Olympus Stylus 1 Review
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Dimensions:||4.6 x 3.4 x 2.2 in.
(116 x 87 x 57 mm)
|Weight:||14.2 oz (402 g)
Olympus Stylus 1 Review -- First Impressions
by Roger Slavens, William Brawley and Dave Etchells
Olympus married off two of its highly regarded cameras -- the premium compact XZ-2 and the Micro Four Thirds mirrorless OM-D E-M5 -- to beget the Olympus Stylus 1, a high-end bridge camera featuring an electronic viewfinder, hotshoe, advanced Wi-Fi capabilities and, most important, a new i.Zuiko 10.7x optical zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. And though the camera follows in the footsteps of the Sony RX10 in providing an all-in-one, long-zoom geared for enthusiasts, the Olympus Stylus 1 arrives on the market far more compact, lightweight and inexpensive.
Though neither camera can be tucked away in your pants pocket, the Stylus 1 is significantly smaller than the recently announced RX10. (Unlike the RX10, you can pretty easily fit the Stylus 1 into a coat or cargo pocket.) With lenses retracted, the Olympus Stylus 1 measures 4.6 (W) x 3.4 (H) x 2.2 (D) inches (116.2 x 87 x 56.5mm) compared to 5.1 x 3.5 x 4 inches (129 x 88 x 102mm) for the Sony. Interestingly, the Stylus 1 was purposefully designed to be extremely similar in size and shape to the Olympus E-M5, whose body measures 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 inches (122 x 89 x 43mm). The Stylus 1 tips the scales at just 402g (CIPA-rated with battery and memory card), less than half the weight of the Sony RX10 (813g). Moreover, the Stylus 1 costs about US$700 compared to US$1,300 for the Sony, and at least on paper seems worth its premium upgrades over the Olympus XZ-2, which at launch a year ago cost US$600.
Sensor, processor and AF. The Stylus 1 is based around a 12-megapixel (12.8 total megapixels), 1/1.7-inch-type backlit CMOS sensor that we believe is the same one found in the Olympus XZ-2. That's a fair-sized imager for a premium compact camera, certainly a step above the 1/2.3-inch-type sensors we see on many bridge cameras. However, it's not as big as the 1-inch-type sensor that's found in the Sony RX10 (and the company's truly pocketable RX100 II).
The Stylus 1's TruePic VI image processor, meanwhile, is borrowed from the OM-D E-M5, and we hope that translates to a similar speedy performance. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 12,800 (though ISO 100-1600 is the default) in both auto and manual ISO modes. The camera is capable of recording still image files in 12-bit lossless RAW format, as well as JPEG and RAW+JPEG. And continuous shooting mode allows for bursts at up to 7 frames per second at full JPEG resolution. Shutter speeds maxes out at 1/2000s, but can go as slow as 60s or be set in bulb mode.
Incorporating a 35-area multiple AF system, with 9-area group targeting, the Stylus 1 is capable of both single and continuous autofocusing. It also features AF tracking, Face Priority and Eye Detect AF.
Optics. As for the lens, the i.Zuiko 10.7x zoom lens spans a 28-300mm equivalent range, besting the XZ-2's 28-112mm range, and even the Sony RX10's 24-200mm reach, though the Stylus 1 doesn't start out as wide. It features 12 elements (8 aspherical) in 10 groups, and incorporates optical image stabilization to combat camera shake. The camera can focus as close as 5cm away in Super Macro Mode, as well as 10cm at normal (non-macro) wide and 80cm at full tele.
Unlike the XZ-2, whose lens cap would automatically -- and annoyingly -- pop off when the camera was turned on and the lens extended to shooting position, the Stylus 1 features a removable, automatic lens cap that protects the lens when it's fully retracted into the body.
Additionally, the camera's built-in ND filter provides a 3-stop reduction in light, helping photographers make sure they don't run out of shutter speed and overexpose shots when shooting wide open and seeking good bokeh, or for reducing shutter speeds to convey motion in bright conditions. Of note, the optional TCON-17X teleconverter is compatible with the Stylus 1, and extends the max focal length of the camera to 510mm while retaining the constant f/2.8 max aperture, according to Olympus. The teleconverter is currently available for around US$200.
