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Olympus XZ-2 Ken McMahon, June 2013
 
   
 

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 verdict

The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 is a 12 Megapixel advanced compact with a stabilised 28-112mm equivalent optical zoom. It has a flip-up 3in 920k dot LCD screen and hotshoe with accessory port that can take an optional viewfinder. With PASM exposure modes as well as intelligent Auto and the same Art modes as the Olympus PEN Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system range, it's a very capable compact that's also fun and easy to use. In fact, the XZ-2 embodies so much of what has made the PEN models so popular that the comparison with a mirrorless compact system camera is really more appropriate than with a DSLR.

Whatever kind of big camera you're looking to substitute, the XZ-2 provides plenty of options both for hands-on manual control, as well as automated operation. In PASM modes its versatile lens ring can be assigned to exposure control, zoom, or focus. Its touch-screen can be used to focus and shoot, but otherwise takes a bit of a back seat for advanced operation, only providing control over camera settings in iAuto mode with the Live Guides.

When it was introduced on the XZ-1, the f1.8-2.5 lens was the brightest available on any compact. It remains a capable low-light performer with few competitors, but meanwhile it's been eclipsed by the f1.4-2.3 zoom on the Lumix LX-7. Three stops of stabilisation make it possible to shoot hand-held in lighting conditions that would have other compacts struggling, against that, the XZ-2's new CMOS sensor struggles with noise when the sensitivity rises above 800 ISO. With only two video modes at 1080p30 and 720p30 the XZ-2 offers less for videographers than many competitors, but a raft of video resolutions and modes is only an advantage if you use them, many people will set the best quality mode and leave it at that. And with built-in stereo mics, the option to connect an external mic via the accessory port, a stabilised powered zoom, and sure-footed Continuous AF, the XZ-2 has plenty to offer.

   
 

 

Compared to Nikon COOLPIX A

     
 
 
     
     

For anyone looking to substitute a compact for a larger camera, both the Nikon COOLPIX A and Olympus Stylus XZ-2 are strong candidates. With this kind of comparison it often makes sense to start with the sensor, that's an important difference between these two models, but it's the lens that will have more of an impact on everyday use.

Nikon has opted for a fixed focal length 28mm wide angle, compared with the 4x 28-112mm equivalent zoom on the XZ-2. So the COOLPIX isn't as versatile and doesn't provide the framing flexibility of the XZ-2. Its choice of a 28mm wide angle also isn't the best for general use, the XZ-2 makes a much better job of portraits for example. The XZ-2's f1.8 zoom is more than a stop brighter than the f2.8 lens on the COOLPIX A, but when it comes to shallow depth of field, the COOLPIX A's large APS-C sensor makes up a little for lost ground, producing slightly better results when compared to the XZ-2, at 28mm at least. Zoomed in to 112mm equivalent, though, even at f2.5 the XZ-2 wins out. The XZ-2 also offers image stabilisation, not so necesarry on the COOLPIX A for stills, but noticeably absent on video clips.

Now let's look at the sensors. The COOLPIX A has the same size APS-C sensor found in the company's DX-format DSLRs and, with a resolution of 16 Megapixels and the absence of a low pass filter, it delivers as good, if not better quality. The Olympus XZ-2 has a smaller 1/1.7in sensor with a resolution of 12 Megapixels. It too produces excellent quality images, but neither its resolving power nor high ISO noise performance can match the COOLPIX A.

Neither model offers a built in viewfinder, but the XZ-2's accessory port is compatible with both the VF2 and VF3 electronic viewfinders which are reasonably priced compared with the expensive DF-CP1 optical viewfinder on offer from Nikon for the COOLPIX A. Both have 3 inch LCD screens with similar resolutions, but the XZ-2's touch screen can be used to make menu selections as well as for focussing and shooting. It also flips out and can be angled up or down whereas the COOLPIX A's is fixed. Both models also provide a built-in flash and a standard hotshoe for an external unit.

Both offer fully manual control over exposure with PASM modes in addition to fully auto modes and custom positions on the mode dial. But the XZ-2 has intelligent Auto with scene detection in addition to Art filters for special effects. Beyond its scene modes the COOLPIX A has few frills. Continuous shooting on the Olympus XZ-2 is slightly faster at 5fps but effectively there's little difference betwen the two models.

