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Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review

Olympus XZ-1 ReviewDuring the past 6-months or so, the premium point-and-shoot category has been threatened relentlessly from all sides. Cameras like the Olympus XZ-1 are facing an uphill battle in terms of gaining market share.

  • The cheap, small point-and-shoot cameras are getting more and more affordable with great functionality and small size.
  • The entry-level DSLRs are getting ridiculously cheap and as long as you don’t mind the size, they’re one hell of a deal for under $1,000.
  • Then the biggest threat would be the slew of mirrorless interchangeable cameras in the market where their physical sizes are barely larger than point-and-shoot cameras but have larger sensors and ability to change lenses!

The prosumer, premium point-and-shoot market used to be a huge money maker for digital camera manufacturers as it was the best option for those who can’t commit to a DSLR coming from a pocketable camera.

Luckily, the squeeze in the marketplace forced camera manufacturers to spend more resources to make a true portable camera for the advanced photographer, and we’ll find out if the Olympus XZ-1 is the camera for photographers looking for a small, backup travel camera.

You can check out the Olympus XZ-1 in our sponsor’s site for the latest price.

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Olympus XZ-1 Retro-looking Chic

Olympus announced the fixed-lens, retro-looking point-and-shoot camera about a year ago (early 2011), but was overshadowed by Olympus’ Micro 4/3 releases such as the Olympus E-P2 and E-PL2, as well as Panasonic’s best selling Lumix LX-3 and LX-5.

Finally, Canon’s strong grip in the high-end digital point-and-shoot with the PowerShot G11 and Powershot S95 were already on the market.

Most advanced users that the high-end point-and-shoot camera targets have certain specific requirement for a back-up to their DSLRs. In my case, my list of requirements are simple:

  • Standard Hot Shoe
  • Fast, Sharp Lens
  • Slim, professional-looking body
  • Full manual control option
  • RAW mode
  • Good AF performance (for a P&S)
  • Minimal shutter lag
  • Decent ISO 800-1600 image quality

Let’s see if the Olympus XZ-1 fits the bill. I’ll keep this review casual as it’s really not very useful comparing specification sheets and lab test results for a camera like this.

What’s In The Box?

  • XZ-1 Digital Camera
  • Quick Start Guide
  • USB Cable & Charger (F-2AC)
  • Instruction Manual and IB Software CDs
  • Audio/Video Cable
  • Neck Strap
  • Lithium-Ion Battery (LI-50B)
  • Warranty Card

