Olympus XZ-2 review - Quality

Quality

Olympus XZ-2 vs Nikon COOLPIX A Quality JPEG

 

To compare real-life performance I shot this scene with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and the Nikon COOLPIX A, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

The XZ-2 was set to its maximum 28mm wide angle focal length, matching the 28mm fixed focal length lens of the COOLPIX A.

Image stabilisation on the Stylus XZ-2 was disabled for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults.

RAW results are on the next page.

  Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results
1 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality JPEG
2 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality RAW
3 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise JPEG
4 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise RAW
5 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Sample images

The image above was taken with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode and f4 was selected as this produced the best result from the lens. With the ISO sensitivity set to 100 ISO the XZ-2 metered an exposure of 1/800. As usual for this test the camera was otherwise left on the default settings. The Nikon COOLPIX A produced its best results at f5.6 where it metered 1/320th with the sensitivity set to 100 ISO.

Conditions on the day were bright Spring sunshine producing a scene with a high tonal range with bright highlights and deep shadows. The XZ-2 exposure is reasonably good, but with +0.3EV it could have captured a little more shadow detail without sacrificing the highlights.

The overall quality of the XZ-2 crops is very good and there’s no question that the quality from its 1/1.7in sensor is a step up from what you could expect from a typical 1/2.3 in compact sensor. In the first crop, The edges of the chapel wall are clean and you can make out the door and window frames, but the crosses on the roof aren’t as distinct as they could be and the two figures to the right of the building look a little blurry.

In the second crop the lighthouse is a distinct white cylinder, but you can’t make out the separate lamphouse, though, to be fair, weather conditions weren’t ideal, with a little bit of haze. In the foreground of this crop the chimneys and window frames are sharp, but there isn’t the fine detail in the roof tiles that you would see from a DSLR sensor. The third crop from close to the edge of the frame shows slight softening of the detail and the XZ-2’s 6-24mm zoom lens also suffers quite badly from chromatic aberration at the wide angle focal length. Back closer to the middle of the frame in the fourth crop, there’s a marked improvement, with nice clean edges on the window frames and balcony rails. But the XZ-2’s sensor and lens combination doesn’t quite have the resolving power to render the finer detail in the roof tiles and brickwork.

Compared with the crops from the 12 Megapixel Olympus XZ-2, the 16 Megapixel COOLPIX A crops show a smaller area with larger detail. The other thing to remember here is that the APS-C sized sensor in the COOLPIX A is physically larger with a much bigger surface area than the 1/1.7in sensor in the Olympus XZ-2. The first crop from the XZ-2 does look just a little softer with the fine detail not so clearly picked out. Likewise, the edges in the second crop don’t look quite so crisp as on the COOLPIX A, but at this stage it’s hard to tell if this is just a consequence of the different sized detail or there’s something more going on.

In the third crop from the frame edge there’s a clear difference between the quality of the COOLPIX A and the Olympus XZ-2 though. The XZ-2 crop not only suffers from quite visible colour fringing, but the edges are much softer and smaller details are blurry. Back in the centre of the frame for the fourth crop, there’s less of a difference, but this crop I think confirms what the first two hint at. The edges and fine detail in the Olympus XZ-2 crop aren’t as crisp and clearly defined as in the COOLPIX A crop. Taken overall, these crops show that the larger, higher resolution sensor in the COOLPIX A , combined with its 28mm prime lens produce clearer, sharper, better images with a higher level of detail than the Olympus XZ-2 with its smaller 12 Megapixel sensor and 4x zoom.

My Olympus Stylus XZ-2 RAW quality results on the next page will provide evidence of how much, if any, of the difference is due to processing. Alternatively, see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise results.

 

Olympus XZ-2 JPEG
 
Nikon COOLPIX A JPEG
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO


Olympus Stylus XZ-2
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Olympus XZ-2 vs Nikon COOLPIX A Quality RAW

 

To compare real-life RAW performance I shot this scene with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and the Nikon COOLPIX A, within a few moments of each other using their RAW modes.

The XZ-2 was set to its maximum 28mm wide angle focal length, matching the 28mm fixed focal length lens of the COOLPIX A.

Image stabilisation on the Stylus XZ-2 was disabled for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults.

  Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results
1 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality JPEG
2 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality RAW
3 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise JPEG
4 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise RAW
5 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Sample images

The image above was taken with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode and f4 was selected as this produced the best result from the lens. With the ISO sensitivity set to 100 ISO the XZ-2 metered an exposure of 1/800. As usual for this test the camera was otherwise left on the default settings. The Nikon COOLPIX A produced its best results at f5.6 where it metered 1/320th with the sensitivity set to 100 ISO.

I processed both files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. To reduce white balance differences I also set the white balance to for both files to 6000k. These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what’s really going on behind the scenes.

