Olympus intros new flagship compact camera
Olympus has produced a camera that is, for them at least, a little out of the ordinary. It's called the XZ-1 and was previewed as a mock-up at the Photokina trade show in September last year. Olympus gives us the clear impression that it has invested more than usual in the XZ-1 in a bid to establish itself in the premium enthusiasts compact camera category currently featuring the likes of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, Canon Powershot S-95, and the Samsung EX1 (TL500 in some countries).
The XZ-1 is a slim compact camera with a very fast (bright) f/1.8-2.5 i.Zuiko 4x (28-112mm equivalent) zoom lens, the first compact camera from Olympus to bear the coveted Zuiko brand, previously only seen on Olympus SLR system cameras. Several other features have been borrowed from Olympus system camera parts catalogue, including the TruePic V image processing engine, Art Filters, and compatibility with Pen Micro Four Thirds accessory port that let's you use the VF-2 high resolution electronic viewfinder add-on, SEMA-1 stereo external microphone adapter, and a new gadget; the MAL-1 which is an LED macro illuminator powered by the camera.
The sensor is a 1/1.63 inch CCD, which is a good size for a compact camera, and we're pleasantly surprised that it's 'only' ten megapixels. By resisting the temptation to got as much as 14MP or higher, Olympus aims to avoid the issue of sensor noise and slow performance that other higher resolution cameras can suffer. ISO sensitivity up to ISO 3200 is selectable. Another key feature of the XZ-1 is its 3 inch OLED screen, offering 610,000 dots resolution. There is also dual-mode (electronic and mechanical) image stabilisation, and a special IS mode for HD movie recording. Multi-aspect ratio modes are supported for recording 4:3, 3:2, square, and 16:9 (wide screen) formats, although the sensor is not wide format one like Panasonic's LX5. RAW files are supported.
Olympus is also highlighting the way the camera can be controlled. Settings can be adjusted by rotating a dial on the back of the camera, which doubles as a conventional four-way controller, as well as rotating what most of us will regard as the focus ring on the lens. In fact it's a mode-dependent multi-function control ring. The graphics and text fonts in the user interface have been updated compared to previous Olympus cameras and the easy to use image quality adjustment references developed for the Olympus Pen E-PL1 have been incorporated. There is an e-Portrait mode that fixes facial skin blemishes. The built in flash can also wirelessly control up to three off-camera Olympus FL-series RC flash units.
Accessories include an underwater housing (PT-050), FL-series hot-shoe flash unites as featured in Olympus E-System and Pen system cameras, and there is a prospect of optional add-on telephoto and wide angle conversion lenses being introduced.
We've had a brief play with a pre-production sample and can confirm that the XZ-1 has a 'something special' feel that your typical compact camera lacks. The super-bright lens looks very promising and we were shown some sample prints that suggest that XZ-1 will be able to live in the same league as some DSLRs and compact system or hybrid cameras, with much larger sensors, in terms of image quality. The Olympus XZ-1 should be available later this month for around £399 or 449 Euros and we hope to get our hands on a review unit to see if Olympus' bold claims can be justified.