Olympus XZ-1

Olympus has made a truly exciting camera in the form of the XZ-1, with a super-bright lens and plenty of controls to fiddle with.

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Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

After teasing the photography world at Photokina 2010 with its compact pocket-rocket, Olympus has finally released its take on the advanced compact camera, the XZ-1.

Design and features

It's been a while since we've been able to say an Olympus compact has gotten a resounding thumbs up in the style stakes, so we're pleased to report that the XZ-1 is one sexy-looking camera. Sporting a gently textured black plastic exterior, the XZ-1 is pleasingly heavy in the hand, lending an air of authority to its SLR-substitute vibe.

Featuring a 10.1-megapixel CCD sensor, its main claim to fame is the wonderfully wide f/1.8 lens tacked onto the front, also marked by the front panel insignia. Like the similar Canon PowerShot S95, the XZ-1 has a control ring around the front lens that can be used to adjust shooting settings in different PASM modes.

Speaking of those modes, there's a dial at the top to flick between PASM, as well as intelligent auto, art filters, scene modes and a dedicated low light setting. Like other Olympus SLRs and Pen cameras with art filters, the XZ-1 has pop art, soft focus, grainy film, pin hole, diorama and dramatic tone settings.

Swing the black beauty around and you'll find a 3-inch OLED screen at 610,000 dots. Also at the back are rather teeny tiny buttons and a small control wheel to change shooting settings. When the pop-up flash is raised by flicking a switch at the back it becomes a little difficult to hold the camera — a minor, rather than major, gripe. The hotshoe can house either an external flash or an electronic viewfinder, though not both at the same time.

Other features in the camera menus include a built-in ND filter, useful for those photographers who wish to shoot longer exposures in bright situations. HD video is at 720p at 30fps, unlike the full HD found on other competitors like the S95 or Nikon Coolpix P300. The XZ-1 can shoot in 4:3, 16:9, 3:2 or 6:6 (1:1) aspect ratios.

Connectivity is provided via micro-HDMI, one of the first times we've seen this connector on a camera. There's also a proprietary digital-out plug, which lets you attach the XZ-1 to a computer or TV with the supplied cables. The XZ-1 takes SDXC cards, as well as regular SD and SDHC that slot into the base alongside the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery.

Compared to

XZ-1 vs
Canon PowerShot S95 Nikon Coolpix P300 Olympus XZ-1 Panasonic LX5
10-megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.7-inch) 12.2-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor (1/2.3-inch) 10-megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.63-inch) 10-megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.63-inch)
3-inch, 461,000-dot LCD 3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD 3-inch, 610,000-dot OLED 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD
3.8x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle 4.2x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle 4x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle 3.8x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle
HD video (H.264, 720p, 24fps) Full HD video (H.264, 1080p, 30fps) HD video (Motion JPEG, 720p, 30fps) HD video (AVCHD Lite, 720p, 30fps)
Pop-up flash Pop-up flash Pop-up flash Pop-up flash


General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Time to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • Olympus XZ-
  • Nikon Coolpix P3001.520.6
  • Panasonic Lumix LX52.
  • Canon PowerShot S952.

Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)

  • Olympus XZ-12.1
  • Nikon Coolpix P3005
  • Panasonic Lumix LX52.6
  • Canon PowerShot S951.9

The XZ-1 has a range of continuous shooting modes, including standard continuous shooting and two high-speed burst modes that reduce the resolution of the photo. Olympus rates the battery for the XZ-1 at 320 shots.

Image quality

The Zuiko lens produces very good images, undoubtedly the best we've seen from an Olympus compact. Colours are rendered accurately, sharpness is maintained from edge-to-edge and there is only a small level of fringing noticeable at full magnification. The default colour mode (natural) produces vibrant images, and there are plenty of other effects to choose from without needing to enter into the art filters.

The art filters are fantastic, though they haven't changed from those found on previous versions of Olympus Pen or E-series SLR cameras.

