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Olympus µ [mju:] DIGITAL 500 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 02/04/05
Buy Now: £229 / $299
Rating: Highly Recommended!


Introduction: The Olympus Mju Digital 500 (aka Stylus 500), is available for £229 / $299 - the Mju Digital 500 is a compact weatherproof 5 megapixel digital camera, with a 3x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm camera), and a large 2.5" TFT screen. The camera is enclosed in a silver or navy blue metal body. It records unlimited 320 x 240 / 15fps videos with sound. The camera's quite compact with the following size: 99 x 55.5 x 31mm. (without protruding parts), and weighs 165g (without the battery and memory card)

Olympus have this to say about the camera:

"If you're looking for the best picture quality, state-of-the-art technology, easy handling and stylish compact design, then the µ[mju:] DIGITAL 500 is the camera for you. 20 scene programmes and a fast high-quality image processor ensures great results, while the large HyperCrystal LCD allows viewing even from extreme angles. Plus with its sleek weatherproof* metal body it makes the perfect everyday companion."

More information can be found on their site.

The Camera: It's compact and made out of silver metal.
(Photos of the camera taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash, self-timer led, infra-red reciever for optional remote control, and microphone.


Back - the 2.5" TFT screen, mode-dial, zoom control, ok/menu button, 4-way controller, quick view, speaker and status led.


Top - on/off, shutter.


Bottom, under the camera there is a plastic tripod mount, and the battery / memory compartment.


Left Side (from back).


On this side is the DC in, and USB/AV out - note the rubber seal.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison next to the Konica Minolta Dimage G600.

Specifications / Features:

  • 5.0 million pixels
  • Weather-proof* metal body
  • Retracting lens barrier
  • 3x optical zoom (equiv. 35 – 105mm on 35mm camera), 1:3.1-5.2
  • Large 6.4cm / 2.5 inch Hyper Crystal LCD with 215,000 pixels
  • 20 scene programmes (Incl. Portrait, Night Scene, Self Portrait, Landscape, Candle, Sunset, Underwater, Behind Glass)
  • Super Macro mode from as close as 7cm
  • Movie recording function with sound
  • Multi-language menu
  • PictBridge support and TruePic TURBO
  • Underwater case (PT-026) optionally available soon
  • ISO: Auto ISO 64 – 250 (640 for indoor and candlelight shooting), Manual ISO 64, 100, 200, 400
  • TV Out

Full Specifications can be found on their site.

Box Contents:

  • Camera
  • Strap
  • Li-ion battery and charger
  • 32MB xD-Picture Card
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Software OLYMPUS Master 1.1
  • Instruction Manual
  • Warranty Card

Average box contents - A case would have been nice - 32mb is an average size memory card for a 5 megapixel camera.

Battery usage: Up to 240 images with fully charged battery according to the Olympus website - however as the camera uses a proprietry battery, I would recommend you buy a spare battery just in case. Battery life seemed: very good - I managed around 250 photos before the battery went flat. The battery is a Lithium-Ion 3.7v 1230mAh battery, model LI-12B.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the rotating dial.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen is a good resolution, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There is no live histogram available.
Optical Viewfinder: The camera has no optical viewfinder.

Menu options are: Image size, Exposure, White Balance, and in Mode menu: ESP, Drive, ISO, Digital Zoom, AF Mode, Microphone, Panorama, 2in1, Histogram.

Scene modes Setup Menu

Scene modes: (shown on the left, above) Program/Auto, Landscape, Landscape and Portrait, Portrait, Indoor, Sport, Beach and Snow, Behind Glass, Selfportrait and self-timer, self-portait, sunset, night scene, night and portrait, cuisine, documents, candle, under water mode (for use with the optional underwater housing!), under water macro (ditto), shoot and select 1, and shoot and select 2.

Setup menu options: (shown on the right, above) All reset, language, PW on setup, colour (changes menu colour), speaker, shutter sound, record view, file name, pixel mapping, screen brightness, date and time, video out.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is quick. The zoom is quick up to 8x.

