Olympus Stylus 500
At a Glance
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the $400 Olympus Stylus 500 is the huge 2.5-inch LCD, which takes a full two-thirds of the compact camera's back. And when it's on, it looks even more impressive. Unfortunately, in our tests the Stylus 500's off-screen photo quality didn't measure up.
The 5-megapixel Stylus 500 starts off well, literally: After you press the On button or the camera wakes up from sleep, you can be shooting in 2 seconds or less. The unit's well-placed four-way thumbpad lets you easily access the menus and set picture quality or contrast, for example, with one hand. The mode wheel, with which you can switch between photo, movie, image playback, and album modes, is also positioned well, but you will need to hold the camera with both hands to use it properly. A quick-view button allows you to see the most recent picture you've snapped, but you must use the navigation wheel to erase or scroll through the images you've taken; deleting bad shots is a three-step process.
Images look gorgeous on the 2.5-inch LCD, which has about 215,000 pixels--not the highest currently available, but sufficient to make it pretty sharp. Thanks to what Olympus calls HyperCrystal technology, the LCD is fairly viewable from off-angle (making it easier for two or more people to see your shots at the same time), and you can still see what you're shooting in bright or dim light.
Of the digital cameras we've tested recently, the Stylus 500 ranked just slightly below average in most of our image-quality tests--but that's among very tight competition. This model's images were accurate enough to earn an overall score of Good. It received its highest scores for sharpness, which was on a par with that of other 5-megapixel models we've looked at. All of the 8-by-10 prints we produced from the Stylus's images looked reasonably crisp. The exposure values were generally on the mark, and color accuracy was close. We had one complaint, in that the colors in our outdoor scene and flash portrait looked less saturated than we like. Also, the outdoor scene's color balance fell on the bluish side, and the image lacked some detail in the darker and lighter areas.
On our battery test the Stylus fared well, yielding 264 shots on one charge of its lithium ion rechargeable battery.
Some nifty features come with the Stylus 500. For one, you can create a photo album of images stored in your XD-Picture Card, either via Olympus's Master editing software or directly through the camera's controls. You can also crop your pictures in a rudimentary way on the camera, and you can connect the unit directly to a PictBridge-compatible printer for PC-less printing.
Don't expect a lot of controls on this model, however. You get five preset white-balance options, but no white-balance calibration--a useful feature that was once found only in advanced cameras but is becoming more common in point-and-shoots. You also get no manual focus, nor any advanced exposure controls such as aperture-priority automatic. You do, however, get 21 preset scene modes, including some unusual ones such as a specialized document setting and an underwater setting. (Despite the camera's being rated as "all-weather," you will need to buy an underwater housing for it before any snorkeling trips.) We found that some of the modes, such as the indoor one, work quite well, while the behind-glass mode was hit-and-miss. You can also take panoramic shots.
The camera feels sturdy, with a metallic body and rubber-sealed doors to help it resist many weather hazards. Its body measures just over an inch thick, and the unit weighs about 7 ounces with battery, making it a no-brainer to pocket when you're out and about.
The clearly written documentation includes a quick-setup poster and a basic manual. For anything detailed, however, you will have to go to the included CD manual.
Its great LCD, small size, and weather-resistant case make the Stylus 500 a good choice for outdoor snapshooters undeterred by rain or shine.