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Olympus XZ-2 Review

Overview by Shawn Barnett
Posted 09/17/2012

Shooter's Report by David Schloss
Posted 07/08/2013

Olympus XZ-2 review: Front quarter view

Special care was taken to differentiate the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 from a close enthusiast compact competitor, the Panasonic LX7, with the surprising result that the camera body actually grew a bit -- both in size and price. As we've noticed from its other recent cameras, Olympus is still watching the competition and innovating as well, with a new approach to the front ring control that makes the Olympus XZ-2 more versatile than other premium pocket cameras. For a cool $550, the Olympus XZ-2 is indeed quite a premium camera.

The Olympus XZ-2 upgrades to 12 megapixels of resolution, but stays with a 1/1.7-inch backlit CMOS sensor, the same size as its predecessor. The Olympus XZ-2 also boasts what camera fans long for: a big, bright, light-loving lens. The 28-112mm f/1.8-2.5 i.ZUIKO Digital lens is essentially the same as that in XZ-1, which we were impressed with. It's what surrounds the lens, though, that will get your attention.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Front view

Note the switch just lower left of the lens. In its downward position shown at left, the ring surrounding the lens moves smoothly. Flip it toward the grip and the ring surrounding the lens clicks as it turns. Set it one way to control things like aperture, or set it the other way to focus or zoom, depending on which function you choose to change via the Function 2 button in the center of the switch. While the Canon S100 is locked to firm detents and the Sony RX100 turns freely, the Olympus XZ-2's ring can do both, changing duty with the flick of a switch. Nice.

Another changeable feature is the removable grip, brought over from the PEN E-P3. Just a few turns of the screw makes the front of the XZ-2 almost as clean as the XZ-1.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Top view

A hot shoe on the top deck includes Olympus' AP2 accessory port, which will work with a number of optional extras, including electronic viewfinders, an external mic and lights. Of course the hot shoe will work with Olympus's line of flash units as well. The possibilities are what makes the Olympus XZ-2 interesting. A pop-up flash is featured on the left side. Slide the rear switch to the right and the XZ-2's flash slides slowly up into position. Left and right microphones flank the hot shoe, and a blue ring surrounds the Power button when on. A Zoom toggle surrounds the Shutter button. The Mode dial is a little close to the edge for our tastes; it's a good thing that it's stiff and not loose.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Back view

It's also apparent from the top angle that there's an articulating LCD, a welcome addition, even if it surely raised the price a bit as well. Rather than feature the company name across the bottom of the LCD, Olympus signals its intent to revive the Stylus brand name across its line of pocket cameras. That's not just conjecture on our part, by the way -- Olympus filled us in on the plan. The tilting three-inch LCD screen is also a touch panel, featuring a Touch Shutter function and VGA resolution. The red Record button is well placed on the rear beveled edge, and the fairly standard control cluster sits beneath the thumb rest.

Other key features include ISO sensitivity that ranges from 100 to 12,800 equivalents, a Movie mode that can capture Full HD (1080p) videos with stereo sound, an iAuto mode that recognizes up to 30 scenes, plus 11 Art filters and five Art effects from which photographers can select for in-camera creativity.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Connectivity

Connectivity. The Olympus XZ-2 supports Toshiba's FlashAir technology -- a rival to the better-known Eye-Fi tech -- which provides wireless connectivity to tablets and smartphones equipped with the Olympus Image Share app for Android and iOS devices. The camera can also connect with PCs via its Dedicated Multi-connector which handles a mini USB 2.0 plug, and there's a micro HDMI (Type-D) jack for connecting the camera to a TV or other playback devices.

On top of the XZ-2 sits a hot shoe that connects accessory flashes, as well as an AP2 accessory port that allows photographers to add on an electronic viewfinder or an external microphone.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Battery

Battery and storage. The Olympus XZ-2 is powered by a rechargeable Li-90B Lithium-ion battery, and is CIPA-rated for 310 shots per charge, with 50% of shots using the camera's built-in flash. The battery is recharged in camera via an included F-3AC AC/DC adapter.

