posted Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:00 AM EDT


As the annual CP+ tradeshow in Japan approaches, Olympus has taken the wraps off two of the more unusual fixed-lens cameras we've seen recently. At first glance, the Olympus SP-100 ultrazoom and the rugged Olympus TG-850 compact might not seem particularly unusual, but each brings with it firsts not just for Olympus, but for their respective categories.

Perhaps the more surprising is the Olympus SP-100, a 16-megapixel ultrazoom camera with a brand-new 50x optical zoom lens. At the heart of its design was the goal of resolving a common ultrazoom problem: if you lose track of your subject, particularly at full telephoto, how can you get it back centered in the frame as quickly as possible?

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With most ultrazoom cameras, it's a slow and tedious process that can cause you to miss once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities. With the SP-100, technology borrowed from hunting scopes makes relocating and recentering your subject easy, courtesy of a red-dot-sight that sits just beneath the popup flash. (It's not to be confused with a laser sight -- the dot isn't projected onto your subject, but instead appears only on the sight, where it appears to stay dead-center even as you move your head.)

The Olympus SP-100 Eagle Eye is the first camera to include a dot-sight, a feature borrowed from the world of hunting that helps you get your subject centered quickly.

Beyond that standout feature, the Olympus SP-100 is a fairly straightforward ultrazoom camera, but with some nice touches such as a duplicate zoom rocker on the lens barrel, as well as a focus limit button. But that one feature alone makes the SP-100 potentially much more exciting for ultrazoom fans than its rivals. Even if it only you only occasionally drift off your subject, getting the camera back to proper framing quicker means you'll likely get more keeper shots, and that's a big deal indeed.

The waterproof, shockproof, crushproof, freezeproof, and dustproof Olympus TG850, meanwhile, certainly doesn't look like a revolution in the making -- but it promises to fundamentally change the way rugged cameras shoot photos. That's thanks to two landmarks for the segment: The TG-850 is the first rugged, waterproof camera with a tilting display, and it also sports the widest zoom lens ever to appear on a rugged camera.

With the Olympus TG-850, you can shoot self-portraits by the pool -- or in the pool -- with great framing, and without worrying about damaging your camera. And you can sling it in a camera bag or let the kids play with it, free from the worries you might have about a non-ruggedized camera, yet you don't have to sacrifice on wide-angle possibilities or the ability to frame from difficult angles to achieve that.

The Olympus TG-850 is the first rugged, waterproof camera with a tilting display. It's also notable for its extremely wide-angle zoom lens.

Both of these cameras could be considered sleepers. Their standout features don't reveal themselves until you take a closer look, yet there's nothing else quite like them on the market. Both are slated to ship from March 2014, with the Olympus SP-100 Eagle Eye (as it's officially known) priced at US$400, and the Olympus TG-850 carrying a very affordable US$250 pricetag.

For more, read our Olympus SP-100 preview if you're a long-zoom fan, or our Olympus TG-850 preview if you're in the market for a rugged camera.

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