Stylus 500 ($399) is a compact point-and-shoot,
weatherproof camera. By weatherproof I mean that
it can take a splash -- it's not equipped to go swimming.
Other features include a 5 Megapixel CCD, 3X optical
zoom lens, and large 2.5" LCD display. How does
this latest Stylus perform? Find out now in our review!
The camera is known as the mju
digital 500 in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The Stylus 500 has an average bundle.
Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 5.0 effective Megapixel Olympus
Stylus 500 digital camera
- 32MB xD Picture Card
- LI-12B lithium-ion rechargeable
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Olympus Master
software and drivers
- Basic manual (printed) + full manual
Olympus includes a 32MB xD Picture
Card with the camera, which won't hold very many 5
Megapixel photos. So, buying a larger card is a very
good idea. I'd recommend 256MB at the bare minimum
(xD currently tops out at 1GB). xD cards do tend to
be more expensive than SD and CompactFlash cards, so
you've been warned.
The Stylus uses the now familiar
LI-12B lithium ion battery (the older and lower power
LI-10B also works, in case you have one laying around).
The LI-12B packs a modest 4.6 Wh of energy, which
translates to about 200 photos per charge (using
the CIPA battery life standard). For the sake of
comparison, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33 can take
180 shots, while the Casio Exilim EX-Z55 can pull
off a whopping 400 photos per charge.
There are some disadvantages to the
style of battery used by the Stylus 500 (and plenty
of other cameras). For one, they're expensive -- $37
a pop (and I recommend buying a spare). Secondly, if
you run out of juice in the field, you can't just drop
in some alkaline AAs to get you through the day.
When it's time to recharge the battery
just snap it into the included external charger. It
takes about 2 hours to fully charge the battery. This
isn't one of those convenient (in my opinion) chargers
that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power
Part of the "stylish" design
of the Stylus 500 is a built-in lens cover -- so there
are no messy lens caps to worry about.
There are just a couple of accessories
available for the Stylus 500. If you really want to
get the camera wet then you'll need the PT-026 underwater
housing ($250), which lets you take the camera up to
131 feet underwater. Also available is the RM-1 wireless
remote control ($30), which can be used in record and
playback mode. Other options include an AC adapter
($37) and a carrying case.
Olympus includes their new Master
software with the camera, and I have to say that they've
done a great job with it. The first thing you'll probably
do with the software is transfer photos from your camera.
Once you've done that, you've got a nice thumbnail
view that you can organize by date or keywords. A calendar
view is also available.
It's easy to change the size of the
thumbnails, and everything was snappy on my PowerMac
If you want to edit a photo, that's
just a click away. You can rotate, crop, reduce redeye,
or do an "instant fix". If you want to adjust
the color balance, you can do that as well, as you
can see above.
The software can also be used to "stitch" together
several photos into one panoramic photo.
Sharing photos is easy: you can print
them or e-mail them right in the Master software. Naturally,
there's a slideshow feature available as well. And,
if you want to archive them to a CD or DVD, that's
Just like with their old Camedia Master
software, Olympus has a "Plus" version available
for $20 more. The Master Plus software adds movie editing
capabilities, more printing options, and the ability
to make Video CDs.
While the software has greatly improved,
one thing that hasn't changed is Olympus' unwillingness
to print the full camera manual. As usual, you'll get
a 25 page "basic manual" in the box, with
the full manual on the included CD-ROM. The quality
of the manual itself is good -- it's getting to the
information that's difficult.
Look and Feel
The Stylus 500 is a compact, but not
too compact metal camera. It's not as small as say,
the Stylus Verve or Canon SD300, but it'll fit into
most of your pockets without any trouble.
With a few exceptions, the camera
is made entirely of metal, and it feels very solid
for the most part. Being a weatherproof camera, everything
is sealed so if the camera gets splashed, the important
components don't get damaged. I do have one complaint
related to this subject that I'll get to later.
Now, let's see how the camera compares
to the competition in terms of size and weight:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
x 2.1 x 0.8 in.
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.2 x 0.9 in.
x 2.5 x 0.8 in.
