Olympus Digital Cameras

 

Name Resolution Optical zoom min. f-number
Olympus Stylus 300 3.2 megapixels 3x 3.1
Olympus Stylus 400 4.0 megapixels 3x 3.1
Olympus D-560 Zoom 3.2 megapixels 3x 3.1
Olympus D-390  2.0 megapixels none 2.8
Olympus D-550 Zoom 3.0 megapixels 2.8x 2.9
Olympus D-520 Zoom 2.0 megapixels 3x 2.8
Olympus D-380  2.0 megapixels none 4
Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom 4.0 megapixels 10x 2.8
Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom 3.2 megapixels 10x 2.8
Olympus C-5050 Zoom 5.0 megapixels 3x 1.8
Olympus C-50 Zoom 5.0 megapixels 3x 2.8
Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom 3.2 megapixels 10x  2.8
Olympus C-720 Ultra Zoom 3.0 megapixels 8x  2.8
Olympus C-4000 Zoom 4.0 megapixels 3x 2.8
Olympus E-10 SLR 3.9 megapixels 4x 2.0
Olympus E-20N SLR 5.0 megapixels 4x 2.0

 

Olympus Stylus 500 Digital Camera Review

Olympus Digital CamerasThe Olympus Stylus 500, also known as the µ Digital 500 in Europe, comes to the market with a 5-megapixel 1/2.5-inch CCD and a TruePic Turbo image processor. This digital camera is very much built for the point-and-shoot audience with minimal manual control and 21 automatic shooting modes. Like the rest of Olympus' Stylus line, the 500 is weather-proofed with rubber gaskets and seals within its housing, enabling the camera to endure a few splashes, but it shouldn’t be dunked in a river. The 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.2-inch Stylus 500 has a 3x optical zoom lens that fully retracts into the camera body and is protected by a snapping lens cap. The body design has omitted the optical viewfinder and instead relies solely upon a large 2.5-inch LCD screen. The Stylus 500 ships with a 32MB xD-Picture Card and retails for US $349.99.

Color (6.07)
In order to test the accuracy of colors generated by the Stylus 500, we analyzed several images of our GretagMacbeth color chart using Imatest Imaging Software. The software highlights the degree in which each tone varies from the corresponding ideal. Below is a modified chart, portraying the Stylus 500’s color reproduction capabilities. For each color tile, the outer square represents the color produced by the Stylus 500, while the smaller, inner rectangle is the ideal tone. The inner squares are color corrected versions of the camera’s produced tones, appearing as they would after alteration in an external software application.

The chart below expresses the same information as above in a more direct manor. The squares are the Stylus 500’s produced colors, while the circles are the ideal. The line linking the two shapes expresses the degree of error; the longer the line is connecting the two, the less accurate that particular tone.

The Olympus Stylus 500 relies on its TruePic Turbo image processor for accurate color representation and tonal reproduction. Unfortunately, with an 84.48% color saturation value and 10.5 mean color error score, the processor led the Stylus 500 astray, earning just a 6.07 overall color score. This is significantly lower than the Stylus 410's 9.16 overall color score. This decline is a bit disconcerting considering the Stylus 500's higher price tag, glorified marketing campaign and additional specifications.

In addition to the lack of color accuracy, the Stylus 500's 84.48% mean saturation score is substantially lower than most point-and-shoots on the market, a majority of which opt to oversaturate colors rather than diffuse them. Oversaturated colors will often lead the image to appear more vibrant, while undersaturated tones will often come across as muddy and drab. Observing images produced by the Stylus 500, the colors instantly lack the "striking" feel of many similarly-priced cameras on the market. While the produced images were sharp, the colors were not.

Still Life Scene
Below is a copy of our majestic still life scene captured with the Olympus Stylus 500.