The XZ-2 is compatible with SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards, and records and stores still image files in RAW, JPEG and RAW+JPEG formats. Movies are recorded and stored in MOV (MPEG-4 AVC / H.264) format with 16-bit stereo audio. There are two movie resolutions, both of which have a 16:9 aspect ratio: Full HD (1080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixels), and HD (720p; 1,280 x 720 pixels). Both share the same rate of 30 frames per second. Maximum recording time for both movie modes is 29 minutes.

[Update 5-10-14: To see how the Olympus Tcon-17 1.7x teleconverter performs with the Stylus 1, click here! The TCON-17 is compatible with both the XZ-2 as well as the XZ1]

 

Olympus XZ-2 Review -- Shooter's Report

by David Schloss

Olympus XZ-2 review: Sample image

The compact camera market is an increasingly crowded one, with manufacturers rushing to cram a greater number of features into ever-smaller bodies. In the consumer space, the result is a glut of what seem like identical point-and-shoot models. However, up at the higher end of the spectrum where enthusiast and professional photographers roam, cameras like the Olympus XZ-2 remain, thank goodness.

The preceding Olympus XZ-1 was a well-regarded compact, thanks largely to the fast f/1.8-2.5 lens that spanned an equivalent zoom range of 28-112mm. The XZ-2 brings backs this glass, but enhances its imaging capabilities with a new 12-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch backlit CMOS sensor for improved image quality with slightly higher resolution. (In comparison, the XZ-1 had a 10-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor.) A backlit CMOS sensor can increase light gathering between 60% and 90% over a CCD, and it is part of what has allowed the XZ-2 to cram more megapixels onto the same size sensor while improving image quality.

The Olympus XZ-2 also boasts the company's TruePic VI sensor, the same as it uses in its acclaimed PEN camera line. Faster and more accurate than the TruePic V found on the XZ-1, the XZ-2 performs better all around. In fact, the XZ-2 feels in many ways more like a PEN camera that's been made on a smaller and more transportable scale -- more on this in a second -- than it does a compact digital.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Three quarter view with flash

Design and ergonomics. The XZ-2 is a compact camera that wants to be a bridge to an interchangeable-lens camera, rather than a run-of-the-mill point-and-shoot. And it comes across loud and clear that Olympus focused more intently on improving the camera's image quality than it did on reducing its size. In fact, Olympus actually made the XZ-2 bigger than its predecessor -- primarily, it seems, to provide an articulating LCD display as opposed to the fixed LCD found on the back of the XZ-1. It's a move that I personally celebrate, but it comes at the expense of true pocketability.

On the front of the XZ-2 is a rather significant lens/multi-function Control Ring that protrudes a good 2cm from the front of the body. There is absolutely no way to snug the XZ-2 into your jeans, but with the prevalence of cell phone cameras, it's not necessarily a choice that was poorly made. While being pocketable is a nice perk, many enthusiast photographers simply want their compact cameras to replace bulky DSLRs for everyday photo opportunities as opposed to having the slimmest and lightest body possible.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Right side view

When the camera's lens pops out to full tele, the package measures just under 8cm, which is slim enough to be incredibly functional yet still feel stable. Speaking of the lens popping out, here's a not-so-nice perk: The XZ-2's lens cap mounts across the whole lens system -- which means that when the camera is turned on and the lens extends, the lens cap simply pops off -- and there's no cord to catch it!

I guess that's great if you want to catch a quick shot of a fleeting scene, and not so great if you want to keep your lens cap. Usually on compacts with retractable lenses, the lens cap either mounts to the inner lens element (and so extends with the lens when activating the camera), or if the lens cap mounts to protect the whole system, the camera won't turn on with the lens cap attached.

The top panel of the XZ-2 is covered with a brushed metal cap piece that adds to the professional look of the camera. On the left top is a built-in, pop-up flash that's engaged by a lever just below it, on the back side. A hot shoe sits on the top center, where you can add an electronic viewfinder or accessory flash -- almost a must these days for enthusiast-level compacts. Finally, to the right resides the Zoom ring and a rugged Mode dial, which allows you to access the camera's full PASM shooting capabilities, as well as iAuto, Art, Scene and two Custom modes.

Overall, with the large bright lens and the solid heft of the body, the camera feels great in the hand. Physically, the XZ-2 represents itself as a solid, serious photographic tool.

