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