Body & Design
The Stylus 1 goes out of its way to look as much like the E-M5 as it possibly can, sporting most of the same design cues including the SLR-style central prism to house the electronic viewfinder and pop-up flash. But it also has more than the little of the XZ-2 thrown in for good measure, including that camera's excellent dual mode (clicked/click-less) lens control ring and its associated mode switch and Fn button. The overall result is a good-looking camera with a comprehensive and well-thought-out set of external controls.
Some corners have had to be cut relative to the OM-D in terms of construction, though; the Stylus 1's body is plastic rather than metal. But it doesn't look or feel cheap - construction feels solid enough, with no flexing for creaking. The various buttons and dials are metal, and operate with satisfyingly-positive clicks.
In your hand
The Stylus 1 uses exactly the same electronic viewfinder as the E-M5. Its 800 x 600 px (1.44M dot) resolution can't quite compete with the latest 2.36M dot finders at the top of the market, but its still very good indeed. It offers both diopter adjustment (-4 to +2, set using the dial lower left) and an eye sensor for automatic switchover with the rear screen. It also uses Olympus's 'Adaptive Brightness Technology' (as seen on the top-of-the-range E-M1) that matches the display to the ambient light levels for more comfortable viewing.
One point worth noting is that the Stylus 1 doesn't have an AP2 accessory port. The doesn't have too much practical impact - you're unlikely to want to use a plug-in EVF, and the company's PENPal Bluetooth module for connection to a smartphone is rendered obsolete by the camera's built-in Wi-Fi. But it does mean there's no option to use the SEMA-1 microphone port accessory, so only the camera's built-in microphones can be used for movie recording.
Tilting capacitive touchscreen
The Stylus 1 uses a similar screen to the E-P5: a 3.0", 1.04M dot LCD that tilts 80° upwards for waist-level shooting, and 50° downwards for overhead shots. This is useful for both stills and video work, but like all tilt-only screens, it adds nothing when shooting stills in portrait format.
The display is touch-sensitive, and can be used for for specifying a focus point or releasing the shutter while you're shooting. It can also be used to control a limited number of camera functions, and swipe through images in playback. Overall though it's a supplement to the physical controls - at no point are you forced to use it if you don't want to.
28-300mm equivalent F2.8 lens
The Stylus 1 sports a pretty impressive lens for its size - a 28-300mm equivalent, F2.8 optic that incorporates optical image stabilization (actuated by voice coil motors). This puts it truly in the 'superzoom' category, but of course with a larger-than-usual 1/1.7" sensor, which means it should deliver higher image quality compared to most other compacts with similar zoom ranges. It offers pretty useful minimum shooting distances - ranging from 10cm at wide-angle to 80cm at the tele end. It also has a 'super macro' mode that focuses just 5cm from the front of the lens, although it's fixed to the wide-angle position.
It's worth noting that the lens has no filter thread of its own, but incorporates a built-in switchable 3 stop neutral density filter for shooting in bright light. There's also a thread inside the lens barrel surround that's normally used for the lens cap, but will also accept the company's CLA-13 adapter tube to allow the addition of the optional TCON-17X converter lens, giving the camera a 510mm equivalent reach.
For those interested in how this should lens compare in pictorial terms (such as depth of field and background blur) to superzooms on other formats, it'll behave much like a 28-300mm F13 for full frame, 18-200mm F9 for APS-C, and 14-150mm F6.7 for Micro Four Thirds. So that F2.8 aperture isn't going to deliver hugely-blurred backgrounds, but it will help keep ISOs relatively low as light levels drops.
Compared to Sony's recent Cyber-shot DSC-RX10, the Stylus 1's lens is less-wide but longer (28-300mm equivalent rather than 24-200mm). But the latter will be offset to some extent by the RX10's higher pixel count: crop its 20MP output down to 12MP to match the Stylus 1, and you'll get a 260mm equivalent shot. The Sony's larger 1"-type sensor also gives it a substantial theoretical advantage in terms of overall image quality (almost two stops), along with a commensurate increase in its ability to deliver blurred backgrounds (F7.6 equivalent). But the RX10 is also a much larger and much more expensive camera.
|28mm equivalent, F2.8||300mm equivalent, F2.8|
Zoom Framing Assist
One useful feature offered by the Stylus 1 (similar to one we first remember encountering on a Canon SX-series camera), it 'Zoom Framing Assist.' It's a simple feature that can be assigned to the Fn1 or REC button. When the chosen button is held, it zooms the lens back to widen the angle-of-view - making it easier to find the thing you're trying to focus on. When at the wider setting, it draws a box representing the framing of the original focal length. Releasing the button zooms back in to that focal length.
|Zoom framing assist allows you to temporarily jump back from a zoomed-in setting...||...giving a wider field of view with the previous framing marked. Releasing the button zooms back in.|
It's not often that we write about lens caps, but the Stylus 1's is a little different. It screws into a thread on the camera's lens barrel, and has four sprung flaps that protect the lens when it's retracted. Turn the camera on and the lens pushes through the flaps. Olympus made a similar cap for the XZ-1/XZ-2, but only as a $20/£25 accessory; here it's included in the box.
|Four flaps protect the lens when it's retracted...||...and spring open when the camera is turned on. With the flash up the camera looks less like an old OM SLR.|
Pretty new electronic level. Same old live view interface.
The Stylus 1 has a lovely new electronic levels display, that's much more three-dimensional in appearance than the basic bars running alongside the image edges that Olympus has used to date. It even changes mode when the camera is pointed directly up or down. It's actually rather mesmerizing to watch, and could keep us entertained for an entire rainy afternoon. (OK, this may be an exaggeration.)
|This is Olympus's new virtual horizon display, shown with the camera leveled (and overlaid on a black display for clarity). Start tilting it and the central line turns into a disc that gives a really good visual indication of how far the camera is off level.|
|If you tilt the camera downwards, it will shift to this vertical view, that allows you to ensure the camera's sensor is parallel to the ground (ideal for eliminating perspective error when shooting documents).|
That's the good news. The bad news is that Olympus still hasn't sorted out its live view interface such that you can see all the information you might want to, all at the same time. Instead you have to cycle through separate screens to see the virtual horizon, the live histogram, or the really useful shadow/highlight clipping warnings (overlaid on the live view display in blue and red). It's not beyond Olympus's competitors to have one single display for everything, and the lack of this makes the Stylus less pleasant to shoot than it should be.