EVF and LCD monitor. The Stylus 1's electronic viewfinder is the same found on the E-M5, and boasts 1.44M-dots of resolution with eye-level field-of-view coverage of approximately 100% and 1.15x magnification. An eye-proximity sensor automatically detects when you raise your eye to it, switching viewing from the rear LCD monitor. Speaking of the rear display, the 3-inch, 1.04M-dot LCD touchscreen monitor can be tilted upwards 80 degrees and downwards 50 degrees to provide flexible viewing angles for a variety of shooting situations. The touchscreen allows for limited menu navigation, including choosing the settings to be changed on the Super Control Panel (as we found on the E-M1) but not permitting you to cycle through the settings themselves. The Stylus 1 does inherit the very effective Fast Touch AF touch focus and shutter system found on Olympus PEN-series cameras such as the E-P5, E-PL5 and E-PM2.
Advanced Wi-Fi. Here's a feature we're excited about -- sophisticated Wi-Fi controls in a compact camera. Most compacts that offer Wi-Fi remote control shooting simply allow for Live View touch focusing and shutter release using the camera's Auto mode. But like in the high-end Olympus E-M1, the Stylus 1 lets a smartphone equipped with the free Olympus Image Share 2.1 app and paired with the camera to not only focus and shoot, but also change shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation. That's cool and fairly cutting edge.
As you'd expect, Wi-Fi capabilities also include fast sharing of images and video from the camera to a connected smart device. Olympus speeds up pairing by providing a QR code to sync the camera and smartphone or tablet on a device-to-device Wi-Fi network.
Creative features and filters. The Olympus Stylus 1 is packed with a ton of built-in options for expressing your creativity. Most notable is Photo Story, which resides on the Mode dial as a square divided into a three-image layout. Photo Story -- which we saw recently on the Olympus E-M1 -- allows you to shoot a group of images and import them into creative layouts for an almost photo-booth (or photo-book) type treatment. We thought this was strange to include on the pro-oriented E-M1, but it makes more sense on the Stylus 1, though we're not sure that Photo Story merits a valuable spot on the Mode dial.
In addition, the Stylus 1 features a Panorama mode, as well as 11 art filters such as Grainy Film, Diorama and Dramatic Tone (one of our favorites), even though we're not big on Instagram-esque filters here at IR. The art filters can be bracketed (as can exposure, white balance, flash and ISO) giving you a variety to chose from at a single press of the shutter. Curiously there doesn't appear to be a built-in HDR mode in the camera -- not that we're complaining, but consumers may expect in-camera HDR.
Video. Like most Olympus cameras we've seen, the Stylus 1 can record Full HD 1080p video, but the camera does so only at 30p. That alone doesn't give you much indication at the quality of the camera's video output, as the E-P5 and E-M1 had fairly impressive (if limited) results while the XZ-2 and lower-end PENs were rather mediocre. The one stroke of creative implementation here is that the camera allows for high-speed video at both 120p and 240p at reduced resolutions. Max recording time for is 29 minutes for regular video, and 20 seconds for a high-speed clip.
The camera has built-in stereo mics with settings for wind-noise reduction and recording volume. Audio dubbing for still pictures (up to 30 seconds) is also available. Unfortunately, there's no plug on the unit for an accessory mic.
Summary. Thus far, the Stylus 1's lens has surprised us in our testing -- we were amazed at the quality Olympus managed to build into a telescoping 10.7x zoom, let alone one with an f/2.8 constant aperture.
With strong image quality and a 10.7x f/2.8 constant aperture zoom, the Stylus 1 takes the bulky Enthusiast Zoom camera of times past and shoehorns it into an amazingly compact package.
Price and availability. The Stylus 1 began shipping in December 2013 for a suggested retail price of US$700. It is available only in black.
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Walkaround. Upon first glance, the Olympus Stylus 1 bares a strong resemblance to the Olympus OM-D E-M5, with the distinctive electronic viewfinder bulge above the lens and a similarly-angled handgrip, all in a package that's remarkably close in size to its larger cousin. In the hand, the Stylus 1 is much lighter than the E-M5, as it opts for a sturdy plastic construction over the metal body of the OM-D camera. Nevertheless, it has a very solid feel without feeling too bulky or heavy.
The Olympus Stylus 1 and the Olympus E-M5 are similar in size, but not in weight. The Stylus 1 also shares many design cues from its Micro Four Thirds cousin.
Looking at the front, you really see the styling cues that Olympus carried over from the OM-D E-M5 with a very retro-inspired, traditional camera shape. The handgrip, like we mentioned above, shares a similar angled design like that of the E-M5, and provides a nice amount of purchase for a comfortable, secure grip.