Specifications Summary

Product type Compact digital camera
Memory SD Memory Card(SDHC/SDXC compatible)  ~64GB
Screen size 1/1.63”
Effective Pixels number 10M (3664 x 2752)
Lens Structure 11elements in 8groups
Aspheric 6 sides
Focal length(35mm equivalent) 6.0mm to 24.0mm(28mm to 112mm)
Maximum aperture 1.8-2.5
Optical zoom 4x
Digital zoom 4x
Imaging range Normal:60cm to infinity,
Macro:W:10cm to infinity,T:30cm to infinity.
Super Macro:1cm to TBD,Wide-angle edge fixing
Sensor Details Product type 1/1.63″ High-Sensitivity CCD
Total no. of pixels 4072×2784
Aspect ratio 4:3
Recording(Still) Recording format DCF, DPOF compatible/Exif, PRINT Image Matching III
File format RAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, RAW+JPEG
Recording image size [RAW] 3648 x 2736 pixels
[JPEG] 3648 x 2736 pixels – 640 x 480 pixels
File Size RAW: 3648 x 2736 (approx. 1/1.5 lossless compressed) Approx. 17MB
Large: 3648 x 2736 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 5.5MB
3648 x 2736 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 3.1MB
Middle: 3200 x 2400 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 4.4MB
3200 x 2400 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 1.9MB
2560 x 1920 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 2.4MB
2560 x 1920 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 1.3MB
1600 x 1200 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 1MB
1600 x 1200 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 0.5MB
Small 1280 x 960 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 0.7MB
1280 x 960 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 0.4MB
1024 x 768 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 0.5MB
1024 x 768 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 0.3MB
640 x 480 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 0.2MB
640 x 480 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 0.2MB
Recording(Movie) Recording format AVI Motion JPEG(30fps)
Movie Mode HD: 1280(H)x720(V)  Aspect 16:9
SD: 640(H)x480(V)     Aspect 4:3(VGA)
Compression Ratio 1/12
File Size Max 2GB(limited by AVI format)
Maximum Recording Time HD: 7min, SD: 14min
Recording(Sound) Recording format Wave Format Base
Stereo PCM/16bit, 44.1kHz
Maximum Recording Time Picture with Sound: 30sec
Movie: depend on Movie Recording Time
Live View Type Image Sensor type
Field of view 100%
Display Mode Normal Mode
Grid Line + Histogram Mode
OFF Mode
Magnification Ratio Not available
Monitor information Aperture value, Shutter speed, Auto Bracket, AF mode, IS, Shooting Mode, Battery Check, My Mode,
Face Detection, Histogram, Number of storable still pictures, Record mode, ISO, Sequential shooting,
Self-timer, White Balance
Display of Face Detection Max 8 frames of face detection can be displayed
AF Imager AF
Image stabilizer System Built in (Imager shift image stabilizer)
Mode 2 dimensional activation, OFF
Effective compensation range Approx.2EV steps
Shutter speed range 2 – 1/2000 sec. (Not available when Bulb is selected)
IS for Movie Electronic Image Stabilization with Multi-Motion function
LCD Product type OLED
Size 3.0 inches (3:2)
Total no. of pixels 614,000dots
Playback field of view 100%
Brightness control +2 levels and -2 levels
Colour balance Not available
Focusing AF system Imager Contrast Detection AF system
Focus mode Single AF (AF) /  Manual Focus (MF) / Macro mode / SuperMacro mode / AF tracking (TR)
Focusing point 11-area multiple AF with the contrast detection system (Auto, selectable in option)
Focusing point selection Auto from all 11 area, Single area from 11 area
Auto from almost all area when Face detection is ON
Free selection (from 225points) when Magnified View Mode is selected
AF illuminator Available
Focus tracking Available
Manual Focus Assist When rotation of Control dial is detected under  MF mode, LV is magnified automatically
Shooting Modes P(Program Auto),iAUTO,A(Aperture priority).S(Shutter priority),M(Manual shooting),C(Custom shooting),
Low Light,Art Filter,SCN(Scene)
Exposure Control Metering system TTL Image Sensor metering system
(1) Digital ESP metering (324-area multi pattern metering) (2) Center weighted average metering (3) Spot metering
