Olympus had anonunced the SH-50, its first point-and-shoot with 5-axis image stabilisation for video, earlier this year. Considering the SH-50 is a travel zoom compact camera, we were really curious to know how the image stabilisation would work at the telephoto end. We will get to that in a while, but first, let’s look at the design and features.
Build and Design
The Olympus SH-50 has a metallic body with a nice textured rubber grip in the front. Thanks to the palm grip, the camera fits well in your hands. The tapering edge of the rubber grip provides just the right angle to grip the camera with your fingers. We would have loved a thumb rest on the rear side, but maybe we are just nitpicking as the SH-50 is a compact camera.
Olympus SH 50 has a noticeable palm grip on the front face
On the rear side, the button arrangement is completely different compared other cameras, where you typically have a directional pad (d-pad) surrounded by buttons. Maybe that is the reason the thumb rest was kept out of the SH-50. On this one, you have a d-pad with a central OK button. On the top and bottom of the d-pad you have a continuous chrome strip which has a movie record button on the top and the ‘Menu’ and ‘Review’ button below the d-pad. The placement of the movie button is just where the thumb rest would have been and Olympus have thoughtfully kept the movie record button slightly recessed to prevent accidental presses while gripping the camera. Other buttons are well laid out and have a nice feedback. The 3-inch touchscreen display is on a slightly raised platform as compared to the buttons on the rear side.
Coming to the top of the camera, you have the metallic ‘Mode’ dial placed on the extreme right hand side, which has a nice click-rotation mechanism. You may end up rotating the mode dial while putting the camera in or removing it out from your pocket however. The shutter button is placed beside the mode dial, surrounded by the zoom lever. Moving leftwards, you have the power switch, stereo microphone and finally the pop-out flash.
Olympus SH 50 offers 24x optical zoom
The overall build quality of the camera is sturdy and it can easily fit in your pocket, although the lens element does make the bulge in your pocket prominent. At 270 grams, we found it quite manageable. The hinges on the battery compartment are good and the HDMI-out and charging port are protected by a plastic cover which locks in place. The LCD display does show some minor scratches and wear when it’s off. It does not affect visibility in the live shooting mode though, but ensure you have a scratch guard on the screen as it’s prone to scratches.
Olympus SH-50 iHS is a compact travel zoom housing a 16MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and a TruePic VI image processor (which was seen in the high end Olympus OM-D E-M5). The SH-50 offers a 24x optical zoom thanks to its lens which goes from 25 – 600mm (35mm equivalent) with a maximum aperture of f/3.0 at the wide end and f/6.9 at the telephoto end. It features a 3-inch 460k dot screen on the rear side which is touch-sensitive.
The rear side of the Olympus SH 50 has a vertical chrome strip with the movie record button on top and the playback and Menu buttons below the d-pad
One of its main features is the 3-axis image stabilisation for stills and 5-axis image stabilisation for video which is a feature that was introduced with the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The 5-axis image stabilization compensates for camera shake across five axes – vertical, horizontal, rolling, yaw and pitch. It not only compensates for vertical and horizontal shakes, but also takes care of low frequency shakes caused due to walking. We will find out if this really stabilises videos in our tests below. But, the fact that a compact camera has this kind of image stabilisation in it is commendable.
The menu system is slightly different from that seen on the Olympus XZ-2 or the higher-end mirrorless cameras, but the overall theme is familiar. Tweaking options are just present along the right hand vertical edge of the screen. Pressing the OK button activates the modes and you can then navigate using the d-pad. It will not take long getting used to the navigation.
In terms of main shooting modes you have the iAuto, Program (P) and Manual (M) mode – Shutter priority and Aperture priority are missing. Apart from these you have the Magic mode which is a collection of 11 art filters, SCN mode which has 17 modes including portrait, night scene, sports, HDR and so on. Native ISO range is from 125 to 6400 along with a non-native High ISO mode (12,800). It employs a contrast-detect AF system and is capable of shooting 11fps at full resolution which is impressive. Absence of Wi-fi is a surprising omission on the SH 50.
