Isabel, Goy and Brandy, taken with the Olympus XZ-1
I’ve been using the Olympus XZ-1 for about a week now and been heartened by the positive responses to my original short review. If you are considering to get the XZ-1, I’ve got some additional thoughts that came up after more time with the little gem.
1. The lens cap is a real stinker. Ditch it.
Unlike the Panasonic LX-3 where the lens cap stays clipped on the lens (with a spring release mechanism), the XZ-1’s default lens cap keeps popping off with the slightest brush against it. This is incredibly risky for the camera lens, which would become exposed accidentally and be prone to horrific scratches.
Especially so when I always carry the camera slung around my torso and don’t always look at where or what the lens might be brushing against. This is the exact unpleasant experience that I had with my Canon G3 so many years ago where the lens cap design was a real afterthought.
I was thus extremely relieved when I found out that Olympus Singapore was selling the premium leather case (above) at their service centre. It costs S$138 (about USD $107 currently) and is a blatant profit margin driver. But that said, it’s designed really well, and overall workmanship is very high.
If you can find it in your locale, don’t even think twice, just buy it immediately! This is probably a cunning Olympus upsell mechanism, but at least the case gives off a whiff of high society ;D
2. It’s a compact cam, so live with the compromises
To be honest, while I like the XZ-1 plenty, I love my Olympus Pen EP-1 even more. The Pen represents the best combination of size, weight, image quality and manual control among my three cameras (the last being my Canon EOS 5D). During the last week of Chinese New Year family visits, it was the Pen that I brought with me most of the time.
And like it or not, the XZ-1 does noise reduction like every other compact cam, but I agree with other reviewers it is a bit too enthusiastic.
On the upside, pimples and skin blemishes get smoothed out automatically so everyone looks like they have great skin. On the downside, I wouldn’t dare enlarge or crop my photos too aggressively if they are above ISO 250 and poorly exposed.
You might also realize I’ve resisted putting in all sorts of test shots or 100% crops in this blog. Yet some readers have asked me to go test the XZ-1 against other cameras like the S95 and LX-5. Hey, these are just casual photos I take for myself and my family, nobody’s paying me to do technical tests and I do find doing test shots incredibly boring.
So why did I get an XZ-1 then? Well, there are those times when you don’t want to be changing lenses, or thinking too much about that bothersome camera bag at your side. What makes me happy about the XZ-1 is that it offers the same film-like color rendition of the Pen, and the tonality is amazing, whether in color or BnW.
What makes this camera really worth the money is the thrill of having dSLR image standards (in terms of color) and lens capabilities (in terms of aperture) in a compact form factor.
The XZ-1 won’t be the right camera to learn photographic principles such as depth of field, shutter speed, or exposure compensation (I would still recommend a full dSLR for that), but it’s the right camera for those who already know how to shoot well.
And bad news if you’re looking for a camcorder replacement – a HD camcorder is still the best option because the XZ-1 isn’t really good at video.
3. You are smarter than the camera
Call it wishful thinking but I do wish more people would take some time to learn photography basics rather than asking “Can this camera take great pictures?”
The camera can only take great photos IF you know how to, and that requires an investment of time and practice.
After all, nobody can cook a good meal without good guidance and practice.
Like every other camera out there, the XZ-1 will not always know if you’re trying to take a picture of a brightly-lit beach, or want to isolate a character in a dim place, or recognize severe backlighting.
All these adverse shooting conditions can be overcome with just a little knowledge of exposure compensation or even better, understanding the relationship between ISO sensitivity, lens aperture and shutter speed. All this can be learnt from a photography guide book you can borrow from any library, or a quick read of online websites.
All too often, I see people expecting their cameras to do miracles for them, and constantly getting disappointed as a result. Technology has brought great leaps to photography in the past ten years, but one thing remains the same – cameras are mere tools, and you decide if the camera can do great work for you.
The XZ-1 represents a peak in the current stage of evolution of cameras, but I don’t foresee cameras taking photos for us for a long long time.