Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review

John Riley reviews the Olympus XZ-1, with an ultra bright 4x optical zoom lens and 10Mp sensor.

| Olympus XZ-1 in Compact Cameras

Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 front
John Riley reviews the Olympus XZ-1.

There is a definite demand for a high quality compact camera that remains compact enough to carry in a jacket pocket. These do not generally come cheap and to join the fray alongside such offerings as the Nikon Coolpix P7000 and Canon Powershot G12 here we have Olympus with their new XZ-1. This new camera stands out from the norm in sporting a very fast f/1.8 - 2.5 zoom lens. This suggests it is suitable for low light shooting and no doubt to help reduce noise levels the larger than average sensor is only a 10Mp chip. Let us see if the XZ-1 lives up to its promise.

Olympus XZ-1: Features
The aluminium and plastic XZ-1 houses a larger than average 1/1.63in CCD with 10Mp. The Olympus i.Zuiko Digital zoom lens is an f/1.8 - 2.5 6.0-24.0mm optic, equivalent to 28-112mm in 35mm film camera terms. The only viewfinder supplied as standard is the rear 3in Organic LED (OLED) monitor with 610,000 dots.

AF uses contrast detection and offers various modes plus an AF illuminator for use in low light. There is an image stabilisation system of the sensor shift type, but this is specified at offering just 2EV advantage, rather less than the 4EV suggested for the average DSLR.

A vast array of exposure modes, scene modes, art filters and flash modes is on offer and the range of options here is very much what we might expect from any top line camera.

For the experienced photographer there is a full array of shooting modes, including Av, Tv and M options that are readily accessed from a top dial. There is another click-stopped dial around the lens that changes the primary setting in any given mode. So, for example, in Av it changes the aperture.

The movie mode offers HD 1280x720 resolution in 16:9 ratio, with a maximum recording time of just 7 minutes in HD. There is also a maximum file size of 2Gb.

All of this is housed in a sturdily made body measuring 110.6 x 64.8 x 42.3mm and weighing 275g without battery or SD card. Power supply is a Li-ion battery pack LI-50B which is expected to allow 320 images per charge.

The lens is very interesting, offering a maximum aperture of f/1.8. This is fast for a modern lens and especially for a 4x zoom lens. It only becomes possible with the smaller than DSLR sensor size and this does open up new possibilities in low-light shooting.

Olympus XZ-1 features: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 lens   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 battery compartment
The lens is a bright f/1.8 - 2.5 4x optical zoom, 6 - 24mm (28 - 112mm equiv. 35mm).   The camera is powered by a LI-50B rechargeable battery.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 rear   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 top
On the rear is a 3in LCD monitor with 621000 pixels.   At its longest, the lens does not extend far out of the camera.

Olympus XZ-1: Handling
The XZ-1 is actually a pleasure to use. The controls are small and fiddly but mostly quite resistant to being turned accidentally. Having said that I would prefer slightly firmer click stops on both the mode dial on top of the camera and the adjustment dial that encircles the lens. The ring that circles the four way selector switch in my opinion is more trouble than it's worth as it is far too sensitive. If this could be removed the handling of the camera would not suffer and might even slightly improve.

The camera fits a large coat or jacket pocket with no problem and can be brought into operation very quickly indeed. The controls fall well into their natural positions and there are no glaring operational glitches. The menu system for most of the settings is a little messy I think, but with practice it is usable enough. It follows the general Olympus pattern along with their other compact and DSLR cameras, so it makes sense for Olympus users to stick with the company for all of their camera requirements. In that way, operation of one camera will be pretty much the same as operation of any of them.

Olympus XZ-1: Performance

Having now handled a few Olympus cameras, they seem to share a very similar approach to exposure metering. The XZ-1 follows the pattern and produces what I would consider to be fully exposed but slightly light results. This is not in itself a problem as it can either be adjusted in Photoshop or a small amount of exposure compensation can be dialled in.

Exposures against the light are also well handled, but in any event exposure compensation can be applied where necessary. Principally this will be for unusually light or dark subjects and it rarely exceeds plus or minus 0.7EV.

ESP (Matrix), centre weighted and spot options are provided and all produce a very similar density when used correctly. If the user is in any doubt they will not go far wrong by leaving the camera set to ESP metering. Using centre weighted metering usually removes any chance of over exposing a frame and using spot metering will be invaluable when perhaps shooting stage shows and similar events.

It is worth noting that the excellent OLED screen does reflect quite closely the final exposure of the image. This means that unlike many compact cameras the screen can give a good idea of what the density of the final image will look like.

