Support me by shopping at B&H!
Olympus STYLUS 1 Gordon Laing, February 2014
 
 

Olympus STYLUS 1 verdict

With the STYLUS 1, Olympus has delivered an upmarket bridge camera that swaps the maximum possible zoom range for better image quality and a classier handling experience. The slightly larger sensor delivers genuine noise advantages over the 1/2.3in sensors deployed in most super-zoom cameras, the 28-300mm lens, while not the longest range around, covers most situations, and by inheriting the large detailed viewfinder, tilting touch-screen and control ethos of the OMD EM5, complemented by a clickable or smooth lens ring, it feels more like using a mirrorless or DSLR camera than a typical bridge model. The Wifi also works very well, allowing you to remote control the camera along with wirelessly transferring images.

The STYLUS 1 is also very compact, and when testing it alongside rivals like Panasonic's Lumix FZ200 and Sony's RX10, I kept being surprised how much smaller it was. Unlike those two models, you really can squeeze the STYLUS 1 into a smaller coat pocket, and comparatively speaking it virtually disappears inside a bag. I was also very fond of the petal lens cap, the first time I've seen an automatic lens cover on a camera of its class, and it really does let you start shooting or pack away faster than those with removeable lens caps.

On the downside, the lens is a little soft at the edges at its wider focal lengths, the movie mode, while functional, is basic, and there's no interval timer, HDR or in-camera panorama modes. Of greater concern it sits between two rival models, both with constant f2.8 apertures throughout their ranges: Panasonic's Lumix FZ200 boasts double the maximum zoom and a cheaper price, albeit with a simpler feature-set and smaller sensor, while Sony's RX10 has a comfortably bigger sensor, weatherproof body and more advanced features, but a much higher price tag. When weighing-up these cameras it's critical to fully understand what it is you expect and desire from a bridge camera, so before my final verdict, here's how the features compare between them.

   
 


Olympus STYLUS 1 vs Panasonic Lumix FZ200

     
 
 
     
     

The Lumix FZ200 is Panasonic's flagship super-zoom camera and the model Olympus is most targeting with the STYLUS 1. Both models share DSLR styling, lenses with constant f2.8 focal ratios, electronic viewfinders, 3in screens, hotshoes, 12 Megapixel sensors and plenty of manual control, but their feature-set and capabilities are quite different.

In its favour, the FZ200 sports a broader optical range, with a 24x zoom equivalent to 25-600mm - this starts slightly wider than the Olympus STYLUS 1 and ends with a telephoto reach that's twice as close. Indeed the FZ200, while out-gunned by variable aperture models like the Canon SX50 HS and Panasonic's own FZ70 / FZ72, features the longest range of all the constant f2.8 aperture super-zooms.

The FZ200's screen is also fully-articulated, so can twist and flip to any angle including back on itself for protection, whereas the STYLUS 1 screen can only vertically tilt. The FZ200 additionally sports a microphone jack, albeit with a 2.5mm socket that will almost certainly need an adapter for most third party microphones.

In its favour the STYLUS 1 boasts a slightly larger sensor, a 1/1.7in type versus a 1/2.3in type. The viewfinder may share a similar resolution, but on the STYLUS 1 the image is much larger, whereas it's quite tiny on the FZ200. The body is around the same height, but 1cm narrower from the front and most importantly half the thickness and two thirds the weight, making it much more pocketable. The screen is also higher resolution and touch-sensitive, and the STYLUS 1 also features built-in Wifi with smartphone remote control. In my tests the noise levels were a little lower on the STYLUS1, although I did find the FZ200's lens was sharper at the edges throughout the range.

So the STYLUS 1 is comfortably smaller and lighter, sports a slightly bigger sensor and Wifi, but the FZ200 counters that with double the telephoto reach not to mention slightly wider coverage at the other end of the scale. As an older model, the FZ200 is also cheaper, costing around two thirds the price of the STYLUS 1 depending on your region. Certainly if the longer range, fully articulated screen and lower price are key factors for you, the FZ200 will be a better bet.

