1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = LOW, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. Minimal post-processing applied to the images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping and only minor exposure/contrast correction for better presentation.
This entry is Part 2 of my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review series. If you have not read Part 1 review and my preview of the Olympus XZ-2, please do so.
In my previous Part 1, I have brought the XZ-2 out to my usual street shooting session, and found the camera to perform exceedingly well under favorable lighting conditions, delivering amazingly sharp and detailed images at low ISO sensitivities. The amazing resolution captured was due to the high quality Olympus i.Zuiko lens, and also the Trupic 6 image processing engine, producing Olympus signature color and look in the images.
We all know that ALL cameras perform at their best at lowest ISO settings. So how does the new Olympus Stylus XZ-2 perform when shooting at higher ISO settings? That is the only thing I want to explore in this Part 2 of my review.
As a reminder, this review will be written from a photography-enthusiast’s point of view, because I am not a professional photographer. This will be a user experience based review, sharing on what I think and feel as I use the XZ-2 in real life shooting situations. Therefore, this is not a technical review as there will not be elaborative technical explanations, which can be easily accessible on many professional review websites such as DPreview and DXOmark. In addition to that, I will not be doing direct side by side image and performance comparisons between XZ-2 and any other cameras. Instead, I will share my opinion on how different the experience was shooting with the new XZ-2. In a nutshell, it is about what I can do with the camera, not what the camera can do by itself.
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/50sec, Equivalent focal length: 28mm
To test the low light shooting capability of the Olympus XZ-2, I have decided to shoot a local live performance, Nick Davis happening at LUST Bar in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, just earlier this evening. We know well how horrendous the lighting condition is inside a bar, and the setup for this evening's band live performance was surely no exception. It was very dark, with strong color cast lighting that changed every single second. Lighting was very uneven throughout the stage, and the intensity and color changed rapidly, throughout the whole show. It was a situation that would pose a challenge for even high-grade professional cameras, and if I were to use the OM-D or E-PL5, I would be struggling to get good shots too.
To illustrate the "changing lights every second", and uneven intensity, varying lighting throughout the stage situation, please play the Youtube video below:
Please take note that I took the above video with the Olympus XZ-2 with the intention to show the lighting condition of the stage only. The above video should not be used for video quality review purposes, because all I did was simply press the record button and did nothing else. For video review of the XZ-2, please wait for other reviewers for their commentaries. I am not a videographer, I have no knowledge or background on shooting good videos, hence I shall refuse to comment on the video recording. I appreciate your understanding.
Let's have a drink before we start, shall we?
ISO1600, F/1.8, 1/8sec, Equivalent focal length: 28mm,
IMAGE SAMPLE 1
ISO1600 100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 1
ISO3200, F/2.5, 1/80sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 2
ISO3200 100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 2
ISO6400, F/2.5, 1/40sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 3
ISO6400 100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 3
ISO3200, F/2.5, 1/60sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
ISO3200, F/1.9, 1/50sec, equivalent focal length: 30mm
Considering the use of smaller sized sensor in digital compact cameras typically, image output at higher ISO settings would be inferior in comparison to larger sensor camera systems, such as micro 4/3 mirrorless system, or any DSLR systems out there. It is therefore, unreasonable to expect image quality from a mere, humble compact camera to come close or be compared to those larger sized sensor format cameras. It is crucial for us to establish this understanding, as how we gauge the performance of this Olympus XZ-2 camera in terms of high ISO shooting must be relative to its own category of camera, and should not be mis-matched to unfair comparisons/competitions.
The Noise Filter I used for all images in this entry is set to "LOW". I provided full size images for download at the end of this blog entry, with samples including "Noise filter OFF" copies. The following is a list of my observations, based on this short, but extremely challenging shooting:
1) Absence of Chroma Noise
Looking at the images taken from ISO1600, 3200 to 6400, I can barely notice any chroma noise. The default JPEG engine of the camera, Trupic 6, which is also the same image processing engine for the latest micro 4/3 cameras (E-PL5 and OM-D) somehow magically suppressed almost all chroma noise, with JPEG images straight out of the camera having almost no trace of chroma noise at all. Yes, it is evident that noise reduction (Olympus calls it Noise Filter) has been applied to a certain extent, but the fact that you get images clean of chroma noise is an advantage not to be overlooked.
