera is fairly comfortable to hold and use, but, again, the lack of an EVF makes it very difficult to hold still with the lens fully extended. Also, people with larger hands and clumsy fingers may have trouble pressing some buttons on the back as they are small and very close together. The menu system is easy to follow and looks pretty, too, though it is sluggish at times.

The camera uses a small rechargeable battery for power that simply doesn't last long. Using the zoom a lot and needing to use the 3-inch LCD for framing shots all the time doesn't help. As for ports, the camera has a multiconnector for connecting to a computer or A/V out and a Micro-HDMI output. The SP-800UZ can store photos and video to SDHC cards or to 1.8GB of available internal memory. The total amount is 2GB, but Olympus put a full, searchable user manual on the camera as well as software for organizing, editing, and sharing. It's Windows only, but the package is actually pretty good. Note: Though the 800UZ asks you to perform an "initialization" the first time you turn it on, you can skip this. It's just to set date and time, register the camera with Olympus, and install the software and user manual. The camera is usable with a Mac, but this initialization and software are for Windows computers only.

The Olympus SP-800UZ is a cheap but attractive megazoom camera with a decent feature set for automatic shooters. Its photo quality is only good in bright lighting conditions, preferably outdoors, and its shooting performance is best suited for stationary subjects and patient users. If you're after sharp photos indoors and outside, or need speedy shooting performance or more control over results, skip this camera.

Shooting speed in seconds
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Nikon Coolpix P100
1.8 
1.4 
0.6 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
1.8 
3.5 
0.8 
0.5 
Samsung HZ50W
3.9 
2.8 
0.9 
0.5 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40
1.5 
1.6 
0.9 
0.5 
Fujifilm FinePix HS10
2.2 
2.4 
1.1 
0.7 
Olympus SP-800UZ
3 
2.8 
1.5 
0.8 

Typical continuous-shooting speed in fps
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

Olympus SP-800UZ
5.6

Olympus SP-800UZ

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 5Image quality 5