 
Resolution / Sharpness (4.26)
To evaluate the efficiency of the Stylus 500’s CCD sensor, we recorded several exposures of an industry resolution chart and ran the results though Imatest Imaging Software. The software detects the actual pixels used in forming the recorded images. We contrast these scores with the camera’s maximum advertised resolution and report a percentage of pixel used. When cameras actively utilize 70% of their potential pixels, it is regarded as a “good” score. When this value reaches 80-85%, it is considered “very good” and when the rare camera exceeds 90%, it is deemed “excellent.”


 

What the Stylus 500 lacks in color production, it makes up for in sharpness. The camera packs an efficient 5-megapixel 1/2.5-inch CCD and TruePic Turbo image processor, helping provide ample resolution for making up to 11x14-inch prints. In practice, we found that the Olympus Stylus 500 recorded images (at its largest image size) with 4.26 active pixels, this is 87% of its advertised resolution and a very good score - also a vast improvement from the dismal 66% score attached to the Stylus 410.

Noise – Auto ISO (5.86)
As a straight-forward point-and-shoot camera, the Olympus Stylus 500 will be relied on by many automatically-oriented users to produce proper exposures with minimal noise. With a general ISO range of 64-400, users should have some shooting flexibility with indoor shooting available when ample lighting is provided. The Stylus 500 earned a 5.86 automatic ISO score. This is actually quite good for a point-and-shoot camera. When tested in our controlled lighting setup (over 400 Lux), the Stylus 500 avoided a common flaw of many compact digital cameras in underestimating the available light. Many cameras will inaccurately read the scene and adjust the ISO value to a much higher rating than is necessary. The result is increased noise and decreased image quality because of the pushed sensitivity ratings. The Stylus 500 fortunately did not fall into this trap, accurately reading the scene and producing images that parallel the camera’s performance in our manual ISO tests at ISO 80.

Noise – Manual ISO (6.51)
While noise is inevitable in digital photography, some cameras are better at suppressing the monochromatic speckles. The Stylus 500 offers ISO ratings of 64, 100, 200, and 400. We tested the produced noise at each sensitivity rating and plotted the results on the graph below. The available ISO settings are placed along the horizontal X-axis, while the noise produced by the Stylus 500 is plotted on the vertical Y-axis.

As the above chart indicates, the Olympus Stylus 500 performed admirably when manually setting the ISO values. The camera produced smooth images with little distortion using the 64, 100, and 200 ISO ratings. There is a significant jump when switched to the ISO 400 setting; however, for a point-and-shoot camera, a good deal of clarity is retained.

Low Light Performance (5.5)
We tested the Olympus Stylus 500’s low light recording capabilities by exposing a series of images at decreasing light values. The images were captured without the assistance of a flash, with the camera set to its highest ISO rating. The low light test indicates how sensitive the image sensor is to light. The sequence of charts will help to illustrate the camera’s low light and night recording potential and pinpoint the camera’s point of limitation.

To simulate the camera’s performance is common low light shooting conditions, the Stylus 500 was tested at 60, 30, 15 and 5 Lux; 60 Lux appears to the eye as a bedroom might after dark, while 30 Lux is roughly the illumination given off from a single 40 watt lightbulb and 5 and 15 Lux indicate the camera’s recording potential in near dark situations.

 

Low Light Tests

 

 

60 Lux

30 Lux

15 Lux

5 Lux

 

With a limited ISO range and lack of control over shutter speed, the Stylus 500 is not a very strong low light performer. The camera can handle 60 Lux, but that’s about it. When the available light dips down to 30 Lux, colors lose their distinction and begin to bleed into one another. Throughout the low light tests, noise levels were extremely high, even at 60 Lux. At 30 Lux and below, image clarity substantially waned and the photos become coated with a sandpaper-like texture, making objects difficult to define. I would not recommend using this camera much without a flash unless shooting outdoors or under heavy fluorescent lighting.

