Olympus SP-620UZ £179.99
29th Feb 2012 | 14:22
Budget priced 21x superzoom suitable for beginners and the broke
Overview and features
Recent bridge camera/superzoom releases such as the Fuji X-S1 might have suggested cameras sporting large, fixed lenses were evolving into luxury items second only to DSLRs. Blowing that theory is the Olympus SP-620UZ, which is resolutely a budget-priced, entry-level superzoom.
Priced at £179.99 in the UK and $199.99 in the US, it is not much costlier than your average 5x zoom pocket model, yet sports a dual image stabilised 21x optical zoom plus 16 megapixel effective resolution from a 16.6MP 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor.
The mini DSLR styling of the Olympus SP-620UZ means it's one for chunky jacket pockets only, but it is one of the smallest in its class.
Dimensions are 109.7 x 74.3 x 73.7mm and it weighs a sturdy feeling 435g, largely just because it's powered by four alkaline AAs out of the box rather than a single rechargeable lithium ion cell.
The equivalent 35mm focal range is 25-525mm, the lens jutting out roughly 2cm from its housing when at its widest setting.
The Olympus SP-620UZ's available with a metallic silver or black body, and is aimed at beginners and travelling types rather than photo enthusiasts per se.
The camera lacks the command dials, dedicated buttons and optical and electronic viewfinders (EVF) of pricier bridge cameras, such as the Fuji X and HS series models, Canon SX40 HS and new Nikon P510.
There are few direct controls - there's not even a shooting mode dial or dedicated button - while users are reliant purely on the fixed, 3-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD for shot composition and review.
It's fit for purpose though, with one of its closest matches for looks and features being Nikon's equally new Coolpix L810, also 16MP, and with a 22.5-585mm reach.
More positively, the Olympus SP-620UZ comes with interesting features. These include a panorama mode that automatically stitches three successive images together, a 3D stills mode overlapping two differently angled stills for viewing on a 3D TV, plus Olympus' trademarked Magic Filters digital effects, most of which can be applied when capturing video as well as stills.
So how does this budget superzoom actually perform?
Build quality and handling
The Olympus SP-620UZ is an autofocus, auto everything camera, deploying contrast detection AF (as opposed to phase detection), plus face detection and AF tracking.
Ease of use extends to a built-in help manual accessed via a '?' button on the backplate, and, in theory a command pad-come-scroll wheel that should enable faster function access and implementation. In use its sensitivity to the slightest touch made it extremely fiddly to use. Often we'd jump two or three settings at a time, and had to toggle back and forth to magically alight on what we wanted.
The Olympus SP-620UZ is reasonably swift to power up from cold - it's ready for action in two seconds or so with a press of the top-mounted power button.
Located at the top of the handgrip, the positioning of this button also caused handling problems, since it can accidentally fall under your fingers as you're trying to slide open the cover for the battery and SD card compartment at the base using a thumb.
The result is that we found the camera activating at the very time we were trying to remove the (optional) media card.
With the expected ability to capture HD video clips, albeit here at the lesser 1280 x 720 pixels, there is dedicated thumb-activated record button provided.
Sound is mono rather than the stereo of pricier rivals, though, and if you want to use the optical zoom and capture audio at the same time, you can't. It's one or the other, which is disappointing. The only fallback option is a digital zoom for video with sound.
In terms of build quality, the Olympus SP-620UZ feels plasticky yet tough enough to withstand the odd knock. We did have an issue with the cover for the batteries needing to be pressed down quite hard to shut it, because the batteries tend to stand proud of their holding tubes. With prolonged use we can see the catch here weakened.
A half-press of the shutter release button on the forward slope of the handgrip, encircled by a lever for operating the zoom, and the Olympus SP-620UZ determines focus and exposure after the briefest of pauses.
It's not quite the lightning-quick response of an Olympus PEN such as the PEN E-P3 or an OM-D such as the OM-D E-M5, which cost three times as much, but it's swift enough to not miss the shot seen in your mind's eye.
Slightly more sluggish is the 3-4 seconds required for committing a Fine quality JPEG to memory - there's no raw option here. But given the mass-market target audience, neither is a deal breaker.
In regular stills framing mode the optical zoom is impressively zippy, powering through the entire focal range from extreme wide-angle to maximum telephoto setting in just under three seconds.
If you do deploy it for silent movies, its motion is noticeably more lethargic, doubtless to spare inexperienced video makers from creating motion sickness-inducing lurches.
The test of any superzoom camera is most importantly how well it performs at both extremes of the focal range. Happily, at the maximum 25mm equivalent wide-angle setting we didn't notice any dramatic barrel distortion or fish eye effect. Edge to edge detail is also well maintained, which often isn't the case.
