Further adding to the impression that this is a serious proposition is the Olympus XZ-1’s rugged-feeling build, which suggests a compacted DSLR or, more closely still, a smaller and slimmer Digital Pen; a feeling augmented by the XZ-1’s 275g weight and proportions of 110.6mm x 64.8mm x 42.3mm. From the front it’s traditionally square-like and boxy and, in its black incarnation, even a bit plain looking (a natty white lacquered version is alternatively available). But as this is not your average point-and-shoot that requires stylish curves to sell it, we actually like its no-nonsense appearance. That said, although the XZ-1 is more portable than a Micro Four-Thirds model, it’s still one for transporting in the pocket of a jacket rather than jeans.
As an additional stand-out feature, the XZ-1 ‘borrows’ the time-saving idea of a lens ring, for making function adjustments on the quick, from rival Canon’s PowerShot S95. Thus, the likes of ISO speed can be scrolled through and swapped with a quick twist – the relevant settings adequately displayed within a narrow box at the bottom of the screen – rather than needing to drill down into the main menus. And again like the Canon, there’s the ability to adjust aspect ratios, from 4:3 to 3:2, 16.9 or even 6:6.
Not everything here is immediately obvious, however. A case in point is that a Canon-like toolbar, displayed at the side of the screen and featuring key shooting settings for swift and easy access, is called up with a press of the ‘OK’ button at the centre of its backplate control pad/scroll wheel. Though this proves a time saver, there’s no obviously marked ‘function’ button to guide you to it in the first place. In other words: the XZ-1 subjects you to an initial period of familiarisation.
Like its slightly easier to fathom Samsung EX1 opponent, the XZ-1 breaks from tradition by offering a bright and clear OLED (as opposed to LCD) rear screen, here 3in in size and with a high 610k dot resolution. This can’t be tilted or swivelled though, which may be asking for too much perhaps, but would further extend the XZ-1’s creative possibilities.
Extending the basics of what’s on offer is instead left up to an accessory port tucked just behind the vacant hot shoe on the top plate. This is basically the same feature that we’ve seen on Olympus Digital Pen cameras since the E-P2. This allows for not just the attachment of an external flash, but also an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or external stereo microphone. Both the hot shoe and accessory port are protected from dust and grime by a sliding plastic cover, when not in use.
Also carried over from previous Olympus Pen compacts and E-series DSLRs, and worth flagging-up, is a handful of Art Filter digital effects. Here they are six in number and comprise Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama and Dramatic Tone. The Diorama feature is the increasingly ubiquitous ‘miniature effect’ mode by another name, aping the effect of a tilt-and-shift lens by narrowing the portion of the image in sharp focus.