Olympus has the right idea with their new Stylus-9000 digital compact, and that is to put more optical zoom power into a smaller and more compact body. The idea that is driving their current line of compact ultrazooms is to offer an alternative to the bulkier DSLR-esque bodies (like their SP-590 and SP-570) and provide the photographer with a digital camera that is portable and less cumbersome while still retaining a lot of power. But with the sacrifice of things like a viewfinder and less real estate for the hand, does the Stylus-9000 cut it?
That question will be answered shortly, but the thing to know and like about the Stylus-9000 is what they want you to like, and that is the size and the telephoto range it provides. I tested the Stylus-9000 driving cross-country and I was able to test how it worked in different lighting scenarios and scenes with different contrasts.
The Stylus-9000 has quite a few different bells and whistles, including a 12 megapixel 1/2.33-inch CCD image sensor, a lens with a 10x optical zoom (28-280mm), dual image stabilization, Intelligent Auto, a 2.7 inch LCD, in-camera panorama stitching, face detection, and Shadow Adjustment Technology that helps bring out more detail in dark areas in the frame. With this all included in the Stylus-9000, you get the resolution, image stabilization and an ultra-portable camera that is begging to be taken along for an adventure, and that's just what I did.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The build of the Stylus-9000 is its strongest selling point, packing a 10x optical zoom in a compact camera that resembles a few models equipped only with a 3-5x zoom range. With a sunken-in and retractable lens that extends out when you start up the camera, the small width of the Stylus-9000 makes it easy to carry around in the palm of your hand, or to stow away in a bag when you're on the road.
Among some of its attractive features are the brushed-aluminum body, the HyperCrystal LCD screen, and its lens. Another nice feature, which seems to be more of a flavor of the year than the month, is iAuto shooting mode that automatically chooses the best camera settings for any scenario. This function, as I have seen in other cameras I have reviewed with this mode, seems to be easily fooled by diverse conditions, but more about the Olympus Stylus-9000's later.
Ergonomics and Controls
The first look at the surface and layout of the Stylus-9000 seems pretty standard to most digital cameras made in the past few years. The Stylus-9000 isn't out to revolutionize camera design, but it does try to create a compact body for camera with a lot of zoom power, which is done well with this model.
There is one design element that I find interesting, and mostly unattractive. The 2.7-inch LCD screen protrudes outward on the back of the camera, almost like a picture frame being attached to the back. It seems to serve as a way to keep the collapsible/retractable lens inside the camera.
The Stylus-9000 doesn't break new ground design-wise, but I rarely give much thought to a device in which its only function is to take a good picture, which should be prized above all else. As an Olympus rep once told me, it's about the image, not the megapixels, a statement that when applied to design would suggest that Olympus's first concern is for the image, not all the bells and whistles.
The controls, like I said, are very typical - shutter release, power and lens zoom lever on top. A mode dial that accesses different camera settings and a 4-way button that allows you to access quick functions like exposure, timer, flash and macro settings as well as menu control reside on the back panel of the camera.
As far as hand real estate is concerned, there is a thumb bar on the back and room for your right hand on the front of the camera that will accommodate larger hands. The layout makes sense from a classical standpoint, and won't be hard for new users to get the hang of using all the features within just a few minutes of using the Stylus-9000.
Menus and Modes
Olympus employs the same menu system they've offered on most of their digicams, which is an easy to access menu with sort of a low-rent visual, meaning that it is much more functional looking. However, there is one surprise, when you access the menu by clicking on its button on the back you get a colorful display that gives you icon choices, including Image Quality that allows you to choose image size and what sort of compression you want, the Camera Menu that lets you get to White Balance, ISO, etc.
Then there is the setup that takes you to things like Format and sound settings, and probably the coolest feature, Panorama, which allows you to stitch together three images. Scene Mode allows you to quickly access the different shooting modes, Reset allows you go back quickly to all the default settings, and Silent Mode lets you turn off the sounds of the camera, which is great when you want to make as little noise as possible when shooting (e.g. shooting sports).
The Stylus-9000 is not a camera that offers extensive user controls as it lacks manual settings. Here are some of the different shooting modes of the Stylus-9000:
Although the LCD protrudes a bit from the back end, the screen itself is accurate and vivid, pushing out 230,000-dots of resolution. It features a 5-step brightness control so you can choose the strength of the monitor's light.
The LCD employs HyperCrystal III technology, which is supposed to give you three times the brightness of their previous cameras. Overall, the monitor is accurate and balanced, and gives a pretty good playback of your captured images, although I did have some trouble identifying image blur in a few scenes, which I only found after I uploaded them to my computer.
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