Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Olympus Stylus 1 Review (Part 1)


         In this post we review the Olympus Stylus 1, a point and shoot camera that features a constant f/2.8 zoom of 28-300mm (in 35mm equivalent terms) and fits in your coat pocket.  In this part of the review, I will be discussing the camera itself, specifically:
  • Body.  Size, construction, etc.
  • Handling.  
    • Shooting. The controls and how well they work.
    • Menus.
  • Shooting Experience and Performance.  LCD vs. viewfinder, metering, autofocus, manual focus, lag, battery life.
         In Part 2 of the review, we'll take a closer look at the camera, including its lens and sensor quality. I will also discuss its special functions (including Wi-Fi), its application, and its usage, to analyze whether and how the Stylus 1 may fit your needs.

Notes:
         1.  I have had several point and shoot cameras but I have not used an Olympus point and shoot before, and I will be writing from that perspective.

         2.  Notes: All sample images are by me unless otherwise noted.  The product shots are from the LX5.  As for the Stylus 1 shots, they were edited in Lightroom (i.e. simple changes, minor dodging and burning) with no sharpening or noise reduction unless otherwise noted.

UPDATE 3/26/14: for shooters with no previous experience with Olympus, I added some information (mostly in the Menus section).  [Thanks Ed!]


BACKGROUND

         For a few months, I had been shooting exclusively with the Sony RX1 (reviewed here).  It was an interesting experience having a camera with me all the time that I used for photography and not merely snapshots.  Sure, I had the Lumix LX5, which is capable of good photos at low ISOs but when I brought it with me, I intended it only for casual snapshots.  With the RX1, I fully intended to utilize it with artistic intent, the way I usually do with my DSLRs.  Among other things, the biggest differences of the RX1 compared to, let's say, the Nikon D600 and Sigma 35 1.4, were that I had it with me all the time and it was very inconspicuous, and those combined to open new creative possibilities for me.  Whereas before I would sometimes see a nice scene and think how it would have been a good subject for a photo, the RX1 allowed me to take that leap to execution.  As a result I had many more keepers, with much greater variety, compared to my DSLRs.

         The RX1 got me to seriously reconsider how I shoot, and in turn, what kind of gear would be ideal.  That was the topic of another post but suffice to say that I started looking at pocketable cameras with renewed interest.  In particular, what I missed from the RX1 was the ability to do telephoto shots.  With some kinds of composition that I had in mind, especially abstracts, I just really needed a telephoto lens and there was no substitute for it.

         Among pocketable compacts, there are really only a few with a very long reach and a fast enough aperture.  The Canon G16 has a fast aperture of f/2.8 at telephoto and a focal length of 140mm (not that long).  The Nikon P7800 has a longer focal length of 200mm but its aperture is only f/4 at that length.  The Stylus 1 is in a class by itself, with the longest reach of 300mm equivalent at an aperture of f/2.8. (Yes the Panasonic FZ200 goes to 600mm 2.8 but it has a smaller sensor and is definitely not pocketable).

         So I ended up with the Stylus 1.  As an aside, it's kind of funny because my very first digital camera was a Minolta Dimage Z1 (from 2003), which also happened to be a bridge camera with a 10x zoom (38-380mm), a reasonably fast f/2.8-3.5 aperture, and an electronic viewfinder.

Minolta Dimage Z1 (my first digital camera - yes it still works) and Stylus 1

         Let's get on with the Stylus 1 review.

KEY FEATURES

Lens
         The Stylus 1 has a useful 28-300mm equivalent focal length, enough to cover almost any situation.  But what makes the Stylus 1 stand out among other superzooms is that it has a constant f/2.8 aperture.

Sensor
         The Stylus 1 uses a 1/1.7-inch 12mp backlit CMOS sensor, which is about 70% larger than the 1/2.5-inch sensor used in lower end point-and-shoots.  In addition, because the sensor is backlit (as in many other enthusiast cameras), it absorbs more light compared to a similar-sized regular (non-backlit) CMOS sensor, which translates to less noise at the same ISO.

Size
         In my opinion, the most unique key feature of the Stylus 1 is its size.  In general, the larger the camera's sensor, the larger the lens would have to be.  This limitation is exacerbated when the lens has a fairly wide 10x focal length range and a constant f/2.8 aperture.  In spite of these, the Stylus 1 is about the size of an enthusiast compact, small enough to fit in a coat pocket -- an amazing technological feat.

         Among bridge superzoom cameras there are only two others that have a constant f/2.8 aperture: the Sony RX10 (24-200mm equivalent, 1-inch sensor) and the Panasonic FZ200 (25-600mm equivalent, 1/2.3-inch sensor), and both are about the size of a small DSLR and the Stylus 1 looks svelte in comparison.  Here is the Stylus 1 compared to the FZ200 and the RX10.  And here is a bird's eye view.

WHAT'S IN THE BOX
         Normally I don't bother to discuss what's in the box, but in the Stylus 1's case I found it noteworthy that it came with a dust bag, like fancy handbags or shoes.  It gave me a good first impression.

