Sunday, April 29, 2007

Olympus SP-550 UZ Digital Camera

That's not the only trick up this Olympus' sleeve. The 18x optical zoom begins at a wide 28mm angle, F2.8, stopping down to F4.5 at the telephoto end. The SP-550UZ uses the CCD shift-type stabilization system to compensate for camera shake at longer focal lengths, though it wasn't clear on our preproduction model how many stops advantage it provides since we couldn't test it out. Like the Panasonics, there are two stabilization modes to choose from; we assumed that one would turn the system on continuously and the other only when you click on the shutter.

However, no amount of image stabilization will help if you have fidgety subjects, so this Olympus touts a high-sensitivity setting of up to ISO 6,400, allowing you to shoot at a faster shutter speed to freeze subject movements. As the set was a preproduction model, we're reserving comments on the image quality until we get our hands on a full commercial unit.

The SP-550UZ feels surprisingly comfortable in our hands. Our first finger rests just where it's supposed to be--at the shutter button with zoom lever--and the rubber coating both on the front side of the hand grip and thumb rest area provides non-slip handling. Unlike cameras that have their lens off-center (this Olympus, too), the SP-550UZ compensates for the uneven weight distribution with the mass of four AA-sized batteries used to power the shooter.

On the front, this Olympus looks like the Canon PowerShot S3 IS and could also easily pass off as a digital SLR. A button to the right pops up the flash with a solid "tok", raising it 2cm above the body. Unfortunately, there's no manual zoom ring on the lens and no hotshoe adapter for external flash units. Like the PowerShot S3 IS, this Olympus uses a removable lens cap.

The rear estate of the SP-550UZ is dominated by a 2.5-inch 230K-pixel LCD and dedicated function buttons common to most cameras. The four-way directional control lets you adjust exposure compensation, cycle flash options, set a 2- or 12-second timer, and shoot in macro as close as 1cm. There are also individual keys to call up the camera's menu, switch to picture review, delete photos and change display preferences for the LCD panel and the electronic viewfinder.

On the bottom edge is where you find the battery compartment which has a sliding lock switch for added security. Just next to it is a plastic tripod receptacle, which may wear out faster than if it had been metallic.

Other features of the SP-550UZ include full manual shooting with the LCD showing in real-time how your shot will turn out when changing the aperture or shutter speed; a 15 frames-per-second burst mode in 1.2-megapixel resolution which we weren't able to test out; and a guide on the mode dial that would automatically adjust the camera settings for shooting in various scenarios.

One last thing. Unlike Fujifilm which recently adopted the popular SD media format, the Olympus SP-550UZ is sticking to the proprietary xD-Picture Card.

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