Olympus SP-610UZ Review
Announced earlier this year, the Olympus SP-610UZ is the successor to last year's SP-600UZ, sporting a 14-megapixel sensor and a new 22x ultra-zoom lens. Also on board is Olympus' sensor-shift image stabilisation system, a range of Art Filters and a feature that allows the camera to combine two separate photos into a single 3D image stored in MPO format. The new model carries over the 720p HD video recording functionality that was already present in its predecessor, and also has a mini HDMI port that allows users to hook the camera up to an HDTV via an optional HDMI cable. Powered by 4 AA batteries, the Olympus SP-610UZ is a remarkably affordable entry into the world of superzoom cameras, with retail pricing hovering around the £160/$200 mark in the UK and the US, respectively. But does it deliver? Find out in our in-depth review.
Ease of Use
As you pick up the Olympus SP-610UZ for the first time you immediately know it's a budget product, betrayed by a decidedly plastic feel in the hand. On the plus side, it is quite comfortable to hold courtesy of a well-sculpted and relatively big right-hand grip, which also houses the four AA batteries that power the camera. The design is, unsurprisingly, dominated by the large 22x zoom lens that provides an extremely versatile focal range of 5-110mm, or 28-616mm in old money. While this isn't quite as big as the class-leading 35-36x zooms of the Canon Powershot SX30 IS and the Nikon Coolpix P500, in real-world use it provides enough width and enough reach to satisfy most photographers' needs. Superzooms have always had a reputation for having a high "fun factor", and the SP-610UZ is no different. The ability to quickly go from wide angle to ultra-telephoto is something that has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. It certainly gives you a kind of freedom you do not feel with any other type of camera.
For its size, the SP-610UZ's lens is also respectably fast, with maximum apertures of f/3.3 at 28mm and f/5.7 at 616mm. As the lens lacks an iris diaphragm, there is no aperture control of any kind - whether automatic or manual - available on the camera. In very bright light, the SP-610UZ engages a built-in 2.5-stop neutral density filter in order to prevent overexposure, but this obviously has no effect on depth of field. The camera comes with a large lens cap, which can be secured to the body with the included tether.
In being dominated by that big lens, the front of the Olympus SP-610UZ is very sparse looking, save for a lamp for the AF assist light to the left of the lens (if viewed head on). This isn't a bad thing though, as the almost-minimalist design lends an air of sophistication to what is otherwise very much an entry-level product. Zooming is done by way of a conventional zoom lever that encircles the shutter release button sitting atop the right-hand grip. The only other control found on the top plate is the elongated on/off button, which has a small LED sitting next to it, enabling the photographer to quickly check if the camera is powered on. The SP-610UZ's flash can only be raised manually - the camera won't pop it up for you. While advanced users will likely welcome this solution, it might initially confuse the intended target user of the Olympus SP-610UZ. The camera has no hot-shoe, so the only way to sync up an external flashgun with it is to use an optical slave (of the variety that isn't fooled by the pre-flashes emitted by the built-in unit). Unlike more expensive superzooms, the Olympus SP-610UZ has no eye-level electronic viewfinder, either.
This means that the pictures can only be composed on the 3” TFT monitor that occupies most of the camera's rear plate. This is a fairly basic affair with a resolution of 230,000 dots - which is a bit on the low side for a screen of this size - and pretty narrow viewing angles. That's hardly surprising - you can't realistically expect a £160 camera to boast a high-resolution OLED display after all. To the right of the screen is a group of controls including a one-touch movie shutter release, a Playback button, a dial that doubles as a navigation pad with a centred OK button, plus a Menu and a Help button. That's all - which means that the SP-610UZ's operation is, to all intents and purposes, almost entirely menu based. Even the most often used functions - such as exposure compensation or ISO sensitivity - are only accessible by way of a menu setting.
To be fair, there are a couple of functions mapped unto the wheel controller / navigation pad, but these are rather limited. The Up button cycles through the available information displays in Record as well as Playback mode. These include no info, restricted info and full info. In Record mode, the latter means all shooting menu icons plus a shooting grid and a very useful live histogram, whereas in Playback mode it comprises a thumbnail image, a luminance histogram and detailed shooting data. The Down button acts as an Erase button in Playback.