An included screw-on handgrip provides secure purchase for holding the camera at arm's length, something that's necessary without a viewfinder. That's not a knock against the XZ-2, since most cameras in this class are viewfinder-free. Personally, as an increasingly-farsighted pro shooter, I find myself uncomfortable using a camera without at least the option to look through a small glass window. But fortunately the XZ-2 can work with the company's add-on electronic viewfinders, which makes it a more attractive system. A number of Olympus and aftermarket hand grips also exist to customize the camera and make it a more custom, ergonomic fit.

About that front Control Ring. The front Control Ring on the Olympus XZ-2 is a stroke of genius from both an ergonomic and functionality standpoint. The ridged ring encircles the lens, and at first glance looks like just an external aperture selector. But it's so much more. Many compact cameras use a small and uncomfortable rear control dial to adjust f/stop; the knurled ring on the XZ-2 in contrast provides a firm purchase, although it takes some getting used to.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Left side view

Many interchangeable lenses have aperture rings at their base as a holdover from the design of manual lenses, but also because when cradling a camera against one's face, the left hand is usually placed underneath the lens to support the camera where the aperture ring lies. For the most common use of the XZ-2 while in Aperture-priority or Manual modes, the Control Ring serves as the f/stop control. That means the XZ-2 is designed to be shot primarily two-handed.

While that slightly reduces the value of having such a small, lightweight camera, it's certainly not a deal breaker. It is possible to use the small rear Arrow Pad and dial to change the aperture, though the default for the dial is to control exposure compensation -- so some fiddling is necessary to use this dial for aperture changes.

But the real beauty of the front Control Ring is that it's not just for aperture changes. Situated just between the lens and the handgrip is a small rocker switch that, when toggled, switches the dial from controlling the f/stop to controlling focus. It's this sort of innovative thinking that really makes the XZ-2 stand out from other cameras in this class. Many systems make the photographer change modes to switch to manual focus, but this dual-control dial is brilliant.

The Control Ring can be set to control focus, or focus and zoom (the camera will auto enlarge the focus area while the ring is being turned, to enable better manual focusing), but I'd love to see the ring be allowed to control any oft-used setting. For example, I'd like to unload the exposure compensation from the rear Arrow Pad and assign it to the Control Ring. (I'm much more likely to want to access exposure compensation while shooting than I am to manually focus.)

Olympus XZ-2 review: Sample photo
Olympus XZ-2 review: Sample photo
Whether up close or far, the Olympus XZ-2 and its sharp, bright 28-112mm f/1.8-2.5 i.ZUIKO zoom lens provide a lot of shooting flexibility and capture great images for their class.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Rear controls
The flip side. On the rear right side of the Olympus XZ-2 resides the Arrow Pad and dial that control nearly every other feature of the camera. At the center is a four-way rocker switch with a center push button to bring up menus. What's great about this selector is that it provides one-button access to a myriad of features. Since the dial is tiny and since it controls so much of the operation of the camera, it's possible to quickly cycle through choices with just a flick of a finger in any direction. You can easily change the exposure compensation and then override the flash without having to travel far.

That makes the XZ-2 more responsive in use than many DSLRs -- most of the camera's functions and settings are literally at the tip of one's finger. What's not so great is that the buttons are, by nature of the design, tiny. It's incredibly easy -- especially in the heat of trying to capture a fleeting scene -- to push the wrong button and jump into the main menu when you wanted to just, say, override the flash. It's also easy to flick the sensitive Arrow Pad dial a few stops too far.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Mode dial

One persistent gripe that I have with these dime-sized control dials -- and their cousins, the top-mounted Mode dials -- is that there usually is no lock to prevent them from being turned accidentally. That's true of the XZ-2. Drop it into your messenger bag with it set to Aperture-priority mode, and when you quickly pull it out to take a photo, you may be rewarded by finding that it's switched to Scene mode instead, and you've messed up the shot.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Shooting menu

Interface and menus. When it comes to the graphical user interface that drives a camera, Olympus has always been a standout in terms of design and simplicity. The XZ-2 takes a minimalist approach to UI, with a black background and subtle white text. The camera uses some subtle colors to distinguish between categories in the Custom Menu -- a magenta color for AF/MF controls, purple for Image Quality, Color, White Balance, and so on -- but generally everything is white-on-black. The look is more like an iPhone or Android app than most cameras, with a minimum of clutter.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Card setup