The contrast detection system is not going to be as fast as a DSLR but this is improving all the time and the Olympus XZ-1 is no slouch. Focusing is medium-fast but it is entirely predictable. It takes the same time as far as can be judged, every time, and it simply locks on accurately. This is entirely satisfactory for most general subjects and it is only really action photography where it could be a problem. As a carry-anywhere all-purpose camera the AF is spot on every time. This fine performance carries on in even quite dim light, assisted when necessary with an AF illuminator.

ISO and noise performance
Noise is extremely well handled. Up to ISO800 the noise pattern is very effectively suppressed. It is present as the ISO setting is increased but not at all obtrusive. At ISO1600 we notice an  even more dramatic increase of noise levels, but it is only when we call on ISO3200 and especially ISO6400 that the noise really kicks in. Interestingly, the clean reproduction of the indoor ISO tests shows some very impressive retention of sharpness and detail, even at the highest setting.

Helpfully, what noise there is is monochromatic, so we do not suffer from a myriad of coloured specks. There is no doubt that camera manufacturers have made a real improvement in the handling of noise.

For the best quality in prints I would be happy shooting at ISO200 and for the web this could be extended to ISO800 without too much loss. For such a compact camera this would not have been achievable even as little as a year ago. This suggests that the decision to restrict the resolution to 10MP is a sound one. Larger photo sites means more signal and lower noise. This appears to be borne out by the excellent noise performance.

Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO100
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO100 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO200 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO400 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO800
ISO100 ISO200 ISO400 ISO800
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO1600 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO3200 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Test chart ISO6400  
ISO1600 ISO3200 ISO6400  

Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO100
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO100 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO200 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO400 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO800
ISO100 ISO200 ISO400 ISO800
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO1600 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO3200 Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Outdoor ISO6400  
ISO1600 ISO3200 ISO6400  

Colour Reproduction

I am very pleased with the colour performance of the XZ-1. Skin tones are very pleasing and models will, I think, be delighted with the flattering smoothness. Shooting a wide variety of other subjects it is soon apparent that the colour reproduction is excellent all round.

I am also pleased to report that even fairly garish colours are rendered correctly with no undue tendency to make them appear unpleasant. There is only one exception to this and with a backlit subject it is necessary to be very careful with adjusting the image as there is a tendency for a light sky to turn a very strange colour of blue. I must stress that this is a subtle point but it does indicate that with smaller-than-DSLR sensors there is a limit to their performance. In the case of the XZ-1 the performance in terms of colour is, however, up amongst the best when compared with similarly sized cameras.

Neutrality of colour is also impressive and whites remain a clean white. The greyscale reproduction is excellent, with good separation of tones. In the field this means that images are not subject to any unwanted colour casts.

Olympus XZ-1 Performance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 dynamic range   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 rich colour
Detail is maintained from the white paint on the boathouse door through to the dark hull of the canal narrow boat.   Rich natural colours in this canal scene.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 skin tones   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 subtle colour
  (Above) Subdued colours are rendered correctly.

(Left) Skin tones are delightfully smooth.


AWB works very well in most circumstances. If desired, there are also the usual presets available. This can offer additional control of colour outdoors as well as adjustment for specific lighting types.

Outdoor shooting can be enhanced by thinking about the colour of the light, and by using the presets can dramatically enhance what we are looking at. I tried various settings in daylight and all offer a different look to the AWB result. For example, using the Shade setting in normal noon daylight results in incredibly warm, end-of-day images. It is always worth experimenting.

The weakest performance comes when using the fluorescent setting, which renders the image with a most strange magenta cast. AWB performs much better and is a usable alternative to the fluorescent preset option.

Olympus XZ-1 White-balance test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting
Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting.   Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Fluorescent preset in fluorescent lighting
Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.   Fluorescent preset in fluorescent lighting.

Integral Flash/Flash Modes
The usual flash options can be selected and the flash itself has to be manually switched into position. A sliding switch releases the heavily-sprung flash unit which becomes available for use almost instantaneously. Fill in flash in daylight is nicely balanced and the unit in general works well and gives good exposures.

Flash coverage is very even and this holds true from quite close distances to covering an entire room. Recharging is fast.

Buffer/Write Time
The XZ-1 is ready for use within 1 second and this fast performance applies to most of its functions. Write times are not a problem. The buffer seems to be quite able to cope. Sequence shooting in normal mode plods on at a pedestrian 2fps and the buffer seems to hold as long as the photographer has the patience. I gave up at 60 frames as the camera showed no signs of slowing even at that point.

