Olympus Stylus SH-50 review
We always like products that do something different, but we rate them for quality rather than novelty value. That's why it's a particular treat to find a camera that stands out from the crowd in ways that are genuinely useful, which the Olympus Stylus SH-50 does.
The first thing to note is the enormous 24x zoom. We've seen this lens on various other Olympus cameras over the last couple of years, but no other manufacturer has been able to match it in a compact-shaped camera.
We've seen five-axis optical stabilisation before, too, but on the high-end OM-D E-M5 compact system camera (see Reviews, Shopper 298). According to the Olympus website, the SH-50's photos are stabilised for rotational movement in three axes. For videos, lateral movement in vertical and horizontal planes is taken into account too, bringing the total to five.
We didn't notice a huge advantage when taking photos, not least because the camera picked conservative automatic settings, with a 1/250s minimum shutter speed for telephoto shots to minimise the risk of blur. The effect on videos was impossible to miss, though. Wide-angle clips glided smoothly as we panned around a scene, and remained remarkably stable when we deliberately jiggled the camera. Handheld walking clips were extremely impressive too. With a steady hand, telephoto videos were rock solid.
Another useful function is the ability to record videos and photos simultaneously. We often deliberate over which medium to shoot in, and sometimes regret our decision. With the SH-50, we can just hit record and continue to take up to ten photos. They took about 11 seconds to save after recording had completed, but this seems like a fair compromise.
This same trick is available on the Sony WX200 and Panasonic TZ40, but on these cameras, the photos look considerably less sharp than their normal photographic output. We suspect that the Sony and Panasonic are simply grabbing a frame of 1080p video and then upscaling it to the camera's nominal resolution. The Olympus SH-50 captures photos at the native 16-megapixel resolution, with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, and details are as sharp as we'd expect. The only limitation was that the shutter speed was dictated by the video mode, so the ISO speed (and thus, noise levels) were sometimes higher than when we captured photos in the normal way.
With such impressive video-related features, it's reassuring that video quality is up to scratch. Details were precise and crisp, although not quite up to the Canon SX280 HS's standards, and colours were rich and punchy. Low-light clips were noisier than from the Canon SX280 HS but they retained more detail in subtle textures. Face detection was active during capture, and the touchscreen let us move the autofocus point manually while recording.
This test video shows both crisp details and steady handheld footage at full zoom - click through to YouTube for a fullscreen 1080p version
Slow motion recording is available too, with 720p capture at 120fps giving quarter-speed playback at 30fps. Heavy barrel distortion appeared in wide-angle shots when we selected slow-motion recording, but these are corrected digitally in other video modes and for photos.
The SH-50 performed well for photographic duties, too. It captured a photo every second in normal use, amply aided by responsive autofocus. Continuous shooting was the best we've seen from a pocket ultra-zoom camera, managing 11.4fps for 17 frames, and taking just five seconds to save them and go again. Various other options include indefinite 2.6fps capture, and 60fps shooting at a reduced 2.7-megapixel resolution.
There aren't many labelled buttons, but a strip of icons down the right side of the screen provides quick access to the most important functions. We'd have liked a rear wheel to adjust exposure settings quickly. However, we'd gladly trade this in for the SH-50's touchscreen, which is extremely useful for moving the autofocus point – something that's not possible at all on many of the SH-50's competitors.
Image quality is perhaps the SH-50's weakest area, but it still ranked above average in our tests. The huge 24x zoom helped it to excel for telephoto photography. The lens also includes the same outstanding Super Macro mode as the Olympus TZ-15, although it's tucked away among the scene presets so some people may never find it.
It wasn't so impressive at more conservative focal lengths. Focus appeared to be sharp but the camera ladled on excessive amounts of digital sharpening, which made dense textures such as foliage look slightly artificial on close inspection. Noise levels in low light were reasonably well controlled. It showed a slight advantage over the Panasonic TZ35 and TZ40 but it couldn't match the superb low-light performance of the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS .
Considering the amount of technology crammed into this camera, it's a shame that Olympus hasn't gone the whole hog and thrown in GPS and Wi-Fi too. That would have made it a five-star product, and perfect for people who only ever share their photos online and who don't necessarily demand the best possible image quality. On balance, the Canon is the better camera, but the SH-50 remains a tempting alternative. Its faster performance and simultaneous photo and video capture may just swing it for people who hate to miss a photo (or video) opportunity.
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