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Olympus Stylus 1 review: Excellent enthusiast compact for zoom lovers

The Stylus 1 packs a high-end 10.7x f2.8 zoom lens, a larger sensor, and other features hobbyists desire, in a compact body.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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7 min read

Compact cameras with fast lenses and large sensors are plentiful these days, but few of them zoom much beyond the 100mm mark. On top of that, when they are zoomed in, the lenses can get significantly slower.

Olympus Stylus 1
8.0

Olympus Stylus 1

The Good

The <b>Olympus Stylus 1</b> has an excellent 10.7x f2.8 zoom lens, fine photo quality, and excellent shooting performance. Its touch screen and electronic viewfinder are very nice, and its features and controls give it a dSLR feel.

The Bad

For its $700 price tag, pixel peepers might be disappointed with its photo quality above ISO 400. Better suited for photos than movies, and there's no external mic jack.

The Bottom Line

For those who crave an enthusiast compact with more zoom range, the Olympus Stylus 1 should be high on your list for its excellent balance of performance, design, and features.

That's not the case with the new Olympus Stylus 1. The camera takes the TruePic VI image processor and 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor of Olympus' Stylus XZ-2 iHS and mates them with a 10.7x f2.8 28-300mm lens.

Now, compared with the 50x zoom lenses on cameras like the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, or even the 24x f2.8 lens on Panasonic's Lumix FZ200, that 10.7x might not seem like much. Likewise, compared with the 1-inch BSI CMOS sensor on Sony's RX10, the Stylus 1's sensor is tiny.

However, the Olympus has a larger sensor than the FZ200 as well as those with much longer zooms. Also, while not exactly pocketable, the Stylus 1 is smaller than those other megazoom models. And, if you want more telephoto reach, Olympus has the $40.99 CLA-13 converter adapter and $199.99 TCON-17x 1.7x teleconverter lens. Combined they extend the focal length of the camera to 510mm (not far from the FZ200's 600mm telephoto) while retaining the brightness of the constant f2.8 aperture.

The Sony RX10 has an f2.8 24-200mm lens. That's not as long as the Olympus and, because of the larger sensor, the RX10 is much larger, and at $1,299 the Sony is $600 more than the Stylus 1. Basically, the Stylus 1 seems to be a nice compromise in terms of sensor size, zoom range and lens quality, and overall size and price.

Olympus Stylus 1 enthusiast compact for zoom lovers (pictures)

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Image quality
The Olympus Stylus 1's image quality is just a step beyond that of a small-sensor point-and-shoot. Between ISO 100 and ISO 400, fine detail is very good and noise/artifacts aren't much of an issue; they're only really noticeable if you're pixel peeping.

At ISO 800 you'll see an increase in softness and noise kicks up a notch. Still, its 1/1.7-inch sensor and sane 12-megapixel resolution allows for better low-light performance than you'll find on a comparable camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor. Moving up to ISO 1600 results in soft, smeary fine details and muddier colors. There still good enough for use at small sizes with little or no enlarging and cropping. Plus, while Olympus' JPEG processing is good, if you want to exchange some graininess for better fine detail, shoot in raw or raw plus JPEG and process them yourself (Adobe Camera Raw 8.2 supports the Stylus 1).

Olympus Stylus 1 sample pictures

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I would stay away from ISO 3200 unless you really have to use it. With the constant f2.8 aperture and excellent image stabilization, though, you won't have to rely on high ISOs as much as you would with a typical compact long-zoom camera. (You can read more about image quality and download full-resolution photos in the slideshow above.)

The Stylus 1's video quality and features are good, but this camera is definitely better for photos. The 1080p video quality is fine for personal use when you'll care more about capturing the moment than what the results look like blown up on large HDTV. The lens will zoom while recording, but the movement is fairly loud and easily gets picked up by the stereo mics. Audio quality is otherwise fine, which is good since there is no mic input.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
The Stylus 1 is impressively fast. It takes 1.3 seconds to start up and shoot. Shutter lag in bright conditions is about 0.2 second and is 0.5 second in low light. And shot-to-shot times averaged 0.4 second when shooting JPEG or raw.

Olympus rates the camera's continuous shooting speed at 7 frames per second at full resolution, however in our lab tests it hit 8fps for both JPEG and raw capture. Unfortunately that's with focus and exposure set with the first shot and there is no option for using continuous shooting with AE/AF. Along with straight burst shooting, you can set the camera for fast exposure, white balance, flash, ISO, and Art Filters.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
Finding an easily pocketable camera with a 10x zoom or longer isn't tough these days, but the Stylus 1 isn't one of them. You might be able to put it in a large coat pocket, but it's far from slim. That said, it's certainly smaller and lighter than Sony's RX10 or Panasonic's FZ200, which are basically the size of small dSLRs. What's nice, though, is that despite the smaller size, Olympus gives you a very dSLR-like shooting experience.

