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Olympus Stylus SP-100 review: Unique tracking system makes this megazoom stand out

An inventive built-in dot sight lets you quickly find your target with this camera's big 50x zoom lens.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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5 min read

For a while there, it looked like Olympus was giving up on bridge-style long-zoom cameras, basically just going through the motions with its last few SP-series models. With the Stylus SP-100 (also called the SP-100EE), though, Olympus stands to steal some sales from the competition.

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7.8

Olympus Stylus SP-100

The Good

Thanks to its unique dot sight, the Olympus Stylus SP-100 makes it easy to track and shoot subjects at full zoom -- something other cameras with similar 50x zoom lenses struggle with.

The Bad

Though the dot sight is cool, the camera is missing several features that competing models have, such built-in Wi-Fi, a high-res tilting LCD, or raw capture.

The Bottom Line

The Olympus Stylus SP-100 is a problem-solver camera, giving zoom fiends a simple -- and clever -- way to keep athletes, wildlife, and other targets in your sights.

The camera is built around a new 50x f2.9-6.5 24-1,200mm lens with optical image stabilization, similar to what other manufacturers are offering. Behind it is a 16-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and an updated Olympus image processor, the TruePic VII.

On back, just above its 3-inch 460K-dot LCD is a 920K-dot resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF) -- something Olympus dropped from the last several SP-series cameras -- that has been specially designed to minimize contact between your face and the camera's body.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Going back to the lens (you know, the major reason you'd consider a camera this large in the first place), one of the big difficulties with using a lens this long is that it's very easy to lose moving subjects. Once out of frame you usually need to zoom out to find your subject again, and by that time you may have missed your shot. Not so with the SP-100's unique dot-sight targeting system.

Stashed beneath the flash is a semitransparent mirror. A switch on the camera's right side pops it up and projected on it is crosshairs. Should your subject leave the frame, you just put them in the crosshairs and your back on target without zooming the lens out and in again.

The dot sight works very well and, really, is the main reason you should consider getting the SP-100. It's certainly not the only 50x zoom or longer camera available, though, and for its $400 (£360, AU$450) price at the time of this review, it's lacking features that others in the class have.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Photo quality

Looking at the SP-100 and other full-size megazoom cameras, it would be easy to mistake it for an entry-level digital SLR. The SP-100 and other small-sensor cameras don't deliver the photo quality of a dSLR with a larger sensor. That said, as long as you're not pixel peeping or don't typically enlarge and heavily crop your photos, this Olympus turns out very good results, especially from ISO 125 through ISO 400.

That means as long as you're shooting outside in daylight or inside with a lot of light you'll get nice-looking photos good for larger prints and sharing online. At ISO 400, subjects start to look a little soft and could use some post-shoot sharpening. Although noise levels are decent, the softness gets a bit worse as you increase sensitivity until you end up with no fine details and colors desaturate. While ISO 1600 and 3200 might be usable at small sizes, I would avoid using ISO 6400 altogether.

Olympus Stylus SP-100 sample pictures

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The thing is, you'll need those higher ISOs in low light or when using the zoom lens in less than full daylight conditions to freeze motion or prevent blur from hand shake.

With video, you get similar results as photos. In full daylight, video looks good. But, with less light, it picks up noise and softness. Also, quickly panning the camera will cause a bit of Jell-O effect. On the bright side, audio quality is pretty good and you do have use of the zoom lens while recording. On the other hand, the motor is easily heard when moving the lens when recording quieter scenes.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance

The SP-100 is a reasonably fast camera. From off to first shot takes about 1.7 seconds. It always starts with the LCD on, which if you prefer to shoot with the EVF, will slow you down a bit as you need to press a button to switch it on. The lag between shots is low at 0.4 second and even when using the flash it remains less than a second.

Shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is very low at 0.2 second and only increases to 0.4 second in low light. However, it can take longer than that with the lens zoomed out, which is the case with most megazoom compacts.

The camera has two full-resolution burst modes available: one can shoot at up to 7fps but only for six frames (at which point you have to wait a few seconds before you can fire again), while the other can continuously shoot up to 200 frames at 2.5fps.

