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 = OFF, 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.
When Olympus Malaysia asked me to review their latest flagship high-end compact digital camera, the Olympus Stylus XZ-2, I was unsure how to do so, because I have been shooting mainly with DSLR system, and more recently, micro 4/3 mirrorless system. I do have a budget basic point and shoot camera which I only use daily at work for documentation purposes, nothing artistic, or technically challenging. I have also heard many wonderful things about the predecessor flagship Olympus XZ-1, which I did have great interest in but never had a chance to use the camera extensively. I have just received the loaned unit yesterday, coincidentally today was a public holiday in Malaysia, thus the perfect opportunity for me to test and blog about this new XZ-2.
This entry shall be the Part 1 of my review for Olympus Stylus XZ-2. In this entry, I shall explore the camera's capability in shooting under generally good lighting condition, with low ISO setting: how much detail can the combination of new 12Megapixels Back-Side Illuminated CMOS image sensor with the i.Zuiko lens capture? How does the camera handle, how good is the autofocus performance, and how does the camera fare for my usual shutter therapy session? I brought the Olympus XZ-2 to my favourite street hunting ground, Pudu, Kuala Lumpur.
If you have not read my mini-preview of the Olympus XZ-2, please do so here (click).
If you have not read my mini-preview of the Olympus XZ-2, please do so here (click).
ISO100, F/2.5, 1/125sec, Equivalent focal length: 112mm
Before we dive right into the review, allow me to clarify a few items. 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.
WHERE DOES THE OLYMPUS XZ-2 STAND?
All manufacturers are fighting aggressively in the high-end digital compact camera market, surely XZ-2 faces strong competition from very much alike release from other manufacturers, such as Panasonic LX-7 and the Sony RX100. Both the Panasonic LX-7 and the Sony RX100 have received overwhelmingly positive response from reviews and also user reports, surpassing many general expectations from those cameras. Panasonic's Lumix line of compact cameras surely is no slouch, while Sony has always dared to push the boundaries with creative innovations and new technologies. So where does this new Olympus XZ-2 really stand in the face of such broad and stiff competition?
Olympus XZ-1, the predecessor of XZ-2 has been highly regarded as one of the best digital compact camera at its time, being the first compact camera to include a fast aperture F1.8 lens, as well as superior image quality even shooting at high ISO (which is subject to argument comparatively today, but at its time of release about 2 years ago, this statement was surely true). The camera also offers a wide variety of enthusiast's features and demands: full customization, built in body image stabilization, wireless flash control, built in accessory port to adapt an external electronic viewfinder, etc. Indeed, the XZ-1 received positive reviews and was one of the top considerations of serious digital compact camera. Therefore, it is no surprise that the new Olympus XZ-2, will not only replace the XZ-1 as the top of the line camera, but will also surpass the older XZ-1, in an ideal case, just about everything the XZ-1 can do, the XZ-2 should be able to do better. How much better, and will this new Olympus XZ-2 match or outperform its competing peers? That is not the answer for me to find out, but my review will cover how the XZ-2 respond to my own shooting needs and requirements from a camera. If you have been following my blog, I can be quite unforgiving if the camera is under-performing.
SHOOTING AT PUDU, KL
The shooting location was Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. I covered the streets around the old shops area, as well as the open air wet market, which I have also used for most of my other review works for Olympus micro 4/3 camera and lenses. The sky was bright with cloud formation over the sky, causing slight overcast condition in certain times. Generally lighting was very good, and I was shooting with the lowest ISO sensitivity 100-200 only for the whole morning, and did not find the need to bump it up. Pudu provides plenty of subjects to be covered: people, old architecture, market vegetables and live poultry, etc. People are generally friendly here, hence shooting street portraits was easy.
ISO200, F/1.9, 1/40sec, Equivalent focal length: 31mm
Soft fluffy clouds
ISO100, F/4.5, 1/1600sec, equivalent focal lenth: 28mm
Ready for Friday Prayers
ISO100, F/2.4, 1/250sec, equivalent focal length: 97mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 1
100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 1
100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 1
Very Friendly Gentlemen (since he was so friendly I went in even closer)
ISO100, F/2.5, 1/200sec, equvalent focal length: 112mm
UNEXPECTEDLY SHARP AND DETAILED IMAGE OUTPUT
Shooting at very low ISO settings, from ISO100-200, the results obtained from the Olympus XZ-2 was nothing short of impressive in terms of image resolution and amazing amount of details captured. Looking at the IMAGE SAMPLE 1 above, the 100% crops on the portrait of the friendly gentlement revealed all the fine lines on his face, even though the face appeared to be smooth to my naked eyes !! And further downward the frame, looking at the 100% crop of his blue shirt, the texture of the fabric was very detailed.
