1. I am an Olympus Malaysia employee.
2. This is a user experience based review, based on my personal opinion which can be subjective.
3. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2.
4. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5. No post-processing applied to the images, except slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.
About 24 hours ago I posted up a teaser for this review entry, mainly because I did not have sufficient time to compile my images and compose a blog entry by yesterday. The teaser served one purpose, and one purpose only, to buy myself time so that I can prepare my full blog review, while keeping my blog updated considering there has been no new updates since the New Year. Little did I expect it somehow went a little bit viral with wild guesses on what camera and lens I have used to capture the shots shown in the teaser. Looking at the title of this blog entry you would altready know the answer, it was the latest compact digital camera from Olympus, the Olympus STYLUS 1.
I believe I was partially at fault for being too vague, and I purposely said new "camera and lens" to suggest the importance of the lens in this particular camera I am reviewing. It came as an overwhelming surprise to me that a huge number of people actually guessed that the images were taken with a Micro Four Thirds camera (rumoured E-M10) and even more incredible, the highly anticipated M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 pro lens. The discussion spiralled out of control in 43rumors comments and DPReview forums (yes I do read them though I do not participate). My apologies if I have created unnecessary drama (as I mentioned it was not my intention) but clearly, this proved something very interesting: the Stylus 1 performed MUCH better than expected. The shallow depth of field and odd bokeh rendering was due to long telephoto compression effect.
Before we move on further let's have a look at the key features and specifications of the Olympus STYLUS 1 camera:
1) Bright F2.8 constant zoom lens, with 10.7x Optical zoom capability (equivalent of 28mm-300mm focal length)
2) Truepic 6 Image Processer, which is similarly adopted by the highly acclaimed OM-D E-M5
3) Image Stabilization built on the lens
4) Wireless Connectivity via Wi-Fi, capabilities and functions similar to Olympus OM-D E-M1
5) High Quality Electronic Viewfinder similar to the one used in OM-D E-M5
6) Small and lightweight design
For full specifications, kindly visit the official Olympus website for Stylus 1 here (click)
THE LONG ZOOM SIGNIFICANCE
Superzoom compact cameras have been an interesting category, and photographers in general do treasure the capability to zoom for difficult to reach subjects. However, super zoom cameras often pose very difficult challenges and shortcomings: at extremely long focal lengths (anything more than 5-10x zoom) it becomes increasingly difficult to stabilize the camera for steady and blur-free images. The fact that compact point and shoot cameras have smaller sized image sensors did not help with the lesser performance in high ISO shooting to boost the shutter speed. Nevertheless, the demand for a superzoom is still there and this is what makes the Stylus 1 interesting: having a constant F2.8 lens throughout the entire zoom range and adding an efficient Image Stabilization system onto the lens to maximize the usability especially at longer telephoto range. If you know anything about Olympus at all, you will acknowledge their cutting edge technology and know-hows in producing amazing lenses, and it was a wonder in itself to be able to create a 10.7x zoom lens at constant F2.8 aperture in such a small package. Comparing what Olympus is offering in the Stylus 1 against direct competition, you can clearly see how small and how light the Stylus 1 is, without compromising on optical quality.
What are the benefits of long zoom? Besides the obvious of being able to reach far away subjects, a long telephoto lens also allows the photographer to create shallower depth of field, meaning blurring the background off. This is crucial to isolate the subjects from the background, and is generally desirable as an artistic effect. The ordinary solution to achieve shallow depth of field effect is by using larger image sensor with bright prime lenses (DSLR or mirrorless ILC cameras). Not many people would give a thought on how an ordinary compact point and shoot camera can render that much shallow depth of field. There is only one way to work around the compact camera's sensor size limitation: by using a super long zoom lens, combined with bright aperture at the long zoom end. Shooting at 150mm-300mm at F2.8 with Stylus 1 can create creamy, smooth and creamy bokeh, sufficiently shallow depth of field for subject isolation, which I am demonstrating in many of my photographs shown in this blog entry. I was actually surprised by how many people dismissing the possibility of Stylus 1 being the camera used for my teaser photographs in my previous entry, simply because the images have such shallow depth of field. It has been a general accepted understanding that compact cameras are not good for shallow depth of field. It does take a bit more work but if you are willing to use long zoom and shoot from a distance, you can surely accomplish similar results, plus the added cinematic look and feel since your background is strongly compressed at the same time.
