The existence of enthusiast class compact digital cameras, such as the Canon PowerShot S100 and the newly launched G1X clearly shows that there is an audience for such models. And note that this is despite DSLRs and compact mirrorless cameras being in the same price bracket. Seeing an opportunity in this niche segment, Olympus recently introduced the XZ-1, which competes head-on with Canon’s PowerShot ‘S’ series.

Mode dial at the top

Mode dial at the top

Design and Build Quality

Like the Canon PowerShot S95 or the S100, the GX1 doesn’t come across as an enthusiast-class camera at the first glance. It’s only when you notice the hot shoe for external flash and the shooting options that you realize it packs some serious meat. The body is all black with the metal front, and the overall excellent build . This can easily be felt as soon as you hold the camera. The front of the camera sports a highly respectable i.Zuiko lens, which is the first for a digital camera by Olympus. It’s super-bright with a large aperture of F1.8 at the widest end, which is 28 mm. At 4x zoom the focal length extends to 112 mm and the largest aperture you get is an impressive F2.5. The benefits of large aperture are good control over depth of field and fast shutter speeds in low light.

Around the lens is a ring similar to that in the Canon PowerShot ‘S’ series. The function of this ring changes depending on the mode being used. The top of the camera sports a mode dial, which allows you to choose between Program, Manual, Art Filters, Scenes, Intelligent Auto, Custom and the semi manual modes (aperture and shutter priority). Moving to the left, you have the shutter release button, along with the zoom rocker, on/off button and hot shoe for external flash. Like in the PowerShot S100, the flash is housed inside the body and it can be popped up using a tiny lever behind it.

4x optical zoom

4x optical zoom

The rear panel is made of plastic with matte finish and is dominated by a large 3-inch OLED display, which has a crisp resolution of 614k dots. If Olympus has gone so far in incorporating striking features, they might as well have added a Gorilla glass to prevent the display from getting scratched easily. Here, you can’t afford to be careless and a protective film is recommended. To the right, starting from the top is a tiny rubber grip for the thumb and a hotkey for video recording. Then comes the playback button, 5-way d-pad with a jog dial around it, menu button and info button. The d-pad offers quick access to EV, focus, flash and drive modes (burst, bracketing and self-timer).

The HDMI and USB ports are housed under a plastic flap on the side. The USB port also doubles as a port for charging the battery within the camera. The charger has a USB port and you connect the camera to the charger using the supplied data cable. It’s a good feature that you don’t have to remove the battery from the camera to charge it, but then you can charge a second battery, while you’re using the camera. The battery and SD card slot are located at the bottom where a tiny grille for the speaker is also present.


Features

The Olympus XZ-1 features a 1/1.63-inch sensor, which is slightly large than the sensors used in most other digital cameras. It’s even larger than the sensor in the PowerShot S100, which measures 1/1.7-inch. The effective resolution of the sensor is 10 megapixels. The user interface of the XZ-1 is very intuitive and Olympus has put the jog dial and the ring around the lens to good use. If you’re a beginner who doesn’t know anything about exposure settings, the iAuto mode works wonders. It automatically detects the type of scene and accordingly sets the white balance, shutter, aperture and ISO for optimal results. Here, the user can set the image resolution, video resolution (HD or SD) and flash.

3-inch OLED display at the back

3-inch OLED display at the back

The OK button at the center of the d-pad has easy to understand options, such as colour saturation, colour temperature, brightness and background blur. The user simply has to select an option and use the jog dial to adjust the parameter’s intensity. There’s also a section called shooting tips, which shows techniques on how to capture great photos of children, pets, flowers and food, in simple language.

