Olympus SP-620UZ Review
The Olympus SP-620UZ is the successor to last year's SP-610UZ camera, sporting a 16-megapixel CCD sensor and a 21x ultra-zoom lens. Also on board is Olympus' sensor-shift image stabilisation system, TruePic III+ image processor, a range of Magic Filters and a feature that allows the SP-620UZ 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-620UZ is an affordable entry into the world of superzoom cameras, priced at £179 / €189 / $199 in the UK, Europe and the US, respectively.
Ease of Use
With seemingly no let up in the number of super zoom cameras and bridge models being released, despite the fact that compact system cameras and HD video shooting DSLRs are arguably the latest and greatest thing, Olympus swells the ranks with the 16 megapixel SP-620UZ 'Ultra Zoom'. Marking 10 years of the SP range the key appeal here is, inevitably, jack-of-all-trades convenience and the ability to frame up everything from fingernail sized close ups to skittish deer a hundred metres away without actually moving a muscle. That takes precedence over and above necessarily pin sharp results.
Available either as silver or black body in the UK, the SP-620UZ is an upgrade of the £150 14MP SP-610UZ, and if there's one thing that stands a budget-priced Olympus zoom apart from the pack it's the pared-down appearance. Here, unlike say the much pricier Fuji X-S1, we have a body uncluttered by DSLR-like controls and buttons. Indeed the Olympus SP range seems to be coming more from the starting point of a regular compact, with all the user friendliness that should imply. Albeit it's a compact that's been 'pimped' by virtue of having a stonking great lens stuck on the front.
One downer is Olympus' latest offering feels a little plastic-y in spite of the disguise of our sample's metallic finish. Plus, while not ugly, its largely frill-free blocky-ness wouldn't win any Red Dot design commendation. However the four AA batteries required for power that slot into the base of its handgrip do however provide a degree of weight (at 435g all in) and reassurance.
With a recession-friendly price tag that won't break the bank at a suggested £179.99 (so expect street prices around £150-160), the undoubted draw here is the girth of lens you get in return. It's a 21x optical zoom with a maximum f/3.1 lens aperture providing the 35mm equivalent of 25-525mm, and achieving focus as close as 10cm from a subject, in macro mode at least. Curiously this lens starts out wider but winds up shorter than its predecessor's 28-616mm reach. The zoom is once again supported by dual image stabilization.
As we've noted before, one can't argue that such a reach provides a wide variety of framing options, allowing the photographer to self engineer everything from wide angle landscapes to candid close ups. That said, with the latest pocket travel zooms offering up to 20x zooms and more portable proportions still, there is increased competition if all you want is that extra 'poke'. So how does the Olympus SP-620UZ, incorporating a TruePic III+ image processor and 1/2.3-inch CCD as its engine room, measure up?
Though our expectations may be modest, as we'd expect on any camera being released in 2012, HD video recording is offered alongside stills. Here a dedicated button top right of the backplate is provided for the purpose. While its location means that it falls readily under the thumb for one-touch activation when gripping the Olympus right handed, we found ourselves accidentally nudging it when carrying the camera along and commencing recording of maximum 1280x720 pixels clips.
Likewise, we found ourselves accidentally pressing the on/off button on the top plate with a forefinger when gripping the camera firmly enough to slide open the stiff plastic battery compartment cover at the SP-620UZ's base. In both circumstances there seems to be little alternative space to place digits, so such occurrences become numerous and frustrating. That said, this model does feature what Olympus is calling Multi-motion Movie IS - an intelligent image stabilization feature that is supposed to improve results when filming and walking at the same time (See our video clips for a deliberately 'carelessly' filmed example of just that).
