Olympus Stylus Digital 600 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Stylus 600 is yet another weather-resistant model from Olympus this year, offering
some very appealing features like a 6-megapixel CCD imager, 3x optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch
LCD, etc. This versatile consumer model is aimed toward the user who likes the ability to
just point and shoot, no matter what the weather conditions are. Its Program mode is fully
automatic with more advanced settings for ISO, White balance, Metering and more. You can
also choose from one of 24 scene-specific modes that are programmed for a multitude of
different shooting conditions.
Ergonomics were good. Its small size allows it to be carried in almost any size pocket, however it is still large enough to fit comfortably in your hands. The controls are well placed and functional, with your thumb falling naturally over the various controls located next to the LCD. I found the Menu system easy to navigate and as always, I loved the shortcut menus which are handy for quickly changing settings. The large 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 very useful feature considering the LCD is the only viewfinder. The only downfall I found to this display is that it is very prone to fingerprints. Like all Stylus series cameras, the Stylus 600 features a durable metal exterior and is made water tight by rubber gaskets on the inside to seal gaps and prevent moisture from entering the body. This allows it to be used in a gentle sprinkle or a downpour, however it can not be submerged. If your picture taking leads to the beach and into the water, then the optional PT-029 Underwater Housing is required.
Shooting performance was robust. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 2 seconds, this includes the time it takes to extend the lens and boot up. Shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including autofocus. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 1.4 seconds without the use of the flash and about 2.5 - 3.5 seconds with the flash. The Stylus 600 offers two sequential (burst) modes (Continuous, and High Speed Continuous.) Using the standard mode, I was able to capture 10 frames in about 6.4 seconds, all the while the buffer did not fill. With High Speed mode, the image size is reduced to SQ1, and I captured 18 frames in abut 3.5 seconds. When using both modes, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured, making it somewhat difficult to follow a moving subject; too bad it doesn't feature an optical viewfinder. Our tests were done using an Olympus 512MB xD-picture card, SHQ quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The image quality of its SHQ images was not quite up to par for a 6-megapixel model. While it did capture images that show good overall exposure and color balance, our samples were a little on the soft side, especially along the edges of the frame; some even had a grainy look to them. White balance was accurate when using its Auto setting, and you can also choose from one of 6 presets. Noise levels were average in both high and low contrast areas, increasing as the sensitivity is raised. When using ISO 600, or 1600 the image size is reduced to SQ1 (approx. 2-megapixels.) Our outdoor portraits were also soft, however a few seconds in any image editor will take care of that. Its 3x optical zoom lens offers the typical amount of versatility in composing your shots. At 35mm, you can capture decent landscapes and group portraits, while its 105mm telephoto end helps bring your distant subjects a bit closer. While I was pleased with how precise the lens was, it was quite loud when zooming.
Indoors is where the Stylus 600 performs best, even though it was designed to be out in the elements. Its flash has an above average range of about 13 feet. I found it worked very well when taking portraits in medium sized rooms. When you need an even greater flash range, Olympus' Bright Capture technology can extend this range to 26 feet, by increasing the ISO sensitivity to 1600. However when using ISO 1600, the image size is dropped to SQ1 (1600x1200.) The autofocus system worked quite well in low-ambient lighting, however it was very loud and would benefit from an AF-assist lamp. Macro mode produced pleasing results, it allows you to focus on a subject 8 inches away or you can opt to use the Super Macro mode and get as close as 2.8 inches. The camera did an excellent job of controlling the flash when using either of these modes, "throttling down" so the subject wasn't overexposed.
Although it can record QuickTime movies at resolutions of 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120, I was a little disappointed that there was not a built-in microphone or speaker included on this model to record and playback sound. Because sound is not recorded, the zoom may be used during recording. But how good is a movie without sound? The continuous AF system did well when following a moving subject, but had a little trouble when zooming, going out of focus for a second or two. Compression noise was lower than normal, but then again a 10 second video clip is around 9.5 MB and that's without the audio.
The Stylus 600 is powered by a small 3.7v 1230mAh LI-12B rechargeable lithium battery, which is charged by the handy LI-10C charger. Because it charges the battery packs out of the camera, it's a great idea to have a spare laying around so you always have a fresh pack. 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 65 pictures) and conduct some of our other tests before the 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. 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.
Bottom line - while we love its speedy performance, helpful features, and of course all of those "cool" scene modes, the mediocre image quality really brings it down. With an MSRP of $299 it offers an OK value. If you love these weather resistant models and want the most resolute one out there, we feel you should check out the Stylus 800. It offers more resolution at 8-megapixels, has more exposure control and better image quality for about $100 more.
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