Olympus SP-800UZ Review

The Olympus SP-800UZ is a 14-megapixel superzoom camera with a whopping 30x zoom range, which measures to the equivalent of 28-840mm on a 35mm camera.  With a feature set that matches up against the likes of the Nikon P100 and Fuji HS10, the Olympus SP-800UZ has some serious competition in the superzoom department.  To see how it stacks up, read on.

Olympus SP-800UZ Key Features

  • 14 Megapixel CCD Sensor
  • 30x Optical Zoom Lens (28-840mm equivalent)
  • 3-inch 16:9 LCD
  • 720p HD Video Capture
  • Sensor Shift Image Stabilization
  • In-Camera Panorama
  • 2GB Internal Memory
  • SDHC Memory Card Compatibility

Olympus SP-800UZ Handling, Ergonomics and Control

With a 30x zoom lens, you can imagine that the SP-800UZ is not necessarily a compact camera.  The lens on this camera is hulkingly large.  Oddly enough though, the body of the SP-800UZ does not necessarily feel that big.  This is thanks to a rather thin body to which the lens is attached, along with a narrow grip on the right side.

The SP-800UZ is surprisingly lightweight to carry such a long lens.  While the grip may not fit everyone, I found that it was comfortable to hold, and protruded from the body enough to have a firm grasp on the camera with my right hand.  The rubberized coating on the grip aids in the comfortable and secure feel of the camera.

Another part of what gives the SP-800UZ a compact feel is the short stature of the body itself.  While it is wide, it feels much shorter than similar point and shoot cameras.  The 16:9 widescreen display on the rear of the camera adds to the short and wide impression of the camera.

The controls on the SP-800UZ are few and far between since Olympus has relegated most of the features to the camera’s menu system.  Atop the camera, you get a shutter release, zoom rocker switch and an on/off button.  That’s it.

The back of the camera yields a few more buttons, but not many.  The most significant controls on the rear of the camera is the scroll wheel and OK button, which give you access to the menu system.  The scroll wheel doubles as a 4-way selector button and provides shortcuts for info and image deletions when in preview mode.  You also get a Preview, Menu and Help button the rear of the SP-800UZ.

Hitting left, right or down on the 4-way control dial will get you to the ‘quick’ menu, which provides you with the ability to change shooting modes, flash options and other settings that you might see on the rear panel of other advanced point and shoot cameras or DSLRs.

Finally, the camera has a dedicated video capture button the rear for instant recording access.  This is a good thing on the SP-800UZ since there is no way to change shooting modes without jumping into the menu system.  Obviously though, you’ll need to set your video capture preferences prior to making use of this, as there is no quick way to change those settings on the fly.

The pop-up flash on the SP-800UZ pops up with a manual flip of the flash housing.  There is no button for the flash, nor is there an automated action from within the camera to get the flash to raise on its own.  If you want flash, you have to flip it up on your own.

The SP-800UZ is equipped with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, unlike the SP-800UZ’s smaller sibling, the SP-600UZ, which operates on 4 AA batteries.  Unfortunately, rather than include a dedicated charger for the SP-800UZ, Olympus has required us to plug the charging cable directly into the camera.  As a result, we have an extra cable to keep up with and carry along when taking the SP-800UZ on trips.  I chalk this design up as an irksome inconvenience.

Shooting with the Olympus SP-800UZ

In daily use, the SP-800UZ is mostly pleasant to operate.  Even without the buttons for quick settings that I am accustomed to on similar superzoom cameras, the SP-800UZ manages just fine.  While I would prefer faster access to modes and common settings like flash and timers, I became pretty comfortable with working my way through the menu system and changing shooting modes.  The good thing is that hitting left, right or down on the 4-way control wheel puts you on the shooting mode menu and you can get where you need to go fairly quickly from there.

I found the pop-up flash to work well in indoor lighting situations and offered a good fill/ambient mix of light.  Personally, I like a flash that you have to flip up on your own to activate rather than one that will pop up whenever the camera thinks you need some flash.  This is a bit of an odd mix though, considering that the SP-800UZ is limited in the control it gives to users in its shooting modes thanks to the absence of aperture-priority, shutter-priority or manual modes.  Regardless, I think most users should be able to recognize when flash is and isn’t needed, and then make use of the built-in flash when necessary.

While the autofocus is accurate and relatively quick for a point and shoot camera, it’s noisy (as in, I can hear it – a lot).  Not only that, but the zooming action of the lens is noisy as well.  Combine these two together and you get some serious buzzing, whirring and clicking when shooting with the SP-800UZ.  While I can live with it during still image capture, it would drive me mad if I had to record those noises when shooting video. . . . which brings me to my next point.

