Olympus XZ-1 Camera Review
The Olympus XZ-1 is a new entry in the advanced compact digital camera category aimed at photographers. It is built around slightly-larger-than-average 10 megapixels CCD sensor paired with an ultra-bright F/1.8 wide-angle 4X optical zoom lens. The zoom range is equivalent to 28-112mm and features a variable F/1.8-2.5 aperture.
The XZ-1 is a full-featured digital camera with plenty of manual controls and efficient controls, including dual-control dials and a mode-dial. Manual-controls include PASM exposure modes, manual focus, custom white-balance with 2-axis fine-tuning, choice of metering patterns and bracketing for exposure and white-balance. The Olympus XZ-1 also supports external flashes via its hot-shoe, something very rare among compact digital cameras. The hot-shoe has a connector for an EVF, the same one used for its SLD cameras.
The CCD sensor used in the Olympus XZ-1 has a large ISO range from 100 to 6400, all at full-resolution. It also captures 720p HD video at 30 FPS. The camera has a built-in mono microphone but the extra hot-shoe connector also supports an external stereo microphone. Continuous shooting at 2 FPS is available at 10 megapixels with increased speeds up to 15 FPS available at 1 megapixel.
This feature set is ideal for photographers looking for a second light-weight camera to keep with but still be able to shoot creatively. It is also excellent for people wanting to learn photography without spending on an ILC and lenses.
Capability - What can it do?
The Olympus XZ-1 is one of the most versatile fixed-lens digital cameras. The extensive feature set is suitable for most photography subjects within the limits of its focal-range. The combined ultra-bright maximum aperture and ISO range lets the XZ-1 shoot hand-held with less light than any other current compact digital camera. The shutter-speed range is favorable to shooting at night from a tripod to obtain light-trails and record motion-blur for up to one minute. In this review section, we describe each important feature and what it implies.
10 Megapixels CCD Sensor
With 10 megapixels, this camera is suitable for sharp prints up to 12x16" as long as the ISO is kept low enough to prevent noise from destroying details. The CCD used is slightly larger than a typical compact camera sensor, with a crop-factor of 4.7X rather than 5.6X. The larger sensor and slightly lower resolution than most recent cameras gives the XZ-1 larger photosites to keep noise relatively low and increase dynamic-range.
Stabilized 4X Wide-Angle Optical Zoom Lens
The 4X optical zoom range, equivalent to 28-112mm in 35mm-terms, is suitable for pictures of indoor scenes, landscapes and portraits. The wide-end can be used for architecture and interiors as long as they are not too large. The long end allows for portraits with a flattering perspective. Candid street photography, spectator sports and wildlife generally require a longer lens. The built-in stabilization system compensates for small involuntary movements of the photographer to capture still subjects when light is low. Moving subjects require fast shutter-speed, so stabilization is of little use with them.
Ultra-Bright F/1.8 Aperture
The exceptionally bright F/1.8 aperture, which only drops to F/2.5 at the long end, is the most significant asset of the Olympus XZ-1. This maximum aperture lets more light in and allows the XZ-1 to shoot at a lower ISO than most other cameras under the same circumstances. This compensates well for noise at high ISO sensitivities. The wide aperture also increases control over depth-of-field and allows images with a strong blurring of the background.
ISO 100-6400 Range
This wide ISO range covers bright to rather dim lighting conditions. This is typical of modern cameras which is accompanied by a reduction of image quality as ISO increases. The CCD used in this camera makes more of this range usable than most small cameras, as some models have ISO settings which are unusable.
1/2000-60s Shutter-Speeds & 3-Stop ND Filter
The shutter-speed range is wider than most digital cameras and covers both action and night photography. The maximum shutter-speed of 1/2000 can freeze all but fast motorized sports. The XZ-1 would rarely need to go any faster in bright light unless shooting straight into the sun thanks to its optional neutral density filter.
With slow shutter-speeds reaching 60s usable until the top ISO of 6400, the XZ-1 can shoot in very low-light. A one minute exposure is long enough to nicely photograph light trails of moving vehicles. The built-in 3-stop ND filter allows the camera to shoot at slower shutter-speeds for creative uses of slow shutter-speeds and wider apertures, reducing the sensitivity down an equivalent of ISO 12.
The XZ-1 is equipped with numerous and detailed white-balance controls. There is an automatic (AWB) setting, 6 presetsDaylight, Shade, Cluody, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Underwater and a custom white-balance function. All settings, even Auto and Custom can be fine-tuned along 2-axis in 15-steps. Each step is fine and allows precise control over color rendition. There is also WB Bracketing which can vary white-balance along one or two axis with 3 steps along each. This means that either 3 or 9 files are produced from a single release of the shutter. There are 3 step sizes which can be chosen independently on each axis.
Customizable Image Parameters
The Olympus XZ-1 has 5 Picture Modes which affects how it renders colors and details: Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait and Monotone. Contrast and sharpness is controllable in 5-steps for all modes. There is also a Gradation option which can be set to Normal, Low Key, High Key or Auto. Saturation can be adjusted in 5-steps for all color modes. Monotone produces a single-color image, either B&W, Sepia, Blue or Green. There are also a number of simulated B&W filters for that mode.
