Olympus XZ-1 review

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The Olympus XZ-1 incorporates the most classy design elements of its Canon and Panasonic competitors and has an amazing lens to match. (Image from Olympus Japan)

Updated 1 Feb with a new gallery of evening shots

Updated 5 Feb with more thoughts on the camera (no, I still love it)

I always tell people that I’m a Canon fanboy, but my first serious camera was actually an Olympus mju II compact film camera. You know, the one that came with a rock-solid 35mm f2.8 lens.

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The good ole mju II from the film days.

I brought this small mju with me for a Nepal trekking holiday in 1998, and it turned in consistently great images even though I was untrained in photography then.

These days, I often have mixed feelings about Olympus. It sometimes demonstrates forward thinking in its products and really focuses on great image quality, but is often let down by its inability to follow up on a good thing. Or perhaps is just saddled by a poor marketing (read to the end).

Two years ago, Olympus created a whole new target market with the Pen series of Micro Four Thirds, but since then has lost momentum to Panasonic (GF series) and Sony (NEX series).

I love my beautifully designed EP-1, wrote extensively about it, and still use it weekly 18 months after I bought it. But the lack of prime lenses has dampened my enthusiasm for the system.

Olympus seems to think that coming out with cheaper bodies like the EPL1 and EPL2, or even fancy decals, will help its fortunes, but doesn’t seem to get it that the Pen series just needs a solid range of professional-grade lenses (ie. more bright aperture fixed lenses like the 17mm f2.8 instead of consumer grade zooms) to beat the competition.

Even as a faithful owner, I don’t think the Pen series is going to win the hybrid camera war with today’s state of affairs.

Now Oly has another shot at industry greatness, and that’s in the high-end compact camera segment with the new XZ-1.

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Image from Olympus Japan


To be honest, I’ve not bothered with Oly’s compact digicams ever since my mju II died. In this segment, Oly lost its way trying to push a dead memory card format (remember the silly xD format? They took about 8 years to finally ditch it and of course, were very discreet about switching to SD cards) and middling camera tech specs.

The XZ-1 could well put Olympus ahead of the pack. In fact, the XZ-1 is so good, it could actually cannibalize Oly’s own Pen series.

THAT BIG, BEAUTIFUL LENS

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Let me cut to the chase – there is no compact digicam today that matches the technical specifications of the XZ-1. It’s not obvious in product shots, but the zoom lens is huge compared to the camera body and is its strongest selling point.

The i.Zuiko lens, which does an equivalent of 28-112mm zoom, has a really impressive aperture range of f1.8 to f2.5.

In plain English, this lens sucks in a huge amount of light no matter the zoom range, allowing you to take sharp pictures in really low lighting situations. It is as capable as a dSLR prime lens in collecting light, and that’s why it’s so big in size. This is what we photogs call a “fast” zoom.

Another selling point is the lens contains ED (extra-low dispersion) glass for better image quality (reduce color distortions like purple fringing in high contrast bits) where most other compact digicams have normal glass.

So does this lens make the XZ-1 a professional camera for the masses? Nope. It does make it a great camera for professionals and other good photographers though!

Let me explain.

The tiny sensor in a compact camera is far inferior to that of a m4/3 or dSLR camera so you’ll never get professional-grade image resolution. But most people don’t need that kind of image resolution if they don’t print their photos.

Why, I’m an ex-photojournalist and all I do now is share 2 megapixel-sized images on Facebook.

So sensor size aside, what matters in a compact camera is the ability to take shots under any condition and the XZ-1’s impressive i.Zuiko lens does the job better than any camera out there. The nearest competition is Panasonic’s respectable LX-5, which goes slightly wider at 24-90mm, but takes in less light at f2.0-f.3.3.

Canon has been trying to take down the LX5 with its S90/S95, but I’ve stayed away from that camera due to its much weaker light collection (28-105mm, but with a terrible f2.0 to f4.9 aperture range). The XZ-1 effectively knocks out the Canon S95 from the high-end compact cam race and the Canon G12 is too bulky and irrelevant in today’s landscape.

I used to own a Panasonic LX-3 (read my old review here) due to its great lens, but when the XZ-1 was released, I sold off the old Panny straightaway.

