The XZ-1 enters an arena already populated by two strong performers in the Canon G12 and Nikon P7000. On paper the XZ-1 has the hardware to match up nicely with the two established brands, but do the promising specifications translate into real world excellence?
Power up time for the XZ-1 is about par for the class - a focus icon is presented about 2.5 seconds after startup and a first shot can be taken at around three seconds. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 2.75 seconds. The camera made 2 fps in "sequential" (continuous) drive at full resolution with JPEGs, and did the same for RAW/JPEG fine combinations up to 15 shots using a 16GB class 10 SDHC card. More importantly for continuous shooters, after an initial monitor blackout following the first shot, subsequent images are displayed without delays so tracking moving subjects with the XZ-1 monitor is a bit easier than with the G12 or P7000 in the same fashion.
The XZ-1 also has two high speed continuous shooting settings, but Olympus is playing coy with just how high "high" is. The spec sheet for the XZ-1 admits to a 2 fps sequential rate, but says only that high-speed 1 shoots "at a faster speed than in sequential." Predictably, high-speed 2 "shoots at a faster speed than in high-speed 1." Not very forthcoming, Olympus.
For the record, I got high-speed 1 to shoot at a bit over 7 fps for 35 shots before I stopped the experiment; high-speed 2 went almost 15 fps for 74 shots before I stopped again. The other side of the high-speed coin is the camera defaults to a 1280 x 960 file size that puts out a 500KB image at either high speed setting. Here's a JPEG/fine shot in sequential and a high-speed 2 JPEG:
My Photoshop CS4 didn't recognize the XZ-1 RAW format, but Olympus provides Viewer 2 software with the camera that does. There's a range of adjustments available including color balance, sharpness/blur, unsharp mask, and a monochrome conversion tool among others, but the main thing is the Viewer 2 software can convert the XZ-1 RAW file into a TIFF or JPEG format that everybody's software recognizes. The camera can also process RAW files and give you a JPEG copy via post-processing.
Shutter lag on the XZ-1 was a very respectable 0.01 seconds, and AF acquisition time ran about 0.45 seconds, a bit off the pace compared to the Nikon, but a little ahead of the Canon.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Nikon Coolpix P7000||0.01|
|Canon PowerShot G12||0.04|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix P7000||0.24|
|Canon PowerShot G12||0.50|
|Canon PowerShot G12||∞
|Olympus X-Z1||∞||2.0 fps
|Nikon Coolpix P7000||26||1.5 fps
|Samsung TL500||∞||1.5 fps
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Olympus doesn't publish a flash guide number or even a flash range on either the Olympus America website or in the user's manual, but range seems to be about 20 feet at wide angle and auto ISO, a bit less at telephoto. Flash recycle times ran about 3 to 4.75 seconds depending on conditions.
Battery life is listed as approximately 320 shots when half are taken with flash. I was shooting one day and the XZ-1 suddenly locked up on me - monitor was active, but no controls worked, including on-off. I ended up taking the battery out of the camera to shut it down, and when I put it back in the camera came back up, albeit with a flashing red battery icon that is the XZ-1's way of saying "charge my battery NOW."
Nothing caught my attention that the battery was going away until the camera locked up - there is a battery icon on the shooting screen, but it displays for 10 seconds when the camera powers up and then drops off the shooting screen. The icon flashes red as a warning of imminent battery exhaustion, but wasn't prominent enough to get my attention like the camera locking up did. Carry a spare battery with your XZ-1.
With Olympus designing the 4x zoom of the XZ-1 specifically for the camera, you'd expect pretty good results and you wouldn't be disappointed. There is some slight barrel distortion that verges on moustache distortion at wide angle, and a bit of pincushion at the telephoto end. Very slight softening exists in the corners and edges at wide angle, and even less at telephoto - the lens is quite good across the frame at both ends of the zoom. There is a very small amount of chromic aberration (purple fringing) at both ends of the zoom in some high contrast boundary areas, but the lens does quite well in this regard. Overall the XZ-1 glass turns in a very credible performance.
Those fast apertures at wide angle and telephoto speak for themselves, but aperture priority shooters may find themselves running out of shutter on bright days if they're working with the lens wide open. The XZ-1 shutter tops out at 1/2000th of a second and even with the ISO sensitivity at 100 you can start pushing into overexposure on a sunny day by going much below f/4. The camera features a built-in neutral density filter (disabled by default) and the user's manual doesn't specify the degree of strength, but shooting with the filter enabled and disabled indicate about a 3 stop reduction. For example, one particular scene shot at 1/50th of a second at f/5.6 with the filter disabled, but 1/6th of a second with the filter enabled.
On the other hand, those fast apertures are a godsend in low light as they allow you to shoot more without necessarily having to resort to higher ISO sensitivities to keep up shutter speeds when hand holding. The XZ-1 is stabilized, but even stabilization can only do so much. A tripod or other form of solid camera support is the best insurance in low light, but if you have to hand-hold the XZ-1 gives the user a significant speed advantage over the G12 and P7000 in this regard, all else being equal.
The XZ-1 can focus as close as about 0.4-inch in super macro mode, and while we're at it let's take a look at the nifty MAL-1 macro light accessory Olympus sent along with the XZ-1. The device features two 6.5-inch long flexible arms with 2-level adjustable LED lights at the end of each. The MAL-1 mounts on the hot shoe and draws its power from the camera. Here are a couple of looks at the MAL-1:
And here's a shot of a David Lee watercolor on silk original, with a close up of the artist signature shot with the MAL-1.
MSRP on the MAL-1 is $60.
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