Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Olympus Stylus 7010 Review

Olympus Stylus 7010 Review

Consumers have always loved tiny cameras and Olympus has long been the industry leader when it comes to producing mini-cams. Their "Pen" series half-frame cameras were small before small was cool, and the first Stylus was a tiny clamshell style 35mm point and shoot. It was only a matter of time before somebody produced a tiny digital camera with a very long lens - a mini-megazoom digicam. The Olympus Stylus 7010 is both ultra compact and super thin - a genuine shirt pocket digicam that features a zoom that starts at the equivalent of 28mm and goes all the way to the equivalent of 196mm. That's a lot of juice for a camera that's only marginally larger than an MP3 player.

So how does the Stylus 7010 measure up as one of the first of a new breed of mini-megazoom digicams? Photography has always been about compromises and the Olympus Stylus 7010 is a perfect example. The secret to creating a tiny imaging tool that provides maximum reach is to manufacture a product that doesn't require compromises that are too onerous. The 7010 is currently the smallest digital camera available with a 7x optical zoom - the 7010 also features 12 megapixel resolution, dual image stabilization, an intelligent Auto mode, in-camera panorama stitching, and a nifty Shadow Adjustment tool.

That's a lot of bells and whistles, but there really is no free lunch. What will those who buy the 7010 have to give up? Right off the bat the 7010 does not provide an optical viewfinder and the zoom is a bit slower than comparable zooms on larger cameras. Keep reading to find out how the benefits and drawbacks of the ultra-slim 7010 weigh out.


The Olympus Stylus 7010 is a very conventionally designed lozenge-shaped digicam that looks remarkably similar to just about every other ultra-compact digital camera out there. The 7010 is a tiny (3.8x2.2x1.0 inch) auto exposure only digital camera that weighs a bit less than four and a half ounces. The body seems to be relatively robust with metal alloy sheathing over a polycarbonate shell. The Stylus 7010 is available in three colors - Silver, Dark Gray, or Pink.

The 7010's major claim to fame is its 7x zoom that starts at the equivalent of 28mm - most digital cameras this size provide only 3x to 5x zooms and start at around the equivalent of 35mm. That's pretty impressive specifications for a camera that is only an inch thick.

Ergonomics and Controls
The Olympus Stylus 7010's user interface is uncomplicated and reasonably straightforward. The camera is fairly stable in the hand for such a small unit, but it lacks any sort of handgrip. The 7010's 2.7 inch slightly protuberant LCD screen takes up about four fifths of the camera's back deck.

The 7010's control layout is fairly typical and quite similar to most recent consumer digicams. Dedicated controls are minimal and while all are logically placed and come easily to hand (for right-handed shooters) they are all rather small. The 7010's controls (except the on/off button and the shutter button) are crowded into a small strip along the extreme right side of the camera. The zoom rocker switch and mode dial occupy the exact area where your thumb would naturally rest near the top right corner of the camera's rear deck.

The compass pad (four-way controller) and FUNC button provide direct access to exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, image size options, metering options, flash settings, macro mode, and the self-timer. The compass pad is very close to the display/delete rocker switch below it. This makes deleting images difficult because it is very easy to hit the menu/review rocker switch above the compass pad instead of the north/top (for yes) position on the compass pad. Kudos to Olympus for placing the exposure compensation button at the North (top) position on the compass pad - making minor exposure adjustments (incrementally lightening or darkening images) easy.

Using the camera is really simple - all exposure options are minor variations on the auto mode theme. The 7010 was clearly designed to be usable by just about anyone. Most folks will have no problem using the camera right out of the box.

Menus and Modes
The Stylus 7010 features Olympus' new cartoon-icon menu system. A camera icon appears in the middle of the screen when the menu button is pressed and then the compass pad is used to move a set of brackets through the different menu options available (image quality, magic filters, reset, panorama, scene mode, silent mode, and set-up mode) - to select the menu desired the user presses the OK/FUNC button. The FUNC button provides direct access to the most commonly changed/adjusted functions like White Balance, ISO, drive mode, metering, image size and quality settings.

Here's a listing of the Stylus 7010's shooting modes:

* Auto: (usually called Program mode) - Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, etc.)
* iAuto: (usually called Auto mode) The camera makes all exposure decisions - just point the camera at the subject and press the shutter button
* SCN: The camera optimizes all exposure parameters for the specific scene type selected - Portraits, Landscape, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle-light, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach & Snow, Pre-Capture Movie, and Pet
* Beauty: Like Portrait Scene Mode but with a smoother and softer look
* Movie: VGA video (640x480) at 15 fps or 30 fps

Like most recent point and shoots, the Stylus 7010 doesn't provide an optical viewfinder so the "HyperCrystal II" 2.7 inch LCD must manage all framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. The 7010's LCD is relatively sharp (230,000 pixels), bright, hue accurate, relatively fluid, and the info display provides all the data the camera's target audience is likely to need. The display gains "up" (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting.

The LCDs on compact digital cameras are TTL (through the lens) and function as very accurate framing tools, but for shooting in bright outdoor locales I generally prefer an optical viewfinder. The 7010's LCD sticks out a bit from the back deck, making it slightly easier to smudge or scratch the surface, but it doesn't seem to be as subject to glare as some of its competition. The user-enabled LCD grid-line display is a nice (and useful) touch as well.

