Super zoom cameras offer some of the biggest versatility, thanks to lenses that top out at 50x and even 60x optical zooms but can still perform up close. The Olympus Stylus SP-100 is one of a dozen or so such cameras. And while the SP-100 offers similar specs compared to similarly priced super zoom cameras, it's the first one on the market to include a dot sight to assist in framing objects at the end of that long 50x optical zoom.
With so many options, where does the Olympus SP-100 stand? The SP-100 doesn't have the more advanced options like RAW shooting for enthusiasts, but it does have an excellent autofocusing and processing speed plus a good set of accurate scene and automated modes for the casual shooter. We took the camera for a test spin—here's what we discovered in our Olympus SP-100 review.
Olympus SP-100 Review: Body & Design
Super zoom cameras certainly aren't pocketable, but the trade-off is a more comfortable grip. The Olympus SP-100 certainly follows that logic. Measuring about 5 inches from the front of the lens to the electronic viewfinder, it's a bit larger than some of the other models we tested, but not obtrusively so. The grip is large and makes the camera comfortable to use.
Navigating through the settings and options with the Olympus SP-100 is straightforward and well organized. To the left of the lens is the flash and dot sight pop up as well as a zoom toggle and autofocus lock button. The dot sight pops up just above the viewfinder at the top of the camera and uses a red light to show you where the camera is zoomed in at. Framing can be difficult at the long end of a 50x zoom; the dot sight helps you adjust your shot to get the right element in the image.
Also at the top of the camera is the mode dial, right next to a control wheel for adjusting settings like shutter speed. The shutter button rests comfortably at the top of the hand grip and is surrounded by your typical zoom toggle.
Most of the back of the camera is taken up by the LCD screen. The electronic viewfinder sits out from the camera for more comfortable use, but you have to switch between the two with a button—there's no automatic sensor like on the Sony HX400. The back also holds the function button, a dedicated record button for movies, plus playback and menu options. Shortcuts for exposure compensation, flash, burst mode and timer are included on the menu options.
By hitting the function button, the user has easy access to basic changes like ISO and image file size with the quick menu. The feature is nice, but not available in every mode—it would come in handy in shutter and aperture priority, but the feature isn't available there. The regular menu is easy to access and organized into a few different categories.
Overall, the Olympus SP-100 scores well in body and design. It doesn't quite have the features of the Sony HX400 with the automatic electronic viewfinder sensor and control wheel around the lens, or a tilting LCD screen like the Fujifilm S1, but it has a solid body and the controls are laid out well.
Olympus SP-100 Review: User Experience and Performance
An action shot from the Olympus SP-100, taken with shutter priority mode
Where the Olympus SP-100 really shines is performance, particularly in speed. The autofocus is quite quick and did a decent job of selecting the right focus point, even when it was off-center. I could take single photos about one second a part with the autofocus on. With the manual focus, shots were about .5 to .75 seconds apart.
The SP-100 doesn't have the fastest burst speed in the category, but it handles sequential images beautifully. Taking a burst of photos at 7 fps, it will take about six images at a time. Processing those photos takes only about four seconds before the next shot is taken. This is an excellent processing time—the Nikon P600 took nearly 30 seconds to process seven images and the Sony HX400 takes about 12 seconds to process ten images at 10 fps. The Fujfilm S1 also has a decent processor, taking about six seconds for nine pictures at 10 fps.
A portrait from the Olympus SP-100
The SP-100 has a solid set of scene and automatic modes; the ones we were able to test performed quite well for the scenario. Along with the usual handful of scene modes, a few of the more unusual ones are the interval shot (for time lapses), e-portrait for smoothing skin tones, backlighting and high dynamic range, as well as a panorama that can also shoot a 360 degree photo. The portrait mode adds a soft effect to images, which works well for many scenarios (try aperture priority if you don't want the soft look). A fun set of digital filters is included too, with special effects like fisheye, sparkle and grainy film that are available in most modes.
