Some super zooms look a little uncomfortable in their shells – a fusion of huge lens body stuck on an otherwise fairly compact camera. The Olympus takes a slightly more macho approach, looking more like a compact SLR than some of its competitors, see for example, the Nikon P80 or Fujifilm’s FinePix S8100fd, both recently reviewed here on Pocket-lint. The Olympus SP-570 UZ, however, brings a mite more zoom to the party.

The camera is fairly well laid-out, giving you access to a huge number of options, both via hard buttons and through the menus. The back is dominated by a very good, crisp, 2.7in LCD screen, the normal round four-way and enter buttons, plus options for reviewing images, shadow adjustment, display and menus, and an AE and AF lock option, hinting at some of the more advanced features on offer.

Main mode controls, however, are handled by one of the dials on the top, which sits atop the main power switch. There is also a second dial on the top (which we will come back to later) and a conveniently placed exposure compensation button. Main modes accessed through the dial include a full auto mode; programme which handles aperture and shutter speed for you (P); aperture priority (A); shutter priority (S); full manual (M); My Mode, scene, guide, video capture and image review – a fair number of options.

The Guide is somewhat strange is it gives you basic operation guidelines, but does allow you to activate some of those options directly, which is great for novices. However, it might be a little difficult to get stuck as there are a huge number of scene modes you can select, from the normal landscape and portrait modes, right through to auction, behind glass, snow, beach and so on. All these scenes might make the SP-570 UZ appeal to the less experienced photographer.

Of course, those who know what they want to achieve, or more advanced users, can opt for the other modes, P, A, S, M and My Mode. These advanced modes begin to make use of the additional dial on the top, which will flick through settings without having to move your thumb down to the back controls, which makes it comfortable to use.

My Mode allows users to define their own settings and store four original modes of their own, which will be handy for those who want to take shots of a particular type which are not already catered for; the process is simple too and can include things like flash settings as well.

The flash is a manual pop-up option, and although you’ll be alerted to the need for flash on the display, you’ll have to press the button yourself. There are a range of flash options, including various types of red-eye prevention. For those looking to get more from a flash, there is a standard hot shoe plate on the top.

Besides the LCD on the rear there is an electronic viewfinder, with a dioptre adjuster. Switching to the EVF is via another button on the back of the camera, which switches off the LCD (except for image preview). As is often the case, the EVF doesn’t really give you a very good image and suffers when compared to the sort of image you’d get from a TTL SLR.

So moving to the 20x optical zoom: this is motor driven and controlled via the ring around the lens. It can be a little slow to respond whilst moving from the wider angle and into the zoom as the hardware moves around inside. You get a 26-520mm (equiv.), so not terrifically wide-angle, but an impressive range none the less. There is an additional digital zoom, which you’d hope would be unnecessary, and unless you have a tripod, a stationary subject and perfect conditions, is not worth enabling.

Of course, even at the far end of the optical zoom, camera shake is an issue, so it needs to be very well supported. The camera does feature dual image stabilisation, which will aid in reducing blur, but the more you zoom, the greater the effect it is trying to counter: the image stabilisation is better put to task capturing images with lower ISOs.

ISO seems to be something of a yoyo factor and you’ll often find that the ISO is boosted to capture the image you want, which may result in the quality dropping off as noise becomes more apparent. At higher ISOs the sensor drops down to less pixels too to try to keep things under control, but noise is still apparent, so controlling the ISO through the settings is preferable to accepting that which the scene selection might give you.

Back to the lens and we found performance reasonable across a range of situations, if you control the shake then you’ll get good images towards the far end of the zoom, although dark corners do start to appear in brighter conditions. At the wide angle there is noticeable barrel distortion which can be seen on the LCD viewfinder, but you’d expect to find these things on this type of set-up.

Certainly, the zoom offers you a range of options that you simply don’t get on other types of camera, not from your compact and not without investing in more lenses for your SLR.

At times, bright conditions can be a little overwhelming resulting in a lack of detail in highlights or a leaching of colours. There is also evidence of chromatic aberration resulting in softer images which don’t have the sharp detail you might be looking for. Colours can be well represented, but we found as the light dropped, the colours tended to become too vivid, out of balance with surroundings.

But there is also a whole host of technology packed into the SP-570 UZ, such as face detection and a smile shot option. You can also capture images at 13fps (but only at 3MP) and there are some neat multi-shot options so you can get the exact frame of action you want. The latter of these options becomes something of a necessity because the shooting cycle can feel a little slow, especially compared to an SLR, but are also great fun to play back, watching changing expressions and so on.

There is also an intelligent panoramic option which is a breeze to use, but you do need an Olympus xD-Picture Card to take advantage of this. Arguably this is also one of the shortcomings of this camera – the reliance of the xD-Picture Card over the dominant SD/SDHC format (although this looks set to change in their cameras for the future). Olympus do themselves no favours by not supplying a card in the box either.

Battery life is also something of an issue. The camera takes four AA batteries, housed in the right-hand grip, and we found that we only got around 200 shots from full rechargables (2500mAh) and this was almost all without flash. This is an obvious disadvantage of a powered zoom so access to rechargables is a must – at least AA batteries are easy to get hold of.

Verdict

With so many features on offer, it is impossible to cover all of them without rewriting the manual. The Olympus SP-570 UZ looks good, feels good in the hand and build quality is impressive. But with every super zoom camera compromises have to be made. This arrangement will let you capture images that you might otherwise miss and with good light in the middle-zoom ranges you can get some great shots. However, at the price being asked for, you can find cheaper alternatives in the super zoom category.

Super zooms often appeal to those who want to get close to the action for holiday photos, on safari, for example, but if yourself wanting a zoom on a regular basis, then stepping up to a DSLR model will get you better results, albeit at additional cost.