A few years ago, the advanced compact wowed with large sensors and manual modes allowing for big images from tiny cameras. But there's been one thing sorely lacking from the advanced compact category—zoom.
Well, it's not missing any longer thanks to the Olympus Stylus 1. Packing a 1/1.7” sensor and full manual modes with RAW shooting, this little shooter can capture the equivalent of a 300mm lens. If that's not enough, that same long distance lens offers a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture—even at full zoom.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review: Body & Design
I wasn't quite ready to give the Olympus Stylus 1 an A grade—until I shot it right next to my big DSLR and heavy 300mm zoom lens. The Stylus 1 certainly isn't something that fits in a pocket (Don't worry, that's overrated. Who puts their camera in their pocket anyways?) but it's tiny compared to a DSLR with that same zoom lens. Both the viewfinder and lens stick out from the camera body and add another good inch to the depth of the camera, but both features are absolutely worth the extra bulk.
The back of the camera houses a nice touchscreen LCD that tilts on a hinge system, but more importantly, Olympus didn't leave out the viewfinder. It's an electronic type, which has it's pros and cons, but is certainly better than shooting screen-only. The screen is a touch style, which I honestly don't care for, but I didn't mind on the Olympus Stylus 1. You can operate the camera without ever using the touch feature, or you can use it for just a few basic things like taping to take a picture and adjusting the focus. Taping a screen and keeping the camera steady proves rather difficult and most of my shots from the touchscreen were blurry, but the focus adjustment is worth a look.
The mode dial actually sits on the top left of the camera, but is still easy enough to get to. There's a single control wheel at the top that controls aperture in the manual modes (shutter speed is adjusted through a control ring around the lens). The index finger rests nicely right at the shutter release, with quick access to a zoom toggle and a dedicated record button.
The way your hand curls around the camera gives easy access to a nifty function button that quickly brings up different shooting settings like focus mode and face detection. That button sits right on top of the manual focus switch at the front of the camera. A control ring wraps around the lens and a second zoom control on the side of the lens completes the physical controls.
The design of the Olympus Stylus 1 is one of its greatest features, it's comfortable to use and absolutely packed with extras. A few features are located in different spots than what I'm used to (for example, the super macro mode is under focus modes), but the design works really well for this camera. An advanced compact with a viewfinder, tilting LCD screen and dual control wheels isn't easy to find, and Olympus did it with a fairly small body and a lens with big performance.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review: User Experience & Performance
When it comes to performance, the Olympus Stylus 1 is such a well-rounded camera that it's hard to know where to start. I'll start with a feature I don't normally talk about or use—facial recognition. The facial recognition popped up in a quick test of the automatic mode—and piqued my interest enough to switch it on in manual modes too. The feature tracks very well (i.e. a toddler that never sits still) and made it much easier to get the eyes in focus.
The Stylus 1 has the full gamut of manual modes to qualify it as an advanced compact, along with two slots in the mode dial for custom saved settings. There's a good set of art modes too, which are actually also available within the manual modes under the color settings. The scene modes are less abundant, but sufficient, since most consumers don't buy an advanced camera to use automated settings often.
Speed is also certainly a plus for this small shooter. The Stylus 1 shoots at up to 7 fps, and even more impressively, maintains that speed shooting RAW too. The camera is limited to 25 photos in a row in RAW, but still maintains that 7 fps burst. The autofocus speed is excellent as well.
The touchscreen is worth mentioning here too. Using the touchscreen to take a picture is significantly slower, and it's difficult to hold the camera steady while using the screen instead of the shutter button. Navigation is done through physical controls, thankfully, since most screens are too small to use touchscreen navigation well. The hinge-style tilt for the screen is sturdy, though doesn't allow for a 180 degree turn.
The Stylus 1 uses an electronic viewfinder, which allows for previewing effects like facial recognition or black and white while using the viewfinder instead of the screen. While I'd much rather have an electronic viewfinder than no viewfinder at all, they aren't as accurate as the optical type and many of my manual exposure shots were a bit lighter than they appeared on the viewfinder as I was shooting. It's really a matter of getting acquainted with the camera enough, but still worth mentioning.
|Olympus Stylus 1 at 0X zoom|
|Olympus Stylus 1 at 10.3x zoom|
By far, the greatest feature in the Stylus 1's performance is a matter of versatility. Often, the fast lenses on advanced compacts are only fast on the wide end and a sluggish f/5 in the small amount of zoom that's offered. The Stylus 1 has a 10.7x zoom (equivalent to a 300mm lens) that can still shoot at f/2.8 even when fully zoomed. Olympus combines the excellent zoom lens with a super macro mode that allows for focusing on objects as close as 5 cm from the front of the lens. Both the long zoom and super macro allows for images that just can't be taken on cameras without these features.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review: Image Quality
The lens on the Stylus 1 gives images a great depth of field and the zoom is able to bring distant subjects in more than any other advanced compact, resulting in some pretty great images. The camera also handles color very well and also performs well picking up texture and detail.
While the Stylus 1 performs well overall, the images suffer from noise at lower ISO levels than similar cameras we've seen lately. Noise is detectable at ISO 800 and even lower sometimes for the most discernible eyes. I tested the Olympus Stylus 1 at capturing a bald eagle that was across the street alongside a DSLR with a 300mm lens—both offered the same amount of zoom, but with the APS-C sensor, the image from the DSLR had a lot more flexibility when it came to cropping the final image. The images from the Stylus 1 were also a bit soft, nothing that a little post-processing can't handle, but I certainly wouldn't mind seeing a bit more sharpness to the edges.
Video quality does well with overall picture, even indoors with more limited lighting. The zoom really has just one speed (though the side toggle seems slightly slower), which makes it tough to get the right effect when recording. The 30 fps speed doesn't record action as well as models with 60 fps speed either. The Stylus 1 picks up sound well, but there's also noticeable white noise. In short, the video mode is there and decent, but certainly not the best out there.
Olympus Stylus 1 Review: Conclusion
|Olympus Stylus 1 Sample Image|
There's not really a whole lot to compare the Stylus 1 with. The Sony RX10 has an 8.3 optical zoom with a larger sensor and sharper image quality, but it's twice the price and not nearly as compact. Most advanced compacts have a 5x zoom or less, and the Olympus Stylus 1 doubles that feature. The new Nikon Coolpix P7800 is the next closest competitor with a 7.1x optical zoom. It uses the same size sensor as the Stylus 1, but has a f/2 maximum aperture and 8 fps burst mode while still offering the viewfinder, tilting LCD screen and wi-fi.
The lens on the Olympus Stylus 1 is just remarkable with a f2.8 constant aperture and a 10x zoom. Overall, the feature set and versatility makes this shooter certainly a camera to consider. I would've liked to see better noise reduction and a bit more sharpness to the images, but the performance and design are both excellent.