Hands-on: Olympus Stylus 1 review

Well, well, well, if it isn't a mini Olympus OM-D. Only it's not. The Olympus Stylus 1 is like a head-on collision between the compact system camera and the Japanese company's high-end XZ-2 compact camera. With a 28-300mm f/2.8 lens thrown in the mix for good measure.

Olympus is keen to push its Stylus brand - and the Stylus 1 is the result. No, it's not a writing implement, nor a turntable needle. It's a rather lovely compact that takes on the more zoom-laden space in the market - but not quite to superzoom standards - thanks to that 10.7x optical zoom lens. The real sell is the constant f/2.8 maximum aperture.

First impressions are that it's an upmarket compact with a decent viewfinder on board. Olympus hasn't gone down Panasonic's Lumix GM1 route as the Stylus 1 has a fixed lens; and it's avoided treading the path of the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 because the Stylus 1 opts for a smaller 1/1.7-inch sensor with 12-megapixel resolution.

READ: Hands-on: Panasonic Lumix GM1 review

Some of you may gasp, "but that's nothing special". In a world where larger sensor sizes are more typical in a wider variety of cameras, Olympus has opted for balance of overall size to performance. If anything it's a clever angle because there isn't another model that fills this space - yes there's the Sony RX10 as we've mentioned, but it's a lot, lot larger; and a superzoom such as the Fujifilm X-S1 might have a bigger lens and sensor combination, but it's also a physically far bigger option.

Olympus wants to call the Stylus 1 "pocketable". In some respects it is... if you have huge pockets. It measures 116mm x 87mm x 56.5mm. But still, we like the concept.

We like the way the camera handles in use too. There's been no scrimping when it comes to the feature set: the Stylus 1's electronic viewfinder (EVF) is the same 1.44m-dot version you'll find in the OM-D E-M5, hence the obvious comparison. It's really impressive too. We were using it in a dim candle-lit corner of a London establishment and it was smooth and largely lag-free. In context, we can't think of many, if any, other compacts that can offer up such a feature. It's comfortable to the eye, has an automatic sensor to activate the EVF, or you can manually switch between rear screen and EVF if you prefer.

READ: Olympus OM-D E-M5 review

The rear screen is similarly OM-D too. It's mounted on a tilt-angle bracket for 90-degrees downward and roughly 45-degrees upwards facing for waist-level or overhead work. The 3-inch panel looks resolute to the eyes thanks to its 1,040k-dot resolution. It's also a touchscreen which makes light work of tapping to focus and/or take a shot - although this can be turned off if you find it unwontedly shifts the focus point position from time to time, which is something we found.

But what makes the Stylus 1 individual is its build quality and layout. As the low-spec compact market continues to fall off a cliff - according to various official figures - there's more scope for high-end product, and the manufacturers know it.

On the top there's a full mode dial with all the usual array of manual controls, as well as some automated options. Further along is a robust-built thumbwheel, that carries with it the quality and style that the OM-D series has.

To the front there's a rotational lens ring that, and just like the XZ-2, can be used as a click-motion ring - ideal for aperture adjustment - or, via the flick of a switch surrounding the Function 2 (Fn2) button, is silky smooth for manual focus adjustment, zooming or other settings that you may choose to assign. Very cool.

READ: Olympus XZ-2 review

That lens is something not to overlook either. A bright f/2.8 aperture throughout its 28-300mm equivalent zoom is great to have, and as the sensor isn't too large we found that close-up focusing was little bother too. We took some quality shallow depth of field sample shots from the pre-production model.

There’s optical image stabilisation on board too, which we found to be very effective indeed. Even though Olympus has put all kinds of effort into making the OM-D sensor among the best stabilised we’ve seen, it’s chosen a totally different path with the Stylus 1 by opting for optical stabilisation. Makes sense to us due to the 300mm focal length equivalent benefitting from real-time stabilisation in preview.

There are other quirks too. The rear info button loads up a virtual level, but Olympus has gone for a full-on three dimensional display. The full pitch and yaw - whether horizontal or vertical you can line up precisely, which will be of use for tripod work for some.

There’s also Wi-Fi on board - a staple in modern day compact cameras - a mix of "art modes" and the usual deep Olympus menu system layout. Full off-camera flash compatibility is also possible.

And how much for this wedge of camera fun? Thee predicted retail price is £550 when it goes on sale at the end of November. So what will it be - Stylus 1, Lumix GM1 or Cyber-shot RX10? Choices, choices.

READ: Hands-on: Sony Cyber-shot RX10 review

But pre-production this is, and there's a chance that some of the cosmetics will change a tiny bit. We can't imagine a giant overhaul, by any means, but Olympus has asked us to ping you over to the official image - in our news story, here - so you can take a look at what it'll really look like. Checked? Yup, it looks identical to the pre-production one on this page, doesn't it?



>