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

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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.

5.6 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Image quality 5

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.

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.

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