Monday, October 29, 2012

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Review: Nick Davis Live

Important Notes:
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
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. 


Now that you have seen how horrible the lighting condition was, how did the Olympus XZ-2 perform? Well, I shall let the images do the talking first. 

Let's have a drink before we start, shall we?


ISO1600
Show Opener
ISO1600, F/1.8, 1/8sec, Equivalent focal length: 28mm, 
IMAGE SAMPLE 1

ISO1600 100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 1


 ISO3200
ISO3200, F/2.5, 1/80sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 2

ISO3200 100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 2

ISO6400
ISO6400, F/2.5, 1/40sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 3

ISO6400 100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 3

ISO3200 
ISO3200, F/2.5, 1/60sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm

 ISO3200
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 Maintained
In 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
ISO800, F/2, 1/60sec, equivalent focal length: 44mm

ISO1250 
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


ISO1600 

ISO3200 

ISO6400 


14 full resolution sample imagescan 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 hamish7ian@gmail.com

47 comments:

  1. Impressive. but too expensive for a compact camera, for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Ugo, seems like everyone is expecting everything to be cheap cheap cheap these days !!

      Delete
  2. Image quality is much better than expected for a small sensor camera. How was the focus speed?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Yat, I had no issues with the focusing speed, it was not extremely fast like OM-D but it always managed to get the shot.

      Delete
  3. Very impressive with the high ISO!!!From the picture above, XZ-2 manage to perform at least 1 stop better in ISO performance compare to his 'older' brother. How I wish I have funding to upgrade my XZ-1 :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello ashraf,
      I do believe it is only occasional that we need to go that extremely high ISO for our shooting. I still think XZ-1 does considerably well !

      Delete
    2. Indeed. Just occasionally for me to attend any night event surrounding me. Usually the prosumer compact is a good choice to bring when travelling. Good range of focal lens + fast aperture!!Unfortunately to tell this sort of thing to the newbie seem useless as they tend to see as THE BIGGER THE MERRIER.

      Delete
    3. It is a sad case that many people have succumbed to that "bigger is better" mentality. Now its also happening to mobile phones !!

      Delete
  4. Wow... thanks Robin, having seen both your reviews on the XZ-2 had finally help me make up my mind to get this camera and upgrade from my very old Panasonic LX-3.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. XZ-2 is a huge step up from LX-3 !!

      Delete
  5. The high-iso results are, to be honest, much, much better than I expected. Dang, my first compact was only useable at the base ISO setting (50, up to 150 or so). Above that and everything resembled a vicious sand storm! Looks like Olympus has done it again, a truly amazing camera.

    As for the wonderful authentic satay ajam.... now that is a major mmmmm too! With peanut sauce with enough garlic to floor an elephant. Delicious!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello again Andre,
      Now you make me crave for Satay in the middle of the night !!
      Indeed, compact camera has come a long way. The last time I used a compact camera I would even hesitate to go to ISO400 !!

      Delete
  6. Thanks for the review and samples! How well does using the lens ring to manually focus work? Do you get a magnified portion of the image when manually focussing? And, can you adjust f-stop and focus while shooting video, or only before recording?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Skip Hunt,
      I am reviewing the XZ-2 in parts. Your questions will be answered in the following entries, coming soon. i am working very hard on it. I just posted this Part 2 yesterday, so do give me time to shoot and compile my contents for the next entry !!

      Delete
  7. Also, the video looks pretty soft. Is that just Youtube compression? Or, does the XZ2 make very soft video like the XZ1 does?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wont be doing the video review for the XZ-2. I have mentioned, and I reiterate: DO NOT judge the video quality from the sample I have posted. I have no knowledge or expertise on handling video. The purpose of me including the video is to demonstrate the lousy lighting condition that I was faced with, the changing color and light intensity every second. Other than that, the video serves no further purpose. I beg your understanding.

      Delete
    2. Ok. Well... if you get a chance... can you do a shot with good lighting? My guess is that you shot the video with the camera set to high ISO and a large aperture. So, the video is likely just not focussed.

      Delete
  8. Dear Robin,

    1000 video experts are nothing if they dont have the XZ-2 in their hands to comment about XZ-2's video performance. You have the priviledge of having XZ-2 in your hand before anybody else. If making a comment is not possible for you, could you at least just post some video of XZ-2 without comments at all and let the viewers judge for themselves. In particular, how well XZ-2 autofocus perform in video mode. Your sample video is almost stationary thus does not really tell XZ-2's performance. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Corian,
      I am not a video shooter. if I posted something I am not sure of, people will question a lot of things. Was it taken with a tripod? How is the IS working? I dont even know if the IS is working or not when shooting video. What is the frame rate? What the hell is that? What are the effects of different ISO settings? I am all too unfamiliar with all those. I wont be able to give you any meaningful samples. Even if I did take a sample, and upload it, youtube or whatever online video streaming channel will compress it (the different in file size is apparent). How am I going to explain that?

