Olympus SP-565 UZ Review
By Mike Flacy
For 2009, Olympus has expanded their 'SP' line of UltraZoom cameras with their latest addition, the SP-565 UZ. This new model shares the majority of its offerings with SP-570 from last year. In fact, they offer the same 10-megapixel imaging sensor, powerful 20x 'wide' optical zoom lens, dual image stabilization, Olympus TruePic III image processor, VGA sized movie mode, JPEG and RAW image capture, etc. Basically, Olympus has taken the already popular SP-570, shrank it down a little, taken away a few options (e.g. hot shoe), and named it the SP-565.
Like its big brother, the SP-565 is what I consider a 'Prosumer' model, offering a wide range of exposure options that should suit the needs of just about any user. For the inexperienced, you have the fully Automatic shooting mode as well as several scene modes. Novice users will enjoy the more advanced modes, like Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter speed priority, which will allow them the freedom to be as creative as they want. Lastly, the advanced users will appreciate the camera's full Manual exposure mode as well as the ability to shoot using RAW format, which will allow you to capture the highest quality and detailed images possible, with complete editing control on the computer (as well as some in-camera options).
Like past 'SP' cameras, the SP-565 is a very well-built camera that offers an SLR like feel in your hands. The large zoom barrel and hand-grip ensure you can get a firm hold on the camera. While the SP-565 offers almost all the same features as the SP-570, it's a bit smaller. In fact, this new model weighs about 2.5 ounces less, and has shaved off a few tenths of an inch from the dimensions. The camera controls are a bit simpler as well, which will be a relief to beginners. The feature I missed the most was the Zoom control ring on the lens, which added to the SLR-like operation of the SP-570. Overall, I found the placement of the controls was quite comfortable, falling just within reach of my fingertips. The menu system has changed only slightly, so users who have owned 'SP' series models in the past will be right at home.
The SP-565 utilizes a 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD screen, which is just a hair smaller than the display on past models. This is a high-resolution (230k pixel) screen that features great color reproduction, giving you a better look at the images you've just captured. I found the LCD was usable in just about any lighting condition, including direct sunlight. While there were still a few angles that reflected the bright light, it never caused any problems with framing. You also have the option of using the EVF (Electronic ViewFinder). It's not as impressive as the LCD screen, but it is easier to see in bright conditions. Just remember, this is a tiny LCD screen in the eyepiece, so it will not save battery power like an optical viewfinder would.
Performance from the SP-565 has not improved much over the SP-570. When turning the camera on, it took 3.5-4.5 seconds before the first image could be captured. The shutter lag was less that 1/10 of a second when pre-focused or 4/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting in single shot mode, I was able to capture an image every 2.5 seconds, which is much slower than its competition. Enabling the flash slowed this time slightly to about 3.3 seconds between frames. Using the RAW image capture mode, the camera could capture one image every 5-6 seconds.
There are also 5 continuous shooting modes to choose from, Sequential, High-Speed1, High-Speed2, Hi2 Pre-Capture, and AF sequential. Using Sequential mode allowed me to capture 4 images in 3.5 seconds, before filling the buffer. It then took the camera 7 seconds to flush its cache. Hi1 lowers the resolution to 5M, and captured 30 frames in just 2.5 seconds. However, it then took the camera 22 seconds to clear the buffer. Hi2 decreases the resolution even further, down to 3M, and captured 30 frames in just 2.0 seconds. Again, the buffer took a very long time to flush at about 30 seconds. HI2 Pre-Capture performs the same as the normal Hi2 mode, however the camera will capture the first 10 frames before you press the shutter release. Lastly we have the AF Sequential mode, which acquires focus for each new shot, and performs much like single shot mode, about 2.5 seconds between frames. All burst sequences are saved as an animated clip, that plays back like a video file. You do have the option to expand the clip and view each frame individually by pressing the Custom/Sequential Playback button on the back of the camera. In each mode, the EVF/LCD quickly displays the last image captured, making it possible to follow a moving subject. All of our tests were completed using a Olympus M+ 2GB xD memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Results may vary depending on lighting conditions, battery power, memory card, camera settings, etc.
The overall image quality both indoors and out is excellent from this camera. The 10M image sensor combined with the TruePic III image processor help the SP-565 produce beautiful photographs. Thanks to the white balance and AE (AutoExposure) systems, these images show very pleasing exposures with natural color saturation. Our sample images were sharp with good contrast, and very little edge softness present. Outdoor shooting can be a lot of fun with the powerful 20x optical zoom lens. It offers a 35mm equivalent focal range of approx. 26 - 520mm, providing a level of versatility that is matched by very few cameras. The 26mm wide angle extreme will afford vast landscapes as well as nice large group portraits. All the while, the telephoto capabilities will allow you to focus in on the smallest of objects far off in the distance. The zoom mechanism is not continuous, however I found that there are ample steps between wide and telephoto to help you precisely frame your subject. The lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at the wide end as well as some pincushioning at the telephoto extremes, respectively. Chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) on the other hand were very well controlled and not an issue in our sample images.
The manual pop-up flash unit has a maximum range of up to 21' at wide angle using ISO 400. This is a powerful range, which will work well for individual or group photography. I found the built-in flash was able to produce pleasing indoor images in small to moderate sized rooms, however it lacks the power to illuminate large open rooms; like a church sanctuary, gymnasium, etc. This is where the flash hot shoe featured on past models would come into play. When using the dedicated Portrait scene mode along with the Face Detection system, I was able to capture pleasing individual close-up portraits. The Face Detection system found and locked onto my subject's face quickly, and had not problems with children as well as multiple faces.
The SP-565 continues to capture standard video at 640x480 or 320x240 with selectable frame rates of 15 or 30fps. I was hoping to see some sort of HD mode on this camera, as HD video is becoming a standard option on more and more digital cameras these days. Like past models, the SP-565 captures nice smooth video with very little compression noise. You can record audio with sound clips, however you have to be sure to enable this option as the default setting is off. There are also options for white balancing, metering, etc. The file sizes are a little large, so if you plan on taking a lot of video, make sure you add a large xD memory card to your purchase.
The model continues the use of four standard AA-type cells. This means you can use a variety of different batteries, from off-the-shelf alkaline cells to high-capacity NiMH batteries. We highly recommend the latter, as they offer much more power (better life), last longer, and will save you money in the long run. The best part about the use of AA-type batteries is that in a bind you can pick up a set just about anywhere. I found the SP-565 is very good at conserving power, and allowed me to capture over 238 shots and several movies as well as conclude our other test on a single set of 2500mAh NiMH batteries.
Bottom Line - the Olympus SP-565 UZ is a very powerful 'prosumer' model. With excellent image quality, an extremely versatile zoom range, and loads of exposure options for All users, the SP-565 is sure to be a very popular model in 2009. The only area I feel this camera lacks in is shooting performance, which I believe is partly due to the fact that Olympus is still using the very slow xD memory card format. While very similar to the SP-570 UZ, this newer model offers a much better 'bang for your buck' with a MSRP of only US$349. Be sure to check out our buy boxes below for the best prices currently available online.
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