Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS review: Great camera made better by a price drop

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The Good The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS features a great f1.8-2.5 lens, excellent photo quality and shooting options, and a well-designed body that's solidly constructed.

The Bad Its high ISO images are noisy. With no built-in Wi-Fi, getting wireless features will cost you extra. Battery charges in camera via proprietary USB cable.

The Bottom Line The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS is an excellent bright lens enthusiast compact. At this point, though, you should skip it at its full $600 price.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 8

The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS was probably about $100 too expensive when it came out.

It originally went on sale in November 2012, replacing the XZ-1 that came out in January 2011. The XZ-2 started at a price of $599, a $100 more than where its predecessor started. While not completely out of line for its features, it was still a high price, especially considering the number of camera options there are at and around $600.

Now, however, the price has been dropping and at the time of this review it was down to $300. The XZ-2 is a lot of camera for that price (or even $400) including a sharp 4x f1.8-2.5 28-112mm lens, a tilting touch-screen LCD, and a well-designed metal body that makes it a pleasure to shoot with.

Pixel peepers, those after shallower depth of field, or those just looking for the best low-light photo quality might want to invest more money in the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 and its larger 1-inch sensor. Otherwise, the XZ-2 is a fine choice.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture quality
All things considered, the image quality from the XZ-2 iHS is excellent. Pixel peepers would likely prefer the Sony Cyber-shot RX100. The lens is nice and sharp, colors are natural (assuming you want them that way), and noise, though present even at ISO 100, is kept under control without sacrificing detail straight through to ISO 800. You'll want to stick to ISO 400 and below when you can for the best fine detail. Since the lens remains reasonably bright even when fully zoomed in and the camera has very good image stabilization, you can actually avoid using its higher ISO settings indoors or in low light.

And avoid them you should. As long as you don't need to enlarge or heavily crop, fine detail and noise are well-balanced at ISO 1600, making it usable at smaller sizes. I wouldn't go above that, though, as details and colors take a noticeable turn for the worst. Shooting in raw and doing the processing yourself is your best bet in this case, and really in all cases where you might want to do a heavy crop or print at large sizes.

The XZ-2's video quality and features are good, but this camera is definitely better for photos. The 1080p video quality records at a respectably high 18Mbps bit rate and thanks again to the bright lens, indoor use doesn't automatically results in video heavy with noise and artifacts. The camera's image stabilization works great here as well and the autofocus is reasonably fast and smooth. On the other hand, the AF system is loud enough to be distracting in quiet scenes and, although you can use the zoom while recording, its movement, too, will get picked up by the stereo mics. Audio quality is otherwise fine and there is an option to add an external mic using the camera's accessory port.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
The Stylus XZ-2 iHS is a sufficiently quick camera, though don't expect dSLR speeds. It takes about 1.7 seconds to start up and shoot. The lag time from pressing the shutter to capture without prefocusing in bright conditions is about 0.4 second and is 0.5 second in low light. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1 second when shooting JPEG and about 1.5 seconds when shooting in raw.

Olympus rates the camera's continuous shooting speed at 5 frames per second at full resolution, however in my lab tests it hit 5.5fps for JPEGs; raw capture was as fast for the first few shots but noticeably slowed after five shots. Also, that burst rate is with focus and exposure set with the first shot and there is no option for using continuous shooting with AE/AF. Along with straight burst shooting, you can set the camera to bracket shoot exposure, white balance, flash, ISO, and art filters.