The contrast and colour boosting Dramatic Tone mirrors the results achievable from compacts that offer high dynamic range modes, such as the HDR Art function on the recently reviewed Casio Exilim EX-ZR10. However the results from the Olympus are in a different league, and although one might argue inessential, certainly aren't a gimmick either, as we'll explain shortly.
The smattering of manual controls on the XZ-1, including the quartet of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual, are joined on the same shooting mode dial by a user-attributable custom mode, dedicated low-light mode, reliable scene and subject-recognising iAuto for point and shoot simplicity, plus the aforementioned Art and subsequent 'Scene' modes. There are 18 of the latter, biased towards portraiture and landscapes in the main and including a simple to use but slow to process panorama mode.
Slightly more unusually we also get a multi-exposure mode, and two underwater shooting settings. Incidentally we felt that the shooting dial itself was a little looser than it might have been - as we accidentally jogged settings fetching the camera in and out of a jacket pocket. The probability of this happening feels somewhat amplified by its positioning at the top right-hand edge of the camera's top plate.
The overall impression given by the XZ-1's control set is that, much like the Pen range, those photographers who want to get hands-on can, while those who would rather leave the tricky choices up to the camera are equally sated thanks to iAuto (intelligent Auto) mode. Turn the camera's dial to iAuto and there's a Live Guide feature, showing the effects of any setting changes in real time on screen, so that the user knows if they like the look before applying them.
At the bottom of the tool bar are options to, for example, adjust colour saturation or blur the background; we also get an instructional 'Shooting Tips' section. Predictably, given the XZ-1's intention to appeal to the broadest possible audience, this kicks off with recommendations on how to photograph children and pets.
The Olympus XZ-1 is quick to respond once turned on. A press of the small on/off button nestling next to the shutter release button, itself encircled by the zoom lever, and the lens shoots forward from its storage position to maximum wide angle setting. There's no automatic sliding lens cover protecting the glass, just a plastic slip-on lens cap. The rear OLED screen blinks into life a mere moment later, the entire process from dormant to having a finger hovering over the shutter release button taking just under two seconds. It's comparable to the kind of response you'd expect from a starter DSLR.
A half press of said shutter release and the Olympus borrows a trick from its DSLRs in being lightning quick to determine focus and exposure thanks to its contrast detection AF system; the appearance of the AF point, signified by the usual box highlighted in green (or red if you're too close and focus can't be determined), and beep of affirmation being nigh instantaneous. As expected, we also get AF tracking here, useful for subjects moving about the frame.