Olympus XZ-1 Review, Part 1

Olympus XZ-1

The first two things that struck me about the new Olympus XZ-1 10 MP Digital Camera with f1.8 Lens was the large diameter of the lens housing and how light the camera feels in the hands, even with the metal exterior. Because of these first impressions, I decided that it's first worth focusing on this camera's look and feel, and the menu system.

When you push the recessed power button on the top of the camera, the lens immediately comes to life. It's responsive. Focusing is fast, even in low light. The 3" LCD monitor that supports 610,000 dots is beautiful. The iZuiko f/1.8-2.5 zoom (28-112mm equivalent) provides lots of light to the 1/1.63-inch, 10-megapixel CCD sensor. Even at the telephoto setting it's a bright f/2.5. That means you're not limited to working at the wide end of the zoom in low light.

I love the big, machined control ring around the lens barrel that adjusts ISO in Program mode, f/stop in Aperture Priority Mode, and shutter speed in Shutter Priority Mode. When you're in Manual exposure mode, the lens ring adjusts aperture while the wheel controller on the back of the camera sets shutter speed. You can monitor everything in real time on the LCD. Manual photography is seldom this much fun.

Speaking of exposure settings, the Mode dial on top of the camera gives the usual PSAM options, plus full Auto, Scene, Art Filters, Low Light, and a Custom mode. The shutter button, next to the Mode dial, is firm and responsive.

The Playback button on the back of the XZ-1 can initiate image review even when the camera is turned off. This is a feature that I like on the Canon S95, and am happy to have it on this Olympus too. Above it, there's the dedicated video recording button. Very handy, and it's also slightly recessed to prevent accidental movie making.

Back on top, there's a pop-up flash that you initiate with a sliding button, and an Accessory Port/hot shoe. I tested the FL-14 accessory flash in the hot shoe, and the TTL-Auto exposures looked good. I'll test other accessories for the upcoming second part.

Olympus cleaned up their Menu system for the XZ-1, much to my appreciation. I've been critical of their menus in the past, and I found the control screens on the XZ-1 the best I've seen on an Olympus camera. Well done, and thanks!

My only nit has to do with recharging the battery. Instead of giving us a dedicated charger, you have to keep the battery in the camera and connect it to a charging adapter. That seems so unprofessional for an otherwise pro spec camera.

In an upcoming post, I'll get into image quality and compare the XZ-1 to a few of its prime competitors. Until then, I'll be enjoying how this camera feels while taking pictures. The Olympus XZ-1 10 MP Digital Camera with f1.8 Lens is currently selling for $499 US.

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So it has a ring around the lens that turns, but you can't manual focus with that ring? I'm hoping im wron about that.

Hi Jesse, It's not a focusing ring, it's a control ring with click-stops. To my knowledge it is not designed for manual focusing.

What case do you use for your XZ-1? I just bought one today and am looking for a good small case.

I just got the XZ-1 and am also looking for a small belt/hip bag. What are you using?

This may sound like a silly question but can this camera be used like a normal compact digicam? I love the white version as well as the design but I know nothing about manual controls and adjustments. So is it possible to use any auto (idiot-proof) function while I slowly learn to use the manual controls (which is good to know)? Thanks in advance!

This camera is charged via USB, which means you do not need a dedicated charger. I am perplexed that this is considered unprofessional. I enjoy the fact that I do not need to lug a charger around, but can use my iPhone/iPad-charger. One should not forget that the professional may buy an accessory charger if that is needed.