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.
At 2.1 frames per second, shooting action would be somewhat of a challenge. While the AF tracking seems to work, it turns off the target display while shooting so you can't tell where it's focusing. There are two higher-speed burst modes, but they only work in Program mode and they drop resolution to 5 megapixels. 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 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.
|Canon PowerShot G12||Canon PowerShot S95||Nikon Coolpix P7000||Olympus XZ-1||Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5||Samsung TL500|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 80 - ISO 3200||ISO 80 - ISO 3200||ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded)||ISO 100 - ISO 6400||ISO 80 - ISO 3200||ISO 80 - ISO 3200|
|Closest focus (inches)||0.4||2||0.8||0.4||0.4||2|
|Continuous shooting||1.1fps |
23 JPEG/8 raw
3 JPEG/n/a raw
|Viewfinder||Optical||None||Optical||Optional EVF||Optional OVF or EVF||Optical|
|11 area |
|Metering||n/a||n/a||256-segment matrix||324 area||n/a ||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||16-1/5,000 sec|
|LCD||2.8-inch articulated |
|3-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed OLED |
|3-inch fixed |
|3-inch articulated AMOLED|
|Image stabilization||Optical||Optical||Optical||Sensor shift||Optical||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 |
|30fps VGA H.264 MP4|
|Manual iris and shutter in video||No||No||No||No||Yes||No|
|Optical zoom while recording||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||390 shots||220 shots||350 shots||320 shots||400 shots||350 shots|
|Dimensions (WHD, inches)||4.4x3x2||3.9x2.3x1.2||4.5x3.1x1.8||4.4x2.6x1.7||4.3x2.6x1.7||4.5x2.5x1.2|
|Availability||October 2010||August 2010||September 2010||January 2011||August 2010||July 2010|
The camera has a straightforward and functional but attractive design that makes it comfortable to hold and shoot. Like most of its competitors, it's not very compact, but still small enough to fit in a jacket pocket or to throw in a bag. The highlight is the control ring on the lens, a la the Canon PowerShot S95, which you use to change shutter speed, aperture, scene--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 XZ-1 has a hot shoe and the same accessory port for an add-on EVF as the PEN ILC models. The controls and mode dial are on the small side but probably would be OK unless you have very large hands. The mode dial has the usual PASM, auto, and scene modes, as well as an Art Filter mode with six of Olympus' typical options. It doesn't let you layer or select options for the filters the way you can with the PEN models. There's a Custom setting--easy to save but hard to edit--that allows you to save a single set of adjustments.
The XZ-1 operates much the same way 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 the horrible, old-fashioned lens cap that flies off when you extend the lens. If point-and-shoots can muster up built-in electronic lens covers, 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 for its size.
Overall, I like the Olympus XZ-1; it has a lot to recommend it compared with the competition (see our roundup of compact cameras for advanced shooters). I just wish its photos were a little cleaner.