         Included with the Stylus 1 is the LC-63A lens cap with spring-loaded leaves that automatically open and close as the lens extends and retracts.  The lens cap looks handsome on the Stylus 1 and looks like a perfect match in terms of color, texture and appearance.  This lens cap was an extra accessory for the XZ-1 and XZ-2, but I'm glad Olympus included it with the Stylus 1.  I've been using a lens cap with a similar concept for the LX5 and it is far more convenient than a typical lens cap that you have to pinch to remove and which might dangle in front of the lens on some shots.  My only gripe is that on the Stylus 1, when the lens cap is tightened as much as possible, it ends up looking tilted.  You have to back up a bit for it to be in a centered position, though fortunately it remains tight enough that it won't just fall off.

Stylus 1 with automatic lens cap;  LX5 with an aftermarket automatic lens cap


BODY

Stylus 1 vs. E-M5 with Panasonic 20 1.7

         The Stylus 1 looks very similar to the E-M10 in size and appearance, and in turn, the Stylus 1 and E-M10 look like slightly narrower versions of the E-M5.  Here are the three, side-by-side.

         In terms of construction, the Stylus 1 is plastic (whereas the E-M5 is magnesium), which helps cut down its weight for easier portability.  Even though the Stylus 1 is plastic, it feels very well made.  The buttons in particular feel so much better than those of the E-M5 (which feel wiggly and mushy in comparison, necessitated by its weather sealing).



         When I first received the Stylus 1, it looked larger than I expected, partly because of the very wide lens and the EVF.  In addition, when I first held it, it felt surprisingly large.  Actually, it felt larger than it is because its grip is significantly thicker than that of the E-M5 (!).

The Stylus 1 (right) has a thicker grip than the E-M5 (left).

         Although the Stylus 1 looks and feels large it is actually quite compact.  Other than the EVF, it is only slightly taller and wider than a large point-and-shoot.  Here it is, next to an LX5:



         The thickness of the Stylus 1 body is about the same as that of the LX5, however, the EVF protrudes a bit, and the grip makes the Stylus 1 seem thicker than it really is.


         Even when the Stylus 1 is activated, the lens extends only about as much as that of the LX5.  I find it really astounding how Olympus managed to do that for a lens that extends to more than three times the focal length of the LX5.


         Even when the Stylus 1 is at full zoom (64.3mm; 300mm equivalent), the lens extends only about 4cm from the closed position, compared to about 3cm for the LX5 at full zoom (19.2mm; 90mm equivalent).

         Just to give you another view of the Stylus 1's size, here it is again, this time in comparison to some smaller point-and-shoots (from front to back: Fuji F31fd, Casio EX-V7, Fuji W3, and Stylus 1).  The Fuji W3 is wider than the Stylus 1 because the W3 has two separate lenses.



         Again, the Stylus 1's body itself is about as thick as a regular point and shoot but because of the slightly protruding lens, the EVF, and the grip, it becomes about twice as thick as a regular point and shoot.

Left to right: Stylus 1, Fuji W3, EX-V7, Fuji F31fd

         The Stylus 1 has a built-in popup flash, just like the E-M10 (unlike the E-M1 and E-M5).  The popup flash is rather short, although surprisingly it doesn't cast a shadow at any focal length.  The popup flash can act as a wireless flash commander.    It also has a standard ISO hot shoe which can fit a dedicated TTL flash, or a cheap manual flash like a Yongnuo flash, or even a flash trigger.  In Part 2 of this review, we'll see how useful this can be.


         Note: There is no AP2 accessory port above the EVF.

         The Stylus 1 has a small door on the side, just like the E-M5.  But in the Stylus 1, it houses a USB and mini-HDMI port instead of the SD card.  The Stylus 1's SD card slot is at the bottom, in the same compartment as the battery.


         Note that the USB port is not a common type.  It has 7 pins and I don't know what kind of USB it is.  The USB port can be used for downloading as well as charging the camera, apparently.  I ran down the battery until it showed a battery level of 2 out of 3.  Then I plugged the camera via USB to a computer to download pics.  After doing that I unplugged the cable from the computer and connected it to an iPhone 10w power adapter.  After a while I checked the camera and it showed 3 out of 3.  I conclude that the camera can be charged by USB.  But I don't know all the parameters for doing this.  One issue is that when the camera is plugged via USB (even to a power adapter), the LCD remains on the whole time, and I don't know how to turn it off. I suppose that can't be good for the life of the LCD.

HANDLING

Ergonomics
         I was surprised that the Stylus 1 felt better in my hands than did the E-M5 (which itself isn't bad either). It's because of the meatier grip.  The grip is only covered with textured plastic but because of the grip's thickness and because of the Stylus 1's light weight, the camera feels very stable, whether the lens is extended or not.

         One of the ergonomic features of the E-M5 that carried over to the Stylus 1 is the thumb grip at the back.  On the Stylus 1 there is a molded thumbgrip that protrudes more than on a typical camera, similar in function to the Thumbs Up grip accessory that is in vogue nowadays for mirrorless cameras.  The angle of the thumbgrip is not as aggressive as that of the E-M5 but it still feels very secure.



left: Stylus 1; right: E-M5
Other differences:
  • Although the Stylus 1 uses the same EVF as the E-M5, the rubber eyecup on the E-M5 is thinner compared with the sculpted eyecup of the Stylus 1.  On the E-M5, the rubber outer covering feels like it could be removed from the eyecup, and the eyecup itself is a little bit loose (I already nearly lost it once).  On the Stylus 1, the eyecup is stiff rubber, and so far hasn't been jarred loose yet.  I don't have a problem with the Stylus 1 whether I'm using glasses (actually, sunglasses) or not.
  • As I mentioned, the buttons on the Stylus 1 feel so much better, and when you press them, the button response feels more positive.  On the E-M5, the buttons feel kind of mushy and wiggly.

