The Olympus Air A01 smartphone camera and a cautionary tale

I like m4/3, I like using smartphones, so it will come as no surprise that I would be interested in the Olympus Air A01. Small problem - it's not available in the UK.

The good news. My Amazon account allows me to buy certain products from their US store. So I ordered one. It arrived, somewhat unbelievably, in less than 48 hours from a depot in Cincinnati. So far so good.

The bad news. The OA.Central app for Olympus Air, without which it is almost completely useless isn't available for UK customers of either the Apple App. store or the Google / Android App Store. So did I make some awful mistake and end up with something I couldn't use? Well, as you can see from the images above I did eventually get the app. downloaded onto my iPod touch. 

However, this took awhile. I looked around the internet to find out how to get a US app. Easy peasy said several websites, but most neglected to list all the steps. It involves setting up a US account, so that the relevant app. store thinks you are a US resident. I eventually got it done and I've outlined the steps below****, if like me, you aren't in one of those countries that Olympus don't deem suitable to sell the Air in. However, more of that later. 


Now why on earth Olympus don't release this worldwide I have no idea. Because it's a great product. It's small, light and handles well, including when used with lenses like the Panasonic 100-300mm zoom pictured above. It's a simple, basic m4/3 camera, contolled by a smartphone. And the reason I was so desperate to to get the app. is that software tells you how to set up the camera and operates it. There is no manual, either included with the camera, nor online that I could I find, however it's so simple that really isn't necessary. I'm putting together a video of how this all fits together and I'll hopefully get that online by tomorrow. 

You are of course getting the same image quality as any current Olympus m4/3 camera, so though technically not a smartphone these are the best quality images you can currently take with a phone. The images store on a micro SD card you have to insert into the camera and you have to transfer them to your phone, should you want to, which is an easy simple process. The app. I downloaded also has an option to save the images directly to my Amazon cloud drive account.

If you want fancy menu options, then this isn't for you. The operating parameters are stripped down to the bare essentials. Probably explains why I like it so much. There's no bloat and I don't have to navigate those awful Olympus menu pages. It shoots raw and HD video (which is actually very good and pretty stable) so you have lots of options. All the usual P/A/S/M stuff, tuch screen image taking if you want it and it's actually pretty quick to operate. There's also a shutter button on the camera, so you don't have to use the view screen to take the shot. 

One issue is that the way the phone fits onto the camera (there are adjustments to accomodate for the size of your phone) It's actually not that easy to shoot in vertical mode. In fact, I have to turn sideways to see the screen clearly, which is a bit odd. You also have to dismantle the camera to charge it up via the supplied USB lead, which also connects to a PC to allow downloading the image. First use also indicates the battery life is awful.

However, even with those issues this is really good to use. It's different certainly but I really liked using it. For me, it's a device that embraces digital technology rather than bolts that on to a 35mm film camera dsign. It's certainly quick to use most of the time, though I did get the occasional screen freeze with the wi-fi. This wi-fi (bluetooth) connects the camera and the phone and the camera isn't much use without it.

So I'll be doing a lot more posts on this, but initially it seems a great idea. It's small, light and pretty cheap and apart from anything else would make a great m4/3 backup camera if you already own a smartphone. But do be aware of the app. issue. If you want to buy it from one of the countries where it is available I would suggest it's a good idea to get the app. downloaded onto your phone first. And below is how to do that if you live in a country Olympus have yet the release the camera in.

The following is how to get the Olympus air app. from the US, if you don't live there. It's for an iPhone or iPod. I haven't yet tried something similar for Android.

1. Open iTunes on any Mac device. I would recommend you use a laptop or desktop since there is a fair amount of typing involved. 

2. Go to the app store.

3. Scroll down the itunes app store page to the bottom. You will see a flag in the bottom corner that indicates what country you are in. Click on this to see lots of other options. If you want the US store, click on the stars and stripes. Once you do this you are in the US store. Then return to the main app. store screen.

This bit is vital and was what a lot of the internet info. I accessed missed out. You have to select one the free apps. (It doesn't matter which and you probably won't be downloading it anyway) Click Get.

4. You then get the above screen come up. Now you can't use your existing Apple ID, because it will lock you out from buying a US app. So you have to create a new one. Now for this you need to use an alternative email address than you have registered with Apple already. If you don't have one then you need to create one. You can do this in Gmail. So add in your alternative email address and create a password.

5. You then come to a series of pages where you have to provide a US address and phone number. I used a hotel address in New York. You need zip and area codes for this which is why I chose a hotel. (Holiday Inn is a good one) 

6. You are also required to set up a payment method. Now if you use one of your credit cards then Apple check this and discover it's country specific and you will get locked out again. However (and this is why selecting a free app. is so important) because there will be no payment involved, you can select NONE as a method of payment.  

7. Apple will then check your email and you have to verify it with the password you have created. Once this is done you have an Apple ID and will be able to to download the free OA.Central app for Olympus Air. (What happens if you want to buy a pay app. I cannot say, since you will be asked for a payment method.)

8. Once your account is set up, you can then go to the app. store on your iPhone or iPod and log in using your US account email and password. You can then download the OA.Central app for Olympus Air to your phone and set up and use the Air. 

So it's complicated and time consuming, but it could be useful to set this up for various other apps. that are only available in the US. Plus you can of course do this for any country. For example, I occasionally post links to programmes available on the BBC iPlayer app. This is only available in the UK. But using the above method and setting up a UK account from other countries would allow you get iPlayer and watch the content.