HandlingWe doubt that it's possible to make a £150 bridge camera with a high-end build quality and materials. It's therefore no surprise to see that the SP-610 UZ is a very plastic-feeling camera that's surprisingly light in spite of the fact it runs on AA batteries. The finish and assembly can sometimes be a bit surprising, like the chrome-effect strap loop that sticks up from the side of the camera, or the fact that the battery compartment door doesn't lock automatically when you push it shut. The click-round wheel on the back of the camera also feels like it's part of a toy and it did nothing to reassure us about the overall quality of the product.
The back of the SP-610 is as sparse as the rest of the camera. In fact, it has no more buttons than the brand's entry-level compacts, apart from a click-round wheel on top of the D-pad, which is handy for fast navigation trough internal settings and menus. In spite of the arrival of this new chrome-effect control, the SP-610 UZ doesn't have much in common with classic 'bridge' cameras and is no way designed for expert or advanced users. The choice of settings available is fairly limited too: only the automatic exposure setting is, for example, available in P mode, Auto mode or the pre-set scene modes.
The display is a TN screen with 230,000 dots, which is already enough to write it off as far as we're concerned. The choice of TN technology means that you'll need to be facing the screen straight on to see it properly, so you won't be able to see what you're doing when taking a photo with the camera above your head, for example. The screen isn't very well calibrated either: the greys are too light, there's a blue tinge to darker tones and the deltaE (difference between perfect colours and those displayed by the screen) of 12 means that colours aren't reproduced accurately. Case closed.
Note that although the camera is clearly aimed at novice users, the flash doesn't pop out automatically as and when required. And, as the SP-610 doesn't even display a message advising you when to use the flash in Auto mode, you'll have to pull out the flash by hand each time you use the camera just in case the SP-610 UZ decides to use it.
ResponsivenessOne bit of good news is that the camera starts up in under 2.5 seconds, which technically isn't that fast, but it's still not bad for a bridge (powerful zoom lenses tend to take longer to deploy). Similarly, in good light, the autofocus works in half a second at all focal lengths.
For the rest, this camera is nothing more than average: it's out of action for two seconds between photos and the burst mode only manages 1 fps for four frames. What's more, the autofocus goes to pieces in low light. On the whole, the SP-610 doesn't always feel very fast to use. The Quick menu drags a little too since the exposure and white balance previews slow down access to other settings such as sensitivity.
Picture QualityThe Olympus SP-610 UZ has the same internal electronics as the TG-310. Like its rough, tough counterpart, pictures taken at 400 ISO are perfectly suitable for 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) prints, but at 800 ISO the smoothing effect intended to mask digital noise degrades the image. In the SP-610, we noticed that the exposure was a little darker than in the TG-310, which gives slightly more contrasted images with its default settings.
The lens is, however, a new and more original feature of this camera. At wide-angle settings it's incredibly good for a zoom lens this powerful: the often-seen lack of sharpness in the corners of the frame is minimal here, and distortion is practically invisible unless you happen to be taking pictures of geometric patterns with lots of straight lines and right-angles. Plus, there's not even a trace of chromatic aberration.
At around 200 mm things are a little less convincing, and only the central zone of the picture is sharp and clear. This lack of consistency can clearly be spotted on an 8" x 10" photo. However, things improve again as you zoom further, and at 616 mm, quality is pretty good over the whole frame. Light zones do seem to bleed into other areas a bit though, which is no doubt a sign of unwanted reflections in the lens.
In the end, the SP-610 UZ lens and internal electronics can't match the leaders of the pack, but this camera still takes decent photos.