Olympus Stylus 1 Review - The Olympus Stylus 1 is a new advanced compact that shares a host of its design characteristics with the popular OM-D CSC range. Does it have the picture quality to match? Find out in the full WDC review
While Nikon, Canon and Pentax still make film cameras, and Minolta is sadly just a fading memory, Olympus stopped making film cameras, including its popular OM series of SLRs, as long ago as 2002, and has concentrated instead on a wide and varied range of digital cameras.
It co-developed the Four Thirds sensor and lens mount system, and more recently has re-introduced the distinguished OM brand as a mirrorless camera system. A number of features from the critically-acclaimed OM-D system have also gone into the flagship Olympus Stylus 1 advanced compact, so is this new camera a DSLR with a fixed lens, or a compact with delusions of grandeur?
Olympus Stylus 1 Review – Features
While the Stylus 1 bristles with complex-looking controls and SLR-like design elements, the stand-out features are the viewfinder, the monitor and the lens, so let’s take a closer look at them.
The viewfinder is the camera’s most obvious feature. It is essentially a “copy and paste” feature from the OM-D E-M5 Four-Thirds system camera, mounted in a prominent turret designed to resemble the prism viewfinder of a traditional SLR, complete with a flash hot-shoe on top.
Of course there’s actually no prism in there; what it has instead is a very high quality electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 1.44 million dots and 100% field of view. Some people really hate electronic viewfinders, but this one could change their minds.
It is astonishingly sharp, certainly more than sharp enough for accurate manual focusing, and as close as any EVF that I’ve ever seen has come to the clarity of a TTL optical viewfinder.
The information displayed in the finder is crisp and clear, and with -4 to +2 dioptre adjustment and a comfortable rubber eyepiece cushion it is a pleasure to use either with or without glasses. It has a proximity sensor that activates the EVF when it’s put up to your eye.
Not to be outdone, the monitor is also exceptionally good. It’s even better than the one on the E-M5, and is closer in specification to the monitor on the new E-M1 flagship. It has a 7.6cm (3.0in) screen with a resolution of 1.04 million dots, capable of tilting between 45 degrees down and 90 degrees up, for overhead or waist-level shooting.
It is a touch-screen, but in shooting mode this is only used for focus point selection, touch-shutter release and a few simple picture style controls in iAuto mode.
The lens stands out for two reasons. The first is the unique way the automatic lens cover works. It’s simply a set of spring-loaded “barn doors”, which are pushed aside as the lens extends, and the close again when it retracts. It serves well enough to keep most dust and finger-marks away from the glassware, but the doors are a bit flimsy and don’t provide much real protection.
Fortunately the automatic cover can be unscrewed and replaced with any standard 49mm lens cap. The other outstanding feature of the lens is its maximum aperture, which is a respectably fast f/2.8 across the entire 10.7x, 28-300mm-equivalent zoom range. An f/2.8 300mm lens is a desirable item for any photographer, and the Stylus 1 has one built in.
Moving on to less obvious features, the Stylus 1 is equipped with a 1/1.7in back-side illuminated CMOS sensor, and in common with most of its advanced compact rivals it has a resolution of a fairly restrained 12 megapixels.
Given the size, price and style of the camera some people may be disappointed that the Stylus 1 doesn’t have a larger sensor, especially considering that it’s competing with cameras such as the Sony RX100 II and the Fujifilm X20, but most of its other competitors also have 1/1.7in chips, so it’s no disadvantage.
The Stylus 1 has a very complex but versatile control interface, including that latest must-have feature, a control ring around the lens barrel. This, as well as all the other controls and most of the camera’s features, can be fully customised as to function in each different mode, via the extensive menu system. You really can set the camera up just the way you want it, which gives it a great deal of creative versatility.
Like most recent cameras the Stylus 1 features Wi-Fi connectivity and smartphone compatibility. Using the free Olympus Image Share app it is possible to connect to the camera remotely from a suitable Android or iOS smartphone. The app can be used to remotely trigger the camera, import photos, add GPS data, share pictures online and even perform some very basic editing functions.
The method of pairing the smartphone to the camera is quite clever; as part of the set-up process, the camera generates a QR code on its monitor, and as such is one of the first cameras to do so. Simply scan this code using your phone’s camera and it will identify and connect to the camera automatically. It’s a very easy system to use, and saves a lot of time and effort.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review – Design
There are lots of SLR-like touches; the prominent pentaprism-shaped viewfinder turret, the control dials at both ends of the top panel, even the customisable function switch next to the lens on the front panel, which is clearly designed to look like a stop-down preview lever, all combine to give the Stylus 1 a very distinctive look.
