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Olympus SH-21 Digital Compact Camera Review

Olympus SH-21 Digital Compact Camera Review - Daniel Bell takes a closer look at the Olympus SH-21.

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Olympus SH-21 in Compact Cameras

Olympus SH-21 lens extended

The Olympus SH-21 was announced in January 2012 and is a compact camera with a 12.5x optical zoom lens and 16 megapixel sensor. It is available in red, black and gold with an RRP of £189.00.

Olympus SH-21 front

Olympus SH-21 Features

The SH-21 is a slim camera, packing in a 12.5x optical zoom lens, a 35mm equivalent of 24-300mm and has a 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor. To help take blur free images there is also Dual Image Stabilisation.

If you want to make picture taking as easy as possible you can switch the camera to iAUTO mode, with P mode giving the user more control over their images. There are also a range of scene modes including: portrait, beauty, landscape, night scene, night portrait, sport, indoor, self portrait, sunset, fireworks, cuisine, documents, beach & snow, pet mode (cat/dog) and backlight HDR. The SH-21 can also shoot 3D pictures.

To add some creativity to your pictures there are a range of magic filters, which include: pop art, pin hole, fish eye, drawing, soft focus, punk, sparkle, watercolour, reflection and miniature. To shoot panoramic images, the SH-21 has a Smart Panorama mode, which shoots with a sweeping method rather than stitching a number of images together. Another mode found on the dial is Hand-held Starlight Mode, allowing you to take photos in dark conditions without a tripod. Other modes include AF Tracking, Live Guide and Photo with Movie Clip.

Videos are recorded in full 1080p HD with Multi-motion Movie IS to help reduce camera shake.

Olympus SH-21 top

Key Features

  • 12.5x super-wide optical zoom (35mm equiv: 24-300mm)
  • 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor
  • 1080p Full HD Movie and HDMI Control
  • Multi-motion Movie IS
  • 3.0 inch 460,000 dot touch panel LCD screen
  • Dual Image Stabilisation
  • Magic Filter Movie and/or Stills
  • HDR Backlight Adjustment
  • Hand-held Starlight Mode
  • Advanced Face Detection and SAT
  • iAuto and AF Tracking
  • Live Guide
  • 3D Photo Shooting Mode
  • Beauty Mode
  • Pet Detection Mode
  • Smart Panorama
  • High-Speed Continuous Shooting
  • Photo with Movie Clip
  • Scene Modes
  • Eye-Fi Card compatibility
  • Photo surfing and [ib] software
Olympus SH-21 screen

Olympus SH-21 Handling

The body is made from both metal (on the front) and plastic (on the rear) and is compact enough to fit in your pocket even though it has a 12.5x optical zoom lens. There is a large rubber grip on the front of the camera for your right hand.

On the rear is a 3 inch LCD touch screen, which is bright and clear in most lighting conditions. Despite the touch screen, the SH-21 also has all the buttons you would expect to see on a compact camera. The d-pad rotates meaning you can cycle through the menu options, there is a dedicated movie record button and a mode dial on the top of the camera. The buttons are easy to press with the menu system being clear and easy to navigate.

We tested the SH-21's performance at focusing, shutter response, shot to shot time, continuous shooting etc and have posted the results below. To test this we took 6 or more shots and calculated the average, so that consistent results were produced.

Shutter Reponse   0.2 seconds
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response   0.3 seconds
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response   0.4 seconds
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo   1.95 seconds
Shot to Shot (without flash)   1.9 seconds
Shot to Shot with Flash   2.1 seconds
Sequential 1 (16 megapixels)   1.5 fps
Sequential 2 (16 megapixels)   5 fps
High-speed (5 megapixels)   15 fps
Auto split shooting (5 megapixels)   14.3 fps

The battery doesn't have a CIPA rating, but it has only been charged once during testing and is capable of taking plenty of shots on one charge.

Olympus SH-21 battery and memory card

Olympus SH-21 Performance

The SH-21 takes images which are well exposed with great colour reproduction and a decent amount of detail whether shooting wide or with the full 12.5x optical zoom. The images are softer in the corners and there is occasional purple fringing. The camera has a minimum focusing distance of just 1cm which allows the camera to take superb macro images.

Olympus SH-21 Lens test images

Images aren't affected by noise at ISO 100 but it does start to effect images at ISO 200. Noise steadily increases but remain sharp through ISO 400, with a slight softening appearing at ISO 800. Again there is more noise causing a softer image at ISO 1600 but a decent image is still taken, with noise becoming really significant at ISO 3200. 16 megapixel sensor cameras have a tendency to suffer from large amounts of noise at lower ISO settings but the SH-21 goes against this with colour reproduction remaining strong throughout.

