Olympus XZ-1 Review

by on August 9, 2011

in Olympus

Olympus XZ-1

The Olympus XZ-1 is a surprisingly compact point and shoot camera that offers lots of advanced operations for serious photographers. 

Olympus XZ-1 Key Features

  • 10MP
  • 4x Zoom Lens (28-112mm equivalent)
  • Bright f/1.8 Max Aperture
  • ISO 100-6400
  • 720p HD Video
  • 3-inch LCD
  • Hot Shoe
  • Olympus Art Filters

Shooting with the Olympus XZ-1

Olympus XZ-1

When I first picked up the XZ-1, I immediately noticed that it felt like a higher quality camera than most other point and shoot models on the market.  As it should though, since it is aimed at the more experienced shooter with it’s advanced features like RAW image capture, hot shoe and bright f/1.8 lens.

The Olympus XZ-1 is placed into the competition field with the Canon G12 and similar advanced models based on this feature set alone.  And overall, it fits right in.

The XZ-1 is an easy-to-use and rather customizable camera.  One of the big advantages over the G12, however, is its size.  The XZ-1 is noticeably smaller – particularly when stuffing the camera into the pocket of my cargo shorts.

Olympus XZ-1

The biggest immediate downer for the XZ-1, however, is the lack of an integrated lens cover.  This appears to be the unfortunate side effect of having such a large max aperture, which results is a lens objective that is simply to big to cover with an integrated/automated cover.

The Olympus XZ-1′s controls are rather intuitive overall, with no major surprises or cumbersome operating methods.  The typical mode dial rests atop the camera with a 4-way menu/select and quick operation button on the back.  It also has a nice little integrated jog dial for menu and feature navigation.

Olympus XZ-1

On the front of the camera, surrounding the lens, is another not-so-obvious jog dial that functions much like a focus or zoom ring; however, it can control a variety of settings on the camera.

For example, when in P-mode, you can adjust the ISO simply by turning the “lens ring.”  When using the Art Filters mode, you can quickly switch between the six Art Filters with this ring.  Slick operation here.  Big kudos to Olympus for this feature.

Olympus did well by putting a tacky thumb pad on the back just to the left of the direct record button.  This grippy area really seals the deal for one-handed operation, which could otherwise be problematic thanks to the smooth front surface that lacks any grip contour for the fingers.

Shot-to-shot speed, focus speed and general shooting operation is more than acceptable.  Again, no complaints from an operational standpoint.

The only gripe I have about the operation of the camera comes when using the Art Filters in combination with video capture.  When you choose some of the Art Filters, there is a significant lag in the live view display, which is presumably due to the processing power required to apply these effects to the image in real time.

This creates a problem of rather choppy video with some (not all) of the Art Filters.  The Diorama and Pin Hole are the worst for this effect.

This lag isn’t such a problem with still images though, as you can generally frame and shoot what you want.  I guess the exception would be if you are trying to shoot lots of action with either of the two “slow” filters turned on.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Art Filters and think they are appropriate to have on the XZ-1.  And this is just the one real gripe that I have about the camera’s operation.  It is, in all other regards, a very solid performing camera.

Olympus XZ-1 Image Quality

The Olympus XZ-1 delivers good image quality up to about ISO 800 or so.  After that, things get a bit sketchy – even for the RAW files.  This isn’t a diss against the XZ-1 though.  It’s a problem with the tiny image sensors used in these compact cameras.  Sure they could use a bigger sensor for better quality, but then they wouldn’t fit in our pockets.  If you want great high-ISO performance, then you need to step up to a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds camera like the Olympus E-P3.

Below, I have include a few images straight out of the camera to show you what the typical snapshot images will look like.  Additionally, I shot some non-scientific shots of a color chart under mixed light to run up and own the ISO settings.  I’ve also included some Canon G12 shots to compare the two serious compact cameras.

Feel free to right-click and choose “Save file as…” in order download the full size images for your personal inspection (not for republication).

First off, here are a few samples of what the Art Filters do on the XZ-1.

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Photo

Olympus XZ-1 - ISO 200 - f/2.5 - 1/10s - "Pop Art" Art Filter

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1 - ISO 200 - f/2.2 - 1/10s - Grainy Film Art Filter

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1 - ISO 200 - f/2.5 - 1/10s - Pinhole Art Filter

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Photo

Olympus XZ-1 ISO 200 - f/2.5 - 1/10s - Soft Focus Art Filter

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Photo

Olympus XZ-1 ISO 200 - f/2.2 - 1/13s - Dramatic Tone Art Filter

Now, we get into the ISO comparisons…

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 100 - f/2.5 - 1/13s

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 200 - f/2.5 - 1/125s

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 400 - f/2.5 - 1/50s

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 800 - f/2.5 - 1/100s

Canon G12 Sample Image

Canon G12 - ISO 800 - f/4 - 1/30s

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 1600 - f/2.5 - 1/200s

Canon G12 Sample Image

Canon G12 - ISO 1600 -f/4 - 1/60s

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 3200 - f/2.5 - 1/400s

Canon G12 Sample Image

Canon G12 ISO 3200 - f/4 - 1/125s

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 6400 - f/2.5 - 1/800s

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Photo

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 3200 - f/2.5 - 1/400s - Processed from RAW file.

