The new Olympus XZ-1 features the brightest lens of any digital compact cameras. Is it truly the answer to photographers’ dream of a high performance compact? The Olympus is slightly larger than the Panasonic LX-5 and significantly more so than the Canon S95, which are its main competitors. However, it remains “pocketable” and is still much more manageable compared to the huge Canon G12 and Nikon P7000.
Image courtesy of Olympus
Shutter speed runs from 60 seconds to 1/2000th second, which is very good for a compact camera. The ISO range is very respectable from ISO 100 to 6400, easily the widest on any digital compact camera. The camera even comes with a built-in ND filter to help you harness the power of the bright max aperture in bright conditions.
For a digital compact camera, the Olympus XZ-1 handles with aplomb. It manages to fit in the pocket even with the huge lens, and the controls fall easily to hand. The body has a nice matte finish to it, but it feels a bit too smooth to offer a good grip. As compensation there is a nice patch of rubber at the back of the camera for the right thumb to grip though.
With the Olympus XZ-1, the navigation menu is easy. There is virtually no need to look at the instruction manual for most of the operation, except for more complex actions such as setting wireless flash etc. Press the power button and the camera powers up and extends the lens almost instantaneously.
Zooming of the lens is done with the ring around the shutter release button, and the control is nice and smooth for precise zooming. The mode dial is located just beside the shutter release button, which turns confidently with nice clicks (but it does rotates by accident sometimes). The modes are painted onto the dial, which makes me wonder if the paint will rub off over time (it will be a real issue if it does!).
The 3” OLED monitor (610k resolution) with wide-viewing angle is bright and visible even in harsh sunlight, but can be difficult to use for certain operations such as manual focusing. You can however fit an optional Olympus VF-2 finder for easy viewing in all lighting condition, as well as achieving better critical focus.
The iZuiko lens has a strong tendency to flare though, bleeding magenta cast in the overblown areas. Such situations do not occur frequently, but when they do it is difficult to shield the lens totally from flare.
Image quality is a mixed bag. The Olympus XZ-1 performs exceptionally well in certain conditions, but absolutely falters in others. In terms of JPEG quality, the Olympus TruePic V image processor does a nasty job of smearing details with heavy-handed noise reduction for any images shot above ISO 400.