Olympus Stylus 1 Field Test Part II

Reader Requests, Special Features and More

By Dave Pardue
Posted: 01/27/2014

Reader Requests. Thanks for your comments and suggestions for additional testing (and patience!).
Below we'll take a look at some of them in detail and see if we can further expand on the benefits of owning a Stylus 1 versus any potential drawbacks or shortcomings. So grab another coffee, dive right in and don't forget to keep your comments and suggestions coming at the bottom of the page when you're finished reading.

Olympus Stylus 1 - Low light test against the Sony RX100 II at 100mm eq.

Thanks to our reader Duoxi for suggesting the simple and pertinent comparison in low light against the very capable and similarly priced Sony RX100 II. We already know without hesitation that the RX100 II with its much larger 1"-type sensor performs better as ISO rises, and that the Stylus 1 has a much longer zoom range and a larger available aperture across the farther end of that range. So this is a test to determine if the larger aperture on the Stylus 1 at longer focal lengths takes in enough light (thus allowing for a lower ISO at similar settings) to compensate for its weaker high-ISO performance.

I enlisted our senior lab technician, Luke Smith, to help me create test conditions in our lab comparable to the available light level in a typical restaurant at night. The floor lamp we used for this experiment wasn't as warm as typical indoor lighting, but better for being able to get an accurate read of the test images. We set both cameras to manual and adjusted the various settings of each to be as close as possible, given the inherent differences from camera to camera, with the basic settings consisting of a 100mm (eq.) focal length (the maximum for the RX100 II), a 1/30 second exposure time, and the maximum available aperture at that focal length (f/2.8 on the Stylus 1, f/4.9 on the RX100 II). We then allowed the ISO to fall where it needed to be in order to achieve good exposure as determined by the camera's exposure system. We also performed a custom gray-card white balance for each camera and set center focus on the "Chiquita" banana label.

Olympus Stylus 1 at 100mm eq., f/2.8, 1/30s, ISO 1000
Sony RX10 at 100mm eq., f/4.9, 1/30s, ISO 3200
Larger sensor vs. faster aperture. At 100mm eq. focal length (the maximum zoom for the RX100 II) the Stylus 1 with its larger available aperture is able to capture just enough additional light to balance the ISO playing field and produce a comparable image in terms of quality and noise levels.

It should be noted that the important comparison here is not color saturation, as that can vary from shot to shot and can be a bit arbitrary. We're primarily interested in whether the Stylus 1 at ISO 1000 can hold up in the image quality department with the RX100 II at ISO 3200, as these were the ISOs needed to achieve good exposure in this simulated test condition. Does one image have significantly more noise than the other? Or more examples of over-aggressive noise processing artifacts? Better sharpness and clarity?
...Let's take a closer look!

Clicking any of these images will take you to a carrier page that will allow you to click on and explore the image at full resolution and see EXIF data as produced directly by the camera, so feel free to analyze away. To save you that trouble, below are several side-by-side crops of interesting areas for comparison purposes.

*(One technical note about this test: while both cameras are at a comparable focal length, the higher resolution sensor on the RX100 II yields larger full resolution images. Therefore, to be fair to the RX100 II, I re-sized the images slightly so that we're comparing them at the same apparent size visually onscreen.)

Olympus Stylus 1 - ISO 1000 Sony RX10 - ISO 3200

The above are crops at close to full resolution in order to show several key areas of interest. The Stylus 1 has a touch more noise than the RX100 II, but not by much considering we are zoomed almost all the way in to 100%. In contrast, the RX100 II has less noise and yet has actually removed some of the natural brown marks on the banana's skin, evidently seeing them as "noise" and letting the noise reduction engine zap them out of the image entirely. You get a prettier picture but a slightly less accurate one as a result.
In the second set of crops there is good detail from each camera, but certainly less noise in the RX100 II crop, and a bit sharper fine detail as well.

A very interesting comparison indeed. This test does not suggest that the Stylus 1 can hold its own against the RX100 II in all low light situations - far from it, actually. At wide angle, the RX100 II has a larger aperture and, combined with its better high ISO capabilities, will easily best the Stylus 1. But zoomed to 100mm eq. range, the Stylus 1 comes quite close in most respects, due to its constant f/2.8 aperture letting in so much more light. So if you need zoom range to go along with your low light shooting, that certainly levels the playing field quite a bit, especially given that you can keep zooming in for days compared to the RX100 II and still remain at f/2.8. It's also interesting to note that the level of background blur is actually pretty similar in the comparison above; the f/2.8 aperture of the Stylus 1 helps compensate for its smaller sensor when it comes to shallow depth of field.

Wide and tele. Mentioned more than any other facet of the Stylus 1 is the i.Zuiko 28-300mm (eq.) f/2.8 lens, which has quite a nice range for a camera this size, paired with a larger sensor than the 1/2.3"-type chips found in most consumer long-zoom cameras. We explored the telephoto end quite a bit in part 1, especially as it relates to isolating subjects with background blur. Now we'll zoom out and see just how good the Stylus 1 is at capturing landscapes and other subjects at wide angle. Thanks to our reader Nigel Brown for requesting landscapes, which led us to solve a mystery with the Fn1 button (at least in the current F.0 firmware on our sample, mentioned in a bit).

Olympus Stylus 1 - the same location at wide angle (28mm eq.) and telephoto (300mm eq.)
28mm eq., f/4, 1/640s, ISO 100
300mm eq., f/4, 1/500s, ISO 100
Reaching out. 28mm is a little narrow for some traditional landscape shooting, but the images are plenty sharp if 28mm is wide enough for you. Olympus has yet to announce a wide angle converter, but we strongly suspect they will at some point, since they have done so with other lines in the past.

