The control layout is also exactly the same as the SP-550UZ, which is to say, very good. The 560 is a very complex camera, but the external controls are fairly straightforward and well laid out, although the positioning of the D-pad right up against the monitor surround makes menu navigation a bit awkward for anyone with large thumbs. I usually have a bit of a winge about the Olympus menu system, but in fact in this case it actually works reasonably well. As I said, the 560 is very complex, so separating the top level of the menu into several sub-categories – image quality, setup, camera menu, scene mode etc. – makes a certain amount of sense. However I’m not sure why silent mode needs to be on the top level of the menu, and I’m pretty sure having a reset option on the top level is a terrible idea.
The main shooting modes are selected via the usual dial on the top panel. Options include full auto, program auto, aperture and shutter priority and full manual exposure. The range of exposure values posted in the spec sheet on the official Olympus website is apparently inaccurate, because the fastest available shutter speed appears to be 1/1000th of a second, not 1/2000th as advertised, and the slowest is 15 seconds, not 4 seconds. There is also a “B” mode, where the shutter stays open as long as the button is held down, with a count-up timer on the monitor screen. As well as these basic modes, there is a scene mode option, with 25 special programs, including a useful pre-focus setting for instantly capturing fast-moving objects. The beginner-friendly Guide mode that features on a number of Olympus compacts is also present, although it would be an ambitious beginner who buys this camera.
Delving into the menus reveals the true versatility of the SP-560UZ. The most obvious sign that this is a more serious camera than the SP-550UZ is the inclusion of a RAW mode, with the option for RAW+JPEG shooting, a feature that will please a lot of photography enthusiasts. This is a feature also found on the Panasonic FZ-18, but not on the Fuji S8000fd. The camera settings menu runs to five screens, and includes useful creative options such adjustable white balance, saturation, contrast and sharpness, the option to turn off noise reduction, multiple focusing modes including full-time AF, predictive AF and a moveable-area AF setting, and a well-implemented manual focus option. Flash syncro can be set to first or second curtain, and the built-in pop-up flash also has a slave mode, in which it fires a single instant low-power flash useful for triggering external slave flash units.
The list of options doesn’t stop at the shooting menu. In playback too mode there are plenty of things to play with, including colour filters, label overlays, page layouts, frames, calendar templates, a fun facial expression morphing program, and an option to blur out the background of portrait shots. There are also more usual functions, such as automatic red-eye and lighting fixes, as well as cropping and re-sizing.
Of course the main selling point of the SP-560UZ is its enormous image stabilised lens. It has a focal length range equivalent to 27-486mm, the same range as the Fuji S8000fd. This is a change from the 28-504mm range of the SP-550UZ, due I suspect to the 560 sporting a slightly larger 1/2.3-inch CCD, thus altering the apparent magnification. It’s not a huge difference, but the slight advantage at the wide angle end might be enough to attract landscape photographers. The moving-sensor image stabilisation system is very good, just as it was for the SP-550UZ. I was able to take passably sharp shots hand-held at maximum zoom at shutter speeds as low as 1/20th of a second, although they were not as sharp as similar shots taken using a tripod.