I seriously treasure the ability to zoom further. When I was using my first Olympus DSLR, the E-410, the next lens which I purchased was the Zuiko Digital 40-150mm F3.5-4.5. Before I purchased the DSLR I was in strong consideration of getting the then famous Olympus SP-570UZ super zoom camera. A good zoom lens does open up a whole world of possibilities.
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO200, 300mm
1/20sec, F2.8, ISO125, 150mm
1/30sec, F2.8, ISO160, 100mm
1/30sec, F2.8, ISO125, 200mm
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO320, 182mm
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO125, 300mm
1/160sec, F2.8, ISO100, 300mm
1/100sec, F2.8, ISO100, 300mm
It has been quite a while since I last used a compact digital camera and I must say I do miss the convenience that it brings. For starters, instead of having an ordinary lens cap that pops off when you turn the camera, the lens cap screws onto the body and has petals that are pushed open when the lens extends. Surely this removed the one step of removing and attaching the lens cap onto the camera, saving previous time if you need an immediate response to a photography moment. Secondly, there is no need to change lens, and the 10.7x zoom range was flexible enough to cover most shooting needs. At 28mm, it was similar to ordinary entry level DSLR kit lens offering for wide angle coverage. The ability to go all the way to 300mm at the longest zoom was the main selling point of this camera. You do not need a bag filled with lenses, it was all in one, and yes I acknowledge the shortcomings of the Stylus 1 when compared head to head with interchangleable lens camera with relevant lenses, but if you just have ONE camera and a high quality zoom lens that has a constant F2.8 lens, you can actually do a lot of things with this one camera! Sometimes we want to pretend that we are professional photographers using some of the world's best equipment (I know I do, but hey a boy can dream) but to be honest most of my shots were mundane everyday, nothing out of the ordinary kind of photographs that do not require a 10,000 dollars camera and another 10,000 dollars worth of lens collection. As much as I love my Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds gear, I do admit the truth that for many of my shots, a high quality point and shoot digital camera (with a good lens) would suffice. The freedom to just have one camera, this is surely an ideal companion for travel.
Having a zoom lens means having multiple focal lengths at your disposal, the best way to demonstrate that convenience of zooming is best seen in my series of peacock images. I have wide angle shot to cover the wide-spread out feather tails, as well as tighter shot zooming into the peacock's head.
HANDLING AND CONTROLS
The Stylus 1 handles very well in my hands. The grip was adequate and I can shoot very comfortably. Since the camera was small and light, I can steady my shots better, even at lower shutter speed while shooting at longer zoom. You will see from a few of the bird shots that even at focal lengths of 150-300mm (5-10.7x zoom) I still managed to use slower shutter speeds of 1/30sec. This was due to the lens based image stabilization system which helped a lot and me bracing myself against a wall or hand guard rail while shooting the birds. I like how small and how light the camera was, that I literally felt nothing shooting with it the entire day. Though small, the camera felt very premium, solidly built and felt very reassuring when I was using it at all times.
The button placements were a little bit different than the standard placements on the usual OM-D and PEN system cameras, thus it did take me a while to get used to. I treasure the dual dial control, one at the front ring surrounding the lens, and the other dial was located at top right corner of the camera. Having direct access to the most important parameters was important to me, so that I can quickly control the shutter speed and aperture from each dial. Such flexibility was usually only available in higher grade DSLR cameras. I like the fact that many of the features and functions from the Micro Four Thirds system are making their way into the Olympus compact cameras. One of the useful feature was the Touch AF, allowing the tilt screen monitor to be touched to instantly take a photograph instead of using the shutter button.
Using the Stylus 1 felt like I was shooting with an mini OM-D (since it was shaped that way) but the controls and features reminds me of XZ-2.
1/200sec, F2.8, ISO200, 300mm
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO200, 150mm
1/160sec, F2.8, ISO100, 200mm
1/320sec, F2.8, ISO100, 68mm
1/200sec, F2.8, ISO100, 300mm
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO125, 300mm
1/640sec, F2.8, ISO125, 300mm
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO125, 42mm, Super Macro mode
FOCUSING SPEED AND CAMERA PERFORMANCE
One of the main issues with super-zoom compact cameras is the poorer autofocus performance especially at the longest tele-end. Olympus has somehow mitigated this problem completely, in fact the focusing speed was nearly as blazing fast as any OM-D or PEN cameras out there. It was perhaps just that tiny bit slower but if you compare side by side with many current compact digital cameras it is obvious that the Stylus 1 has very fast and reliable AF system. I did use the Touch to Shoot feature on the tilt screen for some of my shots and the camera responded to the touch immediately. I disabled preview of images after shooting the image so that I can continuously shoot if I need to, and I find that the camera did not slow down at all. I was shooting RAW and shot to shot performance was very good (though I did not use burst sequential shooting, as I prefer to refocus manually after each shot). The camera operation including menu navigation, image previewing, control settings all felt very responsive and quick. Unlike many compact cameras (lets not point fingers) the camera performance was bug-free (at least during the duration of my test).