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Photo

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 6400 - f/2.5 - 1/800s - Processed from RAW file.

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Photo

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 6400 - f/2.8 - 1/160s

As you can see, ISO 6400 on the Olympus XZ-1 is pretty much a novelty.  And while I don’t recommend doing and lot of shooting at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, you can probably get away with using these settings for family album and Facebook snapshots.  I found the XZ-1 to be very capable at ISO 800 and below.  Again, that’s about the expectation for a point and shoot camera.

You probably also noticed the strong color cast under tungsten lighting.  Those shots were from when the camera was set to auto white balance.  The tungsten WB preset provides a much more faithful representation of color, which you can see below.

Olympus XZ-1 Sample Image

Olympus XZ-1: ISO 200 - f/2 - 1/10s - Tungsten WB Preset

Of course, if you shoot in RAW, you have the ability to edit your WB setting in post-processing with Lightroom 3 or the like.

The other thing you can see from the image above is the effectiveness of the image stabilization, which the XZ-1 does a great job at.  The above image was shot at the equivalent focal length of 41mm; however, I captured it at 1/10s and it is an acceptably sharp image when viewed at 100%.  Big kudos overall on the image stabilization.

In short, I’m more than pleased with the overall image quality of the XZ-1.  Olympus has a real winner on its hands here.

Olympus XZ-1 Accessories

Olympus XZ-1

Olympus LI-50B Rechargeable Battery – The Olympus XZ-1 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.

PT-050 Underwater Housing for XZ-1 – This underwater housing allows the XZ-1 to be used up to 130′ underwater with full access to all controls and features of the camera.

Custom XZ-1 Leather Case – This case includes a magnetic snap-on front, which might solve some of the frustration I had with the lens cap.

Memory cards – The XZ-1 uses SD-format memory cards, including the new SDXC format.  Olympus recommends using a Class 6 or higher rated SD card for capturing HD video on the XZ-1.  Lexar’s Platinum 16GB SDHC card is a great fit for both its size and speed in the Olympus XZ-1.  It’s also very affordable.

Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the XZ-1. They’re cheap and big time saver. Kingston makes a good card reader for about $12.


Olympus XZ-1

Overall, the Olympus XZ-1 is a great little compact camera.  I find it to be right up there with the Canon G12 as a serious compact shooter.

The design is solid, with a slick metal body, the smart lens selection wheel and the signature Olympus Art Filters.  The bright f/1.8 lens puts it at the front of the pack in this regard.  The rest of the XZ-1′s features and performance considerations stack up nicely against any compact camera in its class.

The Olympus XZ-1 is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Olympus XZ-1 at B&H Photo

By making your photography purchases at B&H Photo through these links, you are helping Photography Bay to continue bring quality camera tests, news and reviews. Thanks for your continued support.




1 TC August 9, 2011 at 9:42 am

Competing with the G12? Surely you mean the much smaller S95, with a more comparable focal range and aperture?

2 Eric Reagan August 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I think it competes quite well with either. While the S95 is closer on the specs you mention, it doesn’t have a hot shoe, which distances it from the G12 and XZ-1. Additionally, the focal range of the G12 is not really superior to the S95 and XZ-1 – just slightly larger.

If anything, the XZ-1 is a blend of some of the best features in this advanced compact camera category.

3 Jerome Taylor August 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Yes, the real comparison is between the XZ-1 and the Canon S95. dpreview has a good page that shows the differences: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/OlympusXZ1/page12.asp Turn on “compare to” in the chart at the bottom of the page and select the S95. Choosing between the two takes some thinking about what is important to you. I went with the S95 for a second camera to my D90 so size was an issue and hot shoe was not. (A great Black Friday special from Newegg helped in the decision.)
A plus for the XZ-1 is the ability to add an EVF in the hot shoe. Adds to the price and size, and it’s not for everyone, but if you need something smooshing your nose while you shoot you have that choice.

4 martin August 9, 2011 at 5:29 pm

My first thought reading the article was a striking similarity to Panasonic LX5 (for the hot shoe) and Canon S95, which I own – G12 simply looks too much different, so I agree with my previous 2 commenters.
To me the so-called Art filters are a gimmick, especially for a camera like XZ-1 which offers RAW and PASM modes.
Overall the XZ-1 appears impressive and today I might buy it instead of my S95 (which is meanwhile almost 1 year old – a lot of time in the camera market).

5 Zach Liang September 3, 2011 at 3:04 am

Quote [The biggest immediate downer for the XZ-1, however, is the lack of an integrated lens cover. This appears to be the unfortunate side effect of having such a large max aperture, which results is a lens objective that is simply to big to cover with an integrated/automated cover.] Unquote

No problem. Just get a JJC auto lens cap : this will forever remove the problem of accidentally knocking off the original lens cap. SMS me +65 98296259 if you like to get one from me. S$19 each incl. of local SGP postage

6 Dennis Aquino September 13, 2011 at 7:39 am

I was looking for a new digital camera and saw this in Singapore. Compared it to the Canon G12 and Panasonic LX5. The controls are more intuitive and the image quality is top notch. The art filters and the fast lens were what sold it for me. Having manual control and ability to record in RAW are just icing to the cake.

Bought an extra battery and changed the lens cap.

So far enjoying this camera immensely.

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