The large lens is one of the key features of this new enthusiast compact camera with a versatile 10.7x zoom lens providing 35mm equivalent focal range of 28-300mm all at a constant f/2.8 aperture. The lens also features a built-in, automatic lens cap that splits apart into a four-petal shape when powered on and covers the lens when its retracted.
Also on the front side of the Olympus Stylus 1 is a programmable Fn2 button that's surrounded by a manual focus toggle switch. Along the diameter of the lens is a knurled "hybrid control ring" that controls exposure functions such as shutter speed or aperture, and also controls manual focusing similar to the focusing ring on an interchangeable lens. This ring can be customized to adjust many other functions.
Along the top of the camera, there are variety of control dials, including a full mechanical Mode dial on the left-hand side featuring PASM exposure modes, Scene, Art Filter and Photo Story modes, and two Custom modes. On top of the viewfinder housing is a standard-sized hotshoe, allowing the use of accessories such as an external flash. (Note: Unfortunately, as mentioned before, there is no external microphone input on the Stylus 1.) Surrounding the viewfinder, on either side, are the stereo microphones. Then, on the right side of the viewfinder housing is a larger Control dial that changes functions depending on the mode the camera is in. Of course, it's unlabeled for a reason, as this is another one of the many dials and buttons on the Olympus Stylus 1 that can be programmed and configured to the user's taste. Further to the right, there is the standard Shutter release button with surrounding wide-to-tele zooming lever. Next to the edge of the camera is the Movie Record button, allowing users to quickly record video regardless of shooting mode. Lastly, below the video recording button sits the power switch.
Moving down to the back of the camera, we see the large electronic viewfinder, which provides 1.15x magnification (equivalent to 0.58x on a 35mm camera) and a 100% field of view. Dominating the rear of the camera is a large 3-inch, tiltable LCD touchscreen, that is very similar to those featured on other Olympus cameras such as the E-M5 and E-M1. Like other Olympus cameras, the Stylus 1 features a proximity sensor in the viewfinder that toggles between the rear LCD and the EVF when placed near the user's eye. There is also a diopter adjustment dial on the left-hand side of the viewfinder and a manual EVF/LCD toggle button on the right-hand side.
The Stylus 1 also features another customizable function button on the top right edge above the lightly textured thumb rest. Below this is your standard four-way directional push-button controls that should be very familiar to compact camera users. We also have the Playback button placed right above the four-way controls, and the Menu and Info button sitting right below. The Menu button activates the menu system and OK confirms your selections. The Info button toggles through various on-screen features such as a new 3D electronic level gauge, real-time histogram and highlight/shadow clipping readout. The button can also be used to turn off all graphical overlays.
The four-way features the typical main functions in the four cardinal directions: north for exposure adjustments such as aperture or shutter speed (depending on the mode), east for flash settings, south for drive modes and self-timer, and west for AF-point selection. When in PASM modes, the up direction activates exposure adjustments like shutter speed or aperture control that is then controlled via the directional buttons. Otherwise the physical controls including the thumb dial along the top and control ring around the lens adjust these functions.
On the bottom of the Stylus 1, things are pretty standard fare with a 1/4-20 (1/4" diameter) metal tripod socket as well as the door for the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery pack and SD memory card slot compartment. Unfortunately, the tripod socket is not aligned to the central axis of the lens, and is very close to the battery / card compartment door, making it impossible to access either while the camera is tripod-mounted.
Over on the sides of the cameras, things are par for the course as well with both sides featuring the camera strap mounting lugs, which use the same coiled triangle lug design like other Olympus cameras. The right side of the camera houses the combined USB 2.0/AV/Remote port as well as a Micro HDMI Type-D port.
On the left side of the camera, we see a secondary wide/tele zoom toggle switch that appears to provide a slightly smoother, slower zooming action than the top-side zoom lever. (The zoom speed of this control can be programmed, unlike the zoom lever around the shutter button.) Above this switch is the button to open the pop-up flash that sits at the front of the viewfinder housing. Speaking of the built-in flash, it supports Olympus' RC wireless flash system giving the Stylus 1 the ability to wirelessly control compatible external flashes (FL-50R, FL-36T, FL-300R and FL-600R) in up to 4 groups and 4 channels.
