Olympus SP 550 Ultra Zoom
Written by Gordon Laing
The Olympus SP-550UZ is a 7.1 Megapixel super-zoom compact with a difference: where most super-zoom ranges top-out at 12x, or 15x if you’re really lucky, the SP-550UZ boasts nothing less than a whopping 18x optical zoom lens – that’s the world’s biggest at the time of writing. Better still, while most super-zooms are limited to modest wide angle capabilities, the SP-550UZ features decent coverage equivalent to 28mm.
So the SP-550UZ offers a massive equivalent range of 28-504mm, and makes it perfectly usable with built-in image stabilisation. Unlike many rival models which use lens-based optical stabilisation though, the SP-550UZ employs a CCD-shift system which actually moves the sensor to counteract any wobbles. The camera doesn’t skimp on macro capabilities either, focusing as close as 1cm from its subjects.
Built-in sensor-shift represents one half of what Olympus describes as Dual Image Stabilisation. The other half relies on high sensitivities to achieve faster shutter speeds. The SP-550UZ offers a remarkably wide range of sensitivities from 50 to 5000 ISO, and we’ll be putting all of them to the test in this review.
Like most higher-end compacts, the SP-550UZ additionally offers the usual array of manual control and exposure adjustments, but packs everything into a surprisingly compact, well-built and comfortable package. There may be no flash hotshoe nor flip-out screen, but the SP-550UZ appears to have pretty much everything else covered.
Several years ago Olympus was the King of super-zoom compacts, then Panasonic came along and stole its crown. Rival Sony also wants a piece of the action with its latest 15x zoom models.
Will the SP-550UZ see Olympus reclaim its position? Find out in our full review where we’ll compare the SP-550UZ against other premium compacts, super-zooms and budget DSLRs. As always we’ll also demonstrate the key features, including the massive zoom range and image stabilisation in our Olympus SP-550UZ video tour.
Following our convention of using default factory and best quality JPEG settings to test cameras unless otherwise stated, the SP-550UZ was set SHQ quality, Auto White Balance and ESP Metering, with sharpness, contrast and saturation set to their default zero positions. Noise reduction for long exposures is enabled by default on the SP-550UZ, so that’s what we’ve used in our Gallery shots; we have however included samples with and without noise reduction in our noise results pages.