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First Look: Olympus XZ-1

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First Look: Olympus XZ-1

3:15 /

An enjoyable to shoot and relatively fast camera, the Olympus XZ-1 only stumbles on its very good, but not the uniformly excellent photo quality, that one expects from this class of camera.

Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor for CNET and this is the Olympus XZ-1. Though interchangeable-lens cameras may be the more interesting enthusiast models, the more popular market seems to be the compact, fixed-lens models, such as the Canon PowerShot S95 and Nikon P7000. Olympus forges into that market with its XZ-1, a promising model that's not quite as compact as the S95, but with an exceptionally fast f1.8 lens and a sleek design that rivals models like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 in size and operation. The camera has a straightforward and functional but attractive design that's comfortable to hold and shoot. Like most of its competitors, it's not a very compact camera, but it's still small enough to fit in a jacket pocket or to throw into a bag. The highlight of its operation is the control ring on the lens, similar to the Canon PowerShot S95, which you use to change shutter speed, aperture, scene mode-- whatever the most important adjustment is in the context of your shooting mode. It has a nice feel, with decisive clicks for each stop. On top, the camera has a hot shoe and the same accessory port for the same add-on EVF as the PEN ILC models. The controls and mode dial are on the smallest side but I think they're okay unless you have very large hands. Plus, there's Olympus' Art Filters. There are six of them with the typical options. But, it doesn't let you layer or select the options for the filters the way you can with the PEN models. There's also a Custom setting that allows you to save a single set of adjustments. They're easy to save but not easy to edit. The camera operates much the same way as the rest of Olympus' cameras do, with a separate, easier interface in Auto and the standard quick menu for most commonly accessed shooting settings. I generally have no complaints about the design save for the horrible, old-fashioned lens cap that flies off when you extend the lens. If point-and-shoots can muster up electronic lens covers, so why can't their more expensive siblings? All the essential features are here, plus some nice extras like a built-in neutral density filter, a connector for an EVF, USB charging, and, of course, the wide-aperture lens with the biggest zoom range starting at 28mm. Its photo quality falls short of excellent, though. While the JPEG processing is a problem, it seems like the images don't come off the 10-megapixel sensor clean enough to lay all the blame at the feet of the algorithm. It's fast for its class, but the camera is a member of a generally slow class. Overall, I found it quick enough for street shooting, but wouldn't count on it for more than moderately active kids and animals. The single-shot autofocus works well, however, and the camera feels quite responsive when shooting. Plus, the OLED display remains mostly visible in direct sunlight. It's not really good for judging exposure or color decisions, though; like most, it seems to be optimized for punchy playback instead of accuracy, with cool, saturated colors and higher contrast than the images. Overall, I like the XZ-1; it has a lot to recommend it compared with the competition. I just wish its photos were a little cleaner. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Olympus XZ-1.

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