Fortunately that SLR-like design includes SLR-like handling, with a small but effective textured handgrip on the front and a large thumb grip on the back that combine to provide a nice secure grip. The camera is described as being slim, but in fact it’s a fairly chunky thing, bigger and heavier than the Canon G16, the Fuji X20 or the Nikon P7800.
In fact it’s only 20g lighter than the body-only weight of the E-M5. Nonetheless it feels nicely balanced in the hand, and it is very pleasant and comfortable to hold.
The build quality is excellent, with a strong alloy body that feels tough and durable, and solidly mounted controls that have a nice amount of tactile feedback. The battery hatch and even the small hatch on the side covering the connector ports both have metal hinges. The tripod bush is metal too, although it is off-centre.
The control layout is something you’re going to either love or hate. There are buttons, knobs and levers scattered all over the camera’s body seemingly at random, and at first it can seem very complex and confusing. There are two zoom controls; a rotary bezel around the shutter button and a slider switch on the side of the lens barrel.
Exposure adjustment is by either the input dial on the top panel or the ring around the lens, and there are two custom function buttons.
However most of the controls can be customised, so you can just set the camera up the way you like it, with your most-used functions closest to hand. It quickly becomes intuitive and is a real pleasure to use. The only slight niggle is the main menu, which is confusingly designed and hides a lot of useful features away in nested sub-menus.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review – Performance
The Stylus 1’s resemblance to a DSLR extends to the camera’s overall performance, which is exceptionally good. It can start up, focus and take a picture in approximately 1.6 seconds, which is very fast by any standard.
In single-shot mode, shooting in raw plus JPEG fine, it can maintain a shot-to-shot time of approximately 0.7 seconds, which is also very fast, and seems to be able to keep up that speed indefinitely. In continuous shooting mode using the same quality settings it was able to shoot at approximately 7fps for 22 frames, which is also a very creditable performance.
Some reviewers have criticised the Stylus’ autofocus system, but I could find no fault with it. In single AF mode it focused quickly and accurately in all conditions, including focusing down to 5cm in super macro mode. The motion tracking continuous AF was perhaps a little slow to follow a moving subject, but that was literally the only problem.
In low light conditions the AF was particularly good; in fact with its exceptionally powerful AF assist lamp I found that it focused just as quickly and accurately in complete darkness as it did in daylight, even at a range of around ten metres.
Battery duration was also excellent. I took about 250 shots while testing the camera, as well as about fifteen minutes of video and lots of picture reviewing and fiddling about with the menu, and even after that the battery indicator was still showing a full charge.
Olympus makes no particular claim for the number of shots on a full charge, and as I have noted I was using a pre-production sample, but the total has got to be several hundred shots.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review – Image Quality
Colour and White Balance
When looking at the JPEG images produced by the Stylus 1, the colour rendition was the first thing that really stood out. In standard colour mode, colours are bright and well saturated, with excellent reproduction of subtle gradations of tone. Shooting in bright early daylight on a winter morning the camera captured the quality of the light perfectly. Shooting indoors under artificial light also produced good results, with the white balance system coping well with mixed lighting.
One of the reasons for buying an advanced compact with a larger and less crowded sensor is the improved dynamic range that it provides, and the Stylus 1 certainly delivers good results in this area. The excellent multi-zone evaluative Digital ESP metering system strikes a near-perfect balance between highlight and shadow detail even in JPEG mode, and shooting in raw mode provides even more, allowing a useful two stops of latitude either way. There were some occasions where the camera under-exposed by about half a stop, but in every case this improved colour saturation and shadow detail.
The Stylus 1 has exactly the same 12-megapixel resolution as most of its rivals, so not surprisingly the level of detail it records is nearly identical. Using default settings the sharpening is just a little too hard, but this can be adjusted for each shooting mode separately, and turning it down slightly produced nicer results. The level of detail recorded, particularly in the centre of the frame, is extremely impressive.
Like several of its competitors the Stylus 1 has a sensitivity range of 100 – 12,800 ISO in 1/3EV steps. On the whole I was impressed by the results. There is some image noise visible from about 800 ISO, but it is very well controlled, with consistent exposure and colour reproduction being maintained up to 3200 ISO, although some fine detail is lost.