Use of the manual modes, however, was quite limited. In aperture priority mode, you can select from 2-3 different apertures, which really limits the options. And while most cameras will allow you to adjust ISO in aperture priority or shutter priority (or select auto ISO), the SP-100 does not have this option—when you are in aperture priority, you only pick the aperture. Add that to the lack of RAW shooting, and the SP-100 isn't a good choice for enthusiasts or beginners looking to learn manual modes. For the average user that relies on automatic and scene modes, however, this won't be an issue. The automated modes worked well and I actually found myself using scene modes more often than the manual options.
In true Olympus fashion, the SP-100 performs well in the macro arena. The autofocus works as close as 1 cm from the front of the lens. Close-up shots are sharp and well detailed. We've been impressed with the macro on Olympus cameras before, and the SP-100 certainly lived up to our expectations.
And of course—the SP-100 is a long zoom camera, and performance at the end of the zoom range always declines a bit. When the frame still contains a lot of contrast, autofocus is still quick even at 50x zoom, though it does slow down significantly if there isn't a lot of variation in the scene. The SP-100 maintains speed well at that range too.
Olympus SP-100 Review: Image Quality
Overall, the SP-100 produced some pretty solid images, especially macro and wide angle shots. At the long end of the zoom range, images aren't quite as sharp, but quality isn't too significantly degraded there either.
|At 0x zoom||At 50x zoom|
The automatic white balance performed pretty accurately, and most of the time colors were accurate and well saturated. At higher ISOs, however, colors were much more muted. (Adjustments can be made within the settings to adjust the saturation if needed.)
Detail is decent on the images from the SP-100, though not the best in category, especially when it comes to texture. The detail is excellent in macro shots, but degrades slightly as you zoom in.
The SP-100 performed well in our sharpness test, hitting a level that's about average or slightly above for the super zoom category:
In low light, images are still sharp and relatively detailed. The aperture can open up as wide as f2.9 at the widest angle, but that narrows down quite a bit to f6.5 at 50x zoom. Colors are somewhat muted in difficult lighting, particularly at the higher ISOs. Images have noticeable grain at ISO 800, but it's detectable as soon as ISO 400. I'd like to see a bit better noise reduction from the SP-100, but it's certainly not a deal breaker either.
|ISO 100 (at 100% crop)||ISO 200||ISO 400||ISO 800|
|ISO 1600||ISO 3200||ISO 6400|
Picture quality within the video is solid with a small amount of noise. The autofocus works well in video, adjusting fairly quickly. Like all the other super zooms we've tested this year, there's an audible noise when zooming while recording, but the noise isn't quite as loud as other models. Sounds are picked up well, particularly those close to the camera (keep that in mind if you are using that big zoom for a video). Video can be recorded from most modes, so you can, for example, use fireworks mode to take a fireworks video.
Olympus SP-100 Review: Conclusion
While the Olympus SP-100 lacks a few of the features enthusiasts look for, it's an excellent camera for families or travelers that want a basic, yet versatile camera. The design is solid and the performance is excellent. It's not best-in-class for image quality, but it still puts out some pretty good looking images and doesn't disappoint. It's the only super zoom with a dot sight, which comes in handy for using that big 50x zoom, but the macro mode is excellent too.
The Olympus SP-100 is the fourth super zoom camera that we've reviewed this year. Our top pick is still the Fujifilm S1 because of the excellent image quality even at the end of the 50x zoom, plus it includes features that appeal to the enthusiasts as well like RAW shooting. Originally, the S1 is about $100 more, but lately sales have put it close to the same price as the SP-100. The camera with the best design of the bunch is the Sony HX400 with a control ring around the front of the lens and an automatic sensor that turns on the electronic viewfinder automatically when you hold the camera up to your face. The HX400 is also lacking in some of the more advanced enthusiast features, and image quality at the long end of the zoom wasn't the best.
The Olympus SP-100 is an excellent option in the super zoom category, and is well priced. It's not right for enthusiasts, but that doesn't mean consumers who have no idea what RAW even is won't absolutely love this versatile camera—because there is still a lot to love. The SP-100 is easy to use from close ups to telephoto shots, plus has an excellent processing speed that means you're not waiting around to take the next shot. All in all, a solid option from Olympus and we can't wait to see what they do with this camera line in the future.