Focusing in low light was not a problem, though the speed was not as blazing fast as it was in conditions with abundant light, it is still entirely usable.
So how does the 12MP back-side illuminated (BSI) CMOS image sensor in the Stylus 1 perform together with the new 28-300mm F2.8 lens?
Inspecting the images closely, it is hard to differentiate from what you can get from the Olympus Stylus XZ-2. It is not difficult to guess why: similar sensor, as well as same processing engine used, the Truepic 6. The amount of fine details resolved in lower ISO shooting was very good, as evidently seen in the bird's body feather. The fact that Olympus managed to accomplished such level of sharpness in a long zoom lens of 28-300mm F2.8 was an amazing feat. I found that the images were slightly softer (but still very sharp) at its widest end of 28mm, and also a little bit softer at the longest 300mm. Therefore, for optimized results, zooming in a little bit to 40-50mm will create very sharp and detailed images. Similarly, instead of utilizing 300mm, sooming out to 200-250mm will improve the sharpness slightly. You will need to pixel peep to really tell the difference, but generally even at the widest and longest end (28mm and 300mm) I was very pleased with the image output and have very little complains, knowing the fact that this was from a small compact camera.
Shooting at high ISO, the Truepic 6 image processing engine did a good job at suppressing color noise while preserving useful detail. I find the images still very good at ISO1600, usable at ISO3200 with some post-processing to reduce the noise, and I would not recommend to push beyond that. Even so, shooting at ISO6400, you can barely notice any color noise at all, and mostly the noise was luminance noise that appeared grainy in the image. This was not something I would complain about since luminance noise does preserve more detail which will produce a sharpner, better detailed image rather than a smooth noise-free but smeared like oil-painting results, which many compact cameras suffer. I did not see any significant improvement over the XZ-2 when it comes to high ISO shooting, but for most shooting conditions, this was certainly good enough. If you need to shoot a black dog in a dark alley at night surely you are not expecting this camera to do miracles!
One of the best thing I like about using Olympus compact cameras, such as Stylus 1 or XZ-2, is the signature Olympus colors. To me, Olympus renders very true to life colors.
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO125, 300mm
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO125, 42mm, Super Macro mode
1.6sec, F8, ISO100, ND Filter On
1/400sec, F5, ISO100, 28mm
1/50sec, F2.8, ISO200, 182mm
1/250sec, F2.8, ISO100, 300mm
1/40sec, F2.8, ISO100, 28mm
1/25sec, F2.8, ISO160, 28mm
Other Features Worth Mentioning
1) Wifi Function and Connectivity with Olympus O.I. Share
Olympus Stylus 1 has Wifi connectivity built in, which is similar to the one used in the flagship Olympus OM-D E-M1. This allows the Stylus 1 to be connected to compatible smart devices (now available for Android and iOS platforms) and perform various functions such as wireless transfer of images from camera to the smart devices, and remote control function. Since I have covered the demonstration of the WiFi function previously I shall not repeat myself here. If you need further clarification kindly view the video I have made for OM-D E-M1 here, connected to my Nexus 4 (Android phone).
2) Electronic ViewFinder
The electronic viewfinder used in Stylus 1 was the same one found in the OM-D E-M5, which is a good thing. The viewfinder may not have the highest resolution (eg, viewfinder of E-M1) but the transition was very smooth and the viewing experience was lag-free. The view was natural and the size of the viewfinder itself is larger than all entry level DSLR cameras. I find the EVF to be extremely useful as most of the photographs shown here were taken outdoor with bright ambient light. Those who have used the OM-D E-M5 would appreciate how comfortable the viewing experience on the EVF was, and as I have mentioned earlier it was great seeing how all those features from the higher end Micro Four Thirds system have trickled down to their compact digital cameras.
