Steve's Conclusion

Steve's SnapShot
  • 16-megapixel BSI CMOS image sensor
  • TruePix VII image processor
  • 50x optical zoom
    • 24-1200mm (35mm equivalent)
    • Super Macro as close as 1 centimeter
  • 3.0-inch LCD Display
  • 920K dot Electronic View Finder
  • Full 1080p HD Movie Recording at 60p
    • HS120fps slow motion at 640x480
    • HS240fps slow motion at 320x240
  • First ever camera with Built-in Dot Sight
  • A new Focus-Limit Button
  • AF (Autofocus) Lock
  • P/A/S/M Manual Shooting Modes
  • Additional Zoom Lever on left side of the lens
  • Compatible with Toshiba FlashAir cards
    • Connects the camera, via Wi-Fi to Smartphones, Tablets, and PCs
    • 50x zoom lens offers up to 1200mm telephoto setting
    • Dot Sight feature makes it easier to track moving subjects at full telephoto
    • Autofocus works quickly
    • Minimal shutter lag and shot to shot delays
    • Good video quality
    • A few different high-speed-frame video options are available
    • Good collection of burst mode options
    • Camera is very easy to use
    • Two switches for controlling zoom provides flexibility
    • Large shutter button is convenient
    • Large right-hand grip makes it easy to handle this camera
    • Very large camera body; at full telephoto setting SP-100 measures almost 8 inches in depth
    • Images almost seem to be over-processed
    • Some chromatic aberration in high contrast photos
    • Images shot at full telephoto aren't as sharp as they could be
    • Small image sensor versus others in its price range
    • No RAW capture capability
    • Advanced camera modes only offer limited manual controls
    • Menu options are extremely limited
    • Camera doesn't switch between EVF and LCD automatically as you raise the camera to your eye
    • No Wi-Fi or touch screen LCD
    • Battery capacity is limited
    • Power button is very small
    • Those more familiar with rifle dot sights may be disappointed in the SP-100's Dot Sight accuracy
    Timing Test Results
    • Power up to first image captured = 1.5 seconds
    • Shutter lag when prefocused = about 0.1 seconds
    • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.1 seconds
    • Shot to shot delay w/ flash = 1.4 seconds (review off), 2.0 seconds (minimum review on)
    • Shot to shot delay w/o flash = 1.0 seconds (review off), 1.7 seconds (minimum review on)
    • Burst Mode High-Speed = 6 frames in 0.8 seconds at 16M
    • Burst Mode Low-Speed = 10 frames in 3.6 seconds at 16M
    • Continuous Shot = 20 frames in 0.5 seconds at 3M
    All tests were taken using a PNY Class 10, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
    Bottom Line
    Considering the Olympus SP-100 ultra-zoom camera has a starting price around $400, most of this model's features are below average compared to similarly priced models, including its overall image quality. This camera's advanced shooting modes are limited at best too, which leaves the SP-100 trailing other cameras in this price range. But the SP-100's top two features -- a 50x optical zoom lens and a unique Dot Sight technology that makes it easier to track moving subjects when shooting at full telephoto settings -- make this Olympus camera worth considering for photographers who often shoot moving wildlife subjects over a long distance.
    Pick This Up If...
    You want a ultra-zoom camera that uses a dot sight to help you easily track moving wildlife subjects over a long distance, and you don't mind some deficiencies in the camera in other areas.
    At first glance the Olympus SP-100 looks like most of the other ultra zoom cameras on the market, although with limited advanced features and limited image quality compared to some of its peers.

    The SP-100 reaches 50x with its optical zoom range and a maximum focal length equivalent of 1200mm. While that type of optical zoom would have been rare to find in the digital camera market a few years ago, numerous ultra-zoom cameras are now available that match such a large optical zoom measurement.

    With that in mind Olympus has still found a way to make its SP-100 unique by including a Dot Sight feature with the camera.

    For those who have used red dot sights on rifles, the Dot Sight feature on the SP-100 may seem familiar. The Dot Sight on this camera will help you keep fast-moving subjects inside the frame when you're shooting at full telephoto settings. (In some places you'll see this camera called the SP-100EE, short for Eagle Eye, because of the Dot Sight feature.)

    If you've ever tried to photograph a moving subject with a large telephoto setting, you undoubtedly have experienced the problem where you've lost sight of the subject in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen. When zoomed in on a far-off subject and with an extremely limited amount of the scene visible, you don't have to move the camera much to have the subject leave the frame.