Controls
         In terms of controls, the Stylus 1 shares some similarities with the E-M5's excellent controls, but actually improves upon it.

- The power button is on the top plate, on the rightmost edge, just like most other compacts I've tried.

- Like the E-M5, the exposure dial is on the left side of the EVF.  It has the usual auto mode, PASM, and scene mode.  However, the Stylus 1 adds two custom modes, C1 and C2, which allow you to quickly change settings (for example, if you have a set of preferred settings for low light or other conditions).  The custom modes are easier to access than the "My Set" custom settings of the E-M5 which are accessed through the menus.  The Stylus 1 also has a Photo Story mode, which lets you use a 3-image collage template and an Art mode for canned effects (such as cross-process and fake tilt-shift).

- Just like the E-M5, the Stylus 1 has 3 customizable buttons, Fn1, Fn2 and the Record button.  However, their locations have been switched and they have fewer range of functions (see below).  Fn1 is in approximately the same place as on the E-M5, above the thumb grip.  Fn2 is on the face of the camera beside the lens, similar to location of the Fn button on some DSLRs (e.g. Nikon).  Incidentally, the Fn2 button is surrounded by the switch for the function ring (discussed below) even though their functions are not related.  The Rec button is beside the shutter release, where the Fn2 would be on the E-M5.



- The Stylus 1 has a rear command dial to the right of the EVF, in the same place as that of the E-M5.  It rotates with the same amount of moderate resistance as that of the E-M5 as well.

- Instead of a front command dial around the shutter release, the Stylus 1 has a function ring around the lens.  This control was first introduced in the XZ-2 and has been included in the Stylus 1 as well.  There is a small lever beside it where you can switch the control ring from either clickless or with detents.  The cool thing is that the function of the ring changes when you switch from clickless to detents.  When the ring has detents, the function ring can be used like a command dial (changing aperture or exposure compensation, etc.).  When the ring is clickless the function can be either for zooming or manual focus or both.  If used for both, then it's used for zooming unless manual focus is on, in which case it works as a focus ring.  If the ring is used for manual focus only, then switching to clickless automatically activates manual focus.  Very clever and well thought-out.  By using the lever to quickly switch to manual focus without using the menus, I can use it somewhat like an AF-ON button.

But, you might ask, if it's in clickless mode, won't that prevent you from changing the aperture?  True, you won't be able to use the function ring for the aperture but you can press the up button to enable using the d-pad to change the aperture or shutter speed (see below).

the switch for the function ring (shown in clickless mode)
- Like the E-M5 there is a button on the right side of the EVF to toggle the eye sensor for the EVF.  When the eye sensor is on auto mode and you bring the EVF to your eye, the Stylus automatically switches from the LCD to the EVF, unless the LCD is tilted in which case the Stylus 1 assumes you definitely want to use the LCD.  If you hold the button for a couple of seconds, you'll see an option to toggle to manual mode.  In manual mode, you switch between the LCD or EVF by pressing the button.  Manual mode can be useful because the eye sensor is somewhat sensitive, so if you use your hand to shade your LCD in the sun, that will often trigger the auto eye sensor and the camera will switch to the EVF.  It was mildly annoying at first, but then I figured if I was shading the LCD with my hand, I may as well look through the EVF (yes the EVF can be used for playback as well).

- There are three ways to control the zoom.  The first way is with a lever around the shutter release, just like most point-and-shoots.  The second way is through a zoom control on the lens barrel, where your thumb would be.  This is more similar to how we would adjust the zoom on an interchangeable lens camera, though my fingers sometimes move it by accident.  The third way to adjust the zoom is through an option for the function ring as described above, which even more closely mimics a zoom on an ILC, but with a slight lag.

- For releasing the flash, there is a button above the side zoom lever, on the lens barrel.

- The button arrangement for the menus is more similar to a typical point and shoot than the E-M5.  The directional pad's buttons function both for moving between selections as well as activating certain functions in shooting mode or in playback.

When shooting, pressing the directions d-pad activates either exposure controls (up), flash mode (right), drive mode or self-timer (down), or AF point selection (left).


         Pressing the up button makes the d-pad act like the two command dials.  Up/down becomes like the function ring, while left/right becomes like the command dial.  In Aperture priority for example, up/down controls the aperture and left/right controls exposure compensation.

         Moving the AF point requires first pressing left, and then using the d-pad to move the AF point.  (In contrast, when shooting with the E-M5, pressing the d-pad immediately moves the AF point just like in my Nikon DSLRs.)  However, this is not a huge hindrance for the Stylus 1 because I can very quickly choose the AF point using the touchscreen.

Other shooting controls:
         As mentioned above, the Stylus 1 has three customizable buttons: Fn1, Fn2 and the Rec button.  The functions that can be assigned to them are much more limited compared to the EM5.