OTHER GREAT HARDWARE BITS

The XZ-1 also features rock solid components like the following:

Light but rugged aluminium body. Coated in matte, the black version does not pick up fingerprints and is always cool to the touch. Exudes pure classiness.

A nice clicky front dial around the lens for changing major settings like aperture or shutter speed, or even photo filters. Hard to quantify this, but the “clickiness” is just right!

Decent pop-up flash that can be adjusted to do subtle fill-in flash with 1/64 flash output! Overall flash output is great and the flash shots don’t look “fake”, but natural thanks to the fast lens + fill-in flash capabilities. Also, thanks to its flash hotshoe, I also plonked on the FL-14 flash accessory from my Pen and it works well too, albeit flash-overexposure at anything less than a 1m away. Same problem when used on the Pen.

Ultra-sharp and color-accurate OLED screen. I could discern if my photos were wrongly exposed by 1/3 stops just by relying on this screen.

Sensitive and reliable shutter button. I don’t really care how many frames per second this camera can do (it’s about 2FPS I think). But good photographers need to trigger off their shots accurately to one-shot-one-kill and this camera does just that. I remember the days when there would be a pause between pressing the shutter button and getting the actual exposure on digicams. Thank goodness that’s history.

NOT SO GOOD HARDWARE

Why can’t Olympus build in an automated lens cover? The pop-off cover scares me because the lens’ front glass is so exposed, it could get easily scratched if accidentally brushed against some other object. And obviously, no screw-in filters are possible on this lens.

No ISO or White Balance button. Seriously, we need those, Oly.

Small rear wheel dial. I had the same type of rear wheel wear out (and replaced under warranty) on my Pen. In full manual exposure mode, this rear wheel is used for changing shutter speed on the XZ-1, and is a poor companion to the excellent front dial. Yes, I know that I won’t be using the manual mode most of the time on this camera (it’s really easy to change the exposure compensation using the same rear wheel dial), but one’s gotta be demanding right?

No image rotation? This is ridiculous, or maybe I haven’t read the manual, but I don’t think there’s a gyroscope in the camera. So when you rotate the camera when viewing the image, it doesn’t rotate to fill the screen automatically. You have to turn the front dial instead.

IMAGE QUALITY

Ok, this is where I insert in my XZ-1 photos from the first day of shooting.

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Not often that you’ll find a Chinese New Year decoration that matches Isabel’s clothes

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Isaac

For me, Olympus gear is only second to Canon when reproducing skin tones. The original E-series dSLR displayed really naturalistic film qualities, and the Pen improved on that further. The XZ-1 shares the same color rendition as the Pen, and that is nothing but good news.

You can expect very pleasing, yet not overdone colors from the XZ-1. You get warm tones while not losing the cool palette, all in the same picture. Other cameras, like the Panasonic LX3, just focus on reproducing the cool palette, which is not to everyone’s taste outside of Japan. And unlike Canon IXUS cameras, the XZ-1 avoids trying to be too punchy with bright colors.

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Isabel takes flight, after lunch no less.

I’ll admit I haven’t tried every compact cam out there (why waste my time?) but the XZ-1 produces images that are really good in contrast, tone and saturation. I had a pretty good experience getting the right exposure and contrast in auto modes (Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority) such that there was little need to edit in Photoshop. That translates to dummy-proof photography for many people.

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My kids’ idea of a breakfast conversation.

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Art Filter: Grainy Film. Too aggressive with contrast, but still nice to use.

There’s only one issue with the image quality – there is a little too much noise-reduction going on in the XZ-1. Look, it’s not that bad considering most people never blow up their images to 100% on their computer. You will only notice it if you crop your images tightly, or zoom in to look at its 100% magnification in your photo editor.

For folks like me who are used to film grain and video noise, it’s always a bit disconcerting to see fine details smeared over to form a slightly “watercolor” look. But that’s the one compromise that has to be made with small sensors in compact cams – there’s really only so much detail you can squeeze out of it.

It’s not a dealbreaker in this case, but I’m sure there are a lot of pixel peepers (ie. amateurs who are more concerned about the gear rather than actual photography) out there who will miss the forest for the trees. If you want sheer detail and the ability to discern every strand of hair on a person’s head, just use a dSLR. Even a Pen will not give you that kind of fine detail.

I do wish Oly gave us the option to adjust the noise reduction so we can see what the image would have looked like otherwise.