Olympus' Stylus SP-100 is on target (pictures)

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Design and features

As I mentioned earlier, Olympus had basically moved away from making higher-end full-size megazoom cameras, dropping things like electronic viewfinders and direct access to settings like shutter speed and aperture.

The SP-100 brings them back, though. The EVF is nice and extends back from the body more than most, making it comfortable to use without jamming your nose into the screen. Combined with the dot sight it really does make getting your subject back in frame easy at long focal lengths and a much better solution than zooming out and back in.

It's a comfortable camera to use, too, and a programmable function button as well as a thumb dial make it easy to change important settings without diving into menus too much.

Olympus also added a focus-limit button so the camera will focus only in a set range -- close or distant -- when turned on. A second zoom control on the lens barrel means you can keep your right finger ready to shoot while you adjust focal length with the left.

Key specs Olympus Stylus SP-100EEFujifilm FinePix S1Nikon Coolpix P600
Price (MSRP) $400 (£360, AU$450)$500 (£400)$500 (£360, AU$400)
Dimensions (WHD) 4.8x3.6x5.2 inches (121.2x91.3x133.2 mm)5.2x3.6x4.3 inches (133.1x90.9x110.3 mm)5x3.4x4.2 inches (125x85x106.5 mm)
Weight (with battery and media) 21.1 ounces (589g)24 ounces (680 g)19.9 ounces (565 g)
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sensor16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/Electronic3-inch LCD, 920K dots/Electronic3-inch LCD, 921K dots/Electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 50x, f2.9-6.5, 24-1200mm (35mm equivalent)50x, f2.8-5.6, 24-1200mm (35mm equivalent)60x, f3.3-6.5, 24-1440mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (MOV)JPEG, raw (.RAF), raw+JPEG/MPEG-4 H.264/AVC (.MOV)JPEG/H.264 AAC (MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080p at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digitalOptical and digitalOptical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 330 shotsLi ion rechargeable, 350 shotsLi ion rechargeable, 330 shots
Battery charged in camera YesYesYes
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC SD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXC
Wi-Fi/GPS No (Eyefi, FlashAir card support)/NoYes/No (geotagging available via Wi-Fi) Yes/No (geotagging available via Wi-Fi)

The dot sight is no doubt a great feature to have, as are the extra controls. But looking at the competition, there are several things that the SP-100 just doesn't have. The LCD, for example, is lower resolution than most at this price point and it's fixed so it can't be tilted, swiveled, or rotated.

There's no hot shoe or mic input (though, to be fair, it would be in the way of the dot sight); no option for raw capture; no built-in Wi-Fi (a shame since Olympus has one of the best mobile apps for its cameras that do have wireless); and there's no built-in GPS for geotagging. Also, the battery is charged in-camera using Olympus' proprietary USB connector.

Plus, the plastic body makes it feel a bit cheaper. It's up to you whether any of these are deal breakers, obviously.

General shooting options Olympus Stylus SP-100EE
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom, two one-touch
Recording modes Auto, Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter speed-priority, Manual, Art Filter, Scene, Panorama
Focus modes Face/iESP Auto, Spot AF, AF Tracking, Manual
Focus range 2.8 inches (7 cm) (Wide), 11.5 feet (350 cm) (Tele); 0.4 inch (1cm) in Super Macro
Metering modes ESP, spot
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Six shots

Although you won't find anything too terribly different in the shooting options, the SP-100 has everything I expect to find. That includes a reliable Auto mode; an easy pan-and-shoot panorama mode; an HDR mode; and a nice assortment of filters and effects.

The SP-100 also marks the return of manual and semimanual shooting modes to the SP series; the last several models were basically fully automatic cameras.

Conclusion

The Olympus Stylus SP-1oo is very good and it's definitely nice to see Olympus trying to improve the shooting experience for consumers instead of just churning out another megazoom camera. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles that its competitors have. But, its dot sight is an excellent addition and should excite those considering it for casual birding or outdoor sports shooting.

Shooting speed

Nikon Coolpix P600 0.3 1.3 1.3 2.1Olympus Stylus SP-100EE 0.2 0.4 0.4 1.7Fujifilm FinePix S1 0.1 0.3 0.6 1.3
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim)
  • Typical shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Note: Seconds (smaller is better)

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7.8

Olympus Stylus SP-100

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7