First look: Olympus launches versatile, retro-inspired Stylus 1 high-end compact

Mirroring the styling of its gorgeous retro-looking OM-D EM-1, Olympus has a new premium compact camera designed to deliver DSLR-like operation in a smaller package. The Stylus 1 ($700) uses a 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor and TruePic VI image processor. It’s a large sensor, but not the largest you can get in a compact. The Stylus 1 shares the same imaging components as the XZ-2 (the processor is also found in the high-end OM-D E-M5), but it one-ups that camera with an electronic viewfinder borrowed from the E-M5 (EVF is a first for an Olympus premium compact), built-in Wi-Fi, and a i.Zuiko lens with a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the full focal length.

The image-stabilized lens is the highlight feature. Whether you’re doing macro or telephoto photography, the f/2.8 aperture allows for the blurred background effect and low-light performance. The lens has a new cap that that opens and closes when the lens detracts, without the need to remove it. A teleconverter adapter is available for a bit more zoom. Autofocusing is speedy, and it uses the Fast Touch AF system found in the PEN-series of Micro Four Thirds cameras.

The viewfinder has a 1.44-million-dot resolution with a 100-percent field-of-view and 1.15x magnification rate – very DSLR-like. It complements the 3-inch, 1.04-million-dot tilting LCD. The camera switches between the two fairly quickly when you bring your eye to the EVF, without much lag. There’s also shooting info available through the EVF, so you can make adjustments without leaving it.

Wi-Fi is built in for not only image transferring and upload to a computer or smart device, but you can also control the camera remotely through the Olympus Image Share app. From a smartphone or tablet you can set shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and Live Bulb long-exposure shooting. Olympus has a super easy Wi-Fi setup where you simply scan the QR code that pops up on the camera’s LCD. For moviemaking, the Stylus 1 shoots 1080p videos up to 120 or 240 frames per second for slo-mo effect. If you’re stepping up from a basic camera, there are automatic features at hand.

Other features include two zoom toggles – one on the lens and the other by the shutter button. There’s a control ring around the lens that lets you adjust settings or, when in manual mode, use it to focus. When it’s focusing, the ring turns smoothly like a DSLR lens. When used for settings adjustments, it clicks to let you know it’s moving through the settings.

We tried out the camera last week at the Photo Plus Expo in New York City. Despite the DSLR-like shape, the camera is actually compact – we wouldn’t call it pocketable but you can easily stow it into a bag. It has a very solid construction and rangefinder-like feel when held. You could call it a baby E-M1, but it lacks the pro-like features of that more advanced camera. We don’t know if pros would ever gravitate toward something like this (they and prosumers might prefer something like the Sony Cyber-shot RX10), but there is definitely a customer out there. We’ve heard from many people who want a more powerful shooter with a viewfinder, but not a DSLR, and the Stylus 1 fits that bill. The autofocusing system is very quick at grabbing onto things, even with all the weird lighting conditions of the convention center – something we noticed right away. We think the Stylus 1 would make a fantastic travel camera. 

Look for this camera to hit shelves in December.