The major camera manufacturers, specifically Sony, Canon, Fuji, and Olympus, have been engaged in an ever-expanding arms race for the past few years, each one trying to seize the high ground in the extended zoom category. With the Olympus SP-570 UZ, it may be time to crown a winner.
The Olympus SP-570 UZ is a tremendously impressive digital camera with 20x optical zoom, the longest zoom currently available on this type of gadget. It manages to cram all that range into a light, relatively compact body and surround it with some truly fantastic features. Shooting with the SP-570 UZ is a breeze, and the camera's interface is exceptionally user-friendly.
All I Wanna Do is Zoom-a Zoom Zoom Zoom
The 20x optical zoom on the Olympus SP-570 UZ is as-advertised, an excellent, long-range zoom that will project you into a scene far, far away and let you take high-quality photos with ease.
The SP-570 UZ, of course, has image stabilization, and it performed quite well even at extreme zooms. In the entire batch of photos I took with the camera, there wasn't a single blurry result. The extra-long lens doesn't make the camera cumbersome as you might expect. The barrel sticks out pretty far, but Olympus has done a good job designing the camera to be easy to hold and operate. With the left hand on the barrel, operating the spinning zoom control that surrounds the lens, and right hand on the thick grip ready to press the trigger, the SP-570 UZ is a perfect fit (though maybe not if you're a lefty).
Photos can be framed either in the vivid, 3.0-inch LCD display or the digital viewfinder. Though the LCD is excellent, the digital viewfinder is somewhat lacking in resolution and size. It's helpful at times, especially outdoor situations where the sun might wash out the LCD, but generally underwhelming.
For an Advanced Camera, Surprisingly Easy to Operate
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the SP-570 UZ was its ease of use. Now, this is a very serious camera, packed with power, but Olympus has gone to great lengths to make it less daunting for users.
Case in point: the camera's "guide" mode. Entering this mode provides users with a menu of potential shooting scenarios, such as "shooting subject in motion" or "super close up photo." When selected, these menu options then describe what actions should be taken to properly set the camera for this kind of photo, and then adjusts the settings automatically. It's a simple way to get the right settings for your scenes and also learn how to use the camera on your own.
Overall, the camera's menu system is excellent, particularly the "scene" mode menu, which explains the various options in great detail, first showing an example of what kind of photo each is meant for, and then revealing exactly what happens when you select the scene.
Another feature worth pointing out is the camera's innovative panoramic mode. The SP-570 UZ has two panoramic modes: Panoramic Mode 2 is the traditional "match the edge to the new scene" style, which is fine enough, but not perfect. Panoramic Mode 1, however, is very impressive. When you take the first photo in Mode 1, the LCD prompts you to move in any direction. When you choose a direction, you're presented with a white target, and must find a white dot that is affixed to the precise edge of your photo. When you reach the target, the camera automatically snaps the photo. It's very precise and what you get is a practically seamless panoramic image.
Video Mode Has Its Ups and Downs
The one place in which the SP-570 UZ isn't quite up to snuff is its video mode. It does feature full-use of the 20x optical zoom in video mode, which is excellent, but the overall quality of the videos is lacking. At 30fps, the clips are somewhat grainy and imprecise, though fine enough for most purposes; not amazing but passable. At 15fps, however, it's fairly low-quality and not really worth it.
The relative mediocrity of the video mode probably wouldn't have stood out so much were the SP-570 UZ such a superlative digital camera otherwise. Perhaps the next model will feature HD capabilities, as that seems to be where the market is headed.
Conclusion: Absolutely Stunning
In spite of the issues with the video mode, the Olympus SP-570 UZ remains an absolutely exquisite digital camera. The power and potential is perfectly integrated with simplicity and comfort, making this a pleasant powerhouse. There's no telling how high the extended zoom arms race might extend in the future, but if you want to top-of-the-line today, the SP-570 UZ is where you want to put your money.