Olympus SP-590UZ Review
The Olympus SP-590UZ is the newest member of Olympus' extensive range of ultra-zoom digital cameras. The SP-590 UZ boasts the biggest lens of them all - a mammoth 26x optical zoom that provides an incredible focal range of 26-676mm! This covers every imaginable subject, from wide-angle landscapes to close-up action and nature shots, with Dual Image Stabilisation thankfully on hand to help keep your pictures sharp. The SP-590UZ also offers a 12 megapixel sensor, 2.7 inch LCD screen, macro mode of 1cm, 10fps shooting (at 3 megapixels), Advanced Face Detection, ISO 64-6400 and a full range of creative exposure modes (P/A/S/M). Available in black, the Olympus SP-590UZ has a launch price of $449.99 / £360. We find out if this really is the Swiss Army knife of the digital camera world...
Ease of Use
The Olympus SP-590UZ closely resembles the smaller and simpler SP-565UZ camera, rather than the larger SP-S70UZ model which has a more complex control layout. All three cameras are currently available, so Olympus are certainly offering a lot of choice in this particular segment of the market. In hand, the SP-590UZ feels good. The very deep rubberised grip provides a secure hold and a good resting place for your fingers. The shutter release is in a natural location for your index finger, with the tactile zoom lever surrounding it. Despite the plastic body, everything feels generally well built and "substantial", with only the rather cheap pop-up flash button feeling a little out of place. The camera comes with a printed quick start guide and a fairly well cross-referenced PDF manual on disk. Not really much use though if you're taking pictures and need to find out what a particular option does.
The SP-590UZ is powered by four AA-sized batteries. The battery compartment door is located on the bottom plate and has a plastic lock. Next to it is the tripod socket, which is unfortunately made of plastic and not aligned with the lens' optical axis. Moving to the right hand side, as viewed from the back, you'll find the memory card compartment door. The Olympus SP-590UZ has an xD-picture card slot only. This is a problem in so much as xD cards are slower and more expensive than the more popular SD cards, and fewer external card readers have a slot for them. In an emergency, you can only save about 3 full-resolution shots in the SP-590UZ's 22MBs of internal memory. On the left side of the body is a sturdy plastic door protecting the DC In, USB/AV Out and new HDMI ports, the latter allowing you to hook the SP-590UZ up to a HD TV, although disappointingly there's no cable included in the box.
The rear of the camera is dominated by the 2.7 inch monitor, which has an acceptable resolution of 230k dots. Directly above it is the electronic viewfinder with a dioptre adjustment wheel, a button that toggles between the LCD and EVF and and an AEL button that locks the exposure when pressed. To the right of the LCD is the ubiquitous four-way controller with buttons that provide direct access to exposure compensation, two macro modes, self-timer and flash modes. In the middle is the OK/FUNC button which is used to call up a L-shaped sub-menu containing 6 frequently used options, a system that's incredibly similar to the one used by Canon's compact camera range.
Olympus is playing the numbers game by packing a 26x zoom lens into what is a relatively small body. This makes the SP-590UZ the current super-zoom champion in terms of the focal length on offer. The zoom range has been extended both ways, and now spans 26mm up to an incredible 676mm. The lens' maximum aperture is a fast f/2.8 at wide angle and a respectable f/5.0 at telephoto. Those who feel a 26x zoom still doesn't provide enough reach may purchase a TCON-017 teleconverter and mount it using the separately sold CLA-11 adapter ring.
Taking hand held photos, especially in the longer half of the zoom range, carries the risk of your photos being ruined by camera shake. This is where image stabilisation comes to the rescue. Olympus markets the SP-590UZ as having “Dual Image Stabilisation", a mechanical and digital system, but the latter simply boosts the ISO sensitivity to avoid having to use longer shutter speeds, so it's the former that really counts. The SP-590UZ, just like its immediate predecessors, counteracts camera shake by shifting the sensor in the opposite direction. Image stabilisation can only be activated from the menu, and is turned on by default. When set to On, image stabilisation kicks in whenever you depress the shutter release halfway, giving a faint, continuous sound. The live view on the LCD or EVF shows the stabilisation effect - the image appears to be floating in an almost surreal way. With image stabilisation, you can use about two times longer exposure times to take blur-free hand held shots than without it. This also means that image stabilisation is no cure-for-all - you will still have to mind your posture and hold the camera properly if you want sharp results, especially at the long end. Using the EVF instead of the LCD and pressing the eyepiece firmly against your head is also an advisable technique.
