If you like taking pictures with your phone or tablet but wish it had a better camera, there are a few products that can help you. Things like Sony's Cyber-shot QX series or the DxO One give you better lenses and bigger sensors, and still let you shoot with your phone so you can quickly share the results. Earlier this year, Olympus announced its own solution — the Air — but it was only available in Japan.
Today, Olympus has announced that the Air is being released in the United States and Canada. The Air will hit US store shelves in July with $299 (body only) and $499 (with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens) options. It will be available in Canada in August.
Inside the Air is a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, similar to what you'd find in mirrorless cameras of a similar price. The battery isn't replaceable, and will last around 320 shots. The camera connects to both iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and you're meant to use your device to review your photos and as the camera's viewfinder. While you can transfer images to your phone, the Air does use a microSD card for storage. It can shoot RAW or JPEG images, offers manual and auto focus (with face detection), and can capture video at a resulution of 1080p. Basically, you'll find anything you would want out of a point-and-shoot camera on the Olympus Air.
There's an extendable clip on the back that lets you snap the Air right to your phone, or you can take advantage of the wireless connection and set up a more creative shot by moving the camera around independently. But the coolest thing about the Air is you can mount it directly on any Micro Four Thirds lens. For relatively cheap, the Air gives you access to a huge system of interchangeable lenses.
It's totally right to question how useful that feature is, though. If you're carrying around a set of hefty lenses, you probably have space for a camera body that's Wi-Fi-enabled and not something that requires your phone and a tenuous Bluetooth connection.
The Air worked fairly well in the few minutes I had with the camera. It paired quickly, and photos taken with the Air showed up on the phone within about one second. While the Air can shoot up to 10 frames per second in burst mode, the experience never feels fast. It may have been faster than Sony's Cyber-shot QX series, but as far as the look and feel of the app and overall experience, I'd rather save up the extra few hundred dollars for the DxO One.