The COOLPIX A offers a wider range of HD video modes than the XZ-2 with full 1080p HD at 30, 25 and 24fps compared with only 1080p30 on the XZ2. But the extra frame rates may not be as much use to videographers as the XZ-2's dedicated movie record button, it's 4x zoom or its image stabilisation

Lastly, there's the question of price. The COOLPIX A is getting on for double the price of the Olympus XZ-2. At the time of writing the COOLPIX A was a very recent release, so that differential will be eroded, but remains significant. In many ways the XZ-2 is a lot more camera for a lot less money but what you're paying for with the COOLPIX A is Nikon's uncompromising adherence to the twin pillars of quality and compactness. All you need to do is decide which of those approaches most closely matches your own individual needs and preferences.

See my Nikon COOLPIX A review for more details.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix LX7

     
 
 
     
     

The Lumix LX-7 is arguably the closest rival to the XZ-2, not least because it offers a similar set of features at a significantly lower price. Let's begin with the sensor. Both the models have a 1/1.7in sensor with a total resolution of 12.8 Megapixels. The XZ-2 uses most of those to produce 12 Megapixel images, but the LX-7's maximum image resolution is 10 .1 Megapixels. The reason for the difference is that the LX-7 uses the additional pixels to maintain the angle of view and avoid cropping at different aspect ratios.

Which brings us on to the lenses. The LX-7's 3.8x zoom has an equivalent range of 24-90mm, so it starts significantly wider than the XZ-2 (and maintains it whether you're shooting in 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 aspect ratios) but doesn't have quite the same reach at the telephoto end. At f1.4-2.3 it's the brightest lens available on a compact, 0.7EV brighter than the XZ-2's f1.8-2.5 lens, which means, at the wide angle seting at least, you'll be using 250 ISO on the LX-7 compared with 400 on the XZ-2. So while the XZ-2's lens is impressive, the LX-7's is more so. Incidentally, both models have built-in stabilisation which works for movies as well as stills.

Both models provide a 3 inch, 3:2 proportioned LCD screen with 920k dots, but there the similarities end. The biggest difference is that the XZ-2's screen is touch-sensitive and can be used for tap focus and shooting as well as for basic camera control in iAuto modes, menu navigation and photo review. The XZ-2's screen can also be flipped up or downwards whereas on the LX-7 it's fixed in place. If you prefer a viewfinder, both models offer 1.44 million dot electronic viewfinder accessories which are similarly priced.

Both models are similarly equipped in terms of physical controls with a lens ring that can be used for exposure control though the LX-7's is a dedicated aperture ring whereas the ZX-2's can be used for a range of options including exposure, zoom and manual focus. The LX-7 also has an aspect ratio selector on the lens which combined with the sensor's ability to maintain full resolution makes it a better option if you frequently switch aspect ratio.

As for other shooting modes, both models offer PASM modes an 'intelligent' auto mode and a range of art filters, both also offer an HDR stacking mode. The LX-7 offers greater versatility when it comes to continuous shooting. Like the XZ-2 it can shoot a long burst (100 frames compared to 200 on the XZ-2) at 5fps but, unlike the XZ-2, can refocus between frames at this speed. It can also shoot a full-resolution 12-frame burst in a second and finally has reduced resolution 40 and 60fps modes compared with the comparitively pedestrian 15fps HD movie resolution mode on the XZ-2. Both models provide three-frame auto exposure bracketing and a built-in three-stop ND filter.

Both models have a dedicated movie recording button, but the LX-7 offers superior movie recording features, with 1080p50/60, 1080i50/60 and 720p50/50 recording in AVCHD modes as well as a range of MP4 encoded options as well as a high speed (slow motion) mode. The XZ-2 by comparison offers only two modes 1080p30 and 720p30. All told, the LX-7 looks like a very attractive alternative to the XZ-2. But what's difficult to gauge from a comparison of the specifications is handling. The versatile lens ring and flip out touch-screen are the XZ-2's strong selling points.

See my Panasonic Lumix LX7 review for more details, and also check out my Lumix LF1 preview.

 

Compared to Canon PowerShot S110

     
 
 
     
     

The PowerShot S110 is designed, first and foremost, for compactness and will slip comfortably into your jeans pocket - somthing that can't be said for the Stylus XZ-2. But it will perform better in low light conditions than the S110. While its 28-112mm 4x zoom doesn't extend as far at either end of the range as the S110's it's significantly brighter with a maximum aperture of f1.8-2.5 compared to f2-5.9. That's less of a gap at the wide angle setting, but it widens as you zoom in, allowing you to exploit lower ISOs or quicker shutter speeds under the same conditions.

