About a month ago I have reviewed the Olympus Stylus 1, the new flagship advanced compact camera. The day before the review was published, I released a teaser blog entry (click) that displayed 7 images taken from Olympus Stylus 1, and I asked my readers to guess what camera was used to take them. 90% of the people guessed it wrong, with answers wide ranging from E-M10 (then not released yet) to M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens, 25mm F1.8 lens and 75mm F1.8 lens. The consequence was unintended, as I posted the teaser to give myself some time to compose my blog entry which I did not manage to publish in time. Nonetheless, one very important point was shown from that teaser blog entry and the wide responses from the crowd: the Olympus Stylus 1 can produce excellent results. In this particular blog entry, I want to explore the relevance of an advanced compact camera such as Stylus 1, as well as its strengths and how to exploit them in order to optimize image output from the camera.
Kindly take note that this is NOT a blog review of the Olympus Stylus 1, as I have already published my review here (click). Kindly treat this as an extension to that original review, and I will be posting a whole new set of images taken with the Olympus Stylus 1 here. I went to Pudu Market, Bukit Bintang Area and KLCC, spending the whole Saturday to gather these images. I call that, a shutter therapy with revenge. After all, it was fitting to counter all the traumas and dramas that happened after my comparison blog entry recently.
RELEVANCE OF AN ADVANCED COMPACT CAMERA
With all the availability of smaller and very capable cameras such as Micro Four Thirds system (Olympus and Panasonic), Sony NEX system, Fuji X-series and even Nikon 1 system, compact cameras are slowly and surely losing its ground, mainly because the small and lightweight advantage is not unique to compact cameras anymore. In fact, with the quality of camera smartphone catching up, certainly the spot of compact cameras are severely threatened. This leaves very little room for the slot of compact camera category, and I strongly believe it still has its place but only for the compact cameras offering very unique features and shooting capabilities that smartphone cameras cannot do, and bridging the gap to higher level cameras.
The answer to the relevance comes in the form of new generation advanced compact cameras such as Sony RX100 (mk2), Panasonic LX-7 and of course, Olympus Stylus 1. All these cameras (in varying degrees) offer capabilities that are superior to ordinary compact point and shoot cameras. In the case of Stylus 1, the long zoom (10x zoom, 28-300mm lens) with constant bright aperture of F2.8 throughout the full zoom range, capable low light shooting, fast focusing, high quality Electronic Viewfinder (similar to OM-D E-M5) yet having a very small and light package, I still think that Olympus Stylus 1 is a good choice for many photographers looking for a second camera, or an advanced everyday camera (travel would be perfect). Sure at its price point, you can get a DSLR or a mirrorless ILC camera, but I shall point out one very crucial point: lens versatility. With a basic DSLR or Mirrorless ILC camera, the kit lens usually is only 3x zoom with varying slow aperture (F3.5-5.6) and has rather limited close up shooting ability. The Stylus 1, on the other hand offers 10x zoom all the way to 300mm, and has very decent macro shooting. The lens is sharp from wide all the way to the farthest tele-end, maintaining wide F2.8 aperture, which is no small feat.
Yes, we know that cameras with larger sensors will have definite advantage and lets not get into that argument. I wanted to talk about the things we can do with Stylus 1, and how that camera can help get images that other ordinary compact cameras may not be able to do (certainly the smartphone cameras cannot for now) and may even render results similar to larger sensor camera systems in some ways.
All images were taken with Olympus Stylus 1, and post-processed.
1/50sec, F2.8, ISO100, 270mm
1/400sec, F2.8, ISO100, 242mm
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO1250, 300mm, Noise Filter LOW
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO125, 300mm
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO100, 300mm
1/1250sec, F2.8, ISO100, 300mm
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO100, 220mm
1/50sec, F2.8, ISO125, 242mm
LONG FOCAL LENGTH ADVANTAGES - ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM
The highlight of Olympus Stylus 1 is the long zoom lens. It boasts 10x zoom at constant aperture of F2.8, and believe me this alone can open up a whole next world of flexibility in shooting. Besides the obvious of zoom far reach which is important in some scenarios, the long focal length can allow for two more considerably significant benefits to overall photography: 1) Rendering shallower depth of field, meaning creating blurrer background and also 2) Creating heavy compression perspective. The long focal length is used to its full advantage, can produce very dramatic and desirable effects.
Take a look at all images shown above, they were all zoomed in to at least 200mm or further. With such long focal length, I do have to step back a little bit. However, do take note that I did not shoot from far. All I did was step back a little, and I was still relatively quite close to my subjects, and the rule "if your photo is not good enough, you are not close enough" is still a valid mantra. Honestly I was nowhere far from my subjects and I still have to move myself close enough to create such compressed background effect, and blur background. Alright, now we have established the most important rule, get close enough. What is next?