And if you haven’t noticed, the Oly XZ-1 is 10 megapixels. I’m so thankful that camera makers have realized there is no point chasing after 14 or 16 MP in a small compact cam when it would only mean more image noise. Unless they can somehow increase the camera sensor size, 10MP seems to be the limit for balancing noise and resolution.

VIDEO QUALITY (Updated 1 Feb 2011)

I haven’t done extensive testing with the video function and so far it isn’t encouraging. The HD video quality isn’t particularly sharp or detailed. I need to go take more outdoor videos before I can say how it really is.

Well, I guess you can’t have it all.

CONCLUSION AND OTHER THOUGHTS

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Morning games on the couch.

If you want the complete technical lowdown on the XZ-1, read the Dpreview.com hardcore review. I agree with most of its findings but I would also emphasize that readers remember that the XZ-1 is a compact camera, not a dSLR. I get annoyed sometimes when I read forums and you see people expecting the moon from a compact camera – well, keep dreaming guys.

A compact camera is essentially a compromise on many fronts to allow for convenience and portability. And the masses are easily satisfied with the quality they can get from a basic digicam. The XZ-1 is not the camera for them. Most people would spring for a S$400 digicam where possible and see little need for a S$699 XZ-1 (That’s the price I purchased at MS Color in Ang Mo Kio).

The XZ-1 falls into the highest end of the compact category which has come under severe price and performance pressure from hybrid dSLRs like the Pen, GF series and NEX series. If you want better image quality than what a compact can give, hybrid dSLRs offer a great step up for just a little more money.

But the hybrid dSLRs have a long way to go, and like I mentioned, it’s because they lack good prime lenses. Putting a bulky zoom lens on a hybrid dSLR is not ideal, because I would rather carry around a real dSLR instead. To make matters worse, the zooms available for hybrid dSLRs are just consumer grade – they offer poor light collection capabilities, and don’t provide excellent image quality for the money.

So my situation with my Oly Pen today is that I use only two prime lenses with it – 17mm and 25mm, both f2.8. They give me 35mm and 50mm equivalent focal lengths. For 80% of my photography that’s fine, but there is no wide or tele prime lens available for me to buy. How can I take nice landscape or portrait shots with my Pen then?

Now you can see why that I think the XZ-1 might actually cannibalize the Pen camera range, especially at the EPL-2 range (sub S$1,000). It shares similar color rendition, similarly restrictive manual exposure controls (you need to upgrade to the Pen EP2 for better manual use), and most potential buyers will be happier with the XZ-1’s solid zoom range and “fast” apertures.

It’s ironic, but in trying to create the best ever compact camera and pricing it aggressively, Olympus has actually put its own fledgling Pen series at risk.

I’ve stopped using my Canon EOS 5D regularly since I purchased the Pen, and I still believe the Pen series is the best thing that ever happened for professionals and enthusiasts. But right now, the XZ-1 might be both a blessing and a curse for the company’s ambitions to dominate the consumer market.

And if you’re dying to know whether you should buy an XZ-1 instead of a Panasonic LX-5, sorry but I really can’t say.

My personal preference is Oly’s pleasing film-like image quality, but the LX series does provide better portability (and the same annoying pop-off lens cap!). The aperture differences between both cameras is not that significant from a professional’s point of view. It really boils down to whether you like Panasonic’s very Zen and cool color rendition.

What I know for sure is that the XZ-1 effectively kills off every other high-end compact digicam below S$1000. I personally hope this camera wakes up Canon, who has let its G-series decline from a great camera in the early 2000s (my old G3 had a f2.0-3.3 lens!) to a bulky camera with a slow zoom lens and way too many buttons. Canon’s S90/S95 series was no fight for the LX-3/5, and looks even worse now compared to the XZ-1.

I remain a Canon faithful, but their attempts in this camera category space has been feeble for so many years it’s saddening.

In conclusion, the XZ-1 is a modern classic with best-in-class hardware and top notch image quality, but it does come with some puzzling shortcomings. And from what I’ve seen, it’s not a strong performer with video recording.

Thanks to its impressive lens and color rendition, it is the current compact champ.

I’d dare say that casual shooters are more likely to get more great keeper shots out of this small guy than if they were using a bulky dSLR. After all, you don’t have to fumble with lenses with the XZ-1, nor do you have to invest in expensive f2.8 prime lenses (like I did) to get sharp indoor shots.

