I’ve been carrying the Olympus XZ-1 around for the past three months. Although, it lacks a few functional features, there are still many things I like about this compact digital camera. Overall, the XZ-1 has been giving me the joy of using it in street and macro shootings, both indoor and outdoor.
The first thing that attracts me is the Olympus i.Zuiko Digital 6-24mm 1:1.8-2.5 lens. It is the first built-in Zuiko lens on an Olympus compact digital camera and is the brightest zoom lens of any current compact digital camera on the market. With the 1:1.8-2.5 aperture, I can keep my ISO settings at the minimum in low light as well as having more control over the dof comparing to other compact digital cameras. The 28-112mm equivalent lens covers a wide range of photography from architecture to street, portrait, macro and scenery, etc. The second thing I like about the XZ-1 is the front dial ring around the lens. I can use the front dial ring to quickly adjust the apertures when the XZ-1 is in Aperture Priority Mode or the shutter speed when the camera is set to Shutter Priority Mode. In Art Mode, I scroll through all six filters in a flash. Same with the scenes in Scenes Mode.
The XZ-1 fits nicely in my cargo pants pocket. A bit heavier than an iPhone but its weight isn’t an issue. It’s lighter —and more compact— than the Nikon Coolpix P7000 or the Canon Powershot G12. I can hold the camera comfortably even it doesn’t have a prominent grip like the G12 or the P7000. When I shoot from the hip position, I can use my thumb to trigger the shutter easily. In general, the XZ-1 is a well built and fun to use. It sure makes a useful travel as well as a fun party camera. It can even be a dependable addition to your professional’s photography kit. But would it make a useful camera for street and urban photography?
As I mentioned above, this camera has a very good lens. It is brighter and sharper comparing to those on compact digital cameras in its rank. The i.Zuiko Digital 6-24mm 1:1.8-2.5 consists of 11 elements in 8 groups and six aperture diaphragm blades. Its focal length is equivalent to 28mm-112mm zoom on a 35mm camera. At f/5.6, its performance is excellent with a small amount of chromatic aberration, little corner softening —even at maximum wide-angle— and the barrel distortion is moderate. I don’t care much for the 4x digital zoom —which performed reasonably well— since digital magnification always accompanies by the usual loss of detail. Of course, this lens will help to render beautiful street shots even in critical lighting conditions.
In term of auto focusing, the XZ-1 offers 11 movable auto focus points, with the standard auto-focus, face detection, focus tracking, macro, super macro and manual focus. I find these various focusing modes work well; especially, the focus tracking mode. I barely use the AF illuminator, but find it comes in handy in total darkness.
As for the ISO, anything from ISO 100 to 640 looks great in jpeg. Noticeable loss of fine detail at ISO 800 due to the built-in noise reduction; however, a fair amount of color integrity retains up to ISO 1600, meaning your shots are still usable for 8×10 sized prints.
In RAW format, lot of noises appears at ISO 800 and above. ISO 6400 is unusable. Not even for black and white online viewing.
The Art Filters offers six special effects. These are fun to play with but if you don’t want to miss your instant-walk-by-shots, stay away from the Art mode. They come with long shutter lag and require sometime to render the art filter onto your jpeg file. Of course, the rendering time depends on the speed of your card.
- Pop Art (high saturation). This works best for scenes with neon lights or lot of colors.
- Soft Focus. Try this filter the next time you photograph your other half. She’ll be amazed at your photographic skill.
- Grainy Film (black and white). One of my favorite art filter. I use this filter for contrast scenes and street portraits. The effect is similar to what you see in Daidō Moriyama’s work.
- Pin Hole (strong vignetting). My second favorite art filter. Great for urban, portrait, macro, food… Bad for anything that moves or requires speed.
- Diorama (central focus only). Faux tilt-shift effect.
- Dramatic Tone (high contrast). Faux HDR effect. This filter works great for some scenes, bad for others.
There are 18 Scene Modes which make the XZ-1 a fantastic camera for travelers, as well as party goers. I’m not going to discuss the functions of these Scene Modes in this blog, but they are,
- Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night Scene with portrait, Indoor, Sunset, Self-portrait, Sports, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach and Snow, Underwater Macro, Pet, Cuisine, Multi-Exposure, and Underwater Wide.
The XZ-1 uses TTL open aperture method and 324 zones Multi-pattern Sensing System for light metering. I can quickly switch from ESP light metering to Spot metering or Centre weighted metering by accessing the Function Menu via the OK button. By the way, there are 12 of the most frequently changed settings in the Function Menu with the key settings like ISO, Picture Mode, White Balance, Shooting Mode and Image Size/Format, RAW/Image Quality, HD Quality on the first page. On the second page, you will find Flash Setting/Compensation, Light Metering Setting, ND Filter, Focusing Mode and Face Detection. Back to the Light Metering, I find that the ESP —another fancy name for Matrix or multi pattern metering— is very reliable for general lighting condition. For high contrast scenes, especially when I shoot in Monochrome Mode, I rather rely on the traditional Center Weighted light meter.
The little pop up flash pumps out enough light for me to capture party scenes at ISO 400 and above. Obviously, it’s not more powerful than other compact digital camera’s built-in-flashes, but Olympus had given this little flash a neat trick. It is the ability to remotely control and fire compatible flashguns. This is a unique ability in this class of camera and makes the addition of an Olympus FL-36R flashgun worth considering. Other features include,
- Auto, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in Flash, Fill-in with Red-eye.
- Slow syncro.
- 1st/2nd curtain sync.
- Flash exposure compensation: Up to +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps.
- Manual flash exposure – Full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64.
The XZ-1 also features the AP-1 accessory port that found on the PEN EP-2 and E-PL1, which allows users to connect the excellent VF-2 external viewfinder as well as the SEMA-1 external microphone or the MAL-1 LED macro lights announced alongside the XZ-1.
With all the features that encloses inside the XZ-1, a fast zoom lens with sharp optic, compact size and a good range of accessories, I find the XZ-1 most suitable for me to use in street and urban photography when it is compared to other compact digital cameras in its rank. In my next blog, I will share my fine tune tricks to get the best bw jpeg files out of this charming camera.