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Customer Review

231 of 240 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars XZ-1 Wins Out, April 5, 2011
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This is my preliminary review for the Olympus XZ-1, which arrived at my house this afternoon. I will update as necessary.

Over the last two weeks, I have ordered, and returned, two other cameras: the Fujifilm HS20EXR, and the Panasonic LX5. Neither one of them really satisfied me in terms of a total package. The build quality (at least on my copy) of the HS20 was suspect, and worried me a bit. The RAW processing time was quite slow, and I guess I just didn't like the overall feel of it. The Panasonic, despite all the rave reviews, did not satisfy in terms of IQ. Color blotching crept in far too early (even as early as ISO 200) for my taste, and by ISO 400 it was unbearable. The Jpeg processing on the LX5 wasn't great, either. So I finally decided to order the Olympus after much reading and staring at sample images on the internet, though I was becoming skeptical it would be able to satisfy me. At least so far, I was wrong.

The Olympus XZ-1 is a marvel of technology. From the blazing fast Zuiko lens to the quick and slick menu interface, to the conservative beauty of the design, this camera means business. Shooting with the XZ-1 is an effortless joy, and it works so well and so intuitively at times that you almost forget you're using a camera at all. I've read in other reviews that the rear control ring is finicky and annoying, but that is not my experience. I find it to work quite well, with the right amount of tactile feedback. The same is true of the front ring around the lens, used to control various settings based on the mode you are in. Sure, there's not a dedicated button for ISO, but it's so easy to set the ISO from the menu that I'm not quite sure what the issue is. The lack of an AFL/AEL button is a bit of a letdown, but I don't find it to be a dealbreaker by any means.
The art filters range from quaint novelty effects that I will rarely use to things like the Dynamic Tone filter, which (though the effect is a bit hit or miss) can be incredibly striking.
As far as all the other modes go, it's pretty much your standard fare, with the addition of the 'low light' mode. But I wouldn't go too crazy with that mode, as the noise at higher ISOs from the XZ-1 is pretty pronounced. And that leads me to image quality.

For some reason, though the XZ-1 possesses quite a large sensor for a point-and-shoot, it produces quite a lot of noise. What this creates is the necessity to find the right balance with your RAW processing between noise reduction and image clarity and sharpness. Or, you can just use the Jpegs, which I must say, are very well processed, but when put up against the RAW files, can't compare to the detail, due to the noise reduction applied to the Jpegs. This is the one bit of a bummer about the image quality of this camera. You will see a decent amount of noise as low as ISO 400, though nothing that can't be dealt with in post until you pass 800. 1600 might be salvageable, but it's questionable. The nice thing is that the noise is more luminance than color oriented, because I find it's more difficult (as with the LX5) to deal with large blotches of inappropriate color. So, bad news dealt with. And it's really not that bad, because guess what? You've got one of the fastest lenses in a compact camera at your command. This means that you will rarely need to jump above ISO 800 to shoot just about anything. The speed of this lens is simply a marvel to behold, and a joy to employ. Not only does it allow you much, much more freedom in ALL your shooting (aperture only hits 2.5 at telephoto, which is still faster than most dslr lenses are at wide!), but the size of the sensor in relation to the aperture capability of the lens also allows for some of the nicest bokeh you'll find in a compact. Olympus also smartly employs an in-camera ND filter to help you keep those aperture numbers low whilst shooting in bright daylight, which is a godsend.
And despite what I've said about the noise issue, the images from this camera are, in general, pretty spectacular. This is no dslr, but the images are about as close as you'll get without buying one at this point. While the noise reduction applied to the jpegs definitely reduces fine details, they still look spectacular. The colors from this camera absolutely scream, and even if you're not fond of the detail loss in jpeg, just go for RAW shooting, which is still really, really fast. Shot to shot times are very fast, seemingly regardless of the file type (though I am using a very fast Sandisk card as well).
The continuous shooting speed of this camera isn't wonderful, but honestly, it's not bad when you consider that you can fire off quite a few pics (even with the images set at Fine Jpeg + RAW) before it gets stumped. You can also reduce the quality of the Jpegs to 5MP to grab some more fps, and even down to 2MP to grab even more fps, but I certainly wouldn't go that low.