When I first saw this on my computer screen (well, we never trusted the camera LCD display anyway, do we?) I was quite shocked to see this level of sharpness in the image. Indeed those images were not artifically sharpened, they are true details captured and resolved into the final photograph, and you can inspect the full resolution untouched files in the download section provided at the end of this blog entry. To be completely honest, not even the Olympus Zuiko 14-42mm kit lenses, both for the 4/3 DSLR system and Micro 4/3 system can resolve this much detail, looking close up at 100% view. I even doubt that the new Olympus 12-50mm kit lens for OM-D can deliver such clarity and sharpness. Of course, the XZ-2 will never come close to the incredible primes (12mm F2, 45mm F1.8, 60mm F2.8 macro, etc) but lets not get carried away with ridiculous comparisons, which is besides the point anyway. What I was surprised (a pleasant one indeed) to find out here was that the digital compact camera's i.Zuiko brand is not just a marketing stunt, in fact the Zuiko branding is living up to its legendary quality. Having a compact digital camera's lens which is even sharper than DSLR kit lenses surely is something not to be overlooked. The versatile zoom range of equivalent focal length 28mm to 112mm, as well as the bright open aperture at all focal length, F/1.8 at the widest end of 28mm, to a very decent F/2.5 at longest tele-end of 112mm: all these made even the digital compact camera seem like quite a compelling choice to own.
That built in zoom lens, was sharp from its widest end of 28mm, all the way to the fullest zoom of 112mm, showing no deterioration of sharpness visible to me, even shooting at the widest aperture range.
Perhaps the incredible sharpness is not due to the high quality Zuiko lens alone, but also the new 12MP sensor. Surely we can argue that there are many other cameras that offer higher megapixel count, but high megapixel is not as important as quality pixels, as demonstrated by the XZ-2. In fact, this was the first time I saw anything this stunning coming out from a compact camera, with almost no trace of smearing of details (which is a common issue with compact digital cameras). If we are talking about newer compact cameras with over-sized image sensor such as the Nikon 1 system and Sony RX100, then it is a different story, because of the much larger sensor size.
Safe behind bars
ISO200, F/2.5, 1/200sec, equvailent focal length: 112mm
Piercing Eyes (Since the cat did not run away, I went closer)
ISO200, F/2.5, 1/250sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
Shopping with Mum
ISO200, F/2.5, 1/200sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
Another Friendly Stranger
ISO100, F/2.5, 1/100sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
Very Old and Weathered
ISO100, F/3.5, 1/320sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
Facing the window
ISO100, F/1.8, 1/640sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
Fingers and legs
ISO100, F/2.3, 1/500sec, equivalent focal length: 75mm
Seafood for dinner?
ISO100, F/2.5, 1/500sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
THAT GREAT OLYMPUS SIGNATURE COLOR
Since the the earlier days of digital photography, Olympus has always been praised for their very optimized, and arguably having the best JPEG engine, producing amazing colors, with very optimized and balanced output, especially from their DSLR range of cameras, and moving into the micro 4/3 system as well. It is a great news to find that the same image processing engine, Trupic 6 used for the top of the line micro 4/3 system cameras from Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the PEN E-PL5, is the same one included for the Olympus XZ-2 which is producing the amazing colors for the images shown in this entry, something familiar to the Olympus community.
As I have described before, the colors look very true to life, natural and "believable". Skin tone reproduction is very pleasing and comfortable to look at. I dare say that the color signature of this XZ-2 is very, very similar to what I have observed from the OM-D and the E-PL5, with the same richness and quality. Of course we can expect more detailed resolution on the micro 4/3 system due to larger sensor and better quality optics, as well as better dynamic range, but for the XZ-2's much smaller sized sensor, I would say it is doing quite a fine job. Having the famous Olympus color in this compact camera is one strong reason, good enough to even consider getting this camera instead of others !!
VERY GOOD DYNAMIC RANGE IN LOW ISO
Looking at many sample images in this entry, for a compact camera with smaller sized sensor of 1/1,7 inch, I am quite pleased with the dynamic range of the images. The camera does quite well in preserving as much detail as possible in both the shadow and highlight region. This can be further enhanced if the shadow-adjustment "gradation" setting is enabled. For such small sensor being the limiting factor, surely I am not expecting miracles, but just take a look at some of the samples, with 100% crops, especially IMAGE SAMPLE 2 and 5, on the initial preview it seemed as if some areas have been overblown, but upon closer inspection, plenty of fine details are still well maintained.
HOW DOES THE CAMERA FEEL IN HAND? HOW DOES IT HANDLE?
The first time I picked up the XZ-2, it felt very, very solid, and it was as expected, being the flagship high-end compact camera. The rubberized texture hand grip at the front of the camera, as well as the generous thumb rest added the feel of security as I held the camera, being able to grip it properly without the slightest feel of slippery. To be honest, the camera is not exactly very small, it seems to be about the same size as the PEN mini (without the kit lens of course), and the XZ-2 was not that light either. Being a more serious camera, weight is an advantage, helping you to stabilize the camera better (more weight means when you press the shutter button, the motion/vibration from the pressing is less significant). I quite like how the camera feels in hand, and I put a wrist strap instead of a neck strap when I was shooting with the XZ-2.