3) Image Stabilization, Lens based
Though not as amazing as Olympus' infamous 5-Axis IS system, the lens based IS used for Stylus 1 was actually very good. Since it was lens based, you have live preview as the stabilization mechanism kicks in as you half-press the shutter button, and this surely makes the shooting experience a lot better by minimizing shake especially when shooting at longer focal lengths. I managed to hand-hold the camera and shoot at 1/30sec for 200mm, 1/20sec, for 100mm and 1/80sec for 300mm as shown in the parrot shots in the beginning of this entry. That was effective 2-3 stops stabilization, which helped a lot if you do a lot of zooming.
Kindly take note that shooting at longer focal lengths do require some basic understanding and a little getting used to. Expecting the Image Stabilization to magically take out all shake is not going to happen, you still need proper camera hand-holding techniques, and other necessary methods to steady the shot, such as bracing or leaning yourself onto something solid, etc.
4) Battery Life was very good
I was very pleased with the battery life, I managed to squeeze out nearly 800 shots before the battery gave up. That was more than enough to cover a full day shooting, but as always, it is prudent to have at least one spare battery with you.
EXIF to be updated soon
EXIF to be updated soon
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO800, 62mm
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO100, 57mm
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO1600, 84mm
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO200, 57mm
1/25sec, F2.8, ISO250, 68mm
1/25sec, F2.8, ISO200, 100mm
1/100sec, F2.8, ISO200, 124mm
What I wish can be improved in the Olympus Stylus 1
MACRO SHOOTING MODE
The Stylus 1 is capable of shooting close up, but for macro, it was not spectacular. In fact I can get away with better macro images shooting with XZ-2. The minimum focusing distance was 5cm for super macro mode, which was not good enough for smaller insects, which I normally shoot. I really wish that the longer zoom would have closer focusing distance for higher magnification ratio, and the super macro mode can go as close as 1cm. After all a compact camera does have an advantage when it comes to shooting macro: more depth of field, without having to stop down the aperture unnecessarily. Unfortunately I do love to shoot insect macro a lot.
NO FLASH IN SUPER MACRO MODE
It made no sense why flash was disabled in XZ-2 while shooting super macro mode, since the pop-up flash can be used to trigger wireless flash units such as FL-50R, or even any random third party slave triggered capable flashes. Having able to use flash can open up more opportunities for interesting creative play with light. This may not carry too much importance since the camera did not have such good macro shooting capability to begin with, but I do appreciate flash to be enabled at ALL shooting modes.
NO AUTO-PANORAMA MODE
For a compact camera that does not have the capability to change lens, being stuck at 28mm widest end which is not exactly an ultra wide angle, it is crucial to have an auto panorama mode which will instantly stitch multiple images together to overcome the limitation of the lens. This was just a software based approached which should not be too difficult to implement, but will save many lives if made available in the camera.
BETTER HIGH ISO PERFORMANCE
The Stylus 1 does very well in low light shooting, do not get me wrong, but I also strongly believe that it could have been improved. Usable ISO3200 (to some people, maybe just ISO1600, depending on how strict your standard is) may not be something many people can accept these days when high ISO shooting has become a crucial point in choosing a good camera.
1/100sec, F2.8, ISO3200, 300mm
1/500sec, F2.8, ISO1600, 84mm
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO3200
1/160sec, F2.8, ISO3200, 300mm
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO3200
If you do not like the idea of spending money in a camera system that requires future lens purchases, and considering a capable high quality compact camera, then Olympus Stylus 1 has more to offer and will fit the requirements perfectly. The most impressive feature is the 10.7x zoom lens (optically Stabilized), giving you 28mm to 300mm coverage at a constant F2.8 bright aperture. The high quality zoom lens was packaged into a very small and light camera body, ideal to be carried around for everyday use, or travel, without taking much space in your bag at all. Image quality was very good, with considerably good low light shooting performance. Focusing and camera operations were very fast, and add to that important modern features and functions such as Wifi connectivity. This small Stylus 1 is actually a lot more capable than what most people would think.
Shooting with Olympus Stylus 1 is like shooting with a mini OM-D (similarly shaped, super fast AF, and even the EVF was the same), and at the same time you get the best out of Olympus' cutting edge lens technology. On the whole, I did enjoy shooting with Olympus Stylus 1, and I think that is all that truly matters.
I do not have enough images to spread my reviews into multiple part entries, mainly because it RAINED half of the time last weekend during my shooting with the Stylus 1. However, I do have access to the camera hence I am thinking of shooting more with the camera and perhaps, will be posting more images in my coming entries. Just images from Stylus 1, more and more images, what do you guys think? I think we should let the images do the talking!