Olympus has long been an industry leader when it comes to producing small cameras. Their "Pen" series of 35mm half-frame cameras were small before small was cool, and the Olympus OM1 was the very first downsized SLR. After its introduction in 1990, the rugged little clamshell Stylus quickly became the 35mm P&S camera of choice for adventurous backpackers, Eurail train pass devotees, and serious travelers. This amazing popularity was due to the camera's reputation for rugged dependability and excellent image quality.
Build and Design
The earliest digital Stylus models retained the compactness and durable construction of that original "clamshell" Stylus and added twenty-first century imaging technology. With the new Stylus 1, Olympus combines tradition and innovation to create an attractive, versatile, and feature-rich digital camera that is a worthy successor to all the Stylus models that came before. The newest digital Stylus retains much of the style, charm, elegance, durability, and usability of its 35mm and digital predecessors and adds a (12.8 megapixel) 1/1.7-inch backlit CMOS sensor, a tilting 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD, an electronic viewfinder, a hotshoe, advanced Wi-Fi capabilities, a nifty control ring with a variety of function options including changing apertures, a customizable sub-dial on the top deck, a brand new 10.7x Zuiko optical zoom lens with a fixed (constant) f/2.8 maximum aperture from 28mm (equivalent) to 300mm (equivalent).
Almost everybody has heard the phrase "bridge camera" (an imaging device that bridges the gap between two distinctly different types of camera) and in my humble opinion that phrase has been heavily (and often incorrectly) overused. The new Stylus one is a perfect example of a true bridge camera. The Stylus 1's slightly larger than average CMOS sensor comes from the Olympus premium compact XZ-2 camera and the Stylus 1's TruePic VI image processor is the same unit that drives the OM-D E-M5 MILC (mirrorless interchangeable lens camera). The new f2.8 (constant aperture) 10.7x zoom was designed specifically to maximize the image quality results of combining those two components. Build quality is first rate utilizing a tough and durable combination of lightweight metal alloy and polycarbonate body shell over a metal frame. Weather and dust seals appear to be more than adequate.
Ergonomics and Controls
Bigger cameras provide larger buttons, a better grip, and more stable handling, but bigger cameras are also heavier/bulkier and many shooters simply prefer smaller cameras. I really liked the well thought out Stylus 1 control array. The Stylus 1's user interface is logical and uncomplicated - all buttons and controls are a bit small, but they are all clearly marked, sensibly placed and easily accessed. The Stylus 1 also features a nifty manual control ring. The control ring surrounds the base of the zoom lens and enables users to choose from a variety of functions and then adjust/modify those functions by turning the click-stopped ring either right or left. The zoom control ring adds yet another way to make the Stylus 1 a unique reflection of the photographer's personal vision. One final note--unlike many of its P&S and MILC competitors, the Stylus 1 provides a real handgrip for improved handling and camera stability and a secondary zoom control (perfectly positioned on the left side of lens housing) for zooming in vertical format.
Menus and Modes
The Stylus 1's menu system is a bit complex, but certainly not too complex for this camera's target audience.
Auto: Just point and shoot--no user input.
Scene: (Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night, Night + Portrait, Sunset, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks, Multiple Exposure, Beach & Snow). The Stylus 1's scene mode instantly compares what's in front of the lens with an on-board image database and then matches that information with the subject's distance from the camera, white balance, contrast, dynamic range, lighting and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best exposure parameters for the user selected scene mode. No user input except for flash on/off.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects an appropriate shutter speed.
Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an appropriate aperture.
Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
Custom 1 &2: User selected (saved) settings/preferences linked to these two mode dial positions.
Pop Art Filters: a selection of creative filters.
Movie: The Stylus 1 records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1920x1080p @ 30fps. Default audio is stereo.
Unlike most currently available P&S digicams the Stylus 1 provides an EVF (electronic viewfinder) so shooters can use either the LCD screen or the EVF for framing/composition, image review, and menu access chores. In practical terms the Stylus 1 is a P&S digital camera that provides some of the flexibility and improved performance of a MILC, but in appearance the Stylus one doesn't look like either a P&S digital camera or a MILC--it looks like a small skinny DSLR with what appears to be a standard prism finder, but that prism shaped bulge (which also houses the Stylus 1's pop-up flash) doesn't contain a prism nor is there a mirror in the live view light path. That bogus prism finder actually contains the EVF (electronic viewfinder) and this arrangement allowed the designers to raise the EVF to slightly above the camera's top deck for easier eye-level (DSLR style) composition and framing. The EVF is easy to use and offers a crisp, clean viewing area.
The Stylus 1 also features a large 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD monitor with 1,040,000 pixels resolution. The Stylus 1's wide-viewing angle TFT LCD monitor is sharp, bright, hue accurate, and fluid. The default info display provides all the information this camera's target audience is likely to need. The LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting and brightness can also be adjusted to the individual shooter's preferences. The LCD's anti-glare/anti-reflection coating is substantially better than average. Finally, the Stylus 1's LCD flips/folds out, which is useful when shooting macro or high-angle (above the heads of the crowd) shots or as a waist-level finder, but the LCD screen doesn't swivel.
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