Olympus Stylus 1 Review

4.5
November 29, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

The Olympus Stylus 1 is a super-zoom camera with a twist, offering the DSLR-like looks of the OM-D E-M1, a 28-300mm f/2.8 lens, electronic viewfinder and tilting LCD screen, and built-in wi-fi, all in a body that can be fitted inside a coat pocket. Priced at £549.99 / $699.99, is the Stylus 1 the best all-round super-zoom camera? Read our expert Olympus Stylus 1 review to find out...

The Olympus Stylus 1 is an advanced super-zoom compact camera with a 12 megapixel 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor, 10.7x 28-300mm lens with a constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range, and a 1.44-million-dot electronic viewfinder. The lens features a built-in VCM image stabilization mechanism and fully retracts when not in use, so the Stylus 1 fits into a coat pocket. The Olympus Stylus 1 also features a touch-screen tilting LCD, built-in wi-fi connectivity, a customisable hybrid control ring around the lens, full manual exposure modes, raw image capture, ND filter, Full HD video recording and 11 Art Filters. Priced at £549.99 / $699.99, the Olympus Stylus 1 will be available in black.

Ease of Use

The Olympus Stylus 1 is a serious super-zoom compact camera which offers full manual control over the picture-taking process, DSLR-styling and a wealth of customisable controls. Given the 28-300mm focal length on offer, it's a remarkably compact camera that be squeezed into a coat pocket, yet still feels substantial due to being made of a combination of metal and plastics that make it feel like a premium product.

The Stylus 1 feels great in the hand, thanks to thoughtful ideas like a substantial thumb rest on the rear panel and a fixed hand-grip on the front,along with the EVF and hybrid control ring around the lens. The design manages to be functional and classy at the same time, closely mimicking DSLRs in general, and more specifically the company's own flagship OM-D E-M1 compact system camera - at first glance it's quite tricky to tell them apart side-by-side. It measures just 116mm x 87mm x 56.5mm, making it much smaller than rivals like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200.

The main attraction of the Olympus Stylus 1 is undoubtedly its fast, 28-300mm equivalent zoom lens. The company is heavily touting the f/2.8 maximum aperture that's available throughout the zoom range. As you can see from some of our sample images, this translates into a surprising (for a compact camera) ability to isolate the subject from the background, particularly when using the telephoto settings, resulting in images reminiscent of those taken with cameras sporting much bigger sensors.

Subject isolation aside, the biggest benefit of a fast lens - when combined with the camera's very effective VCM image stabilisation - is the ability to take hand-held shots in low light without having to dial in crazy-high ISO sensitivity settings. This is important, as the 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor, although bigger than most compacts, is still very small compared to the sensors used in compact system cameras and DSLRs, and consequently suffers from too much noise at ISO 800 and above.

A crucial element of the Stylus 1's design is the hybrid control ring that surrounds the lens, which is used to set shutter speed in manual mode, exposure compensation in a number of other modes, and can also navigate menus. It can also be customised to one of 9 settings to suit your own way of working.

On the side of the lens is a handy zoom lever, with two zoom speeds available, low and normal. In addition to the usual finger-operated zoom lever that surrounds the shutter button, this dual lever system is surprisingly versatile and almost (but not quite) as good as having a proper zoom ring around the lens.

Completing the lens setup is an innovative automatic lens cap, which opens up into 4 parts when the camera is turned on, and then closes and protects the lens when it's turned off. You can even remove the lens cap if you want, although we've no idea why you wouldn't want to use it.

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Front Rear

The Olympus Stylus 1 uses exactly the same EVF as the OM-D E-M5 compact system camera. It's an impressively detailed 1.44 million dot high-definition unit with 100% field of view and 1.15x magnification. The Stylus 1 actually has two independent image-processing cores, one for the recorded images and the other for Live View images, so the live and recorded image appears very quickly on both the EVF and the rear screen.

There's also a built-in eye sensor which optionally switches between the electronic viewfinder and OLED screen automatically, and the EVF helpfully displays key shooting information along the bottom of the viewfinder. Another boon to productivity is the ability to preview manual and creative adjustments live through the EVF without having to lower the camera to look at the rear screen.

