Featuring a 4.0-megapixel CCD, 2x lens, “all-weather” body design, and compact size, the Olympus Stylus Verve comes in a variety of colors: Silver, Blue, Black, White, Red, and Copper. The fully automatic system requires very little user intervention, as it offers only a handful of creative options, but has the benefits of five preset Scene modes and a QuickTime Movie mode with sound. The Olympus Verve’s all-weather body can withstand water spray from any direction, but isn’t meant to be fully submerged in water. Still, rubber seals and a separate plastic chassis inside the metal body provide excellent protection against water splashes and rain. As long as you keep it from getting completely submerged, you needn’t worry about taking this camera to the beach, on ski trips, sailing trips, etc. In our minds, this is a huge feature: Digital cameras as a class are far too fragile, with the result that a lot of them get left behind too much of the time. Cameras sitting at home don’t take pictures, so the water-resistant design of the Olympus Verve means that you’re much more likely to have it along when those special, unanticipated moments arrive. Read on for all the details!The Olympus Stylus Verve is the latest in one of the most popular camera lines in history, spanning both the film and digital worlds. The Olympus “Stylus” brand has always meant well-constructed, compact, quality cameras, and the new Olympus Verve brings that tradition to new heights. The new Olympus Verve refines the Stylus brand with a slicker, more polished design than was seen in the Stylus 300 and 400, while maintaining many of the excellent attributes of those earlier models.
Olympus owes its continuing success over the last 15 years to the appeal of its small, pocketable, point-and-shoot cameras, both film and digital. The entire market of truly pocketable compact cameras can be traced back to Olympus’s famous designer Yoshihisa Maitani, who started a design trend that goes way back to the Olympus XA compact film camera, introduced in 1979. Maitani had designed the popular Pen F line of cameras, a screaming consumer success, and the sincerely compact OM SLR system, which was also a milestone, with the OM-1 debuting at half the weight of other SLRs of its day. With the XA, he introduced the first truly pocketable 35mm camera, which had excellent image quality due to its good lens and huge image area, all in a “capsule” camera designed to be caseless and capless. That Maitani spirit was interrupted for a time in the late 1980s, but resumed again in the Olympus Stylus line of film cameras (known as “mju” overseas) back in 1991. What marked the success of the XA and Stylus cameras was not only how they were built, but who used them. Quite a large percentage were off-duty professional photographers. Rather than carry their big, bulky SLRs with them everywhere, many carried the coolest pocketables around: the Olympus XA or Olympus Stylus.
Now the market is flooded with point-and-shoot digital cameras of the style Maitani pioneered, with every manufacturer releasing the smallest, most pocketable camera possible as a major item in their catalog, since this category can drive more sales than the high end SLR market. Olympus’s Stylus Digital 300 and 400, introduced last year, have been popular, with the very logical All-weather feature in addition to their sleek styling. But we have to say, though they are small and sleek, they do not embody the ground-breaking styling we’ve seen from the Stylus line in the past. Nor are the Stylus Digital 300 and 400 as small or light as what some of the competition offers. So it’s no surprise that Olympus has introduced the sleek and unique Stylus Verve.
The Stylus Verve has a shape that challenges the typical rectangles we’re seeing from most companies, with a greater quality component build than we’ve seen from recent Stylus offerings. Best described as a bullet shape, even that doesn’t well categorize the Verve. One is tempted at first to criticize Olympus for trying too hard, but when you actually hold the camera, you can begin to see the various purposes of the shape. Slip it into a pocket, and the spirit of Maitani emerges again. Its smooth left corner quickly finds a comfortable spot in your pocket without bulging quite like a boxier camera would, yet from the right side, the Verve is easily located and retrieved. Hold the very small camera in both hands, and again it works better than you’d think. The right thumb rests just above the Five-way control disk, and just below the zoom control. To the right of the thumb is the smooth ramp of the lanyard loop, providing a more confident grip. On the left (as you hold the camera from the rear), that smooth protrusion provides an excellent location for the Quick View button, and its downward taper gives the top of your left middle finger a comfortable, organic place to rest while your index finger rests on the smooth rounded top opposing your thumb, which rests on the slight, flat taper on the bottom of the LCD. It takes a long sentence to describe, but only a second to feel the natural, easy, and secure hold the Verve’s design provides. I honestly hadn’t considered it before I held the Verve, but now boxy cameras do feel a bit awkward, forcing a tendency to put your left middle finger out in front of the camera where it might block the lens.