Metering range EV0-17
Exposure mode (1) i Auto (2) P: Programme AE (3) A: Aperture priority AE
(4) S: Shutter priority AE (5) M: Manual (6) Low Light (7) Scene select  AE (8) Art Filter
Scene select AE Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Indoor, Self Portrait, Sport, Sunset, Fireworks,
Multi Exposure, Cuisine, Document, Beach & Snow, Under Water Wide, Under Water Macro, Pet, Panorama
ISO sensitivity AUTO: ISO 100 – 800 / Manual ISO 100 – 6400, 1/3 EV steps, Movie ISO 200-1600, Low light ISO 100-3200
Exposure compensation ±2 EV in 1/3EV steps
AE lock Non available
Exposure bracketing Available
Metering standard value adjustment
White Balance Auto WB system Available
Preset white balance 6 settings (3000K – 7500K)
Lamp (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Daylight (5300K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K) , Under Water Auto, One Touch WB
White balance compensation ±7 steps in each A-B/G-M axis (in Auto WB / Preset WB mode / One touch WB)
CWB (Kelvin setting) 1 setting can be registered at Kelvin temperature (2000K – 14000K)
One-touch white balance Available
White balance bracketing 3 frames in 2, 4, 6 steps selectable in each A-B/G-M axis.
Colour Mode Colour space sRGB
Picture Mode Mode Vivid, Natural, Portrait, Muted, Monotone
Adjustment parameter Contrast, Sharpness and Saturation level available in 5 steps for Vivid, Natural, Portrait and Muted
Contrast and Sharpness level available in 5 steps for Monotone.
Filter effect Yellow, Orange, Red or Green filter available for Monotone
Picture tone Sepia, Blue, Purple or Green tone available for Monotone
Gradation 4 levels (Auto, High key, Normal, Low key)
Shutter Shutter speed 60 – 1/2000 sec.
Bulb: up to 16 min.
1/3 steps
Self-timer Operation time: 12 sec., 2 sec. (cancel available)
Remote cable release Available  (with optional RM-UC1 Remote cable.)
Drive Drive mode Single-frame shooting, Sequential shooting, High-speed Sequential shooting1,High-speed Sequential shooting2,Self-timer
Sequential shooting speed Approx. 2 frames/sec. in sequential shooting
Max. recordable pictures RAW mode: Max. 8 frames.
on sequential shooting JPEG mode: Depends on compression ratio and no. of pixels
(Large normal mode: approx. 23  with Toshiba Super High Speed type “Class 6″ 4GB)
Flash Built-in flash Available
Compatible external flash E-system Flash(FL-36R, FL-20, FL-14,FL-50R)
*FL-50R(Can only be used with wireless. Cannot attach to body)
Flash mode of External Flash Auto, Red-eye reduction, Red-eye reduction slow sync., Slow sync at 1st curtain, Slow sync at 2nd curtain, Fill-in, Off.
Flash intensity control Up to ±2 EV in 0.3 EV steps
Art Filter Mode Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, and Dramatic Tone
Multi Exposure Number of picture 2 frames
Functions Auto gain,
Multi Aspect Aspect Ratio 4:3/3:2/16:9/6:6
Input/Output PC interface USB 2.0 High Speed for storage through Multi-connector(MTP mode is available)
TV interface HDMI(HD/Stereo Sound), VIDEO-OUT(SD/Mono Sound)
USB/Video connector Dedicated multi-connector (Video: NTSC/PAL selectable, Optional Remote cable RM-UC1, USB cable is available)
HDMI Mini HDMI type-D
Flash attachment Hot shoe
DC-in Yes(Multi terminal)
Accessory attachment Accessory port
Accessories Chart External Fkash FL-36R, FL-20, FL-14,FL-50R(Can only be used with wireless.Cannot attach to body)
Viewfinder VF-2
External microphone SEMA-1 + ME51SW
Armlight MAL-1
Accessory for underwater photography PT-050
AC cable F-3AC
Remote Cable RM-UC1
Charger LI-50C
Compatible OS Windows XP SP2, Windows  XP x64Edition, Windows  Vista, Windows  Vista SP1, Windows 7, Mac OS 10.3-10.6
Power Requirements Battery Li-50B (included)
Sleep mode Available (20sec, 1min, 3min, 5min)
No. of recordable pictures (with 50% flash light) Approx. 320 shots
Power battery holder Non available
Memory Internal memory (for shooting) 54.6MB
Dimensions/Weight Dimensions 4.35 in (W) x 2.55 in (H) x 1.67 in (D)
(110.6 mm x 64.8 mm x 42.3 mm)
Weight 9.70oz / 275g (body, battery and media)
Operating Environment Temperature 0 – 40° (operation) / -20 – 60° (storage)
Humidity 30 – 90% [operation] / 10 – 90% [storage]