Studio ISO performance
Our studio ISO comprises a setup which has a healthy mix of colours, textures, materials, fine text and so on. We attached the Olympus SH 50 on a tripod and kept it in the Manual mode, as there isn’t an Aperture priority mode on this camera. We kept the aperture at f/11.2 and kept adjusting the shutter speeds according to the ISO settings so as to get a neutral exposure. We proceeded to take images across the ISO range. To ensure minimal camera shake we had a 2-second timer enabled to click the pictures.
The base image for studio ISO performance test
The ISO starts from 125 and goes all the way to ISO 6400. Noise-free images were obtained till ISO 400 after which the noise reducing algorithms make their presence felt. At ISO 800 you still get a decent image, but you will start noticing slightly patchy areas. ISO 1600 gives markedly noisier images as compared to ISO 800. Area around the text portion starts to dither and details are lost on finer aspects of the scene such as the circuit board and the threads. ISO 3200 and 6400 are barely usable. The camera will give you good results only till ISO 800 and beyond that, be prepared for noisy images.
Image Quality and Focussing
Images from the camera have an overall neutral tone and we did not notice any unnecessary saturation of colours. Upto ISO 400 we got images with good details but anything higher, leads to noticeably patchy images. The centre sharpness is good, but the same cannot be said about the edges and this is prominent with photographs taken at the widest focal length. Objects such as leaves on trees look like a hotchpotch of green colour when framed around the edges. We also noticed purple fringing around branches of trees as well as building structures when shooting on a bright sunny day. Shooting under low light wasn’t as impressive. Images were lacking in detail and would show a lot of patchy areas on raising the ISO over 800.
Please Note: All images below have been resized. To see the full resolution images go to our Olympus SH 50 set on Flickr.
The zoom range is quite versatile
It offers around 11 Magic filters for stills as well as video (except for Sparkle, Dramatic and Fragmented which can’t be used in movie mode). Sparkle mode takes quite a while to apply the sparkling effect to photographs.
The 24x zoom lets you get quite close to the action
Touch focussing isn’t the fastest around and it degrades in low light situations, specially if you have zoomed in. It provides three AF modes – Face/iESP, Spot and AF Tracking. You can also fire the shutter after touch-focussing.
The camera is capable of shooting at 11.5 fps in burst mode. It also has a Hi1 and Hi2 modes which restrict the resolution of the images to 1920×1080 (16:9 aspect ratio) or 1920×1440 (4:3 aspect ratio) but are capable of shooting much higher number of frames. This option is great for making stop-motion movies, but it takes some time to write to the card after it is done shooting.
The Panorama mode is quite easy to use, but the quality isn’t the greatest and you will tend to notice ghosting in areas where the images are being stitched.
In brightly lit conditions, we noticed a lot of purple fringing on edges of branches
Vertically shot samples
Magic filters (from top left): Pop Art, Pin hole, Punk and Reflection
The 5-axis image stabilisation (IS) is a key feature while shooting videos helping you to get steady video footage. The difference with the IS off and on is quite significant as can be seen from the sample below. Generally with travel zoom cameras, getting a steady footage at the telephoto end can be challenging, but we faced no such issues with the SH-50. The video quality is good enough for a compact camera and you can use certain filters as well while shooting. Panning tends to give a jittery footage and when zooming in and out, you will hear that annoying motor noise. It also tends to hunt for focus at times after you have steadied the focal length (after zooming in or out) which can be distracting.
Verdict and Price in India
Olympus SH-50’s main draw is its video functionality and the 5-axis image stabilisation which gives steady videos. But we wish we could say the same about the image quality. At an MRP of Rs 22,999, it is difficult to recommend the camera for its average image quality. Lack of Wi-Fi is another downer which is becoming a norm with travel zoom cameras these days, specially at a Rs 20k-plus price point. If you are impressed with the image stabilisation in the video performance, only then go for it, as it is one of the few compact cameras which does it well. For better still image quality, you can look at the Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR, Sony DSC WX300 and Nikon’s S9500 as a good alternative.
PS: High resolution samples of images in the test as well as more sample images can be found on our Olympus SH 50 set on Flickr
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Nov 27, 2014