In the absence of an electronic or optical viewfinder, thereby keeping proportions that much more compact than say Fuji's HS30EXR, we're reliant on the fixed, non-angle adjustable LCD at the back of the SP-620UZ for shot composition and review. Though the ubiquitous 3-inches in size, the resolution is a relatively meagre 230k pixels by today's standards, In other words the same as your average sub-£100 snapshot. Clearly this is a camera designed to meet a pre-destined budget friendly price point, and junior place in the range, with the equally fresh 26x yet 14MP SP-720UZ (also launched at January's CES) perched just above it.
This being an Olympus camera, among the shooting options discovered by tabbing (or scrolling) left and right through the shooting modes - there is once again no dedicated dial - are 11 'magic' effects filters, which help set Olympus apart from the crowd. The options here applied at the point of capture are the dayglo photocopied effect of Punk, colour boosting Pop Art, plus the self explanatory Pin Hole, Drawing, Fish Eye, Soft Focus, Sparkle (adding a starburst effect to reflective surfaces), Watercolour, Miniature, Reflection and new this time around, a 'Fragmented' filter. It's worth noting that while most of these can be put to use for video as well as stills, the new fragmented along with sparkle are photos-only options.
Also located in the same shooting mode section of the toolbar as the Magic Filters are both a 3D photo mode and a panorama mode. The latter doesn't shoot a rapid burst of files as you pan left to right and stitch them together to form a 360°; no it's more modest in its aims and simply conjoins three frames, that the user marries up at the point of capture by keeping the camera level with a target that wobbles about on the centre of screen in between sequential shots. The SP-620UZ does however still automatically stitch together the final elongated result. As expected, the 3D mode uses software rather than twin lenses or sensors to achieve its tri dimensional trickery - promoting you to take two adjacent shots from slightly differing angles to form the end result that naturally requires a 3D TV or monitor to enjoy. An HDMI output port is provided under a rubber side flap for connectivity purposes.
Should, as when watching an IMAX movie, the process of using the Olympus get at all overwhelming, help is at hand with a press of the '?' button located bottom right of the backplate. This is the regular in-camera help guide, for those who wish to bypass the hard copy manual. In general terms though, Olympus expects your usage of the SP-620UZ to be of the point and shot variety.
There's no automatic lens or clip on cover provided here. Merely a simple plastic cover that slips on, and one the user therefore has to remember to remove before powering the camera up. Press the narrow lozenge shaped on/off button - the only control to feature on the top plate apart from a large raised shutter release button encircled by the equally obvious zoom control lever - and provided the time and date have been pre-set the Olympus is ready for action in around two seconds. The lens barrel immediately extends a couple of centimetres beyond its housing to its widest zoom setting, whilst the rear 230k dot LCD blinks into life. Squeeze down on the shutter release and while AF is not quite instant like on the Olympus Pen models, here there's the briefest pause before the AF point appears, highlighted in green with an accompanying bleep of affirmation that the user is free to squeeze down fully and take the shot. Do so and a single shot full resolution JPEG is committed to memory - here removable SD card, with wireless Eye-Fi compatibility further offered - within 3-4 seconds. Not the fastest ever, but commensurate with what is an inexpensive entry-level bridge model. And, as it is such a model, we don't get the option to shoot Raw. Instead optimum quality is provided by selecting a Fine compression level, as opposed to the alternative of 'normal' compression, for its 16MP JPEGs.
Nudge the zoom lever and the SP-620UZ relatively rockets through the available focal range, reaching maximum zoom from extreme wideangle setting in 2-3 seconds. That's in stills mode at least. For shooting video you can use the optical zoom or record sound, but not both simultaneously. Try to use the zoom without first turning sound off within the camera's menus and it won't budge. The only option if you want sound and a zoom is to deploy the digital zoom, which is a little unsatisfactory.
As physical controls are kept to a minimum on the spare-looking SP-620UZ, there is no immediately identifiable shooting mode dial or menu either, nor is there seemingly a dedicated modes button. Instead these are selected via a toolbar that appears upon power up and is ranged to the right hand side of the LCD. A press of the 'OK' button at the centre of the SP-620UZ's backplate scroll wheel/control pad highlights a shooting setting. A scroll or tab left or right subsequently reveals the other available shooting options, hidden until now. Only the shooting mode presently selected denoted by an icon at the top of screen - 'P' for Program mode for instance - is constantly visible.