See my Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review for more details.

 

Olympus STYLUS 1 vs Sony RX10

     
 
 
     
     

The Sony RX10 was announced shortly before the STYLUS 1 and like the Olympus it aims higher than the average bridge or super-zoom camera. Both again sport constant f2.8 focal ratios, electronic viewfinders, DSLR styling and vertically-tilting screens, but there's a number of important differences.

In its favour the RX10 has a bigger and higher resolution sensor, a 20 Megapixel 1in type versus a 12 Megapixel 1/1.7in type on the Olympus. While the STYLUS 1 sensor is a little larger than the 1.2.3in sensor in the Lumix FZ200, it's still about 2.7 times smaller in surface area than the RX10 and it sows at higher sensitivities.

While the STYLUS 1 has a great viewfinder, the RX10's is even better with a larger view. The lens starts out wider too at 24mm vs 28mm. While the STYLUS 1 body feels robust, the RX10 goes one step further with weather-proofing and there's also more to hold onto if that's your preference. The movie capabilities are also more sophisticated with a headphone jack, zebra patterns, clean HDMI output, full manual control over every aspect of exposure, choice of frame rates, and the chance to connect XLR microphones via an optional accessory. The RX10's Wifi is also complemented by NFC for easier setup with compatible handsets. The RX10's lens is also sharper across the frame at all focal lengths, whereas the Olympus frequently became soft at the edges in my tests.

In its favour the STYLUS 1 has a longer telephoto reach: 300mm vs 200mm, although if you crop the RX10 to the same 12 Megapixel resolution it actually comes quite close to delivering the same field of view. The Olympus also sports a touch-screen, allowing you to tap to reposition the AF area, much easier than delving into Sony's UI. The Wifi implementation is much better on the STYLUS 1, with full remote control over exposures and most shooting settings, along with the chance to tag images with a GPS log made by your handset. Physically the STYLUS 1 may not be weather-proof, but it is much smaller and lighter: 13mm narrower, 15mm shorter and almost half the thickness, not to mention half the weight too. This makes a massive difference in portability, as the RX10 really demands a bag whereas the STYLUS 1 can just about be squeezed into a coat pocket. It sounds like a minor point, but I also found the STYLUS 1's built-in lens cover made it faster to power-up, take a shot and power down again, compared to dealing with a separate lens cap on the RX10 and FZ200. The STYLUS 1 is also much cheaper, indeed depending on region it could cost almost half the price of the RX10.

Ultimately the STYLUS 1 offers a step up from most bridge cameras in quality, handling and control and cleverly gives you it in a surprisingly small and light package. It's a highly compelling option in this market, but the RX10, with its tougher build, bigger sensor and more sophisticated video capabilities, will better satisfy demanding photo and videographers who are willing to spend extra.

See my Sony RX10 review for more details.

 

Olympus STYLUS 1 final verdict

The Olympus STYLUS 1 is a very satisfying bridge camera that's confidently positioned between models like Panasonic's FZ200 and Sony's RX10. The zoom may not be as long as the FZ200 and the price higher too, but in use the STYLUS 1 delivers a far more satisfying experience and slightly better quality too, at least in terms of noise levels. Meanwhile Sony's RX10 may out-class it in build, image quality and features, especially when it comes to movies, but the Sony is a much more expensive camera - almost double the price - and many of its advantages are overkill for someone who simply wants an upmarket bridge camera.

When shooting with all three cameras side-by-side, I kept being drawn back to the STYLUS 1's controls, design and size. Olympus nailed the style and ergonomics with its OMD EM5 and rightly sees no reason to fix what ain't broke. So the STYLUS 1 inherits a lot of what made the EM5 great from its large and detailed EVF to its highly customizable controls. Olympus then squeezed in a very respectable 28-300mm equivalent zoom with a constant f2.8 aperture and equipped it with a customisable control ring which can be switched from clickable to smooth operation.

