Olympus SP-590UZ Advanced Point-and-Shoot Camera
At a Glance
Olympus SP-590 Ultra-Zoom
Decent image quality and a 26X-optical-zoom lens make the SP-590UZ a fine camera buy for an outdoor photographer.
Length matters--or, at least, that's what Olympus is banking on with the SP-590UZ. The 12-megapixel Olympus SP-590UZ has an impressive 26X optical zoom that rockets from 26mm at its wide end to an astonishing 676mm at the telephoto end. The lens does a bang-up job of focusing quickly (in good light, anyway) throughout the entire range, and the SP-590UZ's optical image stabilization works surprisingly well, even at full telephoto. No doubt about it, this is a fun camera. (For more reviews of megazoom cameras, see our takes on the Kodak EasyShare Z980, the Pentax X70, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1.)
One of the most common complaints I've seen in online user reviews of the SP-590UZ is about its lack of sturdiness. Except for the lens barrel, the camera is almost entirely plastic--and, yes, if you give it a good tap, it emits a slightly hollow sound. But I wouldn't call it flimsy. The battery/media door has a secondary lock, the buttons and thumb dial are firmly set, the plastic is rugged, and the rubberized handgrip makes the camera stable in the hand. Avoid tapping it, and odds are you'll be happy with the build.
My primary gripe concerns the SP-590UZ's menu setup, which I found difficult to navigate even after I used it for hours. Some of the handier functions, such as flash exposure bracketing and manual focus mode, are buried deep within the internal menus, so they're a hassle to access.
Another annoyance is the fact that the electronic viewfinder doesn't offer a post-shot preview; you have to turn the 2.7-inch LCD back on to see it. As for storage, the camera uses xD-Picture Card rather than the faster, higher-capacity SD/SDHC. Last on the frustration list is the flimsy lens cap, which has no locking mechanism and falls off all too easily.
The SP-590UZ holds up fairly well in producing images. In PC World Lab tests it was above average (albeit barely) in general image quality, but it lagged behind the seven advanced point-and-shoot cameras we compared it against in the exposure and color categories. Images were sharp and showed accurate colors, and flash exposure quality was a strong suit for the SP-590UZ compared to the competition. Overall the SP-590UZ earned an image quality score of Very Good.
In my own tests, images were sharp at lower ISOs but began exhibiting obvious noise at anything over 200. The SP-590UZ scored well in flash exposure, and it even allows you to run a wireless flash (sold separately) off the camera, which opens a world of creative lighting opportunities that most of its rivals can't offer.
The SP-590UZ provides the typical gamut of shooting modes, including full automatic, scene modes, shutter priority, aperture priority, and full manual. Its 19 scene modes include the usual Fireworks, Indoor, Night-Portrait, and Smile, as well as a few atypical modes such as Soft Background Focus, Document, and (oddly) Multi-Fireworks. In movie mode, the SP-590UZ shoots 640-by-480 standard-definition video at 30 frames per second (not quite HD) and zooms fairly quickly while recording.
You adjust shutter speeds and f-stops with a four-way navigation pad on the back of the camera; the buttons work perfectly well, but using them to jump through the f-stops and shutter speeds is slower than turning a dedicated dial.
This megazoom runs on four AA batteries, which is a convenient touch. It gets good mileage out of those batteries, too: In our tests the SP-590UZ fired off a healthy 475 shots on fresh batteries--just shy of the maximum 500 shots we test for, and good enough for a battery-life score of Superior.
Other than the battery life and the decent image quality, what really makes the Olympus SP-590UZ stand out is its extra reach in the telephoto department. Considering all that plus the camera's comfortable ergonomics, it's a good buy. Just make sure you don't miss a shot while you're navigating through the somewhat cumbersome menu system.