Olympus XZ-1 Review

Olympus XZ-1

“The Olympus XZ-1 is a solid investment for those looking to move beyond point-and-shoots and will keep users of various skill levels interested while delivering impressive results.”
  • Quality feel, comfortable size and weight
  • Lens capabilities are impressive
  • Does well in low light
  • Fast, responsive shutter
  • Custom save option
  • Interface might throw off even some experienced digital photographers
  • No view finder

Olympus XZ-1 The XZ-1 is a new addition to the Olympus lineup, and packages the power of a DSLR into…well, almost point-and-shoot size. While the device might be a little much for some pockets (not all) to handle, its capability and simplicity should at the very least cause pause before your next camera purchase.

Unlike some Micro-Four-Thirds or even beginner DSLRs, there’s nothing intimidating about the make and mold of the XZ-1. That said, novices might find themselves relying on its iAuto settings before rushing into any of its manual capabilities. But once you get there, you’ll be happy you took the plunge.

Olympus also outfits the XZ-1 with a highly capably OLED display, and of course, a wide-angle lens that can step up to just about any dimly lit scenario.

Features and design

Our first impression of the XZ-1 is how sleek and compact the wide-angle camera feels. Its chassis is very reminiscent of the Nikon CoolPix P300. It’s remarkable that manufacturers are able to fit extremely capable lenses onto such discreet bodies, and looks alone will tell you the XZ-1 is a pocket cam. However, put one in the palm of your hand and you’ll immediately understand you’re dealing with a real machine. The camera has some heft (but not bulk) to it, something new photographers might shy away from but enthusiasts will find to be a comforting indication of quality. Just to give you an idea, the XZ-1 weighs in at just under 10-ounces, and units from Olympus’ entry-level digicams usually come in around four to six ounces. If you’re a fan of all things thinner, lighter, and smaller and in the market for a wide angle camera, you might be leaning toward something like the CoolPix P300 (6.7-ounces), but we personally like a little bit of weight when using compact DLSRs for manual shooting.

Olympus XZ-1 While we’re being shallow, we should address the fact that the XZ-1 comes in white and black. We’re fans of both options: The white is inarguably eye-catching, but there’s the all-business look to the matte black.

Onto more important things. The XZ-1 measures 110.6mm x 64.8mm x 42.3 mm (width x height x depth) and offers shooters a nice, wide 3-inch OLED display. The OLED screen gives photographers a clearer, sharper, more contrasted image – and its resolution of 610,000 pixels doesn’t hurt either. The functions are simple to master, with a dedicated power butter and shutter, a top dial for adjusting your manual settings as well as selecting iAuto, auto-scene options, and built-art filters. On the camera’s back panel, you have your dedicated video recording button, playback function, and turning dial for determining shutter and aperture manually, as well as a host of other settings. This dial also serves as your navigator for scrolling through photos.

Olympus XZ-1

The flash is manual only: Experienced shooters will appreciate a camera that doesn’t self-determine when to light up a setting and newbies might find themselves momentarily confused, but in general this is an appreciated feature of the camera. It also comes with a hot shoe attachment.

Olympus XZ-1 The design is simple without being obnoxiously minimalistic, and transitional learners will be able to use the manual settings without feeling alienated by a crowded screen. DSLR loyalists will of course find the lack of a viewfinder with all the settings annoying, but sacrifices have to made when using a compact camera – and that’s one of them.

What’s in the box

In addition to the XZ-1 itself, Olympus includes a lithium ion battery, USB cable, AV cable, USB-AC adapter, the various required straps and lens caps, and a setup CD.

Olympus XZ-1 Performance and use

We benchmarked the XZ-1’s image quality to that of a Canon Rebel XS at various ISO levels and shooting scenarios. We found that the compact wide-angle cam was able to keep up with the Canon fairly well, the only caveat being that the XZ-1 experienced noise at lower ISOs. We were impressed with its ability to shoot in low light, however, and found it held its own against the DSLR – which we can thank its 10-megapixel CCD sensor for. That has as much to do with its 1/1.63-inch sensor size, a significantly larger sensor than you would typically find in such a compact device, and a huge asset to improving the camera’s performance in poorly lit settings.

That said, we were impressed with its manual settings overall. And it’s fast – incredibly fast. It’s got a shutter speed of 60 – 1/2000, so capturing movement failed to be an issue. Of course, Olympus has outfitted this beauty with unforeseen specs from any of its current cams: It’s the first handheld to feature a Zuiko-branded optic lens, which has the widest aperture range of f/1.8 – zoomed to full capacity, that’s f/2.5; the smallest available option is f/8. This means you get zoomed in photos that don’t make it look like you’re operating some grainy spy cam connected to your lapel – the photos are quality.

So while the above makes the case for photo-gadget friends to give the XZ-1 a try, what about less than technical types? The XZ-1 has you covered. When reviewed the E-PL2, we determined that beginners would enjoy the camera’s auto features and built-in aspects, but might feel like they were missing out on all the bell and whistles it had to offer. The XZ-1 arguably produces crisper photos while also giving shooters more the experiment with. You’ve got the scene selectors, variety of art filters, and iAuto settings to easily set and snap away with, but the program selector will also let you dip a toe into the world of manual by determining white balance and ISO settings. And the custom mode lets you save any of your preferred settings for later use.

Olympus XZ-1 sample photo

The only issue we find with the camera is that its interface is far more similar to its PEN series than its other lineups. Jumping from your standard pocket cam to a compact DSLR is scary as is, and there could be a steeper learning curve for those who have never gotten their hands on a Micro-Four Thirds like the E-PL1 or 2 before.

There have also been suggestions that the latest OLED screens are transmitting colors in slightly deeper hues than are natural. We did minutely notice this when viewing photos on directly on the display, but once uploaded, color and hue seemed vibrant and natural.

Conclusion

When you’re ready to move past the temporary pocket digicams but not quite ready to lug around a big-bodied DSLR, it’s difficult to justify the purchase of an “in-between” camera. But in this case, it’s an easy decision. Once you’ve outgrown pocket cams that either fall apart or are outdated in a year, it’s time to invest in a machine that you can discreetly use and won’t need annual replacing. The XZ-1 is such an investment, and yes, at nearly $500 it’s a solid one – but it will keep users of various skill levels interested all while delivering impressive quality photos.

Highs:

  • Quality feel, comfortable size and weight
  • Lens capabilities are impressive
  • Does well in low light
  • Fast, responsive shutter
  • Custom save option

Lows:

  • Interface might throw off even some experienced digital photographers
  • No view finder

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