It's been a good year for premium compact cameras, with the likes of the Canon G16, Fuji X100S, Fuji X20, Nikon Coolpix A, Nikon P7800, Panasonic LF1, Ricoh GR, Sony RX1 and Sony RX100 II all appearing.

Not wishing to be outdone, Olympus has announced the 12MP Stylus 1, a compact camera with a 1/1.7-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor.

One of its major selling points, however, is likely to be the lens, which has a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 and an equivalent focal length range of 28-300mm.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

Another key draw is bound to be the Olympus Stylus 1's 1.44-million dot electronic viewfinder - it's the same device as the one in the Olympus OM-D EM-5, the original Olympus OM-D.

In addition, there's a tilting 3-inch 1.04-million dot LCD screen. This is a capacitive touchscreen and can be used to set the AF point and access key features.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

Helpfully, the Stylus 1 has a sensor that detects when the camera is held to the eye, to activate the EVF and turn off the LCD.

Olympus is aiming the Stylus 1 at photographers who want to take their photography seriously, but who want an alternative to a bulky SLR or a CSC with a collection of lenses.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

Consequently, there's a mode dial that gives access to aperture priority, shutter priority and manual exposure mode, as well as a collection of automatic options and 11 of Olympus's popular Art Filter effects.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

Images may also be saved in raw and/or JPEG format.

Naturally, there's also Wi-Fi connectivity built-in for sharing images wirelessly and controlling the camera remotely via the Olympus Image Share app on a smartphone.

Full HD video can also be recorded and the sensitivity range runs from ISO 100 to ISO 12,800.

Build and handling

Despite having a lens with a 10.7x zoom range and a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, the Olympus Stylus 1 is relatively compact. It looks more like a regular compact camera than a bridge camera.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

The camera feels fairly well made and durable, with a reasonably chunky front grip and textured thumb-pad ensuring good purchase.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

Olympus has taken design cues from its OM-D cameras for the Stylus 1, with a similar shape and roughly comparable control layout.

Switches to the side of the lens and around the shutter release control the focal length. Meanwhile, a ring around the lens can be used to select key settings, such as aperture, manual focus and exposure compensation, depending on the position of the function switch on the front of the camera, its set-up, and the shooting mode.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

We got to use a pre-production sample prior to the announcement of the Stylus 1 and although some features weren't working as they will in the production models, the touchscreen seems very responsive. It's also very clear with plenty of sharp detail.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

The electronic viewfinder, as before in the OM-D E-M5, is also very good and very large for a compact camera.

Performance

We have only used a pre-production sample and we weren't allowed to examine the images we shot with it on a computer monitor. However, the images looked good on the camera's screen.

Noise appeared to be controlled well at the mid-to-high sensitivity settings.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

The metering system appeared to cope with the high contrast daylight as well as more standard lighting conditions, but we will test this properly when we get a full production sample.

Olympus has a good track-record with image colour and white balance, so we see no reason to doubt that the Stylus 1 will be any different.

Even in relatively low light the AF system appeared fast and accurate, but naturally we want to test this further before we draw any firm conclusions.

Early verdict

Retro cameras are very much in-vogue, and while the Olympus Stylus 1 certainly follows this trend it's not the prettiest camera around.

Nevertheless, it affords plenty of control, and adjustments can be made quickly and easily. The buttons and dials feel pretty well made, especially the control ring around the lens, which has click stops when adjusting aperture.

Hands on: Olympus Stylus 1

The touchscreen is also responsive and the AF system seems effective.

While it's smaller than the recently announced Sony RX10 and has a wider effective focal-length range, the Stylus 1 doesn't have quite the same wow-factor. However, it will be the image quality that ultimately decides which is the better camera and we're really looking forward to testing the Stylus 1 in the near future.