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Olympus Stylus 1200

12 megapixel in a stylish package
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

The Summer 2007 lineup of new Olympus consumer digital cameras contains not one but two 12-megapixel models. That is a full 4,000 x 3,000 pixels, certainly more than enough to crop and zoom to your heart's content. It also brings up a number of questions, like should you even consider anything with fewer megapixel? Digital cameras become obsolete very quickly, so getting a 12-megapixel model instead of one with just seven or eight will buy you some time. Of course, megapixel isn't everything, and Olympus always carefully places features so that there is something for everyone, and customers will not just zero in on one model.

Any way we look at it, an inexpensive 12-megapixel camera is desirable because it offers so much resolution. In the olden days when you had just two or three megapixel to play with, proper framing and proper use of the optical zoom was very important because you just could not afford to waste any pixels. This just isn't much of an issue anymore if you have 12 million pixels to play with, as long as your picture is sharp, of course. For Olympus fans, the big question really becomes which of the two new Olympus 12mp models to pick. The FE-300 costs US$299.99 list whereas the Stylus 1200 is US$50 more. In this description of the Stylus 1200 we'll therefore concentrate on showing the similarities and differences between the two.

The Stylus 1200 versus the FE-300

Olympus has been separating its general purpose consumer cameras into an "Easy & Fun" line and a "Design & Performance" line. The designations are self-explanatory. One line is supposed to be as simple and friendly as it gets, the other is more stylish and a but higher up in the features and performance arena. Problem is that there really isn't that much of a difference.

As is, the FE-300 is a 12-megapixel camera, measuring 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.87, weighing 4.1 ounces, with a 2.5-inch hi-res LCD, 48MB of onboard memory, 17 shooting modes, a 3X optical zoom 35-105 mm equivalent lens, 4X digital zoom, face detection, and full 30 fps VGA movie mode.

The Stylus 1200 is a 12-megapixel camera, measuring 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.91, weighing 4.4 ounces, with a 2.7-inch hi-res LCD, onboard memory unknown, 23 shooting modes, a 3X optical zoom 35-105 mm equivalent lens, 5X digital zoom, face detection, and full 30 fps VGA movie mode.

Both are available in black or silver, and as you can see, the specs are very similar. The Stylus has a slightly larger display, a slightly larger digital zoom, and a few more scene modes. The Stylus adds beach & snow, shoot & select, sport, and some landscape/portrait combo modes. The Stylus is also an all-weather camera whereas the FE models are more sensitive to environmentally caused damage.

One thing we don't like about the new FE series cameras is that you can't use both sound and optical zoom when shooting movies. It is not clear if the Stylus cameras have the same limitation. From a purely subjective point of view, we prefer the separate shutter/zoom controls of the Stylus. In the FE, the zoom control ring is around the shutter, which means you can only operate one or the other.

Nice features

With this comparison between the two new Olympus 12-megapixel cameras out of the way, let's see what you get with the Stylus 1200 in addition to its great resolution:

Like several new Olympus models, the Stylus 1200 has a face detection mode. This means that the camera is able to find a face or even multiple faces in a picture and make sure that they are in focus and properly exposed. That even works when people are moving (though not quite as well).

As alluded to above, all Stylus cameras, the 1200 offers "weatherproof engineering," i.e. a degree of protection via a light-weight metal body with rubber gaskets throughout the interior when it is used in the rain, at the beach, while skiing or in other situation where the camera is likely to get wet or exposed. And Olympus certainly knows a thing or two about weatherproofing; its waterproof Stylus 770 can withstand 33 feet of water pressure and more.

Digital image stabilization uses higher sensitivity and higher shutter speed to reduce or eliminate blurriness in pictures. However, even though this is the top-of-the-line Stylus, it does not come with mechanical sensor-shift stabilization to work in conjunction with the digital measures.

The TruePic III Image Processor, developed for digital SLRs, delivers more vibrant colors, smoother edges, less nose and higher overall speed.

The Stylus 1200 has new in-camera panoramic photo shooting feature that captures three images and stitches them together into one panoramic picture. You just press the shutter and slowly pan across a panoramic scene. The second and third images will be automatically captured and stitched together with the first image. You can, of course, do that in imaging software such as the included Olympus Master 2 that stitches up to 10 pictures together.

The camera itself

The Stylus 1200 is handy and easy to use right out of the box. Digital camera controls are largely standardized these days, and so it's easy to find your way around without even looking at the manual. The question of whether it's better to have mode wheels or onscreen menus to put the camera into its various shooting modes seems ongoing, though. Each approach has its advantages. If you're shooting in bright daylight, even very good LCD screens can wash out or reflect so much that you just can't see a thing. That's when on-screen-only menus can let you down. Mode wheels, on the other hand, offer no problems in sunlight but get difficult to decipher when there are loaded too many tiny icons. For now Olympus seems to favor a hybrid approach. There is a mode wheel for the common functions, and then one that then brings up a variety of additional on-screen scene modes.