The look, feel, and controls are great. Around the lens barrel is a digital/analog control ring. A lever on the front lets you quickly switch modes: digital mode for fine zooming or manual focusing, or analog mode to adjust settings such as aperture, shutter speed, and more. There's also a variable speed zoom lever on the lens barrel and a button for the pop-up flash. A thumb dial on top makes for easy changes as do its two programmable function buttons, one on back and one on front.

Olympus Stylus 1 Sony Cyber-shot RX10
Price (MSRP) $699.99 $1,299.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.5x3.4x2.2 5.1x3.5x4.1
Weight (with battery and media) 14.2 ounces 28.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS 20 megapixels, 1-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch tilting touch LCD, 1,040K dots/Electronic, 1.44M dots 3-inch tilting LCD, 1,229K dots/Electronic, 1.44M dots
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10.7x, f2.8, 28-300mm (35mm equivalent) 8.3x, f2.8 24-200mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG, raw (.ORF)/H.264 AAC (.MOV) JPEG, raw (.ORF)/AVCHD (.MTS)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 3,968x2,976 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 30fps (progressive, 20Mbps) 5,472x3,648 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 60fps (progressive, 28Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical Optical
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 410 shots Lithium ion rechargeable, 420 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied Yes
Storage media SDXC SDXC/Memory Stick PRO Duo
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes/No (geotagging availabe via mobile app) Yes/No

While the lens is really the star of this camera, you get several other great features like the bright high-resolution tilting 3-inch touch-screen LCD, an excellent built-in electronic viewfinder (the same EVF found on the Olympus OM-D E-M5), and a hot shoe for adding an external flash. The camera also has built-in Wi-Fi.

Olympus' Image Share app for iOS and Android makes good use of the Wi-Fi, too. Instead of using NFC like cameras from Sony and Panasonic, it uses a QR code for fast setup with your mobile device. Just use the OI.Share app to scan the code that pops up on the camera's screen and you're pretty much done. With the app you can view and transfer images to your device, use it geotag photos, and you get a nice set of remote control capabilities. It also has an edit module for applying filters, scribbles, signatures, and more to photos.

Using the Wi-Fi will shorten your battery life, but for pure photography it's rated for up to 410 shots on a single charge. The battery and SD card slot are under a locking door on the bottom of the camera, which is very close to the tripod mount. If you like to use a quick-release plate or tripod regularly, plan on removing it when you need to charge or swap memory cards. (You can take a closer look at the design and features in this slideshow.)

General shooting options Olympus Stylus 1
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800 (1/3EV step)
White balance Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom, One-touch
Recording modes Auto, Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter speed-priority, Manual, Art Filter, Scene, Photo Story, Custom 1 and 2
Focus modes Face/iESP Auto, AF Target (from 9 to 35 points), Spot AF, AF Tracking, Manual
Macro 4 inches (Wide), 2.6 feet (Tele); 2 inches in Super Macro
Metering modes ESP, center, spot, targeted
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 70 shots

The Stylus 1 has a substantial list of shooting options, so whether you're an automatic shooter looking to learn more or a seasoned photographer who likes a lot of control, you're pretty well covered here. Again, the control layout is such that once you have it set up the way you like it, getting to the settings you use the most is no problem.

Along with full shutter speed (Bulb, 60 seconds to 1/2,000 second) and aperture control (f2.8 to f8), you get six color mode options and 11 of Olympus' Art Filters; raw image capture; a built-in 3EV-equivalent ND filter for those times when you have too much light, but want to use the f2.8 aperture; and full-HD movie recording with stereo sound (.MOV) and high-speed movie recording (120fps/240fps) for slow-motion movies.

This camera does a lot and if the few things I've mentioned here have piqued your interest, I strongly suggest going through its full feature list on Olympus' site and downloading the camera manual.

Conclusion
The Olympus Stylus 1 offers enthusiasts looking for more zoom an excellent balance of performance, design, and features. A larger sensor requires a larger lens, especially if you want to have a 10x zoom with a constant f2.8 aperture. With the Stylus 1, there is some compromise to get a smaller body and longer lens than Sony's RX10, but you still get a larger sensor than you'll find in a mainstream point-and-shoot and a whole host of other niceties to make it worth its $700 price.

Olympus Stylus 1
8.0

Olympus Stylus 1

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
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