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Back in March of this year I reviewed the 18x zoom, 7.1 megapixel Olympus SP-550UZ. While I was impressed by its design and huge list of features, I was less impressed by its image quality, especially considering its hefty £320 price tag. I guess I wasn't alone in my opinion, because in October Olympus launched this, the 8.1-megapixel SP-560UZ, a more powerful and even more ambitious take on the compact super-zoom concept, which features several important improvements over the earlier model, and a big improvement in the price. The SP-560UZ is already available for around £240.
High-end super-zoom cameras are something of an Olympus speciality, but the SP-560UZ is not without some strong competition. The most obvious is the superb Canon S5 IS (£217), although that only has a 12x zoom lens. In the 18x zoom category, it is up against two very impressive cameras, the Panasonic FZ-18 (£243) and the Fuji S8000fd (£187).
The SP-560UZ shares the same bodyshell as the 550, which is fine with me because it's a lovely design. It measures 116 x 78.5 x 78 mm and weighs 365g, which makes it smaller but heavier than the FZ-18, and larger but lighter than the S8000fd, although by fairly narrow margins in both cases. Although physically compact, the well-shaped wrap-around handgrip and the textured rubber that covers most of the camera's body makes it extremely comfortable and secure to hold. The black crackle finish that covers the rest of the body looks much better than the shiny grey plastic of the 550, appearing more restrained yet more professional. The body is plastic, but the curvy shape makes it inherently strong, and the metal strip running up the seams on both sides of the body, and incorporating the strap lugs, provides additional protection. While the lens barrel is plastic, and rather precarious-looking when fully extended, the housing into which it retracts when not in use is made of metal, so it is well protected. The card and battery hatches have plastic hinges, but they are reasonably sturdy, and the battery hatch has a locking latch.