      There will be other reviewers of the XZ-2 coming. Please be patient. Let them take a sample video with proper techniques and settings, and make meaningful comments.

      Delete
    2. That sample video I posted was NOT meant to demonstrate the XZ-2's video performance. Now I regretted taking it and uploaded it here. I should have used my camera phone instead to take the video to show the lighting condition.

      Delete
    3. I'm glad you did though... it proves you're not just an Olympus marketing person. ;) Thanks for taking the time!

      Delete
    4. Dear Robin,

      You have nothing to regret. You have helped a lot of people hungry for info like me. No matter how much you give, people may not be satisfied, but in the process, at least you will have done somebody a favor, and nobody can blame you. Your message is quite clear that you will not comment about it nor pretend to be expert. The idea of sharing info is always appreciated. Thank you.

      Delete
    5. Thanks so much for understanding Corian, really appreciate it. I just did not want to step my foot into the wrong mud !! Perhaps after learning and doing some real video work, I shall consider reviewing video component of the cameras in the future. Now I am nothing but a beginner when it comes to video.

      Hello Skip,
      No worries, of course I am not a marketing guy !! I am an engineer, I think it is quite obvious by the way how I write my blog entries !

      Delete
  9. This is a great compact pro system ! Nice review thanks ! Maybe my second camera to support my OMD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Surely the XZ-2 goes well with the OM-D. They share same accessories, such as flash system !

      Delete
  10. Thanks for the review

    Looking at the pics, I have to say the camera responded well, for that sensor size, I love night photography, any kind, mainly landscape city at night type of shots and occasional out in the wild night photography, would you still recommend it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Robin,
      for night shots in the city landscape, yes, the camera will fare well. But for wildlife, I don't think the lens is long enough. You might want to consider longer zoom cameras, at least 12x and above.

      Delete
  11. I meant to say more like outdoors like mountain peaks or star photography, I have seen pretty good pics of stars with long exposure from the xz-1

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When shooting star it is not that demanding from the camera, all you need is full manual control and ability to do bulb mode.
      However, I have not done it before, so it is not for me to recommend. I'd say if XZ-1 can do it, the new OMOS sensor in XZ-2 should be able to handle it.

      Delete
  12. Hi Robin, very impressive pictures, the XZ-2 is a good camera but the competition is too stiff now and need something to standout from them. Also, marketing is also a tool to have it sell, which Olypmus still lag behind the Sony.
    However, I still happy with my EP-2 with 14mm2.5 and 45mm 1.8, portable and take great picture

    Francis from Toronto

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Francis,
      E-P2 is a great camera by itself, and those two lenses, 14mm and 45mm are also doing well.

      Delete
  13. Hi Robin, the XZ-2 shines in your hands! Excellent street shooting and splendid exhibition of high iso shooting. The XZ-2 is indeed capable of taking incredible details even at 3,200! Thank you for the work and effort in bringing us what the XZ-2 is capable of. I am waiting anxiously the macro capabilities. Thanks for your great photos!

    Cheers!

    Rob

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rob. Macro shooting will be coming soon. Working hard on it !

      Delete
  14. Hi Robin

    Thanks for the great work!!!
    I compared it with the E-P3 high ISO photos.
    I would say they are on the same level. Agree?
    Amezing how sensor quality increases in 1.5 year.

    All the best

    Alex

    (Switzerland)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Alex,
      In comparison to any PEN, the chroma noise appears to be the same, but PEN sensors still can manage to resolve a lot more useful details at higher ISO settings.

      Delete
  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Nice photographs.Thanks for sharing them.

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  17. Very nice shots. Found your page while searching for a new compact camera, and I am especially interested in concert-photography. Looks like the XZ-2 might be a serious contender for me. Other option would be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7. Thanks for the insightful review! Cheers from the Netherlands.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Howdy from Texas & great review, Robin! I read the whole thing, but wanted to comment here as most of what I do is quick nightclub portrait photography and found this section the most useful. What did you think about size and portability? I need to be able to get it in and out of a guys pants pocket pretty quickly. Also, did you use the built in flash for some of the pictures and if so, what did you think? I'd love to go external, but as photography is only part of my job, portability is key.

    I appreciate your response and any other advice you might have!

    Thanks,
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  19. The challenges of low-light concert photography are not always covered in photo classes or books. It’s a form of photography whose techniques can sometimes be wrapped in mystery.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thanks for the review and samples! How well does using the lens ring to manually focus work? Do you get a magnified portion of the image when manually focussing? And, can you adjust f-stop and focus while shooting video, or only before recording?
    Regard's,
    Ben Linus,
    Thanks for the info

    ReplyDelete
  21. Any good tip for this camera? Like rule of thumb? I am a newbie. Got this camera yesterday because of low light feature and brand. LOL. Samsung EX2F is f1.4 but heard a bit slow. I want to take picture of people, movement in low light such as pub and events in low light environment.

    ReplyDelete
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