    The Dot Sight feature makes it easier to track the subject because it maintains a wide view of the scene. The Dot Sight is not connected to the SP-100's lens in any way, so it isn't affected by whatever zoom measurement you've selected, which allows it to maintain a wide view of the scene. By keeping the subject centered on the Dot Sight red target mark, the subject should remain centered in the photograph, even if you are having a difficult time tracking the subject in the EVF or on the LCD.

    Beyond the Dot Sight not much sets this Olympus ultra-zoom model apart unfortunately. So unless you're someone who photographs moving subjects over a long telephoto setting quite often, it's difficult to say the Olympus SP-100 will be a great camera for you, especially considering it has a starting price around $400.

    The SP-100 offers only a 1/2.3-inch sized image sensor, which is similar in size to what you'd find with inexpensive point-n-shoot cameras. While image quality isn't awful with the SP-100, this model's images certainly aren't as good as some other cameras in this price range. You cannot capture images in RAW, and you will find some problems with chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast photographs.

    Another area where the Olympus SP-100 falls behind other similarly priced models is in terms of the manual control you'll have over the image. While the SP-100EE includes advanced shooting modes on its mode dial -- such as Aperture Priority and Manual -- these shooting modes are in reality very limited.

    For example in Aperture Priority mode you actually cannot select a specific aperture. You instead can choose from two or three preset apertures the camera provides. During my testing while shooting an indoor scene in Aperture Priority, I was limited to shooting at f/2.9, f/3.2, or f/8.4. At full telephoto in a similar indoor scene, I was limited to f/6.5, f/7.8, or f/19.0. Those preset apertures don't provide much flexibility.

    You also cannot set the ISO manually in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. You can set ISO in Program mode or Manual mode, but when shooting in Manual you again are limited to two or three preset apertures. These are frustrating limitations to have with setting the aperture in supposedly advanced shooting modes.

    The on-screen menu options with the Olympus SP-100 are very limited too, leaving you with little ability to make significant changes to the way the camera operates. This model has a lot of limitations on how you'll be able to control the settings, which will frustrate photographers looking for more than basic point-n-shoot capabilities in a big zoom camera.

    And the image quality with the SP-100 also may remind you of a point-n-shoot model. The SP-100 shoots pretty good images, but you will notice some problems with purple fringing when you're shooting in high-contrast settings. Images are of an average sharpness until you reach the telephoto end of the 50x optical zoom range, where softness in focus is noticeable.

    In low light the popup flash provides image quality similar to a basic point-n-shoot, although in some of my test flash photos the lighting was noticeably uneven. There's no hot shoe with the SP-100, so you cannot improve on what the popup flash offers. ISO performance was about what you'd expect in this price range, as noise became noticeable at the mid-range ISO settings (around ISO 800).

    Even though this camera's feature set and image quality may be similar to those inexpensive thin point-n-shoot cameras, the SP-100EE is anything but thin. This camera's size is more like what you'd find with a bulky DSLR, as it measures more than 5 inches in depth when powered down. With the lens extended to meet the full 50x optical zoom setting, the SP-100 measures about 8 inches in thickness. Even with such a large size the SP-100 is primarily made of plastic and doesn't feel like it weighs much, which may make you wonder how well built it is.

    Outside of the Dot Sight there aren't a lot of add-on features to be found with the SP-100. Olympus did provide an electronic viewfinder (EVF) with this model, but its display quality is only about average, and the camera doesn't automatically switch the view from the LCD screen to the EVF and back again as you lift the camera to your eye. The LCD screen has a good resolution, but it suffers from problems with glare and it doesn't include any touchscreen capabilities. Olympus also didn't include built-in Wi-Fi with the SP-100EE. It's disappointing to not have any of these features included in a camera in this price range.

    Of course the primary cost and value found with the SP-100 is tied up in the massive 50x optical zoom lens and the Dot Sight feature.

    The SP-100 performs pretty fast, especially for an ultra-zoom camera, with minimal shot to shot delays and minimal shutter lag, although you will have more shutter lag when shooting at full telephoto settings versus a wide angle setting (which is a typical problem with ultra-zoom models). This camera's start-up is fast too.

    One area where the SP-100EE doesn't move fast is in terms of moving through its optical zoom setting. It'll take about 4 seconds to go from full wide angle to full telephoto settings, but that occurs in part because Olympus gave this lens more than 50 distinct stops in the optical zoom lens, which provides tremendous accuracy for dialing in the desired focal length.

