The SP-590UZ is well equipped with features and options. Main shooting modes include program auto, full “easy mode” auto, 19 scene mode programs, a “Beauty” mode, which uses the face detection system and smoothes out skin tone. It also has a full range of manual exposure options, including aperture or shutter priority and full manual, with shutter speeds from four seconds to 1/1000th of a second and aperture values from f/2.8 to f/8.0 in 1/3EV steps.
For once the over-complicated Olympus menu system comes into its own, since the main part of it stretches to five pages. Menu options include spot, centre-weighted and ESP metering, multiple AF mode options including manual focus, manually adjustable white balance fine-tuning, adjustable contrast, saturation and sharpness, the option to turn off noise reduction, adjustable flash output and even external wireless flash control, something usually only found on the higher-end digital SLRs. There are also several options in playback mode, including shadow adjustment, red-eye fix and “Beauty fix”. I tried this out on myself, but I seem to be beyond fixing.
The SP-590UZ has a 2.7-inch 230k monitor with a good wide viewing angle both vertically and horizontally. It is very clear and bright, and has a basic anti-glare finish, so it works well in bright sunlight. It also has an automatic brightness control that boosts the image in low light to help with framing. The screen is slightly recessed, so it’s not too prone to scratches and finger marks.
The electronic viewfinder is also pretty good. It’s a bit small and dark, but then EVFs usually are, but it has a decent resolution and with the automatic centre-zone magnification in manual focus mode it is just about sharp enough for accurate focusing.
Other important features include the video mode, although at a time when more and more cameras are featuring HD video its 30fps VGA and mono audio it does look a bit lacklustre, especially since clips at this resolution are limited to 40 seconds when using the standard M-class xD cards. Using the faster H-class cards removes this limitation, but files are still restricted to 2GB. Like most recent Olympus cameras the 590UZ comes with an adapter for the popular microSD cards, used in many mobile phones and PDAs.
One highlight is the exceptionally powerful built-in flash, which has a maximum range of nine metres at 800 ISO, and easily fills a large room with excellent wide-angle frame coverage.
So on paper at least the SP-590UZ looks promising, but it does have one major flaw. The problem is that at the full extent of its massive zoom it’s pretty much impossible to take a shake-free hand-held shot. The camera has a good sensor-shift image stabilisation system that provides around two and a half stops of extra low-speed stability, but even this can’t cope with size of the lens. At full zoom the maximum aperture is only f/5, so unless you boost the ISO setting into image noise territory, even in good light it’s hard to get a shutter speed faster than 1/200th of a second. This is simply too slow for such a huge magnification factor, especially on a relatively light camera, even with image stabilisation. The only solution is to use a good solid tripod and the two-second timer, but many people will find this to be inconvenient.
I honestly think that Olympus has gone too far with the SP-590UZ. The 26x zoom is too big for a camera of this type, and is really only there for bragging rights, so that it can have the biggest number printed on the box. Pointing out that at full zoom the lens also suffers from severe chromatic aberration merely confirms the diagnosis.