So for goodness sake, Olympus, don’t lose your momentum again like what happened to the Pen series.

And that leads me to….

POSTSCRIPT: Questionable Marketing

Last Friday, I saw the launch print ad for the XZ-1 in the Straits Times and got really annoyed. Take a look at it:

Oly XZ1 launch ad in ST

Now if you read it carefully, the main visual is actually a photo from the Oly E-5 dSLR with a much bigger image sensor and lens. Oly Singapore was using the dSLR picture to promote the depth-of-field capabilities of the small XZ-1.

Oly XZ1 launch ad in ST 2

Look, all the legal disclaimers are there, but such an approach demonstrates a lack of faith in the actual product. And it’s questionable marketing with some funky colloquial grammar – “DSLR Can Do It, So Can XZ-1”. Someone fire the copywriter because it should be “If a DSLR Can Do It, So Can The XZ-1”.

To irritate one even further, they used a big picture of the white XZ-1, which isn’t available here yet as they’re shipping in the black matte version first. There’s a tiny picture of the black version though.

Now you know why I can own and recommend two Oly cameras BUT still not be a fanboy. This local marketing campaign is a downer for what is essentially a killer product, and the prose doesn’t match the classiness of the product.

There’s plenty of great marketing being done on the Oly XZ-1 Japanese site, so one really wonders why the local office doesn’t use those simple, but really effective marketing assets.

MORE SAMPLE IMAGES FROM ME

These BnW images show the great tonality possible with the XZ-1:

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I’ve had some folks ask me about the fill-in flash. Here’s what it looks like before, and after using the pop-up flash at 1/64 power, very natural results under mixed lighting in the evening.

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54 Replies to “Olympus XZ-1 review”

  1. Your review comes at a perfect time cuz I’m in the market for a new camera. A few things to add: Samsung’s EX1 starts at F1.8, dunno what it goes up to, but it’s the only other F1.8 compact on the market other than the Oly XZ-1. You should also consider Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds primes for your E-P1 I’m drooling over the 20mm F1.7. Then there’s the 14mm F2.5 that comes with the GF2 I’m close to buying.

    your shiud

  2. Chris, you’re right, the Samsung EX1 has comparable specs to the XZ1. I completely forgot it existed and it doesn’t have much public mindshare. But you and I both know Samsung isn’t pushing its cameras as hard as its HDTVs. 😀

    Yes, I also did consider the Pana lenses. But 14mm = 28mm and that’s not the 24mm I’m looking for. 20mm = 40mm and that’s a really odd focal length between 35mm and 50mm. Anyone else reading this sentence is going to be confused!

    Ian

  3. Nice review. In your first picture there is a picture of a body case for the XZ1. Is that available yet? If the case is available I would not be bothered with the lens cap.

  4. Hi Ian!
    Thnak you for the complete review of this Olympus.
    You convinced me 🙂
    As I am about to go to Singapore pretty soon, could you tell me where to get one like yours plese?

  5. Hi Kiuas, you can try reputable shops like Cathay Photo or MS Color, but they’re running out of stock fast. I believe superstores like Challenger and Harvey Norman also stock the camera.

  6. Hi! I saw your link on Engadget. I’m glad it wasn’t marked as SPAM because then I wouldn’t have been led to this site. Do you do this sort of thing often? I’d like to read more camera reviews by you, because you seem to “get” what makes cameras like this useful. I especially liked this sentence here:

    “I get annoyed sometimes when I read forums and you see people expecting the moon from a compact camera – well, keep dreaming guys.”

    I, too, get annoyed when I go into the forums for viable, hands-on experience threads, but instead end up seeing nothing but complaining about how small digi-cams aren’t rivaling their DSLR brethren. It’s nice to see someone that understands the point of cameras like this. Not to REPLACE DSLR’s, but to ACCOMPANY. Any camera you have that is of this type is going to show signs of weakness, as you can only do so much with these types of cameras.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I appreciated your honest, sensible article. I’ll be sure to stop in again to see what other information I can glean from your site!