    You can use the Dot Sight with a variety of focal lengths, but you may find you need to adjust the accuracy of the Dot Sight using the adjustment knob each time you change focal lengths.

    When I tested the Dot Sight with some moving subjects over a full telephoto setting, I thought it performed basically as advertised. You can use it to keep the moving subject in the frame ... more or less. It certainly isn't a perfect match, and in the camera's user guide Olympus suggests that you should only use the Dot Sight as a "guide" to frame the photo, while always checking the accuracy of the scene with the EVF or LCD before recording the photo. Now with a fast-moving subject double-checking the Dot Sight's accuracy isn't always practical, but as long as you take the time to use the Dot Sight adjustment knob, you should be able to have success with it most of the time.

    When initially testing the Dot Sight, I found it was aiming a little low versus the camera's actual focus point, leaving my fast-moving subject that was far off in the distance cut off by the lower edge of the frame. After taking some time to use the adjustment knob, I was able to make the Dot Sight perform more accurately. Again having to take the time for this type of adjustment might not be practical when you're on a photo shoot with unpredictable, skittish animals.

    No matter how many adjustments you make, the Dot Sight isn't quite like a red dot sight you'd find on a rifle. When a colleague who's more familiar with using dot sights on guns tested the Olympus SP-100EE Dot Sight, he was disappointed in its accuracy. So while it's a nice feature, the SP-100 Dot Sight may not quite live up to the expectations of those who are familiar with the more precise red dot sights used with rifles.

    Movie quality is actually above average with this camera. You have a few different resolution options for shooting video, and having the 50x optical zoom lens available when shooting movies is great, although the lens is noisy enough as it moves that you're likely to hear it on the audio recording. As with other aspects of the Olympus SP-100, don't expect to have a lot of manual control over video recording. However you can use the Dot Sight with movies just as easily as you can use it with still images.

    Playback mode is very limited and a little odd with the SP-100. When viewing the data about your photos on the LCD screen, for some reason photos shot in iAuto mode are marked as having been shot in Program mode. To see the difference between the two shooting modes, you'll have to download the photos to a computer and look at the data there to see iAuto and Program photos marked properly.

    You don't have a lot of options for using in-camera editing to improve your images, and you'll only see very limited data about your photo's settings in Playback mode with this model. Like the majority of this camera's features, Playback is a little too simplistic to compete with similarly priced cameras.

    Bottom Line - Some people like to draw comparisons between wildlife photography and hunting. With both endeavors you'll need to spend time seeking out your subject, possibly hiking into remote areas, preparing your equipment, and finally aiming at the subject. With hunting you'll be using a rifle and a bullet to capture a trophy animal, while with photography you'll be using a camera and a memory card to capture a trophy animal's image. Hunters have long made use of red dot sights to help them be more accurate, and now with the release of the Olympus SP-100 ultra-zoom camera, photographers also have the option of using a similar technology to frame their wildlife photos. The SP-100 includes a Dot Sight feature, which allows you to overcome the tricky process of keeping a moving subject in the frame when shooting with a long telephoto lens setting. Because the SP-100 has a 50x optical zoom lens, the Dot Sight is a great feature to have available. The Dot Sight isn't connected to the camera's lens, so it will give you a wide angle, full view of the scene, even if the LCD or electronic viewfinder is showing the zoomed-in scene. While the SP-100's Dot Sight can't match the accuracy of what you'd find with a rifle's dot sight, it generally works well enough to keep track of a moving subject far off in the distance, after you spend some time dialing in its accuracy. The Dot Sight and the 50x optical zoom lens are clearly the key components in this ultra-zoom camera. Everything else associated with this camera is an average feature at best, other than its quick start-up time and lack of shot to shot delays. The SP-100's advanced shooting modes don't actually provide much manual control, the menu options for controlling the camera are sparse, and image quality is similar to what you'd find on a basic point-n-shoot camera. Considering the Olympus SP-100 has a starting price of $400, most of its features trail behind similarly priced models. But the Dot Sight paired with the 50x optical zoom lens are really nice components that will greatly appeal to the photographer who wants a fixed lens camera that can track moving wildlife subjects while shooting over a great distance, either with still images or with movies. If you don't plan to shoot photographs in this manner, you'll want to look elsewhere for your trophy camera.

    Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.