Olympus Stylus Digital 500 Review
Yet another "weather proof" digital model from Olympus, the Stylus 500 is a
durable point-n-shoot that boasts 5-megapixels of resolution combined with
a 3x optical zoom lens. It offers fully automatic operation with
adjustments for ISO, Metering, White Balance, etc. There's also 19 pre-programmed scene modes to ensure you get optimum results in a wide variety
of different shooting environments.
The ergonomics are great. The controls are well placed and functional, and the menu system is logically organized. I found using the "pinch" technique works well, and when using this method your thumb falls naturally over the 4-way selector and Menu buttons. Its massive 2.5-inch "HyperCrystal" LCD works great outdoors, even on the brightest of days, and when used in low-ambient lighting it "gains up" to help brighten your subject; this is a useful feature considering the LCD is the only viewfinder. Like past Stylus series cameras, the Stylus 500 employs a metal exterior and durable rubber materials on the inside to seal gaps and prevent moisture from entering the body, they can survive a gentle sprinkle or a torrential downpour. If you're like me, your picture taking probably stops when the rain starts falling. Nobody wants their expensive camera ruined by water damage and with this camera it's no longer a problem.
Shooting performance was above average for a camera in this class. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 2.5 seconds, this includes the time it takes extend the lens itself and boot up. Shutter lag was a fast 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 4/10 of a second including autofocus. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 2.2 seconds without the use of the flash and about 4.5 to 6 seconds with the flash. When using its continuous (burst) mode, I was able to capture 5 frames in about 2.3 seconds before the buffer filled. It then took approx. 8 seconds for the camera to clear its buffer. Our tests were done using an Olympus 512MB xD-picture card, SHQ 2560x1920 quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings a default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
It's powered by a small but powerful 3.7v 1230mAh LI-12B rechargeable lithium battery. Olympus does not specify the battery life but our testing revealed it to be quite good. I was able to capture all of our sample images (approx 85 pictures) and conduct our other test before that camera posted a low battery warning. Exactly how many pictures you can capture is going to vary depending on how many are taken with flash, how often the lens is zoomed in or out and how frequently you change settings or review pictures on the LCD. As with all cameras that use a proprietary battery, we recommend the purchase of a second battery. Lithium batteries hold their charge much longer than NiMH type batteries and can be "topped off" whenever desired without shortening the life span of the pack.
I was pleased with the overall image quality when using its SHQ 2560x1920 mode. The majority of our sample images were sharp, well exposed, and colors seem nicely saturated. Like past Olympus cameras, the Stylus 500 has a very accurate Auto white balance setting, even when using the camera in mixed lighting conditions. You can also manual choose one of seven white balance presets. It also excels at portrait photography, especially when using its "Portrait" scene mode. This automatic mode choose all aspects of the exposure process and does it quite well. Our indoor and outdoor portraits were sharp and skin tones were very natural. You can also record Quicktime movies at resolutions of 320x240 or 160x120. Our sample wasn't that sharp and there was plenty of compression noise. Also the position of the microphone makes it pick up ANY wind that's present.
Bottom line - we were pleased with the Stylus 500. If offers versatility with its weather resistance and multitude of exposure modes. With a street price of only $399, it offers an excellent value. With 5-megapixels you have plenty of resolution to play with and still be able to create photo-quality 8x10-inch or larger prints. If you're in the market for an all-weather digicam be sure to also check out the Olympus Stylus 410 and the Stylus Verve as well.
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