The Function Menu allows you to select the desired shooting mode (Program Auto, iAuto, Panorama, 3D Photo, Magic Filter or Scene - the camera offers no manual or semi-automatic modes), flash mode, macro mode, self-timer, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity setting and drive mode. Note that the some of these menu options may not be available in every shooting mode. As to the scene modes on offer, there are 16 of them, including separate modes for taking pictures of cats and dogs. (In these two modes, the camera takes a photo automatically whenever it detects an animal of the given species in the frame. In other words, these modes represent a novel - though perhaps somewhat bizarre - use for the now-standard face detection technology.)
Like all Olympus cameras these days, the SP-610UZ has a multitude of Magic Filters, including Watercolour, Sparkle, Punk, Soft Focus, Drawing, Fish-eye, Pinhole and Pop Art. These built-in filters allow users to apply special effects to their photos as they are being captured, rather than at the post-processing stage. As such, they are likely to be popular with the target consumer, who may not want to spend hours editing photos in front of a computer screen.
The SP-610UZ's Panorama mode is also interesting, at least on paper. There are three options on offer, including Auto, Manual and PC. In Auto mode, you only have to press the shutter release once. After that, all you need to do is move the camera to the next position, so that the target marks and pointers overlap, and the camera automatically releases the shutter for you. Three frames can be taken this way, which are then combined into a single panoramic image automatically in camera. The problem with this mode is that it's almost impossible to stop moving the camera exactly when the target marks and pointers overlap, which ultimately results in image blur and poor-quality stitching. In Manual mode, you can also take three frames with the help of an on-screen guide, but you have to release the shutter manually. After that, the camera stitches the frames as above. Finally, in PC mode, you can take up to 10 photos, which can be stitched using the supplied PC software after being downloaded to the computer. Given that both the Auto and Manual modes result in a rather low-resolution panorama, PC mode is the way to go if you plan on printing your panoramic images.
3D Photo is a novelty for Olympus, at least in this segment. In this mode, you take a photo of your subject, then shift the camera by a few centimetres to one side and take another shot. The SP-610UZ then combines the two pictures into a single 3D image and saves it as an MPO file, which can then be viewed on a compatible 3D display device. As the camera's own screen is 2D only, you cannot check in the field how your 3D photos turned out (though you can view a 2D version as the camera saves a JPEG image alongside each MPO file).
The Olympus SP-610UZ has a number of drive modes but curiously, full-resolution images can only be taken in single-shot mode. The manual explicitly warns that in Sequential shooting mode, Image Size cannot be set to “14M”, i.e. 14 megapixels - which is all the more surprising given that the frame rate is not exactly stellar. There are two other burst modes, Hi1 and Hi2, which are faster but limit resolution further, to 5 and 3 megapixels, respectively.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Movie recording on the Olympus SP-610UZ is a mixed bag. The dedicated movie record button works well, eliminating the need to enter a dedicated video shooting mode. The video settings can be adjusted beforehand via the setup menu. The options are limited to resolution (720p, VGA or QVGA) and quality (Fine or Normal). You can also tell the camera whether or not to record (mono) sound along with the footage, and whether or not to provide image stabilisation. If you opt to turn off the audio, you can use the optical zoom while filming (example here). If you want video with sound, however, you need to give up the ability to use the optical zoom while recording a movie - which is a bit frustrating on a camera whose main claim to fame is its 22x zoom lens. Exposure, gain or audio levels cannot be adjusted manually. Videos are compressed using the H.264 codec and stored in MPEG-4 format.
Photos and movies are stored on SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards. The memory card slot is found within the battery compartment. This is not the greatest solution, as there is nothing to keep the batteries in place once the compartment door is open - this is something you need to remember when changing cards. The - plastic - tripod socket is very close to the battery/card compartment, meaning you cannot change batteries or cards while the camera is mounted on a tripod. As noted earlier, the Olympus SP-610UZ runs on 4 AA batteries, including both rechargeable and disposable cells. On one hand, this is great, as you can pick up fresh batteries almost anywhere, even in a garage store or a petrol station in the middle of nowhere. However the use of AA batteries has its downsides too, namely that if you want to use rechargeables, you need to buy them - as well as a charger - separately, and depending on the charger, they may take longer to charge than a proprietary Li-ion battery pack.
