I have had probably a dozen or so digital cameras in the last 10 plus years ranging from what was at one time top of the line compacts in the 1-2 megapixel range with at most a 3x zoom, to DSLR's, and superzooms in between. At one point I needed them for work purposes and was always looking for good photos and video shot at long range in different lighting conditions.
DSLR's are the best in the consumer class. I have an Olympus (E-510) with the 4/3rds sensor and a Canon (T1i) with APS-C. Both took outstanding pictures and despite now being several years old, are two that I have no plans to upgrade as for pics around the house and on trips, they really capture all the detail I need and most photos come out looking almost professional. Drawback however is the large size, especially with a decent zoom attached. I use them for important events but they sit more often or not as they are not fun to lug around for a long time or when I have no plans to shoot anything but want to be spontaneous and bring a camera along.
Enter the compact cameras. I have not tried any of the mirrorless offering as they still seemed to big and lack zoom but I do have a Panasonic zs20 and Olympus XZ-1 as my most recent upgrades. Those I got a year ago and are the best comparisons for the SH-50, especially the ZS20 which I got for exactly the niche that the SH-50 is designed for.
The SH-50 is built with typical Olympus heft. My E-510 and XZ-1 have great build quality. I love the E-510 despite it being 6 years old now. It was cheap when I got it but in the hand feels far better than a lot of the entry level Canon's and Nikons it was competing against (ditto for the lenses). So despite the fact I have Panasonics, Canon's and other "bigger" brands I think highly of the Olympus stuff which seems to be better build wise than comparable offerings in the same price range. The SH-50 has good heft to, parts that fit together well, and no visible manufacturing flaws. It comes with a battery, wrist cord, stylus pen, charger, and manual/viewer on CD. It also has a quick guide that basically just shows you how to put the battery in and turn it on. (CD has a manual on it. If you don't want to install the viewer and other stuff the CD will try and make you do, just open the files on the CD, go to manuals, and for English open the ENU pdf.)
Camera itself is a bit on the "large for a compact" size. This is bigger than my ZS20 and almost the size of the XZ-1. The small camera case I use for the ZS20 won't fit the SH-50. Still a lot in a smaller package with the 24x zoom and various stabilizing systems. It is a pocketable camera. No GPS but I don't use mine on the ZS20 so no loss.
Battery took a bit to charge. Looked to be at less than a 1/3 charged out of the box and took about two hours to hit full. It is a USB type charger with included wall plug in. Most of he USB charged cameras I have take a long time to charge up. Battery is a bit bigger and heavier than what I have in the ZS20 so it will hopefully last longer in the field (and probably why it took so long to charge up). No SD card is included but I had a 16gb Sony class 10 on hand that I put in. It powered up fine and I took it out for a test spin.
I have a few tests I run with any new camera I get and I ran it through the same telephoto, moving subject, and movie tests.
I will start with just normal photos. They are fine. Far less noise then the ZS20, despite both cameras having 1/2.3 sensors at about the same megapixel count. The XZ-1 takes better normal pictures but like a DSLR it has a bigger sensor. Cost of that on the XZ-1 is bigger sensor in a small camera, but with a significant loss of zoom capabilities. The SH-50 is a backlit CMOS so maybe this helps vs. the ZS20. The SH-50 has a pop-up flash that is hidden if you don't want to use it.
Telephoto was excellent in good outdoor light. I was surprised by the lack of noise (in all shots) and the telephoto was very clear at 24x and even a click or two when zooming later on the computer. Auto focus was decent and if it focused on something I didn't want initially it would choose a second or third focus point when I re-half pressed the button to focus. Very nice when shooting through something like trees. 24x zoom in something this size is outstanding. The IS system works very well. At 24x you still need to hold very steady as you are asking a lot of the IS, but if you can do it the pics turn out good.
Moving subjects in good light come out well in even the auto mode. I got some of the kids swinging and running around the backyard at about 630pm and some clouds so light was good but not great and there was no blurring. Definitely something I would feel comfortable with taking out to a ballgame or trip and getting good shots in a variety of conditions and while using some telephoto.
Movie mode is where this camera shines vs. the other compacts I have. XZ-1 tops out at 720p. ZS20 will do 1080 at 60fps but the IS not as good (and I like Panny's IS). The IS on the SH-50 for video though really does work great. Best movies I have shot with a consumer class camera. Again good light is a big part of that with such a small sensor, but assuming your lighting is good the IS on the SH-50 gives you buttery smooth video. Audio is good and you can zoom with out motor noise. Some focus issues if you zoom in or out to fast but overall very good and great detail preserved at max zoom. IS at max zoom is stressed and looks to float, but again at 24x that is to be expected. Working with it at near zoom ranges it holds steady quite nicely.
The only tip I will give is that you need to go into the "on screen" menu to change the modes as far as frames per second goes. The SH-50 is set up to shoot 30fps out of the box in 1080 mode. This is great for slow moving events, but I took a test of the kids swinging and then jumping off and got a lot of motion artifacts with the quick movements. I saw that my pics were 30fps. Went into the "menu" accessed by the menu button and found I could change 1080-720-VGA but nothing to adjust it off the 30fps. Even the 120fps mode isn't there. You need to look at the screen. Along the right are a series of icons. The one on top is a movie camera icon. You use the silver select dial to work with these. (Hello manual on the CD). This movie camera icon allows you to select the 1080i 60fps mode (Kids swinging and jumping of came out perfect) and the 720p 120fps mode. The 120fps mode is the best slo-mo I have used (The ZS20 has a similar mode as do a few others I have). The SH-50 though is 720p and captures by far the most detail. It isn't breaking glass or a drop of water exploding cool but for a bonus mode it is actually useable and fun. Good light though is a must in this mode or you will get detail loss and noise. For fun though it is neat and kids will love it.
Overall I'm very pleased with this camera. It is actually cheaper then, the now over a year old, ZS20 and takes better pictures (less noise, has more zoom, as good build quality, and takes better video). I like the ZS20 and in fact just used it last weekend at a 5K my wife was in and was pleased with the pics and video but the SH-50 is nicer especially with the better price point. I lose GPS but didn't use it anyways. The XZ-1 with its larger sensor takes better portraits, low light photos, and less then 4x zoom photos. It should though with its larger sensor, just like my DSLR's take much better pics then the XZ-1. But the XZ-1 has lesser video and no where near the zoom range. That is the trade off if you want to carry 24x zoom in your pocket, you need the smaller sensor to pull it off.
The SH-50 gives you the flexibility to take near and extreme far pics as well as video. If you are like me on trips or kids events, you want that flexibility of choice and are willing to give up that larger sensor to get some of those other benefits in a small package. If you are going to be shooting indoors and at close range and want small size look at something like the XZ-1 or similar bigger sensor compacts. With the SH-50 it will do decent photos inside and close but its niche is "small with massive stabilized zoom". It nails that and adds top notch video. For the price this is a great travel zoom camera. I would recommend it.