All PASM exposure modes are available and dual-controls dials are there to control them efficiently. A Custom is there to save user settings. There also a 18 scene modes plus a restricted Auto mode. Two scene modes are worth noting: Panorama and Multiple-Exposure.
Panorama mode merges up to 3 shots into one low-resolution panorama right in the camera. After the first shot is taken, the camera automatically tries to detect when the camera has been sufficiently panned and takes the next shot. After 3 shots have been taken or the OK button is pressed, the camera processes the results in under one minute.
Multiple-Exposure produces a single image from two separate exposures. After the first shot is taken, it appears superimposed over the preview to align the second shot. The blended results are saved when the second shot is taken.
Metering & Exposure Compensation
There are 3 metering modes on Olympus XZ-1: Multi-Segment (ESP), Center-Weighed and Spot. These are the most common modes among advanced cameras. The availability of the Spot option allows to precisely select the mid-tone from a scene. All metering modes can be adjusted by ±2 stops, in 1/3 increments using Exposure-Compensation (EC) or Flash-Compensation (FC). These ranges are minimal on most cameras, although most point-and-shoot models do not offer FC.
The XZ-1 offers Auto-Exposure Bracketing (AEB). It takes 3 consecutive shots, one normal, one under- exposed and one over-exposed. The ordering cannot be changed to a more natural, under-normal-over. The increments between exposures is controllable from 1/3 to 5/3 EVs in 1/3 increments.
Continuous Drive & Self-Timers
There is a 2s and a 12s self-timer. There is also a 2 FPS continuous drive mode which can shoot an unlimited number of JPEGs, at least until memory space fills up. In RAW mode, the camera can shoot up to 54 images continuously. The speed itself is slightly above average for a CCD-based camera, CMOS cameras go much faster. The buffer-depth is excellent for any camera other than a DSLR.
There are also two high-speed continuous drive modes which shoot at 7 and 15 FPS, but limit the resolution to 5 MP and 2 MP respectively. It is worth noting that the XZ-1 selects sizes based on Large (L), Medium (M) or Small (S) which are configured in terms of resolution using the camera menu. This means that activating one of the high-speed modes may select a lower resolution than required.
Autofocus & Manual Focus
The Olympus XZ-1 has 5 focus modes:
- Autofocus: This is the standard single-shot (AF-S) mode which locks focus automatically with a half-press of the shutter. The camera stops focusing as soon at it locks. All digital cameras at least support this.
- Macro: This is simply a version of AF-S which lets the camera focus closer at any focal-length. Almost every camera has a mode like this and is mostly there to speed up standard autofocus mode.
- Super Macro: This mode zooms in to the widest focal-length and locks the lens at that position. Other than that, it operates exactly like AF-S.
- Tracking: This is a Subject Tracking continuous autofocus (AF-C) mode. It uses the entire focusing range, so can focus at macro distances as well.
- Manual Focus: The focus distance is set manually in MF mode. While there is no indicator of the actual distance, a magnified area helps set focus using the rear control-dial. MF focus is not very common in small cameras.
Autofocus can automatically choose among 11 focus points or the point can be manually selected. In AF-C mode, the selected point is used to lock initial focus but the camera tracks a subject even if it moves to another focus point.
Built-In Flash & Hot-Shoe
This compact digital camera has a built-in flash, set free via a mechanical release. Keeping the flash down, prevents the camera from using the flash in all modes. The flash range is an incredible 8.6 meters at wide-angle and 6.2 meters at telephoto due to the ultra-bright aperture provided by the camera lens. The Olympus XZ-1 has Auto, Redeye, Fill, Fill & Redeye and Off flash modes. Flash can also be manually controlled between full and 1/64 power, except in automatic modes, including Program.
There is a multi-purpose hot-shoe which naturally supports external lighting. Although it is compatible with an add-on flash, most such flashes are much heavier than the XZ-1 and we suspect people will prefer to use a remote--trigger instead. The hot-shoe can also accommodate a number of add-ons, the most important being a variable-angle high-resolution EVF. Another useful add-on is a microphone for recording stereo sound during video. Obviously, only one such add-on can be used at one time.
SDXC Memory & Lithium-Ion Battery
The Olympus XZ-1 support SDXC memory cards and therefore SDHC and SD cards, which are all the same shape but have different maximum capacities. SDHC cards are presently the cheapest type of memory and are available in various speeds. For HD video, a faster card is recommended. There is also enough built-in memory to store 9 maximum resolution JPEG images. The camera is powered by a small proprietary lithium-ion battery which gives it a battery-life of 320 shots according to the CIPA standard. This is more or less average these days.
Olympus XZ-1 Facts
Compact digital camera
|10 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-6400|
|4X Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/2000-60s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.20" Optional EVF 1.4 Megapixels (1.15X)||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|1280x720 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Spot-Metering|
|3" LCD 610K Pixels||Hot-Shoe|
|Stereo audio input|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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