Hands-On Review: Olympus Stylus 1S Compact Digital Camera
The original Olympus Stylus was a wildly popular broad-spectrum point-and-shoot film camera that became a cult classic among enthusiasts who wanted a high-performance 35mm compact that would fit in their pockets. Now that we’re deep into the digital era, Olympus has brought forth the Olympus Stylus 1s, a gorgeously retro-styled 12MP camera that resembles an ultra-compact Olympus OM-D or a downsized DSLR. However, in lieu of interchangeable lenses, the 1s sports a fast 10.7X, 28-300mm equivalent zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture—just the thing for optimal shooting flexibility in low light and for achieving shallow depth of field, beautiful bokeh, and the creamy soft-focus backgrounds much admired by creative photographers. It’s a classy, high-performance all-in-one digital compact aimed at serious shooters, but does it deliver the goods?
The Stylus 1s incorporates a host of sophisticated features clearly appealing to knowledgeable shooters who embrace photography as a means of personal expression. It can capture images in RAW, as well as a variety of JPEG formats, has a hi-res 3.0-inch 1.04m-dot Tilt Touchscreen LCD that tilts down to 50° and up to 80° for convenient high- and low-angle composition (and enables focus-point selection and shutter firing by touch), and it provides a textured Hybrid Control Ring around the lens and a secondary Slide Zoom Lever that facilitate complete control with the camera held at eye level. The excellent electronic viewfinder (EVF) presents a bright, clear, high-resolution 1.44m-dot, 100%-coverage image at high magnification, has a conveniently placed -4 to +2 diopter eyesight adjuster to the left of the eyepiece, and incorporates an Eye Sensor that automatically transfers the viewing image from the LCD to the eyepiece when you lift the camera to your eye.
Perhaps the most important feature, in terms of the camera’s overall performance, is the image processor, an advanced Olympus TruePic VI. This enables the camera to be very responsive, with fast, decisive AF, to deliver very short shutter-lag times, a 7 fps full-res burst rate for up to 25 exposures, and provide Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps. Since the 1s employs a 12MP 1/1.7" BSI CMOS Sensor that measures 7.6 x 5.7mm and has a crop factor of 4.7x, the TruePic VI image processor also performs the vital function of enhancing image quality, which is especially important at high ISO settings with a relatively small-sensor camera.
Smallish Sensors at High ISO Settings
While larger than the 1/2.33" sensors found in typical point-and-shoots, the 1/1.7" sensor in the 1s is quite a bit smaller than the Micro Four Thirds (2x crop factor) sensors used in Olympus OM-D and Pen models. Indeed, this has enabled Olympus to design the camera around a super-compact, high-performance, 12-element, 10-group 28-300mm-equivalent f/2.8 zoom lens incorporating 9 aspheric elements, which focuses from less than 4" to infinity at the wide setting, 31.5" to infinity at the telephoto setting, and to just under 2" in Super-Macro mode, which is accessible via the AF mode selector. The key question for enthusiasts: How does this sensor/image processor combo perform at elevated ISO settings?
To find out, we shot a series of exposures of a high-contrast subject, with fine edge detail, in open shade at sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 100-6400. The results were frankly better than I would have expected. Up to ISO 800, the 1s acquitted itself remarkably well. At ISO 100 and 400, image quality was outstanding in terms of definition, color saturation, and the virtual absence of noise. At ISO 800, the image was still very clean with virtually no “digital grain” or artifacts noticeable, even when viewed at high magnification. At ISO 1600, the results were very good with only moderate roughness noticeable in some areas of the image at 14X magnification. The “digital grain” effect was only slightly more apparent at ISO 3200, and we would judge images shot at that setting to be perfectly useable for most purposes, except perhaps very large enlargements or viewing on giant screens. At ISO 6400 there was certainly noticeable “grain” and mottling, especially in shadow areas of the image, though edge detail and color saturation were still quite good.
Conclusion: Even critical users should be more than satisfied with the image-quality performance of the 1s up to ISO 1600, and the ISO 3200 and 6400 settings are definitely useable for non-critical work. Just for fun, we shot a few frames at the camera’s top ISO setting of 12800. As expected, the results were pretty grainy and blotchy, but the overall pattern was relatively uniform and the color accuracy was decent, if a bit muted. You might try the ISO 12800 setting in an emergency or if you’re aiming for a pointillist effect.
