Olympus XZ-1 Personal Review

One of my growing hobbies has been photography. In particular, I love taking landscape shots of golf courses and at work, I need tight macro shots of operations. While one of my good friends swears by his Canon Mark 5D, I can’t see myself carrying a second man purse of camera and lenses like he does to capture shots around New York City. That said, even the micro 4/3rd cameras despite their size, demands cases because their lenses protrude.

The primary appeal of interchangeable lens cameras is versatility and quality with regard to image sensor, control, and lenses. Most compact cameras -even high end prosumer compacts, make compromises for broad appeal. In particular, lens speed -the ability to open the aperture wide to let in the most amount of light, is in inverse proportion to zoom which has broader appeal. The beauty of high quality portraits and cinema is that the lens focuses on a narrow plane leaving foreground and background slightly blurred. The ability to do this indoors is limited by lens speed -and flash ruins pictures.

The most popular configuration of micro 4/3rds cameras is buying the body and a 20mm Panasonic “pancake” lens which is rated at F1.8 which is a very fast lens speed. By using old fashioned zoom (by stepping forward and backward), this lens allows for excellent low light photography while also allowing for beautiful landscape shooting. It’s also relatively pricey, as I would be paying extra for an option (the ability to change lenses) that I would not use.

The Canon S-95 has been edging towards these specs, but having the older generation G9, I have come to think that Canon really dumbs down their consumer level products as much as their professional products are excellent. My iPhone camera (which took the above picture) takes as good a picture.

The XZ-1 which just shipped from Amazon (which strangely got it a month later than other retailers) fits my needs. It has a very fast lens with the same F1.8 lens speeds as the popular Panasonic pancake 20mm lens. The offered presets work very well, but the manual settings and the physical ergonomics of the camera and the bright OLED screen make the camera sing.

This snapshot shows the camera’s abilities in the hands of a novice. The worst kind of shots for consumer cameras are indoor shots facing a strong source of light. The camera adjusted and produced this image to the right.

The screen is OLED and very bright. That said, I am considering getting the Olympus viewfinder which gets very high reviews (not like the Panasonic viewfinder which gets middling reviews). The viewfinder would fit in the flashes hotshoe.

I have not taken any flash shots and have found that by increasing the ASA, keeping the f stop to 1.8, and holding the camera still, all indoor shots that are visible to the human eye can be taken with good quality with this camera.

The autofocus is very fast, but also touchy, particularly when something is moving and out of the foreground. I haven’t read the manual (I never do) but the camera does allow you to select the region of focus, or to manually focus the lens.

I did purchase a 16GB SDHC card for it -this allows ample space to park the HD video that the camera shoots. Compared to prior video I’ve shot, I feel like I am carrying movie camera. The subject focuses nicely with the background blurring dramatically -this is the benefit of the high quality lens. I don’t see the point of purchasing dedicated movie cameras for most people except for serious videographers.

The battery life is excellent -it shows full bars despite taking about 100 shots and several video clips. I purchased an extra battery for it but expect that it won’t be needed much unless I’m going for long adventures away from a power source.

My comment earlier about the unnecessary flash touches on something I’ve wanted for years in a digital camera. The instant gratification of digital trumped many of the features of film except for the quality of the pictures which could not match those taken years ago with a manual SLR and a fast lens. While it was obvious that you could get this with DSLR’s, the bulk and hassle of carrying camera gear negates any of the fun for me. This almost fits in my pants pocket, definitely in a jacket pocket, and gives you images that match the most important camera -your eye. It is the camera that you have that is the best camera, and this camera is one that I can always have on me (aside from my iPhone).

Update 4-12-2011
The camera absolutely needs a sleeve for the laptop bag as the lens cap comes off too easily. Video is poor -don’t get this camera for the video. Its primary problem is there is an unstable time delay between focus detection and focus motors which for stills is very fast but for video, it can get caught in a spastic focus loop focusing on some foreground object then to the back and vice versa. I hope they fix this with a firmware upgrade. I really should read the manual. The stills, particularly the landscapes and the portraits are superb. Battery life is incredible.

Update 7-26-2011

Got the viewfinder -incredible quality images through it. Will update this review.

3 thoughts on “Olympus XZ-1 Personal Review

  1. One thing, the lens cap is a bit annoying. Also, in your pocket, be aware that the on switch may activate and the lens mechanism jams and the computer wisely decides to shut down and ask for an on-off-on. I would also recommend a screen protector for the OLED screen.

    • I’d go check the cameras out directly at a local retailer. This camera is pocketable, but not terribly pocket friendly. It does fit in my laptop bag very nicely, and in a jacket pocket. The lens cap is very old school and I would tether it as soon as you get it out of the box.

      Up to 200 pics and the battery meter is still full.

      The interface is a bit busy, but have been able to do everything without a manual so far which is a good thing.

      Sony’s stuff in the past has annoyed me with unintuitive interfaces, dense menus and excessive efforts at trying to look cool. Also, would check out the battery life on the Sony -their original batteries tend to cost an arm an a leg.

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