Olympus has also moved some of the more common features to the top of the Menu. Card Setup -- necessary for formatting or erasing a card -- is often found buried, but Olympus has placed this as the first option in Shooting Menu 1. I'm thrilled about this because card formatting is part of a good shooting hygiene system; I format cards before use almost every single new photo session. I think many manufacturers hide this option because they don't want their users to accidentally erase a card, but I think that shooters are now savvy enough to know that formatting a card erases photos. Putting this up top is a great choice.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Sometimes-cryptic GUI

There are a few areas where the interface is confusing -- mostly where Olympus has opted for using an icon rather than spelling out the setting. One instance of this phenomenon is in Shooting Menu 2, where the last choice is an icon that looks much like an eyeball in a bottle. This is set to "Off" by default, so I investigated it by selecting the choice and finding out that the other setting is "TCON-17." Huh? A quick Google search revealed that the TCON-17 is a tele-converter lens that screws onto the front of the camera. I think it might have been easier to write "Teleconverter" on the menu.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Autofocus modes

Another such quirk is found on the shooting setup screens used while taking photos. Olympus have separated AF-S and AF-C with the Macro setting. I think someone probably argued "Well, people are more likely to switch from AF-S or AF-C to Macro than they are to switch from AF-S to AF-C, so let's put Macro conveniently in the middle" -- but boy is that the wrong choice. Macro shots are few and far between for most photographers, and so the settings for Macro shouldn't be between two other commonly used shooting modes, in my humble opinion.

As a non-user of Scene Modes (I'd prefer to do image adjustment in post processing), I avoid the various blurs and color shifts found in-camera, which is why I was surprised to find the Panorama settings there. True, I can't think of a better place for it, and the camera is processing an image internally, but it took me a very long time to find the Panorama mode.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Super Control Panel

Super Control Panel. One major UI feature to love about most of Olympus' current line of enthusiast cameras is the Super Control Panel, which gives you access to many of the most sought after settings all on one screen with one push of a button. The XZ-1 did not include this, but Olympus wisely decided to include it on the XZ-2. The Super Control Panel simplifies things for novice shooters who may find navigating through menus awkward, and it also makes life easier for advanced shooters who can tweak settings quickly on the fly.

Camera performance and operation. Overall, I found the Olympus XZ-2 a joy to use. Really, I don't say that about every camera I review, but with a house full of test bodies I find myself reaching time and again for the XZ-2 because it's convenient and fast, and I know it's going to produce great images. Autofocus, even in low light, was extremely fast and accurate, and there was very little shutter lag.

For the shakier scenes -- especially those under low light -- the Olympus XZ-2 has built-in image stabilization provided by a sensor-shift system. With such a fast lens the image stabilization isn't always necessary, though it's helpful at night and in poorly lit interiors. The camera's sensitivity range extends up to ISO 12,800, though like with many small-sensor cameras, image quality degrades quickly at ISO 800 and above.

Olympus claims that the XZ-2's battery captures about 310 exposures before needing to be recharged, and I was easily able to get through a full day's shooting in just one charge. Even when keeping the three-inch, 640 x 480 pixel LCD monitor on continuously throughout my shots, I found that the camera is a power-sipping device which seems to last forever.

Olympus XZ-2 Image Quality
Olympus XZ-2 review: Sample image
f/2.0, 1/80s, ISO 100, Aperture-priority
Olympus XZ-2 review: Sample image
f/1.8, 1/2,000s, ISO 100, Aperture-priority
Olympus XZ-2 review: Sample image
f/5.0, 1/640s, ISO 100, Aperture-priority
No matter the subject, the images I took with the Olympus XZ-2 at low ISOs were sharp, bright and accurate. Like most small-sensor cameras, note that image quality drops off significantly at higher ISOs.

Unfortunately, under bright sunlight, I found the rear three-inch articulating LCD screen hard to see. This was especially problematic on a day of portrait shooting where the XZ-2 came along as my backup. I set up my Nikon DSLR to capture images and then pulled out the XZ-2 to see if I could match what the Nikon was doing.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Left view with LCD extended

The sun came up a bit harsh over the mountains, and while I'd hoped for some clouds I got instead a very contrasty day. Since I didn't have an optional EVF for the XZ-2, I relied on the screen. Fortunately, the screen pivots, because the over-the-shoulder sunlight completely wiped out my ability to critically focus. Thank goodness the camera does a spectacular job at focusing on faces; the shots wound up being well focused even though I couldn't tell for sure when I took them. If I had been trying to shoot a subject without a face, there might have been trouble.