 

Body, Design & Ergonomics

The Olympus XZ-1 is a nice and appealing camera to have, especially in white. Quite a lot of folks give second-looks with the XZ-1 hanging around my neck, partly because the folks who look at it probably expect it to be an Olympus E-P series but it’s too small, or expect it to be a normal point-and-shoot but the exposed lens is unusually large in diameter.

The white finish is nice and glossy, but with a very solid feel. It’s thin enough in profile with the front and top panels looking very clean and minimalist. By the way, the black version is significantly cheaper than the white one, but the white one is a lot nicer to look at.

The lens is large, so that means Olympus couldn’t fit a self-retracting, mechanical lens cover without compromising the diameter even further, so they provided a pressure-fit lens cap instead.

Luckily for us, the lens cap comes with a low-profile loop hole and string to keep the cap from disappearing in your camera bag. You can just turn on the camera and the lens pops off nicely.

I’d prefer buying a cool retractable lens protector like the one below.

Olympus XZ-1 Retractable Lens Cap

The top panel hides the pop-up flash very well too, no unsightly bulges nor exposed flash bulb. The lens retracts to a nice, pancake-like appearance when the camera’s turned off.

The blue power indicator light is quite annoying, however, it’s so bright and intrusive. Not that it’s a big issue, but there’s really no logical reason to put a fiery blue torch just to indicate that the camera’s on.

Olympus XZ-1 Top View

The rear portion of the camera houses a large OLED screen with the rear dial/rocker combo wheel controlling most of the camera’s settings. A dedicated movie record button nestled around a small rubber thumb rest up top.

As small as this rubber pad is, it proved to be very useful to improve grip and single-handed shooting.

Olympus XZ-1 Rear View

Other controls include the a dedicated flash mode, drive mode, focus mode/ AF-point selector, as well as a the exposure compensation buttons on the control dial. The MENU, image review, delete buttons sums up the software-access buttons.

Oh, there’s also a switch on the top left that pops the built-in flash and right under the hotshoe is the accessory port for you to attach the Olympus VF-2 electric viewfinder as well.

olympus- VF2 viewfinder

Olympus VF-1 EVF

I noticed something with the Olympus XZ-1, however, when you’re carrying the camera around, you’ll feel a loose, rattling movement on the camera. After a bit of observation, it turns out that the lens design and assembly is causing the wobble.

I’ve never experienced a wobble that pronounced, I wonder if it’ll be an issue long-term.

Twist Knob Adjustment

Like the Canon S90/S95, the Olympus XZ-1 has a rotating knob around the lens for you to access adjustments like ISO, aperture size, shutter speed, etc. depending on which shooting mode you’re in.

The knob is very intuitive to use but I feel that the tactile feel is a bit light. I’d prefer a better click-feel than a light turn.

Basic Features That I Like on the Olympus XZ-1

As I mentioned before, there are certain features that I look for in a premium compact camera. Having PASM (Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual) modes would be the first requirement.

Thankfully, the XZ-1 has a proper knob for mode selection and not nested deep in the menu like the Olympus E-PM1 that I reviewed earlier (read the Olympus E-PM1 review here).

The mode dial works well with better feel than the main rotating lens knob. However, since a small portion of the wheel protrudes from the edge of the camera, it does have a tendency to change modes if you have big thumbs.

To be honest, the Olympus XZ-1 is a lot easier to get familiar with compared to the Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras. The user-interface is a lot more holistic and logical than the larger mirrorless cameras. It took me a few hours to start using and adjusting things to my heart’s content compared to the days required to learn the confusing menus of the E-P series of cameras.

Also, a proper and standard hotshoe is available. The hotshoe uses the proprietary Olympus TTL hotshoe pin pattern but I’ve tried using it with both Canon and Nikon flashes in manual mode with no problems, surprisingly. No need to tape contacts and stuff. Radio triggers work just fine too.

Lens – The Fast f/1.8 Lens

One of the key features of the Olympus XZ-1 is the large, fast, f/1.8 lens. Of course, it’s not a constant-aperture f/1.8 throughout its 28-112mm equivalent focal length, but even at 112mm, the aperture stays at f/2.4, which is still quite big for a compact.

olympus-xz1_wide angle

Wide Angle

olympus-xz1 tele

Telephoto

The lens is very sharp and offers great contrast. It’s focusing mechanism is pretty quiet and fast too. In fact, the lens’ wobble rattle sounds are probably louder than the AF. It’s really an excellent lens.

The f/1.8 may only be a third of a stop faster than the f/2.0 lenses of the Canon S95, but the real advantage is at the longer telephoto end.

