Olympus Stylus 1

The winners of the Olympus & Exhibtr.com student photography competition

In October last year Olympus and Exhibitr.com launched a competition for students, looking for the best images representative of 'People and Portraits'. After 2,000 entries and a great deal of deliberation by the four judges—professional photographers R.Cleveland Aaron and Jay McLaughlin, Jon Bentley of Channel 5’s Gadget Show, and Jack Harries of the extremely popular JacksGap website and YouTube channel—one winner and two runners up have been selected. Winning an Olympus Stylus 1 each for their images in the runners-up slots are Elliott Gunn, studying at the University of Gloucestershire, and Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi of Portsmouth University.

Speaking of Elliott's image, Jessa, R.Cleveland Aaron said: 'Elliott Gunn’s slightly abstract image gives the impression it was painted by brush as opposed to light. The perfect balance between creativity and technique is what makes this image a winner.'

Alecsandra's image, Freckled Boy, elicited the following comments: 'Alecsandra Raluca demonstrates great technical ability here in this image of a young boy. The clarity, the use of light and aperture control brings the boys features to the fore front of the image and our minds.'

And the winner? Water is Life, by Jasper Wilkins of the University for the Creative Arts, which topped the list because of its '... clever and powerful use of light in his composition communicates, with great eloquence, the title of this image. The viewer's attentions are kept solely on what’s important, the children and the water they crave. This image epitomises the power of photography,' according to Cleveland. Jasper has won an Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Water is Life, by Jasper Wilkins
Water is Life, by Jasper Wilkins

Olympus' Stylus 1 feels like a curate's egg of a camera

The best way that I can describe Olympus' new Stylus 1 premium compact camera is as a curate's egg: it's good in parts. Some elements of it really appeal and some leave me indifferent at best. For a camera that Olympus had hoped would shake up the top end of the compact camera market it feels rather lack-lustre. Channeling the OM-D series of cameras, but scaled down in size

For a start, the zoom range is impressive. At the equivalent of 28 to 300mm, it beats its Nikon, Canon, and Fujifilm rivals into a cocked hat. None of those (the Nikon P330, Canon S120, Fujifilm XQ1) goes beyond 120mm. And the Stylus 1 has a constant ƒ/2.8 aperture across the range; there's no dropping down to ƒ/5.6 as you zoom in on your subject. But this is where some trade-off comes in. The others have bright ƒ/1.8 apertures at their lenses' widest angles, which narrow as the focal length increases. What would you prefer?

I'm not convinced by that 'hump' in my pocket

The standard resolution for this type of camera is 12 megapixels and Olympus hasn't deviated from that. Is there any need to? There's wi-fi, which you'd expect; a customisable lens ring and to button to put your most-used functions where you want them; it has a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 12,800; and everything is powered by a TruePic VI processor.

Aesthetically, the Stylus 1 is channeling the OM-D E-M series, a look that is driven home by the inclusion of an EVF that comes with a 'hump'. This is a strange addition for something that is designed to slip into a pocket; it measures 116 by 87 by 56.5mm, but would you want something lumpy sitting against your thigh? There appears to have a disconnect between the camera's technical intentions and its ergonomics. It's not a design that's blowing back my hair and I'd be inclined to pass it over in favour of the Fujifilm XQ1.

All the controls you'd expect from a top-end compact

The biggest disappointment, though, is the 1/1.7" sensor. Fujifilm squashed a 2/3" sensor into the XQ1 and Sony has managed a full-frame sensor in a compact body. We know that it can be done and this is where Olympus really could have broken away from Canon and Nikon, but it hasn't. And at £550 (or $700), it feels very unsatisfactory.

There are things to like about the Stylus 1, but for me, there isn't enough. Olympus, you could have done better.