The Olympus XZ-2 has a built-in ND (neutral density) filter, so the same super-contrasty, super-bright light that overpowered the LCD didn't end up washing out the photos. This certainly beats carrying around a mini neutral density filter for the occasional shot in very-high light at wide apertures.

Image quality. In addition to being a fast and able performer, I was happy to discover the XZ-2 also takes great photos. The fast i.ZUIKO lens lives up to the company's reputation for high-end glass and the images are sharp, bright and accurate. The f/1.8-2.5 lens also gives the Olympus XZ-2 a leg up on many enthusiast compacts when it comes to taking photos in low light or working with shallow depths of field. However, we found that the camera's excellent detail and noise balance falls off at higher ISOs, with some fine detail lost at ISO 800 and up, and noise becoming very noticeable at ISO 3200 with some severe smudging effects.

In my field testing of the camera, the XZ-2 produced particularly vibrant blue and green tones and rendered natural skin tones. I found its matrix metering system had a slight tendency to overexpose highlights in favor of darker regions -- not ideal, but it does means that a photo with a subject framed by a bright sky is more likely to blow the highlights of the clouds than it is to muddle the mid tones of the portrait.

Of course, being able to capture still photos in RAW and, even better, RAW+JPEG formats, is a huge plus for the XZ-2 -- and a must for a camera in its class these days.

Olympus XZ-2 Creative Filters
Olympus XZ-2 review: Diorama filter Olympus XZ-2 review: Cross process filter
Diorama Cross Process
Olympus XZ-2 review: Grainy film filter Olympus XZ-2 review: Key Line filter
Grainy Film Key Line
Olympus XZ-2 review: Pop Art filter Olympus XZ-2 review: Sepia filter
Pop Art Sepia
Olympus XZ-2 review: Pale & Light Tone filter Olympus XZ-2 review: Dramatic Tone filter
Pale & Light Tone Dramatic Tone
Though I'm not one to use scene modes and creative filters very much, the Olympus XZ-2 offers a wide variety of special effects that can add extra drama to ordinary shots inspire without over-doing it. I was especially pleased with the Grainy Film, Pop Art, Sepia and Dramatic Tone effects, though normally I'd tweak the images to my liking with post processing in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Video. The XZ-2 takes HD video, and that's just about as far as I'm willing to go to endorse this as a video camera. Yes, it's full 1080p H.264 video with stereo mics (versus 720p Motion JPEG with mono audio for the XZ-1). Yes it's incredibly easy to activate, courtesy of a single red Record button on the top-rear of the camera. Unfortunately, like many compact digital cameras there is no standard mic-in jack (though the Olympus SEMA-1 microphone adapter set is supported via the accessory port), limited adjustability and basic features. This is a video camera in the way that the iPhone is a video camera, not in the way that a Canon 6D is a video camera.

1,280 x 720
Progressive, 30 frames per second, H.264
Download Original (24MB MOV)
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second, H.264
Download Original (45MB MOV)

Price vs. value. I've read a few reviews that have complained that the XZ-2 has a high price point relative to its features, comments that are valid on the surface but require some consideration. The main arguments point to the price of the XZ-2 (currently around $550) versus similar enthusiast compacts such as the Canon G15 (currently around $410). Even entry-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D5200 (around $699 and which I happened to review in parallel to the XZ-2) aren't that much more money.

Certainly the G15 is a good comparison. For about $140 less you get a slightly longer reach in the zoom, but you don't get the articulating LCD screen or the bright, fast i.ZUIKO glass that you do with the Olympus XZ-2. As for comparing the XZ-2 to DSLRs or even entry-level mirrorless cameras, I think the price comparison is an apples-to-oranges one. Yes, you can get an interchangeable-lens camera for about the same price, but I think those considering the XZ-2 want something small and relatively simple to use while still delivering good image quality. It's a perfect choice as an everyday, backup camera for hobbyists or even pros who don't want to lug around their DSLRs everywhere.

