Three different finishes are available for the Olympus SH-21, with black, silver and red to choose from. The red finish on our review sample looks smart enough, but the materials used don't match up to the quality feel of some of this camera's rivals.
A textured finger grip helps to provide a secure hold, without adding too much to the thickness of the camera.
With a thickness of only 30.6mm, the Olympus SH-21 is just about pocketable - at least it should fit into larger pockets on a jacket, or into a handbag. With a weight of only 184g including the battery and memory card, it's certainly lightweight enough to carry around on your travels without becoming a burden.
Power to charge the battery is supplied via a non-standard Olympus USB cable, which can be plugged into any powered USB socket, or the supplied charging block. It's a shame that Olympus has chosen to use a proprietary USB connection, because if the cable is misplaced, it may be difficult to source a suitable replacement, especially if on holiday or on the move.
A standard micro USB connection, found on many current mobile phones, would be a more convenient choice.
Controls are laid out well, with most being within easy reach of thumb or index finger. A one-touch recording button is separated from the thumb rest by a raised section, to prevent video clips being recorded accidentally.
Menus are clearly laid out and easy to navigate, thanks to the rotating dial on the rear, which clicks positively with each turn. Another dial on the top enables the shooting mode to be changed quickly and easily.
Overall the Olympus SH-21 is very easy to use, but more experienced photographers may find the lack of manual exposure controls leaves them unsatisfied.
A touchscreen interface enables touch focusing and touch shooting. With touch focus, the camera focuses to the area depressed, and with touch shooting the camera focuses and then shoots, creating a slight delay.
Care needs to be taken when using the touch shooting mode, since it can be difficult to avoid nudging the camera, which may create camera shake, or even ruin your composition.
The touch interface is very responsive, which can be an issue itself. The positioning of the On/Off button is such that it's difficult to keep your thumb from straying onto the screen, which can cause the camera to take unwanted pictures, or change the point of focus, depending on what mode is enabled.
A high gloss finish on the screen, which is a result of the touchscreen interface, can obscure comfortable viewing of the screen in bright conditions, because it has a mirror-like appearance when viewed from an angle.
With a resolution of 420,000 dots, the 3-inch screen is bright and clear.
The mechanical image stabiliser employed when shooting still images does a reasonable job of keeping the image on the screen steady to aid composition, and the electronic stabiliser also puts in a reasonable performance when recording video.
Even when sounds are switched off, the Olympus SH-21 plays a loud noise each time the camera is switched on, which may cause issues when shooting in quiet places such as churches or museums.
Start-up is quick, if you can bear the noise, and the Olympus SH-21 feels very responsive.