Apart from Program we also get a fairly reliable intelligent auto mode with AF tracking, allowing for simple point-and-shoot operation, plus a 'Magic' mode that provides access to the aforementioned Magic Filters. Next up is the Panorama mode already touched on and adjacent to this the 3D mode. Like the panorama mode the shutter immediately fires when you have 'married' up the two separate images on screen, with a ghost outline provided as a guide. Although you can't see the 3D effect on the back of the camera, you can at least view a 2D version so you know that you've got the shot.
The only one of the six available shooting modes we haven't mentioned is that for 'scene'. Press 'OK' with this option highlighted and a bar slides out offering the following 17 user selectable choices: beach and snow mode, separate pet modes for a cat and a dog, standard portrait mode, enhanced beauty mode, landscape mode, night scene mode, night portrait, self portrait, sunset, plus fireworks mode, sports mode, indoor mode, self portrait, sunset, cuisine, and finally text documents mode.
The top edge of the backplate scroll wheel is marked with 'info' while above this again sits a self-explanatory playback button. Give the edge of the wheel a nudge and all on-screen shooting info is deactivated apart from the icon showing whichever mode is in play, while a subsequent nudge brings up both a nine zone compositional grid plus, more unusually at this price point, a live histogram, revealing the areas of brightness in the image.
Apart from the aforementioned shooting modes, in tabbing down the right hand toolbar the user alights on additional key shooting settings, with the widest range of options unsurprisingly provided in Program mode. Flash settings are here for example, though you have to first manually raise the flash - there's no automatic pop up operation, nor even dedicated activation lever. Flash options are limited to fill in/forced flash, flash off, auto activation and flash with red eye reduction.
Gingerly tab down one setting - we say gingerly, as otherwise the overly responsive scroll wheel is want to send you flying forward two settings at a time - and arrive at macro focus option, here divided between regular macro and 'super' macro. One more setting down and we arrive at self timer mode, which provides the standard two or 10 second choices, while below it sits the exposure compensation setting, running between +/- 3EV. Following on from this are the ability to manually adjust white balance, and ISO settings, the latter running from ISO80 to ISO1600 with additional Auto ISO and High auto option.
|Memory Card Slot
Lastly there is the ability to access the drive mode which is divided by the default of single shot, continuous 0.65fps mode at full resolution or two high-speed sequential shooting modes, for those interested in using the zoom for action photography. Select the latter two modes and resolution is reduced to five megapixels if shooting at 5.3fps and an excusable three megapixels if choosing a rather more impressive than average 14fps.
As expected we also get a dedicated 'menu' button on the SP-620UZ's rear plate. A press of this and we're presented with no fewer than seven folders, with two stills shooting folders, one video folder, one playback folder and three set up folders. All contain standard settings.
It is among these that the user selects image size and JPEG compression for example. We also get a chance to implement Olympus' exposure enhancing shadow adjustment technology, leave it on automatic for the camera to choose or simply turn it off altogether. AF mode can also be swapped between face recognition and AF tracking, plus image stabilisation turned on continually or activated only when making an exposure, not that there's a noticeable difference. Video clip size can also be switched between top 720p (progressive) capture setting and standard VGA (640x480 pixels) or QVGA (320x240 pixels) settings. The previously mentioned IS movie mode is also turned on or off via the same menu. Set up, meanwhile, provides the ability to format the memory in use among other standard options. It's worth mentioning that the bottom edge of the scroll wheel/control dial features a dedicated delete setting - which is always useful to save otherwise having to delve into menu settings just to delete the odd duff shot.