Autofocus is generally good, though I did encounter some questionable choices when in macro mode that did annoy me a bit. However, you can choose between 11 different focus points to get the pic you want, or hold the shutter button down halfway and recompose. In general though, I found the autofocus to be reasonably fast and accurate thus far.
One other caveat is that for some reason the Auto WB seems to have trouble with incandescent lighting, creating overly warm tones and forcing you to manual select the incandescent setting for accurate colors. This is not a huge deal, but it's a bit of an annoyance.

The LCD screen is gorgeous, and while I wish the camera came with an EVF, Olympus has given us the ability to add the VF-2 viewfinder, which is both a great and, unfortunately, incredibly expensive option. I will be ordering the viewfinder, though I don't relish spending half the price of the camera on a tiny little accessory.

I look forward to many glorious outings with the XZ-1, and can honestly say that I highly recommend it to anyone looking to move up from a simple point and shoot, but not yet ready to go full on with a dslr and a bunch of lenses.

(UPDATE 1) Received my VF2 viewfinder today, and was able to try it out for a few hours before work. WOW. Talk about a quality product. I was concerned about the cost (and really I still am), but you definitely get a great little add-on. The picture is ultra clear and makes all other EVFs tremble before it. Obviously using it in daylight is great, but for me, coming from a dslr background, just having it was a no-brainer. And if I decide at some point to upgrade to the EPL2, I don't have to buy it again. So that made it worth it to me. Still loving the camera (even more with the viewfinder)!

(UPDATE 2) Man, I LOVE this camera. The VF2 viewfinder has increased my enjoyment of it by quite a lot, and I honestly didn't think that was possible. I could sit and nit-pick the image quality compared to dslr cameras, but it's just not worth it. Upping the sharpness and contrast applied to the jpegs makes them usable straight out of the camera, as long as you keep the ISO reasonable (800 or lower). Flipping the 'gradation' feature to auto can garner you better dynamic range in shadows as well as better detail, though you will experience more shadow noise, so use it wisely.
I certainly didn't buy this camera for the art filters, just thought they'd be a fun little addition... but they really do help me with my creative picture taking, and get me thinking about things from a different perspective. Highlights are the Grainy B&W (allows for some interesting videos as well), Diorama!(I've come to LOVE this one), and of course the popular Dramatic Tone. Soft Focus is useful as well for portraiture or weddings. The super fast lens allows me to shoot at ISO100-200 most of the time, occasionally venturing to 400 and, much more rarely, to 800. Also, make yourself take pics using the Monochrome setting. Turn up the sharpness to +1 and the contrast to +2, and behold the beautiful B&W photos this camera spits out. Pretty awesome.
Also great is the Macro and Super Macro. I'm not the biggest fan of the tracking AF though, a sports camera this is not, though the continuous shot is pretty decent in the right situations. Good for kids and such, but really fast movers like dogs can sometimes be problematic. Pretty much forget birds, but the range of this lens doesn't really allow for that anyway.

The bundled software is actually not bad either. I'm used to using PSE, so I use that for most everything, but I do a simple distortion correction in the Viewer 2 software first, which works quite well (the lens has some decent barrel at wide, and a little pincushion at tele, nothing really problematic).
All in all I can't say enough about this camera. If you're on the fence, just buy it. You can return it if you don't like it, but why would you do that? Kudos, Olympus!
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Showing 1-10 of 49 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 6, 2011 8:31:52 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 6, 2011 10:14:27 AM PDT
I agree with this review 100%. The lens on this is golden and is what makes this hands down the absolutely best point and shoot camera.