The Stylus 1 has several things working against it for consideration as a capable wide angle shooter. As mentioned in the caption above, 28mm is a bit on the narrow side for most landscape purposes. Also, for those of you who prefer maximum depth of field in your wide angle shots, the minimum aperture of f/8 produces slightly soft images due to some diffraction limiting.

If you're interested in seeing the wide angle shot across the full range of apertures, click on the gallery tab above and you'll be able to access full resolution versions of this same shot at f/2.8. f/5.6 and f/8 as well as the f/4 shot displayed above. Below are examples of the wide angle shot with the built in neutral density filter engaged, as well as a shot zoomed in with the 2x digital zoom feature engaged.

Olympus Stylus 1 - Neutral Density Filter and 2x Digital Zoom features
28mm eq., f/4, 1/80s, ISO 100 (neutral density filter engaged)
300mm optical eq., f/4, 1/400s, ISO 100 (digital 2x zoom engaged for effective 600mm eq.)
Special effects. The neutral density feature allows the same shot to be taken at a much slower shutter speed (in this case 1/80 instead of 1/640) and gives you 3 stops less light without the need to add an external filter. We'll discuss this feature more below, but wanted to include it here as a reference against another test image without it. The 2x "Digital Tele-converter" feature doubles the effective zoom range and can be used across the entire focal length range (some cameras only allow it to engage at full telephoto optical zoom).

For further wide angle comparison purposes, below is an indoor shot zoomed out. I stopped down just a bit to yield a slightly greater depth of field and had to push the camera to ISO 800 to achieve this and still get a fast enough shutter to stop most of the motion. Note that I did add just a wee bit of post-processing to this image, which we normally don't do, primarily for leveling out shadows and highlights.

28mm eq., f/3.5, 1/100s, ISO 800

The mystery of the function button (as referenced above) is that the user manual states the Fn1 button should default to "no setting" and we were told we had production firmware (which is true in terms of image quality and performance). However, both of our test units defaulted to that button being set to toggle "Digital Tele-converter" which is a 2x digital zoom. I was unaware of this and inadvertently bumped it a few times and had to re-shoot as a result. For any of you that have purchased a Stylus 1, make sure and test to see if your unit has the Fn1 button disabled until you go into the menu and set the function you'd like it to control.

Want to learn more about how the Stylus 1's lens performs?
Click here to see our optical test results.

Voice Memo Function. The Stylus 1 sports the ability to add a voice recording of up to 30 seconds length to any image while still in the camera. This function is not new to the camera world but was a first for some of us here at IR. Of course, Olympus has been making great handheld voice recorders for some time now, so the marriage of the two seems a logical match, and the feature is valuable for a wide range of shooting purposes.

Our reader Cesare inquired about this nifty little feature, and I'm pleased to report that it works quite well and is easy to use. For any image that you have created while still on the card in the camera, you simply hit the playback button, scroll to find the image you want, hit "OK" which brings up a dialogue of options, scroll down to the microphone icon, hit "OK", select the icon again with "Start" beside it, and start talking. You can manually stop the recording, or it will stop automatically at 30 seconds.

Olympus Stylus 1 - nifty voice memo function allows you to tag a photo with an audio recording

The camera will then play the recording back to you using similar commands, only this time hitting the music note button that has now been created (images with a recording also display a musical note on the screen when displayed, as shown above). You can also re-record it as many times as you want, but only one recording per image. The sound file is saved as a common WAV file with the same filename as the JPEG and/or RAW file. Once you transfer the contents to your computer or smart device, the WAV file can be played by any audio player that supports that file type. Neither the image file nor the EXIF data are changed, the WAV file simply exists with the same name, so if you want to preserve the connection of audio to the image you'll want to keep the files in the same location with the same name (except the extension of course).

After testing it out, I have now begun using it to record my test settings, and can see the feature being used extensively for anyone shooting out in the field where a description of shooting conditions or subject matter would be handy to record without the need to write or type, including for certain business purposes like insurance adjusters or real estate operatives.

Neutral Density. As mentioned previously, the Stylus 1 comes with an onboard neutral density filter which effectively lowers the amount of incoming light by 3 stops without changing the aperture. This can be useful in bright conditions when a large aperture is needed for a shallower depth of field than could be otherwise achieved with the camera's top shutter speed of 1/2000s, and also when motion blur at slower shutter speeds is desired in brighter than optimal conditions. In the example below, I was already at the smallest available aperture (f/8) and was unable to dial in a slow enough shutter speed to catch some of the waterfall blur without greatly overexposing the shot. The neutral density filter allowed me to achieve a 1/8s exposure which was not as slow as I would have preferred but still enough to achieve some of the motion blur I wanted.

42mm eq., f/8, 1/8s, ISO 100 (neutral density filter engaged)

Capturing moments. For the last section of this second Field Test I thought it would be fun to end with a few spur-of-the-moment shots I was able to get with the Stylus 1. With its long zoom range and relatively small size, it effectively becomes a no-brainer to keep with you during times when a larger rig is not convenient, but for those of us who are not willing to compromise on things like lens quality just for the sake of smaller size. For me that's one of biggest reasons to consider owning a Stylus 1... it's just a great little catch-all camera.

300mm eq., f/2.8, 1/80s, ISO 100
28mm eq., f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 1000 (slightly enhanced in post-processing for shadows)


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