Olympus XZ-1 Review
Originally Posted: January 5, 2011
Last Updated: January 4, 2013
The Olympus XZ-1 ($499) marks the Japanese camera giant's entry into the compact prosumer market. The XZ-1 is a cross between the Canon PowerShot S95 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, featuring such things as a fast and wide lens, a high sensitivity 10 Megapixel CCD, manual controls, a large/high resolution LCD (or OLED), HD movie recording, and more.
I can't think of a better way to start this article than to show you a chart comparing all three of those cameras, plus the similar Samsung TL500, and the new Nikon Coolpix P300 (which has a fast lens, but regular-sized sensor). You may want to widen your browser window a bit so it all fits!
That's quite a table! The XZ-1 comes off looking pretty good, at least when it comes to specs. Is it a great camera in the real world, too? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The XZ-1 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 10.0 effective Megapixel XZ-1 digital camera
- LI-50B lithium-ion battery
- USB-to-AC adapter
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Olympus Viewer 2 and Olympus [ib] software
- Fold-out Quick Start Guide + full manual on CD-ROM
The XZ-1 has 54.6 MB of memory built right into it. While that's more than you'll get on most cameras, it's still not going to hold a whole lot of photos. Thus, I'd recommend buying an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card right away. For most folks, a 2GB or 4GB card should be fine, while most enthusiasts may want something larger. Buying a high speed card isn't a bad idea, though you don't need to go overboard.
The XZ-1 uses the familiar Olympus LI-50B lithium-ion battery. This compact battery holds 3.4 Wh of energy, which isn't a whole lot. Let's see how that translates into battery life:
Despite a fairly anemic battery, the XZ-1 still manages to put out above average battery life numbers. Nice job, Olympus!
All five of the cameras on the above list use proprietary batteries. What that means for the average user is that you 1) replacement batteries are on the pricey side (an extra LI-50B will cost you about $30) and 2) should your rechargeable die, you can't find something off-the-shelf to get you through the rest of the day. Unfortunately that's "par for the course" with cameras like this!
The XZ-1 does not charge the battery in the traditional manner -- at least not by default. Inside the box is this little number, which is an AC-to-USB adapter. Attach one end of the USB cable into your camera and the other into the adapter, and then plug the whole thing into the wall, and the battery will be charged inside the camera. It will take up to three hours for the battery to fully charge. You can also charge the battery by plugging the USB cable into a computer, though Olympus warns that this may take longer.
If you want a regular external charger, Olympus would be happy to sell you their LI-50C travel charger, which is priced from $24.
Olympus includes a lens cap (with retaining strap) to protect its lens. The cap doesn't really lock on to the lens, which is both good and bad. The good news is that it'll pop off when you power on the camera, and the bad news is that it often comes off when you don't want it to.
The optional PT-050 waterproof case
Image courtesy of Olympus
There are a decent amount of accessories available for the XZ-1. One thing which I mistakenly put in the chart in the preview of this camera was the PENPAL Bluetooth accessory -- it is not compatible with the XZ-1. Here are the extras that will work with the camera:
While the camera does come with an AC adapter, do note that it's only for charging the battery and replaying images. Olympus says that it is not for taking pictures, and they don't offer an AC adapter that would allow you to do so.
Olympus Viewer 2 in Mac OS X
Olympus includes two pieces of software with the XZ-1, with their Viewer 2 being the main one. This software works on both Mac and Windows systems, and is capable of handling a lot of tasks. The main screen looks like every other image viewer on the market: file browser on the left, resizable thumbnails in the middle, and shooting info on the right (as well as a "box" in which to put photos you want to work on.
Other options here include an image lightbox (for side-by-side comparisons), slideshows, printing, batch processing, and easy skin retouching. The XZ-1's firmware can also be updated using Viewer 2.
Editing in Olympus Viewer 2
Olympus Viewer 2 is fully-loaded in the editing department, as well. In addition to a quick "auto tone" fix, you can also adjust the following:
If you're working with a RAW image, you can also edit the following properties:
Pretty impressive for free software!
Olympus [ib] software in Windows
Also included is Olympus' oddly named [ib] software, which is for Windows only. This software, complete with an overly flashy interface, is aimed more toward consumers than the Viewer 2 product described above.
The photo import process involves naming events (just like iPhoto), tagging any faces, and selecting the location in which a photo was taken. You can't choose individual photos to import -- it's either everything in an event or all of the photos on the camera. Once you get to the main screen, you'll find the usual thumbnail view, which is broken down by event. Over on the right side of the frame are windows for faces the software has identified, as well as a map showing the locations you've tagged.
You can also print photos, stitch together panoramas, and update the firmware on your camera from the main page. If you register the [ib] software, Olympus also gives you 2GB of online photo storage.
Editing JPEGs in Olympus [ib]
The [ib] software has a nice set of image editing tools. You can rotate or level images, correct for distortion and redeye, smooth skin tones and remove blemishes, or add special effects to your photos. Of course, basics like brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness can be adjusted as well. In addition to its JPEG editing duties, the [ib] software can also edit and export RAW images. RAW properties that can be adjusted include exposure, white balance, Picture Mode, contrast, sharpness, saturation, gradation, and the noise filter.
If you'd rather use Photoshop CS5 to work with the XZ-1's RAW images, then you'll want to have version 6.4 or newer of their Camera Raw plug-in.
And what is this RAW thing all about, anyway? RAW files contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process it on your computer first (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. Be warned that RAW images are considerably larger than JPEGs, which means that they take up more space on your memory card and decrease camera performance.
Unfortunately, all of the documentation for the Olympus XZ-1 is in digital format. Sure, there's a fold-out Quick Start guide in the box (in multiple languages), but that doesn't get you very far. If you want more details, you'll have to load up the PDF manual, which comes on an included CD-ROM. The quality of the manual itself is average by digital camera standards, which is to say: somewhat confusing, and not very detailed. The manuals for the two software products I mentioned above will be installed onto your computer.