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DCRP Review: Olympus
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 2, 2004
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
This review is now complete. All information about this camera refers to the production-level Verve. Product shots have been re-shot where necessary, and all sample photos are from the production model.
The Olympus Stylus Verve ($349) is a new addition to Olympus' popular Stylus line. To say the Verve is stylish is an understatement -- this thing is sexy. It also comes in six colors:
Beside its cool new look, the Verve also features a larger LCD display (and no optical viewfinder), redesigned menus, and improved performance over its predecessor (thanks to its TruePic TURBO processor). Just like the original Stylus camera, the Verve is also weather-resistant.
Looks aren't everything, though; picture quality is much more important! Find out how the Verve performs in our review, which starts now!
What's in the Box?
The Olympus Stylus Verve has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Olympus throws a 16MB xD card in the box with the Verve. That doesn't hold too many 4 Megapixel photos, so consider the purchase of a larger card to be mandatory. I'd recommend 128MB at the bare minimum (xD currently tops out at 1GB). xD cards do tend to be more expensive than SD and CompactFlash cards, so you've been warned.
The Verve uses an all-new lithium ion battery known as the LI-30B. Like the camera itself, the 30B is quite small -- in terms of both physical size and power (2.3 Wh of energy). Olympus says that you can take just 100 photos per charge using the CIPA battery life standard, which is well below average. Compare that with 140 photos on the Canon PowerShot SD300, 120 photos on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7, 160 photos on the Pentax Optio S5i, and a shopping 390 photos on the Casio Exilim EX-Z50 (how do they do it?).
Proprietary batteries like this one are basically a given on ultra-compact cameras like this one. Do note that they are on the pricey side (this one's around $40) and you can't just pop in regular alkaline batteries when you're in a jam. Despite the price, I highly recommend getting a spare battery, especially given the subpar battery life of the Verve.
When it's time to recharge the battery just snap it into the included external charger. It takes just under 2 hours to fully charge the battery. I like this charger -- compact and plugs right into the wall (yes, I know not everyone likes these).
Part of the cool design of the Stylus Verve is a built-in lens cover -- so there are no lens caps to drop off of mountains. And yes, I've done that.
There aren't too many accessories to mention. I like underwater cases so I'll mention that first. This $80 case lets you take the Verve up to 3 meters underwater! The Another handy item to have is an AC adapter (model D-AC7, $40), though please note that you must also buy the BPC-01 DC coupler ($20) in order to use it. Other accessories include a camera case ($25) and a metal neck strap ($12).
Olympus includes their brand new Master software with the Stylus Verve, and I have to say that they did a great job with it. The first thing you'll probably do with the software is transfer photos from your camera. Once you've done that, you've got a nice thumbnail view that you can organize by date or keywords. A calendar view is also available.
It's easy to change the size of the thumbnails, and everything was snappy on my PowerMac G5.
If you want to edit a photo, that's just a click away. You can rotate, crop, reduce redeye, or do an "instant fix". If you want to adjust the color balance, you can do that as well, as you can see above.
The software can also be used to "stitch" together several photos into one panoramic photo.
Sharing photos is easy: you can print them or e-mail them right in the Master software. Naturally, there's a slideshow feature available as well. And, if you want to archive them to a CD or DVD, that's available too.
Just like with their old Camedia Master software, Olympus has a "Plus" version available for $20 more. The Master Plus software adds movie editing capabilities, more printing options, and the ability to make Video CDs.
While the software has greatly improved, one thing that hasn't changed is Olympus' unwillingness to print the full camera manual. As usual, you'll get a 27 page "basic manual" in the box, with the full manual on the included CD-ROM. The quality of the manual itself is good -- it's getting to the information that's difficult.
Look and Feel
I don't have to tell you that the Stylus looks good -- you already know that. It'll be sure to garner attention wherever it goes. It's a very compact camera, and it can go anywhere you do. It's shape makes holding it a little unusual, as it's hard to get a firm grip on it (this isn't a camera for those with shaky hands). I often found myself using both hands to keep the camera steady.
The body is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels pretty solid. One thing to watch out for on metal cameras like this: they scratch easily.
One of the big draws on the Stylus series is that the cameras are weatherproof! That means the Verve can get splashed or sprayed with water, but you can't go swimming with it! If you want to take it into the water, pick up the underwater case that I mentioned earlier.