Speaking of the EVF and the LCD, I found them very nice to use. The LCD has an admirably wide viewing angle, and is fairly usable outdoors too, something that cannot be said of all LCD screens. You can always resort to using the EVF if the sunlight gets too intense or if it simply suits your shooting style better. It is of lower resolution and naturally smaller than the rear screen, but is still one of the better electronic finders around. Importantly, both displays can show you overlaid shooting information if you so desire, and this includes Rule of Thirds gridlines and a live histogram too - albeit not both at the same time, which is a shame.
The Olympus SP-590UZ has a comprehensive range of shooting modes. There is a fully automatic mode, marked AUTO on the mode dial, for those with absolutely zero photographic experience. In this mode you just zoom, focus and shoot without having to fiddle with the settings, which are all being taken care of by the camera. The only problem is that the camera hasn't the foggiest idea of what you are trying to photograph, and may therefore pick the wrong settings. Which is why it is a better idea to turn the mode dial to the SCN setting and choose from the 19 scene modes available. None of these require you to know anything about f-stops, shutter speeds, white balance or depth of field - all you have to do is tell the camera what type of scene you are planning to take a picture of by picking the appropriate scene mode.
The P, A, S and M modes are for those who already know the basics of photography - or are at least willing to learn them. The navigation pad buttons are called into action when working in these modes. In A mode, you press up and down to select the aperture, and in S mode, the shutter speed. In M mode, up and down selects the shutter speed and left and right the aperture. Not as slick as the control wheel on the SP-570UZ, but still fairly simple and straightforward. MyMode lets you store and retrieve four sets of your most preferred settings, a useful way to tailor the camera to your needs.
The new BEAUTY setting automatically smoothes people's skin, useful for giving your friends and family the Hollywood treatment. It automatically detects faces in the picture, then shows a side-by-side comparison of before and after the effect has been applied, before finally recording the slightly softened and more flattering image (the whole process takes about 10 seconds). The Beauty Fix playback option lets you apply 3 different effects (Clear Skin, Sparkle Eye and Dramatic Eye) separately or apply them all in one go, so its a better idea to beautify your subjects at this stage.
The Movie setting allows you to specify the resolution (VGA or QVGA), the frame rate (30 or 15fps), and whether you want to take a silent clip or one with sound. In the first case, you may use the optical zoom and sensor-shift image stabilisation, but you can't if you choose to record sound. Exposure compensation, white balance and metering mode are available in movie mode too. Depending on the type of xD Card that you use, there are various restrictions on the length of movies. The options when using an xD M, M+ or H card are 640x480 at 30 fps or 15fps and 320x240 at 30fps, with a maximum file size of 2GB. If you're only using a xD standard card, the limit is reduced to just 40 seconds at 30fps. Finally, there is a Playback mode marked on the dial, which is a little unnecessary given that there is a dedicated Playback button on the rear of the camera.
The Olympus SP-590UZ offers a variety of auto-focusing modes, including Face Detect, iESP, Spot and Area. Face Detect AF tries to find a face in the frame and if it succeeds, locks on to it. In iESP mode the camera uses several AF points and picks one of them at its own will. Spot AF is what most people would recognise as centre-point AF, while Area lets you choose the AF frame location yourself by way of the four-way pad, and then lock the chosen one by holding down the OK/FUNC button. There are two other auto-focus options, Fulltime AF and AF Predict, both of which can be useful if shooting subjects in motion. Be aware that you might not have access to the full range of AF modes all the time, as their availability may be restricted by other settings. Low-light AF accuracy can be enhanced by enabling the AF illuminator via the menu, although it doesn't always prevent the focusing system from hunting and failing to lock on a subject in typical room lighting.
There's also the welcome option of Manual focusing. In the MF Focus mode you focus the lens manually using the left and the right arrow keys on the navigation pad. To aid you in achieving focus, the camera displays a horizontal distance scale and magnifies the centre of the frame - apparently by interpolation rather than by showing pixel-level detail right off the sensor. Locking focus in MF mode is done by pressing the OK/FUNC button. Less welcome is the lack of RAW mode, a very strange omission given that it's offered by both the SP-570UZ and the SP-565UZ. This will undoubtedly put off quite a lot of this camera's potential buyers.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
When it comes to flash photography, the Olympus SP-590UZ has a good range of options. It has a pop-up flash which offers a wide range of shooting modes, including auto, fill, slow sync on the 1st or 2nd curtain or almost any of these combined with redeye reduction. Flash exposure compensation is also provided. Thankfully, the flash doesn't pop up automatically, only when the photographer presses a dedicated button. It can act as a controller for Olympus' new wireless flashes but can also trigger any optically slaved unit - for this, its output can be set to one of ten levels. The ability to wirelessly control the Olympus FL-36R and FL-50R flash units, which may be placed on separate stands for creative lighting, has been carried over from the SP-570UZ.