Model Design / Appearance (7.5)
The Stylus 500 looks something like a featureless satin silver bar of soap with a large round impression on the front leading to the lens. The lens is concealed behind a sliding cover that is slightly recessed and a bit off-center – very similar to the Stylus Verve. When extended, the lens moves out in a series of concentric circles. The lens design expresses a majority of the camera’s design character.

The Stylus 500 looks something like a featureless satin silver bar of soap with a large round impression on the front leading to the lens. The lens is concealed behind a sliding cover that is slightly recessed and a bit off-center – very similar to the Stylus Verve. When extended, the lens moves out in a series of concentric circles. The lens design expresses a majority of the camera’s design character.

The right side of the camera has a slight, gentle slop to the edge, with the top featuring a more pronounced bevel that runs along the left side and bottom. The general styling of the Olympus Stylus 500 is minimalist with clean lines used throughout the body. The flash, smack in the top-center of the front of the camera, has a long flat oval shape and sits to the left of the self-timer lamp – just a wee black dot.

With an expansive 2.5-inch LCD consuming nearly the entire back face of the camera, the rear of the Olympus Stylus 500 seems to resemble a drive-in movie screen projected onto the side of a house.

The Stylus series of digital cameras is built to take a few splashes in the rain – but not a dip in the tub – with aluminum alloy all-weather housings. The Olympus 500 certainly doesn’t have the flair of the Stylus Verve, but it is designed with the rubber gaskets and solid construction of its cousin with far more attractive internal elements.

Size / Portability (7.0)
At 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.2 inches, the Stylus 500 is not small enough to fit into the current “ultra slim” or “ultra compact” categories, but it is also not huge for a point-and shoot digital camera. The camera may be slightly too large to fit into most pants pockets, though it should slip into a spacious handbag or roomy jacket pocket with ease. Again, the size is akin to a bar of soap and fills out a larger hand. The Olympus Stylus 500 has a recessed wrist strap loop to aid in portability, but stringing it through will require some patience on the part of the user.

Handling Ability (6.0)
While the smooth, satin finish of the Olympus Stylus 500 is pleasing to touch, the surface is void of texture and offers little to no grip. Sweaty-palmed users might find their Stylus 500 slipping during prolonged use, although the camera’s relatively substantial size and weight does apply some additional stability during shooting. There is a tiny ridge on the front of the Olympus Stylus 500 that is supposed to act as a finger grip, but in practice, it doesn’t work at all. It is more decorative than functional, being far too small and smooth to really have any effect.

Additionally, the camera’s zoom rocker is very narrow and a larger thumb will completely cover it. There is no separation between the wide and telephoto sides of the switch, so users may have to sneak a peek at their finger to register the correct direction and placement on the zoom. The four-way navigational dial is also difficult to utilize. The four directions are not separated, so sometimes the menus scroll in directions you didn’t intend.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size (6.5)
The Olympus Stylus 500 has a mode dial on that back that is so tiny, it resembles the old “bottle cap” candy in size and shape. The dial is recessed and very small, but fortunately sits along the right side of the back of the body and is slightly exposed on the right edge to allow a thumb or finger to manipulate it. The mode dial is also notched like a dime on its sides, so it is easy to grip and turn. Since there are only four functions on the small dial, its size ultimately shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

On the back on the camera body, due to the sheer size of the LCD screen, the controls have been crammed together. Also, the buttons are consequently smaller than might have been preferred and may create problems for those with chubby fingers (or those who ate too much salty ham and now have hands that look like catchers’ mitts – if you’re a “Kids in the Hall” fan); a less clustered grouping would have significantly helped handling and made essential functions easier to discern and access.

Unfortunately for users of the Stylus 500, that same four-way navigational dial that is slightly undersized is also a bit finicky. Sometimes it doesn’t register the direction you think you pressed; this can be enough to drive a photographer crazy and quickly make you reconsider your purchase. Overall, the buttons are small and some annoyances may emerge from the smooth-surfaced zoom toggle and the finicky four-way navigational dial.
 