Posted on Aug 14, 2011 8:52:51 AM PDT
phazelag says:

This type of review is helpful. I dont plan to do video and I process everything in .RAW in Lightroom. Thats the fun of it! Dont need an EVF I have a DSLR!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 14, 2011 12:53:11 PM PDT
Z. Wagner says:
Thanks! Glad I could help out. I actually don't have this camera anymore. I now have an Olympus EPL-2. Not because I didn't love the XZ-1 though, and to be honest, I still miss the ease of use of that camera quite often. However the bigger sensor of the EPL-2 helps with IQ/noise, and since I originally had a dslr, it's nice to be able to change out the lenses. But the thing I miss most about the XZ-1 is the lens. The 1.8 was just fantastic, and most lenses (and NONE of the zooms) for the EPL-2 simply can't match it. It's faster at tele end than 90% of the lenses for m43 format, so the lens in the XZ-1, as I said in the original review, is really the boon of this camera. I'm sure for you it's perfect, since you already own a dslr, so it would be a nice complement to that, and would give you the ability to basically have a camera with you at all times, which is one of the reasons I love this camera, and the m43 format, so much.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2011 6:13:20 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 25, 2011 6:16:04 PM PST
Randy Kadish says:
Can I shoot magazine quality prints at ISO 400 or even 800 with this camera? Also how does it compare with the Canon s95 or 100?

Thanks so much.

Posted on Dec 25, 2011 5:54:30 AM PST
S. Naimpally says:
Thanks for the comprehensive review and followups. I used to own an OM-1 SLR and it was a great camera (50mm f1.2 I think). Unfortunately, I find 28mm inadequate and prefer zooms that start at 24mm. If they every do 24mm, I'm in.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2012 12:43:02 AM PST
Paul D. Bui says:
Vey nice written review. Having 2 Nikon D7000s, reading your reviews makes me want to try this high-end compact camera for next vacation.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 5, 2012 9:10:20 PM PST
Z. Wagner says:
Sorry I've been lax in my replies. Randy, I'm honestly not too sure how to answer your question, and likely you've moved on from this as it was a couple of months ago. However, I would say that I wouldn't necessarily try to get 'magazine quality' prints out of a compact camera. If you must, then perhaps for this camera it would be best to stay at 400 ISO or below.
S. Naimpally, thanks, I try, though as you've seen I get distracted and busy. Apologies. You might want to try out some of the m43 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. Their combined lens line is really very decent and you can get an Olympus EPL-2 for relatively cheap which, if you don't need to shoot action, will suffice very well. Good image quality up to about 1600 (though I tried not to take it so high, as the noise did creep in quite a bit), and you get the option of changing lenses and the benefit of the sharpness and speed of primes. The Panasonic 14mm 2.5 was an excellent lens, as was the 20mm 1.7. From Oly the 9-18mm was stellar.
Paul, I think this camera would be a great vacation cam. It has the potential of taking fabulous pics at low ISO's, and the speedy lens to help it out in the dark. Certainly look around though, as there are a TON of options for compacts now. Check out the Canon's S100. Canon makes very nice higher end compacts (though after saying that I looked at reviews for it and it's not completely stellar). Regardless, look at lots, and Amazon's return policy is awesome, so if you don't like one, send it back.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 7, 2012 7:16:31 AM PST
Randy Kadish says:
I bought the Olympus XZ-1. Any compact camera is a compromise, but I felt it was the best compromise. Thanks for your wonderful review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 7, 2012 2:25:02 PM PST
Z. Wagner says:
Great! I hope it turns out to be a winner for you. Feel free to post again with your thoughts if you get around to it. I'd love to hear/read your take.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 20, 2012 9:49:12 AM PST
Smaug says:
Look at the Canon S100 and Panasonic LX5. With the S100, you get your 24mm and the camera shrinks, but you lose the hot shoe and lots of lens speed at telephoto. With te LX5, you lose telephoto and just a tiny bit of lens speed.
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