The launch of this camera also marks the 10th anniversary of the Olympus’ SP range of cameras. This affordable camera with a truckload of feature and SLR looks could be a perfect travel companion for amateur photographers. Read the full review to find out whether it can replace that ultra-compact digicam.

Features and Specs

The USP of The SP 610UZ is the 22x optical zoom lens which falls short of the class leading Canon Powershot SX30IS (which is soon going to be obsolete as SX40HS is soon entering the market) and Nikon Coolpix P500 which have 35x and 36x zoom lens respectively. It has the basic 1/2.3 inch CCD sensor with 14MP resolution. The 3 inch LCD monitor doubles up has a paltry resolution of 230k which I feel is a little too less for a screen of this size. An optical viewfinder is also sorely missed.

The lens has the best in-class focal length ranges from 28mm to 616mm (35mm equivalent). However, you cannot meddle with the aperture speeds because it doesn’t have an iris diaphragm. Therefore, there is neutral density filter which has been set at 2.5.  For a camera of this size it also boasts of maximum apertures of f/3.3 at the widest focus and f/5.6 in telephoto.

The SP610 UZ can capture videos at 720p resolution at 30fps. Apart from that Olympus claims that SP610 UZ can capture 17 frames of 3MP pictures at 10fps, 5MP pictures can be captured at 4.8fps (15 frames) and 8MP pictures at 0.92 fps. It is disappointing that Olympus did not implement continuous shooting at maximum resolution.

It comes with a manual pop-up flash which is another amazing inclusion rather than an automatic pop-up flash. ISO range includes 80, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600. Shooting modes do not include aperture/shutter priority modes or manual shooting mode which is understandable considering the price-range this camera falls under. It has a plethora of shooting modes at your disposal. The Intelligent Auto (iAuto) mode chooses the scenes on its own. The program mode is the advanced user mode that lets you play around with a lot of options. The panorama mode has three options to choose from where you can stitch photos using either of the three - Auto, Manual and PC options. The SP 610UZ can also shoot in 3D but you cannot view images on your camera.  You can also apply a range of magic filters while shooting or after you have captured the images. These filters are fun for casual users who are averse to using image editing tools on a PC.

Features-wise the SP 610UZ scores in a lot of departments but falls short in some owing to certain glaring omissions. It is obvious that Olympus has tried to cut some corners to keep the camera at a low price.
Design, Interface & Usability

The Olympus SP 610UZ’s design screams "Honey, I shrunk the DSLR." However, let me categorically state that the look and the feel of the camera does not exactly exude the ‘rich-feel’ we associate with super-zooms. It is a practical design nonetheless.

At 405 grams the camera is heavy but compared to the competition i.e. Nikon Coolpix P500 (494 grams) and Canon Powershot SX30IS (609 grams) the SP 610UZ is much lighter.  Much of the weight is felt around the hand-rest area considering it also holds the four AA batteries. It is easy not to notice the rubber padding for resting your thumbs and fingers around the hand rest.

The lens, the hand rest and the entire back are painted black. Silver runs through the rest of the body including the flash. The colour scheme is definitely not a head-turner. The shutter button and the zoom ring sit are perched comfortably on top of the hand rest. The left of the camera has the microphone for recording sounds and the right has the HDMI output port and Olympus proprietary PC/Mac connectivity port.

The large 3.0 inch LCD screen occupies most of the back and this screen has great visibility even under direct sunlight. However, there is enough real estate to fit the hardware controls like the play, video recording, scroll wheel, ‘ok’, menu and help. The on/off control is the only hardware button on top of the camera. I particularly approve the scroll wheel it is very smooth and feels firm. All the other buttons are good too and don’t feel too cheap. I have a small grouse with the battery compartment. The four AA batteries are not secure properly and fall down once u open the compartment. You can’t change batteries when you set the camera on a tripod.

The user interface is good for navigation but the UI is very plain looking. It is very uninspiring. But once your eyes get accustomed to the poor design of the UI you will notice that at navigating through the options is very easy.

Go to next page for performance review

Performance

Speed

The Olympus SP 610UZ takes 3.5 seconds to start and be ready for capturing images which is just about average. Focussing at full tele (616m) or 22x full zoom, is slow. Shutter lag with pre-focus was 0.2 seconds and without pre-focus it averaged around 5 seconds. The lag time between shots is decent at 5 seconds without flash and with flash it takes around 7 seconds which is poor.

I have no clue absolutely whatsoever why Olympus doesn’t let you shoot continuous images at maximum resolution (you can shoot at 8MP). In continuous mode, the camera shoots 8MP resolution pictures at 0.692 fps, 5MP images at 4.5fps and 3MP images at 9.3fps which is very close to the claims. These numbers are fair to say the least.

Image and lens quality

What is evident from taking a look at the captured images is that there is a lot of post processing work happening before the images are captured. Not that it is bad, professional photographers may not like it.
The images captured in broad daylight produce warm colours and a soft look on the edges of the captured image make the overall look pleasing. Chromatic aberration was minimal which is great.

After struggling with the focussing for a few seconds I managed to capture very good details at maximum zoom. See the pictures below for reference.

The super macro mode lets you shoot subjects which are just 1cm away which is a great plus. Again the auto-focus took sometime but I managed to capture some good details. Low light photography was a big letdown. Don’t expect results like the Canon or Nikon counterparts. There was very little or no exposure and absolutely no details captured without flash. The pop-up flash is, however, very bright and can cover a maximum distance of 10 ft which is very good.

The ISO test was a big letdown. This test shows us the true mettle of a camera. But, I suppose the SP 610UZ’s didn’t pass the test as we started great amount of noise in the images starting from ISO 200 itself and beyond ISO 200 the images were just unusable.

Take a look at the images below ISO 80 /100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / ISO 1600 placed in order.

Video Quality

The camera shoots 720p (1280x720) HD videos at 30 fps. Though these features look good on paper, in real-world the video quality is not that great. It is jerky at most places. Also, I don’t know why the camera cannot zoom in videos when you keep your sound recording on. The SP 610UZ’s video capture quality is not very bad but not great either. I found the colours a bit dull and washed out and captured details were a little smudged. Though the zooming is fairly smooth, the focussing is not. In fact the blur while zooming ruins your video shooting experience. All in all, the video quality is just about average.

Battery Life

The four AA batteries give you 340 shots till the batteries drain and it is very good. I like using pencil batteries instead of Lithium ion batteries as they are easy to procure.

Olympus SP 610UZ: Specs

  • Optical Zoom 22x
  • Optical Image Stabilisation Yes
  • Sensor Pixels 14 MP
  • Screen size, pixels 3-inch, 230K
  • Focal Length 28mm -616mm (35mm equivalent)
  • ISO 80 / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600
  • Maximum Video Captured Resolution 1280 x 720 at 30fps
  • Optical Zoom 22x
  • Optical Image Stabilisation Yes
  • Sensor Pixels 14 MP
  • Screen size, pixels 3-inch, 230K
  • Focal Length 28mm -616mm (35mm equivalent)
  • ISO 80 / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600
  • Maximum Video Captured Resolution 1280 x 720 at 30fps

OUR VERDICT

The Olympus SP 610UZ is available for £169 (you can get a better deal if you search) and is a very good deal considering the features it offers. It is a good travel companion for casual photographers. It doesn’t have a lot of manual settings to play around with. But has quite a few features that make it an interesting buy. If you want a more professional camera go for either the Nikon Coolpix P500 or the Canon Powershot SX30IS. But you won’t get it for such a bargain.

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