By far the chunkiest member of Olympus' refreshed consumer line-up is the SP-620UZ. It's a hefty beast of a camera, with four AA batteries in the grip and a 21x zoom to the front, equivalent to 25-525mm in a regular 35mm camera.
You can pick one up now for around £160.
SP-620UZ versus SZ-14
It's worth comparing it directly to its sibling, the Olympus SZ-14. The biggest difference between the two is resolution -- the SZ-14 tops out at 14 megapixels but this extends to 16 megapixels on the SP-620UZ, albeit on the same size sensor.
Despite their differences in size, with the SP-620UZ close to twice the depth and more than double the weight of the SZ-14, the latter actually has the longer zoom, stretching to 24x, or 600mm in a regular 35mm camera.
So why would you buy the SP-620UZ? Apart from the higher resolution, which will tempt those of you who shop on headline figures alone, the primary benefit is the brightness of the lens. While the SZ-14 is fractionally brighter at wide angle, with a maximum aperture of f/3.0, compared to the SP-620UZ's f/3.1, it's stepped down by more than one stop at full telephoto, stretching to just f/6.9 compared to the SP-620UZ's f/5.8.
Comparing these figures directly is a little unfair as we'd expect the SZ-14 to be a little darker on account of its longer zoom. But it's still a significant margin. That could well be enough to recommend the SP-620UZ to those who are willing to use the extra two megapixels to crop their shots, thus compensating for the shorter zoom, while benefiting from brighter results and shorter exposures at lower sensitivities.
I started my tests with the SP-620UZ's macro performance. When set to super-macro, this gets you to within 1cm of your subject. With the camera set to iAuto throughout my tests, I let it self-select the regular macro setting, which gets you to 20cm in wide angle and 1.8m at full telephoto.
The results were very good, with a sharp sweet spot at the focal point and a pleasing fall-off in either direction from there. There's plenty of detail in this image of shells on a shore, with well handled reflections and clear differentiation between them, even where shells of very similar colours rest up against each other.
When shooting at more conventional distances, the SP-620UZ kept up the high performance. This deserted funfair has plenty of bright colours and surface textures, each of which the camera took in its stride. However, while the colours are true to the originals, when you zoom to 100 per cent, there is a distinct dappling evident on some of the sharp contrasts. This can be seen at the point where the railing on the side of the ride passed in front of the helicopter, and where the red backplate meets the back of the seat.
I saw similar dappling with the SZ-14. As was the case with that camera, it's not visible unless you zoom in to full size. Should you be using your images online, or printing them, this won't be an issue unless you crop fairly tightly on your results and enlarge them.
The SP-620UZ handled bright colours extremely well, with the painted hoardings on this closed cafe closely matching the original.
It did a similarly good job of exposing the very bright white walls of this seafront cafe that were exposed under full sunlight. However, it did less well with the sea itself and the sloped walkway leading down to the water. In this shot, there's a slight rainbow effect on the surface of the sea, while the walkway is muddied and indistinct, with lost details.
Furthermore, when shooting cold colours in more subdued situations, such as under overcast skies, the results in some cases were pale and washed out. I used automatic white balance throughout my tests to replicate the manner in which most hobbyists will use this camera. As a result, the vibrant green of these bushes was rendered unattractive, with an unrealistic grey-green.
However, even under these conditions, there's plenty of detail across all texture types. In the shot below of a carved totem pole, it's easy to see both the grain of the wood and the individual carving chips used to expose the character.
When dealing with warmer colours, such as the distinctive ginger coats of these Suffolk Punch horses, it produced a more balanced result than when shooting a scene dominated by green foliage. The colours came close to matching the originals. Note that with this image, the camera was pointing in the same direction as the bushes and the bench above, so its position in relation to the sun was unchanged.
Moving indoors, I tasked the SP-620UZ with the regular still-life test, which involved shooting a collection of everyday objects three times under different lighting conditions -- studio lighting, ambient light and using the onboard flash.
All cameras perform best under studio lighting as it produces the most balanced result and often allows for the use of a lower sensitivity setting. Under these conditions, the SP-620UZ produced a very balanced result, with strong, even colours and good, sharp contrasts, having self-selected ISO 200 and an aperture of f/3.8 for a shallow depth of field.
Reflections in both the bottle of ink and the wall of the spice box were clear and well rendered, and the print on the label of the spirit bottle was sharp and clean.
When relying on ambient light, the SP-620UZ hiked its sensitivity to ISO 400, and in the process it introduced a degree of noise to the image that wasn't evident before. This impacted the clarity of the writing on the ink and spirit bottles, and also led to some degraded clarity in the weave of the underlying cloth.
Activating the flash, which is done by manually lifting the bulb from its seat on top of the lens barrel, enabled it to reduce its sensitivity to ISO 100, but without any marked difference in the level of clarity between this and the image shot under ambient light. However, it did lead to significantly richer colours, although as it compensated for the bright foreground, the rear of the scene was significantly darkened for a slightly unbalanced overall result.
The SP-620UZ's native video resolution is 720p at 30 frames per second, although this is supplemented by 640x480-pixel and 160x120-pixel options, which are ripe for shooting Internet footage. I used 720p in my tests.
Options are few and far between, extending to image quality and whether or not you'd like to use the microphone. You can't zoom while filming, most likely to avoid noise on the soundtrack. I would have preferred that this decision be left to the user, and supplemented by an option to cut ambient wind noise on the soundtrack, as this was quite obvious at some points.
However, wind noise aside, the soundtrack was very clearly recorded, thanks to the sensitive mic, and the image quality was good, although not brilliant. Certainly, I'd be happy putting it online, but perhaps not burning it to DVD.
The SP-620UZ performed well throughout my tests, but it doesn't beat the SZ-14 in Olympus' refreshed line-up. While some will point to the additional two megapixels under the SP-620UZ's hood, I'm more interested in the SZ-14's longer zoom and smaller, more convenient form factor. I also prefer its rechargeable battery to the SP-620UZ's four AA cells.
However, in terms of quality and features, there's very little to choose between them, so it's going to come down to personal preference. The best advice, as always, would be to see if you can get your hands on both models, courtesy of a high street retailer, and see which one takes your fancy. If you can't do that though, go for the SZ-14.