Handling and Controls
One of the nicest things about the Stylus 1s is the way it fits and balances in your hands. It’s quite light (14.2 oz) and compact (4.6 x 3.4 x 2.2" with the lens collapsed) but it feels quite substantial and its ergonomic contours provide a secure grip, aided by the leather-like textured material on its well-shaped built-in mini-grip. Press the on-off button just behind the smooth-operating, low-effort shutter release, and the ingenious 4-section built-in lens cap opens and the lens extends about 1" to operating position. This may well be the best-designed built-in lens cap ever—it works flawlessly, and completely avoids the frustrations of lost lens caps, and caps in place at the wrong moment. Everybody who examined the camera during the field test marveled at this brilliantly simple and effective design.
There are a few other useful, well-thought-out controls on the 1s that make it easier to get precisely the settings you want without taking the camera from your eye. The Sub-Dial atop the camera, to the left of the shutter release, lets you change any setting displayed in yellow on the LCD or EVF. For example, in P and other auto-exposure modes, it controls the exposure-compensation setting; in M mode it lets you set the exposure manually, according to the camera’s metering system and meter pattern in use. Press the Fn2 button on the front of the camera repeatedly and you can scroll through a number of functions, including exposure compensation, metering pattern, AF mode—including Single and Continuous AF and Macro, ISO, Face Priority, ND filter off/on, Color Balance and Art Filters, White Balance, Shooting mode (single, burst, bracketing, and self-timer), aspect ratio, file type and size (RAW, JPEG, Raw + Large JPEG, etc.) Movie Mode (Full HD, HD, etc.), and Flash Mode.
Simply select the setting you want, turn the Sub-Dial to highlight your choice and press the OK button. For example, since there’s no dedicated ISO control on the camera, I simply selected ISO mode with the Fn2 button and then scrolled to the ISO I wanted. To change the ISO setting I just pressed the Fn2 button and turned the Sub-Dial to select the new ISO—the ISO scale remains in memory even if you turn the camera off, as long as you don't press the Fn2 button more than once, which changes the function displayed.
An even more convenient way to access a wide range of often-used camera controls is via the OK button. Press the OK button in any mode and the full range of functions listed above is displayed along the right side of the LCD and EVF. Turn the Sub-Dial or toggle up and down using the 4-way switch around the OK button to select the setting you want, and press OK to enable your setting. Obviously, you can access the complete range of camera settings by pressing the MENU button, including setup, Picture Mode (muted, natural, vivid, Monotone, Pop Art, etc) bracketing, interval settings, firmware, and the complete Custom menu. The INFO button lets you toggle between full data settings, no data on the screen, and data settings plus histogram. And when you display a captured image and press the INFO button the full EXIF data, generic and 3 color histograms, and a thumbnail of the image are displayed at once—nice! To shoot movies, just press the dedicated red video button to the right of the shutter release and video capture will start immediately, and press it again to stop video capture. As you can see from the video clips posted here, video performance at Full HD 1080p is impressive though the maximum framing rate of 30 fps does impose some modest limitations for certain types of subjects, such as high-speed sports.
The Olympus Stylus 1s also provides a host of additional features that are to be expected in any competitive modern high-end digital camera. These include built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, the Olympus OI.Share App that lets you view, fully control, and fire the camera via a smart phone or similar device, QVGA slow-motion video capture, adjustable screen brightness, color saturation, tone, and rapid viewing of captured images via the touch screen, wireless flash control, a standard (single contact) hot-shoe mount, automatic scene selection mode, a 2X digital zoom setting that extends its effective zoom range, and an efficient built-in image stabilization (IS) system that’s essential when shooting in low light at long telephoto settings.
To sum it up, the Olympus Stylus 1s is a delightful camera with an elegant form factor that’s a lot of fun to shoot with and definitely capable of delivering outstanding performance in its class. It’s a great walk-around complement to a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable-lens system camera, and an excellent choice for vacationers and travelers. However, its price places it smack in the middle of a mighty competitive environment, and there are larger-sensor interchangeable lens cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and Sony Alpha a6000 that offer enticing alternatives for serious enthusiasts. The bottom line: If you’re looking for a high-performance all-in-one compact with a fast f/2.8 wide-angle-to-telephoto zoom, the Stylus 1s is hard to beat.