The Stylus 1 has a touchscreen LCD that can be configured in one of three ways - turned off, one-touch focusing, or simultaneous one-touch focusing and shutter release. It also enables you to interact with the camera's key settings in addition to setting the focusing point and fire the shutter via the onscreen Super Control Panel. One small limitation is the inability to focus right at the extreme edges of the frame - you're effectively limited to one of the 35 AF points that the Stylus 1 offers.

The 3-inch LCD screen has a high 1040k-dot resolution and can be tilted by a maximum of 80° upwards and 50° downwards, which helps when shooting from high and low angles. We did miss being able to fully articulate the screen from left to right as well, which always proves useful when shooting video and for closing the screen against the camera body for safe storage. In use, we found the large, high-resolution LCD screen to be eminently usable, with great detail and excellent colour retention even when viewed from the most extreme angles.

The Olympus Stylus 1 has a fully manual exposure mode, complete with a live histogram and raw file support. This mode is very well implemented in the Stylus 1, and is therefore likely to become the preferred shooting mode for advanced users. In M mode, the click-stop dial encircling the lens housing controls the shutter speed, while the aperture can be set with the rear control dial.

The live histogram - as well as a helpful compositional grid - can be activated with the Info button. The fly in the ointment is that the camera still doesn't offer direct-button access to ISO sensitivity settings. You need to enter the function menu - called “live control” by Olympus - by pressing the OK button to do that.

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Front Top

Also present and correct are the usual aperture and shutter priority modes, in which the corresponding exposure variable is controlled via the hybrid control ring, with the rear wheel now serving for exposure compensation. Finally, in P mode you can control Program AE shift via the hybrid control ring, with the ability to change the aperture and override the camera's own settings.

The Olympus Stylus 1 offers a selection of scene modes, most of which are standard fare like Portrait, Landscape, Sport etc. A few of the scene modes are more special though - these include Multi Exposure, Panorama, and E-Portrait. Multi Exposure has nothing to do with HDR imaging - it's a feature inherited from the film era, which allows you to record and combine two completely different images into a single photo.

E-Portrait is an on-board solution to touch up portraits. In this mode, you take a picture of a person, then the camera identifies the face and tries to remove blemishes and other minor imperfections, giving the skin a smooth look in the process. The resulting image is then saved alongside the original.

In the Panorama mode there are three options on offer, including Auto, Manual and PC. In Auto mode, you only have to press the shutter release once. After that, all you need to do is move the camera to the next position, so that the target marks and pointers overlap, and the camera automatically releases the shutter for you. Three frames can be taken this way, which are then combined into a single panoramic image automatically in-camera. In Manual mode, you can also take three frames with the help of an on-screen guide, but you have to release the shutter manually. Finally, in PC mode, you can take up to 10 photos, which can be stitched using the supplied [ib] software after being downloaded to the computer.

The iAuto mode is a fully automatic shooting mode in which the camera analyses the scene in front of its lens, and tries to decide which scene mode to apply. Most of the typical camera controls/functions are inaccessible while you are in iAuto, but there is a live guide featuring on-screen sliders to modify things like saturation, colour, image brightness and depth of field. Additionally, the camera offers up various shooting tips on demand.

The Art setting on the mode dial lets you choose from 11 Art Filters that include Pop Art, Diorama, Grainy Film, Soft Focus, Pinhole and Dramatic Tone. The optimum shooting settings are preprogrammed for each filter, and you have very little control over the final look. Because of this, it is worth shooting RAW+JPEG, as the raw files can be modified later if you do not like the effect. You can see examples of these art filters at work in the Image Quality section of this review.

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Tilting LCD Screen Side

Of probably more interest to serious shooters are the Custom Mode settings, denoted with a “C1” and “C2” on the mode dial. This allows you to retrieve your saved settings, which is great if you often find yourself shooting under the same conditions.

Cameras without wireless connectivity are increasingly at a disadvantage over competitors that offer this feature, so Olympus could not afford to launch a new flagship compact without Wi-Fi. The implementation on the Stylus 1 is actually quite good. You first need to download a free app for your smartphone (Android and iOS versions are both available), but after that, everything is pretty straightforward. You simply touch the Wi-Fi icon on your camera's display to set up a connection. The Stylus 1 will then provide you with an SSID and password, but you do not need to type in either of them – just launch the app on your phone and scan the QR code displayed by your camera with your phone.

