Olympus XZ-1 Review

Review: The Olympus XZ-1 digital camera offers aspiring photographers a chance to step up to better image quality and manual controls, without all the bulk and expense of a full DSLR.

The XZ-1 is a new addition to the Olympus lineup, and packages the power of a DSLR into…well, almost point-and-shoot size. While the device might be a little much for some pockets (not all) to handle, its capability and simplicity should at the very least cause pause before your next camera purchase.

Unlike some Micro-Four-Thirds or even beginner DSLRs, there’s nothing intimidating about the make and mold of the XZ-1. That said, novices might find themselves relying on its iAuto settings before rushing into any of its manual capabilities. But once you get there, you’ll be happy you took the plunge.

Olympus also outfits the XZ-1 with a highly capably OLED display, and of course, a wide-angle lens that can step up to just about any dimly lit scenario.

Features and design

Our first impression of the XZ-1 is how sleek and compact the wide-angle camera feels. Its chassis is very reminiscent of the Nikon CoolPix P300. It’s remarkable that manufacturers are able to fit extremely capable lenses onto such discreet bodies, and looks alone will tell you the XZ-1 is a pocket cam. However, put one in the palm of your hand and you’ll immediately understand you’re dealing with a real machine. The camera has some heft (but not bulk) to it, something new photographers might shy away from but enthusiasts will find to be a comforting indication of quality. Just to give you an idea, the XZ-1 weighs in at just under 10-ounces, and units from Olympus’ entry-level digicams usually come in around four to six ounces. If you’re a fan of all things thinner, lighter, and smaller and in the market for a wide angle camera, you might be leaning toward something like the CoolPix P300 (6.7-ounces), but we personally like a little bit of weight when using compact DLSRs for manual shooting.

While we’re being shallow, we should address the fact that the XZ-1 comes in white and black. We’re fans of both options: The white is inarguably eye-catching, but there’s the all-business look to the matte black.

Onto more important things. The XZ-1 measures 110.6mm x 64.8mm x 42.3 mm (width x height x depth) and offers shooters a nice, wide 3-inch OLED display. The OLED screen gives photographers a clearer, sharper, more contrasted image – and its resolution of 610,000 pixels doesn’t hurt either. The functions are simple to master, with a dedicated power butter and shutter, a top dial for adjusting your manual settings as well as selecting iAuto, auto-scene options, and built-art filters. On the camera’s back panel, you have your dedicated video recording button, playback function, and turning dial for determining shutter and aperture manually, as well as a host of other settings. This dial also serves as your navigator for scrolling through photos.

The flash is manual only: Experienced shooters will appreciate a camera that doesn’t self-determine when to light up a setting and newbies might find themselves momentarily confused, but in general this is an appreciated feature of the camera. It also comes with a hot shoe attachment.

The design is simple without being obnoxiously minimalistic, and transitional learners will be able to use the manual settings without feeling alienated by a crowded screen. DSLR loyalists will of course find the lack of a viewfinder with all the settings annoying, but sacrifices have to made when using a compact camera – and that’s one of them.

What’s in the box

In addition to the XZ-1 itself, Olympus includes a lithium ion battery, USB cable, AV cable, USB-AC adapter, the various required straps and lens caps, and a setup CD.