At 6400 the contrast starts to disappear and image quality suffers accordingly, and the results at 12,800 ISO mean that setting should only be used for extreme situations, but in this respect it is comparable to the Canon G16, so we have no cause to complain.
There had to be an Achilles’ Heel, and unfortunately for the Stylus 1 it’s the lens that lets the side down. While the sharpness and resolution in the centre of the frame is excellent, and there is little optical distortion at any focal length, the lens does suffer from visible chromatic aberration, particularly in wide-angle, wide-aperture shots. Stopping down to f/5.6 or f/8 did mostly eliminate the problem, but one of the selling points of this camera is the wide maximum aperture, so it seems a shame not to use it.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review – Verdict
Up to a point, more choice is generally a good thing, so it’s nice to have another camera to choose from at the top of the advanced compact market. The Olympus Stylus 1 is a very accomplished camera from a veteran manufacturer, and can compete on equal terms with the other cameras you’ll see on the same shelf.
In terms of potential image quality it is a match for any of them, and its outstanding performance is better than most. It has the kind of creative versatility that enthusiast photographers are looking for, and other features such as the excellent viewfinder, fast zoom lens and ultra-sharp monitor are also very welcome.
However at the moment it is a very expensive camera, costing around £70 more than its closest rival, and its size, weight and SLR styling will not appeal to everyone. Nevertheless if you do choose a Stylus 1 you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review – Sample Image Gallery
These are just a few sample images captured with the Olympus Stylus 1. For more images visit the Olympus Stylus 1 review sample image gallery.
Several of these features are borrowed from Olympus’s OM-D E-M5 system camera, principally the DSLR-style layout but also the 1.44-million-dot electronic viewfinder, Fast AF, precise touchscreen focusing and built-in Wi-fi.
The EVF carried over from the E-M5 boasts all the same features, including automatic backlight control, shadow highlighting, a level gauge and automatic eye detection.
OM-D E-M5 users will also recognise the Truepic VI image processor, and XZ-series users will appreciate the return of the Hybrid Control Ring for manual or digital control of settings.
The Stylus 1 feels as though it’s hitting a similar market to the Sony RX10 announced a couple of weeks ago, sporting as it does a fixed 28-300mm i.ZUIKO lens with a constant aperture of f/2.8.
The lens features a built-in VCM image stabilisation mechanism that Olympus says will virtually eliminate camera shake and blur, and a deliberate defocusing function that generates DSLR-style bokeh. It also has a brightness level that complements the camera’s low-light performance and allows for the use of faster shutter speeds in dark scenes.
The 28-300mm lens on the Olympus Stylus 1 is capable of retracting fully into the body when not in use, behind an automatically closing lens cap.
The resolution on the Stylus 1 is noticeably lower than many similar-spec cameras that have been released in recent weeks, the 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor offering 12 megapixels.
The controls have been laid out ergonomically, with the Hybrid Control Ring and zoom lever placed within reach of the left hand while shutter release is, naturally, situated underneath the right.
The Hybrid Control Ring can be customised in accordance with functions that the user adjusts most frequently, and can be used in analogue mode for zooming and focusing or digital mode for selecting menu items.
It is also possible to trigger Fast AF and Touch AF Shutter via the 3-inch TFT LCD, which boasts 1.04-million dots of resolution. When the LCD screen is tilted, the EVF automatically switches off to conserve battery life.
The Stylus 1 can shoot at up to ISO 12800, can record 1080p Full HD movies at 120/240fps for slow-motion playback and features 11 Art Filters that can be added to images for an extra creative touch.
The built-in Wi-fi works with Olympus’s OI.Share software for quick image sharing. Pressing the Wi-fi field icon on the camera display reveals a QR code, which the user then scans with a smartphone to instantly pair the two devices. Once done, this allows the phone to mirror the camera’s LCD screen and control the shutter via Wi-fi.
Three accessories are also available for the Stylus 1: the EP11 eye cup for the EVF that cuts out peripheral light, a full-body jacket for protection against damage and a 1.7x teleconverter that extends the focal length to 510mm, affixing via the CLA-13 converter adapter.
The new Stylus 1 from Olympus will be available from late November 2013, priced £549.99. Check back here for our first hands-on impressions of the camera.