Minolta DiMAGE G600
x 2.2 x 1.2 in.
x 2.5 x 0.6 in.
x 2.3 x 1.4 in.
x 2.2 x 1.2 in.
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.0 x 1.0 in.
x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
x 2.4 x 0.9 in.
As you can see, the Stylus 500 is
one of the "larger" cameras in its class.
But don't get me wrong, it's still pretty small.
Okay, let's start our tour of this
camera now, beginning with the front.
If I'm not mistaken, the Stylus 500
has the same F3.1-5.2, 3X optical zoom lens as its
predecessor (the Stylus 400). This isn't the fastest
lens out there, so keep that in mind if you do a lot
of shooting that requires a fast shutter speed. The
focal length of the lens is 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is
equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded.
At the top of the photo is the camera's
built-in flash. The working range of the flash is pretty
good for a camera in this class: 0.2 - 4.2 m at wide-angle
and 0.2 - 2.6 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an
external flash to the Stylus 500.
The little circle just to the right
of the flash is the self-timer lamp. The dark-colored
circle further to the right is the receiver for the
optional remote control. To the lower-right of the
lens you'll find the microphone.
There is no AF-assist lamp on the
One of the big draws of the Stylus
500 is its large 2.5" LCD display. Where some
big LCDs skimp on resolution, the one on the Stylus
does not: it packs an impressive 215,000 pixels. The
screen is nice and sharp, and motion is fluid. Outdoor
visibility is better than average. In low light situations,
the screen "gains up" automatically so you
can still see your subject.
As you've probably noticed, there's
no optical viewfinder on the Stylus 500. Whether that's
a problem is your decision. Olympus is going LCD-only
on their lower-end cameras, and personally I'm not
a big fan of that idea.
At the upper-right of the photo is
the zoom controller. The controller moves the lens
from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.3 seconds. I
counted an impressive 12 steps throughout the zoom
Below the zoom controller is the speaker
and the Quick View button. This button quickly enters
playback mode. To the right of those is the mode dial,
which has the following options:
- Record mode
- Movie mode
- Playback mode
I'll have more on all those later.
The final item on the back of the
Stylus 500 is the four-way controller. This is used
for menu navigation, as well as:
- Up - Scene mode
- Program auto - for everyday
- Landscape + portrait
- Beach & snow
- Behind glass
- Self-portrait + self-timer
- Night scene
- Night + portrait
- Underwater wide - requires
- Underwater macro - requires
- Shoot & select 1/2 -
for taking action shots; camera takes several
photos in a row and you save only the images
- Down - Self-timer, remote control
- Left - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye
reduction, fill flash, flash off)
- Right - Macro mode (Off, normal,
super) - more on this later
As you can see, the Stylus 500 has
a ton of scene modes, which are great for beginners
or anyone who doesn't want to fuss with manual settings.
Then again, there aren't any manual settings to worry
about on this camera anyway!
The only things to see up here are
the power and shutter release buttons.
Nothing to see here.
Over on this side of the camera you'll
find the I/O ports, including DC-in (for optional AC
adapter) and USB + A/V out (one port for both). You
can also see the gaskets around the ports which protect
them from the elements.
We end our tour with the bottom of
the camera. Here you'll find the battery and xD memory
card slots, as well as a plastic tripod mount (why
can't they put a metal one on a metal camera? sigh).
The door that covers all this isn't terribly sturdy,
and it opens way too easily -- which was surprising
given the fact that this camera is supposed to be watertight.
You probably won't be able to swap memory cards while
the camera is on a tripod, either.
The included battery and xD card are
shown at right.
Using the Olympus Stylus
Fast startup speed is another one
of the strong points of the Stylus 500. It takes just
1.2 seconds for the camera to extend its lens and "warm
up" before you can start taking pictures.
A live histogram
is available in record mode
Autofocus speeds were about average,
with the camera taking about 0.6 - 0.8 seconds to lock
focus in most cases (it'll take longer if the AF has
to "hunt" a bit). Despite not having an AF-assist
lamp, the Stylus focused surprisingly well in low light
Shutter lag was quite low, even at
slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed is very good, with
a delay of about 1.4 seconds between shots, assuming
you've turned off the post-shot review feature.