     Fn1 and Rec: AEL, DOF Preview, WB, Reset the AF point to home position, Digital Tele-converter, Conversion Lens, ND Filter Setting, Zoom Framing Assist.  In addition, Rec can be assigned for video recording.  If the Rec button is assigned to another function, there seems to be no way to start video recording.
     Fn2: IS Mode, Picture Mode, SCN, ART, WB, drive mode, Aspect, Image Quality, Movie Quality, flash, flash exposure compensation, Metering, AF Mode, ISO, Face Priority, ND Filter Setting.

         The Fn2 can be used for more than one of the functions.  Pressing Fn2 each time will change to the next assigned function.  However, you don't need to cycle through them all -- you can select which functions are accessible.  In my case, I use Fn2 for just two functions: ISO and Flash Exposure Compensation.  The other functions are nice but I don't adjust them as often and they are accessible through the Super Control Panel anyway (see below).  Because I use only two functions for the Fn2, it is almost like having a dedicated ISO button.

         Just like the E-M5, the Stylus 1 has a Live Control and Super Control Panel, accessed (and hidden :) ) the same way as in the E-M5.  While shooting, you press OK button to launch the Live Control.  Then you press the Info button to toggle between Live Control and Super Control Panel (if enabled - see below).  The camera recalls whichever type of control panel was last chosen.

         Both the Live Control and Super Control Panel allow you to change many of the more frequently-adjusted functions.  The difference between them is the interface.  In the Live Control panel, the functions are listed vertically, and you use the up and down arrows on the d-pad to select the function you want to change.  Then you use the left or right arrows on the d-pad to change the parameter.  The Live Control panel is good for those who like to use the d-pad.

The Live Control panel.  Image courtesy Olympus.

The options that can be changed in Live Control are:

  • Image stabilizer mode (off, on vertical + horizontal, vertical only, horizontal only)
  • Picture mode
  • White balance
  • Sequential shooting/self-timer
  • Aspect Ratio
  • Image format (RAW, JPEG, Raw + JPEG, etc.)
  • Record mode (1080, 720, 120fps, 240fps)
  • Flash mode (auto, red-eye, fill-in, flash off, slow+red-eye, slow, manual)
  • Flash intensity control (i.e. flash exposure compensation)
  • Metering mode
  • AF mode
  • ISO sensitivity
  • Face priority (face only, near eye, left eye, right eye, or none)
  • ND Filter Setting (toggles the 3-stop ND filter)


         The Super Control Panel (SCP) allows you to change the same a similar set of functions.  The differences are: you can't change the Record mode for video, but you can change the Color Space (sRGB or Adobe) and you also gain the ability to modify the picture style such as sharpness or saturation.

         The primary difference between the SCP and Live Control is that the SCP overlays all the functions at the same time on top of the screen.  It is bewildering to those new to Olympus but once you get used to it, it is efficient because the touchscreen allows you to rapidly select the function you want (alternatively, you can select the function with the d-pad).  You can then change the parameter by rotating the command ring or by pressing ok and using the d-pad to change the parameter.

The Super Control Panel.  Image courtesy Olympus.
         By default, only Live Control is available and you need to enable the Super Control Panel through the menus.  It is under the Custom menu, in the Display group, and the Control settings option.  Under the Control settings, you have to select the exposure mode, then choose the checkbox for Live Control Panel. THEN if you want to access it, you have to press OK during live view, and then press INFO to toggle the Super Control Panel.  It's not easy to figure out without the instructions.

         In the Auto mode, an extra panel available is Live Guide for photo novices (which has an interface like Live Control, except that you select the effect you want, such as Blurred Background, and the camera implements the corresponding control, e.g. by changing the aperture).  In Scene mode, the extra panel is for Scene selection.

         You can customize which of these panels is available in each exposure mode.  For example, for Auto exposure mode, I deactivated the Live Control and SCP because the primary user of the Auto mode will be my wife, who would only be confused by the options in Live Control and SCP.

Menus
         The menu structure is very similar to that of the E-M5, and will also be familiar to Nikon and Panasonic shooters (Canon, Fuji, Pentax and Sony shooters don't need to feel left out - the menu is just horizontal instead of vertical).  The options are grouped into 5 tabs on the left margin of the screen.  Once you select a tab, the options for that tab are shown on the right side of the screen.  One of the tabs, the Custom menu, leads to 10 subgroups of parameters.  When you choose a subgroup, the 10 subgroups will be promoted to act as the tabs on the left margin of the screen, while on the right side of the screen, you'll see the parameters for that subgroup.

         Pressing the Info button toggles the help which shows a small popup box that explains the parameter.  Unlike Nikon's help ("?") button, the Info button does not explain each option for a parameter.

         The menu interface is in my opinion logical.  However, as a whole, I found the menu organization to be logically confusing and counter-intuitive (I have the same complaint with the E-M5).  An example of the menu's weird organization: there is an option whether to simulate the actual exposure during live view, which is under the Display subgroup (fair enough).  However, the option for whether Image Stabilization is active during live view is in a different subgroup called Utility.

