Olympus XZ-1 with Zuiko lens gets official with a hands-on preview

by Reads (148)

Teased at Photokina 2010, the Olympus XZ-1 steps out of the realm of the concept camera and into nuts-and-bolts reality. We’ve got the lowdown, the specs, and some hands-on preview images of the camera itself coming your way.

Classic Optics
Olympus’s current fixed lens offerings are categorized as basic FE-, higher performing Stylus or SP- ultrazoom cameras. The XZ-1 is an altogether new category for Olympus, joining several other manufacturers with an advanced compact boasting a fast lens. It’s a familiar name on the lens though – the XZ-1 boasts an iZuiko f/1.8-2.5 4x optical zoom lens covering an equivalent range of 28-112mm.

The new camera’s sensor is also somewhat larger than a typical 1/2.3-inch type imager found in current Stylus cameras. The XZ-1 uses a 10 megapixel 1/1.63-inch CCD and a TruePic V image processor. A new 3.0-inch OLED monitor with 610k-dots of resolution is on the back panel alongside a familiar array of buttons.

Premium Features
Olympus’ familiar Art Filters are here including the new HDR-ish Dramatic Tone, as is 720p HD video recording via dedicated video record button. ISO sensitivity stretches up to 6400 and a built-in flash is housed in the camera’s left shoulder. Burst shooting is expected to clock in around 2 fps, and the camera will be SD/SDHC and SDXC card compatible. The included Li-50B lithium-ion battery will record around 320 shots, according to Olympus’ testing.

True to the camera’s enthusiast spirit, the XZ-1 will record RAW image files, and the XZ-1 will have an accessory port identical to that of the Pen series for compatibility with a range of accessories. True to Olympus’ rough-and-tumble spirit, they’ve developed an underwater housing for the XZ-1.

First Impressions
It feels less like a souped up Stylus and more like a Pen camera shrunken down to size. The menu system is similar, structured into two tiers for quick access to often-used settings. There’s a control ring positioned around the lens for more quick changes to settings. At default in Program mode, the ring can be used to adjust ISO. The ring function changes from mode to mode, and in full manual it will adjust aperture with a control dial on the back panel adjusting shutter speed.

Cosmetically, this pre-production model isn’t far from the mock-up model we saw at Photokina. On the top panel, the concept camera is only missing inscriptions on the mode dial and a model number where it now appears on the camera’s pop-up flash. The exterior of the functioning pre-production unit is somewhat different, with a coarse matte finish that helps keep the camera steady in the hand. A rubberized thumb grip on the back panel offers even more support. The front panel is a bit smoother in finish than the back.

We weren’t permitted to post any sample images from this pre-production model. If there is one thing I can point out this early in the game, it’s the control ring on the back panel. It feels somewhat small, and I had some trouble occasionally when I accidentally depressed one of the buttons as I was rotating the ring. It’s something I’m sure a user would get a feel for, but it stuck out in my mind as a bit of a nuisance.

Outside of that, camera operation and menu navigation felt natural. The camera has a sturdy, appropriately weighty feel in the hand and a sleek, contemporary look. Where the competing Canon G12 is somewhat boxy with a chunky handgrip and several dials, the XZ-1 takes a minimalist approach with more controls contained internally and a slimmer overall silhouette.

Based on the few days I spent shooting with this not-quite-production-ready model, I’d say the XZ-1 will be very competitive in the advanced point-and-shoot market. The lens is bright throughout the zoom range. Olympus has naturally put a lot of focus on the optics of this model, and if that Zuiko lens is all it’s cracked up to be, it could give other competitors in this field some serious trouble.

Pricing and availability
The XZ1 will be available in either black or white sometime this month for $499.99.



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