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Olympus XZ-1 review: Olympus XZ-1

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The Good The Olympus XZ-1 is nicely designed with a solid user interface and very good performance for its cohort.

The Bad The XZ-1's image quality is good, but even shooting raw it's not quite up to the level of its better competitors.

The Bottom Line Enjoyable to shoot and relatively fast, the Olympus XZ-1 only stumbles when it comes to photo quality, which is very good, but not uniformly excellent as one would expect from this class of camera.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

Though ILCs may be the more interesting enthusiast cameras, the more popular market seems to be compact, fixed-lens models, such as the Canon PowerShot S95 and Nikon Coolpix P7000. 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.

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 sensor clean enough to lay all the blame at the feet of the algorithm. I found that I could fix detail issues at low ISO sensitivities, but couldn't gain much latitude with respect to noise. Even at ISO 100 details like hair can come out mushy in JPEGs at midrange distances; this is a problem for landscapes, for example, where grass and leaves will look muddied. Processing raw can help somewhat at higher ISO sensitivities, but I was unable to produce an artifact-free version of an ISO 400 shot. At midrange ISO sensitivities you can get cleaner shots, but the trade-off is some lost detail.

In its default settings, Olympus applies a little too much sharpening to the center subjects in its JPEGs. While it doesn't look too bad in many cases, in more natural shots it adds a bit of crunchiness. Overall, the camera renders reasonably accurate colors and they're pleasingly saturated. The camera's generally cool outdoor white balance shifts the hue in reds a bit (a common problem with digital cameras). While there's some loss of detail in the brightest areas, the camera does a reasonable job.

At its widest angle of view, 28mm-equivalent, the XZ-1's lens shows a little barrel distortion. It's symmetrical (and therefore easier to correct) and not bad for a fixed lens. However, the lens' six-bladed iris produces disappointingly polygonal, out-of-focus highlights. The lens can focus closely, though, which is a big plus.

Video looks just OK; a little soft and jittery with abrupt exposure changes and some autofocus pulsing. It should be fine for occasional clips, though.

The XZ-1 is fast for its class of camera--but it's a member of a generally slow class. Overall, I found it quick enough for street shooting, but wouldn't count on it for pictures of more than moderately active kids and animals. It powers on and shoots in just under a second, which ranks as practically speedy for this crowd. Like the others, it can focus and shoot in 0.4 second in good light, which slows to 0.7 second in dim. Where it really stands out is shot-to-shot time: it ranges from 1.1 to 1.4 seconds, depending upon format, roughly 20 percent faster than its next closest rival, Panasonic's DMC-LX5. To put it in perspective, however, that's about 45 percent slower than the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3. With flash, two sequential shots take about 2 seconds.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Nikon Coolpix P7000
Canon PowerShot G12
Olympus XZ-1
Samsung TL500
Canon PowerShot S95
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

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