With the S95, for example, at maximum zoom, the aperture closes down to f/4.9 already compared to the XZ-1′s f/2.4. The result is better background separation and thinner depth-of-field for portraits and zoomed-in composition.

olympus-xz1 bokeh

BOHKEH! – Kai of DigitalRev

A fast lens allows you to use lower ISO and faster shutter speeds given the same lighting condition as a slow lens. You’ll have more options and creative freedom with a faster lens throughout its zoom range.

Distortion is decent throughout the zoom range for a P&S camera but visible barrel distortion can be seen at wide angle settings.

olympus-xz107_distortion

Distortion Wide Angle

olympus-xz107_distortion

Distortion Tele

Here’s how the distortion looks with normal subjects:

olympus-xz107_distortion

Distortion Wide Angle

Shutter Lag and Auto-Focus

Shutter lag is hardly noticeable, as soon as the focus locks, the image capture is pretty instantaneous. However, shot-to-shot processing and RAW file processing during burst mode is noticeably slower, but not by much, than a Canon G12 or Panasonic LX5.

However, I’m splitting hairs here. Chances are, you’ll never be bothered by the delay unless you shoot a lot of burst shots in RAW mode (to which you should be grabbing a more appropriate tool, no?)

Auto-focus is pretty standard. The layout is the same 11-point AF we see in the Olympus PEN series. The face-recognition and AF speed is good and predictable.

Remember that this is still a compact camera and AF speed will not be it’s strong point compared to a DSLR, for example. But rest assured, you won’t be missing too many shots with AF hunting with the Olympus XZ-1.

Low-light AF performance is respectable due to the efficient use of AF-assist beam. Thank goodness that it’s not using the flash strobe as an AF-assist, instead, it has a dedicated orange AF-assist lamp that works really well up to 8ft or so in total darkness.

There are two macro modes in the XZ-1, a regular macro mode and a super macro mode. The latter allows you to focus literally millimeters from the subject. For more accurate focusing, however, it’s best to pre-select and AF point and compose before taking a shot or use manual focus.

olympus-xz1 super macro

Super Macro of a 1-inch Mushroom

olympus-xz1 normal macro

Normal Macro Mode

The close minimum focusing distance means lots of easy opportunities to take eye-catching macro shots.

Flare control is OK but not stellar. The close proximity of the sensor to the lens elements probably have something to do with it.

olympus-xz1 flare

Flare backlight

Movie Mode

As with my other reviews, my apologies, my video shooting experience with cameras fall under the soccer-dad category where I only shoot videos of my son playing around or for his LEGO Youtube videos so I know nothing about video compression, quality, etc.

The Olympus XZ-1 still inherits the half-press AF during video recording which I truly appreciate unlike other pocket cameras that don’t allow you to zoom nor adjust AF when the movie starts recording.

Audio is recorded via stereo microphones so the quality is satisfactory for my needs. However, the dangling lens cap and lens wobble would probably make audio recordings a chore and the Olympus XZ-1 doesn’t offer external mic input.

Continue to Page 3, click the page below.

ISO Performance and Image Quality of the XZ-1

The 1/1.63″ CCD sensor records 10 megapixels of data which is just about right, the size of the sensor is identical to most P&S in the market right now.

Colors and Details

Colors are reproduced in a typical Olympus fashion. Punchy and with good contrast right out-of-the-box without going all poster-color.

Judging from the histogram readings, the Olympus sensor and processor hold details pretty well in deep reds and yellows but tends to give up a little earlier in the blues. Again, it’s not really a big deal unless you’re a pixel peeper.

olympus-xz1 sample image

olympus-xz1 sample image

Shooting RAW improves latitude a little but the JPEG processor is pretty darn good already.

Auto White Balance settings work pretty well with the exception of really strong tungsten lights, as much as I enjoy using Kelvin settings on DSLRs, I prefer using AWB on P&S and I’m glad to report that there’s no hair-pulling white balance correction sessions for the most part.