The Olympus Stylus 7010 comes in about average, in terms of overall performance. It isn't the slowest camera in its class, but it's not the fastest either. Experienced photographers shouldn't have much trouble capturing the decisive moment with kids/pets/events, but rapidly unfolding action/sports may pose a challenge.

Shooting Performance
The 7010 starts up pretty quickly (just a bit over a second), but shutter lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused) is a bit slower than average at 0.03 seconds. AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus) is also a bit slower than average at 0.45 seconds. Continuous shooting is slower than most of the Stylus 7010's competition at 1.7 fps - the 7010 dumps the buffer after only 2 exposures. Shot to shot times are noticeably slower than most of the 7010's competition - averaging about 3.0 - 3.5 seconds between shots.

The Stylus 7010's iESP TTL Contrast Detection AF system utilizes a single (center) AF bracket that glows green when focus is locked and red when the camera is unable to lock focus. AF is pretty quick, very accurate, and features AF tracking and face detection for up to 16 subjects. The 7010's AF system works nicely in decent (outdoor) lighting, but it often has difficulty locking focus in dimmer (indoor) lighting - focusing is also noticeably slower in poor light.

The 7010's built-in multi mode flash provides a barely acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including Off, On (fill flash), Auto (fires when needed), and Red-eye Reduction. Olympus claims the maximum flash range is about 9 feet at ISO 800. The flash needs between 4.0 and 5.0 seconds to re-cycle (with a fully charged battery) after a full-power discharge.

The Stylus 7010 is powered by an Olympus LI42B 3.7v - 740mAh lithium-ion battery. Olympus claims the battery is good for 300 exposures. It's almost impossible for me to keep track of exposures because I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot so I can't quibble with Olympus' numbers - but I do believe they're a bit optimistic. The battery in my test unit may have been new and lithium-ion rechargeables are supposed to need a few charge cycles to attain maximum output levels, but I never got anything close to 300 shots.

Unlike most of its competition, the Stylus 7010 provides not only the expected ESP evaluative light metering mode, but an unexpected (and welcome) Spot metering mode as well. The Olympus Stylus 7010 can use either xD-Picture Cards or microSD memory media.

Lens Performance
When the Stylus 7010 is powered up the zoom extends automatically and when the camera is powered down the zoom is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in iris style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Very thin cameras sometimes utilize internal focus periscope style zooms that fold the light path (via mirrors/prisms) in order to save space, but periscope zooms produce images that are consistently softer than traditional optical zooms. The 7010 features a relatively sharp and super compact traditional f/3.0-5.9, 5-35mm optical zoom that goes all the way from 28mm (equivalent) moderate wide-angle to 196mm (equivalent) medium telephoto - that's a lot of zoom for a camera that is only about an inch thick.

Zooming (10 steps) is fairly smooth and operation is very quiet. The 7010's zoom is surprisingly good, but it does display noticeable corner softness and some minor vignetting (dark corners). Barrel distortion (at the wide-angle end of the zoom range) is minimal, which is impressive since barrel distortion is a common fault with tiny highly complex (especially prevalent with longer or wider) digicam zooms. Pincushion distortion is essentially invisible at the telephoto end of the zoom.

The 7010's Dual Image Stabilization system provides both mechanical sensor shift IS and digital IS. With digital IS the camera boosts sensitivity/ISO and increases shutter speed to counter camera shake and to compensate for minor subject movement.

Video Quality
The Olympus Stylus 7010's fairly standard 30 fps VGA (640x480) AVI Motion JPEG movie mode with monaural sound can't compete with a dedicated video camera, but it is OK for generating e-mail video attachments for friends and family. Video duration is limited only by card capacity.

Image Quality
Unlike most of its competition, the 7010's colors are pretty close to neutral which is actually a god thing, but contrast is a little flat and there's no way to boost either color saturation or to adjust contrast. Olympus did include a selection (pop art, pin hole, sketch, and fish-eye) of "Magic Filters" just for fun, though.

Outdoors, in good light, the Stylus 7010 (like most of its competition) does a very nice job - image quality is dependably very good and exposures are consistently accurate although there is a very slight tendency toward overexposure and highlights are sometimes burned out.

The 7010's Auto White Balance setting did a pretty good job outdoors, but it struggled to get hue right indoors and in dim/low lighting.

Indoor image quality is decent, but as sensitivity automatically rises to overcome lower levels of ambient lighting, noise rises exponentially and color accuracy suffers a bit.

Noise levels are quite reasonable up to ISO 200, but distortion levels rise as sensitivity rises. At ISO 400 and higher, noise is noticeably above average.

The Olympus Stylus 7010 provides a similar balance of dependably good pictures requiring little user input and dead simple ease of use that distinguishes many of today's more popular consumer digicams, but it's smaller, lighter, thinner, has a longer zoom (that starts at the equivalent of 28mm), and it's also cheaper than many of them.

Performance-wise, the Stylus 7010 ends up near the middle of the 12 megapixel ultra-compact digicams pack and like most of its contemporaries, it is probably not a good choice for those who like to shoot indoors or in low/dim light. The 7010 is true shirt pocket digital camera and it should appeal to casual photographers looking for a nifty little gadget to complement their iPhone and iPod, along with hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers, and space weight conscious travelers looking for a P&S digicam that packs lots of photographic potential into a small super-thin package with a long lens.


* Long zoom
* Super thin ultra-compact body


* No optical viewfinder
* No manual control over exposure
* Noisy images