SAT, or Shadow Adjustment Technology, is similar to Sigma's Fill Light, HP's Digital Flash / Adaptive Lighting, Sony's DRO and Nikon's D-lighting. It lifts the shadows in an image without affecting the midtones or the highlights. Olympus thought it was such an important feature that it deserved its own button, located under the navigation pad. Since the best uses of this technology are in landscapes, cityscapes and streetscapes, when you can't control the light and the shadowed areas may be too big or too far away to be filled in with flash, I was utterly puzzled to learn the only AF mode available with SAT turned on is Face Detect, and that it's only available in the Auto or Scene modes. Another surprise came when, upon reading the relevant section in the manual, I found out Olympus recommended using this technology when shooting portraits against a bright background. What? That's one occasion when you DON'T need it - just set the ambient exposure for the background and use the flash to illuminate your subject's face. Note that the task of opening the shadows in a contrasty photo can also be performed post capture, under the Lighting Fix option of the Perfect Fix menu in playback mode, but the results are less than perfect.
The SP-590UZ has a wide range of continuous drive modes, accessible via the main menu. Full-resolution shots can be captured at a pedestrian 1fps, but the camera also offers a faster 6fps Hi1 mode at 5 megapixels, and a 10fps Hi2 mode at 3 megapixels. These sound a lot more exciting, but the quality is not what you'd expect, even when you consider the reduced pixel count. This is not just because the camera automatically increases the sensitivity to ISO 400. Apparently what happens is that the SP-590UZ takes a video at the specified frame rates, then takes the individual frames and blows them up to 3 or 5 megapixels. The resulting images don't print well except in the smallest paper sizes, so you'd better use these drive modes when shooting for the Web.
The SP-590Z starts-up in about two seconds - just don't forget to remove the lens cap, which will be knocked off by the lens zooming out slightly. Once powered up, the camera is reasonably responsive. It takes about 4 seconds to zoom from the widest to the longest focal length. Given its form factor and price tag, the SP-590UZ will inevitably be compared to an entry-level SLRs, but these comparisons are going to be tricky. Zooming and focusing speeds are no match for an SLR, but if you factor in the time it would take to swap, for instance, a wide-angle lens for a super-telephoto, the superzoom starts to look more competitive.
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5.5Mb.
The Olympus SP-590UZ produced images of good quality during the review period. The biggest issue is noise, loss of detail and colour desaturation at relatively slow ISO speeds. The 1/2.33 inch, 12 megapixel sensor recorded noise-free images at ISO 64 and 100, but there's already some noise and slight loss of saturation at ISO 200. ISO 400 shows more noise and some obvious softening of fine detail, and ISO 800 and 1600 are even worse, with lots of noise and a very washed-out look. The fastest speeds of ISO 3200 and 6400 are recorded at a reduced resolution and simply aren't worth using. The Olympus SP-590UZ dealt extremely well with chromatic aberrations, with limited purple fringing effects appearing only in high contrast situations. The built-in flash worked well indoors, with no red-eye and adequate exposure. The night photograph was excellent, with the maximum shutter speed of 8 minutes via the Bulb mode far surpassing what most compact cameras offer. Anti-shake is a feature that sets this camera apart from its competitors and one that works very well when hand-holding the camera in low-light conditions or when using the telephoto end of the zoom range, essential given the massive focal lengths on offer. Macro performance is amazing, allowing you to focus as close as 1 cm away from the subject! The images were a little soft straight out of the Olympus SP-590UZ at the default sharpening setting and ideally require some further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you can change the in-camera setting.
There are 8 ISO settings available on the Olympus SP-590UZ. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.
ISO 64 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
ISO 3200 (100% Crop)
ISO 6400 (100% Crop)
Here are two 100% Crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-590UZ has 2 different image quality settings available, with Fine being the highest quality option. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options, with the file size shown in brackets.
|12M Fine (5.40Mb) (100% Crop)||12M Normal (2.64Mb) (100% Crop)|
The Olympus SP-590UZ handled chromatic aberrations excellently during the review, with very limited purple fringing present around the edges of objects in certain high-contrast situations, as shown in the example below.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-590UZ offers a Super Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm away from the camera when the lens is set to wide-angle. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.