 

Olympus Digital CamerasFront (7.5)
There are three small microphone holes on the lower right side of the lens opening on the face of the Stylus 500. Along the bottom left face in narrow black font is the Stylus 500 model name next to the “All-Weather” designation. On the left front of the camera is a raised, small spine that attempts to be a finger grip. It looks like a silver toothpick stuck to the front of the camera body and has about the same level of functionality. Above that is a sticker heralding the HyperCrystal LCD; this can be removed. Just below the sticker is the Olympus logo. The zoom lens is slightly off-center to the right. The lens cap is a single panel that snaps open inside the camera when it is turned on. Above the lens and to the left is the built-in flash and to the right is the LED indicator. Above the lens opening and to the right in black lettering are the words “5.0 megapixel.”

Back (7.5)
The Stylus 500’s large square 2.5-inch LCD screen is placed towards the left side of the camera’s back face; the controls are clustered along the right. The LCD is surrounded by a black frame and has a white Olympus logo at the bottom. In the top right corner is the wide and telephoto bi-directional rocker switch with “W” and “T” embossed on the left and right sides. On the left side of the switch is the standard green checkerboard icon and on the right is an icon of a magnifying glass.

Below the zoom toggle on the left side is the built-in speaker, made of 21 holes. To its right is the mode dial, which has four icons on it. The dial is constructed of the same light colored silver aluminum of the rest of the Stylus 500, but its face has a smaller disk of darker grey with four pictograms on it: a small black camera for still image recording, a narrow black outline of a movie camera for the video mode, a green arrow for playback mode and a green notebook-like icon for the album mode. The dial is small and set to the right edge of the back of the Stylus 500’s body. Since it is basically flush with the camera body, it protrudes slightly from the right back edge to allow manipulation. Luckily, it is notched like a dime, and it can be easily turned (don’t worry: it’s not easy enough that you’d bump it out of place; it has just the right tension). A small two-color LED (red or green depending on the function) sits above the mode dial, while a black tag line sits to the left of it to point out which function is currently in use. To the left of the mode dial and below the speaker is a tiny Quick View button. Below it is the four-way navigational dial.

The dial looks like a squashed circle with a bowl-like curve in it. The center is a separate OK/Menu button, while the surrounding bowl-ring is a single panel. This causes problems later, when users try to scroll one direction in a menu and the camera registers a different direction. There are four features that can be activated at each cardinal point on the compass: Scene (top), Macro (right), Self-Timer (bottom), and Flash (left).

Left Side (7.0)
There is basically nothing on the left side. A single head screw secures a shiny silver metal band to the body.

Right Side (6.5)
The port door to the USB / A/V and DC in jacks is located on the Stylus 500’s left side. The cover is constructed of a gray plastic and opens towards the back of the camera. This isn’t exactly intuitive, as the finger grip to pry the camera open is on the bottom. It seems like you should open it toward the top, when it actually opens to the back - unnecessarily awkward! The hinge looks interrupted by the recessed wrist strap loop.

Top (7.0)
On the narrow silver metal band that runs around the camera, small black letters advertise the HyperCrystal LCD on the top left. The power button is also labeled in bold black letters and miraculously, sits beside the small, smooth power button. It is very small and slightly recessed into a dimple in the camera body. To its far right is the shutter release button, a long raised metal oval that is smooth to the touch.

Olympus Digital Cameras

Menu (7.0)
As with most Olympus digital cameras, the Stylus 500 has a matrix-like initial menu screen that appears when the OK/Menu button is pressed. Four menu options appear onscreen with yellow arrows to show which way to press for certain functions. In the recording mode, users can scroll up to adjust the exposure compensation, right for the main mode menu, down to adjust white balance, and left to change the image size. Icons are used for the exposure compensation and image size options; most users should catch on to the common exposure compensation symbol, but non-Olympus users may be confused by the image size icon.