Using the Olympus SP-610UZ has left us with slightly mixed feelings. On one hand, having a 22x zoom literally at your fingertips is a fantastic experience. Being able to photograph everything from wide vistas to extreme close-ups of faraway subjects without having to change lenses is something that has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. The zooming action is pretty smooth for a power zoom, and reasonably fast too; certainly much faster than changing lenses on an SLR. On the other hand, the lack of an eye-level EVF and direct-button access to exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity - not to mention things like shutter speed - was a big minus. Auto-focus speeds were satisfactory for shooting stationary or slow-moving subjects in bright light, but don't expect the camera to keep up with fast motion, especially in low light. When shooting video, we missed the option of simultaneously recording audio and using the optical zoom. All things considered, though, the Olympus SP-610UZ provided us with a pleasant shooting experience for the price.
This concludes our evaluation of the Olympus SP-610UZ's ergonomics, handling and feature set. Let us now move on to the image quality assessment!
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 6Mb.
A camera with a tiny, pixel-packed sensor and a huge zoom ratio will always be a set of compromises, and anyone expecting top-notch image quality from such a device is bound to be disappointed. Within those constraints, though, the Olympus SP-610UZ actually produces more than usable images, at least outdoors in bright light.
Noise reduction takes its toll on fine detail even at the camera's base sensitivity setting, and pictures taken in the telephoto range often suffer from uneven sharpness across the frame, but our photos have still turned out better than expected. Colours are vibrant without being over-saturated, and the pictures still hold enough detail to produce some pretty big prints. Going up the sensitivity ladder brings more detail smearing and loss of saturation, especially from ISO 400 onward, but the output remains good enough for smaller prints and Web display.
One thing that the Olympus SP-610UZ is definitely not optimised for is night photography, as the slowest shutter speed is limited to 4 seconds and in Night Scene mode you cannot set the ISO sensitivity manually. On a more positive note, Red-Eye Reduction for flash portraits worked well, and the camera also put up a more than decent macro performance too. The image stabiliser was less effective than we would have liked, but it still helped produce somewhat sharper images at slow shutter speeds.
The Olympus SP-610UZ has six sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 80 to ISO 1600. The 100% crops below show what the quality is like at each setting.
ISO 80 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
The 22x lens has an extremely versatile focal range, as demonstrated by the examples below.
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 bit soft at the default sharpening setting, and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-610UZ does not save images in raw format. The available JPEG settings are Normal and Fine.
|14M Fine (100% Crop)||14M Normal (100% Crop)|
For an ultra-zoom, it was very surprising to see practically no trace of chromatic aberrations in the images. Evidently there is some clever processing going on in the background to eliminate all kinds of purple fringing - and it’s successful.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-610UZ has a supermacro mode that lets you focus as close as 1cm from the front lens element. This allows you to fill the frame with an object that is smaller than a CompactFlash memory card. Geometric distortion is significant, but sharpness is quite good.
The camera has a pop-up flash that has to be raised manually. The available settings are auto, fill in, redeye-reduction and off. Note that the settings can only be adjusted when the flash is raised. These shots of a white ceiling were taken at a subject distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (616mm)
Flash On - Telephoto 616mm)
And here are some flash portraits. As you can see the flash produced a bit of red-eye but the in-camera red-eye reduction system was able to eliminate it.
|Flash On (100% Crop)|
Red Eye Reduction
Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-610UZ is not very well suited to night photography, as you cannot use very slow shutter speeds. The photo below was taken in the Night Scene mode at a shutter speed of 2.5 seconds, sensitivity setting of ISO 200 and aperture of f/3.3, all chosen by the camera. The 100% crop demonstrates the quality you can expect.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-610UZ has a mechanical image stabilisation system of the sensor-shift variety. In our tests it has proven to be less effective than similar systems employed in some of Olympus' - and the competition's - other cameras. The following crops are from two photos taken at a 35mm equivalent focal length of 73mm and shutter speed of 1/15 second - as you can see, there is more detail in the stabilised image, but it's still not completely sharp.