XZ-1 art filters

A selection of the art filters on the XZ-1, including toy camera (top), grainy black-and-white (centre) and pinhole (bottom). (Credit: CBSi)

While the XZ-1 can achieve a very nice bokeh effect, it's not exactly creamy or directly comparable with that produced by a wide maximum aperture lens on an SLR. Like with the Nikon P300, this is because the sensor size is a lot smaller than that found on an SLR, which has a direct correlation on the depth of field. Still, for a compact camera, the shallow depth of field this lens can achieve is rather amazing. The sensor also copes well with low-light images, and in automatic modes, favours lower ISO levels and slower shutter speeds to get a shot that's mostly free of digital noise and grain.

RAW vs. JPEG comparison

The XZ-1 shows very little difference between its RAW and JPEG files, and noise control is very good in JPEG mode, too. (Credit: CBSi)

Video quality is the weakest component of the XZ-1's feature set. This isn't to say it's bad, it's just less interesting than the images this camera produces. Continuous autofocusing is a tad twitchy and there's only a mono microphone picking up sound.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/60, f/1.8, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/800, f/4.5, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/640, f/4.5, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/80, f/1.8, ISO 100

(Credit: CBSi)


Olympus has made a truly exciting camera in the form of the XZ-1, with a super-bright lens and plenty of controls to fiddle with. Tossing up between this camera and the S95? Make the decision come down to video performance — if you need full HD and the best video quality possible, opt for the S95. For a truer SLR-like shooting experience, grab the XZ-1.

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"Excellent - puts other point"

ashbug212 posted a review   

The Good:Speedy photos, Awesome in low light, Terrific quality (rivals photos on Nikon d5100), All round performer for different photo types

The Bad:Only that the lens cap tends to come off a little too easy (nothing worth not buying this excellent camera over), Zoom is a little restrictive (but this is partly necessary to have the top notch performance)

This is a sensational camera - really. I am extremely satisfied with this Olympus XZ-1.

I am the owner of a Nikon d3100 SLR and of an Olympus waterproof tough camera, which was about $800 back in 2009. I was seriously disappointed with the low light capabilities of that older Olympus (being sluggish in low light and battling to take an in focus photo). Having purchased an entry level dSLR and realising just what a camera with a good sensor can do for even shots just taken on auto mode, I realised that I would never be happy with shots taken on my little Olympus waterproof camera again. So I set out to find a point and shoot that would fit in a smaller bag and perform well low light occasions, like casual evening events, where whipping out a dslr would probably be totally inappropriate and make you look a little too keen.

The XZ-1 has been the PERFECT alternative to my dslr (just about matching it in image quality). The photo quality is magnificent - I can rarely justify lugging around my big dslr since I bought this camera.

I recently went on a holiday which I could not carry around a big dslr. I took photos in all sorts of conditions - sunrises from mountains, candle lit dinners, landscapes, portraits, still life photos - and this camera was amazing. Every person who has taken a photo on my camera makes comment that it's a great camera - this is because a) its quick to take a shot, and b) the photos come out terrific on the basic auto setting. I suspect this has something to do with the fact the camera seems to be a little tuned to make colours be quite vivid. I can't make comment on the video quality too much, though I did take a short video of a presentation made in low light conditions for a projector and it seemed to cope fairly well. Even my mum with a d5100 paired with a fairly good $900 lens was impressed and tempted to purchase this little ripper of a camera.

If you're looking for a smaller, more portable alternative to a dslr, this is it. However you probably already know that given the f1.8.
If you want a point and shoot that will take beautiful photos effortlessly, this is also a wonderful camera for you.

I am 100% satisfied with this cameras performance and definitely recommend for all types of photographers.


"awesome photos in a compact package"

shmocklan posted a review   

The Good:size, fast lense, photo quality

The Bad:nothing to date

to address some of the cons in the review and comments,

the flash is a bit difficult if you use it but in the last 6 months i've maybe used it once as the fast lense usually means that you don't need a flash when you normally would have.

i have also read the manual and at a bit of a look "under the bonnet" but for my purposes i'm happy to use the default settings and the quality of photos taken with these settings has me very happy. I the top level default settings are very easy to get around an make use of and i know that if i want to take my photography to another level there are options and settings i can play with to help to do this.

the video is ok but i have a video camera if i really want to to take video so i'm not to worried about the quality of this camera and am happy with what it produces.

the size is perfect even with it in a fitted case and i now never leave home without it. I also really enjoy the art filters and have taken some fun and striking shots using these.

