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.
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.
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).
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.
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.