The Olympus SP-570 UZ is an extremely promising superzoom, with the widest op tical zoom range of any compact camera at 20x, plus built-in image stabilisation, a 1cm macro mode, full manual controls and the ability to shoot at an incredible ISO 6,400. It looks like a camera that can do everything, and at a street price of around £250, it easily undercuts even the cheapest digital SLR.
Many superzoom compacts are just a little too small to get a proper grip on, but the SP-570 UZ feels great, with a good-sized rubber-coated grip for your right hand. That leaves your left hand free for turning the wide, grippy zoom ring -- an unusual feature on a compact. Olympus is clearly trying to give the SP-570 UZ more of an SLR 'feel'.
The autofocus is quite fast, but there's a manual focus mode too, activated by a handy switch on the side of the lens. This is useful for fast-moving subjects, because you can 'pre-focus' on where the action is going to take place -- this eliminates any shutter lag.
The controls are really good. The main mode dial is large and clear and, while you can use the menus to change the white balance, ISO and so on, you can also use the interactive display: all the current settings are shown on the screen, and you highlight the one you want to change with the directional buttons, then turn the control dial to change the setting.
Overall, the SP-570's build quality is excellent. It feels a cut above the average superzoom and has the kind of solidity and finish you'd normally only expect in an SLR.
The picture quality, however, is only average for this type of camera. Packing 10 million pixels into a 1/2.33-inch sensor means that noise will always be an issue and that detail will be limited. Sure enough, at lower ISOs the Olympus turns in some good results, with bright, clear colours and crisp detail. Even here, though, there's some 'smudging' in finer textures.
By ISO 200, the smudging and the detail are starting to get worse, and although this camera goes all the way up to ISO 6,400, you'd have to be pretty undiscerning to put up with the results beyond ISO 400. The specs say that the ISO 6,400 setting is at reduced resolution (5 megapixels), but on our camera this applied to the ISO 3,200 setting too.
And while the use of a proper zoom ring is good, the lens mechanism is still driven electrically rather than mechanically. This gives it a kind of elasticated, disconnected feel, which is especially noticeable if you try to change the zoom setting quickly. That 20x zoom range is, of course, one of the main selling points of this camera. Disappointingly, it's not very sharp at this maximum zoom setting. The quality is fine at about 10x, but does drop off beyond that.
The other issue is the interactive display. For some reason, it takes around a second to appear when you press the 'Func' button on the back of the camera. This adds to the slightly sluggish, unresponsive feel this camera produces when you try to use it in a hurry.
The Olympus SP-570 UZ shows how the ability to do something doesn't necessarily mean it's done well. On paper, this is a cracking camera with amazing specifications, but while it's well-designed and well-made, the average picture quality and poor high-zoom and high-ISO performance are a blunt reality check.
Edited by Nick Hide