All the buttons and controls feel responsive and assuring. There is no creakiness, or feeling of cheap components. I like the dual dial control of the XZ-2: one dial being the ring on the barrel of the lens, allowing quick control of either an exposure parameter of choice (Aperture, Shutter Speed, etc), or to zoom the lens. I set the front ring around the lens to control the aperture, because I was shooting in Aperture priority mode. There was already a dedicated power-zoom lever control at the top of the camera, placed around the shutter button, hence if you are a compact camera shooter, surely you will be more comfortable using the dedicated zoom lever. The second dial around the arrow pad at the back of the camera was set to control exposure compensation, which I almost never found the need to adjust, because the default metering was already quite reliable in this session's shooting. I set my metering to center-weighted average, which was the option which I usually use.
ISO200, F/1.8, 1/800sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
Lemang (local delicacy, made from glutinous rice)
ISO100, F/1.8, 1/250sec, equvalent focal length: 28mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 2
100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 2
ISO100, F/4.5, 1/500sec
ISO200 (Mistakenly set, should have been 100), F/3.5, 1/2000sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 3
100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 3
Cold drink on a hot day
ISO100, F/2.3, 1/250sec, equivalent focal length: 75mm
By the junk
ISO200, F/1.8, 1/400sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
AUTOFOCUS PERFORMANCE AND GENERAL CAMERA OPERATIONS
The Olympus XZ-2 performs very well in autofocus generally. The focusing was extremely fast at widest end of 28mm, but as I zoomed in to the longest end, 112mm, in some occasions, the lens hunts a little, but will always lock in focus. The camera never failed to focus, just that the performance was slightly slower, and perhaps had a little hunting issue at longer end of zoom, which is typcial for most compact cameras. In all honesty, even taking into consideration the hunting, the autofocus is still acceptable, and should not affect normal shooting operations. Lets face it, this is not a sports camera which requires instantaneous AF response.
Surely, the XZ-2 still lags behind in AF speed if you compare to the Olympus OM-D (ok that is going to the extreme). I know, because the friend I was shooting alongside with in the same session at Pudu, Kelvin Ng, was using the OM-D.
As I have little to complain about the AF performance, I however do have something to say about what happens after clicking the shutter button. If you turned off the preview, or set the preview for 1-2 sec only at the LCD screen playback after each shot, the operation of the camera is smooth, and there is no noticeable lag. However, my shooting workflow requires me to scrutinize my shots (ok I do pixel peep so sue me again), hence I set the LCD to immediately go into full review, where I can magnify the image and delete it on the spot, if I found it to be out of focus, or if I was not satisfied with the initial composition. Since I was dong a blog review, it was my top priority to make sure ALL my images come out with tack sharp accurate focus, hence I had to go through the rigorous routine of checking every single shot, immediately I have taken them. You see, when the XZ-2 was set to "Auto-Review", there was a lag of about 2 seconds, which you cannot do anything with the camera at all. After clicking the shutter button, the image was being previewed, only after 2 seconds, I can magnify the image, and delete it, and then take another shot. If suddenly another photography opportunity appeared within that 2 seconds, I would have missed it.
I understand that the way to go around this problem is to OFF the preview entirely, but that was against my workflow, and is not an option. I am an engineer quality control is extremely important to me, and if I can on the spot know something is wrong, I will fix it and get the shot I wanted. All Olympus DSLR and micro 4/3 system cameras have INSTANT response with ZERO lag. Maybe I was expecting too much, but the lag did slow me down, and that is a bad thing.
Other than this one issue that I had, everything else about the camera worked like a charm.
End is Coming
ISO250, F/2.8, 1/80sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 4
50% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 4
ISO100, F/1.8, 1/80sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
ISO200, F/1.8, 1/160sec, equivalent focal length: 28mm
1SO100, F/2.2, 1/1000sec, equivalent focal length: 66mm
IMAGE SAMPLE 5
100% crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 5
A religious man.
ISO100, F/2.5, 1/100sec, equvalent focal length: 112mm
Kelvin Ng, my shooting partner of the day.
ISO100, F/2.5, 1/80sec, equivalent focal length: 112mm
11 full resolution sample images, straight out of camera (direct convert from RAW to JPEG via Olympus Viewer 2 software with no additional adjustments) can be downloaded via the following link, for your pixel-peeping pleasure.
OLYMPUS XZ-2 AS A STREET SHOOTING CAMERA
Does the Olympus XZ-2 qualify as a street camera? I'd say a definite yes. It is small enough to be discreet, light and easy to be carried with you everywhere, being comfortable to hold and handle for long walks, and the camera performs very well in quick focusing. Most importantly, the XZ-2 delivers amazing image quality for a compact camera, I do not think many compact cameras in this league can rival the impressive output. Furthermore, the camera has tilt screen which is very useful for odd angle composition, from extreme low angle, or above the head shooting.
MORE ABOUT THE OLYMPUS XZ-2 COMING SOON
No, this is not the end of my review for the XZ-2. I have so much more to talk about this camera. High ISO shooting performance, flash usage, the 920k resolution LCD screen, macro shooting capability, etc. There will be at least two more parts of reviews coming soon, but do allow me some time to go out, shoot, get as many photographs as I can, and compose my blog entries !!
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 email@example.com