• Price When Reviewed: 255

  • Pros: Low cost. Long zoom lens. Good colour reproduction.

  • Cons: No image stabilization. Low resolution. Blurring at long zoom.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

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The biggest thing about the Olympus SP-500 Ultra Zoom is the lens: it’s an impressive 10x model that is significantly longer than those on most point-&-shoot cameras. However, it has no type of image stabilization, so this long zoom can be a mixed blessing. It lets you get close to the action, but in anything other than bright sunlight you may end up with blurry pictures because the long zoom amplifies camera shake, especially with long shutter times.

The long lens also makes the camera too big to easily fit into a pocket: it’s 2.8-inches deep when turned off, and the lens expands to a slightly ungainly 3.5-inches deep when it’s turned on. Fortunately, it’s not too heavy and the wide grip makes it comfortable to hold while shooting. You can easily shoot, use the zoom, or turn the mode dial with your right hand, but you’ll need your other hand to access the on-screen menu. An auto-exposure lock button is conveniently located on the top of the camera.

Although the 2.5-inch LCD screen is viewable in daylight, the electronic viewfinder looks much better in that type of setting, and it also saves battery life. You can switch between the two with a button to the right of the viewfinder.

The SP-500 Ultra Zoom is also good value – at £255, it’s significantly cheaper than most of the other models we’ve seen with long zooms. The resolution of six megapixels is a little behind the seven and eight-megapixel models that we are seeing now, but the Olympus’ resolution is more than adequate for many users. You can easily blow up the images to
8-x-10-inch size and get usable prints.

There’s a pretty good selection of scene modes – 21 in all – but there is no way to quickly switch among them; you have to scroll through the list.

Colours are impressively reproduced, and the camera accurately exposed the images. We did see some slight distortion when using the zoom lens at its widest settings, and the photos also looked rather soft. With a long zoom and no stabilization, details such as small text and fine lines get lost in a blurry haze.