Olympus SH-21 ISO test images

The following images have been taken using some of the scene modes available. Landscape mode gives a great boost to the blues and green. Portrait pictures have pleasant skin tones and no red-eye but the camera struggled to focus on the subject's eyes, so it was tough to get a perfectly sharp portrait shot.

Sport mode has been used to capture the fast moving wind turbine. The hand held starlight mode has made it possible to take a sharp picture in dark conditions at a fairly low ISO setting.

Olympus SH-21 Sample Photos

Rather than stitching a number of images together, the SH-21 takes panoramic images using a sweeping method. There is some areas where you can see ghosting but the camera does an impressive job overall.

Panorama 1 | 1/400 sec | f/3.0 | 4.2 mm | ISO 80
Panorama | 1/400 sec | f/3.0 | 4.2 mm | ISO 80

Under the incandescent lighting the AWB preset has struggled, giving a strong orange cast, with the incandescent preset taking the better image. Under the fluorescent lights the AWB preset copes better than the fluorescent preset, with the latter giving a magenta cast in the image.

Olympus SH-21 White-balance test images

Below are a range sample images taken using the magic filters.

Olympus SH-21 Digital filters

Video Mode

Below is a video taken a full 1080p HD, optical zoom can be used during recording, an example of which can be seen on the ePHOTOzine YouTube Channel.

Value For Money

The Olympus SH-21 is currently priced at £189.00. Other cameras with a similar specification (16 megapixel sensor and 10 - 14x optical zoom) are the Olympus VR-340 (10x optical zoom) at £129.00, Nikon Coolpix S8200 (14x optical zoom) at £199.95 and Sony Cyber-shot HX7V at £209. Also available are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 (12.1 megapixel sensor and 12x optical zoom) at £164.00, Canon PowerShot SX150 IS (14.1 megapixel sensor and 12x optical zoom) at £164.00, Canon PowerShot SX220 HS (12.1 megapixel sensor and 14x optical zoom) at £199.00 and Canon IXUS 1100 HS (12.1 megapixel sensor and 12x optical zoom) at £304.00.

Olympus SH-21 Verdict

The Olympus SH-21 packs a great range of features and is compact with an impressive zoom range. The camera takes a decent image but detail isn't as strong as you'd hope for from a 16 megapixel sensor, but where the SH-21 does excel is noise at higher ISO settings. It is an extremely versatile camera, the minimum focusing distance of 1cm making it ideal for macro photography and 5 fps high-speed shooting ideal for capturing fast moving subjects. If you enjoy taking portrait pictures you may be disappointed, we took many portrait shots, none of them produced an image with sharp eyes.

The Olympus SH-21 is a versatile compact camera, packed with features and available at a fair price.

Olympus SH-21 Pros

Full 1080p HD video recording
Minimum focusing distance of 1cm
Touch screen and plenty of buttons
Large optical zoom in compact body
High-speed shooting at 5 fps (16 megapixel image)
Rubber grip on front
Easy to use
Decent image quality up to ISO 1600

Olympus SH-21 Cons

Hard to get a sharp portrait image
Detail in images could be better for 16 megapixel sensor
Images blurry in corners


Olympus SH-21 Specifications

Max Aperturef/3 - f/5.9
35mm equivalent24mm - 300mm
Optical Zoom12.5x
Image Sensor
Pixels16Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4608
Pixels (H)3456
Sensor TypeCMOS
Sensor Size1/2.3 inch
Sensor Size (width)No Data
Sensor Size (height)No Data
Aspect Ratio
  • 4:3
  • 16:9
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution460,000 dots
Touch ScreenYes
Min Focus1cm
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Face Detection
  • Spot
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/2000sec
Shutter speeds longest4sec
Bulb modeNo Data
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Scene modes
  • A
  • Multi Pattern
  • Spot
ISO sensitivity80 - 3200
White balance
  • Auto
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
Exposure Comp+/-2
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting7fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
  • 1280x720 HD 720p
Video FPSNo Data
Stereo SoundNo
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationYes
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeLI-50B Lithium-Ion Battery
Battery Life (CIPA rating)No Data
Box Contents
Box ContentsLI-50B Lithium-Ion Battery, F-2AC AC Adapter, CB-USB6 USB Cable, CB-AVC3 Audio/Video cable, Hand Strap, Instruction Manual, World Wide Warranty Card, [ib] Image Management Software

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Photographs taken using the Olympus SH-21

Smoke and MirrorGoing to Look at the LighthouseMorning GloryCanal SceneMisty PathUntitledA touch of Pink &WhitePink TulipUntitledBlue and White.A Blue Hue

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