The Stylus 1200's mode wheel provides access to five shooting modes and two playback modes. The shooting modes are automatic, image stabilization, guide, movie, and scene. The playback modes are simple playback or a star icon that brings up pics that you previously stored as favorites. This is a workable arrangement, but we prefer a red-labeled button for recording and a green one for playback, which is what the Olympus FE series cameras have. Anyway, the scene mode is extensive with a full 23 modes in addition to auto. They are portrait, landscape, landscape + portrait, night, night + portrait, sport, indoor, candle, self portrait, available light portrait, sunset, firework, cuisine, behind glass, documents, auction, shoot + select 1 and 2, smile shot, and beach & snow. Regrettably, the Stylus 1200 does not have any underwater modes.

The "smile" mode comes in handy when you deal with grouchy people. When the camera detects a fleeting smile in shooting standby mode, it quickly takes three frames in high-speed sequential shooting automatically (or you can do it manually). While this mode is selected, the self-timer blinks. People's smiles vary, of course, and the camera will not always be able to detect it.

Shoot & Select lets you take sequential pictures by holding down the shutter. The pics then show up as sort of a filmstrip and you can select which you want to keep and which you want to discard.

"Guide" sort of guides you through various scenarios and sets the camera properly. This mode also lets you preview a scene through a multi-frame window that shows how the picture looks with four different settings. You then pick what suits you best.

Olympus also built some other tricks into the Stylus. For example, you can turn "shadow adjustment" on or off. This comes in handy when you shoot a subject in front of a bright background. Turning shadow adjustment on will both brighten the subject and adjust the background.

The Stylus 1200 also has a Perfect Shot Preview mode that lets you preview and select various photographic effects on a live, multi-window screen before actually taking the shot.

The Stylus 1200, like other Olympus cameras, has both a macro and a super-macro mode. That can be a bit cumbersome. The macro mode goes from eight inches to infinity whereas super-macro goes from 1.2 inches to a bit over two feet. Still, it's nice to be able to get that close.

Movie and audio

The Stylus 1200 has a 640 x 480 movie mode with sound, and it shoots at 30 frames per second for lifelike video. Sound is not a strong side of this camera. There is no voice recording mode, and sound clips attached to still images are limited to just four seconds.

Memory and Storage

The Stylus 1200 has some built-in storage, but our materials did not say how much. Most likely it is not more than the 48MB of the Stylus 820, and that won't last very long if you shoot in full 12-megapixel mode. As far as removable storage goes, the Stylus 1200 uses the xD-Picture card format, which we just can't quite warm up to because the cards are harder to find and generally costs more than more common formats like SD Card.

Bottom line

The ultra-compact Stylus 1200 breaks a new barrier for Olympus as the first Stylus camera with 12-megapixels. That gives you a lot of resolution to work with. It is also an attractive, easy-to-use point & shoot camera with a large 2.7-inch hi-res LCD, some nice features and plenty of scene modes. Unlike the other two new Stylus cameras, the 820 and the 820, the 1200 only has a standard 3X optical zoom, so resolution is what this camera is all about. It also has strong competition from Olympus's own FE-300 that also offers 12-megapixel at a somewhat lower price.

We like:

  • 12 megapixel resolution
  • Bright hi-res 2.7-inch LCD with backlight boost
  • 640 x 480 movies at a full 30 fps
  • Advanced face detection mode
  • Weatherproof body
  • Digital image stabilization
  • PreSet Shooting Mode lets you select best setting
Not so much:
  • No voice recording mode
  • Only 3X optical zoom
  • xD-Picture card harder to find and more expensive
  • No underwater modes

Specifications Olympus Stylus 820
Status Added 08/2007
Camera Type Ultra-compact
Body All metal
Size 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.96
Weight (oz.) 4.4 w/o battery
Effective Pixels 8.0 mp
CCD Type 1/2.35 with primary color filter
Max pixel size 3264 x 2448
File formats Still: JPG Movie: AVI Motion JPEG Sound: Wave
Compression SHQ, HQ, SQ1, SQ2
Movie recording (best) til full @ 30fps
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 with sound
Voice recording No voice recording; 4-second clips with still images
Speed unknown
Image stabilization Digital
Lens 8 Lenses in 6 Groups, 4 Aspherical Lenses
Focal length 6.4 - 32.0 mm (36 - 180 m equivalent)
Zoom (optical/digital) 5X/5.6X
Aperture f/3.3 - f/5.0
Focus modes iESP Auto, Spot AF, Face Detection AF, Full-Time AF
Focus macro/normal 1.2 inches, 2.3 feet
Shutter speed 1/2000 to 1/2 sec (up to 4 seconds in Night mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/50/100/200/400/800/ 1600/3200
Autofocus system CCD Contrast Detection
Metering Digital ESP Metering, Spot Metering, Face Detection AE
White-balance modes iESP2 Auto, Presets (Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and 3 Fluorescents)
Shooting modes auto/23 modes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.7" LCD (230k)
LCD type 5-step brightness adjustment
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 13 feet
Flash modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in, Off
Camera internal memory 47MB
Storage Medium xD-Picture Card
I/O USB 2.0/AV multi-terminal
Battery type Li-Ion LI-42B (3.7V/740mAH)
CIPA Battery life unknown
List Price US$249.99


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