    1. Hi Aaron, thanks for reading my stuff! I don’t do camera reviews often, because I only do so when I buy a new one and want to share the goodness 😛

      While I’m a long-time dSLR user, I personally believe they’re not for everyone, in contrary to what the camera makers would have you believe. I have seen too many friends use dSLRs but never change out the mediocre kit lens that comes with it. Sooner or later, they always go back to a compact camera because they don’t need the pro-level visuals nor the stifling weight. There’s still room for improvement in the compact cam segment and the XZ-1 represents yet another step forward for the industry.

  7. I just checked the EX1 specs and while the aperture range is minutely better than the XZ-1 (F1.8-2.4 vs F1.8-2.5), the 1/1.7″ sensor is smaller than the XZ-1’s, and since both sensors are rated at 10 megapixels, the XZ-1 comes out ahead. I like Samsung cameras but am a bit put off by the new i-Function lenses it’s pushing for its NX series. I wouldn’t use them because they sacrifice image stabilisation for the fancy lens-barrel control of camera functions. Plus there are no Samsung NX prime lenses below F2.8, which is a deal killer for me at this point.

    If anyone’s reading this, the way to calculate the 35mm equivalent for lenses is check the camera body’s focal length multiplier. Micro Four Thirds use 2x (while APS-C cameras like Sony’s NEX and Samsung’s NX use 1.5x) so a 20mm prime lens it the equivalent of 40mm in normal 35mm-film-equivalent parlance.

    So anyway, I agree that 40mm is a weird length (though dpreview.com seems to disagree) but the F1.7 aperture easily makes me ignore the weirdness. The main downside seems to be noisy focusing and vibration, which the newer 14mm F2.5 prime corrects. I’m going to try and save up for one.

    Chris, you’re right, the Samsung EX1 has comparable specs to the XZ1. I completely forgot it existed and it doesn’t have much public mindshare. But you and I both know Samsung isn’t pushing its cameras as hard as its HDTVs.

    Yes, I also did consider the Pana lenses. But 14mm = 28mm and that’s not the 24mm I’m looking for. 20mm = 40mm and that’s a really odd focal length between 35mm and 50mm. Anyone else reading this sentence is going to be confused!

  8. Dude, I’d go so far as to lend u my Samsung EX1 to let you review against the XZ-1 because I like your honest and sensible review.

    Contact me if you’d like 🙂

    1. Hi Gent, thanks for the offer but I’m too preoccupied with my XZ-1 right now 🙂
      Dpreview has a pretty positive review of the EX1 though, rated 73% versus 74% for the Oly, so I guess both are pretty closely matched.

      Chris – 40mm is still too weird for me. I grew up on 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm. In my prejudiced view, there’s no such thing as 40mm haha!

  9. Your review is the best I have read yet! I am one of those consumers who’s primary concern is “pocketability” (or in my case “purseability”) and whose second priority is IQ. I have spent the past 2 months searching for a camera to replace my excellent fugifilm f30. I was at the point of just buying another f30 off e-bay when I saw the CES announcement of the XZ-1. It has almost everything I wanted in a camera (right down to the diarama 🙂 and I have been hoping that the IQ would live up to the hype. You have just confirmed the DPReview conclusion, and made me feel much more assured about my pre-order. I have linked your site on the Olympus Forum at DPR.
    Thank you for bringing REALISM to your review!
    PS. Have you taken a video, and how do you like it?

    1. Hi Flaming June

      Thanks for reading! I haven’t tried the video option at all (obviously not a priority for me) and will do so over the next few days and post a sample. I don’t like taking flash shots either but so far, the fill in flash on the XZ-1 is excellent. The FL-14 flash accessory never does well closeup though.

  10. Oh- forgot to thank you for your review of the flash! I don’t know why I can never get any info on flash – but I feel it is a very important part of a compact camera – even one with a fast lens. Did you happen to notice how much red-eye this camera has? I’m assuming there is some since the flash is so close, but was hoping the “pop-up” distance might reduce it somewhat.
    And thank you for taking the kinds of photos I might take. Pics of my kids just goofing around! I loved that!!!

  11. Samsung EX1 has some weaknesses like only VGA in its video. EX1 it is also much heavier than the Olympus.

    Most importantly to me are skin tones and the Olympus delivers. LX5 has bad skin tones as mentioned in every review on it.

    That makes Oly XZ-1 the choice today.