The flash settings on the Olympus SP-590UZ are Auto, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off, Red-eye reduction & Fill-in, Slow synchronisation, Slow synchronisation with red-eye reduction, Slow synchronisation 2nd curtain. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.
Off - Wide Angle (26mm)
Fill-in - Wide Angle (26mm)
Off - Telephoto (676mm)
Fill-in - Telephoto (676mm)
And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the On or the Red-eye reduction settings caused any red-eye.
|On (100% Crop)|
Red-eye reduction (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-590UZ's maximum shutter speed is 8 minutes in the Bulb, which is fantastic news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 15 seconds at ISO 64. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-590UZ has an anti-shake mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with anti shake turned off, the second with it turned on. Here are some 100% crops of the images to show the results. As you can see, with anti shake turned on, the images are much sharper than with anti shake turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.
Shutter Speed / Focal Length
Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)
Anti Shake On (100% Crop)
|1/13th / 26mm|
|1/8th / 676mm|
This is a selection of sample images from the Olympus SP-590UZ camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Sample Movie & Video
Front of the Camera
Front of the Camera / Lens Extended
Front of the Camera / Pop-Up Flash
Rear of the Camera
Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed
Rear of the Camera / Turned On
Rear of the Camera / Main Menu
Rear of the Camera / Main Menu
Rear of the Camera / Function Menu
Top of the Camera
Bottom of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Front of the Camera
Front of the Camera
Memory Card Slot
The Olympus SP-590UZ literally stretches the super-zoom category to new lengths, with a competition-beating 26x zoom lens that incorporates appealingly wide 26mm and incredibly close-up and personal 676mm settings. Having both in one relatively compact camera does literally open up a whole new world of possibilities - this was the camera that I most often reached for during the last couple of weeks of testing. The ability to go from capturing wide-angle landscapes to distant details in a 4 second zoom of the lens cannot be underestimated, especially as there's little distortion to worry about at either end and excellent sharpness across its entire range. Just make sure that you provide stable support at the longer focal lengths to avoid camera shake, and you won't be disappointed.
Its operational speed and high-ISO image quality might not be a match for DSLRs, with a very slow burst mode and noise appearing at the relatively slow setting of ISO 200, but it makes up for what it lacks in these departments by offering greater flexibility in a much more compact package. You'd have to buy and carry a DSLR with at least 3 heavy lenses to achieve a similar focal range (and even then you might struggle to match it). The Olympus SP-590UZ provides full control over the photographic process, with PASM modes and lots of flash, focus and metering options making this one of the better-appointed super-zooms. Unfortunately though, Olympus have decided to drop support for the RAW format, a strange and ultimately detrimental decision, especially given that their other two super-zoom cameras both offer RAW.
So in summary, the Olympus SP-590UZ is an intuitive and well-featured compact bridge camera with a frankly amazing lens and focal range, which delivers good-looking images if taken in the right lighting conditions. It doesn't fare so well in low-light, isn't a great choice for keeping up with the action, and feels incomplete without the RAW mode. On the whole though, the Olympus SP-590UZ is a great do-it-all camera that's easy to highly recommend.
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||4.5|
Reviews of the Olympus SP-590UZ from around the web.
Olympus pretty much invented what we now call the super-zoom digital camera, launching the ambitious C-2100UZ (Ultra Zoom) in 2000. That camera featured a 1.9-megapixel sensor, a 10x zoom lens (38-380mm equivalent) and an early optical image stabilisation system. It was big, heavy, expensive and not massively popular, but it set a standard for the market sector that persists to this day. Despite serious competition, particularly from Fujifilm and Panasonic, Olympus has managed to maintain a strong presence in the super-zoom market, with models such as 2007's SP-550UZ and last year's SP-570.
