Olympus describes the SP-570 UZ as having the “body of an ultra-zoom” and the “soul of an SLR”. Introduced in the spring, the SP-570, with its SLR-like grip and “normal” looking lens could be mistaken for a three-quarter size SLR. However, take off the lens cap and turn it on, and the extending lens gives away the SP-570’s secret: An f2.8-f4.5 20x optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of a 26-520mm focal length.

The SP-570 UZ boasts a 10 megapixel sensor, image stabilization, a 13.5 frame per second burst mode (more on that later), a pop-up flash, and a hot shoe. In addition to a host of automatic modes, the SP-570 includes complete manual controls and the ability to shoot RAW images.

During testing the SP-570 felt and acted more like a small SLR than a compact camera, especially outdoors when I was using the viewfinder. Were it not for the digital shutter sound, LCD screen in the viewfinder, and the fact that the zoom ring on the lens moves the lens electronically (as opposed to mechanically), I might have actually forgotten that it I wasn’t shooting an SLR.

Unlike most digital cameras these days, the SP-570 operates on four AA batteries instead of a proprietary rechargeable. While it’s a bold decision by Olympus, AA’s do have an advantage for those who travel, and recent advances in AA NiMH rechargeables make this a relatively minor issue.

The SP-570 UZ produced the great quality images that we have come to expect from Olympus, and the ability to shoot in automatic, aperture priority, shutter priority, and fully manual modes makes the SP-570 a very flexible camera. But it’s greatest asset is a zoom range that exceeds what most SLR users carry in their bag, even with multiple lenses, and that fact alone makes the SP-570 very attractive. These two images show the dramatic range covered by the the 20x zoom lens.

There is one catch: At a full 10 megapixels, the SP-570 is only capable of 1.2 frames per second (fps). To achieve 7.2 or 13.5 fps the resolution is decreased to 5 and 3 megapixels respectively. However, to keep this limitation in perspective, a decent 8×10” print only requires 3 megapixels, and even 7.2 fps (5 megapixels) is more the fast enough for covering sports.

In summary, the SP-570 is a great option for those seeking a small, flexible, lightweight camera with a zoom lens range that exceeds what most people carry with their SLR.

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