Hands-On with the Olympus Stylus 1
The Olympus Stylus 1 continues the evolution of Olympus' high-end point-and-shoot line, previously represented only by their XZ-series cameras. The new Stylus 1 is less pocketable than its predecessors, thanks largely to the addition of an EVF housing on its top. Overall, the Stylus 1 is only about 3mm wider and 8mm thicker than the XZ-2, but a good 20mm taller. We called the XZ-2 "not-quite-pocketable," the Olympus Stylus 1 is less so; expect to carry it on a neckstrap or small camera bag. That said, the Olympus Stylus 1 is remarkably compact for a camera with a 10.7x f/2.8 constant-aperture zoom lens.
I found the Olympus Stylus 1 to be quite comfortable in the hand, the contoured grip on the front and curved thumb rest on the back make for a very secure hold on the camera, and the shutter button is well-placed for one-hand shooting. (Slightly close to the edge of the camera, but I still found it pretty comfortable to use.)
The rear-panel LCD on the Stylus 1 has a few more dots than its predecessors (1,040K dots vs 921K), not enough more that you'll be able to notice any difference. (And plenty, really for a rear-panel display.) The newly-added EVF sports 1.44 million dots, enough that, while you can see pixels around text displays, they're far from obtrusive. The view through the EVF is also quite wide, dioptric adjustment range good, and eye relief decent, although I still had to press my eyeglasses against the viewfinder eyepiece a bit to see the whole frame. The viewfinder optics also appear to be well-corrected, producing a sharp image corner to corner, with very little chromatic aberration to boot.
With the addition of the EVF housing, the flash moves under the hot shoe, opening space on the left side of the camera for the mode dial, thereby making room just to the right of the EVF housing for a new control wheel as well. As with the XZ-2, the Stylus 1 also sports a control ring around the base of the lens, that can be used to control various camera functions, depending on the exposure mode you're in and how you've configured its operation in Custom Menu B. Options for the front and top dials are a little limited, mainly confined to choosing between things like program shift or exposure compensation, or which function is assigned to which dial (a/b, b/a, both a, both b) and the like. In some modes, you can chose between exposure compensation for ambient light or flash exposure.
Configuration options for the programmable buttons are a bit more flexible. You can assign any of a variety of settings to the Fn1 button on the camera's top panel, the Fn2 button on the front, just next to the lens bezel, the "record" button on the top panel, and the right and down-arrow keys on the camera's back. You can also control the function of the front-panel lever that surrounds the Fn2 button, the direction of dial rotation for positive/negative adjustments of Exposure, Menu, Manual Focus, or Zoom. There are also options to control whether pressing the playback button wakes the camera if it's powered down, and to adjust the zoom speed to high or low values.
While the Olympus Stylus 1 has a number of user-configurable buttons, the control options aren't quite as rich as those of some other high-end point-and-shoots, such as the Sony RX100/RX100II. Any of 9 different functions can be assigned to the Fn1 button, while a total of 14 are available for Fn2. The way Fn2 works is interesting, though, in some ways making up for a lack of greater options. Rather than assigning a single function to it, you get to choose which and how many of the palette of 14 are available. Pressing the Fn2 button multiple times cycles through the set of functions you've assigned to it, so you can access up to 14 functions fairly rapidly just by pressing the button multiple times. The camera remembers which function you adjusted last, and drops you into the sequence at that position, but if you want to access the previous function in the rotation, you have to press the Fn2 button up to 13 times. (In what seems to me to be an obvious miscue or missed opportunity, the front control ring and top control dial both operate to select the setting for the current option, vs letting you scroll to the previous or next option in the series. This could obviously be fixed with a firmware change, which we'd like to see, hopefully even before the camera ships.)
Pressing the OK button in record mode takes you to a Quick menu of items displayed along the right side of the LCD screen, arranged in two sets of 7 each. Here, the front and top control dials work as you'd hope, with one selecting between options, and the other choosing settings within each option.
As with the XZ-2, the Olympus Stylus 1's Mode dial has two custom setting options, which will preserve any settings adjustments made when in that mode previously. This lets you configure two custom setups and then switch between them rapidly. (An example use case would be to have separate indoor and outdoor setups if you were at a wedding or family event, with activities both outdoors in the sun and indoors in more subdued lighting.)
There's also a new option on the Mode dial (albeit one we first saw with the pro-level E-M1) marked by a symbol showing a square divided into 3 sections. This mode lets you combine multiple shots into a single image, combined at the time of capture. You can choose the image effect applied, the aspect ratio of the final image, and the number of sub-images per master frame. Alternately, you can opt for one of three different "Fun Frames," an instant-print inset on a larger image, 3 tall/narrow frames with a filmstrip border, and 5 taller, thinner images side by side, with no framing adornment. After shooting a series to fill the shots within a given template, you have the option of going back and re-shooting any of them if you don't like what you've captured. When you're done, hitting the OK button or touching the OK icon on-screen saves the composite image to the memory card.