The shutter release is about three millimeters off from where it would be perfectly comfortable for me personally. This is because of the company’s inclusion of the horizontally-rotating mode dial, another unique design element that gives the Verve a feel of quality and difference in a market of more traditional wheels, buttons, and switches. The area left of the mode dial could have been left a little shorter, thus bringing the shutter release a little closer for my comfort, but its current placement by no means makes the camera impossible to use, so it’s a minor point.
Rather than the more traditional, manual sliding clamshell, Olympus outfitted the Verve with an internally-actuated, motorized lens door that opens with nice set of camera-like clicks and whirrs, not unlike the sounds we always hear cameras make on the movies, be they SLR or point-and-shoot. It lends a sense of class and purpose to the camera that will make owners of other, perhaps equally cool cameras take notice with envy.
Another item to envy is the large 1.8 inch LCD. Olympus calls it a HyperCrystal Wide View High-Contrast LCD. It is indeed a nice display, offering good to excellent viewability from many angles, a range of up to 160 degrees, according to Olympus.
A large o-ring sealed door conceals the battery, xD slot, and USB/AV port. As with many digital cameras, this door looks somewhat vulnerable, and the user would do well to treat this camera gingerly, especially when using the USB cord to upload pictures to a computer, or the AC adapter that uses a dummy battery, since this door remains ajar while connected to either. Regardless, the camera is considered weatherproof due to the O-rings and seals throughout.
The small flash peeks out from a long oval opening upper left of the lens, offering limited coverage. I suggest users get in close to their subjects, not only because that makes for better composition, but because such small cameras really can’t be expected to perform well out beyond 6 to 8 feet. Though we’ve often found significant image noise out beyond that range (caused when cameras boost their ISO sensitivity in an attempt to extend the range of the flash), the good news is that image quality from the Olympus Stylus Verve is surprisingly good, not always the case for small digital cameras.
The final interface to the camera is the menu, and while it works the same as past Olympus menus, there’s been a slight update to the look. Buttons are now 3D instead of one-dimensional, and new sounds and sound options are pre-loaded on the camera. Three startup sounds include an automobile engine startup sound, sure to get your subjects smiling. The menu options are otherwise similar to the Stylus 400 introduced last year. What’s new is that the onscreen exposure mode “wheel” has been replaced with a new mode panel that has the familiar icons down the left side of the screen, with photographic samples to better illustrate the icon’s meaning. This not only leaves no doubt about the meaning, but gives the user a better idea of the potential results they can expect from a given setting. In addition to the regulars like Landscape and Portrait, they have Beach and Snow, Self Portrait, Self Portrait + Self Timer, Behind Glass, Candle, and Cuisine mode. Yes, the last one is for taking pictures of food. The camera increases contrast, saturation, and sharpness in this setting to get a more appetizing shot. Somebody must want this mode, so there it is.
A few new special effects have also been added, which can be applied after capture in Playback mode. One of the more interesting, in addition to black and white and sepia conversion, is Fisheye mode. This magnifies and distorts the image, growing it from the center and creating the illusion of a fisheye effect. It’s more realistic on objects that are far away from the camera, or on people when they’re on the left or right side of a photo. If they’re in the middle, the effect is most unfortunate, with the torso far outgrowing any other portion of the picture. This isn’t a true fisheye effect, creating an image that is convex rather than concave, but it can make for some funny and interesting pictures.
Overall, my early experience with the Stylus Verve has been both fun and impressive. The Verve takes good quality pictures and is appealing in both a visual and tactile sense. It’s a camera I’d be proud to carry, and feel confident in the image quality. The style-conscious users the Verve is intended for will enjoy the variety of colors available, and will likely be happy with its comfortable contours and unique look.
- 4.0-megapixel CCD.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 1.8-inch color LCD display.
- 2x, 5.8-11.6mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-70mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- 4x Digital zoom.
- Automatic exposure control, with 13 preset Scene modes.
- Built-in flash with four operating modes.
- xD-Picture Card storage.
- All-weather, metal camera body.
- Power supplied by one lithium-ion rechargeable battery (included with charger) or optional AC adapter.
- Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows.
- QuickTime movies (with sound).
- Continuous Shooting mode.
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
- Panorama mode for stitching together multiple images.
- “2 in 1” multi-exposure mode.
- Black-and-White and Sepia conversion effects.
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
- White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
- Digital ESP (full frame) and Spot exposure metering options.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- DCF (Design rule for Camera File system) compatibility.
- Exif 2.2 compatibility.
- USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed) and USB cable.
- NTSC video cable for connection to a television set.