At the maximum 525mm equivalent zoom setting, meanwhile, the report is also a happy one. Shooting handheld and with available daylight, we were able to achieve a good level of sharpness when zoomed right in.
Of course images benefit from a tweak of brightness and contrast levels in Photoshop to give them a bit more punch and depth, but the same is true of just about any consumer camera.
This being an Olympus camera, colours remain naturalistic - unless using one of the built-in effects filters such as the saturation-boosting Pop Art, of course.
At the top sensitivity setting (ISO 1600), the Olympus SP-620UZ also makes a reasonable fist of it. Yes, texture is present at ISO 800 and above, but even at this top setting it's not present at ruinous levels, and detail is held reasonably well.
The feeling is that Olympus could perhaps have gone higher still. The white tiled background to our test shots revealed that Olympus' grasp of white balance does remain variable, however, from shot to shot.
As part of our image quality testing for the Olympus SP-620UZ, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Olympus SP-620UZ is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 80, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 12 (see full image)
Follow this link for a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean.
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
Our analysis shows quite a difference between the cameras, with the Olympus SP-620UZ producing good overall signal to noise ratio results that just beat the competition up to a sensitivity of ISO 400. Dynamic range results show that it lags behind the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS, Panasonic FZ150 and Sony Cyber-shot HX100V at all sensitivities.
Our results from the Olympus SP-620UZ indicate that it handles noise well at the lower end of the sensitivity scale just having the edge over the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V up to ISO 400. From ISO 400 the Panasonic FZ150 takes the lead.
This chart indicates that the Olympus SP-620UZ's JPEGs have a lower dynamic range across the sensitivity scale than either the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS, Panasonic FZ150 and the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V.
FRINGING: This wide-angle shot reveals little in the way of distortion, although there is a small bit of lens flare due to harsh winter light, and, on close inspection, some purple fringing visible where rooftop meets featureless sky in the left of frame. Overall, though, a very reasonable level of detail has been retained.
TELEPHOTO: By way of contrast, this is a telephoto shot, taken handheld from a low vantage position. Again, a reasonable level of detail has been maintained, even if the image is a little 'flat' and would benefit from a bit more contrast to really bring out the craggy detail on the statue's face.
SHARP: At its widest point (25mm equivalent) edge to edge sharpness is been maintained, and there isn't the usual fall off of focus as we near the corners of the image. On standard default colour setting colours are realistic rather than punchy.
READABLE: And again a telephoto image, taken from the same vantage point at maximum 525mm equivalent telephoto setting. The shot remains sharp enough that the 'Waterloo Bridge' lettering is clearly visible and reasonably well defined.
FRAGMENTED: In the words of Rolf: Can you tell what it is yet? A row of worker's cottages as seen through the Olympus SP-620UZ's new 'Fragmented' Magic Filter. David Hockey is already on the phone…
MACRO:The Olympus SP-620UZ offers macro close-ups down to 10cm from your subject. With some flattering background and foreground defocus effects achievable, this image shows what the quality is like.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
Auto High ISO
In summation, the Olympus SP-620UZ is a simple to use value for money superzoom with modest aspirations but a decent performance. In some respects it betters more ambitions models - we were able to achieve sharp results handheld at extreme tele setting, for example - something we struggled to do with the likes of Fuji's premium X-S1.
The likes of Magic Filters, 3D mode (if you own a compatible 3D TV to replay the MPO files) and simple but effective panorama mode make things a bit more interesting than your regular bridge camera, too.
The lack of manual features, the fact that the optical zoom can't be used for video if you want to simultaneously capture sound, its plasticky build, lack of viewfinder, omission of hotshoe and potentially useful dedicated controls for more experienced photographers betray its budget status.
But for the price, which is bound to settle at around £150 in the UK market and $160 or so in the US, it's hard to ask for a great deal more.
The Olympus SP-620UZ's broader than average zoom range and an interesting smattering of extras such as 3D mode, Magic Filters and even 14fps sequential shooting belie the asking price.
It's easy to use and its stripped-down appearance and layout won't scare anyone off.
It's poor that the optical zoom can't be used and sound recorded at the same time, since the zoom is the chief selling point here, and HD video is a feature that everyone now expects on even a budget camera.
We also had frustrations with aspects of the build, such as the overly sensitive scroll wheel plus stiff and plasticky battery compartment cover.
The Olympus SP-620UZ is an entry-level superzoom with modest ambition, but fortunately a low(ish) price that suggests anyone purchasing won't feel they are taking a big risk. The all-encompassing lens reach may not match pricier cameras, but it remains at a level with which it is practical to shoot handheld and still get sharp results.