There's no easy way to delete a photo
immediately after it is taken. You must first enter
playback mode by pressing the Quick View button.
Now, here's a look at the various
image quality choices available on the camera:
||# images on 32MB card
(low compression, higher quality)
(more compression, lower quality)
There's no RAW or TIFF mode on the
Stylus 500, not that I'd expect one.
Olympus uses one of the more sensible
file numbering systems that I've seen. Files are named
Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is
the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file
numbers are always unique (well, at least for a year).
File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch
The Stylus 500 uses the recent Olympus
menu system, minus the customizing feature found on
their more expensive cameras. When you first hit the
menu button, you'll be presented with the following
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- Mode Menu - see below
- White balance (Auto, sunlight,
cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent x 3) - a custom option
would've been nice
- Image quality (see above chart)
The Mode Menu is where most of the
options on the camera are located. Here's what you'll
find in this menu:
- Camera Settings
- Metering (ESP, spot)
- Drive (Single-frame, sequential)
- see below
- ISO (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400)
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's
best to keep this off
- AF mode (iESP, spot)
- Sound recording (on/off) - add
a 4 sec voice clip to each photo
- Panorama (on/off) - helps you
frame panoramic shots; Olympus-brand xD card required
- 2-in-1 (on/off) - combines two
successive pictures into one
- Histogram (on/off)
- Card Setup (Format)
- All reset (on/off) - retain settings
after camera is powered off
- Language (English, French, Spanish,
- Power on setup - for startup
- Screen (Off, 1-2) - pick
up a startup screen
- Volume (Off, low, high)
- Menu color (Normal, blue, green,
- Beep (Off, low, high)
- Shutter sound (Off, 1-3) - you
can set the volume for whichever shutter sound
- Rec view (on/off) - post-shot
- File name (Reset, auto)
- Pixel mapping (on/off) - removes
dead pixels that can appear in images
- Monitor brightness (-7 to +7,
- Date/time (set)
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
In the sequential shooting mode,
you can take up to 5 photos (at SHQ quality) at 1.7
frames/second -- which is good, but not great. The
LCD turns off during shooting, which makes it virtually
impossible to follow a moving subject.
That's about it for menus. This is
a point-and-shoot camera, as you can see. Let's move
on to photo tests now.
The Stylus 500 did a great job with
our macro test subject, using auto white balance no
less. Our subject is sharp and smooth, with accurate
and quite saturated color.
There are two macro modes on the camera.
In normal macro mode, you can get as close as 8 cm
to your subject, at both the wide and telephoto ends
of the lens, which is about average. To get closer,
you can use super macro mode, which lowers that distance
to 7 cm. Despite the relatively long distance, you
can still fill the frame with an object 27 x 20 mm
in size. Do note that in super macro mode the lens
is locked at the telephoto position.
The night test shot came out decently,
though the noise levels are a little high. Since there's
no way to manually set the shutter speed, you're at
the mercy of the camera's brain when it comes to getting
a good exposure. For best results, use one of the night
scene modes. The camera took in enough light here,
and purple fringing isn't a problem. The full size
image is a little crooked, so you'll have to forgive
Using that same scene, let's take
a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects
the noise levels in images. You can click on the thumbnail
to see the full size images.
Noise levels were already pretty high
to begin with, and by the time you get to ISO 200 details
are starting to get destroyed. This may not be the
best camera for high ISO shooting.
There's very mild barrel distortion
at the wide end of the lens. I see no evidence of vignetting
Not surprisingly, there is plenty
of redeye on this compact camera. While your results
may vary, you can expect to deal with redeye to one
extent or another.
The image quality on the Stylus 500
was a little disappointing. Color and exposure were
both fine, and purple fringing level were low. However,
images were soft and details were really fuzzy, as
illustrated in images like these.
I also saw some strange artifacts on edges, such as
in this shot.
Despite these flaws, you'll get nice 4 x 6 and 5 x
7 inch prints -- any larger and I'd look at other cameras.
