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Field Review: Olympus XZ-1 (Day 1)

by Chris Gampat on 04/04/2011

We raved about the Olympus XZ-1 and we were very impressed with its bigger brother the EPL-2. Indeed, this camera will be undergoing the same review process that big brother did: testing it out as a professional’s camera for leisure use. Additionally, it will be going head to head with the Canon S95 and Leica D-LUX 5. So let’s begin this review.

Ergonomics

The Olympus XZ-1 is perhaps the most solid and perfect feeling compact I’ve ever held.

No…really. It’s that good.

The S95 was a bit too small for my hands (though great for people with a bit smaller hands) and the D-LUX 5 feels very good but also had things that I wish were put into it.

The XZ-1 makes up for their shortcomings by:

- Having two dials, which are wonderful and placed very well.

- Coming with a soft velvet strap. This is important to me because I prefer the feel of velvet around my chest when I’m walking around with a camera. Plus, when the strap is wrapped around my wrist, it just feels that much more comfortable. In fact, I almost never want to take it off: it’s like a soft glove.

- The menu dial is in a nearly perfect spot.

- There is no way that I can turn off the camera accidentally because of the positioning of the on/off switch.

Autofocus

The autofocus on the Olympus XZ-1 is fast and accurate in good lighting. At the moment, I have yet to test it out in low-light.

However, it isn’t that smart. What I mean by that is that based on my composition, the camera should be able to figure out what I exactly what to focus on. It often can’t and sometimes it makes me either switch to manual focus, manual zone selection, or just give in and take the picture based on the spot that it will give me.

Granted, this experience only happened once at the time of this writing and it was in the office. Additionally, this was at the super macro level.

The face detection works superbly: which is important when you’re out with friends and family. When walking with someone and with the camera switched the AF tracking, you’ll really never go wrong at all. For best results though, I recommend stopping the lens down a bit. Despite the fact that this is a point and shoot with an F/1.8 lens, sometimes you’ll need to use F/2.8 or even F/5.6.

What’s nice is that at the widest end, the lens is at F/1.8 and when zoomed all the way in it is at F/2.5. That’s the fastest of any point and shoot currently on the market.

Dials

Did I mention how much I love dials?

Admittedly, I keep the camera in aperture mode most of the time because if I’m shooting just for fun, I don’t want to sit there and tweak all of my settings: I just want to take a picture. When I switch it into manual mode, things get a bit quirky. For example, the ring around the lens will still control the aperture settings. That’s great and all, but what about the shutter speed. To adjust this, I need to first press the exposure button and then manipulate the back dial. I should be able to just turn the dial.

When you really think about this in practice though, it is a bit of a safety consideration because of the fact that your hand or fingers could very easily turn that dial. It isn’t as snappy as the Canon S95′s.

Overall though, the D-LUX 5 has the best solution with having to press the dial in to switch from aperture to shutter speed. However, I prefer the ergonomics of the XZ-1, so the two dials win in this case.

Special Features

- Two dials are awesome

- Art Filters

- The menus are very clean cut once you get used to them. However, they’re advanced for a point and shoot camera.

- It can accept a slew of accessories via the hot shoe.

Image Quality

Admittedly, I haven’t done much thorough testing of this camera to really make a finite decision. However, the images look very nice on the back LCD screen.

Quirks

My only problems with the camera so far are:

- It doesn’t seem to want to play nice with the Eye-Fi X2 Pro card.

- The Lens cap that I need to take off and put back on. Olympus bundles a string to keep it around the camera but it flops around when I’m walking around and shooting.

- When you activate the pop-up flash, it’s almost like it’s a giant Kraken coming up from the depth seeking vengeance. In all seriousness, it’s very loud and very aggressive when it pops up.

- When changing the autofocus type, you can press the focusing button, then select the zone, and then you’ll need to press the info button to change the focusing type. Most people wouldn’t see that you need to do this unless you pay attention to the bottom right hand corner.

More to come in the full review. Please let us know what you want to see from us.

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