The official dimensions of the Verve are 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) and it weighs 115 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the numbers for the Canon PowerShot SD300 are 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 inches / 130 g, while they're 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.8 inches / 105 grams for the Pentax Optio S4i.
Let's begin our full tour of the camera now!
Is this a crazy looking camera or what?
One thing that you won't see on the Stylus Verve is a 3X zoom lens -- you're stuck with 2X. Not a big deal for some people, though telephoto fans may be disappointed. The lens is relatively slow, with a maximum aperture of F3.5 - F4.9, which isn't great news for low light photography. The focal range is 5.8 - 11.6 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 70 mm. The lens not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.
Above-left from the lens is the Verve's built-in flash. It looks pretty small, which translates to a rather short working range of 0.2 - 2.8 m at wide-angle and 0.2 - 2.0 m at telephoto. The PowerShot SD300 and Optio S4i both do about a half-meter better at the wide end of the lens. You cannot attach an external flash to this tiny camera.
To the upper-right of the lens is the microphone and self-timer lamp. There's no AF-assist lamp on the Verve.
On the back of the Verve you'll find a 1.8" LCD display, which is a bit larger than what most cameras this size have. The screen has a healthy 134,000 pixels, and it's bright, sharp, and fluid. Outdoor visibility is quite good, and in low light situations, the LCD automatically brightens, making it a bit easier to see what you're looking at. Don't expect night vision, however.
As you've probably noticed, there's no optical viewfinder on the Stylus Verve. Whether that's a problem is your decision. Olympus is going LCD-only on their lower-end cameras, and personally I'm not a big fan of that idea.
The Quick View button to the left of the LCD quickly enters playback mode.
Over on the other side you'll find the zoom controller, speaker, and four-way controller. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.2 seconds. I counted a whopping 15 steps through the zoom range... most impressive.
The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, plus:
On top of the Stylus Verve you'll find the shutter release and power buttons as well as the mode dial. The dial (which feels like something suited for a piece of machinery rather than a camera!) moves the camera between still recording, movie, and playback modes.
Nothing to see here.
On this side of the camera you'll find the memory card slot, battery compartment, and USB + A/V port. Right now those are hidden behind that plastic door. Before I open it up, I want to point out the included battery and xD card over on the right side.
Okay, now let's take a look:
And here's where they go. The USB-looking port does double duty: it's used for both USB and video output. The Verve supports USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is marketing-speak for the old, slow USB 1.1.
Two things about the door that covers all this. For one, despite being plastic it has sturdy hinges so I don't think the door can bust off easily. Second, have a look at back of that door in the above photo, noting the rubber gasket around it which allows this camera to get a little wet.
Last, but not least, is the bottom of the Stylus Verve. The only thing down here is a plastic tripod mount, located inline with the lens.
Using the Olympus Stylus Verve
The Stylus Verve starts up very quickly, taking just 1.7 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.
Autofocus speeds were about average, with the camera taking about 0.6 - 0.8 seconds to lock focus in most cases (it'll take longer if the AF has to "hunt" a bit). In low light, the Verve focused surprisingly well considering that it doesn't have an AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was quite low, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed is very good, with a delay of about 1.5 seconds, assuming you've turned off the post-shot review feature.
There's no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken. You can, however, use the QuickView feature to do so.
Now, here's a look at the various image quality choices available on the Stylus Verve:
There's no RAW or TIFF mode on the Stylus Verve.
Olympus uses one of the more sensible 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, at least a year). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.
The Verve uses the recent Olympus menu system, just with a more modern look. When you first hit the menu button, you'll be presented with the following options:
Unlike Olympus' higher-end cameras, you cannot customize the menus on the Verve.
The Mode Menu is where most of the options on the camera are located. Here's what you'll find in this menu:
In the sequential shooting mode, you can take up to 7 photos (at SHQ quality) at 1.3 frames/second -- not spectacular. The LCD stays on between shots so you can follow a moving subject.
Aside from that, there really aren't any other features in record mode worth mentioning. This is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, and is not aimed toward enthusiasts!
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The Verve did a fine job with our usual macro subject. Colors look good, and the subject has a "smooth" look to it.
There are two macro modes on the Stylus Verve. In normal macro mode, you can get as close as 20 cm to your subject, at both the wide and telephoto ends of the lens. That's not great. To get closer, you can use super macro mode, which lowers that distance to 8 cm (which is still just okay). Do note that in super macro mode the lens is locked at the telephoto position.