With that in mind, I invite you to
check out our photo gallery.
Print the photos as if they were you own, and then
decide if the Stylus' photo quality meets your expectations.
The Stylus 500 has a rather unexciting
movie mode. You can record 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 videos
at 15 frames/second until the memory card is full.
Sound is recorded as well. The included 32MB card can
hold about 83 seconds worth of video, so you'll want
a larger card for longer movies.
You cannot use the zoom lens during
Movies are saved in QuickTime format.
Here's a dull sample movie for you.
Neither the video nor the sound quality will win any
to play movie (4.3 MB, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Stylus 500 has a pretty nice playback
mode. Basic features include slide shows, voice annotations,
thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image protection,
and "zoom and scroll". The camera supports
direct printing using the PictBridge system, as well.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term)
allows you to zoom in as much as 8X into your photo
(in 1X steps), and then move around in it.
Bonus features include soft focus
and fisheye effects, plus the ability to change your
images into black and white or sepia tone. You can
also rotate, resize, and crop your photos right on
One other feature worth mentioning
is the album feature. You can put photos into the album
either on the camera or using Olympus Master. Once
you've done that, just turn the mode dial to the album
position and you can share your photos with friends
and family (see screenshots).
Normally, you don't get much information
about your photos in playback mode. However, by changing
some settings in the playback menu, you can get the
info screen you see above-right.
The camera moves through photos at
an average clip, with a delay of slightly over one
second between each high res picture.
How Does it Compare?
The Olympus Stylus 500 is as compact
point-and-shoot camera that looks good, resists water,
is super-fast, and has some neat features. Unfortunately
photo quality isn't as good as it should be. But first,
the good news. This latest Stylus is compact (but not
too much so), metal, and weatherproof. It can get a
little wet, but that doesn't mean it can go snorkeling
with you -- for that you'll need the optional underwater
case. The Stylus has a large and sharp 2.5" LCD
display that is viewable in both bright and dim lighting.
Camera performance is very good for the most part,
especially the startup speed -- wow. The camera doesn't
have any manual controls, but you'll find plenty of
scene modes to make up for it. Other nice features
include in-camera cropping, special effects, and albums.
On the downside, the photo quality
wasn't wondrous. Photos were well-exposed with accurate
color and low purple fringing, but they were soft,
with lots of fuzzy details. They'll be fine for smaller
prints, but for larger sizes or 100% on-screen viewing
you'll likely be disappointed. The camera doesn't have
an AF-assist lamp, but it focused better than I would've
expected considering that. Also missing is an optical
viewfinder -- something I personally require, but many
folks won't miss it. The plastic door over the battery
and memory card slot is flimsy and opens way too easily
-- a concern on a water-resistant camera like this.
And finally, no Olympus camera review would be complete
without a snippy comment about not including the full
printed manual in the box -- so there it is.
Overall, I like a lot of things about
the Stylus 500 -- I just wish the photos were better.
If you want a smaller camera that doesn't mind getting
a little wet, it's worth checking out.
What I liked:
- Stylish, compact, and weatherproof
- Good all-around performance, excellent
- Large LCD display is usable outdoors
and in low light
- Plenty of scene modes
- Live histogram in record mode
- Optional underwater case
- Cool playback mode features
- Much improved bundled software
What I didn't care for:
- Soft photos with fuzzy details
- No optical viewfinder or AF-assist
- Plastic door over battery/memory
card slots too easy to open accidentally
- Some manual controls would've been
- Unexciting movie mode
- Full manual only on CD
Other high resolution, compact cameras
worth a look include the Canon PowerShot SD300 and S500 Digital
Exilim EX-Z55, Fuji
FinePix F450, Konica
Minolta DiMAGE X50, Nikon
Coolpix 5200, Panasonic
Lumix DMC-FX7, Pentax
OptioWP (also weatherproof), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 and DSC-T33.
As always, I recommend a trip down
to your local reseller to try out the Stylus 500 and
its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out
in our gallery!
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this
review, please send them to Jeff.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me
asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other
DCRP readers, please visit our forums.