         As with the E-M5, the Stylus 1 has many uncommon yet useful menu options:
  • Can change whether exposure compensation affects only ambient exposure (Canon style) or both ambient and flash exposure (Nikon style).
  • You can specify whether the live view will reflect the current exposure settings (D800 style) or not (D600 style).  Usually it's useful to see the current settings.  However, if you're using flash and deleting the ambient, then the current settings will be too dark.  That's when using the D600 style option comes in handy.
  • You can adjust the tone curve of each picture style, from normal, to high key to low key.  (This is a simplified implementation of the Gradation adjustment in the E-M5.)  In addition, some manufacturers have a function that is designed to simulate a wider dynamic range (e.g. Nikon's Active D-Lighting or Canon's Highlight Tone Priority).  In the case of Olympus, that is done through "Gradation Auto," which will slightly underexpose high contrast scenes to preserve highlights, then brighten deep shadows using post-processing.  For raw shooters, the shadow lifting is not recorded, but the feature has some uses by making the exposure more conservative.
  • The Stylus 1 does have a multiexposure mode but rather than being an option, it's one of the scenes in the Scene exposure mode.
  • The grid overlay for the rule of thirds uses the Golden Ratio instead of a simple rule of thirds.
  • Can specify the range of luminance levels (0-255) for the histogram.  This is if you want to be conservative about blown highlights or blocked shadows.
  • Can specify whether the exposure will be weighted toward the AF point or not.  This is discussed in more detail, under "Exposure" below.
  • Can specify the resolution and compression of 4 JPEG modes.  This is useful for Raw+JPEG.
  • Pixel-mapping (to map out hot or stuck pixels).
  • Bulb mode: this can be selected by switching to manual exposure then adjusting the shutter speed to slower than 60 seconds.  The maximum time for bulb mode can be set in the menu for up to 15 minutes.

On the other hand, there are some menu options that are missing, or have unusual implementations:
  • Cannot select the minimum shutter speed for Auto ISO.
  • Auto ISO doesn't work in manual exposure mode (argh!).
  • Cannot select Release Priority or Focus Priority.
  • Digital teleconverter: this is the usual cheap function where basically the camera does a digital crop to simulate a longer focal length.  The silly thing about the implementation in the Stylus 1 is that it magnifies the image by 2x across the zoom range, even at wider angles (when the 2x teleconverter is pointless because it is within the optical zoom range).  Even weirder is that by default, Fn1 is assigned to this useless function.  If someone accidentally presses this button (e.g. trying it out at a store), the only hint that it's active is that there's a small magnifying glass icon at the top left corner, and when that person reviews the resulting images, they would think that the Stylus 1's image quality is mediocre.  Oh, they would also see that there are only 9 very large AF points (instead of 35 AF points).  Then they would really be "convinced" that the Stylus 1 sucks.
  • Bracketing: initially I could not select the auto bracketing under the drive modes.  It turns out you have to use the menus to select the type of bracketing (exposure, WB, ISO, flash).  THEN bracketing becomes selectable.
  • Self-timer burst.  In one of the self-timer modes, you can select the number of shots it will take, up to 10 shots in ~2 second intervals.  Nice for group shots.  The problem is that when you use this mode, the self-timer starts in about 2 seconds, and you can't change that.  How fast can you run to join the group shot? :)
2x cropped image (before I learned that the camera was applying a 2x digital zoom!)

SHOOTING EXPERIENCE AND PERFORMANCE

Composition
         In this part, I'll discuss the controls and features that affect the composition: the electronic viewfinder, the LCD, and the zoom lever.

         a. Electronic viewfinder (EVF).  The electronic viewfinder is superb. It is after all the same one from the E-M5, with 1.44 million pixels.  I'm amazed that this excellent viewfinder trickled its way down to this point-and-shoot.  It provides a 100% field of view and has an equivalent of 0.58x magnification (compared to a full frame camera), which is about the same size as the viewfinder image on a Canon 60D.  The refresh rate is pretty smooth (I estimate 60fps).  Unlike an optical viewfinder, it really is WYSIWYG.  For example, if you apply a monochrome picture mode, the view will also be monochrome.  The EVF can be used for either shooting or playback (useful when it's very bright).  Looking through it, I don't miss an optical viewfinder at all.  It's easy to forget that this is "just" a point-and-shoot.

         One note about the viewfinder: I think the eyecup on the Stylus 1 is better than that of the E-M5.  The E-M5 eyecup was criticized for being too flat, which allowed some sunlight in (though I myself experienced no problems with that).  On the Stylus 1, the eyecup is curved (though stiff) which I believe would block out more sunlight.   The Stylus 1 eyecup is also more snug on the EVF and less likely to get accidentally knocked off.

left: Stylus 1; right: E-M5
         b. LCD. The 3-inch LCD is the exact same size and shape as that of the E-M5 and is likewise tiltable (+80 to -50 degrees), with a capacitive touchscreen (more sensitive than a resistive touchscreen but won't work with normal gloves).  It's not a bright OLED LCD like that of the E-M5 but it is still pretty bright (I've haven't had problems using it in the sun) and actually has a higher resolution than that of the E-M5 (1.05 million vs. 610k).  Because the Stylus 1 LCD is identical to that of the E-M5, you can use the same LCD accessories.  For example, I used a screen protector for the E-M5 and it fit the Stylus 1 LCD perfectly.




