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Olympus XZ-1 review
|DATE REVIEWED: 8th May 2011||Add Camera To Comparison Chart|
|Camera Type||Compact||Shutter Speeds||2 - 1/2000 sec|
|RRP||£399||ISO Range||100 - 6400|
|Megapixels||10||Focal Length||28 - 112mm|
|Weight||275g||Aperture||f1.8 - 2.5|
|Dimensions||110 x 65 x 42mm (WxHxD)||Focus Distance||1cm - inf|
|LCD Size||3 inches||Zoom (Opt)||4x|
|Zoom (Dig)||4x||Storage||SD / SDHC / SDXC|
|Max Resolution||3648 x 2736||Battery Type||Li-Ion|
These high-end compact cameras just aren’t going to go away. Compact system cameras may have been dominating the headlines for the past couple of years with their promise of SLR quality in a much more portable body, but it’s become clear that you’re never going to squeeze a hybrid into your pocket (not with a zoom lens fitted, anyway).
And that’s what so many of us want – a decent camera we can just pop in a jacket or a bag. We’re prepared to sacrifice a bit of quality to avoid having to lug a bag around, and why not?
At the same time, though, if you’re at all keen on photography, and you’ve got used to the kind of creative control you get from a DSLR or a hybrid, you’re going to want the same thing from your pocket camera. And that’s what high-end compact cameras like the Olympus XZ-1 deliver.
The only way for manufacturers to produce pocket-sized cameras with zoom lenses is to use smaller sensors. Smaller sensors mean smaller lenses, and that’s the real difference between high-end compacts and the hybrids.
So does the sensor size really make that much difference to the picture quality? Like other makers, Olympus has stepped back from ever-increasing pixel counts and concentrated instead on overall image quality. 10 megapixels doesn’t sound much compared to the 14 or 16 megapixels now seen on ordinary point-and-shoot cameras, but the combination of a slightly larger sensor (compared to point-and-shoot cameras) and lower pixel counts pays dividends.
You don’t miss those extra pixels, and the pixels you do get are bigger, with better sensitivity and lower noise levels. The 1/1.63-inch sensor in the XZ-1 is still way smaller than a DSLR’s, but this re-focusing on image quality rather than megapixels makes a big difference. This is exactly what Canon, Nikon, Samsung and Panasonic are doing with their high-end compact cameras too.
And you see it straight away. At low ISOs the images you get from the XZ-1 are surprisingly close to SLR quality in terms of definition, noise, contrast and colour saturation. The iZuiko lens is sharp right up to the edges and has low levels of chromatic aberration, so if you were to put the XZ-1 up against a DSLR with only a mediocre kit lens, you might easily conclude that the compact was better.
There are other differences, of course. DSLRs have interchangeable lenses, they’re bigger and chunkier and generally easier to handle, and you get better depth of field effects from the bigger sensor.
That’s actually quite an important point. Olympus makes quite a big deal about the f1.8 maximum aperture, and how this lets you produce shallow depth of field effects and wonderful bokeh, but these things are relative. If you’re used to the depth of field effects you get from DSLRs (and at smaller apertures than this), you might not be particularly impressed. It’s good compared to other compact cameras, but that’s all.
But aside from differences like this, what counts is that the XZ-1’s image quality is really not that far behind a DSLR’s. You really can get top quality images without having to lug around a big camera.
It’s at higher ISOs that compact cameras normally start to suffer, and the XZ-1 is no exception. Even here, though, its performance is unexpectedly good. These days, some manufacturers prefer to use aggressive noise reduction at high ISOs to disguise higher noise levels, and the result is a kind of washed-out smudging effect that you would normally expect to start seeing as low as ISO 200-400 on most compact cameras. But while the XZ-1 shows the same tendencies, it’s not until much higher up the ISO range that it starts to become a problem. And even at ISO 1600, it’s delivering the kind of picture quality that you would have been pretty happy with on a DSLR just a few years back.
What is just a little bit surprising, though, is that the Olympus XZ-1 doesn’t let you choose the degree of noise reduction applied. And while you’re looking around for that option, you might also notice that you can’t change the auto ISO range.
This can lead to some slightly odd settings when shooting in program AE mode. Some of our test shots were taken in an indoor amusement park where light levels were very low, but even so, the Olympus refused to go past ISO 200, choosing instead to go for an extremely marginal shutter speed of 1/8sec. It does have a pretty effective in-built anti-shake system, and most of the shots were sharp, but that’s only half the problem – at shutter speeds like these, anything moving is going to be hopelessly blurred. You can fix this, of course, by manually increasing the ISO, but it’s a bit annoying that you should have to do so.
The XZ-1’s image quality is terrific – there’s no doubt about that – but the rest of the camera doesn’t always reach the same standard. The controls are quite small, for a start, and for no obvious reason. Why not make the mode dial just a little bigger? Why not add a locking button so that you don’t turn it accidentally? And why is the multi-function controller on the rear of the camera so small and fiddly?
It’s a shame the LCD display is fixed too, and doesn’t fold out like the one on the Samsung EX-1, for example. That would make the Olympus a bit larger, but it would also make it much easier to exploit its brilliant 1cm super macro mode. On the other hand, the control ring around the lens is brilliant. Its function changes according to the mode you’re in, but you soon get used to that. It’s almost like using an old-fashioned film camera all over again.
So in this age of large-sensor hybrids, can a high-end compact still make a logical alternative to a DSLR? Definitely, and the XZ-1 proves it. High-end compacts can go where even hybrids can’t, and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
The Olympus XZ-1 emphatically proves that high-end compacts are still a serious option, combining pocketability with ever-improving picture quality
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|The Olympus XZ-1 emphatically proves that high-end compacts are still a serious option, combining pocketability with ever-improving picture quality|
Our lens reviewer, and technical expert, Rod is a veritable photographic encyclopaedia. His illustrious CV has seen him write for many mags, websites and journals.
|Total Camera Reviews||7|
|Average Camera Rating||4.1|
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