The Olympus Stylus XZ-2, the company's most recent premium compact, jettisons onto the market with its classic body design and its quite impressive f/1.8 lens. With 11 Art Filters and 5 Effects, 1080p full HD video and an accessory port for flashes and viewfinders, it's sure to grab the attention of avid photographers. But with a hefty price tag of $599.99, will its limited 4x iZuiko lens and heavy overall design be able to win over point and shoot enthusiasts?
Although there are only a few major changes to the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 when compared to the XZ-1, the result of these changes could be highly impactful. The sensor sees a minor upgrade to 12 megapixels, but a potentially major upgrade to a BSI CMOS sensor. Paired with the TruePic VI Image Processor, the BSI CMOS sensor in the new XZ-2 assures us that we will see "dramatically improved image quality with spectacular low-light performance." Increasing the ISO range to 12,800 should, in theory, provide better images in low light situations. The autofocus has been expanded to a 35 area contrast AF from the previous 11 area AF. Finally, the 720p video has been upgraded to a full HD 1080p experience.
The XZ-2 offers 12 megapixel resolution on a 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor that is slightly larger than that of its predecessor, the XZ-1 and can capture images in RAW, JPEG or RAW/JPEG combinations. Video is 1080p full HD, and the camera features TruePic VI image processing technology that promises to lower image noise in photos shot at higher ISO settings. This is an upgrade from the TruePic V that is found in the Stylus XZ-1 and in Olympus's PEN series cameras. An increase in ISO sensitivity range from 100 to 12,800 effectively doubles that which was found in the Olympus XZ-1. In addition to the compact digital automatic settings and scene shooting modes, there are there are 11 Art Filters and 5 effects. Full manual controls for those with advanced photography skills are readily available. A high resolution, 3.0-inch tilt and touch LCD screen. The 4x iZuiko zoom lens covers the 28 to 112mm focal range in 35mm equivalents, and was specifically designed and built for use in Olympus compact cameras.
Wide Angle, 28mm
Just like the Olympus XZ-1, the greatest asset of this lens is its speed - an f/1.8 maximum aperture at wide angle and an f/2.5 minimum at telephoto range. This aperture range is wonderful. As seen in the image above, the lens is sharp and functional, yet we would like to see slightly more zoom. The XZ-2 uses SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media and has 39MB of internal memory. Olympus includes a lens cap, lens cap strap, Lithium-ion battery and charger, USB/Video multi-cable, shoulder strap, CD-ROM software and printed quick start user's manual with each camera. Additional accessories are available including an electronic viewfinder that mounts on the camera's hot shoe, a microphone for recording video or variable angle flashes for added light.
Build and Design
The XZ-2 has a classic, rectangular metal body and is well-built. Solid materials make this point and shoot camera heavier than others in its class. And although slightly heavier, it is a solid, well-made product. The Stylus XZ-2 is available in a black matte finish.
The dimensions are fairly close to the other entries in this class at 4.45 x 2.57 x 1.89 inches with its weight at almost 3/4 of a pound. By no means would we refer to this camera slim line or svelte. The XZ-2 is the rugged workhorse of the point and shoot world. It is classic and hefty, but has no chance of fitting into the pockets of my jeans.
Ergonomics and Controls
The XZ-2 body features classic compact digital ergonomics. Its edges are slightly rounded and have a modern approach to classic styling. But the piece de resistance is the removable grip included with this camera. An option that is undoubtedly overlooked, the removable grip makes for a remarkable selling feature. Since no two hands are created the same, engineering various sizes of hand grips for this camera offers a much better ergonomic experience than the competitors in this class.
However, there is one drawback to this ingenious idea. Olympus only designed two sizes of grips -- sadly leaving a huge gap in the marketplace. The grip options include a small removable grip, a medium removable grip (which can be purchased as an optional accessory) or no grip. I found the small removable grip to be less adequate than what I wanted in a camera of this weight and size. When the grip was removed, I immediately felt the camera was unstable and could be easily dropped. I was unable to review the medium grip. Style savvy photographers will rejoice, however - there is an option to swap in grips of various colors.
External controls are scant - the on/off switch, shutter button/zoom lever and shooting mode dial share the camera top with the hot shoe and pop-up flash. The camera back is largely taken up by the 3.0-inch tilt monitor, as well as playback, menu and info buttons, the flash switch, movie capture button, function button and wheel controller/OK button. My hand molded effortlessly to the shutter button. In my opinion, the grip needed additional bulk for the rest of my hand to adequately rest on the back of the camera.
The printed quick start guide provided by Olympus briefly covers battery charging, date/time setup, still image capture in program auto mode, movie capture, flash operation and playback. A bit of bad news - the Li-90B Li-ion battery is charged in the camera. Charging from the computer will set you back 10 long hours. Recharging a completely depleted XZ-2 battery from an AC outlet takes about 3 hours and the camera is unavailable for shooting during this time. An avid shooter will find this feature bothersome. Not having an independent battery charger at this price point seems a disservice to the buyer.
Another complaint is the complete user's manual is provided only on CD-ROM. I find that rather trying. Your option then becomes printing the manual for imminent future use or waiting to research the problem until you get to a computer.
The XZ-2 is much like the XZ-1. It is not particularly intuitive for folks trying to shoot in the manual modes. Those of us who shoot in the manual modes are quite familiar with setting aperture, shutter speed or both, by way of buttons or controllers on digital cameras, but trying to get the XZ-2 to change apertures was more difficult than expected. The XZ-2 is equipped with a hybrid control ring which is built around the lens. If you're in the "art" or "scene" modes, the control ring scrolls through your various shooting options. If you're in "low light" mode, it changes ISO sensitivity.
Menus and Modes
The menus were challenging to get used to at first, but continuous use offered greater control over the camera. There are four main menus: camera, movie, playback and setup. Depending on your specific shooting mode, more or less options within the individual menus may be available. For me, the charm of the Olympus XZ-2 is the full manual exposure mode. This mode even gives you a live histogram and raw file support. The main drawback, however, is the lack of a direct button to access ISO settings. You will need to enter the function menu to change your settings.
The 3.0-inch touch/tilt LED monitor has a 920,000 dot composition. The monitor was easliy able to be viewed and offered nice image representation even in bright outdoor conditions. The tilt features offers users the ability to compose from either very low or very high focal planes. The XZ-2 touchscreen can be configured in a multitude of ways - turned off, one-touch focusing, or simultaneous one-touch focusing and shutter release. It also allows you to interact with the camera's key and release the shutter through the onscreen control panel.
Two optional electronic viewfinders are available (in black or silver) for the XZ-2. The VF-2 has a 1,440,000 dot composition, diopter adjustment and mounts on the camera's hot shoe. The VF-3 is available with a 920,000 dot composition. Coverage is 100%, but use of the viewfinder precludes attaching an external flash or microphone adapter. MSRP for the viewfinders are $250 and $180, respectively.
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