Dynamic Range and Tonality

I’ve always been pretty surprised by how well compact cameras handle the usual blue-sky-with-buildings scenes in the highlight and midtone readings.

olympus-xz1 sample image

The Olympus cameras I’ve been playing with the past 2 months (thanks to Olympus for the cameras!) have impressed me with photos of blue skies with ample shadow details in drab Singapore skies without me having to recover highlights or bump up midtones in Photoshop.

olympus-xz1 sample image

olympus-xz1 sample image

Details and Sharpness

The Olympus XZ-1′s wonderful lens practically guarantees a highly detailed and sharp images throughout the zoom range. Coupled with an effective stabilization system, the odds of shooting sharp images are pretty high.

However, the rather aggressive noise reduction nature of the Olympus XZ-1, just like the Digital PEN series, is the limiting factor for highly detailed macros, but for portraits, I find it quite pleasing to be honest.

olympus-xz1 sample image

olympus-xz1 sample image

ISO Samples

As always, a small sensor suffers from high-ISO noise a lot easier than a large sensor camera, but today’s technology coupled with fast optics have made significant strides in this regard.

For the Olympus XZ-1, ISO 100-400 is very good for a compact with ISO 800 starting to show some visible graininess on A4 prints but quite usable for web purposes (1200px at 72dpi or so) and ISO 1600 would be the max setting I’d ‘o for usable shots in low-light without flash.

olympus-xz1 low light ISO photo

ISO 100

olympus-xz1 low light ISO photo

ISO 400

olympus-xz1 low light ISO photo

ISO 1600

I wish manufacturers stop boasting ISOs that don’t really give you any usable details in photos anymore as ISO 6400 isn’t really useful anymore for the XZ-1′s target market.

Still ISO 1600 is very usable if decent light is available at night, as long as you’re at f/2.0-2.2 range as the lens performs really well at this aperture range.

olympus-xz1 low light ISO photo

Sample at ISO 1600

Panoramic Mode

Before I conclude this lengthy review of the Olympus XZ-1, I’d like to point out the Panorama mode of the XZ-1 for a second.

The Panorama mode of the Olympus XZ-1 uses a dot-alignment system wherein you take a first shot, then align an on-screen dot indicator for the camera to automatically snap the next two shots to form a 3-image stitch.

You can’t sweep the camera like the Sony NEX series (which, in my opinion, is the best implementation of a panoramic shooting mode), but the dot-alignment approach is pretty good as well.

Check out these two samples (click on the image for larger view), they’re both stitched in-cam automatically with zero post-production in alignment, just the image resize.

olympus-xz1 low light ISO photo

Panorama Sample #1

olympus-xz1 low light ISO photo

Panorama Sample #2

It’s fun and amusing to use.

All is not perfect though because if you’re in Panorama mode, everything’s automated. You can’t adjust focus, ISO, etc. Which is a shame as it’d be great if I can mount it on a tripod and use the lowest ISO for big panoramas.

Conclusion – Is The Olympus XZ-1 For You?

If you’re just looking for a small, portable camera to use everyday and you’re not into manual settings, hot shoe flash, etc. then I believe you’d be better off with simpler pocket digital cameras like the Canon PowerShot S100 or Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V would be better choices.

However, If you’re a DSLR owner who’s looking for a nice, small back-up camera or a point-and-shoot user who wants to upgrade to a more serious camera without the bulk of a DSLR or even a mirrorless camera, then the Olympus XZ-1 is one of the best camera out in the market today.

What I Liked

  • Great Image Quality
  • Complete Features for Advanced User
  • Standard Hotshoe
  • Stylish Design
  • Respectable Battery Life
  • Perfect Backup and Travel Camera
  • Great LCD and optional viewfinder

What I Didn’t Like

  • Lens Wobble
  • Lens Cap
  • Noise Reduction Still A Bit Intrusive
  • No Mic Input
  • 28mm wide angle, would’ve preferred 24mm

It’s incredibly flexible, good-looking, and an excellent value at this price range. It’s still a couple of hundred bucks cheaper than the cheapest mirrorless camera in the market and the Olympus XZ-1 fits in the pocket as well.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars / Highly Recommended!

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