To maximize the shallow depth of field effect, ZOOM ALL THE WAY to 300mm. Sometimes, it is not necessary, even at 200mm I already can achieve the depth of field shallow enough for good subject isolation from the background. The longer the focal length, the closer you are to your subject, the larger the aperture, the shallower the background will be. The combination of the just-mentioned three factors: zoom as long as you can, get as close as you can, and open the aperture wide at F2.8, you WILL achieve dramatic compressed background and subject separation.
Longer focal lengths have always been the preference for portrait photographers to work with, delivering more flattering and natural looks in their subjects. I am a fan of zoom. I understand that for larger sensor system you can create shallow depth of field with prime lenses and with much shorter focal lengths. Nonetheless, for a smaller compact camera (with supposedly inferior image sensor) to be able to produce the above results, I would say I take the zoom and I use it. Especially with constant F2.8 advantage, and the sharpness this lens actually brings.
SLOWING DOWN SHUTTER SPEED
One very important discovery (perhaps a rediscovery since I have not used compact cameras for a long time) when I was shooting with the Olympus Stylus 1 was the ability to get away with sharp images, even at ridiculously low shutter speeds. For example some of the images were almost zoomed to full 300mm and yet I only utilized shutter speeds of 1/40sec to 1/60sec. From the basic rule of thumb, I must employ at least 1/(2 times of the effective focal length), thus the minimum shutter speed required would have been 1/600sec. Knowing the camera has Image Stabilization system, I might be able to slow it down to 1/200sec or 1/160sec handheld, and this case is true for DSLR or even mirrorless ILC cameras. Shooting with 600mm effective length even on the OM-D E-M1 that has the amazing 5-Axis IS, I would not shoot confidently below 1/100sec. And here I was with the Stylus 1, slowing the shutter speed to 1/50sec (first image) and getting away with tact sharp image.
This was due to 3 factors: 1) Smaller size and lighter weight of the Stylus 1, 2) Image Stabilization 3) very good handling of the camera. Shooting with something much smaller and lighter will allow for better stability especially shooting at slower shutter speeds. There is also such thing as being "too light", hence the ergonomics of the camera has to be good, and handling must be steady, which was the case for Stylus 1. I am sure the Image Stabilization (lens-based) did its job in reducing the shake, and I was very pleased to be able to shoot hand-held at such shutter speeds with long zooms.
The strong advantage? No need to push the ISO setting, and having optimized image quality.
You see, not only there is long zoom, but the long zoom on Stylus 1 is actually VERY usable.
1/25sec, F4, ISO100, 62mm
1/30sec, F2.8, ISO100, 42mm, Super Macro Mode Enabled
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO100, 42mm, Super Macro Mode Enabled
1/30sec, F3.5, ISO125, 62mm
1/15sec, F2.8, ISO125, 42mm, Super Macro Mode
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO100, 28mm
1/13sec, F2.8, ISO250, 35mm
MACRO AND CLOSE UP SHOOTING
Most compact cameras have one very crucial ability: very good close up and macro shooting. For the case of Stylus 1, there are several options to achieve macro shots, such as the Super Macro Mode (fixed at 42mm and 5cm from the front of lens) and tele-macro shooting, with normal focusing distance but having the lens zoomed in far. As shown in the images above, the macro mode can create very interesting results. Unlike DSLR or any ILC system, the kit lens that comes with the basic setup usually does not have that good of a close up shooting, and you are required to buy a macro lens (which is NOT cheap) to get similar or better magnification. The Olympus Stylus 1 already has the close up shooting with the amazingly sharp lens, and this mode should be exploited to create good images.
Always remember that with Olympus Stylus 1, you already have a macro lens with you, and you can shoot close up subjects with much ease.
DEPTH OF FIELD: MORE CAN BE BETTER
When shooting macro or close up shooting, shallow depth of field is rarely your friend. In fact there is a greater need for more depth of field to sufficiently cover the zone in focus. Therefore, shooting with DSLR or MILC will not necessary give you the advantage in this area. Take for example the first macro image, the Tag Heuer watch, I managed to get almost everything in focus and sharp with just F4 on the Stylus 1. If I were shooting with my OM-D E-M5, I might need at least F11 or F16, with the aid of an external lighting source, or boosting up higher ISO setting. Since for Stylus 1 the depth of field was greater, it was easy to get everything in focus with just F4 aperture, and I managed to stay with ISO100 giving optimized image quality. Shutter speed at 1/25sec was not an issue, considering hand-holding and steadying Olympus Stylus 1 was easy.
Take advantage of the deeper depth of field, you need not stop down the aperture much, and you won't lose light while maintaining sufficient depth of field in any shooting condition.
