New photo gear

Tuesday, 26th May 2009; 1:10 pm - Location:

I commented previously about the question of which photo gear to bring with me: the digital all-in-one with the huge storage capacity, or the 35mm SLR with nicer controls and an assortment of lenses from 24mm-500mm. I’ve solved that dilemma by getting a new camera that pretty closely covers both bases.

sp-570uzIt’s the Olympus SP-570UZ, a recent descendant of my 5-year-old digital camera (the SP-500UZ). I got it used but in like-new condition from B&H Photo, one of the big New York City camera stores, paying $289 (with shipping) for a customer-returned camera that routinely sells for $400-450. Deal.

The 570UZ doubles the zoom range of the old 500UZ, to 20X. At the wide end, it equals a 26mm lens on a traditional SLR, which is almost as good as my 24mm, and at the long end, it equals a 520mm, which actually surpasses my 500mm mirror lens! The 500UZ’s zoom range starts at 38mm, which in my opinion is not a “wide angle”. I was never even happy with the 28mm that most experienced photogs use as their wide lens (which is why I went with a 24mm), so I consider this a huge improvement. And as long as you have a way to deal with camera shake, you can never have too long a telephoto.

widetele1Speaking of which, one shortcoming of the 500UZ (even when it was new) was the lack of image stabilization, which is a technology that’s possible with digital cameras and very helpful when using a lightweight camera with a long telephoto lens. The 570UZ has it, and with just the little bit of experimentation I’ve done with it, I’m amazed at how sharp the results are, even with a long zoom and a fairly slow shutter speed. I always used to take pride in being able to do 1/15 sec. with a 50mm lens, and this camera just did a pretty sharp 300mm shot at 1/10!

One of the reasons I got the 500UZ instead of one of the other 10X cameras available back then was the fact that (unlike most non-SLR digitals) it wasn’t stuck on “auto everything”. I’ve never liked autofocus (slow and subject to error), and I’m used to selecting exposure parameters myself, and Olympus’ SP line lets you do things manually… after a fashion. Unfortunately, on the 500UZ that’s done by poking at buttons and switches, and watching a read-out on the display instead of twisting controls on the lens, like God obviously intended. The 570UZ changes that… or at least it tries to. It has a ring around the lens that controls a servo to zoom the lens in and out. That’s better than just pushing alternately on “wide” and “tele”, but it’s still not direct control, and it has a bit of lag, which is annoying. It also doesn’t stop when you reach the end, which feels weird. Then when you put the camera on manual focus (which is now a simple switch rather than something you have to find in the on-screen menu, thank you) you can use that same ring to focus (almost) like a real SLR! Unfortunately, it takes an ungodly amount of cranking to get from infinity to close up. Still awkward, but it’s better.. and I’ll take “better”. I just wish they’d get over this digitally-controlled-motor fetish and do manual focus and zoom like an SLR does it.

The 570UZ is noticeably bigger than the 500UZ in every dimension, to the point of being nearly the size of a 35mm SLR with a large standard lens. And when zooming in, the lens extends rather indecently. 🙂 That’s unfortunate, but it was inevitable with the more complicated zoom lens on this model. It’s still much smaller than a full 35mm kit with lenses would be, which is important when packing everything into the modest storage space of a scooter. And it’s self-contained.

They upped the sensor to 10Mpixels instead of 6Mp, which I don’t really need, but it’s nice to have if I want it. There are also some other new features in the 570UZ, but most of them are gee-whiz bits of artificial-intelligence that I don’t have any use for (e.g. a mode that detects when the subject smiles and snaps the picture at that instant). In effect, I paid just under $100 each to: upgrade the zoom range, add stabilization, and get better controls. (And that’s before selling the old camera.)

The biggest remaining question is what to do about snapshots. I won’t be able to ride with the 570UZ around my neck, and it can be a little time-consuming to start up and slow to adjust, so I’ll want something handy and quick for those oh-quick-look-now moments. I have my decade-old fully-automatic 1.3Mp 3X zoom Olympus D-460, which will fit OK in a jacket pocket. Or there’s the Aiptek PenCam I picked up for $15 on a whim a few years ago. It’s the equivalent of my first store-brand 110 point-and-click back in the 70s: barely tolerable quality, but idiot proof. It’s small and light enough to wear around my neck under my jacket.

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