Thursday, March 10, 2011

Olympus XZ-1 Mini Review

I got a chance to play around with the new Olympus XZ-1 through a friend. I'll keep this short and sweet. I never use compact cameras. I have one, a Canon S90, but I almost never use it. I've played around with the newest compacts here and there, but I'm never tempted. But, if I was interested in a compact camera, this would be at the top of my list. The interface is efficient, but nothing that really blows the competition away. Everyone has a competent interface on their cameras, nowadays. The body is well-made, feels good, and everything performs snappily.

No, while all of that is fine, what has impressed me away is the sharpness of the lens. Across the frame, this is easily the sharpest lens on a compact camera on the market. It's fast, and sharp, sharp, sharp. A number of other compacts, like the Panasonic Lumix LX5, are equally sharp in the center of the frame, but that drops off quickly. And woe be you if you try and use the zoom, your image quickly looks as though you took it through a thick miasma. The Olympus' lens never suffers from this.

It is sharper and suffers less distortion than even the Canon G11 (I don't have access to a G12, but they perform very similarly). Truly, this is a marvel of a lens. The camera isn't perfect, though, and its problem runs counter to other Olympus cameras. Whereas Olympus handily outperforms Panasonic 4/3's cameras when it comes to noise, this Olympus is very noisy. ISO100 is highly detailed but, even at this low ISO, noisy. Up to ISO400 can be easily cleaned up in Lightroom (Or Capture One or whatever), but by ISO800, it's getting hard. ISO1600 loses considerable saturation and is so noisy that really Facebook-level pictures are all that you can expect from it.

Still, even at high-ISO, when other cameras are outperforming it, the superiority of the lens means that I see more detail amongst all of that noise. I prefer that over the other cameras. All that said, I'd wait a generation. If Olympus can produce a version of this camera with noise on par with its competitors, they will have, without doubt, the best compact on the market.

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