Battery Life
Battery life is quoted at around 320 images, rather perversely being stated as using Live View 50% of the time. There is no alternative to using Live View, so it is quite pleasing to note that 325 shots later with Live View used 100% of the time and plenty of reviewing of images and menus, the battery is still going strong.

Lens Quality
In the 1970s almost every "compact" rangefinder camera sported an f/1.8 lens, most of them very soft wide open. Zoom lenses have made us expect far smaller apertures, so it is very interesting that here Olympus have opted to make a very wide aperture zoom lens. This is possible because the rear element can be close to the sensor and the format is much smaller than a 35mm film frame.

Lens designers make choices and usually the choice has been to make long zoom ranges with modest apertures. Here we have a relatively modest zoom range of 4x and a maximum aperture from f/1.8 at 6mm to f/2.5 at 24mm. This equates to 28mm and 112mm in film format terms.

This is a very acceptable and useful range and it is even more encouraging that the quality holds extremely well.

Quality across the frame is very even and at full aperture the image is already entirely usable. Moving to mid apertures improves sharpness and this again drops off at the minimum aperture of f/8. Beyond f/8 I presume that diffraction effects would seriously hamper performance. However, there is plenty of depth of field on a small format so f/8 is probably as far as we need to go. The option of having a really wide aperture and reduced depth of field in such a small camera is actually quite a compelling notion.

Distortion follows the familiar path of being barrelling at wide angles, giving way to pincushion from the middle of the range onwards to the telephoto end. This is better than many and in most general subjects will not be a concern.

Flare is very well controlled, useful in against the light shots. There is some chromatic aberration, but this too is well controlled and will not normally be noticeable.

The f/1.8 aperture is unique and this is potentially a very powerful tool. There is huge potential for low light photography, plus the promise of some degree of selective depth of field.

Olympus XZ-1 Lens quality: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 lens detail   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 Chromatic aberrations
The zoom lens is capable of resolving plenty of detail.   Chromatic aberrations are well controlled.
Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 open aperture   Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review: Olympus XZ-1 super macro
At f/1.8 this unique zoom lens opens up new possibilities such as this low light capture of a lively cat.   Close-up images are sharp and colourful.

Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review:
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Olympus XZ-1.

Olympus XZ-1: Verdict
The Olympus XZ-1 is a fine compact camera, offering high quality and versatility with its extensive range of features. The lens is an excellent performer that breaks new ground for a compact camera and offers unique benefits of its own. Although not perfect in terms of its handling the results are worth it and the XZ-1 is Highly Recommended.

Olympus XZ-1 Digital Camera Review:
This is a compact that breaks new ground and is well worth a look.
Olympus XZ-1: Pros

Olympus XZ-1 High quality of construction
Olympus XZ-1 High quality of results
Olympus XZ-1 Versatility of f/1.8 lens
Olympus XZ-1 Pocketable

Olympus XZ-1: Cons
Olympus XZ-1 High cost
Olympus XZ-1 Fiddly controls

OVERALL Olympus XZ-1

Olympus XZ-1: Specification
Price £399.00
What comes in the box Li-ion battery LI-50B, USB cable, AV cable, Shoulder strap, F-2AC AC/USB charging adapter, Software CD-ROM, Instruction manual
Lens 4x optical zoom, 6 - 24mm (28 - 112mm equiv. 35mm), f/1.8 - 2.5
Resolution 10.0Mp
Sensor size 1/1.63in
Sensor type CCD
Max. Image size 3648 x 2736
Aspect ratio 3:2
Monitor 3in LCD, 621000 pixels
Focusing system Contrast Detection AF system
Focusing modes Manual focus, Single AF, AF Tracking, Face Detection AF, Macro mode, SuperMacro mode
File types RAW, RAW & JPEG, JPEG
ISO sensitivity ISO100-6400
Shutter speed 1/2000 - 60 sec
Metering system TTL open aperture light metering
Metering modes ESP light metering, Spot metering, Centre weighted metering
Exposure compensation +/- 2EV
Continuous shooting 7fps / 20 frames (approx.) in HQ JPEG mode
Anti-shake mode Sensor shift
Movie mode 720p HD
Media type SD, SDHC, SDXC Memory Card
Interface USB 2.0 (Hi Speed), HDMI
Power LI-50B rechargeable battery
Size (wxdxl) 111 x 65 x 42mm
Weight 275g

The Olympus XZ-1 costs £399.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Olympus XZ-1

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Photographs taken using the Olympus XZ-1