  12. I thought this might be a safe place to ask a dumb question. I have never used a focus lock button (just the half shutter press and recompose method), but how is it different from using the sequential shooting described on page 38 of the user manual?

    http://members.casema.nl/tedv/ENU.pdf

    I am new to all this, so sorry if this is one of those totally obvious questions.

    Also, specs say this camera has an orientation sensor. When you downloaded your photos to the computer, did you find this to be true?
    Thanks (and whew! It’s getting rather late here in Georgia!)

  13. Hi, thanks for the review. The color rendition of the XZ-1 is superb, I think skin tones are beautiful but photos lack sharpness on the edges. You’re right it will tend to smear details because of overfiltering noise. Also, could you also post night time photos? That is the main selling point, low light photography IMO. Street lights, bars, pubs, candle lights. See how far you can push the XZ-1 without losing too much color fidelity and detail. Thanks again!

  14. BLACK or WHITE Body?
    Thank you for an excellent “real person usability” review.

    You mentioned the pros of the black version. The white on the computer screen also has a certain style about it. As you no doubt have seen & handled both in the real world are you able to give a brief pros versus cons of the two versions?

    Many thanks.
    JT

  15. Hi guys, sorry for the delayed reply as I’m busy at work 🙁

    Some quick responses:

    June – I don’t read the manual or use the AE lock either! Most of the time, I just do the same as you 😀 Or shoot in full manual. I’m an ex-photojourn, so some habits die hard.

    LK – I don’t go out so much at night! But I’ll take some when I do.

    J Trap – I haven’t seen the white body, but I’ll assume it’s similar to the white Pen series in terms of glossiness and non-yellowing paint.

    1. Hi Forseti, I don’t own either S95 or the LX5, so I wouldn’t be able to do a comparison. When it comes to compact cams, I don’t expect much from AF speeds but the XZ-1 is fast enough for me.

  16. Nice review. Still, I did’nt decide yet between LX5 and XZ1: it seems to be a question of choosing between more functionality (easier selection of aspect ratios, AF options, WB etc with LX5) and lens advantages (larger aperture and wider focal range with XZ1).
    IQ (sharpness, noise, etc)? Judging by what DPREVIEW and FOCUS NUMERIQUE say, the cameras show similar results.

    One detail that matters very much to me is the possibility of using a filter to protect the lens (and this worries you as well!). And, as far as could go with my researches, Olympus does not say a word about a filter adapter for XZ-1. Any idea?

  17. Hello Ian,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to do the review and taking those wonderful photographs, I am sure many will benefit from your effort, I sure did. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing and your photographs taken with the XZ-1 !! I like your honest and straight to the point take on your review.
    I can’t wait to get one to test it myself.

  18. you should do a side by side test review between the olypus xz-1 and the Leica D-Lux 5 as the images etc are diferent to the Pana Lx 5.
    Noise Test,Relistic Colour Test and others etc etc.
    Jim Seekers,Edinburgh – Scotland.

  19. Hi Ian, Gongxi facai! I’m a fellow Singaporean based in US. Waiting for them to ship the XZ-1 here.

    Have you tried low f-stop f1.8 (or f2.5 at max zoom) and see the bokeh on kid’s portrait? I’ve seen close-ups but I’m more interested in portraits.

    Can you post some examples?

  20. Hi Robin, thanks for your kind words 😀

    Hi Kien – I don’t think you’ll see much bokeh, from what pix I’ve taken at f1.8 so far. This is a compact camera and you need to use a dSLR with a good f2.8 lens to get the bokeh/DOF that is discernable to the average viewer. As I mentioned, this is more a walkabout camera for me and I’m not really expecting it to do dSLR stuff. I’m just contented that it has Pen-family color rendition.

  21. I enjoyed your review, and yes, some people do read reviews by others. Based on what you stated about the XZ-1, I will purchase one to see for myself. I have owned many camera’s since 1967 and enjoy taking “walk around shots.” Thanks fora “real world review.”
    G.

  22. I’m wondering if you have ever tried the Canon S95 or G12? Or are you just dismissing them only for their specs? Ofcourse the specs of the S95 lens are nothing compared to the XZ-1 but if you compare them in DPreview the S95 scores better at the low light ratings. How can that be?
    The reasons for buying a S95 could be the size, it’s cheaper, no annoying lenscap, the front ring is more useful.

