DCRP Review: Olympus Stylus 400 Digital
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 10, 2003
Last Updated: June 10, 2003

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The Olympus Stylus 400 ($499) is part of a new line of digital cameras, based on Olympus' legendary line of compact film cameras. The Stylus digital line consists of the 3.2 Megapixel Stylus 300 (see our review) and the 4 Megapixel Stylus 400 that I'll be covering here. Both Stylus models are point-and-shoot cameras in a small and weatherproof metal body.

The Stylus 400 is the only compact, weatherproof camera out there, so there's no real competition. How does the Stylus do against other compact 4MP cameras? Find out now!

Oh, and since the Stylus 400 is so similar to the 300, the text in both reviews will be very similar.

What's in the Box?

The Olympus Stylus 400 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 effective Mpixel Stylus 400 camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • LI-10B rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • RM-2 remote control
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • Basic manual (printed), fold-out Quick Start guide, plus full manual on CD-ROM

Inside the box, you'll find a 16MB xD Picture Card. This is barely enough to get started with, so you'll definitely want to buy a larger card right away. xD cards are available in capacities as large as 512MB at the time this was written.

The Stylus models are a rare breed of Olympus camera: they use a proprietary battery. The batteries used is the same LI-10B Li-ion battery as the C-50Z. I'm not a huge fan of such batteries (they are $70 a pop), but they are unavoidable with cameras this small. The LI-10B has 4.0 Watt/hours of power. Olympus does not publish how long the batteries will last. The Stylus didn't seem worse than the other compact cameras I've tested in terms of battery life.

When it's time to recharge, just pop the battery in the included charger, and plug it into the wall. This isn't one of those chargers with a built-in plug, by the way. Charging the LI-10B takes about two hours.

Look at this -- a new Olympus remote control! The RM-2 model doesn't do much, as you can see by its one button. You can only use it for taking pictures.

A built-in lens cover is part of the design of the Stylus 400. The cover also doubles as the power switch. To enter playback mode, you can hit the button on the back of the camera, instead of opening the lens cover.

There aren't too many accessories available for the Stylus cameras. The most interesting one is the PT-016 underwater case ($149), which lets you take your camera up to 130 feet underwater. Other accessories include a soft case ($30) and AC adapter ($40). There are no add-on lenses or flashes available.

Like all of Olympus' recent models, the Stylus is compatible with Windows XP and Mac OS X. In most cases, you won't even need to install drivers.

The Stylus 400 includes Olympus' Camedia Master 4.1 software. If you've used older versions (pre 4.0) of this software, you'll be pleasantly surprised with the changes in this one.

The editing tools included with Camedia Master are impressive. You can change all kinds of things like brightness, contrast, and color balance. There are also red-eye reduction and "instant fix" options.

The software is much more responsive than the previous versions. My only complaint is that the interface is non-standard (doesn't follow human interface guidelines) on both Macs and PCs.

For $20 more (groan), Olympus will upgrade you to the "Pro" version of the software. This adds contact sheet printing, image e-mailing, HTML albums, panorama stitching, and slide shows.

Keeping with recent tradition, you'll only find a printed basic manual in the box. If you want the full scoop on using your Stylus 400, you'll need to view the full manual, which is on the CD.

Look and Feel

The Stylus Digital cameras are probably the most elegant cameras produced by Olympus. They are small, metal, and weatherproof. Note that weatherproof does NOT equal waterproof! It can handle a spray of water, but you cannot go swimming with it!

The Stylus 400 is well-built, easy to hold with one hand, and it fits into any pocket with ease.

The official dimensions of the camera are 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.3 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 165 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the Canon PowerShot S400 Digital ELPH's numbers are 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 and 185 grams, respectively.

Let's begin our tour of the Stylus 400 now:

The Stylus 400 has the same F3.1 - F5.2, 3X optical zoom lens as the Stylus 300. The focal range is 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. As with most ultra-compact cameras, the lens is not threaded.

Right at the top-center of the camera is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is approx. 0.5 - 3.6 m at wide-angle, and 0.2 - 2.0 m at telephoto.

Just below the flash is the self-timer lamp. At the very bottom is the remote control receiver. Unfortunately, there's no AF illuminator to be found on either Stylus model.