The mode menu is where users will spend most of their time. In the recording mode, the menu has three tabs vertically aligned along the left of the screen: Camera, Card, and Setup. In the Camera tab, the following menu options are available: Metering, Drive, ISO, Digital Zoom, AF Mode, Microphone, Panorama, 2 in 1, and Histogram. Most of the options are text; however, the metering, microphone, and histogram functions are depicted as icons. The 2 in 1 option is a bit mysterious, although I discovered that this activates the ability to take two pictures consecutively and merge them into a single image file on the camera - the effect is more like merging negatives during printing than it is like a double exposure, but will give a similar appearance.

In the Card section of the menu, only a Format function is offered. The Setup menu provides many more options: All Reset, Language, PW ON Setup, Color, Volume, Shutter Sound, Rec. View, File Name, Pixel Mapping, LCD Brightness, Time, and Video Out. Once again, the listed options are a mix of text and graphics. The Language, Volume, LCD Brightness, and Time options are all represented by icons, but are all easy to understand.

The Stylus 500's movie mode has a similar setup to the still recording mode, except its Metering, ISO, and Digital Zoom options are truncated. There is no live view of ISO selections; the only live views available are Exposure Compensation and White Balance.

The camera's matrix menu options change when in Playback mode. The top setting has a playback icon and represents the slide show option. The right side lets the user enter the mode menu. The bottom erases individual frames and scrolling left files the picture into an on-camera album. The playback mode's menu has four tabs at its side: Play, Edit, Card, and Setup. The Play menu is made up almost entirely of icons that are fairly easy to recognize: Protect, Rotate, Print, Microphone, Info, and Histogram. The Edit tab houses the picture effects and other features: Soft Focus, Fisheye, Black & White, Sepia, Resize, and Crop. The Card tab adds only an Erase All option and the Setup menu is the same as it is in the recording mode.

Overall, the menus are fairly intuitive; it is always clear which direction the user should scroll for certain options. The only hindrance to the menu is the physical button - the four-way navigational dial. Sometimes it does not register the direction that the user meant to press it in, which can get very annoying very fast. It should also be noted that each time the camera is powered on, image size on the camera defaults to its second largest setting - a pain when you want to shoot in full resolution.

Auto Mode (7.5)
The Olympus Stylus 500 was built for point-and-shoot users and it has plenty of automatic scene modes to prove it. The Program Auto mode is the closest thing to purely automatic as this camera gets, which is strange because it's also the closest thing to manual control too. Hmmm. Here's the catch. The Program Auto mode has the most access to functions such as white balance, flash mode, ISO rating, and other features, so it has the most manual control. However, it is the only mode on the camera that doesn't have a specific purpose (i.e. all of the other modes are scenes for specific situations like photographing food and landscapes). Therefore, if users want a quick catch-all mode, it's likely to be Program Auto. Luckily, the Stylus 500 has the memory of a goldfish. It forgets all of its previous settings when it is turned off and on again. So when users boot up the little camera, its default is the Program Auto mode with automatic ISO and automatic white balance. This will be a blessing to some users and a curse to others.

Auto Focus (7.0)
Using a contrast detection system, the Stylus 500's auto focus can be a little finicky. It only focuses on the center, and does so only when the shutter release button is pressed halfway down. Most compact digital cameras are like this, so this isn't much of a surprise. The focus tends to have problems with fast-moving objects moving across the frame, so if you're taking pictures of sports, learn to pan the camera with a centered subject. In the normal shooting mode, the camera can focus from 19.7 inches to infinity. In the macro mode, the Olympus 500 can shoot from 7.9 inches to infinity. The super macro mode lets users focus as close as 2.8 inches.

Manual Control Options
If you're looking for manual control, you should probably quit wasting your time reading this and start looking for another digital camera. As stated before, this camera was built for the point-and-shooter. There aren't many manual controls on this digital camera nested between its lengthy list of scene modes. Most of the available manual settings are available in the Program Auto mode, which is a bit ironic considering the second word of the mode. All of the controls are located within the mode menu, so be prepared to dig a little. The white balance and exposure compensation are two of the four options on the first matrix menu that appears, so those won't be hard to find. However, everything else is buried in the mode menu. So from the matrix, scroll right to the Camera tab and right again to the list of options that includes things like Metering and ISO.