         As mentioned above, the LCD is touchscreen.  When shooting, you can toggle the touchscreen between off, AF selection only, or Tap-to-Shoot.  In the latter case, it's exactly as it sounds: you tap where you want to focus on, then the camera will focus and immediately shoot once focus is acquired.

         c. Zoom.  As discussed above the zoom can be controlled in three ways: by a lever beside the shutter release, with a side zoom lever beside the lens barrel, and as an optional control for the function ring.  The zoom works pretty much as you would expect, and has a variable speed.  Some things could be better though:
- Every time you turn on the camera, the zoom resets to the shortest focal length (28mm equivalent).  There is no option to return to the previous zoom.
- When you zoom, instead of showing the equivalent focal length, the screen shows the magnification factor.  For example instead of 300mm, it will say 10.6x.  I think Olympus did this to impress novice users.  However, I think most people who would buy this camera probably already have some experience, and this strange way to show focal length is very unhelpful for a more experienced audience.  I really wish Olympus would fix this via firmware.  Meanwhile, my workaround is to remember the equivalent magnifications of the focal lengths that I like to use by dividing them by 28mm:
35mm: 1.3x
50mm: 1.8x
85mm: 3x
135mm: 4.8x
150mm: 5.4x
200mm: 7.1x
- It would also have been nice if it had a step zoom like my LX5 but there is no such option.

Image stabilization
         The Stylus 1's lens has built-in image stabilization and it works very well.  At the equivalent of 300mm and a shutter speed of 1/15, I can get tack sharp images a little more than half the time.  Here is a test shot at 1/15, 300mm.


Here are 100% crops of several handheld shots (not one continuous burst).
#1 - blurred but usable

#2 - tack sharp

#3 - tack sharp

#4 - almost tack sharp

#5 - tack sharp

Exposure and metering
         As discussed above, the Stylus 1 has effectively two command dials - the function ring and the rear command dial, with customizable functions.  I set mine up so that the function ring is for the aperture, and the command dial is for the shutter speed.

         The base ISO is 100 and the maximum shutter speed is 1/2000.  Fortunately there is a built-in 3-stop ND filter (it's fixed at 3 stops, not variable), which would allow an exposure not just for the brightest conditions but also long exposures in moderate daylight conditions.

         The exposure has two modes.  In the first mode, the exposure is not weighted toward the AF point. In this mode, the camera does appear to try to preserve relevant highlights.  In high contrast scenes, the resulting image may seem underexposed, but actually it's because the exposure was chosen to preserve highlights.  Here is an example of a shot as exposed by the camera:




And here is the same shot, after a little dodging and burning.


        In the second mode where the exposure is weighted toward the AF point, the exposure appears to be geared toward producing a reasonable exposure straight-out-of-the-camera.  There is not much of an attempt to preserve relevant highlights although as discussed below, there seems to be an above-average highlight headroom (compared to other point-and-shoot cameras I've tried).

         Here is a sample of a high-contrast scene (in Raw).  In this circumstance, in the previous exposure mode, the Stylus 1 would intentionally underexpose in order to preserve highlights.  In the second exposure mode, the exposure is normal.  The red parts show the lost highlights on the boys' white shirts.


         Fortunately, there is more than the usual amount of detail preserved in highlights.  Here is a crop from the image above, with exposure reduced to show the extent of highlight recovery.  On the shirt sleeve, some details were recovered, although with compromised color accuracy.  On the collar and the top of the shoulder, the highlights were lost.


         For some shots, I don't mind that the Stylus 1 exposes this way, because images from a small sensor camera aren't meant to be pushed as much as those from a large sensor camera.  At least the Stylus 1 lets me choose whether to preserve highlights or to maximize the tonal depth and color bit-depth, and minimize noise.

         Speaking of avoiding blown highlights, I found the histogram to be fairly reliable for indicating where highlights have been lost, at least when shooting in raw.  In this shot, I took a picture of some clouds, exposing to the right (exposing as much as possible without blowing highlights) using the camera's histogram.


         Here is the raw version of the shot, with exposure reduced. As you can see, all highlights were preserved, which means that the histogram did its job of accurately indicating where highlights were blown.


         On the other hand, if I had been using JPEG, then some highlights would have been lost, i.e. the histogram wouldn't have accurately indicated lost highlights.  Here is the JPEG version of the shot, with lost highlights.


         Note that you can adjust the luminance level for indicating blown highlights or blocked shadows (by default they are at 255 and 0, respectively).  So if you shoot JPEG, you can make the histogram a little more conservative.

         Although I like the histogram's accuracy, I sometimes found it a little challenging to use the live histogram to adjust the exposure.  On the plus side, the live histogram is reasonably similar to the histogram of the actual image. On other compacts I've had the so-called live histogram seems to be more of a histogram of the live view rather than the image to be taken.  The histogram on the actual shot usually ends up being quite different from the live histogram, especially when I shoot in raw.  On the Stylus 1, the live histogram is close enough to the histogram of the actual shot.  I can trust it when I want to expose to the right, for example.

         On the down side, the live histogram sometimes disappears.  When adjusting the exposure with the function ring, you can see the histogram reflect the exposure adjustment.  However, when adjusting exposure using the command dial, the live histogram momentarily disappears while you adjust the command dial.  This is one more thing I wish they would fix via firmware (mine is 1.0).