Something not mentioned in the review is the super macro setting which blew my mind at how close the lense will focus at, perfect for artistic photos of flowers.

I now regullarly get complimented on my photos by friends and family and it's all because of how greta this camera is.


sng1_au posted a comment   

Nice review. However for me it would not be able to replace my backpack and camera. It may handle the ability to replace my standard lenses but it cannot replace my 70-200 f4.0 L series Canon lens.

Also I quite like the cap - every compact camera I have used in desert conditions has had it's shutter jammed open and I welcome either the ablity to screw in a filter or have a lens cap.

Other than that a good review. Not sure it would meet the versatility I want oin a travel camera alternative to a DSLR. But still looking.


"Brilliant photos - once you figure out how to use the menu and controls"

nicwalmsley posted a review   

The Good:Image quality, size, built in flash, don't need to change lenses, micro usb charging, lens ring as controller

The Bad:menu setting complicated, flash casts shadow on close subject, average auto mode, lens cap, low zoom

I bought this about 10 days ago now, have used it enough to offer some first impressions. Let me start by saying that I haven't finished reading the user manual. Let me also say the fact that I HAVE to read the manual says something.

First up, this thing takes beautiful pictures. It's funny; while I'm using the camera I feel like I haven't got a great shot, but when I load them onto the computer there's some real stunners. Overall I think it will take some time to get to know how to get the best out of this camera. When I do that I'll be pretty happy.

I've owned an 8MP 5x zoom cyber-shot for a few years now and love love loved it. I wanted to get something a bit nicer, and tossed up between the GF2, NEX, Alphas, LX5, G12. At the end of the day, I like the versatility of having an inbuilt zoom and flash, not having to change lenses, and still fitting into my pocket. So it came down to the LX5 and the XZ-1. Went with the XZ-1 but it was a fine line, LX5 looked very good too. The XZ-1 lens just says "buy me"!

Anyway, the main trouble I'm having is that the menu structure isn't intuitive for me. I should say structures, because not only are there several different ways of accessing the menus, but confusingly there's several different places within the menus that you need to access to set the controls (even for some simple things)... and it seems a lot of inbuilt rules that control what you can and can't do. I could go on for a few paragraphs trying to explain in detail, but better just to say you'll have to read the menu and practice a bit. I've been spoilt by the intuitive nature of devices like the cyber-shot and iPhone!

Some picky points. The on switch seems a smidgen too easy to activate, even in a sealed case (once so far). The lens cap feels a little too loose, would have been nice to have a way of fixing it in place. When you take a close up on macro setting the lens casts a small shadow on the image (using the inbuilt flash). So far the auto mode doesn't impress me overly, compared to what I got from the cyber-shot. Yes the zoom is low, but that seems to be what happens if you want excellent image quality and a small camera. A view finder would be nice.

Bit don't get me wrong, I've managed to take some very good pictures with this already. Build is good, screen is great, the micro usb cable charges and uploads photos, and the range of controls and predefined image settings is very impressive.

Main thing: when you load your photos on something like facebook, they will compare very favourably with those taken by a DSLR... but you carried all your gear in your pocket, not a small backpack.

7 out of 10 = Very Good, and that's what it is.

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User Reviews / Comments  Olympus XZ-1

  • ashbug212



    "This is a sensational camera - really. I am extremely satisfied with this Olympus XZ-1.

    I am the owner of a Nikon d3100 SLR and of an Olympus waterproof tough camera, which was about ..."

  • shmocklan



    "to address some of the cons in the review and comments,

    the flash is a bit difficult if you use it but in the last 6 months i've maybe used it once as the fast lense usually means that..."

  • sng1_au


    "Nice review. However for me it would not be able to replace my backpack and camera. It may handle the ability to replace my standard lenses but it cannot replace my 70-200 f4.0 L series Canon lens...."

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