Program mode and semi-manual modes are for more adventurous users who want to experiment with parameters, such as ISO, white balance, metering modes, ND filter and macro mode. There’s also a super-macro mode, which allows shooting subjects from as close as a centimetre. The manual mode offers control over the aperture and shutter speed as well. The Scene and Art Filter modes have functions that anyone will enjoy. Besides the regular bunch of presets, which includes kids, pets, beach, night scene, portrait, landscape and so on, you get multi-exposure and panorama mode. With multi-exposure, you shoot one frame and then you can overlay it with the second shot. Panorama mode isn’t as simple as Sony’s Sweep Panorama, but it’s somewhat similar. While shooting the successive frames (to the left or right), you have to pan the camera in accordance with a crosshair that assists alignment. You can shoot up to three successive frames and the panorama is stitched by the camera. The Art Filter mode has a collection of filters that yield effects, such as Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film (black and white), Pin Hole, Diorama (similar to toy effect) and Dramatic Tone. When used well with appropriate scenes and subjects, you can get very creative shots.

The video recording function will be a slight disappointment for those who want full HD videos. The XZ-1 supports recording only up to 720p. Coming to the dial around the lens, it lets you select the ISO in Program mode, shutter speed in Shutter Priority mode and aperture in Manual and Aperture Priority modes. It also lets you select scenes and art filters. When rotated in playback mode, it rotates the picture. However, you cannot customize the function of the dial. Also there isn’t a button to which you can assign your own function. Had it been there, it would have been possible to assign functions, such as metering and ISO, which come very handy.


Performance
Starting with the handling of the camera, the XZ-1 is offers a comfortable single hand grip, thanks to the dimpled rubber grip for the thumb. However, it would have been better had there been a curvature or a rubberized grip on the front. The shutter release button, zoom rocker and mode dial, all are appropriately placed for strain-free access. The dedicated button for recording videos is also conveniently located right next to the thumb grip.

ISO sensitivity test

ISO sensitivity test

ISO sensitivity test

A notable feature of the XZ-1 is that it allows a fine control over the ISO. Instead of one stop, which is usually the case in most cameras, here you get 1/3 stop. So instead of jumping from ISO 100 to 200, you can set the values to 125 and 160. The range starts from ISO 100 and goes way up to 6400.

The noise is very much under control at up to ISO 400. From there on, it starts getting worse with graininess. The results at ISO 800 are also acceptable, if you reduce the image size. The same goes with ISO 1600 and 3200, but at 100 percent zoom, you’ll notice a watercolour effect occurring.

Zoom and other tests

We tried shooting all sorts of subjects – people, still shots, indoors, outdoors, macros, and so on. We must say that the reproduction of colours is excellent. An aperture of F1.8 greatly helps in getting good background blur, due to shallow depth of field. However, we weren’t too satisfied with the quality of JPEG images. There’s a loss in detail, due to strong JPEG compression, which results in minor artefacts / patchiness in areas where fine detailing should have been there. But RAW output is far superior and it can be enhanced using the RAW processing module in imaging applications, such as Photoshop or Lightroom.

Macro shot

Macro shot

The quality of video recording and the image stabilization, while shooting is very good. We would have been much happier, if this camera supported full HD capture and optical zoom, while shooting.

The front of the XZ-1

The front of the XZ-1

Verdict
The Olympus is priced at Rs. 25,999, which is almost at par with the pricing of the Canon PowerShot S95 and S100, which offer similar features and deliver similar results. The biggest advantages you get with the XZ-1 are bright F1.8 lens, OLED display and hot shoe. But you don’t get full HD video recording. On the other hand, Canon PowerShot S100 delivers better JPEG images and it has better control over noise, especially at higher ISO values. Also the S100 offers higher zoom ratio (5x), higher resolution sensor (12.1 megapixels), better wide angle (24 mm) and GPS. Taking all the factors into consideration the newly released S100 is definitely a better deal. That doesn’t make the XZ-1 bad, infact, we recommend it to those who want pro-quality photos and a great feature set in a compact and a sturdy shell.

Publish date: March 3, 2012 1:02 pm| Modified date: December 18, 2013 9:44 pm

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