  23. Hi Edwin, yes, I’ve tried the S95 and G12 before and they’re good cameras. But they’re just not competitive in today’s landscape because they don’t offer a fast zoom lens that can match the other bits of their hardware.

    Re Dpreview scores: It’s one thing to score better in low light ratings, it’s another thing to actually score the shot you want, especially when zoomed in, and that’s where the two Canons lose out immediately to the Oly. So I don’t read too much into technical benchmarks, they don’t often reflect real world usage. Dpreview does give a good reality check at the end of their reviews though.

  24. Thank you Ian for your very quick response. So, if I want the best compact there is at this moment I can go for the LX-5 or the XZ-1. Since I don’t like the colors in the LX-5 examples and I’ve played with it a little bit in the store and didn’t really like it, the S95 was feeling much better in use (ofcourse it’s a personal thing).
    The XZ-1 has some similar hardware components as the S95 I believe. The front ring and the small rear wheel dial (I liked them both on the S95). So the XZ-1 would have to be the choice for me.

    Again thanks a lot Ian for sharing your opinion.

  25. Hi Edwin,

    You know, ultimately all reviews are subjective and everyone should buy the camera that is right for them. Indeed, in terms of technical performance the XZ-1 is probably the king right now, but the size or that stupid lens cap won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I do get a bit worried when people tell me that they’ll run out and buy the XZ-1 based on my review, because it’s more important that they go have a hands-on with the camera to get a good feel.

    I’d recommend the XZ-1 to most people, but guess what, I still prefer to use my Pen for its better resolution and manual exposure 😀 After a few days of use, I’ve decided that the Pen will still remain my main camera, and the EOS 5D and XZ-1 will be used when I need something different.

    So do go have a good trial and hope you will make the best decision for yourself.

    Cheers,
    Ian

  26. Great review Ian! Thank you. I think the only reason why I’m still waiting to test out the XZ1 is cause of the color rendition and the LCD display. Everyone says they’re great! Im debating whether to get that or the Leica DLUX5. Based on my side by side comparisons, the DLUX5 beats out the LX5 in color. So you get the features of the LX, with better, more true to life color. Now I’d love to see a comparison between the Dlux5 and this. Features-wise, I still think that the Dlux is a tad better, at least it’s more to my liking. And I’ve seen some pretty amazing photographs come out of it. I have yet to see what the XZ1 can deliver when pushed to the limits. Im concerned about all that smearing/ smudging though. Do you notice it much in your photographs? Sometimes skins look like the clone stamp in photoshop was applied heavily, yet the photo was straight out of the camera, with no pp! That worries me a bit. And I’m not exactly a pixel peeper. Also, does the lack of a ael/afl button bother one much and lack of quick access to the ISO and WB? I use these a lot.

  27. Good review. It`s true, I´m thinking about purchasing a XZ-1 or a PEN. Albeit beeing a Olympus follower since OM-days. But so far not yet very active in digital only a compact (now broken) .
    Olymus is going it`s own way staying in the Maitani-Line: A company has to decide to which photographers they want to adress their Products, and not trying to make a one size fit`s all. Therefore one
    they need some unique-features to distigush from the marked. I think at the moment they have the direction, I hope they do a good job beeing successful.

    I also hope Oly. offers soon some nice compact prime for the Pen series to make it more attractive. To adopt a lens might be convinient for 4/3-DSLR but a pen soon get`s too bulky and so loose it`s advantege of compactess .

    I´d like: a 2.0/11mm [remembering the amazing Zuiko 2.0/21mm]
    ; a 2.5/14mm
    One lens with f=1.2 anwhere between 22…30m
    Most wanted: 1.7/42mm
    In macro it`s okey to adopt a lens. Macro equipment ist bulky anyway.
    Even a compact 2.5/90mm lens might be something special with lot of fun-potential on a pen, when it makes a well balanced combination.

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  29. Very well written! It’s glad to see another review based on the art of photography and sentiments. It’s disheartening to see pixel peepers, as you said, to focus on the gears rather than the photography itself.