1/800sec, F4, ISO100, 42mm
1/1600sec, F8, ISO100, ND On
1/10sec, F7.1, ISO100, 84mm
1/20sec, F7.1, ISO100, 28mm
1/20sec, F6.3, ISO100, 28mm
1/15sec, F2.8, ISO500, 28mm
1/10sec, F2.8, ISO400, 28mm
SHOOTING RAW AND REAP ITS ADVANTAGES
The Olympus Stylus 1, being an advanced compact camera, allows you to shoot RAW. The camera is powerful enough to handle RAW files without slowing the camera operation down, not even the slightest bit. I was shooting RAW for the whole day and the camera performed smoothly and efficiently. You do need a fast card to faster writing and reading time to prevent the camera from slowing down.
Why shoot RAW? Because RAW does carry many advantages. Although the RAW file from Stylus 1 may not be as expandable and non-destructive as a larger sensor camera RAW file, it still has higher headroom for correction and some adjustments, most notably white balance tweak and exposure compensation. Shooting RAW also gives you the most amount of details, which translates to overall image sharpness and contrast. You can correct wrong or inaccurate white balance settings without losing image quality, and some degree of exposure correction if needed.
To take full advantage of what the Olympus Stylus 1 can do, shooting RAW should not be ignored.
ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER IS THE FUTURE
The Olympus Stylus 1 uses the OM-D E-M5's EVF panel, which is quite a respectable one. It is by far larger and brighter than all entry level DSLR viewfinders (optical) and is more functional in many ways. The "What You See is What You Get" view from the EVF is a game-changer, as you have full time preview of your final output through the EVF while shooting, even before you press the shutter button. You would know from your current setting what output you are getting: is your white balance correct? is your exposure balanced? Changes in the final image output will happen in real life time as the corresponding adjustments were made. Since compact cameras such as Stylus 1 has limitations in terms of RAW file headroom (if you shoot JPEG this is even more crucial) in comparison to larger sensor camera systems, it is even more important to get the settings (especially exposure) right in the first place, before shooting.
1/100sec, F2.8, ISO3200, Noise Filter Low
1/100sec, F2.8, ISO6400, Noise Filter Low
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO800
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO1600, Noise Filter Low
1/40sec, F2.8, ISO3200, Noise Filter Low
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO6400, Noise Filter Low
1/125, F2.8, ISO3200, Noise Filter Low
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SHOOT HIGH ISO
The Olympus Stylus 1 may not be the king of low light shooting, but the results were good enough for most situations. I find myself pushing up the ISO setting as necessary, when I was shooting at night street in Bukit Bintang. There is noise when high ISO is engaged, no doubt about that, but why should that stop us from continue shooting? I find the noise control to be decent and of course, it is not prudent to expect this Stylus 1 to match higher level cameras such as DSLR or MILC systems. The important thing is coming home with usable images, and I am happy with what the camera can do.
There are a few other strengths of Olympus Stylus 1 which I have not fully explored, such as capability to control wireless TTL remote off camera flash and high flash sync capability. On top of that, there is a new tele-converter 1.7x which works specifically for Olympus Stylus 1, that I have not tested. All in all, I am not here to give all the answers, but more importantly, show you what this little camera can do, and how to do them.
Here are some useful tips and settings on the Olympus Stylus 1 camera:
1) Noise Filter OFF or LOW. OFF for ISO100-800, anything ISO1600 above use LOW.
2) Auto White Balance Keep Warm Color OFF
3) Gradation setting set to NORMAL (do not use Auto)
4) If you are shooting JPEG, set the compression setting to Large Super Fine (hidden menu)
5) Always watch the icons on the screen to make sure you did not accidentally enable ND Filter or the digital zoom.
People always tell me that whatever camera I use, I can make good images. I don't know where to begin to explain how false that statement is. I only use Olympus cameras, and I have been using Olympus cameras for more than 5 years. Therefore I know the system inside out, the settings and how the camera works. Give me any Olympus camera I will be able to use them, the newer cameras may have some new features but the core system is the same, even the menu and settings remain almost unchanged. I know the camera characteristics, and I am still working with Zuiko lenses, and Olympus processing engine. The statement would be more appropriate if it goes like this: I can use any Olympus camera.
GET YOUR BASICS RIGHT
One last note, to be able to manipulate the camera settings to your bidding, and fully bring out its potential, you do need to have strong foundation of photography basics. Your understanding and control of the exposure triangle (ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture) must be sound. You should be able to hand-hold the camera properly (USE BOTH HANDS!!!!!!) and lock focus on exactly where you want the area to be sharp in the image. If you are still shaky on the basics, you hesitate as you control the camera, surely you will struggle. Either you 1) Attend workshops and get your peers to help you along the way or 2) self-learn through experimentation, research and trial and errors. I did the later.
I hope you find this sharing useful. I will still find opportunities to shoot with the Stylus 1 when I can. It is a wonderful camera, and it can do great images.
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