These RAW processed files from the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 may bring out a little more detail than the in-camera JPEGs, but they also show quite a bit of noise. If you look at the first crop, the figures by the chapel are less blurry, and there may just be a little more detail in the stonework of the wall. In the second crop there’s definitely more detailed in the tiled roofs in the foreground, but at the cost of overall intrusive salt and pepper graininess. The third crop looks less soft and you could also easily correct the fringing here.

The high degree of sharpening and absence of noise reduction can bring out hidden detail in files that in-camera JPEG processing often obscures, but in this case the results look forced. There’s a granular bittiness to the crops, they’re harder and sharper, but not better than the in-camera JPEGs. So while, with less aggressive sharpening and careful noise processing, you may be able to squeeze a tiny bit more detail form the RAW files, you’ll have to be quite careful not to overdo it.

The other thing these crops reveal is the quality gap between the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and the Nikon COOLPIX A, which appears wider here than on the JPEG results page. It’s clear to see that the COOLPIX A’s 16 Megapixel sensor is without doubt resolving more detail than the Olympus XZ-2 and judging by these results I’d say it’s likely it also outperforms many APS-C DSLRs. If this is indicative of the kind of quality it’s possible to achieve without the optical low pass filter it’s likely we’ll see many more manufacturers, perhaps Olympus among them, taking this route in future.

Now see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise results.

 

Olympus XZ-2 RAW
 
Nikon COOLPIX A RAW
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO


Olympus Stylus XZ-2
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Olympus XZ-2 vs Nikon COOLPIX A Noise RAW

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

 
  Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results
1 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality JPEG
2 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality RAW
3 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise JPEG
4 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise RAW
5 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Sample images

To compare RAW noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and the Nikon COOLPIX A, within a few moments of each other at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The XZ-2 was set to its maximum 28mm wide angle focal length, matching the 28mm fixed focal length lens of the COOLPIX A.

Image stabilisation on the Stylus XZ-2 was disabled for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults

The image above was taken with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2. I’d pre-tested both cameras to determine the aperture that delivered the best quality results, for the Stylus XZ-2 it was f4 with the COOLPIX A producing the best quality images at f5.6. At its base sensitivity setting of 100 ISO the COOLPIX A metered an exposure of 1/4. In order to produce an equivalent exposure on the XZ-2 I applied +0.3EV exposure compensation resulting in a shutter speed of 1/8 also at 100 ISO. As usual both cameras were otherwise left on their default settings.

I processed both sets of files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile.These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what’s really going on behind the scenes – as such the visible noise levels at higher ISOs will be much greater than you’re used to seeing in many of my comparisons, but again it’s an approach that’s designed to show the actual detail that’s being recorded before you start work on processing and cleaning it up if desired.

These RAW processed crops confirm what we saw with the in-camera JPEGs. The Stylus XZ-2 sensor produces a small amount of noise at its base 100 ISO setting. This isn’t a problem in itself but for each stop increase in the sensitivity, the margin of increase in the noise is quite large with the result that, even at the relatively low 800 ISO sensitivity, the noise is already becoming a problem. With noise at these levels, even with the best noise reduction tools at your disposal, it’s going to be a difficult task to produce clean, noise free, highly detailed results from XZ-2 RAW files above 800 ISO.

The larger sensor of the COOLPIX A is generating less noise all the way up the ISO sensitivity range, though, meaning there’s less work for noise processing algorithms to do and better quality results. This is particularly true at the lower end of the sensitivity range where from 100 to 800 ISO the sensor produces very low levels of noise with linear increments at each 1EV increase in sensitivity. As high as 6400 ISO, while there’s plenty of noise around it’s quite fine and isn’t clumping, with the result that edges aren’t breaking up and you can still just about read the text.

What this shows is that, in terms of noise performance, a compact with a big sensor, can significantly out perform one with a smaller one. That’s no big surprise, but the COOLPIX A also manages to provide an additional 4 Megapixels of resolution over the Olympus XZ-2 as well managing to cram it all in to a smaller, lighter body.

It is however important to remember the XZ-2 has a brighter aperture than the COOLPIX A, and when both are set to 28mm equivalent coverage, the XZ-2 enjoys a stop and a third greater light gathering power. So if both cameras were using their maximum apertures and the same shutter speed, then the Nikon COOLPIX A would be forced to select a sensitivity just over double that of the XZ-2. So in the spirit of fairness, you should shift the XZ-2 results down a notch in the table below so that the 100 ISO sample is next to the Nikon at 200 ISO and so on. That said though, the larger sensor of the COOLPIX A quickly eliminates the benefits of a brighter lens on its rival.

Now head over to my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions, or head straight for my Verdict.