2) Luminance Noise
There was almost no visible Chroma Noise, but luminance noise was present, even at lower ISO settings (ISO400 onward). The luminance noise was not intrusive, and can be reduced by applying noise filter, or being cleaned up in post-processing. The luminance noise was present, alongside very important details, which was not lost or being smudged away.
3) Very Good Amount of Detail MaintainedIn fact, even at higher ISO settings at 3200 and 6400, the detail level captured was a lot less, and images appear "softer", but not the usual heavy smudging or smearing due to heavy noise reduction found typically in other compact cameras, even at lower ISO settings. The images appear "fuzzy", rather than having painting or the water-color look. If the original image taken by the camera was properly exposed, and the image was shot in RAW, I believe that further post-processing can accomplish very usable high ISO results, with good enough amount of details in the images.
4) Noise Grain Pattern like OM-D
When I was reviewing the OM-D earlier this year, some of my readers commented on the grain pattern that did not quite match the usual Olympus older sensor's noise pattern, and looked like "irregularly placed lines" rather than dots. You can observe the pattern from the "noise filter OFF" images from the download section. The pattern was reduced in the shots shown in this entry due to the noise filter being set to "LOW". I am no scientist, hence I do not have the absolute answer or explanation to the grain pattern being similar to the OM-D's. I have two guesses: either the noise grain was the result of the use of same image processing engine Trupic 6, or the use of Sony's image sensor that exhibits the same noise pattern and characteristics. I would want to put my money on the later, but again, this is purely my own speculation with no conclusive evidence. We know how well Sony makes the newer sensors these days, that could be an easy explanation for the impressive high ISO image quality from the XZ-2 !! After all, Sony did pioneer the Back-Side Illuminated image sensor technology, right?
5) Very Good ISO1600, Usable ISO3200
I shall be very careful in making such claims, and bear in mind tolerance to high ISO noise is a very subjective thing that varies greatly. What I am saying here only reflects my own opinion, and I have provided 100% crops, as well as full resolution samples for your own further review. I dare say with the Olympus XZ-2, shooting at ISO1600 is not an issue, it still maintains very good amount of details, with relatively low amount of noise. However, at ISO3200 you must watch your exposure (do not under or over expose), and recommended shooting in RAW for further processing to reduce noise, if necessary. As shown in this entry, even applying Olympus' default Noise Filter to "LOW" has reduced the noise greatly and the images appeared more "pleasing". Let's just say, if you are really serious about shooting high ISO and expect better sharpness, less noise output, you should be getting a more powerful camera system, surely not a compact camera !! If you are looking for a serious high-end compact camera, I strongly believe Olympus XZ-2 is no slouch in the high ISO department.
ISO800, F/2, 1/60sec, equivalent focal length: 44mm
ISO1250, F/1.8, 1/320sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
The following image is taken with comparison between ISO 1600, 3200 and 6400 in mind. The first image was taken at ISO1600, but the subsequent crops were from respective higher ISO settings. Full resolution images available for download, at the end of this entry.
ISO1600, F/1.8, 1/40sec, equvalent focal length: 28mm
14 full resolution sample images, can be downloaded via the following link, for your pixel-peeping pleasure. High ISO samples with both Noise Filter settings set to "OFF" and "LOW" are available.
I'd say the Olympus XZ-2 is looking really good so far. Yes, I do have my issues with the camera, and my fair share of complains, which I shall be covering in my coming entries. But so far, having great Olympus Zuiko lens with bright aperture of F1.8-2.5, in combination with very capable high ISO shooting (I dare not say it has been improved, or how much better than XZ-1, but the improvement is obvious, no?), this Olympis XZ-2 should not be underestimated.
More Parts of XZ-2 reviews to come !!
If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to say something in the comment section on this blog entry, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org