Speaking of the touchscreen, it worked quite well, but its use overall seemed a little limited. Its use varies depending on the shooting mode you're in, but in most modes, its function is restricted to moving the focus point or for touch-shutter operation. In iAuto mode, there's a little tab on the right that pops open when touched, to give you options for adjusting color saturation, color balance, brightness, background blur (aperture), express motions (shutter speed), or view a list of shooting tips. The touchscreen plays little role in making menu selections, either in the Quick Menu or the main menu system itself. When bringing up the Super Control Panel, you can tap on a setting you'd like to adjust, but that's the extent of the touchscreen interaction. To actually adjust a setting you tap-selected, you have to press the "OK" button and then use the directional buttons (or Control dial on the top of the camera) to make the adjustments.
While the sample I used in writing this hands-on preview was a prototype (firmware version 0.9), I did do a little shooting with it, and enjoyed the experience quite a bit. While I miss the ultra-fast f/1.8 aperture of the XZ-2 at wide angle, the Olympus Stylus 1's constant f/2.8 aperture isn't too far off from the XZ-2's f/2.5 at its tele setting -- and the Stylus 1 has a 10.7x zoom lens that effectively reaches out to a focal distance of 300mm. While we need to see just how well the Stylus 1's lens does in our lab tests, I'm overall quite happy to give up a little aperture at the wide end to gain so much focal length at the long end. I would have liked to see the zoom start a little wider, perhaps at a 24mm equivalent versus the 28mm of the Stylus 1 and its predecessors, but the 300mm equivalent maximum focal length is very welcome, particularly with that f/2.8 constant max aperture.
Not long enough? If you find that 300mm is not long enough, the Stylus 1 can be fitted with the optional CLA-13 converter adapter letting you attach the Olympus TCON-17X 1.7x teleconverter lens to extend the focal length to 510mm while retaining the constant f/2.8 aperture.
One very positive aspect of the Stylus 1 shooting experience is how responsive the camera is, with short to very short shutter lag times, whether at wide angle or full tele. (Oddly, it seemed faster at the tele than the wide end, the opposite of what we usually encounter.) At this point, we haven't seen a spec for maximum macro magnification, but I have to say that it's pretty good. Maximum magnification seems to occur at a zoom setting of 2.2x, and is enough that I can very easily distinguish the red, green, and blue pixels on my 2013 MacBook Air 11-inch display.
I didn't spend a lot of time playing with the Olympus Stylus 1's Movie mode, but it works much as you'd expect. You can zoom the lens while recording, although you'll be able to hear the noise of the zoom motor pretty clearly in quiet surroundings. Autofocus is live during recording, albeit not terribly quick; this won't be the camera to use for live video of your sports star running down the baseline and sliding into home.
Speaking of sports, though, the Stylus 1 has two slow-motion movie modes, recording 120fps or 240fps at reduced resolutions of 640x480 and 320x240, respectively.
One thing that I've seen in other cameras with 4:3 aspect-ratio sensors is that there's a sudden jump in magnification (effective focal length) when you begin movie recording at either of the HD resolutions. This can be a little disconcerting, and possibly lead to framing errors for your movies, and (oddly), it persists even if you're shooting stills at a 16:9 aspect ratio as well. There doesn't appear to be any such jump in magnification when recording in either of the high-speed modes, which have a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Overall, I found the Olympus Stylus 1 comfortable to hold and enjoyable to use. Much will depend on how its image and optical quality prove out in our tests of a production sample, but my highly informal playing with the prototype was very encouraging. There will clearly be image-quality tradeoffs involved with the smaller 1/1.7-inch-type sensor used in the Stylus 1, vs the 1-inch-type in Sony's new RX10 model, but the flip side of that is the significant difference in size (and cost!) between the two cameras. While neither could be considered pocketable, the Olympus Stylus 1 is a much smaller, lighter package to bring along on trips and outings (and it costs about US$600 less).
Bottom line (and as always withholding final judgement until we can put a production sample through our entire, rigorous test procedure), the Olympus Stylus 1 looks to be a very competent performer in its category, with good image and optical quality, and a much smaller size than we're accustomed to seeing in long-zoom bridge cameras. Stay tuned for our full evaluation once we get our hands on a production sample, but at this point I'd say it looks like Olympus (again) has a winner on its hands.
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