Olympus XZ-2 review: Sample image

Summary. The XZ-2 is yet-another example of a sophisticated yet compact camera that provides features and functionality which even many DSLRs lacked just a few years ago. The excellent wide aperture of the zoom lens makes the XZ-2 a great choice for the photographer who wants to be able to control depth of field and shoot in low light.

There are a few quirks to the XZ-2 but that's the case with all cameras, and none of them here outweighs the benefits of the camera. For the advanced shooter looking for a backup camera, the XZ-2 is an excellent choice, though you can probably find better values if you don't need the XZ-2's fast and bright lens and articulating LCD touch-screen. Still, the XZ-2 with its full set of offerings and excellent image quality is hard to beat and it's a fun, tidy and professional little camera.

 

Olympus XZ-2 Review -- Lens Quality


28mm eq.
56mm eq.
112mm eq.
2x Digital Zoom

Zoom Series: The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 covers a 4x optical zoom range equivalent to a 28-112mm zoom on a 35mm camera. At full wide angle, details are just a hint soft throughout the frame, but still have good definition. Coma distortion is present around the tree branches in the corners (mainly against the sky), as is very mild blurring. At full telephoto, details are sharper and better defined. Digital zoom also performs well, capturing very good detail with little loss in definition. Very good results here.


Wide f/1.8: Sharp at center
Wide f/1.8: Only slightly soft at upper left
Tele f/2.5: Sharp at center
Tele f/2.5: Mild blurring, upper left corner

Sharpness: Both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the Olympus Stylus XZ-2's zoom lens show quite mild blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center when wide open, though that small amount of softening extends fairly far in toward center. Stopping down to f/4 sharpens up corners quite nicely at both wide angle and telephoto. Overall, results are very good here especially considering how fast (bright) the lens is wide open.


In-Camera JPEG
Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; slightly noticeable
Tele: Some pincushion distortion, though fairly low
Uncorrected RAW
Wide: Strong barrel distortion; quite noticeable
Tele: Low pincushion distortion, slightly noticeable

Geometric Distortion: There is moderate barrel distortion at the Olympus Stylus XZ-2's wide-angle setting (0.6%), and only a small amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto (0.2%). The camera's processor does a fairly good job of controlling distortion here.

Uncorrected RAW files show much higher barrel distortion at wide angle (1.2%), but about the same level of pincushion at telephoto (0.2%).


In-Camera JPEG
Wide f/4: Moderately low, slightly bright
Tele f/4: Low but bright
Uncorrected RAW
Wide f/4: Moderate, slightly bright
Tele f/4: Moderately low, and not very bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide angle is moderately low in terms of pixel count, though those few pixels are a little bright from increased contrast. Telephoto shows fewer pixels and less cyan fringing, though red is still noticeable.

RAW files uncorrected for chromatic aberration show just slightly higher amounts, so it appears that the Olympus XZ-2's processor is not attempting to eliminate all chromatic aberration, but rather just to mildly suppress it.


Macro
Macro with Flash
 
Super Macro

Macro: The Olympus Stylus XZ-2's Macro mode captures a sharp overall image with good detail in the finer areas, and only minimal blurring in the corners of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode).

Minimum coverage area is on the larger side of average at 2.32 x 1.74 inches (59 x 44mm), though a Super Macro mode captures an area measuring only 1.06 x 0.80 inches (27 x 20mm). The camera's flash is partially blocked by the lens at this range, which results in a strong shadow across the lower right portion of the frame. Thus, external lighting will be your best bet when shooting this close.


 

Olympus XZ-2 Review -- Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Olympus Stylus XZ-2's LCD monitor showed just a little over 100% coverage at wide angle and telephoto, which is excellent.


 

Olympus XZ-2 Review -- Image Quality


Color: The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 produces generally good overall color, with fairly typical mean saturation, just slightly less vibrant than most cameras at defaults. Bright reds are boosted some, but everything else is about right, with just a few colors such as yellow and cyan slightly undersaturated. Hue accuracy is very good, with only small shifts evident in cyans toward blue and greens toward yellow. Darker Caucasian skin tones show the strongest shift (toward orange), while lighter skin tones are close to dead-on with just a small magenta nudge. Overall, very good color reproduction.