Since the Verve doesn't have much in the line of zoom power, this night test shot looks a little different than normal. The camera did a pretty good job, too, though there's a fair amount of noise in the image. The camera took in plenty of light, and there's no purple fringing to be found.
If you want to do long exposures like this, there's only one way: use Night Scene mode. In Program Auto mode, the slowest shutter speed is just 1/2 second, which won't cut it for shots like this. But flip into Night Scene mode for exposures as long as 4 seconds. There's no way to manually choose a specific shutter speed on the Stylus Verve.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the Stylus Verve's lens. I don't see any evidence of vignetting (dark corners), either.
As you'd expect on a tiny camera, there's plenty of redeye to be found. Do note that I had to set the ISO to Auto to compensate for the weak flash -- hence the noise in the image.
Overall I'd rank the Stylus' image quality as good, but not great. Color and exposure were generally very good, with average noise and low purple fringing. My main gripe is that the camera suffers from the dreaded "mushy detail" problem that I've seen on a few other cameras (usually Kodak). I'm not sure of the exact cause, but fine details like grass, leaves, and hair get destroyed by the camera's image processor. These two images are great examples. The first of those two images shows another problem -- corner softness. It seems that you just can't escape from this issue on ultra-compact cameras like the Stylus Verve. I also saw some occasional"jaggies", like here in this shot.
To put things into perspective, the issues I just raised don't really matter if you're downsizing the images for the web, or printing at 8 x 10 or smaller. For larger prints or on-screen viewing at 100%, I'd pass on the Stylus Verve.
With that in mind, I invite you to check out our photo gallery. Print the photos as if you took them and then decide of the Stylus Verve's photo quality meets your needs.
The Stylus Verve has an unexciting movie mode. You can record 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 video at 15 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well. The included 16MB card can hold about 54 seconds worth of video, so you'll want a larger card for longer movies.
You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format.
Here's a fairly dull sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (4.5 MB, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Verve has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features include slide shows, voice annotations, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image protection, and "zoom and scroll". The camera supports direct printing using the PictBridge system, as well.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 4X into your photo (in 0.5X steps), and then move around in it.
You can rotate images, or resize them to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240.
But wait, there's more. If you looked closely at my screenshot above, you probably saw the "soft focus" and "fisheye" options along with the other three (black and white, sepia, and resize). The soft focus and fisheye effects do just what they sound like -- digital transforming your pictures into something new. The original image is saved just in case you don't like your face as a sphere.
Normally, you don't get much information about your photos in playback mode. By going to the menu, you can activate an info screen which displays the information above. No histogram, though.
The camera moves through photos at an average clip, with a one second delay between each high res picture.
How Does it Compare?
While not my favorite ultra-compact camera, the Olympus Stylus Verve is a stylish point-and-shoot camera for those people making smaller prints and web photos. Let's not beat around the bush here: the Verve is one of the most stunning digital cameras ever designed. On top of that, it's even weatherproof! The downside is that the cool body is a little hard to hold steadily, and there's no optical viewfinder to be found. Thankfully the 1.8" LCD is bright and visible in bright outdoor light or dimly-lit rooms. While the camera lacks an AF-assist lamp, it focused quite well in low light situations. The Verve is 100% point-and-shoot -- there are no manual controls. There are plenty of scene modes to help you get the best photos possible. Performance is quite good for the most part, with very little shutter lag and good shot-to-shot speeds. The image editing functions in playback mode are a nice touch, and the new Olympus Master software is very good.
Unfortunately for the Verve, there were quite a few things that I didn't like about it. Photo quality is just average, with muddy details, corner softness, and the occasional jagged edge. Still, for prints smaller than 8 x 10 inches, image quality is acceptable. Redeye will be a problem no matter what you intend to do with your photos. The Verve has a pretty weak flash, and boosting the ISO to compensate quickly adds noise to your images. Neither the macro nor the movie modes were very impressive, either. The Verve's battery life was quite a bit below average, and when will Olympus ever put a full, printed manual in the box?
I'd say the Stylus Verve is best suited as a "secondary camera" -- one that you can take anywhere. For more "serious" photography, I'd probably pick something else. But for a fun, compact camera for casual vacation photos, the Stylus Verve gets a thumbs up from me.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other ultra-compact cameras that I'd recommend looking at include the Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH, Casio Exilim EX-Z50 and EX-Z55, Fuji FinePix F440, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50, Olympus AZ-2 Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7, Pentax Optio S5i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Stylus Verve and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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