Steve's Conclusion

Steve's SnapShot
  • 12-megapixels of resolution
  • 26x optical zoom lens covers 26-676mm
  • 2.7-inch LCD with 230K pixels
  • High-resolution EVF
  • TruPic III processor
  • Movies at 640x480 or 320x240 with audio, with a frame rage of 15 or 30fps
  • 10fps Burst @ 3-megapixels (we achieved 15.8fps)
  • AA power source
  • xD-Picture card memory slot
  • HDMI output

  • Vast zoom with 26-676mm equivalent focal range
  • Captures pleasing 12-megapixel photos
  • Improved performance over past models
  • Versatile exposure mode options
  • Larger LCD (2.7-inch)
  • Powerful built-in flash unit
  • Excellent build quality
  • Good high ISO performance up to ISO 800
  • No flash hot shoe
  • No HD video format (still records best @ VGA resolution)
  • ISO 1600 and higher settings show a great deal of noise
  • No RAW still image capture mode
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.9 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 4/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 1.9 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 2.0 - 2.5 seconds
  • Sequential burst = 1.3fps
  • High-Speed1 burst = 10.7fps (@ 5M)
  • High-Speed2 burst= 15.8fps (@ 3M)
Bottom Line
The SP-590 is a welcomed addition to the "SP" series line, offering the image quality and features one would expect from Olympus, with improved shooting performance.
Pick This Up If...
You want a versatile camera that can be used by every member of your household or office
Olympus continues to produce powerful ultra-zoom (UZ) models, with the latest being the SP-590UZ. Like past models, the SP-590 offers power and versatility, while at the same time still providing an easy to use platform. Key features of this model include a broad 26x optical zoom, dual image stabilization, 12-megapixels, TruPic III processor, 2.7-inch LCD, high-resolution EVF, AA battery power source, and 10fps burst speeds (@ 3-megapixels). Like the SP-565, there is not a hot shoe on the SP-590, and Olympus also took away their RAW image capture capabilities.

This is a "Prosumer" camera, often called a "bridge camera", which offers a wide range of exposure options that one would find on an entry-level dSLR, helping the camera suit the needs of just about any user. For those with less photographic experience, the SP-590 provides several fully automatic shooting modes. Novice users will enjoy the more advanced modes, like Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter speed priority, which will allow them the freedom to explore more advanced exposure settings, while still having help from the camera. Lastly, advanced users will appreciate the control granted by the camera's full Manual exposure mode as well as various in-camera editing options that will allow for more creative photos.

Like past "SP" cameras, the SP-590 is well put together model, offering an SLR like feel with the long zoom barrel and large hand-grip. While the SP-590 offers many of the same features we saw on the SP-565, it's a bit larger. While not quite as wide as its predecessor, the SP-590 is longer, taller, and heavier. This is not necessaryly a bad thing as the this means there is more to hold on to. The extra weight is minimal (about 2 ounces), and it's not likely one would notice the difference. We still miss the Zoom control ring mounted around the lens, that was found on the SP-570 from back in 2007. The control layout it comfortable, with all of the various buttons and switches falling within reach of your right thumb and index fingers. Olympus has increased the size of the LCD on the SP-590 to 2.7-inches. This is a welcomed addition, offering a better view of your subject when framing, as well as increased text size and larger menu icons. The display offers the same 230k pixels of resolution, which provides a nice clear image with good color reproduction. Inside the eyepiece is a tiny LCD called an EVF (short for Electronic ViewFinder). This screen can display all of the same information as the main LCD on the back, and can also be used for image review. I found the EVF was nice and bright, and like the main monitor, worked well in various lighting conditions. Olympus also includes a handy diopter for adjusting the the EVF to fit your eyesight.

The SP-590 offers much better performance that its predecessors; something they were all lagging behind in. When turning the camera on, it took only 1.9 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 1.9 seconds, which is over 1/2 a second faster than we saw with the SP-565. Enabling the flash slowed this time slightly to about 2-2.5 seconds between frames.