The Stylus 400 has a 1.5" LCD display, which is average-sized for an ultra-compact camera. The resolution is good and images on it are bright and fluid. You can adjust the brightness via the menu system as well.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is also average-sized for a small camera. It does lack a diopter correction knob, but then again, the competition doesn't have it either.

To the right of the LCD is the four-way switch, used for menus and more. The "more" includes turning on macro mode and self-timer/remote control, adjusting the flash setting (auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, flash off), and activating the virtual mode wheel.

The virtual mode wheel is how you switch between modes on the Stylus 400. The available modes are:

  • Program Auto
  • Portrait
  • Landscape + Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night Scene
  • Self Portrait
  • Movie Mode

Since the Stylus lacks any real manual controls, it would've been nice to have an "action" choice on that list. If you want to do a long exposure, the night scene mode is the only way to do it. 4 seconds is the slowest it will go in that mode.

Below the four-way controller are buttons for Display/QuickView and Menu/OK. Pressing the Display button once will toggle the LCD on and off. Quickly double-pressing it will enter playback mode.

At the top right of the photo are the zoom controls. The controller quietly moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just over 1.5 seconds.

Here is the top of the Stylus 400. Up here, you'll find the large shutter release button.

On this side of the camera, under a plastic cover, is the DC-in port. If you buy the optional AC adapter, here's where you'll plug it in.

The photo gives you a good illustration of what makes the Stylus 400 weatherproof -- there are rubber gaskets around anything that opens.

This side of the camera contains the xD card slot, video out port, and USB port. The door that covers this slot can be hard to open as it seals tightly.

The included 16MB xD card is also shown.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. Down here is the battery compartment as well as the metal (I think) tripod mount. The LI-10B battery is shown at left.

One annoyance that I discovered was that the battery compartment door liked to pop open, especially when I was taking it off a tripod. That can result in the camera's clock being reset. This door needs a lock!

Using the Olympus Stylus 400

Record Mode

The camera takes just 3 seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking pictures -- pretty fast. Auto focus speeds are generally good. Expect under a second delay in good lighting, and slightly longer if the AF system has to hunt. Like its sibling, the Stylus 400 doesn't has some trouble focusing in lower lights, but it's still not bad for a camera without an AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag was minor most of the time, except when a slow shutter speed was being used. You should probably be using a tripod anyway.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good. You will wait under two seconds before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is off.

There is no option to pause and delete photos as they are being written to the memory card. You can, of course, go to playback mode and do it there.

Olympus has kept the image size/quality options simple on the Stylus 400, which is a good thing. Here they are:

Quality Resolution # photos on 16MB card (included)
SHQ 2272 x 1704 5
HQ 2272 x 1704 16
SQ1 2048 x 1536 20
SQ2 1600 x 1200 24
1280 x 960 38
1024 x 768 58
640 x 480 99

With only five SHQ photos that can be saved on the 16MB card, you can see why I recommend buying a larger card. The Stylus 400 doesn't support TIFF or RAW file formats.

Olympus uses one of the better file numbering systems that I've seen. Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers are always unique (well, for one year at least). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

The Stylus 400 uses Olympus' newer menu system, but it's not customizable like on their higher end models. When you first press the menu button, you are presented with four choices: exposure compensation (±2EV in 0.3EV increments), mode menu, white balance (auto, sunlight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent), and quality.

The mode menu is more "traditional". Here's what you'll find there:

  • Camera Setup
    • Metering (ESP, spot)
    • Drive (Single-frame, sequential) - the latter about 4 shots at 1 frame/sec
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - using the 3X digital zoom will reduce the quality of your images
    • Panorama - helps you make panoramic shots. Requires Olympus-branded memory card
    • 2 in 1 - two shots in succession combined into one

  • Card Setup (Format)

  • Setup (the interesting ones, at least)
    • All reset (on/off) - retain settings after camera is powered off
    • Language (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish)
    • Rec View (on/off) - shows image after it's taken on LCD
    • Pixel mapping - helps eliminate "bad pixels"
    • Monitor brightness
    • Video output (NTSC, PAL)

As you can see, there are no manual controls on the Stylus 400. It is strictly a point-and-shoot camera.