Manual Focus (0.0)
There is no manual focus available on the Olympus Stylus 500.

ISO (7.0)
Located in the mode menu, users of the Stylus 500 can set the sensitivity of the camera to the following ISO options: Auto, 64, 100, 200, and 400. When users scroll through these options, there is no live view available like some compact digital cameras offer. All of the modes provide access to the ISO option, so it can be manually set at any time. The Stylus 500's ISO options are comparable to other compact digital cameras, as most have this standard range.

White Balance (5.5)
This camera’s white balance is one of the easier features to change. It is located on the first matrix menu that appears when the menu button is pressed. The white balance menu is composed completely of icons, but most are intuitive. The options are presented on gray boxes in the middle of the screen with live views to both sides. The following options are available: Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, and Fluorescent 3. The only confusion I foresee is between the three fluorescent modes. This is a common flaw with digital cameras; how are users supposed to know that the 1 is for shooting in daylight fluorescent lamps and the 2 is for the desk lamp-type of fluorescent lamps? Fortunately, the live view lets users see lighting changes take effect on their subjects – which is more powerful than text for visually oriented photographers. One quick complaint on the white balance: there is no manual setting. I realize this camera is for the automatically oriented and therefore offers a host of presets, but a manual white balance feature would have been a nice touch nonetheless.

Exposure (7.0)
Olympus includes a list of 20 still shooting modes that all automatically adjust the exposure. In every mode, exposure compensation can be adjusted from +2 to -2 in 1/3 steps. This is the typical range for compact digital cameras. The Stylus 500 provides users with a live view as they scroll through the numerical options, making it easier for users to choose the value.

Metering (6.0)
The camera’s two metering options can be found at the top of the Camera tab of the mode menu. Olympus’ multi-pattern metering system is titled ESP (Electro Selective Pattern). When users so choose, they can also select the Spot Metering option. This works especially well when a subject is backlit. I tried this one on a person standing in front of a row of windows on a sunny day and was pleasantly surprised to see that the spot metering mode really does work; the picture was properly exposed and the facial details were all visible. The available settings seems to work amply for straight-forward shooting conditions, although for more clustered frames and shots with extended depth of field, a few additional metering options would be helpful.

Shutter Speed (0.0)
Shutter speeds cannot be manually set on the Olympus Stylus 500, rather the camera automatically selects them from a range of 1/2-1/1000th of a second – except for in the Night Scene mode, where shutter speeds can go as slow as 4 seconds. Each scene will have its own range of shutter speeds, with modes like Candle and Indoor having slower speeds. This range of shutter speeds should be fine for most point-and-shooters– if the camera selects the right one.

Aperture (0.0)
The Olympus Stylus 500 has the same automatic aperture selections that the earlier Stylus 410 has. With f/3.1 as the maximum aperture available in the wide zoom setting and f/5.2 in the telephoto setting, the Stylus 500 has an average range of apertures for a compact digital camera, although the limited opening will slow down shutter speeds. The aperture cannot be manually adjusted.

Custom Image Presets (8.5)
The available custom image presets stand as the core of the Olympus Stylus 500. The Stylus 500 has a long list of scene modes, available when the top of the four-way dial is pressed (it is also labeled “Scene”): Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Portrait, Indoor, Sport, Beach & Snow, Behind Glass, Self-Portrait + Self-Timer, Self Portrait, Sunset, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Cuisine, Documents, Candle, Underwater Wide, Underwater Macro, Shoot & Select 1 and 2. This selection definitely goes beyond the basics of portrait and landscape scene modes. It even gets specific enough to include a mode for taking pictures of food and one for taking pictures of schools of fish.

 

 

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