In single shot mode a full resolution JPEG takes around three seconds to write, which is about adequate. More positively, shooting and writing the alternative of an unprocessed Raw file takes a mere blink of an eye longer, as does shooting a Large, Fine JPEG and Raw file together. Incidentally, JPEGs at each of the four levels of compression offered, from a file of 3,648 x 2,736 pixels down to 640 x 480 pixels can be shot in tandem with a Raw file, as well as individually.
The OLED screen itself is commendably clear, the image relayed with its brighter-than-life colours noticeably digital in that respect in comparison with a plain old LCD. However, and having said that, what you see on the screen and what you get once shots are downloaded to your desktop are very similar, so we have no complaints as far as fidelity goes. Even exposures and good colours, veering toward the warm, are the order of the day.
For us, while it doesn’t quite trump the ease of use offered by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, the results straight out of the Olympus are slightly more natural looking – if keeping the camera on Program or Intelligent Auto settings that is. Despite a sensor housing ‘just’ 10 megapixels, we were also very impressed by the amount of detail packed into the images, which, thanks also to the lens provided, is noticeably an improvement over your typical 14 megapixel ‘style cam’.
For those who want to add a bit of extra punch to images on a dull day, we found the Art Filters offered some pleasing results. These can transform the drab into the visually dynamic without any specialist Photoshop skills needed. What’s more, there’s the ability to select them when shooting video clips as well as mere stills, which again elevates this model by a creative notch for those looking for an all-round tool. And yes, the optical zoom can be utilised when shooting video.
In terms of low light performance we’d be happy shooting up to and including ISO1600. The compromise of increased noise and softened detail if venturing any higher just isn’t worth it in our opinion. But then again, it could be argued that thanks to that brighter than average lens you won’t actually find yourself needing to reach for the higher ISOs anyway.
Admittedly, though there is much about the XZ-1 to admire and more to discover than its outwardly minimal appearance suggests, one alternatively could buy a starter digital SLR for the Â£400 being asked. Or stretch a little further and go for the E-PL2 Digital Pen. The beginner/keen amateur target markets for both Olympus cameras overlap to a degree.
So, as with the rest of its closely matched opponents, you’ve got to want the added portability and convenience of this feature-packed, solidly built, all-in-one pocket compact, over the ability to extend your creative horizons over time with interchangeable lenses. In that respect then the XZ-1 probably works best as a sophisticated toy to complement the existing DSLR user, who isn’t already wedded to the Canon or Nikon brand and therefore isn’t more likely to go for the continuity in feel the likes of the S95 or P300 can offer.
The XZ-1 feels like a good, solid move for its maker, and in helping the brand stay competitive and moreover relevant, it deserves to do well. Olympus has come lately to the high performance compact party, so it’s just as well that its arrival is with a product that should be awarded a degree of fanfare.