Playback menu options: Album entry, Erase, Slideshow, and mode menu options are: protect, rotate, print, audio-clip, info, histogram, soft focus, fisheye, black and white, sepia, resize. Card options are: erase all and format.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 32mb memory provided with the camera:

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored
  SHQ HQ
5mp 2560x1920 8 26
3mp 2048x1536 SQ1 40
2mp 1600x1200 SQ2 48
1.3mp 1280x960 SQ2 76
1mp 1024x768 SQ2 117
VGA 640x480 SQ2 180
Video 320x240 15fps 1 minute 23 seconds

You can fit a small number of images on the built in memory - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a good choice of image sizes, although there is little choice regarding image compression.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 128mb or 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Olympus Mju Digital 500:

128mb xD - £16.99,
256mb xD - £23.99,
512mb xD - £39.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

Speed: The camera is very quick to switch on and take photos - however the camera can occassionally 'hunt' for the focus in darker indoor conditions. The screen updates are very quick and smooth (in good light). The playback mode is also quite quick. Playback mode allows you to zoom as close as 8x. The camera has a quick continuous shooting mode that lets you use the flash without any slow down.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are responsive. The camera is compact and fits very easily into pockets. The menus are also fairly easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly (you also have the choice between icon menus or text menus). The modes are easy to access, quick and simple.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well. There isn't much in the way of a handgrip, but I found the camera quite comfortable to use.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the new gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower Large group photo

Inside: The camera has good colour. It has a decent flash, and copes quite well with group photos, despite the small size of the flash. It does a good job of keeping noise low. The camera did a good job at focusing the majority of the time, although occasionally struggled and took longer to focus in low light.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, manual ISO settings.


Noise Test Photo (flash on)

ISO64 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise levels seemed very low at ISO64 and ISO100. Noise seemed quite low at ISO 200 and at ISO 400 noise is worse but still usable.

Outside:

Unisys Building People in Portleven, Cornwall

Outside, the camera had very good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail although images could be improved by being sharpened. Noise seemed quite low. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what these features do, although I would strongly recommend you avoid using digital zoom.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 3x Optical Zoom + digital zoom

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is fairly quiet. The lens is quick at going from wide to telephoto - there are around 15 steps between wide and telephoto giving you good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: I didn't notice purple fringing in photos.

Macro: To use this camera in macro mode, you press the macro button - pressing it again will switch you into super macro mode, which zooms the lens in. You can use the flash in macro mode, but not super macro mode. The camera can be roughly as close as 6cm away from the subject from the front of the lens.

Macro Watch Actual Pixels (100%)

The super macro mode is excellent - the camera does a good job of toning down the flash, and colours and detail are very good.

Movie: 320x240 at 15fps with sound. The movie is recorded as an .MOV file. Unfortunately you can't use the optical zoom whilst recording videos.


Our cat - 320x240 movie - Download. (right click, save target as, 5 seconds, 1.89mb) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is quite good, colour is quite good, the camera also does a good job in low-light. The frame rate is fairly average as is the size.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is good, the images have good colour, saturation, contrast and detail (although images could do with a slight sharpen) - with hardly any purple fringing. The camera did a good job focusing - indoors it did occassionally struggle. Noise was controlled well. I didn't notice any vignetting in the corners . There is an good range of image sizes and not much in the way of compression options. The super macro mode is awesome. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. Red-eye was controlled well in most shots. The movie mode is average.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The weatherproof camera is compact and is designed well. The camera will fit easily into pockets. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options (although the majority are aimed at point and shoot users), such as scene modes, my albums, etc - although some may be dissapointed to find that there is no custom white balance. The camera speed is very good, with a very fast switch on time, good focusing time, and good shutter response.

Alternative compact 5 megapixel digital cameras: Sony Cybershot W5 / T3, Olympus Mju Mini Digital S (weatherproof), Canon Digital IXUS 500, Canon Digital IXUS 50, Nikon Coolpix 5200 / 5600, Fuji Finepix F450, Pentax Optio S5i / SV (5x optical zoom), Konica Minolta Dimage X50, Casio Exilim EX-Z55, HP Photosmart R707, Panasonic Lumix FX7, Ricoh Caplio R1v (4.8x wide optical zoom). Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: The Olympus Mju Digital 500 is a very nice digital camera - it has an excellent large 2.5" screen, good image quality, a stylish weatherproof metal body, an excellent super macro mode, and is extremely fast and easy to use as well. The only negatives I can think of are the lack of custom white balance and other more advanced controls, the movie mode is fairly average, and the lack of an optical viewfinder may put some people off.

Olympus Mju Digital 500 Rating: Highly Recommended!
Buy now: £229 / $299.

Don't forget to buy an XD memory card to go with the Olympus Mju Digital 500: 128mb xD - £16.99, 256mb xD - £23.99, 512mb xD - £39.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

What I like:

  • Good colour
  • Good image quality
  • Very fast switch on time / fast operation
  • Weatherproof metal body
  • Excellent, clear, large 2.5" screen
  • Excellent super macro mode
  • Good battery life
  • Lots of scene modes
  • Low noise

What I don't like:

  • Battery compartment seems to open too easily
  • No Custom White Balance
  • Panoramic mode only available with Olympus XD memory cards

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.