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Today there are basically three types of camera selling regularly, those are the compact digital, the bridge camera and the DSLR. A compact digital being the hand held point and shoot that almost everyone has these days, a bridge camera being a camera that looks like a DSLR and has many of the functions but has a fixed lens and a DSLR being the professional type camera that you can change lenses on, add flash units to and adjust every setting known to man manually.
There is however now a fourth type of camera becoming more and more popular and they are known as super zooms. For years now everyone has been desperate to get the camera with the biggest megapixel offering but as nowadays almost all are over 7 megapixel and people are eventually starting to realise that the difference between 7 and 10 megapixel in a compact camera is completely unnoticeable, they are now fighting over who has the longest zoom.
With DSLR`s you simply buy the zoom lens you choose to put on it and this can leave basically any option open to you as long as you have the funds but with compacts or bridge cameras you are stuck with the built in zoom the lens has. We have recently been watching the zoom functions go up like the megapixels did, the typical compact used to have a 3x optical zoom which has gone up to 5x and the bridge cameras used to have around a 7x optical zoom which in some units has climbed to an impressive 18x, now welcome the Olympus SP-590 UZ with its staggering 26x optical zoom.
To put this into perspective you are talking about a range of 26-676mm with a single lens, to buy lens`s for a DSLR to cover this type of range you would realistically be looking at two or as I personally would prefer, three to cover this and you would be looking at spending in the region of £700 and that would be for budget lens`s. So why do professionals like myself use DSLR` when these are so much cheaper? Well after two days testing this unit it quickly became apparent to me that although this was a powerful zoom and a very decent unit, it had many limitations and all the money I spend on my equipment is indeed worthwhile after all.
Holding this unit in my hand it firstly felt like a small DSLR but neither as sturdy nor comfortable but still reasonably robust and I was quite happy with what I was holding. Pop out the huge zoom lens however and the unit feels very unstable and it begins to have a very worryingly cheap feel to it. The movement of the lens is very noisy and a bit creaky and just did not fill me with confidence in the units longevity at all.
Putting the camera through its paces soon through up a few other limitations such as a slow start up time as most superzooms have, still quicker than many compacts at around 1.8 seconds but when you consider that my DSLR starts in just .4 of a second and turns of just as quickly, this seemed like an age. The auto focus was quick but only with no zoom being used. The tighter you zoom in the longer it takes the lens to focus and I had to zoom back out and in again a few times once over half zoom to get it to focus at all.
When you consider that long zooms are traditionally used for capturing moving objects such as at sport events or perhaps shooting wildlife then the failure to focus first time is a big problem. Back to the unit itself and the buttons and controls, these are all laid out in a DSLR format and are generally ok and easy to get used to and use but they again have a very flimsy feel to them and I believe that long continuous use would see this camera fail much quicker than the better built DSLR`s.
In the two days I had to test this unit I put it through a lot of work including indoor shooting with its own built in flash, indoor shooting with professional lighting and outdoor shots in good light poor light and at night. The images under good light out doors were fine and even when zoomed in to around three quarters of its capability they were good and showed little or no signs of purple fringing or chromatic aberration that us pro`s look for. The last quarter of the zoom power however seemed to be virtually unusable in any light, when the zoom is fully zoomed in the images suffer badly and a clear blur can be seen as well as a serious fading to the colours in the image.
When used in the studio with its own on camera flash I got exactly the results I would have expected...Poor! The on camera flash turns all the colours warmer than they should be and causes serious red eye in the models. Messing about with aperture settings and shutter speeds threw up more problems in that the camera seemed unable to adapt. When the shutter speed is slowed down the camera should be able to adjust the F stop to compensate but this unit failed to do so properly and left us with overexposed images and any attempt to rectify this manually seemed to leave us with under exposure, so the camera looses a few points for exposure issues for sure.
When used with professional lighting the camera came into its own a bit, the images were much crisper and the colour and exposure issues were gone but this does not really do the camera any favours because people using professional lighting will also be using DSLR`s and people using this camera will not be looking to use professional lighting so it seems this camera is not best suited to what it is being marketed to do.
Most of the features such as face detection, the built in pre-sets and the macro settings work very well which is unusual in these types of cameras so whilst it has gotten a good few things wrong it also has to get the credit it deserves for getting a few things right. Truth be told an amateur photographer beginner to mid level would probably really appreciate this camera and its massive zoom functions but top level amateurs and professionals will be left very frustrated by it.
Although I am a professional and do 90% of my shooting with DSLR`s, I like most pro`s also carry a non DSLR camera for certain purposes and my current choice is a superzoom camera but it is not this one nor will it ever be. Another setback for this unit was the way it goes through batteries, now to be fair all digital cameras eat batteries but this is unreal. If you use the zoom regularly which you will because you will want to be trying it out then you will find the 4 AA batteries will only take around 100 photos and you will also find the camera acting differently as the batteries run down. This unit simply had to be made to work with a lithium ion rechargeable but for some reason it was not.
When you then go on to consider that this camera will set you back around £300 and a DSLR camera can these day be picked up for slightly less than that then the question has to be why would you buy this? The answer most would give would be that the cost of a zoom lens for a DSLR that could cover the same range as this camera can would be very expensive and whilst this is true you can pick up a DSLR with a decent length zoom lens capability for around £500 and you will be buying a camera that will grow with you and not that you will outgrow in months as you would this.
As I have said if you are just getting into photography and you need a long zoom for your particular photography need then this would do you a turn but be prepared to outgrow it quickly and also you should note that its re-sell value will be probably less than half what you pay for it in under one year so really you should consider looking into a camera that will last with you and grow with you or at least have a good re-sell value when you decide to upgrade. An alternative superzoom with a much better image quality and better longevity would be the one I currently use which is the Fujifilm S8000FD which has a slightly lesser zoom at 18x but it is usable up to almost full capacity without distortion, the batteries last up to 400 shots and it can be picked up for under £200.
The long and the short of it is that you really have to be careful before parting with a lot of money for a camera just because it has tons of megapixels or a super huge zoom, this does not make them good cameras. Check how much zoom you are actually likely to need or use and get that do not be drawn into thinking more is always better.