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osusana Avatar
osusana 12 United States
4 Feb 2011 6:57AM
There are two things that I'm concerned about:
1. I live in the deep south and I'm afraid that I won't be able to see the LCD, it's happened with many cameras.
2. In the sample pictures, the edges are soft and the foliage looks smeared and has a water color effect. The town that I live in is in the middle of a national forrest with lots of foliage.
I really want to get this camera but concerned with IQ. I don't know if there is a sharpness setting in the camera or not. Having said that, it would probably add more noise that the noise reduction is trying to eliminate, a stalemate.
Any suggestions?
BHSnapper Avatar
BHSnapper 14 14 United Kingdom
9 Feb 2011 11:29AM
Interesting review.. but the girl's skin tones looked rather magenta on my screen (just recalibrated with a Spyder). So I checked it in Photoshop and it is definitely rather magenta, to say the least. RGB was low on green, high on blue (213,168,175) and in CMYK low cyan, high magenta, low yellow (15,36,20)
So I'm not impressed on that score, though the rest looked pretty good!
ThatOne Avatar
ThatOne 14 1
6 Apr 2011 1:19PM
Thank you for such a thorough and limpid review. I have been forced to look for a lighter camera than my Olympus DSLR, and I can see I will have as much enjoyment from an XZ-1 as I did with that DSLR, albeit not always the same fun. I was pleased to read in the manual that I can use the same exterior flash, because the link between an Olympus body and an Olympus flash must be one of the best around, at a reasonable cost, of course.

I've been looking for any negative which would put an end to my intent to buy an XZ-1, and all I have found are positives which have convinced me to go ahead and buy. I have seen a lot of impressive work, with fabulous IQ and an insight into the inspiring potential of the in-camera processing, but this review is the tipping point, the end of searching and the start of buying. Off I go with my plastic in my trembling paw!
ThatOne Avatar
ThatOne 14 1
1 May 2011 4:26PM
After the first few weeks I am even more convinced I made the right decision. It's a great camera, it really is, with no negatives anywhere, not even skin tones printed in web magazines...

The only problem is that I got so involved with a friend's Samsung EX1 I bought one of those as well. I've not yet tested the skin-tone reproduction in web-magazine performance, such a basic area to investigate, on the Samsung, but it's great fun. There are some great cameras in the Advanced Compact segment. Absent manufacturers could have regrets.

I never thought I would use and praise any non-reflex digital cameras. The Canon G11 made the first crack in my resolve, and now most major manufacturers offer similar cameras. Olympus and the Samsung may be in front today but, surely, that will not last long without constant improvement. It's all very interesting.
johnriley1uk Avatar
4 Jan 2012 2:07PM
I liked this very much, as you can see from the review, and now I've bought one for myself. The price has fallen and it's looking even more attractive as a proposition.
BHSnapper Avatar
BHSnapper 14 14 United Kingdom
4 Jan 2012 5:43PM
I'd be very interested to know if you get attractive skin tones! Certainly, as I said above, the girl's face looks a very odd colour, though the detail is superb.
photowanderer Avatar
30 Nov 2013 11:13AM
Though it's still in the shops, we're almost at the epilogue stage with the XZ1. However, I'd like to give some feedback on how my XZ1 has performed over the last two and a half years.
I've had it on a tripod doing night photography in frigid conditions and I've stood in the rain wiping rain drops off the lens with a handkerchief while photographing rainbows. It's die-hard reliable.
There are several irritating things about the camera which have since been rectitfied in the XZ2, e.g. that awful, virtually unuseable, manual focus ; +/- exposure compensation cannot be applied in landscape scene mode ; that infernal mode dial, that I usually have trussed in the aperture priority position with sticky tape.
When shot in bright, sunny conditions, jpegs straight from the camera are every bit as good as those derived from RAW files by basic RAW development. However, the jpegs always need a bit of "tweaking" to bring out the best in them.
When it comes to leaning over the railing of a bridge to photograph a ship on a rather dull day, that Zuiko lens at full zoom and f2.5 aperture can blow the kit lenses on a lot of CSCs and DSLRs right out of the water. It's seriously good at full aperture, but performance does deteriorate when it's stopped right down to f8.
Do I regret having purchased the XZ1? Definitely not!
johnriley1uk Avatar
30 Nov 2013 11:34AM
Glad to hear it's been a positive experience. My wife Sue uses the XZ-1 that we bought after I did this review and she's still producing terrific shots with it. She carries the XZ-1 all the time when she's not carrying her DSLR kit.

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