Olympus pretty much invented what we now call the super-zoom digital camera, launching the ambitious C-2100UZ (Ultra Zoom) in 2000. That camera featured a 1.9-megapixel sensor, a 10x zoom lens (38-380mm equivalent) and an early optical image stabilisation system. It was big, heavy, expensive and not massively popular, but it set a standard for the market sector that persists to this day. Despite serious competition, particularly from Fujifilm and Panasonic, Olympus has managed to maintain a strong presence in the super-zoom market, with models such as 2007's SP-550UZ and last year's SP-570.
Marketing cameras to the buying public is mostly a matter of printing ever-bigger numbers on the box, and when it comes to super-zoom cameras the number in question is of course the optical zoom magnification factor. For the past couple of years zoom factors have been getting increasingly preposterous, reaching 18x in 2007 then jumping to 20x earlier this year with the launch of the Canon SX10 IS, and even 24x with the Nikon CoolPix P90, which I'll be reviewing next week. Naturally Olympus isn't going to take that sort of behaviour lying down, so today I'm taking a look at the new SP-590UZ, which features a frankly unbelievable 26x zoom lens, with a focal length range equivalent to 26 - 676mm. To put that in perspective, those huge white telephoto lenses that you see press photographers using at major football matches usually top out at around 400 - 500mm.
Apart from its extraordinary zoom factor the SP-590UZ has a fairly typical specification for its class. It features a 12-megapixel 1/2.33-inch sensor, a 2.7-inch 230k monitor, an electronic viewfinder and a range of manual exposure options. Like most super-zooms it is quite a large camera, measuring 110.1 x 89.7 x 91.0 mm, and also quite heavy, weighing approximately 535g including a memory card and four AA batteries. The body is made of matt black plastic, apart from the lens barrel which is aluminium, and the overall build quality is pretty good for the price, although there are a few creaky panels. The body design includes a large and very comfortable handgrip with a sculpted rear thumbgrip, and with the batteries inside it is nicely balanced and handles well.