This is nearly as fast as using NFC (Near-Field Communication), a feature that the Stylus 1 doesn't offer. Once the connection is established, you can download images from the camera to your smartphone, or use the latter to remotely control the Stylus 1. The level of control provided is quite good – you can choose from a variety of shooting modes, set aperture, sensitivity, shutter speed and white balance, choose a drive mode, and focus on practically any part of the frame, all remotely.

As mentioned earlier, most of the shooting settings and functions are available from the “live control”, a function menu called up by pressing the OK button that sits in the middle of the four-way pad. The range of available functions may differ slightly depending on the shooting mode you are in, but the full list includes the following: image stabilisation, picture mode, white balance, drive mode, aspect ratio, image quality and resolution, movie quality, flash mode, flash exposure compensation, metering mode, auto focus mode, ISO speed, face priority, and ND filter.

Most of these are self explanatory. The ND filter is an integrated 3-stop neutral density filter, which can be engaged when shooting in very bright light - with the top shutter speed being only 1/2000 of a second, it is sometimes necessary to use this filter when you would like to pick a wide aperture for a shallow depth-of-field effect, otherwise the photo would be overexposed even at the lowest ISO sensitivity setting. The Olympus Stylus 1 has a neat little pop-up flash that has to be manually raised via a dedicated button, and there's even an external flash hotshoe too.

Some of the shooting functions are mapped onto the four-way navigation pad, including exposure compensation, AF point selection, drive mode and self-timer, and flash mode. To change the active AF point, simply press the Left arrow button, and pick one, nine or all of the 35 auto focus points using the arrow keys - simple and effective.

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Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The available focus mode settings are “normal” AF, when the focus range is limited to 1m-infinity, allowing the camera to acquire focus surprisingly quickly; Macro AF, which lets you focus down to 10cm at the wide end and 30cm at full telephoto; Supermacro AF, which disables the zoom and the built-in flash but allows you to focus as close as 5cms from the front lens; Tracking AF, which tracks the selected subject as it moves across the frame; and MF.

The inclusion of manual focus is a nod towards experienced photographers, who will appreciate this feature. Manual Focus is activated via the unmarked switch that surrounds the Fn2 button on the front of the camera. In Manual Focus mode the centre of the image automatically enlarges for accurate focusing. This is intuitively performed with the hybrid control ring and also displays a distance scale, which proves very useful for zone focusing. Shutter lag in MF mode is negligible. For those who prefer auto focus, there is an AF assist light that enables the camera to focus even in low light. This lamp can be disabled if necessary.

As far as drive modes are concerned, there are no less than 3 different continuous shooting modes on offer: the “regular” sequential shooting is at an impressive 7 frames per second at full resolution for up to 7fps up to 70 images in JPEG LN mode and 25 frames in RAW mode, and there's a High-Speed option available at a reduced resolution setting.

Besides capturing stills, the Olympus Stylus 1 can also record 1080p HD videos at 30fps, and has a dedicated movie record button on top of the camera for one-touch video recording. Unfortunately the camera offers precious little in the way of video controls. You can apply exposure compensation before starting to record a video clip, but that's about it. On a more positive note, you can use the optical zoom while filming, and can also have the camera apply any of the Art Filters to movies on the fly. The Stylus 1 tries its best to keep the subject in focus while recording a video clip, but doesn't always succeed. Movies are stored in MOV (MPEG-4AVC/H.264) format and clip length is limited to 29 minutes.

When it comes to playing back your images, the Olympus Stylus 1 offers three main playback views: picture only, photo with image number and date, and a thumbnail with detailed information and a very useful RGB histogram. There is also an optional blinking highlights warning.

The Olympus Stylus 1 is powered by a proprietary lithium-ion battery, which can be charged in-camera via USB. You need to connect the USB cable either to a computer running Windows 7/8, Vista or XP; or to the supplied USB-AC adapter, which must, in turn, be plugged into a mains socket using a mains cable. So unless you want to charge the battery via a Windows computer, you will need two cables, an adapter, and the camera itself. Olympus does offer a conventional external charger as well, but only as an optional accessory.

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