         Instead of the histogram, I find it easier to use the live Highlight and Shadow blinkies.  Blocked shadows appear blue while blown highlights appear red.  The highlight and shadow areas change in realtime as I adjust the exposure.

magic show


Autofocus
         The autofocus on the Stylus 1 is excellent -- easily the best I've ever tried in a compact.  It's easy and quick to control, and it focuses quickly and accurately.

         There are many ways to move the AF point:
         1. You can tap the touchscreen.  (Note: dragging doesn't seem to work.)
         2. You can move the AF point with the D-pad.  To do this you need to first press the left button, then you can use the d-pad to move the AF point.
         3. An option that I found very useful is assigning the AF "Home Point" to Fn1.  Pressing Fn1 will then toggle between the home point and the last AF point location from the d-pad.  If for example you touch the screen on the lower right corner, then press Fn1, it will reset to the Home Point.  Press it again, and it will toggle to the last d-pad AF position.  The cool thing is that the location of the home point can be adjusted.  In my case, I like to compose using the rule of thirds, and I often find myself choosing the upper left or upper right intersection for pictures of people.  I therefore chose as my Home Point the upper right intersection of the rule of thirds.  Then using the d-pad, I move the AF point to the upper left intersection.  Pressing Fn1 allows me to toggle between these two AF points.  If I need to focus on some other location, I tap the touchscreen instead of using the d-pad, and that way I can keep my preferred Fn1 AF point locations.

         With respect to AF accuracy, the Stylus 1 is accurate because it uses contrast detection (so there's no chance of front- or back-focusing) and because it has Olympus' face and eye detection, which allows you to automatically focus on the near eye.  It works pretty well for faces that are facing the camera or in profile, or anywhere in between, as long as the subject's face is occupying a reasonable portion of the frame (roughly the size of the AF point).  Here is a sample shot taken by my wife with spot-on focus even though she does not know photography and didn't choose the AF point:


100% crop (1000 ISO, no noise reduction, no adjustments)
         When the camera can't detect a face, the focus accuracy is still generally pretty good.  If the AF point is on the target, the focus is almost always correct, although occasionally it will focus on the wrong target within the chosen AF point, resulting in missed focus.

         With respect to AF speed, the Stylus 1 is very fast at wide to short tele focal lengths.  It is the fastest AF I've tried in a point and shoot, by a wide margin.  It's not quite as fast as a Nikon DSLR or an E-M5 with an MSC lens but it's almost that fast.  To give you in idea, I ran an informal test.  I set up two targets indoors: one at 2 feet, another at 6 feet.  I then measured the time it took to autofocus 30 times, alternating between the targets.  I tried this with an RX1, an E-M5 with Panasonic 20 1.7 (not an MSC lens and one of the slower lenses for the E-M5), and the Stylus 1.

         Sony RX1*: ~38 seconds.
         Olympus E-M5 with 20 1.7: ~25 seconds
         Olympus Stylus 1: ~17 seconds.

It's not a very reliable test, but it should give you a rough idea of how fast the Stylus 1's AF is.  *Note: the RX1 speed varies.  Under certain circumstances, its AF can be fast.  On this test, the RX1's AF was not as fast as it could have been but was representative of its usual AF performance for my usage.

4/22/14: added a video showing the AF speed


         The AF speed is fast enough that I can actually capture shots of my daughter on a swing:


The focal plane is on the red swing rather than on my daughter's face but the shot is still quite usable.  Anyway, just to show that the shot wasn't a fluke here are a couple more shots of the same scene:




         Although the Stylus 1's AF is very fast, its speed is affected by a couple of factors.  First, the contrast: on objects with very good contrast, it's nearly instantaneous, whereas for objects with less contrast it is just a tad slower, though still very fast.  Another factor that affects the AF speed is the focal length (or more specifically, the combination of focal length and change in focus distance).  At around 150mm equivalent, changing focus between objects at similar distances remains very fast, but it starts to take noticeably longer to change focus between objects at farther distances.  A fourth factor is the amount of ambient light.  With less light, the Stylus 1 focuses slightly slower, but again it's still fast.  I also haven't had any problems being able to focus in very low light, even without the AF assist lamp.  (By contrast the XZ-2 sometimes hunts a bit in low light.  This was improved with the firmware update though some users say there is still some hunting.)

         In the swing shots above, the odds were tipped in favor of the Stylus 1 because of the strong contrast, and the bright conditions.  I also shortened the change in focus distance by focusing on the likely focus area (this is not the same as prefocusing on an area because I didn't lock the AF).

         The camera has four autofocus modes: single servo (S-AF), super macro, continuous (C-AF), and continuous with tracking (C-AF Tracking).  Like most pure contrast detection cameras, the continuous AF is not very fast and the camera keeps drifting in and out of focus.  Because of this, I tend to use single servo AF, and I have to be mindful of the gap between the focus lock and shutter release. Rather than using a half-press, I press the shutter all the way.

         Super Macro mode is like S-AF but it focuses at distances less than 10cm (up to 5cm).  The zoom is also locked at 28mm.

         C-AF on most point-and-shoot cameras is almost useless but in the case of the Stylus 1, it is actually usable in some circumstances.  It will still drift in and out of focus like other CD cameras but it can actually get some of the shots in focus.  Here is a series of shots I took at a soccer game.


