The Olympus SP-510 is a super zoom camera with a long 10x optical zoom lens. This length of lens is often used for sports or wildlife photography. The SP-510 has seven megapixels. At the time of writing this review seven megapixels is the highest resolution available for a standard super zoom digital camera.
Looking at the camera's features I would say the camera is aimed more at someone who enjoys photography and sees it as a little bit of a hobby. Its manual exposure controls and other features make it a clear step up from a point and shoot camera.
105.5 x 74.5 x 70mm
Well I am beginning to think I don't really get on with Olympus digital cameras in general. When I reviewed the previous model to this one the SP-500 I was impressed with the overall picture quality. This time around I have a number of reservations about the SP-510 that I cannot just gloss over. These are similar issues to those I have found with a number of other Olympus cameras I have reviewed over the past three months.
Starting off with the outdoor scenic photos I can see some of the biggest problems. These include a lack of sharpness, blue lines having a strong purple tinge and a loss of detail where the SP-510 struggles with the glare of the sun. I always look on photos taken outdoors in good light as being some of the most straightforward for a camera. They are also likely to be the most regular type of shot most people will take.
Running through the outdoor shots in a bit more detail the first point that struck me was the lack of sharp focus. This is a constant theme that runs through all three outdoor scenic shots. This is especially noticeable towards the edges of each photo. The second outdoor photo is the weakest of the three. This is where the zoom is not being used. Although this is an area where many digital cameras struggle the SP-510 falls short of the required standard.
Next up is the loss of detail caused by the glare of the sun. At the time of year the test photos were taken it is true that the sun is low in the sky and this is giving all the cameras I test a problem. Even so there is a far greater loss than of detail than I am used to seeing. This shows itself with the boats in the first photo. I can also see some purple fringing. This is where a thin purple line is added to the edge of brightly coloured objects where they are caught by the light.
Blue lines with a purple tinge are also highlighted in the first outdoor shot. A further problem with colours shows up in the dedicated test for colours. This is where white areas have a blue tinge to them.
So far so bad! I think its time to move on and look at some photos I am a lot more positive about.
I am very happy with both the indoor and outdoor portrait shots. The outdoor portrait has a natural look to it. A lot of this is down to the skin tones. The main reason I like them is because the colour levels are about right. From time to time with other cameras I see a tendency for skin colours to be too powerful. Lighting levels are handled well too and the SP-510 manages to avoid washing the face out.
The indoor portrait is some way above average. In this instance the camera manages to focus sharply despite the lack of natural light. Another plus point is the fact the photo is free of red eye. This can be attributed to the camera's pop up flash. This increases the angle between the flash unit and the lens and therefore avoids the flash being reflected straight back into the camera's lens.
Another photo that works well is the test for extreme lowlight. This photo shows a group of beer bottles. Again the photo is sharper than I am used to seeing and the flash levels are controlled enough to ensure the detail on the labels of the bottles is not blasted out.
For close up shots I was not as impressed with the macro test. The photo is once more not as sharp as I am used to seeing. On top of this the purple fringing issue seen in the outdoor tests is visible once more.
Finishing with the tests for high ISO levels there is a clear loss of quality. You can select an ISO level up to a very high ISO 4000, although it should be noted that ISO 2500 and ISO 4000 are only available when shooting at three megapixels. Picture quality drops away significantly a long time before you reach that level.
Shutter Lag and Recycling Times
Shutter lag is the time it takes to take each picture. With digital cameras there can be a delay between clicking the shutter button and the photo being captured. This can lead to missing the picture you wanted. Shutter lag is a major problem if you are taking shots of moving subjects such as animals, sports scenes and children.
I was able to take a single photo in 0.40 seconds and five photos in 8.27 seconds. These times are about average.
You can compare this camera to other models by taking a look at the Shutter Lag Comparison Table.
The 10x optical zoom lens has a focal length equivalent to 38 - 380mm in 35mm format. The lens has a filter diameter of 45.6mm. To fit filters you need to use a lens adapter (CLA - 4). Olympus have added a feature called fine zoom to the SP-510. This becomes available when you are shooting at a lower resolution (3 megapixels). This increase zoom capacity to 15x. A 5x digital zoom feature is also available.
For composing photos there is a 2.5" LCD screen. The screen consists of around 115,000 pixels. There is also an electronic viewfinder.
