The Olympus XZ-1 is a surprisingly compact point and shoot camera that offers lots of advanced operations for serious photographers.
Olympus XZ-1 Key Features
- 4x Zoom Lens (28-112mm equivalent)
- Bright f/1.8 Max Aperture
- ISO 100-6400
- 720p HD Video
- 3-inch LCD
- Hot Shoe
- Olympus Art Filters
Shooting with the Olympus XZ-1
When I first picked up the XZ-1, I immediately noticed that it felt like a higher quality camera than most other point and shoot models on the market. As it should though, since it is aimed at the more experienced shooter with it’s advanced features like RAW image capture, hot shoe and bright f/1.8 lens.
The Olympus XZ-1 is placed into the competition field with the Canon G12 and similar advanced models based on this feature set alone. And overall, it fits right in.
The XZ-1 is an easy-to-use and rather customizable camera. One of the big advantages over the G12, however, is its size. The XZ-1 is noticeably smaller – particularly when stuffing the camera into the pocket of my cargo shorts.
The biggest immediate downer for the XZ-1, however, is the lack of an integrated lens cover. This appears to be the unfortunate side effect of having such a large max aperture, which results is a lens objective that is simply to big to cover with an integrated/automated cover.
The Olympus XZ-1’s controls are rather intuitive overall, with no major surprises or cumbersome operating methods. The typical mode dial rests atop the camera with a 4-way menu/select and quick operation button on the back. It also has a nice little integrated jog dial for menu and feature navigation.
On the front of the camera, surrounding the lens, is another not-so-obvious jog dial that functions much like a focus or zoom ring; however, it can control a variety of settings on the camera.
For example, when in P-mode, you can adjust the ISO simply by turning the “lens ring.” When using the Art Filters mode, you can quickly switch between the six Art Filters with this ring. Slick operation here. Big kudos to Olympus for this feature.
Olympus did well by putting a tacky thumb pad on the back just to the left of the direct record button. This grippy area really seals the deal for one-handed operation, which could otherwise be problematic thanks to the smooth front surface that lacks any grip contour for the fingers.
Shot-to-shot speed, focus speed and general shooting operation is more than acceptable. Again, no complaints from an operational standpoint.
The only gripe I have about the operation of the camera comes when using the Art Filters in combination with video capture. When you choose some of the Art Filters, there is a significant lag in the live view display, which is presumably due to the processing power required to apply these effects to the image in real time.
This creates a problem of rather choppy video with some (not all) of the Art Filters. The Diorama and Pin Hole are the worst for this effect.
This lag isn’t such a problem with still images though, as you can generally frame and shoot what you want. I guess the exception would be if you are trying to shoot lots of action with either of the two “slow” filters turned on.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the Art Filters and think they are appropriate to have on the XZ-1. And this is just the one real gripe that I have about the camera’s operation. It is, in all other regards, a very solid performing camera.
Olympus XZ-1 Image Quality
The Olympus XZ-1 delivers good image quality up to about ISO 800 or so. After that, things get a bit sketchy – even for the RAW files. This isn’t a diss against the XZ-1 though. It’s a problem with the tiny image sensors used in these compact cameras. Sure they could use a bigger sensor for better quality, but then they wouldn’t fit in our pockets. If you want great high-ISO performance, then you need to step up to a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds camera like the Olympus E-P3.
Below, I have include a few images straight out of the camera to show you what the typical snapshot images will look like. Additionally, I shot some non-scientific shots of a color chart under mixed light to run up and own the ISO settings. I’ve also included some Canon G12 shots to compare the two serious compact cameras.
Feel free to right-click and choose “Save file as…” in order download the full size images for your personal inspection (not for republication).
First off, here are a few samples of what the Art Filters do on the XZ-1.
Now, we get into the ISO comparisons…
As you can see, ISO 6400 on the Olympus XZ-1 is pretty much a novelty. And while I don’t recommend doing and lot of shooting at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, you can probably get away with using these settings for family album and Facebook snapshots. I found the XZ-1 to be very capable at ISO 800 and below. Again, that’s about the expectation for a point and shoot camera.
You probably also noticed the strong color cast under tungsten lighting. Those shots were from when the camera was set to auto white balance. The tungsten WB preset provides a much more faithful representation of color, which you can see below.
Of course, if you shoot in RAW, you have the ability to edit your WB setting in post-processing with Lightroom 3 or the like.
The other thing you can see from the image above is the effectiveness of the image stabilization, which the XZ-1 does a great job at. The above image was shot at the equivalent focal length of 41mm; however, I captured it at 1/10s and it is an acceptably sharp image when viewed at 100%. Big kudos overall on the image stabilization.
In short, I’m more than pleased with the overall image quality of the XZ-1. Olympus has a real winner on its hands here.
Olympus XZ-1 Accessories
Olympus LI-50B Rechargeable Battery – The Olympus XZ-1 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.
PT-050 Underwater Housing for XZ-1 – This underwater housing allows the XZ-1 to be used up to 130′ underwater with full access to all controls and features of the camera.
Custom XZ-1 Leather Case – This case includes a magnetic snap-on front, which might solve some of the frustration I had with the lens cap.
Memory cards – The XZ-1 uses SD-format memory cards, including the new SDXC format. Olympus recommends using a Class 6 or higher rated SD card for capturing HD video on the XZ-1. Lexar’s Platinum 16GB SDHC card is a great fit for both its size and speed in the Olympus XZ-1. It’s also very affordable.
Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the XZ-1. They’re cheap and big time saver. Kingston makes a good card reader for about $12.
Overall, the Olympus XZ-1 is a great little compact camera. I find it to be right up there with the Canon G12 as a serious compact shooter.
The design is solid, with a slick metal body, the smart lens selection wheel and the signature Olympus Art Filters. The bright f/1.8 lens puts it at the front of the pack in this regard. The rest of the XZ-1’s features and performance considerations stack up nicely against any compact camera in its class.
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