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.
|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-126.96.36.199.3
- Nikon Coolpix P3001.520.6
- Panasonic Lumix LX188.8.131.52.3
- Canon PowerShot S9184.108.40.206.4
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.
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.
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.
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
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.