I had high hopes waiting for the SH-50 to arrive; I am a big fan of the Canon PowerShot SX280
which is a similar superzoom format camera. The reasons for my high hopes are that the lens is fractionally quicker and the zoom is 20% longer. On receiving the Olympus is quite noticeably larger and marginally heavier than the Canon; it still fits in a pocket but its definitely bigger; and the longer lends causes a bigger lens bulge on the front.
My heart lifted on seeing it charged via a USB cable - more and more hotels and planes have USB sockets for charging devices (as well as my laptop having one) so it would be one less thing to carry around as I travel. Sadly the USB cable uses a proprietary connector on the camera end; the socket end is a standard USB socket. I left it to charge overnight and plugged in my Eye-Fi 8Gb SD WiFi Card
; and all my high hopes took a serious dent when I powered the camera on; and found I had to wait about 5 seconds to take a photo (by way of comparison the Canon does it just under 3 seconds.) That delay makes it harder to capture the unexpected.
Once you have the camera powered on the screen is bright; and pretty clear even outdoors. In bright light the fully automatic mode takes fairly bright and noise free images; as the light reduces the amount of noise in photos increases far too quickly for my liking. There are two kinds of scene modes; labeled SCN and Magic on the nice function dial on the top of the camera. After automatic comes Program mode which allows you to configure some of the camera settings; including a very impressive high speed shooting mode at 11 frames per second.
The SCN options include HDR which tends toward the high saturation end of the HDR spectrum which lots of colour ; but doesn't seem to gain much detail out of the shadows compared to fully automatic mode. Other scene modes include options for softer images; or taking pictures of dogs and cats. The magic mode options do image processing and apply effects to your images such as sparkling on lights; and when you select magic mode the whole camera lags including the preview on the screen. Taking the picture results in a noticeable lag in writing a magic photo to the card.
The remaining features of note for the still mages are a sweep panorama mode similar to the feature Sony have had for some time; I haven't had a great deal of success with it so far; it doesnt allow you to zoom in; to take the maximum width of image. Even when using a panning head on my tripod to make it as smooth as possible there were visible missed joins in the image. The last is a handheld twilight mode that lets you take images in lower light conditions with a fair degree of success; though like the magic mode it takes some time to write the image to disk between shots.
The zoom itself is very good; Olympus have designed an excellent image stabilisation system; and even at full zoom (24x) you could get a stable image hand held in good light; after dark you would need a tripod.
Movie mode takes impressive full HD video and the image stabilisation makes things look even better. There are a couple of slow motion modes; but compared to other bodies it can't deliver super slow motion - the canon manages 240fps at full hd the Olympus only 124 - i dont know if this really matters to many people - if you want to take slow motion pictures of your kids dancing or doing sport maybe. The microphones are good; but the SH50 has automatic gain control so in quiet places you get to hear a lot of background noise if you are in a quiet place. One great thing is you can take still images whilst shooting video without it impacting the stream.
The SH50 doesn't have a built in GPS or WIFI rather you can use a Wireless Sd card to connect to an olympus app on your smart phone; I put my EyeFi card into the camera to test this through. I wasn't able to use this to connect to the olympus camera; though Olympus Support in the UK are looking at what the issue might be (I have also asked them about the lagging in the magic mode.) Hopefully both of these issues can be resolved with a software update. The EyeFi software itself connected without issue and downloaded all the images from the camera so the wireless was working. The app is supposed to let you tag where you took your photos using your Phones GPS which is a nice way to save putting a GPS into the camera body; and use someone else's battery life; i am keen to see them resolve this issue.
Battery life is hard to gauge; I have taken about 150 photos and 20 minutes of video but whilst I was testing it I charged it up twice; i haven't managed a full drain on the camera so far. Unless you take pictures of everything it should last a day of normal use; and finding a USB socket to charge shouldn't be much of a challenge.
Overall the SH50 is a fairly good camera; I don't think I would reach for the SH50 in preference to my SX280 - the zoom and stabilisation functions might not be as good as the Olympus. It is also a noticeably more responsive; its not all going canons way though. The olympus video has considerably better image stabilisation; and the ability to take full resolution images whilst shooting video is a significant bonus. In automatic mode in daylight the olympus takes good pictures and the resolution is higher than the Canon but as soon as the light dim's the Canon takes far better images with considerably less noise and more detail. Its hard to recommend the Olympus over the Canon; its a nice camera but the SX280 for me has the edge.