While the left hand flank of the camera, if viewed from the back is devoid of any features save a built in mono speaker, the right hand side of the camera features a flap covering two ports, the larger one for HDMI output and the smaller for standard USB 2.0 connectivity.
The base of the SP-620UZ meanwhile features a centrally located screw thread for a tripod attachment, plus a covered compartment housing the four AA batteries plus optional SD/SDHC or SDXC card. There is also a 59MB internal capacity to fall back on.
All the above makes for a pretty straightforward camera with equally straightforward operation, matched to an equally transparent price. While that ensures the Olympus SP-620UZ ticks the boxes for ease of use, value for money and on the whole for responsiveness, how does the camera match up when we get to the crux of the matter: image quality? Read on to discover more.
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 16 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 6.5Mb.
As we've noted prior to the Olympus SP-620UZ, apart from all-in-one convenience, super zoom cameras are all about the quality of the performance at maximum wideangle and extreme telephoto. We're looking to determine whether the camera maintains edge-to-edge sharpness and avoid obvious barrel distortion as regards the former, and steers clear of repeated soft shots when shooting handheld as regards the latter?
As the zoom range on the SP-620UZ is comparatively modest at 21x - certainly when compared to Nikon's 42x P510 for example - we didn't have too much of a problem getting relatively sharp results first time when shooting handheld at maximum 525mm equivalent telephoto setting. That in itself is commendable, though this is in daylight it has to be noted.
Way over at the other 25mm end of the zoom, some corner softening was also noticeable, if only on very close inspection, though barrel distortion and any fish eye effect is kept well under control. To nitpick further the familiar Olympus bugbear of the results from auto white balance shifting shot-to-shot even when shooting the same subject rears its head.
Happily too, any concerns about a sensor over-loaded with a high pixel count can be largely dismissed. Though detail softens slightly at ISO 800 and upwards, we'd be happy keeping the results of images shot up to ISO 1600. In fact the very usable performance at this top setting indicates that Olympus could have stretched things a bit further by at least providing an ISO 3200 option, but then cost and market sector have to be also taken into account.
On an equally positive note, the Magic Filters are readily to hand to achieve added visual pep when required. The likes of pop art prove useful in accenting a particular colour scheme or you're faced with an otherwise dull day. But as ever it's worth some initial experimentation. Otherwise in regular Program and Auto modes colours are naturalistic, which is no bad thing.
Happily then, in conclusion the SP-620UZ's performance more than justifies the price tag. If this were a £500 model we might have some issues, but in this case despite the lack of frills we can be very pleased with what we've paid for.
The Olympus SP-620UZ 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 21x lens offers a very 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)
As yoiu'd expect for an ultra-zoom camera, there are some chromatic aberrations in the images, particularly at the edges of the frame.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
Example 1 (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-620UZ 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 (5mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (25mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (525mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (525mm)
And here are some flash portraits. As you can see there's no red-eye in either mode.
|Flash On (100% Crop)
Red Eye Reduction
Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Olympus SP-620UZ is not very well suited to night photography, as you cannot manually use very slow shutter speeds. The photo below was taken in the Night Scene mode at a shutter speed of 3 seconds, sensitivity setting of ISO 320 and aperture of f/4.5, all chosen by the camera. The 100% crop demonstrates the quality you can expect.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
This is a selection of sample images from the Olympus SP-620UZ camera, which were all taken using the 16 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 / Flash Raised
Rear of the Camera
Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed
Top of the Camera
|Bottom of the Camera
|Side of the Camera
|Side of the Camera
|Memory Card Slot
If you want an expansive (not to mention normally expensive) lens reach but don't want your wallet to take anywhere near as big a financial hit as the best current examples of the bridge camera in the much flashier but way pricier Fuji XS-1 or HS30, then the Olympus SP-620UZ is worthy of consideration.