On (100% Crop)
Off (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-610UZ has a 3D mode, in which you take two photographs of the same subject from slightly differing viewpoints. The camera then merges the two photographs into a single MPO file, which can be played back on a compatible 3D display device. Given that the SP-610UZ's own screen is 2D only, the camera also saves a 2D image in JPEG format alongside the MPO file.
|Download the MPO File|
The Olympus SP-610UZ is capable of stitching three overlapping photographs in-camera for a panoramic image. The resolution isn't very high but is more than adequate for on-screen viewing. If you intend your panoramas to be printed though, it is recommended to do the stitching yourself using the supplied PC software.
|Download the Full-Size Panorama|
This is a selection of sample images from the Olympus SP-610UZ camera, which were all taken using the 14 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
Rear of the Camera
Top of the Camera
Bottom of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Memory Card Slot
Considering its tiny, pixel-packed sensor and an ultra-zoom lens that naturally comes with its own set of compromises, the Olympus SP-610UZ produces surprisingly usable images, at least outdoors in bright light. While noise reduction does rob you of some fine detail even at base ISO, the overall impression is that the SP-610UZ produces generally sharper and more pleasing images than its 30x zoom cousin, the SP-800UZ. As is the case with most small-sensor digital cameras, image quality deteriorates quickly as you move up the sensitivity ladder, with ISO 400 already being characterised by heavy smearing of detail. At ISO 800 and 1600 you also lose quite a bit of saturation. That being said, we would not write off the SP-610UZ's high-ISO output as completely unusable - it's actually good enough for small prints and Web use. Just don't expect to see 14 megapixels' worth of detail at those settings, and you're unlikely to be disappointed. True low-light shooting is a different story - cameras like the Olympus SP-610UZ are simply not meant for that kind of photography.
In terms of usability, the Olympus SP-610UZ is very much an entry-level camera. You have no control over shutter speed or aperture, and even oft-used functions like ISO settings and exposure compensation are buried in the menu. This is unlikely to bother those who would simply like an affordable point-and-shoot camera with a large zoom ratio, but it's probably enough to put experienced users off buying the SP-610UZ. For a camera that is so obviously geared towards users who want as much automation as possible, it seems a bit inconsequential to have a flash that has to be raised manually - but otherwise it's a beginner-friendly package with a well-working intelligent Auto mode, a host of fun “Magic Filters” and scene modes. Video capture is again quite basic - yes, it's HD but the fact that you can only use the optical zoom if you disable audio recording is a big disappointment on a camera whose main claim to fame is its 22x zoom lens.
In summary, the affordable Olympus SP-610UZ represents a good value for anyone who wants a mostly automated digital camera with a big zoom, for use outdoors in bright light - but those who want more control over the photographic process should look elsewhere (and probably dig deeper in their pockets).
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||4.5|
Reviews of the Olympus SP-610UZ from around the web.
The Olympus SP-610UZ was launched in January 2011, joining the range of ultra-zoom compacts in the SP series. It can take close-up and group shots with the 22x optical zoom making it ideal for holidays and sports. The SP-610UZ is available in black for £159.
Read the full review »
For those looking for a large focal range in a small body, there is more choice on the market than ever before. Not only do a host of small compact cameras now offer large focal ranges, but the once-expensive superzoom market now features a host of models available at an affordable price. The Olympus SP-610UZ is one such model, offering a 22x optical zoom and specification to match in a relatively compact body and at an affordable price point.
Read the full review »
After ditching the manual modes and optical viewfinders from its bridge cameras, Olympus seems to be watering down this year's models even more. The new SP-610 UZ looks like a bridge but is clearly aimed entirely at point-and-shoot consumer users who don't want much more than a good choice of automatic modes. With its 22x zoom lens and original design and handling, this camera is an interesting alternative to regular superzoom compacts, including Olympus' own SZ-30.