There are also 5 continuous shooting modes to choose from, Sequential, High-Speed1, High-Speed2, Hi2 Pre-Capture, and AF sequential as well as a bracketing option. Using Sequential mode allowed me to capture 6 images in 4.5 seconds (1.3fps), before filling the buffer. This surpassed Olympus' claims of 1fps @ full resolution. It then took the camera about 13 seconds to completely flush its cache. Hi1 lowers the resolution to 5M, and captured 30 frames in just 2.8 seconds (10.7fps). However, it then took the camera 20 seconds to clear the full buffer. Hi2 decreases the resolution even further, down to 3M, and captured 30 frames in just 1.9 seconds (15.8fps). Again, the buffer took about 18 seconds to clear. 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 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. Overall, the SP-590 performed above the claims represented by Olympus, a huge improvement over past models; kudos to Oly for this one. All of our tests were completed using a Olympus M+ 2GB xD memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, Rec View off, 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 SP-590's overall image quality is very pleasing. Using the 12M Fine mode, the camera produced excellent exposures with very natural colors using the default settings of the camera. Images are nice and sharp, with only a slight amount of edge softness present at the wide end of the zoom range. Like I mentioned above, the SP-590 boasts a powerful 26x optical zoom that covers a range of 26-676mm (in 35mm equivalence). This lens provides a degree versatility that is matched by very few cameras on the market today. The 26mm wide angle extreme will afford vast landscapes as well as work well for indoor photography, like large group portraits. At the same time, you have the ability to bring the smallest of objects far off in the distance up close with 676mm of in your face magnification. While the zoom mechanism is not continuous, it does allow you to precisely frame your subject, as I counted approx. 76 steps between wide angle and telephoto; it would allow to "bump" the focal length by small increment, perfect for precise framing. Like past models, we saw moderate barrel distortion at the wide end as well as some pincushioning at the telephoto extremes, respectively. The Sp-590 also controls chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) very well, with very few traces in our sample images.

When shooting indoors, the manual pop-up flash unit offers plenty of power with a a maximum range of up to 2.9 feet at wide angle using ISO 800. While we didn't use that high of an ISO setting for our indoor shots, I did find the flash worked quite well beyond 7-8 feet using the mid telephoto end of the zoom. This will be sufficient for most indoor shooting, however when in a large open area, like a gymnasium, you'll need to boost the ISO to get a good exposure; this is a time when the hot shoe found on past models would come in handy. Our close-up portrait example shows excellent flash exposure, along with amazing facial detail; you can even seen the finite hairs along the young girls check. Skin tones are also very natural.

Olympus has not heard our cries for some sort of HD video capture on these models, which surprised me when I first saw that this camera has an HDMI out port. The SP-590 continues to capture standard video at 640x480 or 320x240 with selectable frame rates of 15 or 30fps. Like past models, the camera records 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. This is something I don't quite understand, as 99% of the cameras on the market today automatically record sound with video. I foresee many people accidentally capturing silent movies, only to find out afterwards when the opportunity has passed to re-shoot the video.

The SP-590 also continues the use of AA-type batteries. This means you can use a variety of different battery types, from off-the-shelf alkaline cells to high-capacity NiMH batteries. We highly recommend using NiMH cells as they offer a much longer battery life 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 battery life was quite good. Using a set of high-capacity NiMH cells (2000mAh) allowed me to capture over 243 still images and conclude our other tests with power sot spare. Be sure to pick up a good set of NiMH cells with your purchase; I highly recommend getting 8 or more cells so you have at least one extra set charged and ready.

Bottom Line - Olympus has really made some improvements with the SP-590UZ. While many features have been carried over, the 590's increased performance really helps this camera shine in a category that is becoming more and more competitive. With great image quality, speedy performance, loads of exposure options, and a generous 26x optical zoom lens, the SP-590 has a lot to offer. With a street price of $399 of less (a few retailers have it as low as $319), we feel this camera offers a great value for the amount of versatility and quality you are receiving. If you are one who is in the market for a ultra-zoom, or you're not quite sure if a dSLR will suit your needs, be sure to check out the Olympus SP-590UZ.

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