Close up photography is catered for by a macro mode that can focus from 7cm away from the subject. There is also a super macro mode that allows you to get in as close as 3cm. Manual focusing is also available.
As I said in the introduction fully manual exposure is available. You can also use aperture priority and shutter priority. The maximum aperture available is 2.8 (wide) / 3.7 (tele). Shutter speeds work in the range 15 - 1/1000 seconds.
Flash is provided by a pop up unit. The maximum range is 4.5m. This falls to 3.4m when the zoom lens is fully extended. The flash modes are automatic, on, off, red eye reduction and slow synchronization.
To help you take the best possible photos there are a wide variety of scene modes available. These are Portrait, Landscape, Landscape with Portrait, Night scene, Night scene with portrait, Sports, Indoor, Candle, Self portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select 1, Shoot & Select 2, Beach and Snow. When you select a scene mode the camera will select what it believes to be the most suitable settings for the shot. Panoramic shots can also be created. In order to do this you need to use an Olympus brand memory card.
There are a number of more advanced features. These include metering (ESP, Spot and Centre weighted), exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV 1/3 EV steps), bracketing (5 frames 0.3 EV steps) and white balance (Sunlight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, and manual). White balance adjustments (7 Red +7 Blue) can be set as well. A histogram is also available. ISO sensitivity can be set to 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 2500 and 4000. ISO 2500 and 4000 are only available when using lower megapixels.
There is a limited burst mode. This allows you to take two shots at a rate of 1.65 frames per second. Images can be saved in RAW format as well as Jpeg. If you are planning to make 6 x 4" prints of your photos then there is a special 3:2 aspect ratio you can use. This allows you to print at 6 x 4" without the need for the photos to be trimmed to fit the paper. A self timer is available for when you would like to appear in the picture.
After a picture has been taken there are a number of options you can use to work with the shot. These include changing it to black and white or sepia, making a smaller copy, cropping the photo, reducing red eye and correcting brightness and saturation levels. There is also a RAW data edit facility.
Another feature is the ability to shoot time lapse movies. These are often used to plot a flower opening or clouds moving across the sky. You can shoot up to 99 frames. The delay between each frame can be set to an interval of 1 - 99 minutes.
TV quality movies can be recorded. These have a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and a top speed of 30 frames per second. The duration of each movie is only limited by the capacity of the memory card. Sound can be recorded, but zoom can only be applied before recording starts and not once shooting is in progress.
You will notice on the top of the camera a button for image stabilisation. Beware! Image stabilisation is created by increasing the ISO setting. In my view the likelihood is that this will decrease picture quality by increasing noise in most situations.
Olympus supplies all the necessary cables and software to connect the SP-510 to a PictBridge compatible printer, computer and television set.
Ease of Use
Obviously it will take a while to find all the features the camera has and work out the best way to use them. Olympus do help you to understand the camera by offering help text for the menu items. This is certainly a plus point.
All the major controls are covered by buttons and dials on the top and back of the camera. This means that you do not have to access the menu too often.
You can pick up a Olympus SP-510 for around £170. This compares to around £135 for a Kodak Easyshare Z650, £225 for a Fuji Finepix S6500fd and £175 for a Panasonic DMC FZ7.
As you can see the SP-510 is neither the cheapest or most expensive super zoom. Based on picture quality I think there is better value to be had elsewhere.
Olympus have managed to squeeze all the features the SP-510 has into a fairly compact body. The camera has dimensions of 105.5 mm x 74.5 mm x 70 mm and weighs 325g. When it comes to looks as with almost all digital cameras with a long zoom lens it has a number of similarities with a SLR camera.
Batteries and Memory Cards
Two AA batteries are used to power the camera. Olympus estimates you should be able to get around 630 shots from a pair of standard batteries. If this is accurate then this is an exceptional number of photos.
Olympus have built 21mb of storage into the SP-510. I was able to take 17 photo before the memory was full. I would recommend picking up a high capacity card before you carry out any serious picture taking. The camera is compatible with xD Picture cards.
Click here to save money on xD cards.
Points I like:
Design and style
Menu help text
Compact feel for a super zoom
Where it is not so hot:
No optical image stabilisation
Overall picture quality
Well I am struggling with Olympus digital cameras in general. The SP-510 is another model that I have been disappointed with when it comes to good old fashioned picture quality. Based on my tests you are better off looking elsewhere.
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