The only way to accommodate a lens of this range in such a small body is a compact sensor. So the STYLUS 1 can't compete with the Sony RX10 or its Micro Four Thirds siblings in terms of noise, but it still offers a small step-up from models with 1/2.3in sensors like the FZ200. If you mostly shoot below 400 ISO (or 800 at a push) then you should be satisfied by the STYLUS 1's output, but if you're after clean results above 1600 ISO you'll need to go for a camera with a bigger sensor.

If you're really into video, then you'll find the STYLUS 1's movie capabilities a bit basic, and if you're intending to use it for professional use, then the Sony RX10 will be a much more suitable choice. I should also mention the STYLUS 1's lens was a little soft in the edges at wider focal lengths, although viewed in isolation I was generally happy with the overall quality - check out my sample images for a bunch of real-life examples.

Ultimately the STYLUS 1 is about delivering a bridge camera that would satisfy those who normally shoot with - or aspire to - an interchangeable lens model, like Olympus' own OMD EM5 / EM10. It may not match the image quality of these larger sensor models, but it does feature a built-in 28-300mm equivalent zoom that covers most situations, and crucially enjoys a similar handling experience in terms of composition, ergonomics and controls.

When I first heard about the STYLUS 1, I felt its thunder had been stolen by the more powerful Sony RX10. It was like Sony and Olympus both started with the same idea of developing an upmarket bridge camera, but Sony took it much further. I'm not going to kid you either, the Sony RX10 is a better camera. It delivers better quality images, far superior video capabilities, a bigger viewfinder, tougher weatherproof body, and while the zoom range is shorter, the higher resolution allows you to crop and essentially match the result of the STYLUS 1. So the RX10 is a better camera, but duh, it's also twice the price. It should be better. The only reason I'm comparing them here is they're both upmarket bridge cameras with constant f2.8 lenses.

The key behind the STYLUS 1 is it delivers most or even all of what many people want from an upmarket bridge camera without the frills or specialist video capabilities of the RX10. I feel Olympus has got the balance spot-on with the STYLUS 1, and again I was particularly drawn to its compact size and built-in lens cap. This is a camera I'd be happy to take almost anywhere, and indeed did during my extended test period. As such it makes a great all-round choice for those who want a step-up from lesser bridge cameras, or indeed as a companion for an interchangeable lens camera. While cameras can be partly evaluated by their feature-sets and results, a lot also boils down to how they feel in your hands and whether they encourage you to shoot. It's a very personal thing, but I always enjoyed my time shooting with the STYLUS 1 and looked forward to using it again and again. As such I can award it my Highly Recommended rating, but please do compare the feature sets of these three cameras very carefully, as one may end up more suitable for your requirements.



Good points
Very compact body with great controls.
Built-in 28-300mm f2.8 equivalent zoom.
Lower noise than models with 1/2.3in sensors.
Large and detailed electronic viewfinder.
Tilting touchscreen display.
Built-in Wifi with great smartphone control.

Bad points
Optics are a little soft at edges at wider focal lengths.
Basic movie capabilities.
No in-camera HDR or panorama modes.
No focus peaking.
No interval timer.
Lens out-gunned by Lumix FZ200.
Quality, build & movies better on Sony RX10.



Scores

(relative to 2014 bridge cameras)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20

83%
 

If you found this review useful, please support me by shopping below!
 
 
Living Landscapes eBook
By Todd and Sarah Sisson
Price: $29.99 USD (PDF download)
More details!

Todd and Sarah Sisson are two of my favourite landscape photographers and in this superb ebook, they'll reveal the secrets behind their wonderful photos. Over 130 pages, it combines tutorials, field guides and technical advice, using the beautiful scenery of New Zealand as a backdrop. An informative and attractive ebook that's highly recommended for anyone wanting to improve their landscape photography! Well worth the price.
     
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

/ How we test / Best Cameras / Advertising / Camera reviews / Supporting Camera Labs