Read the full review »
Like other superzooms, the Olympus SP-590 UZ struggles to produce really crisp shots at maximum range, but it makes up for that with its extra-wideangle lens and amazing 10mm super macro mode. If you're shopping around for an ultimate do-it-all compact, this one should definitely be on your list
Read the full review »
|Effective pixels||12 Megapixels|
|Filter array||Primary colour filter (RGB)|
|Full resolution||12.7 Megapixels|
|Type||1/2.33 '' CCD sensor|
|Optical zoom||26 x (WIDE)|
|Aspherical glass elements||4|
|Filter diamater||57 mm Use CLA-11 to attach conversion lens.|
|Focal length||4.6 - 119.6 mm|
|Focal length (equiv. 35mm)||26 - 676 mm|
|Structure||14 lenses / 11 groups|
|Maximum aperture||2.8 - 5.0|
|Enlargment factor||5 x / 130 x combined with optical zoom|
|Monitor size||6.9 cm / 2.7 ''|
|LCD type||HyperCrystal II LCD|
|Brightness adjustment||+/- 2 levels|
|Viewfinder type||Electronical viewfinder|
|Field of view||Approx. 100 %|
|Method||TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection|
|Spot focusing||Yes , 143 AF areas selectable|
|Face Detection AF||Yes|
|Standard mode||0.1m - ∞ (wide) / 1.7m - ∞ (tele)|
|Makro mode||0.1m - ∞ (wide) / 1.7m - ∞ (tele)|
|Super Macro mode||Closest focusing distance: 1 cm|
|ESP light metering||Yes|
|Centre weighted metering||Yes|
|Histogram in shooting mode||Yes|
|Shutter speed||1/2 - 1/2000 s / < 8min (Bulb mode) / < 4 s (Night scene)|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2 EV / 1/3 steps|
|Exposure bracketing||5 frames / +/- 1/3, 2/3, 1 EV steps|
|Enhancement function||Image Stabilisation Mode
Shadow Adjustment Technology
Advanced Face Detection Technology
|Number of scene modes||19|
|Night Scene with portrait||Yes|
|Beach and Snow||Yes|
|Auto||AUTO / High AUTO Automatically selected|
|Manual||ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200*, 6400*
* In reduced pixel mode
|AUTO WB system||Yes|
|Manual White balance (One-Touch)||Yes|
|White balance adjustment||-7 Red +7 Blue|
|Working range (wide)||0.3 - 9 m (ISO 800)|
|Working range (tele)||1.7 - 5 m (ISO 800)|
|Flash compensation||+/- 2 EV|
|Modes||AUTO, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off, Red-eye reduction & Fill-in, Slow synchronisation, Slow synchronisation with red-eye reduction, Slow synchronisation 2nd curtain|
|External Flash Control|
|Compatible external flash||FL-50R, FL-36R|
|Sequential shooting mode (high speed)||10 fps / 25 frames (in 3MP mode)
6 fps / 25 frames (in 5MP mode)
|Sharpness + Contrast||+/- 5 levels|
|Contrast||+/- 5 levels|
|Saturation||+/- 5 levels|
|Image Stabilisation Mode||Yes Sensor shift (with sound off)|
|Black & White||Yes|
|Attach a calendar||Yes|
|Correction of brightness||Yes|
|Still Image Cropping||Yes|
|Index||4, 9, 16, 25 frames|
|Zoom||1.1 - 10 x|
|Image protect mode||Yes|
|Histogram in playback mode||Yes|
|Frame by frame||Yes|
|Still Image Recording|
|Movie Recording System|
|Recording format||AVI Motion JPEG®|
|Sound recording||Yes , format: WAV|
|Movie quality||640 x 480 / 30 fps Recording time: Up to card capacity (40s with 30fps when xD standard type is used)
640 x 480 / 15 fps Recording time: Up to card capacity
320 x 240 / 30 fps Recording time: Up to card capacity
Note: maximum file size 2GB
|Recording format||Wave format|
|Recording length||4 s|
|Internal memory||22 MB for image data|
|12M||3968 x 2976|
|5M||2560 x 1920|
|3M||2048 x 1536|
|2M||1600 x 1200|
|1M||1280 x 960|
|VGA||640 x 480|
|16:9||3968 x 2232
1920 x 1080
|Menu languages in camera||39 languages (Japanese, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese (BR + PT), German, Italian, Russian, Czech, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Croatian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Greek, Slovak, Turkish, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Korean, Simple Chinese, Traditional Chinese,Thai, Arabic, Bulgarian, Romanian, Persian, Indonesian, Hebrew, Malay, Vietnamese)|
|Combined A/V & USB output||Yes|
|USB 2.0 High Speed||Yes|
|Mechanical Image Stabilizer||Yes|
|Advanced Face Detection Technology||Yes|
|Self timer||2 / 12 s|
|Perfect Shot Preview||Yes|
|Dimensions (W x H x D)||110.1 x 89.7 x 91.0 mm|
|Weight||435 g (without battery and card)|