Zooming is disabled when shooting video with audio recording turned on.  Now, you can turn off the audio capture for your video recording, but I can’t imagine that would be a popular choice for many people.  As a result, if you want to record both audio and video together, you’ll need to choose your zoom position wisely prior to starting your recording.  Of course, you can always pause your recording, change your zoom position and restart recording, but a lot of parents wanting to capture their kids’ school play on video will be turned off by this feature. Unfortunately, the lack of zoom during video + audio capture effectively nullifies the video capture features of the SP-800UZ for most people.

One feature that I really enjoyed on the Olympus SP-800UZ was the Magic Filters.  These pre-processed settings are accessible in the shooting mode menu and work like the Art Filters on Olympus’ DSLR and Micro Four Thirds cameras.  The SP-800UZ provides 4 different Magic Filters for you to choose from:  Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fish Eye and Drawing.

The Pop Art Magic Filter produces an image that has a color and saturation boost, as seen below.

The Pin Hole Magic Filter attempts to replicate a pin hole camera with extreme vignetting and a bit of desaturation and cooler tones, as seen below.

The Fish Eye Magic Filter attempts to replicate a fisheye lens with barrel distortion, as seen below.

The Drawing Magic Filter produces a rough black and white sketch that focuses on the edges of the scene, as seen below.

I really enjoyed 3 out of the 4 Magic Filters – Pop Art, Fish Eye and Drawing.  The Fish Eye filter just doesn’t do it for me.

The auto-stitch panorama features leaves a lot to be desired.  When you engage the panoramic mode, you frame and capture the first image and then the camera prompts you to pan one way or the other for the remaining images.  As you pan, a target and crosshairs appear.  When you align the two in the viewfinder, the SP-800UZ captures the next frame.  You continue this and the camera will stitch the images together once the sequence capture is complete.  While the feature appears to work like magic, my experience with the finished results left me scratching my head as to how the camera could get it so wrong.

Check out the close-up of one of the stitched sections below.

While some cameras do a great job with stitching images together in-camera, you will be best served with the SP-800UZ by capturing the images and stitching them together in post-processing.

Olympus SP-800UZ Image Quality

With 14-megapixels, you would expect the SP-800UZ to be delivering knockout images.  Unfortunately though, the noise in images (even at lower ISO settings) is very apparent.  The color blotching from chroma noise frequently appears in shadow areas at ISO 100.  As you can see from the sample 100% image crops below, the noise is out of control by ISO 800.

At ISO 1600, the amount of noise present makes the images practically unusable for almost any purposes – even small prints or low resolution web use. Note that the sample crop at ISO 3200 is of lower resolution (roughly 5MP) than the normal 14MP in the SP-800UZ.  I think that the ISO 1600 setting could have also benefited from an in-camera resize to 5MP along with a kick in noise reduction to match the softer, but lower noise, ISO 3200 images.

Below, I have include the same images used for the above crop selections, but resized for web use to give you an idea of what normal viewing of images from the SP-800UZ will look like.  Feel free to download any of the following images for your personal inspection of the full resolution files.

ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

As is clear by now, the higher ISO settings on the SP-800UZ are unworkable in many cases; however, the solid flash usage on the SP-800UZ somewhat eases the sting of the reduced image quality at higher ISO settings. If you are shooting indoors, shoot with flash unless available light is more than abundant.

As was the case with the Nikon P100, users of the Olympus SP-800UZ will benefit by keeping the ISO settings lower than ISO 800.  While smaller prints may be possible from higher settings, you will still suffer from lower image quality and increased noise in the images.  At ISO 400 and below, image quality should be more than competent for most users’ family album and web sharing standards.  The Magic Filters are a lot of fun, even if they are a bit gimmicky.

Below are a handful of additional images taken at various settings with the SP-800UZ.

This first pair of images demonstrates the zoom range of the camera from the wide to telephoto settings.

28mm equivalent – ISO 50 – f/5.7 – 1/400s

840mm equivalent – ISO 64 – f/5.6 – 1/640s

Drawing Magic Filter – ISO 500 – f/5.7 – 1/1600s

ISO 100 – f/5.6 – 1/400s (chroma noise is obvious in shadows when viewed larger)

ISO 50 – f/5.7 – 1/320s

Below is a short video clip captured at the same time as the clip shown in my Nikon P100 review.

You can download the full resolution video sample by right-clicking the following link and choose “Save link as…”  Here is the link.

Note the significant flare from the sun in the sample video, which was not present in the Nikon P100 sample.

Olympus SP-800UZ Accessories

Olympus LI-50B Battery – The Olympus SP-800UZ comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.

Memory cards – I’ve used the basic Kingston SD cards in the Olympus SP-800UZ, which worked just fine.  No need to go all out on fast memory cards with the SP-800UZ. Cheap cards from reputable brands will work just fine.  The SP-800UZis compatible with all SD and SDHC cards – but not SDXC cards.

Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster.  I highly recommend picking one up with the  SP-800UZ.  They’re cheap and big time saver.  Lexar makes a good card reader for about $15.

Olympus SP-800UZ Conclusions

Superzoom cameras are always a compromise, and this is very true with the Olympus SP-800UZ.  The SP-800UZ is almost the size of a compact DSLR; however, the 30x zoom range does what no DSLR can do.  Unfortunately, you have to give back some image quality for the added convenience of carrying a wide angle and super telephoto package in a purse or a small camera bag.

As was the case with the Nikon P100, the Olympus SP-800UZ likes a lot of light.  You’ll get the most mileage out of this camera if you can remember that.  Keep it at ISO 400 or below, and you should be ok for most casual uses of your photos.

If you are looking for a dual purpose, photo + video camera, you can do better than the SP-800UZ.  (Consider the Nikon P100 for your superzoom photo + video needs.)  If you rarely use video, then it’s ok to feel out the SP-800UZ to see if it’s the right camera for you.  The Magic Filters will be a creative attraction to some and a distraction to others.  Personally, I’m a big fan of them in the right environment.

All told, the Olympus SP-800UZ could be a lot better if the image quality was up to snuff.  As it stands, you will have to weigh the pros and cons to see if the SP-800UZ fits the bill for you and the way you plan on using it.

The Olympus SP-800UZ is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Olympus SP-800UZ at B&H Photo

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  1. John Hayes says

    I have just bought one these SP-800UZ cameras.
    I have only played with for a couple of days and I have mixed views about its capabilities. I was attracted to the 30x Zoom of course but found that because of the wide angle aspect (28mm) that the zoom is not that brilliant. I have found that ‘actual size’, ‘1 to 1′, etc., is around 70-75mm. Thats around a third of the zoom range gone just to get to ‘Actual’. I have a Leica Vlux 1 which boasts a 35-435mm zoom (12x) and the full zoom on the Leica is roughly the equivelant to the full zoom of the SP-800.
    I found out quickly that the zoom does not work at all when you are using the HD video….unless you go into the menu (which you have to do for virtually everything) and switch off the sound. Plainly, this is ridiculous! Also, I noticed that, while the picture quality was good, the ‘stuttering’ of the film to be annoying. I filmed some traffic going under a motorway (Freeway) bridge and noticed that instead of smooth flowing traffic, I got vehicles which seemed to have ‘jumped’ a few feet further on as I watched. Another annoyance was the Menu. You have to make sure that the camera is set to Full Auto or you may get ‘Voice Record’ added to the picture. The Auto is right next to the ‘Magic’ settings in the Menu and any these will induce the ‘Voice Record’ without you noticing. The stitching in ‘Panorama’ is as the writer of the article says…its hit or miss.
    The need to go in to Menu continuously was annoying to say the least.
    However, when you eventually work out what the camera wants YOU to do, the pictures are very good.
    I am sure they could have worked a simpler way of operating the controls though.

  2. Robert L. Parrish says

    I purchased the Olympus SP800UZ two weeks ago as a lightweight camera not as a movie camera which I don’t care about. I wish companies would manufacture pure high quality digital cameras and not toys for the masses to shoot movies too! I really liked the simple refinements of less buttons which was a pleasure to set up and go. The pop up flash is great which I can control when I NEED flash and not the camera blinking away at will. I stayed in auto mode without forcing the ISO to go beyond 400 in sunset settings. This is a great camera that I really enjoy to carry around for my everyday serious photography and compares favorably with the Cannon G11. This camera does not have that cheap plastic feel, and the lens servo noise is not noisy beyond acceptable norms. Great camera, great pictures, great close-ups, just what I wanted in a good camera without the movies!

  3. vinod kumar joshi says

    sir I am at Dehradun,capital of Uttarakhand,newly formed state of India.How can see live demo of the sp800oz olympus camera?

  4. says

    I purchased the SP-800UZ approx. 4 months ago. Reason for the purchase was the 30X optical zoom to give more range in distance photos, especially aircraft. Until this purchase my main camera was the Olympus DSLR E-volt E-300. Using the SP-800UZ was indeed culture shock. Being used to the way heavier E-300 with 50-150mm telephoto lens attached, this super lightweight unit is very hard for me to control “shake”, especially at full 30X Zoom. The 14 megapixel images are only slightly better in quality than those obtained from the E-300 8 megapixel unit. The best still photo attribute of this camera is in macro mode taking a close facial photo. I do like the HDMI photo capability very much. (If I could only control the “shake” problem). Using a tripod helps quite a bit, but a tripod is not always an easy thing to use when you are following a moving object. Since the purchase price was less than a third of the E-300, I still consider it a fair purchase.