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.
The XZ-2 enters into an already populated showground filled with a multitude of strong performers. On paper the XZ-2 has the specs to supersede the other brands, but do the promising specifications translate into an excellent photographic experience?
Power up time for the XZ-2 is fast - the screen was lit about 1 second after startup and a first shot can be taken almost immediately. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 1 second. The camera made 6 fps in "sequential" (continuous) drive at full resolution with JPEGs, and did the same for RAW/JPEG fine combinations. More importantly for continuous shooters, after an initial monitor blackout following the first shot, subsequent images are displayed without delays so tracking moving subjects is possible with the XZ-2.
Shutter lag on the XZ-2 was a very respectable 0.01 seconds, and AF acquisition time ran about 0.35 seconds.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Olympus Stylus XZ-2||0.01|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Olympus Stylus XZ-2||0.35|
|Sony Cyber-shot RX100||0.26|
|Sony Cyber-shot RX100||11.4|
|Olympus Stylus XZ-2||6|
*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' published flash guide states that at a wide angle the flash range is 2-36 feet and at the telephoto range is about 2-25 feet at 1600 ISO. Flash recycle times ran about 3 to 3.5 seconds.
Battery life is listed as approximately 310 shots when half are taken with flash. We experienced good results. Although we used the flash less then half of the time, we were able to take about 350 images from a fully charged battery.
There are five available focus mode settings. Autofocus - when the focus range is 60cm-infinity. The camera focuses quickly and easily. Macro AF- when the focus is 10cm at wide angle to 30cm at full telephoto. Supermacro AF - this function disables the zoom and the built-in flash, but allows you to focus as close as 1cm. Tracking AF - which tracks the selected subject as it moves across the frame. And manual focus - which allows the user to fully control the focal point.
To switch to Manual Focus, you pull the lever on front of the camera body. It automatically enlarges the center of the image for accurate focusing. Shutter lag in manual focus mode is insignificant. For those who prefer auto focus, there is an AF assist light that enables the camera to focus even in low light. This lamp can be disabled if necessary.
The Olympus XZ-2 has a compact pop-up flash that can be raised manually. Sliding the switch that sits in the top left corner of the back of the camera triggers the flash to rise.
Below the hot shoe is an accessory port identical to the one found on the Olympus E-P3 and E-PL2 models. This port allows you to attach several different accessories developed for the Olympus line of cameras, including the VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinder, the SEMA-1 microphone adapter set and the MAL-1 macro lights. Unfortunately, only one of these can be attached at a time.
With Olympus designing the 4x zoom (28mm-112mm equivalent) of the XZ-2 specifically for the XZ line of cameras, you'd expect pretty good results. You will not be dissatisfied. Overall the XZ-2 glass gives a very dependable performance. With a minimum aperture of 1.8-2.5, this camera excels at the Bokeh effect similar to those that you get from the high-end DSLR lenses.
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-2 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). This easily overlooked feature enables users to preserve otherwise unusable images and can be a saving grace on those sun-filled days.
Those fast apertures, however, are a blessing in low light as they allow you to shoot more without having to resort to higher ISO sensitivities, wherein allowing users to hand-hold the camera in dim environments where available light images are desired.
The Olympus XZ-2 can record full HD 1080p videos, and has a dedicated movie record button in the top right corner of the rear panel for one-touch video recording. Exposure compensation can be added before starting to record a video clip. You can use the optical zoom while filming. The camera can also apply any of the Art Filters to movies while recording. Like many other cameras, the XZ-2 does its best to keep the subject in focus while recording a video clip. The AF seems to hunt a bit, taking a sharp image in and out of focus on occasion, however, the overall quality of the video beyond acceptable. Movies are stored in MOV(MPEG-4AVC/H.264) format and videos are limited to 29 minutes.
Default images out of the XZ-2 are generally impressive, nice color rendition and sharpness.
Overall I thought still image quality was very good for a point and shoot camera. For folks who shoot in the manual modes, there are plenty of user inputs to adjust image output to your liking if the default product fails to meet your needs.
Here is a look at the Art Filters applied to a still scene - the filters can be applied to still images and video:
Pale and light color
Auto white balance was used for the majority of shots in this review and did a good job overall. The XZ-2 offers sunny, cloudy, shadow, incandescent, fluorescent and underwater WB presets along with a custom setting.
Just like the XZ-1,our expectations were that noise performance would be far superior to those in the point and shoot class. Surprisingly, I noticed the same loss of fine detail in the jump from 100 to 200 ISO as in the XZ-1. As we reported before, both images look the same small. At 400 ISO the detail drops slightly again.
Again, ISO 800 is a bit worse than 400, with fine details starting to smudge and more grain appearing. ISO 1600 takes another significant downturn, with widespread smudging of fine details and more grain - the Auto Zone coin is almost featureless at this point. ISO 3200 image quality rapidly decreasing. 6400 and 12,800 loses most of what fine details are left. You can also see that at 12,800 ISO we have maxed out our shutter speed at 1/2000th of a second. The image has become slightly overexposed.
One thing we noticed - when the noise reduction software was turned off, the camera did a much better job at retaining the fine details with less pixel smudging. Personally, I would prefer my camera render more grain than show pixel deterioration. Cleaning up the grain with post-production software is a far better alternative to using the in-camera noise reduction system.
Additional Sample Images
With the addition of a BSI CMOS image sensor, an adaptable tilting/ touchscreen LCD screen, and a convenient removable grip to the Olympus XZ-2, this camera is at the top of its class. The fast lens and responsive autofocus make it easy to use and hard to put down. But when you throw in exceptional image quality the camera commands serious attention.
The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 boasts a zoom range that is on par with the competition, but lacks the telephoto range in which we have become accustom. The RAW shooting options are wonderful for those wanting more control over their work. The handy one-touch video capture gives users a pleasant experience.
Although a stretch to call this camera a point and shoot due to its size, bulk and processing power, the XZ-2 manages to dive into the already overpopulated mix. It supersedes the majority of its competitors with its outstanding features. However, with a steep MSRP of $600 we question the XZ-2's ability to outsell its counterparts on specs alone.
As good as the still image quality is out of the XZ-2, the video isn't far behind. Maximum clip length is 29 minutes at HD resolution. Nevertheless, there's the noise performance issue with both the still and video images- while a bit better than the average compact digital, it gives way to pixel deterioration once sensitivities reach at least 800 ISO and above.
In the point and shoots market, the XZ-2 soars to the top. Yet one of its biggest rivals may actually be Olympus' own E-PL5. At only $100 more, the E-PL5 comes complete with a higher megapixel count, a higher ISO range and an interchangeable lens system. But if interchangeable lenses scare you and a high performing point and shoot is what you are after, the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 will undoubtedly give you what you need.