Are you tired of menus as I am? Then here are the photo tests:

The Stylus 400 produced a colorful, well-exposed macro image. Parts of the image are a little soft when viewed at full size -- manual aperture controls would help with depth-of-field, but you won't find those here. The 400's macro mode focal range is 20 - 50 cm.

I'm feeling generous, so here are two night test shots:

The Stylus 400 did a pretty nice job on these shots, considering that it has no shutter speed controls and a pretty slow lens. The only way to pull off a long exposures like this (4 secs) is to use the night scene mode.

For some reason, the Stylus 400 shows a little more redeye than the 300. I guess the lighting in the room wasn't totally consistent. In both cases, the image was noisy (thanks to the camera's auto ISO "feature"), but here, the redeye is more pronounced. I'm not surprised to see it, as it's almost a given on compact cameras. Redeye can be removed fairly easily in software.

The distortion test shows mild barrel distortion, a tiny bit of vignetting (dark corners), and some blurriness in the top-left (hard to see on the small image above).

Overall, the Stylus 400's image quality is quite good. Images are on the noisy side, especially in lower light, when the camera cranks up the ISO sensitivity automatically. You can notice the noise in shadows or on things like grass (which ends up looking like a big mass of green). I definitely give the Canon S400 the edge in photo quality, but most folks will be satisfied with the color, exposure, and sharpness found in the 400's images. Oh, I didn't notice any major problems with purple fringing either.

Don't just take my word for it -- check out our photo gallery and decide if the Stylus 400 is right for you!

Movie Mode

The Stylus 400's movie mode is the same as the 300's -- and very basic. Clips are limited to just 16 seconds at 320 x 240, or 70 seconds at 160 x 120. Sound is not recorded.

Not only can you not use the zoom during filming, but the lens is also locked at the wide-angle position.

In other words, the Stylus' movie mode is mediocre at best.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (2.2MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Stylus 400 has a very good playback mode. Slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode (4, 9, or 16 images per page), and image protection are all available.

The zoom and scroll feature is here too, allowing you to zoom in as much as 4X into your photo, and then move around in it. This feature has been well-implemented by Olympus.

Two other handy features are image resizing (to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240) and image rotation.

Normally, you don't get much information about your photos in playback mode. Turn on "info" in the menus and you'll get more. Unfortunately, you won't get a histogram.

The camera moves through images at an average pace, with about a 2 second delay between high-res photos.

How Does it Compare?

Like its 3.2 Megapixel sibling, the Olympus Stylus 400 is a very nice point-and-shoot compact camera with a twist -- it's weatherproof. The 400 offers very good photo quality, an easy-to-use interface, responsive performance, an included remote control, and support for an underwater case, all in a stylish metal body. It's not a perfect camera by any means, though. Noise levels are higher than average, there are no manual controls, the battery compartment door likes to pop open, there's no AF-assist lamp, and the manual is on CD. The movie mode and included tiny (in more ways than one) 16MB xD card leave much to be desired, as well. For those caught between the Canon S400 and the Stylus 400, I'd probably go for the S400 for its AF-assist lamp and superior movie mode and photo quality. But the Stylus 400 is no slouch either, so be sure to consider it!

What I liked:

  • Small, sturdy, well-designed metal body -- weatherproof too!
  • Good photo quality for a small camera
  • Includes remote control
  • Robust performance
  • Good playback, scene modes
  • Optional underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF illuminator
  • Images on the noisy side
  • No manual controls
  • Would've liked an "action" scene mode
  • Poor movie mode
  • Skimpy 16MB memory card included
  • Battery door needs a lock
  • Manual is on CD

Other small 4 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S400 and S45, Casio QV-R4, Fuji FinePix F410, Nikon Coolpix 4300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC43, Pentax Optio 450, and hte Toshiba PDR-4300.

As always, I recommend a trip to a camera store to try the Stylus 400 in person before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our photo gallery to see how the Stylus 400's photos turned out!

Want a second opinion?

Read a review of the Stylus 400 over at Steve's Digicams!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions about this review. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not write asking for personal recommendations, missing software/manuals, or technical support.

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