As you can see, some of the shots are out of focus, but the camera is able to re-focus, twice in fact.

in focus

out of focus

in focus

out of focus

in focus


Manual focus
         Manual focus works well because of the focus ring and magnification assist.  It is pretty easy to adjust the focus with precision.  FWIW, there is a distance scale on the side of the screen as you adjust the focus.  The scale initially shows from 1 ft. to infinity.  If you focus closer, the scale changes from 0.4 inch to 12 inches.  (Note: it can switch from English to metric.)

         However, the manual focus implementation isn't perfect because the focus resets to around 7 feet whenever the camera is turned on.  By contrast, on the E-M5, there is an option to specify whether the focal distance resets whenever the camera is turned on.  It would have been nice for the Stylus 1 to recall the distance instead for zone focusing, but at least the distance of 7 feet is close to the hyperfocal distance for the 28mm equivalent.  At 7 ft. and f/2.8, the depth of field is approximately from 3.23 feet to infinity.  By comparison, the hyperfocal distance is about 6 feet, where the depth of field is from 3 feet to infinity.

Continuous shooting
         When using S-AF, continuous shooting is pretty fast at 7fps.  When using C-AF, the speed drops noticeably.  I estimate around 3 or 4 fps.
         When the buffer is full from a continuous burst, the camera will stop shooting.  However, if you pause for a second or two to allow the buffer to clear a bit, you can resume shooting.
         Another limitation of continuous shooting is that it can take a few seconds to review images after a burst.  I was using a Sandisk Extreme rated at 45mbps but it would still take a few seconds to display images from a continuous burst.




Playback
         Playback is smooth and responsive, with no delay (unless I just shot a burst as mentioned above).
         Instant 100% zoom on playback (sort of):  One feature that I appreciate is that you can zoom instantly on the AF point in order to confirm focus.  During playback, you can press the Fn2 button.  It will show you a box around the part to be zoomed.  By default, the box is around the AF point but you can also press the OK button to switch the box between faces (very useful for confirming focus).
         Once you've decided where to zoom in, pressing Fn2 again zooms into that box.  You can then use the cursor or touchscreen to move around or change the zoom level.  The zoom level is the last one chosen, so if you zoom it to 5x (which I think is 100%), you can use this as instant 100% zoom.  Pressing Fn2 again clears the zoom arrows and pressing the d-pad or swiping the touchscreen moves to the same part of the next image (useful when comparing the sharpness of two or more similar shots in a series).  Pressing Fn2 again brings you back to the non-zoomed mode.
   


Battery life
         Battery life is excellent.  Fiddling a lot with the menus (for testing purposes), I still ended up with over 600 shots.  I was surprised because the LCD size is just the same as that of the EM5, and the EM5's battery life is much shorter.  Note that the battery meter has 3 levels, and they do not seem to be equal.  For about half of its life, the battery meter shows that it is full.  For the next 1/3 or so of its life, it will show a battery life of 2 out of 3.  For the last 1/6th of its life, the battery life will show 1 out of 3.


ADDED:
More sample photos and videos in this Stylus 1 Photoessay

COMING UP
That's the end of this installment of this review.  In the next part I will discuss the image quality in terms of both the lens and the sensor.  I will also discuss its special features such as Wi-Fi.

Part 2 is here (it's a work in progress):
http://betterfamilyphotos.blogspot.com/2014/07/olympus-stylus-1-review-part-2-long.html




ABOUT THE AUTHOR


I'm an amateur photographer, and I've been shooting since 2007.  I started this blog in 2009 to help me learn photography and to help other photographers.  Most often, I take photos of people and events, though occasionally, I shoot other subjects such as products, architecture and landscapes.  Most of my shots are candid, though I do setup shots from time to time.  I have had a few photos published since 2010. I have had several DSLRs and several lenses, as listed below (* means currently owned).  My Flickr album is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13451101@N05/ .

*Fuji S5 Pro
Nikon D70
Nikon D80
Nikon D90
Nikon D7000
Nikon D7100
Nikon D300
Nikon D300S
*Nikon D600
Nikon D3
*Olympus E-M5
Pentax K100D
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Nikon-mount lenses:
Nikkor 24-70 2.8
Nikkor 28-70 2.8
*Nikkor 28-105 3.5-4.5
Nikkor 50-135 3.5 AIS
Nikkor 70-200 VR I

*Nikkor 85 1.8G
Sigma 10-20 f/3.5
Sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6
Sigma 35 1.4
Sigma 50 1.4
*Sigma 50-150 HSM II
Tamron 17-50 VC
Tamron 18-250
Tamron 28-75

Tamron 28-75 non-BIM
*Tamron 70-300 VC
Tokina 10-17 Fisheye
*Tokina 11-16 2.8

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Pentax lenses:
Pentax 50 1.4
Tamron 18-250
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MFT lenses:
Rokinon 7.5 fisheye
Olympus 17 1.8
*Olympus 25 1.8
*Olympus 45 1.8
Panasonic 20 1.7
----
Fixed lenses:
*Fuji F31fd
*Fuji W3
Nikon P300
*Olympus Stylus 1
*Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Sony RX1