Olympus XZ-2 RAW
 
Nikon COOLPIX A RAW
f4 100 ISO
f5.6 100 ISO
f4 200 ISO
f5.6 200 ISO
f4 400 ISO
f5.6 400 ISO
f4 800 ISO
f5.6 800 ISO
     
f4 1600 ISO
f5.6 1600 ISO
     
f4 3200 ISO
f5.6 3200 ISO
     
f4 6400 ISO
f5.6 6400 ISO
     
f4 12800 ISO
f5.6 12800 ISO
     
25600 ISO Not available
f5.6 25600 ISO

 

Olympus XZ-2 vs Nikon COOLPIX A Noise JPEG

 
 
  Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results
1 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality JPEG
2 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality RAW
3 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise JPEG
4 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise RAW
5 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Sample images

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and the Nikon COOLPIX A, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The XZ-2 was set to its maximum 28mm wide angle focal length, matching the 28mm fixed focal length lens of the COOLPIX A.

Image stabilisation on the Stylus XZ-2 was disabled for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults.

My RAW noise results are on the next page.

The image above was taken with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2. I’d pre-tested both cameras to determine the aperture that delivered the best quality results, for the Stylus XZ-2 it was f4 with the COOLPIX A producing the best quality images at f5.6. At its base sensitivity setting of 100 ISO the COOLPIX A metered an exposure of 1/4. In order to produce an equivalent exposure on the XZ-2 I applied +0.3EV exposure compensation resulting in a shutter speed of 1/8 also at 100 ISO. As usual both cameras were otherwise left on their default settings.

So how do the crops measure up? At its base 100 ISO sensitivity setting the Stylus XZ-2 produces relatively, but not completely noise-free images. If you look closely at the 100 ISO crop you’ll notice a slight texture to the wall as well as in the text panel on the memorial. It’s nothing too significant though and, even at 200 ISO, where it’s a little bit more visible, it’s really not worth worrying about, even at 100 percent reproduction.

By 400 ISO, though, the noise has increased to such a degree that it’s already having an effect on small and medium sized image detail, the text isn’t nearly as clean in this crop as in the previous ones. And at 800 ISO the smaller text is becoming illegible. On larger sensor models 1600 ISO is often the watershed beyond which noise becomes a real issue at 100 percent viewing sizes, but for the Stylus XZ-2 that point is reached at 800 ISO. While 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO shots will look OK at smaller sizes, you can kiss goodby to all but the crudest detail, which is obscured by the increasing noise levels. Anything beyond 3200 ISO is really a bit of a prayer; it’s good to see Olympus not including a 25600 ISO just for the numbers, strictly speaking, 6400 ISO, as on the earlier XZ-1, would have made a more sensible upper limit.

The crops from the Olympus XZ-2 start off pretty well by comparison with the COOLPIX A. Just a reminder once again that the 16 Megapixel APS-C sized sensor in the COOLPIX is both physically bigger as well as providing higher resolution than the 1/1.7in 12 Megapixel sensor in the Olympus XZ-2. Despite its 4 Megapixel higher resolution, the size difference should, in theory at least, provide the COOLPIX A with better noise performance than the Olympus XZ-2. The 100 ISO crop shows a little more texture than the COOLPIX one, but the difference is slim and the fine detail looks good. There’s a slight step up in the noisy texture at 200, the degree is more than the COOLPIX and starting from a slightly noisier base level. Even so, there isn’t a huge degree of difference between the 200 ISO crops.

At 400 ISO however, the XZ-2 is stuggling to keep pace with the excellent noise characteristics of the larger sensor in the COOLPIX A, and by 800 ISO the game is well and truly up, with the XZ-2 crop showing a much higher level of noise and lower level of detail than the COOLPIX A crop. The text on the 1600 ISO crop from the XZ-2 is already illegible which rules it out for general purpose shooting. The XZ-2’s sensitivity range tops out at 12800 ISO , but you wouldn’t want to venture beyond 1600 ISO other than in exceptional circumstances.

It is however important to remember the XZ-2 has a brighter aperture than the COOLPIX A, and when both are set to 28mm equivalent coverage, the XZ-2 enjoys a stop and a third greater light gathering power. So if both cameras were using their maximum apertures and the same shutter speed, then the Nikon COOLPIX A would be forced to select a sensitivity just over double that of the XZ-2. So in the spirit of fairness, you should shift the XZ-2 results down a notch in the table below so that the 100 ISO sample is next to the Nikon at 200 ISO and so on. That said though, the larger sensor of the COOLPIX A quickly eliminates the benefits of a brighter lens on its rival.

To find out how much of a role processing plays in keeping noise at bay in these crops take a look at my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 RAW quality page to see just how much noise is present behind the scenes. Or head over to my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions.

Olympus XZ-2 JPEG
 
Nikon COOLPIX A JPEG
f4 100 ISO
f5.6 100 ISO
f4 200 ISO
f5.6 200 ISO
f4 400 ISO
f5.6 400 ISO
f4 800 ISO
f5.6 800 ISO
     
f4 1600 ISO
f5.6 1600 ISO
     
f4 3200 ISO
f5.6 3200 ISO
     
f4 6400 ISO
f5.6 6400 ISO
     
f4 12800 ISO
f5.6 12800 ISO
     
25600 ISO Not available
f5.6 25600 ISO

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

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