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Olympus Stylus SH-50 iHS Preview

by Mike Tomkins
Posted 01/07/2013

Tired of toting a tripod with you everywhere you go, or relying on artificial-feeling flash exposures? The Olympus SH-50 aims to save you from either bothersome situation, thanks to better image stabilization, a high-sensitivity sensor, and high-speed shooting. It also offers oodles of zoom to bring your subject up close, and yet still manages to boast a relatively compact package.

Inside a relatively straightforward-looking body, the Olympus Stylus SH-50 includes both a 1/2.3-inch, 16.0-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS image sensor, whose pixel pitch is 1.34µm, as well as a TruePic VI image processor. Together, these allow for a sensitivity range of ISO 125 to 6,400 equivalents. And the Olympus SH-50's image stabilization system is unusually capable -- in fact, unique, for a fixed-lens camera -- in allowing for a five-axis correction. That is to say, it can correct not only for pitch and yaw like most camera systems, and for roll like a rare few cameras from Olympus and Pentax, but also for horizontal and vertical translational motions. The system is based on one Olympus developed for the OM-D E-M5 compact system camera, and will be at its strongest in video mode, where correction on all five axes is possible. For stills, there's no translational correction, "only" a correction of roll, pitch, and yaw. (Which would in itself still be unique among fixed-lens cameras.)

The SH-50's sensor and processor together also allow for some pretty handy speed: an impressive 10 frames per second is possible at the full 16 megapixel resolution for as many as 17 frames, or you can opt for a slower rate of 2.5 fps with a very generous 200 frame buffer. Drop the resolution to three megapixels, and you'll get up to 60.3 fps for as many as sixty images, which should be pretty useful for analyzing your golf swing!

We already mentioned that the Olympus SH-50 iHS' lens offered plenty of telephoto reach for a compact camera. Just how much? Try a full 24x optical zoom lens offering everything from 25 to 600mm-equivalents. The maximum aperture is rather dim, but no different to other similar cameras. At wide angle it starts at f/3.0, and by the telephoto position it falls to f/6.9. The lens design includes 11 elements in 10 groups, of which three are extra-low dispersion elements, and three are double-sided aspheric elements. At wide angle, the lens will focus down to 10cm normally, and when locked to ~79mm-equivalent, it'll focus to just 3cm in macro mode. Both face detection and tracking functions are included.

On the rear panel, there's a three-inch LCD monitor with a resolution of approximately 460,000 dots. It's not only used to view your images; it's also an input device, thanks to a touch-sensitive overlay. A graphical user interface that Olympus calls the Live Guide lets you make adjustments with a simple swipe of your finger. Exposure modes include Intelligent Auto, Program, and Manual. Available shutter speeds range from 1/4 to 1/2,000 second, and can be raised as high as four seconds in night mode, or 15 seconds in Manual mode. At ISO 3,200 equivalent, a built-in flash has a working range of 9.4 meters at wide angle, and 4.0 meters at telephoto.

The Olympus SH-50 also has some special modes aimed at providing better ease of use, and some extra creative possibilities. The HDR Backlight Adjustment mode combines multiple, sequential shots to create a single image with greater dynamic range than is possible in a single exposure. Hand-held Starlight mode is similar, but raises sensitivity to get a shorter, hand-holdable shutter speed, and then averages the exposures to reduce noise levels. Advanced Shadow Adjustment Technology tweaks the tone curve to bring out subtle shadow details. The Intelligent Auto mode has been improved and now recognizes 34 different scene types. There's also a selection of 11 Magic Filter effects functions, a Beauty mode that yields more attractive portraits and can simulate details like blush makeup, and a Smart Panorama tool that captures a full 360-degree scene with a simple sweep of your camera.

As well as stills, the Olympus SH50 also shoots 1080p / 1080i (Full HD; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) high definition movies, at a rate of either 30 frames or 60 interlaced fields per second. These are stored in H.264-compressed .MOV format, and the SH-50 iHS can also shoot high-speed videos. Two rates are available for these: 120 fps for 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels), and 240 fps for the non-standard resolution of 432 x 324 pixels. A neat and relatively rare capability of the SH-50 is that it can also save full-resolution 16 megapixel still images during movie capture, without interruption to the video stream.

Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC, SDXC, and UHS-I types, as well as Wi-Fi capable cards such as those from Eye-Fi and Toshiba's FlashAir line. There's also ~40MB of built-in memory. Connectivity includes both USB 2.0 High Speed data, and a high-def HDMI output. The latter requires an optional cable, and supports the HDMI CEC standard for controlling your camera via your TV's remote. Power comes from an LI-90B proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. Expected battery life wasn't available at press time.

Olympus will sell the Stylus SH-50 iHS in the US market from March 2012, priced at around US$300. Two body-color options will be available: black, or white.