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Hands on with the Olympus XZ-1 enthusiast camera

Olympus launches a promising competitor to the popular Canon PowerShot S95.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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LAS VEGAS--Though ILCs may be the more interesting enthusiast cameras, the more popular market seems to be the compact, fixed-lens models, most notably the Canon PowerShot S95. Olympus forges into that market with its XZ-1, a promising-looking 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. I had some time to play with a preproduction version of the camera--can't really make any judgments about photo quality or performance, unfortunately--and think it's got a nice combination of features and usability that make it a model to watch.

First, here's how the XZ-1 compares with the rest of the crowd (with the exception of the Samsung TL500--no room in the table):

Canon PowerShot G12 Canon PowerShot S95 Nikon P7000 Olympus XZ-1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Sensor (effective resolution) 10-megapixel CCD 10-megapixel CCD 10-megapixel CCD 10-megapixel CCD 10-megapixel CCD
1/1.7-inch 1/1.7-inch 1/1.63-inch 1/1.63-inch 1/1.63-inch
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - ISO 3200 ISO 80 - ISO 3200 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 80 - ISO 3200
Lens 28-140mm

Closest focus (inches) 0.4 2.0 3.2 0.4 0.4
Continuous shooting 1.1fps
frames n/a
frames n/a
44 JPEG/n/a raw
23 JPEG/8 raw
3 JPEG/n/a raw
Viewfinder Optical Optical Optional OVF Optional EVF Optional OVF or EVF
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
9 area
Contrast AF
11 area
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Metering n/a n/a 256 segment 324 area n/a
Shutter 15-1/4,000 sec 15-1/1,600 sec 60-1/4,000 sec 60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 16 min 60-1/4,000 sec
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes No Yes Yes Yes
LCD 2.8-inch articulated
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,000 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
610,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Optical
Video (best quality) 720/24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
H.264 QuickTime MOV
720/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV 720/30p Motion JPEG AVI 720/30p AVCHD Lite
Manual iris and shutter in video No No n/a tk Yes
Optical zoom while recording Yes No n/a tk Yes
Mic input No No Yes Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 390 shots 220 shots 350 shots 320 shots 400 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.4 x 3.0 x 2.0 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 4.5 x 3.1 x 1.8 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7
Weight (ounces) 14.5 (est) 7 (est) 12.7 (est) 9.6 9.2
Mfr. Price $499.99 $399.99 $499.95 $499.99 $450
Availability September 2010 August 2010 October 2010 January 2011 August 2010

The Canon-like control ring around the lens is just as comfortable to use, and the 3-inch OLED is bright and high contrast. The camera has the same accessory port for an add-on EVF as the PEN ILC models.

The only real issue I had was with the body material (though it's not clear to me if it was final); it felt a little too slippery. But otherwise, it's got a straightforward interface and a nice control layout. I'm not sure where I stand yet on the USB charging. I look forward to testing the final version when it's available later this month.