Brightness isn't the only feature of the XZ-2's lens. Like the S110 it has a control ring which can be assigned to different functions depending on the shooting mode. In some respects the XZ-2's control ring is more versatile the the S110's. It has a dual mode function that operates smoothly for zooming and manual focussing and in descrete click-stops for exposure control and other modal functions.

Both models offer touch screens, but the XZ-2's is higher resolution and articulated, making for easier viewing at odd angles and in the sun. Like the XZ-2's touch-screen, the S110's can be used to select focus areas and touch-focus. Canon has a longer history of working with touch-screens, though, and it shows, with much smoother and better integrated touch-control on the S110 including the use of phone-style gestures for zooming and panning. Olympus's Super Control Panel layout combined with the touch-screen provides a much better method for controlling the XZ-2 than the PowerShot S110's Func.Set menu, though, and with a dedicated function button and two custom positions on the mode dial, the XZ-2 provides much better customization potential than the S110.

Both cameras are quite closely matched for video features with the XZ-2's 1080p30 best quality mode broadly equivalent to the 1080p24 of the S110, though the latter provides a wider range of resolutions and frame rates. Neither offers anything beyond auto exposure control for movie shooting but both allow you to use the optical zoom while recording. Both allow the use of filters for movie shooting, but the S110 additionally provides Super Slow Motion shooting. The XZ-2 has faster continuous shooting at 5fps and rather than a short one-second 10fps burst as on the S110 it offers a faster 15fps reduced resolution mode.

Second to its compactness, the PowerShot S110's big selling point is its connectedness. With built-in Wi-Fi, you can connect to your smartphone or computer for photo downloading as well as directly uploading images to social networking sites. You can also use your smartphone to tag images in the camera with GPS data. Though the Stylus XZ-2 doesn't offer built-in Wi-Fi, you can transfer images to an iOS or Android smartphone using a Toshiba FlashAir Wi-Fi SD card and the Olymous OI.Share app, which allows you to apply Art filters and upload to sharing sites. But it's not nearly as easy or convenient as having these functions built-in.

While the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 provides better low light performance, a flip up, higher resolution screen, more customisation and a hotshoe and accessory port with the ability to attach accessories including an electronic viewfinder, external flash and microphone, it lacks the S110's compactness. The PowerShot is a smaller more connected camera, the question is how much are you prepared to sacrifice for those advantages?

See my Canon PowerShot S110 review for more details.

 

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 final verdict

The Stylus XZ-2 provides a great balance between advanced control, capable handling, and ease of use that few of its competitors have achieved with equal success. In part, this is due to the way that they've cleverly limited the influence of the touch-screen, confining it to a couple of key roles in advanced modes - focus and shooting - and using it to help novices get make the most of the camera's capabilities in Intelligent Auto mode. Olympus clearly thinks enthusiasts hate touch screens, or are at least sceptical, and novices love them. If they're right about that, the XZ-2 is a win-win as far as the touch-screen is concerned.

Its fast f1.8-2.5 zoom lens may no longer be the brightest on a compact, having lost that title to the Lumix LX-7, but it's still up there among the best. It needs to be, given the new CMOS sensor's lacklustre results at higher ISO sensitivities - one of the most disappointing aspects of the XZ-2's performance. Other areas that have improved over its predecessor, but nonetheless could be further enhanced are continuous shooting and video recording.

But let's not overlook the positives, which include impressively quick and accurate AF, a versatile flip-up screen, multi-mode lens ring control, built-in ND filter, built-in flash with wireless control, and an accessory port comaptible with EVF and external mic accessories. Most of all though, the XZ-2 is about the handling experience rather than the specifications; it's equally well suited to experienced enthusiasts looking to match the control and handling experience of a 'serious' camera as it is to improving novices not yet ready for a system camera or DSLR, either way we're happy to give it a Cameralabs Recommended Award.

 



Good points
Fast, accurate AF.
Versatile three-mode lens ring.
Flip-out 3in 920k dot LCD touch-screen.
Accessory port for optional EVF.

Bad points
Poor high ISO noise performance.
Average continous shooting performance.
Touch-sceen inactive for movie recording.
Only 2 video modes.






Scores

(relative to 2013 advanced compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
16 / 20
18 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20

84%
   

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A great-looking and highly informative eBook for anyone interested in long exposure photography. Whether you're into painting with light, capturing star-trails or creating timelapse video, author Jim M Goldstein has the answers. One of my favourite eBooks to date and one you'll want in your collection even if it's just to browse the great images.
     
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