Read the full review »
|Effective pixels||14 Megapixels|
|Filter array||Primary colour filter (RGB)|
|Full resolution||14.5 Megapixels|
|Type||1/2.3 '' CCD sensor|
|Optical zoom||22 x (WIDE)|
|Focal length||5.0 - 110 mm|
|Focal length (equiv. 35mm)||28 - 616 mm|
|Maximum aperture||3.3 - 5.7|
|Structure||13 lenses / 10 groups|
|Aspherical glass elements||4|
|ED glass elements||3|
|Enlargement factor||4 x / 88 x combined with optical zoom|
|Monitor size||7.6 cm / 3.0 ''|
|Brightness adjustment||+/- 2 levels|
|Method||TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection|
|Modes||iESP, Face Detection AF, Spot, AF Tracking|
|Standard mode||0.1m - ∞ (wide) / 1.8m - ∞ (tele)|
|Makro mode||0.1m - ∞ (wide) / 1.8m - ∞ (tele)|
|Super Macro mode||Closest focusing distance: 1 cm|
|Modes||ESP light metering, Spot metering, Centre weighted metering|
|Histogram in shooting mode||Yes|
|Modes||i-Auto, Programme automatic, Scene Modes, Magic Filter, Panorama, Movie, 3D Photos|
|Shutter speed||1/2 - 1/2000 s / < 4 s (Night scene)|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2 EV / 1/3 steps|
|Enhancement function||Mechanical Image Stabilizer
Shadow Adjustment Technology
Advanced Face Detection Technology
|Number of scene modes||16|
|Modes||Portrait, Beauty, Landscape, Night Scene, Night Scene with portrait, Sports, Indoor, Candle, Self-portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach and Snow, Pet (cat), Pet (dog)|
|Types||Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Sparkle, Water color|
|Auto||AUTO / High AUTO|
|Manual||ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600|
|AUTO WB system||Yes|
|Preset values||Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Flourescent 1|
|Modes||AUTO, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off|
|Working range (wide)||0.3 - 2.1 m (ISO 100) 6.0 m (ISO 800)|
|Working range (tele)||1.9 - 2.5 m (ISO 400) 4.9 m (ISO 1600)|
|Sequential shooting mode (high speed)||10 fps / 17 frames (in 3MP mode)
4.8 fps / 15 frames (in 5MP mode)
0.92 fps / 3 frames (in 8MP mode)
|Correction of saturation||Yes|
|Modes||Single, Index, Zoom, Slide show, Event, Photo Surfing|
|Index||4x3 / 6x5 frames|
|Zoom||1.1 - 10 x|
|Image protect mode||Yes|
|Histogram in playback mode||Yes|
|Modes||Frame by frame, Fast forward, Reverse playback|
|Still Image Recording|
|Movie Recording System|
|Image Stabilisation Mode||No|
|Magic Filter||Pop Art, Pin Hole, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Water color|
|Movie quality||720P Recording time: 29min.
VGA Recording time: no limit
QVGA Recording time: no limit
Note: maximum file size 4GB
|Sound Recording System|
|Sound recording||Yes , format: AAC|
|Image footage||4 s|
|Removable Media||SD / SDHC / SDXC|
|Eye-Fi Card compatible||Yes|
|Internal memory||59 MB|
|14M||4288 x 3216|
|8M||3264 x 2448|
|5M||2560 x 1920|
|3M||2048 x 1536|
|2M||1600 x 1200|
|1M||1280 x 960|
|VGA||640 x 480|
|16:9||4288 x 2416
1920 x 1080
|Menu languages in camera||39|
|Self timer||2 / 12 s Pet auto shutter|
|Perfect Shot Preview||Yes|
|Panorama function||In-Camera Panorama|
|Battery||AA batteries Alkaline or Ni-MH (CR-V3 not compliant)|
|Combined A/V & USB output||Yes|
|USB 2.0 High Speed||Yes|
|HDMI™||Yes Type D *
* "HDMI", the HDMI logo and "High-Definition Multimedia Interface" are trademarks or registered trademarks of HDMI Licensing LLC.
|Dimensions (W x H x D)||107.4 x 72.6 x 73.2 mm|
|Weight||405 g (including battery and memory card)|