Sunday, February 23, 2014

Exploiting the Strengths of Olympus Stylus 1

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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You may also read my FULL user experience review blog entries of other Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses at Gear Review Page here (click). 

34 comments :

  1. Hey Robin,

    You have shot some great images yet once again! Every time I see your photos I have two responses. First, I feel like I know Malaysia a bit better. Second, I become hungry!

    It looks like the Stylus is a great performer. Would you say it's anti-shake response is similar to the EM5?

    David in Seattle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words, David. The IS is not as good as E-M5, but the smaller size and lighter weight helped to steady the camera better.

      Delete
  2. Have EM5 and EM1. I find this pretty amazing for a compact.

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  3. You're making it very difficult for me to resist getting a Stylus 1, Robin!

    Not having one to assess locally (yet) can you advise how it compares operationally to the E-M5? If you're used to shooting an E-M5 will you manage this one easily?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Dallas,
      Yes, it is easy to get used to, but you do need to customize a few things internally (button and dials controls). After that everything is pretty straightforward.

      Delete
  4. Hello King of Olympus,
    This camera is awesome impressive for a compact. The macro shots are impressive. Sometimes having greater depth of field can be advantage specially when doing macro!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Johan,
      Oh dear I am no king. But you are right, greater depth of field is important for macro shooting.

      Delete
  5. Amazing image quality for compact.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Robin, The high ISO in the street - that is as expected (you did well there but it's what I expect from a well done high ISO shot). The guitar shot though, that is astonishingly good for high ISO.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What more can you ask for.... would like to see a premium power zoom/bridge camera with a constant f2.8 22 or 24-200mm lens or longer with a micro 4/3 sensor. Just like the Sony RX10. Otherwise very good review of the stylus 1. Any more bird shots?hehe

    Excellent job mate. Any news of the Oly 40-150mm f2.8 release date? review?....
    Eric V
    Edmonton Alberta

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Robin,

    I use and E-PL3 with a VF-2 (same as the Stylus 1's?) and, while I do think its fantastic under most situations, I do wish that it was a true WYSIWYG display. The main problem is that when the exposure is more than 3 EV from the meter's value, the display stays at 3EV off, no the true exposure. I only mention this because you tout the EVF as a WYSIWYG display (I assume you mean vs optical displays). I hope you can influence Oly to make the display come closer to showing the scene as it will be really captured on the sensor (I realize this is not possible in all cases, such as super long exposures).

    Regarding your comment about being able to shoot any Olympus camera -- you're not so bad with Sony's either! Will we ever see anything out of a Sony body from you again?

    Peter

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My goodness, a range of total 6 EV stops, from -3EV to +3EV, and it is not enough for you? Seriously I think that the range is more than sufficient for ALL shooting conditions, why would you need anything more than that???? To me it is as WYSIWYG, and surely if the metering of the camera cannot cater for your need to shooting anything within that EV range, just use manual mode! There is NO limitation in shooting manual mode.

      No, you won't hear anything about Sony from me anymore.

      Delete
    2. Hi Robin,

      Yes, of course, it's not a normal situation. I ran into it photographing the moon and Jupiter (not at the same time!) with the 40-150 zoom at 150 mm. For the moon, I can spot meter, and its probably fine (haven't tried it yet, just realized this now!). For Jupiter, I really do want true WYSIWYG in my display (my C***n S95 does it!). You're right, in that 99.99% of the time, it doesn't matter, but this is a design choice and not a technological limitation. Personally, I'd rather see my display black or washed out when my exposure is way off, rather than that slowly blinking shutter/aperture readout.

      EVFs are indeed much more WYSIWYG than OVFs, but, at least with Olympus, its not all the way there, and I don't understand the reasoning behind that design choice.

      Peter

      Delete
  9. If you are not King, then surely you are the Wizard of Olympus. I am just astonished by your photographs, and you have proven that a compact can take very high quality photographs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i can live with Wizard! Sounds cool. Thanks for the kind words. Indeed compact cameras these days are very advanced and can produce amazing results.

      Delete
  10. I guess Malaysia is a bit too far from Japan for you to have any leverage on the Olympus product lineup, but I know a camera I would buy instantly if they made one: a Tough compact with RAW support. I have a TG-1 and I really hoped that the TG-2 would support RAW when it came out. It didn't (but at least it had an aperture priority mode) so now I hope that the TG-3 will, if and when it comes out. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed Malaysia is very far from Japan, and I would not be able to have any connection on the camera planning.
      I too wish every single camera have RAW support, as it is just that important.

      Delete
  11. Hi Robin,
    I like the "what can you do with it" approach... I am looking at the RX100 as a 2nd unit however for its video capabilties and size.
    Cheers

    Rolf

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hello, Robin
    Initially I switched from DSLR to EM5 so that I can travel lighter! Now the Olympus Stylus 1 fits that criteria without a need to bring anything extra. I would hope the price is around the price of the Canon G16. From what i see it is a versatile camera with good specifications.
    Thanks
    Wong

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Robin,
    Always a pleasure to look at your blog ! I have 2 questions for you : 1) Is the Stylus 1 silent enough to be used say at the theater ? 2) Did you experiment some videos with the Stylus 1 and if yes is the IQ acceptable ?
    Cheers,
    JP

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi JPA,
      The Stylus one is completely silent if you disabled the electronic sound effect (which is not the real shutter sound). I did not use the video, and I am not the right person to advice you about the video capabilities.

      Delete
  14. It has really superior journal! I always accurately came here from http://klebebh.ch that thoughts to be eager material confront raise recording in the earth and it's rattling useable.

    ReplyDelete
  15. For a compact camera, these are extremely good results. Great work!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi Robin,

    I have read all tour writing about the stylus 1 - sounds line a nice kamera. I have one qustiom for you - i'm pretty new in the kamera World - I only do hollyday pictures with an old compact. But now i' m looking for a new camera and would like something good.. But is the stylus 1 to difficult for me when i'm all new in this World ør would it be OK? It will mostly be used for my travels around the World - and off course og my kid, when I get one! I also liook at the lumix tz40 but think the stylus 1 looks nicer. Hope for your advice. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Robin, I just purchased a Stylus 1. Can yo utell me what type of post-processing you did to your images posted here?
    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi Robin - yes understanding what post-processing you used would be helpful. Was it Photoshop? I've been playing around w/ my Stylus 1 for a few days now and have not generated any shots that are close to the sharpness and color represented above. Almost seems like these shots are too good to be true.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Robin, how good are stills made from 4k video in good and low light? Thank you for all the excellent information.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hi Robin,

    Thank you for the nice blog and pictures, impressive.
    I am not experienced photographer.
    Last year I moved from point and shoot to a Agfa Selecta 16 bridge camera, which is okay and has descend picture quality but suffers in low light conditions.
    I still need to learn more and get more away from using Auto mode.

    I have been looking for a better quality camera and came across Olympus Stylus 1 and really like it. Problem is that I did not find it in any shop where I have been, to physically hold it in my hands before deciding to buy one.
    Based on what I have read on internet, including you blogs, I now have ordered a Olympus Stylus 1 via internet and hope that it is as good as it sounds and hope to explore its capabilities.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hello Robin, though its very old thread, I wish to tell you that I purchased Stylus 1 after reading your blog and when I had enough discount.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
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