    I own two LX3 and a 550D. My first LX3 was water-damaged (just the OIS unit broke down) and I got a second one since it was so good. Anyway, I am satisfied with them at the moment, so I am not seduced by XZ-1. 🙂

  30. Great review on the XZ-1, I had a very enjoyable time reading through and looking at each and every photo comparison. I would ask the pixel peepers to look at the pixels in my blown up film photos at ISO1600. 🙂

    I see that you are disheartened by the lack of prime lenses on the EP and EPL series. Well, I agree, which is why I use old manual focus olympus prime lenses on a borrowed EPL, and it works pretty nicely. Just a thought. 🙂

    Thanks again for the wonderful review!!

  31. I bought the XZ-1 after reviewing Ian’s opinions and sample images. I am very impressed with the image quality, for a casual user it is simply hassle free to use without too much of an experience or knowledge required to obtain desirable image results. See my first shots at Flickr and feel free to comment!

  32. Good review. Like yourself I too am an old Olympus compact camera follower, but even further back – I used an old XA. While traveling through Europe during the early 80’s I shot thousands of slides with that camera and I was almost always satisfied with their development.

    One of the coolest things about the little range finder was the ability to easily change the ASA at the front of the camera which allowed one to see the affect of the shutter speed displayed in the view finder which allowed for very easy stops up and down.

    The clam-shell design, size, focus and handing were great and the 2.8 35MM lens was really nice. Long long exposures were also easily made as the shutter would stay open for as long as 10 seconds.

    I hope the XZ-1 embodies just a little of the XA dna – it looks like a great camera – like yourself I too have been waiting for a camera like this – I think I will now pass on the S95 and highly consider the new Olympus! Too bad the XZ-1 does not have an easy lens cover, but I have no doubt some aftermarket folks will develop something soon.

  33. Hi James, thanks for your feedback! Is it easy to manually focus on the Pen series? Do you need the EVF to do that properly?

    Happy8feet – happy shooting! Glad to know you’re having fun like me 😀

    Frank – the XZ-1 leather casing solves the cap issue immediately, but it’s kinda pricey at over USD100 in Singapore. I bought it anyway.

  34. Thank you, Ian, for your great review! As I’m considering the purchase of such a camera, I’ve been reading a wide variety of reviews on the XZ-1, and just found yours, thanks to a link from digitalcameratracker.com. Although I appreciated the thorough technical analysis of DPReview, I especially enjoyed your personal perspective, particularly with your professional background.
    Outstanding balance in both your review and responses to other readers!

  35. Hi. Thank you for your review.

    I have had my XZ-1 for a week now. Not available in the UK until the end of march but I mailed Olympus and they sent me a UK spec camera from Belgium. Arrived in two days; great service!!

    I love it! I also have an EP-1 and other DSLR cameras. It’s just so easy to get great images with this camera…..so portable!
    The best camera is the one you have with you! An adage that rings true. I’ll pick up the XZ-1 when even the Pen and a couple of lenses demand a bag.

    I do agree about the Video though. Not great. Not even as good as the LX-3. I took the camera to a gig and the audio is terrible. Totally useless, where I know other cameras would have performed much better!

    Not the point though; I wanted it for stills. The lens is fantastic and totally suits my needs….that’s all one can say. If it works for you, and it does, it exceeds my expectations, then what more is there???

    Regards,
    Dean

  36. Hi Ian. Thanks for the review. Can comment on the XZ-1 ability to take indoor action shots without flash like kids running around? I’m looking for a compact that can do this.

  37. Ian great review, I just got the XZ today, nothing beats trying a camera in hand first.
    Since I got my E-PL1 my e510 gets little use 🙁
    But even the PEN gets a bit much to carry and my otherwise superb Nokia N8 does not do low light or portraits so well (it DOES do superb video tho 😉
    Fast glass rules really, and having speed at the long as well as the wide end…I was Lost and had to buy it!

  38. Was looking for tips about using the XZ-1 and saw your site. Not sure if you know this already, I found that ISO can be adjusted in P mode by rotating the dial on the lens barrel.

    1. Thanks Amy, however, I don’t really use the P mode, am in the Manual mode
      most of the time, and that’s where it’s difficult to change the ISO.

      Ian

      1. Hi Ian

        If you just twist the top dial to P mode you can then turn the front dial to change ISO and twist the top dial back to M.

        It’s a bit fiddly, but it’s an alternative to menu diving at least.

        Another option is to just press the “OK” button as it’ll bring up the most recently changed menu item, so if that was ISO you can quickly change it that way.

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