Olympus XZ-10 Preview
by Mike Tomkins
What, precisely, defines a premium compact camera for you? For many photographers, it's the presence of a larger image sensor than is typical of most compacts, the better with which to grab as much light as possible. It's an understandable point of view -- photography is all about capturing light, after all -- but it's perhaps a rather narrow definition. There are quite a few other features present on most premium compacts, besides the sensor size -- and with the Olympus Stylus XZ-10, more than a few of these are present. Experienced photographers look for things like a bright lens, physical controls, manual and priority exposure modes, and a raw file format when choosing a camera, and the XZ-10 ticks every one of these boxes.
Sure, the XZ-10's sensor is no larger than those of the typical fixed-lens camera, but that gives it an advantage over many of its premium compact rivals in terms of both size and weight. For the kind of photographer who buys a premium compact, that's arguably more important. There's a good chance that it's being purchased as a second camera alongside an interchangeable-lens camera, after all, so they've likely already got access to a much larger sensor. And by opting for a smaller sensor, Olympus has not only been able to slash size and weight significantly -- the XZ-10 is 0.4 inches narrower, 0.2 inches shorter, a full half-inch shorter, and a third lighter than the XZ-2 -- but to include a more powerful 5x optical zoom lens.
That lens offers a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 26-130mm, adding a little to both ends of the zoom range compared to the XZ-2. Actual focal lengths range from 4.7 to 23.5mm. The lens covers everything from a fairly generous wide angle to a moderate telephoto, and is unusually bright (especially by compact camera standards) across the whole range. At wide angle the maximum aperture is f/1.8, and even by the telephoto position it falls to only f/2.7.
The Olympus XZ-10 uses a 35-point contrast detection autofocus system, and includes an autofocus assist lamp to ease the job of focusing on nearby subjects in low ambient light. Macro-focusing performance is improved, compared to that in the XZ-2. Ordinarily, you can focus as close as four inches (10cm) at wide angle, and one foot (30cm) at telephoto. Enable the Stylus XZ-10's super macro mode, though, and you can get as close as 0.4 inches (1cm).
Inside the Olympus XZ-10's metal body, and behind its optic, the 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor has an effective resolution of twelve megapixels, the same as provided by the larger chip in the XZ-2. Total resolution is 12.76 megapixels. Output from the sensor is handled by the same TruePic VI image processor used in the XZ-2, and it allows the same burst shooting rate of five frames per second for 200 images. It can't bend the laws of physics, though -- where the XZ-2 has an ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 12,800 equivalents, the Olympus XZ-10 starts from the same base sensitivity, and peaks at ISO 6,400 equivalent.
As it did in its flagship premium compact, Olympus has mounted the XZ-10's image sensor on a movable platter, allowing it to provide for dual-axis image stabilization system. While it's not as sophisticated as the five-axis system in some of Olympus' cameras -- it corrects yaw and pitch, but not roll or horizontal / vertical translational motions -- it's far preferable to only software-based stabilization. (And most competing systems are dual-axis, as well.)
On the rear panel is a 3.0-inch LCD monitor. Unlike the XZ-2, it's the only method of framing and reviewing your subjects; there's no connectivity for an electronic viewfinder, and nor is one built in. But on the plus side, it's the same size and has the same 920,000 dot (~640 x 480 pixel) resolution as that used in the higher-end camera. It also retains the touch-screen overlay, allowing it to double as an input device. Touch screen functionality includes the ability to tap on a subject and have the camera focus on that point. You can also trigger the shutter from the touch screen. In a concession to body size and weight, it does forgo an articulation mechanism, however.
On the top deck, a popup flash strobe is the sole option for putting some light on your (nearby) subjects. Again, in its quest to trim fat from the XZ-2, Olympus has opted to do without a flash hot shoe. We don't yet have any details on the strength of the built-in flash, nor how it compares to that in the XZ-2, though we do know it can trigger compatible wireless flash units.
Another hardware feature that seems to have been removed is the level gauge found in the XZ-2, which goes unmentioned in the Olympus Stylus XZ-10's spec sheet. It also has one less My Mode position, used to save settings for quick recall. Thankfully, Olympus has retained the control ring around the lens that's used to quickly and intuitively make settings changes, along with the rear control dial, a top-deck Mode dial, and a dedicated Video button. In total, there are no less than 16 physical controls on the exterior of the Olympus XZ-10, in spite of the smaller camera body.
Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 30 seconds, a rather narrower range than the 60-second maximum of the XZ-2. Exposure modes are largely the same as in that camera: The Olympus XZ-10 offers the full complement of Program, Priority, and Manual modes, plus an Intelligent Auto mode and a healthy selection of Scene modes. Two modes -- both for underwater use -- have been dropped since the XZ-2, but a Hand-Held Starlight mode has been added in their place.
There are quite a few post-exposure creative functions in the Olympus XZ-10. You can process raw files in-camera, crop and resize, fix red-eye, smooth skin tones, lighten shadows, tweak saturation, add sepia toning, There's also a new Photo Story function, which combines multiple shots in-camera to create one of several collage layouts, plus a choice of 11 art filter effects, unchanged from those in the XZ-2.
These same 11 art filters can also be used in the Stylus XZ-10's video mode, which allows capture of clips at up to Full HD (1080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution. Videos include 16-bit stereo PCM audio, captured with either an internal two-port microphone on the top deck, or with an optional, external microphone. By reducing the resolution, the frame rate can be boosted beyond the standard 30 frames-per-second. At 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels), the maximum rate is an impressive 120 fps, which would play back at 1/4 of realtime speed at 30 fps. At a non-standard 4:3 aspect resolution of 432 x 234 pixels, this can be increased even further, to 240 fps.
Stills and movies are saved on Secure Digital cards, and the Olympus XZ-10 supports not only the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards, but also the higher-speed UHS-I cards. Olympus recommends use of at least a Class 6 card for high-def video capture. Eye-Fi's Wi-Fi capable SD cards are also supported, if you want to transfer your images wirelessly.
Connectivity includes Type-D Micro HDMI, and a combined USB / standard-def video port. The latter provides either USB 2.0 High Speed data, or NTSC/PAL composite video output, depending upon the cable that's connected.
The Olympus XZ-10 also uses a different battery pack than does the XZ-2, which again likely contributes to its lesser size and weight. The bundled LI-50B lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack provides for 240 shots on a charge, about 23% less than the 310 shots of the XZ-2.
In the United States, the Olympus Stylus XZ-10 is slated to begin shipping late March, 2013, with a list price of about US$400. Only the black version will be available in the U.S., though white and brown body colors will also be available in other markets.