For a street price around £150-160 we can't expect perfection, and while the Olympus doesn't deliver that, for the money the performance it provides is very good indeed. Set against this positive view is a lumpen design, plastic-y build, 'mere' 1280x720 pixels HD video, lack of rechargeable battery (though of course a set of rechargeable AAs are easy enough to come by), plus, for us, the fiddly scroll wheel at the back lets it down. But, to be honest, these are grumbles rather than deal breakers and a plastic-y feel could also be leveled at the likes of Canon's PowerShot SX40HS for example.
So the SP-620UZ, whilst styled like the ubiquitous mini DSLR, lacks the bells and whistles of that kind of camera and more expensive bridge models, but so what. Viewed as a point and shoot camera on which you get a broader than average lens reach and from which it's possible to derive some fairly decent results, when all's said and done it's a thumbs up for the Olympus SP-620UZ.
|Ratings (out of 5)
|Value for money
|Primary colour filter (RGB)
|1/2.3 '' CCD sensor
|21 x (WIDE)
|4.5 - 94.5 mm
|Focal length (equiv. 35mm)
|25 - 525 mm
|3.1 - 5.8
|12 lenses / 9 groups
|Aspherical glass elements
|4 x / 84 x combined with optical zoom
|7.6 cm / 3.0 ''
|+/- 2 levels
|TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection
|iESP, Face Detection AF, Spot, AF Tracking
|0.2m - ∞ (wide) / 1.8m - ∞ (tele)
|0.2m - ∞ (wide) / 1.8m - ∞ (tele)
|Super Macro mode
|Closest focusing distance: 1 cm
|ESP light metering, Spot metering
|Histogram in shooting mode
|i-Auto, Programme automatic, Scene Modes, Magic Filter, Panorama, Movie, 3D Photos
|1/2 - 1/1500 s / < 4 s (Night scene)
|+/- 2 EV / 1/3 steps
|Mechanical Image Stabiliser
Advanced Face Detection Technology
Shadow Adjustment Technology
|Number of scene 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)
|Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Sparkle, Water color, Reflection, Miniature, Fragmented
|AUTO / High AUTO
|ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
|AUTO WB system
|Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Flourescent 1
|One-touch white balance
|1 custom settings can be registered
|AUTO, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off
|Working range (wide)
|0.3 - 6.0 m (ISO 1000)
|Working range (tele)
|1.8 - 3.3 m (ISO 1000)
|Sequential shooting mode (high speed)
|14 fps / 67 frames (in 3MP mode)
5.3 fps / 65 frames (in 5MP mode)
|Sequential shooting mode
|0.65 fps / 14 frames (Full Image Size)
|Correction of saturation
|Single, Index, Zoom, Slide show, Event, Photo Surfing
|4x3 / 6x5 frames
|1.1 - 10 x
|Image protect mode
|Histogram in playback mode
|Frame by frame, Fast forward, Reverse playback
|Still Image Recording
|Movie Recording System
|Image Stabilisation Mode
|Multi-motion Movie IS
|HD Movie quality
|720P Recording time: 29min.
|VGA Recording time: Up to card capacity
QVGA Recording time: Up to card capacity
Note: maximum file size 4GB
When shooting 720P movies use SDHC/SDXC class 6 or higher.
|Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fisheye, Drawing, Soft Focus, Punk, Water color, Reflection, Miniature
|Sound Recording System
|Yes , format: AAC
|SD / SDHC / SDXC (UHS speed class not supported)
|Eye-Fi Card compatible
|4608 x 3456
|3264 x 2448
|2560 x 1920
|2048 x 1536
|1600 x 1200
|1280 x 960
|640 x 480
|4608 x 2592
1920 x 1080
|Menu languages in camera
|3D Photo Shooting Mode
|Perfect Shot Preview
|2 / 12 s Pet auto shutter
|AA batteries Alkaline or Ni-MH (CR-V3 not compliant)
|Combined A/V & USB output
|USB 2.0 High Speed
|Yes Micro connector (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)
|109.7 x 74.3 x 73.7 mm
|435 g (including battery and memory card)