Every major manufacturer has a superzoom camera of note, but Olympus has typically struggled to keep up with the advancing pack in this category. The Olympus Stylus SP-100EE, however, has proven enough to make us stand up and notice.
Ahead of its official unveil we were privy to play with a pre-production camera out in the Mojave desert, Nevada, to check out its special features. And special is the word: the SP-100EE comes equipped with a dot-sight to assist in tracking moving subjects. The "EE" part of the name stands for "eagle eye", which means a proper red-colour crosshair target. It's a bit like some kind of laser-guided missile system. Okay, perhaps not that crazy, but it's a fun feature that we've never seen in a camera before.
The SP-100EE comes equipped with a 24-1200mm equivalent lens and it's tricky to keep a subject "on target" on those longer focal lengths. By pulling the dot-sight switch to the side of the camera a translucent panel pops up above the viewfinder, simply look through it at any given distance and the red crosshair will reflect the position of the given focus point.
In principle the idea is a good one, but it does rely on the autofocus system always to be on point. And this is where the system can falter. If, for example, the light is not great and the camera delays to focus as desired then you won't see a live preview of that, because your eye will be fixed on that red dot. Give it good light and it's no problem, but when we used the camera indoors under low-light conditions it wasn't quite as hot. The solution is fairly simple - use the feature only when it will benefit, such as when outside.
The midday sun in the desert proved no problem for the SP-100EE's Fast AF autofocus system. Here it was quick off the mark and admirable in its abilities and the built-in lens-based image stabilisation was a success at steadying those longer focal length shots.
Included in the build is a 920k-dot electronic viewfinder that offers ample resolution, although the physical size isn't especially large. We used it plenty when outside and there's a thumbwheel that protrudes over the top rear of the camera for quick settings adjustment as required. Not that the f/6.5 maximum aperture at the top-end of the zoom is particularly wide - there are limitations, as is always the case with a superzoom model.
When not using the viewfinder, there's a 3-inch, 460k-dot LCD screen on the rear to compose and playback shots. We found it would suffer from reflections to excess out in the sun, and was far more useful indoors. But we are talking about desert sun here - it's a different kind of light altogether. No touchscreen and no tilt-angle bracket included on this particular model either.
Beneath the plastic exterior the SP-100EE comes complete with a 16-megapixel back-side illuminated CMOS sensor, paired with the TruePic VII image processing engine. As we used a pre-production model we can't comment on what shots will be like from the final camera, and if they will hold up against the likes of the Canon PowerShot SX50 or other similar 50x superzoom models already on the market.
Add 7.1fps burst shooting, the usual mix of Olympus smart filters, 1080p60 video capture and there are plenty of top features available from this "eagle eye" superzoom.
The SP-100EE will be priced at £349 with sales commencing in March.
Fancy winning one? As part of our OM-D Challenge series we've got a competition open from now until the end of February: enter here.