Auto WB:
Slight red cast
Incandescent WB:
Pretty good, a hint red
 
Manual WB:
Also good, a hint cool

Incandescent: Both the Manual and Incandescent white balance settings handled our indoor incandescent lighting pretty well, each producing just the slightest tint cool or red (meaning it may come up to personal preference between the two). The Auto setting produced a more noticeable red cast.


Horizontal: 2,100 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,100 lines per picture height horizontally and about 2,000 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred after 2,800 lines per picture height.


Gradation Settings (+0.7 EV)

Gradation: Similar to dynamic range optimization systems from other manufacturers, Olympus' Auto Gradation setting applies local contrast adjustments in an attempt to open up shadow detail while preserving highlights.

To the right are examples of the various settings available applied to our "Outdoor Portrait" scene, which is shot in very harsh lighting to help determine how well a camera deals with high-dynamic-range subjects. As you can see by mousing over the links below the image at right (click on the links to get to the full resolution images), compared to the Normal setting, the Auto setting does a very good job of lightening the shadows behind the mannequin, in the face and below the bouquet, while holding on to highlights in the white shirt and flowers. Despite the bright appearance, very few highlights are clipped in the Auto shot. Shadow noise is a little more apparent; however, this is quite normal when darker tones are lightened. Very good results here when using the Auto Gradation setting.

The Low Key setting applies Gradation for subjects you wish to remain dark (in the image right, you can see that it toned down the highlights and really darkened the shadows), while the High Key setting does the opposite for subjects you wish to keep bright (lightening shadows slightly but really boosting highlights). Note that the camera's Contrast setting is ignored when Gradation is set to anything other than Normal.


Wide: Dim
Tele: Dim
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows somewhat dim results at the rated wide angle distance of 9.1 feet and ISO 100. Telephoto results are also dim at 7.0 feet and ISO 100. You'll probably want to select a higher ISO for most flash shots.

Auto flash produced somewhat dark results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining a color tint from the ambient light despite a quick shutter speed of 1/60 second at ISO 200. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
1,600
3,200
6,400
12,800

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is strong and well defined at the lower ISO settings, with the first noticeable softening of definition at ISO 400. From ISO 800 on up, noise pattern in combination with noise suppression efforts greatly diminishes fine detail with each increase. Chroma (color) noise becomes strong and problematic at ISOs 3200 and above, and noise grain itself interferes with detail as well. Increased smudging also affects the appearance of the exposure, seeming to darken the image slightly. See Print Quality results below for more on how this affects prints.


Olympus XZ-2 Review -- Print Quality

Nice 16 x 20 inch prints at ISO 100; a good 5 x 7 at ISO 800; ISO 1600 is the highest ISO for a good 4 x 6 inch print.

ISO 100 prints are quite good at 16 x 20 inches, which is a reasonably large size for this sensor size to be able to produce. 20 x 30 inch prints are suitable for wall-display at this sensitivity, as well.

ISO 200 shots are good at 13 x 19 inches. Most-all contrast is lost in our target red swatch, preventing us from being able to call 16 x 20s "good" here. This is somewhat common for compact cameras, though not usually at this low a sensitivity.

ISO 400 images are good at 8 x 10 inches, though there are some hints of luminance noise starting to show in the shadowy areas of our test target.

ISO 800 prints fairly well to 5 x 7, but again shows noise in shadowy areas and loses all contrast in our target red swatch. It is also beginning to lose some pop in overall color saturation.

ISO 1,600 is capable of a good 4 x 6, although with issues similar to the 5 x 7 at ISO 800.

ISOs 3,200, 6400, and 12,800 do not yield good 4 x 6 inch prints and are best avoided.

The Olympus XZ-2 does a very nice job in the print quality department at base ISO compared to other enthusiast compact cameras. Not surprisingly, however, the quality falls off sharply as ISO rises. If sharp, detailed larger prints are a goal for your shooting needs, then you'd be well recommended to stay at ISOs 100 to 400.


 

Olympus XZ-2 Review -- Performance


Startup and Shutdown Times:: The Olympus XZ-2 takes about 1.8 seconds to power on and capture a shot. That's good for its class. Shutdown takes about 1.4 seconds.


Mode Switching: Switching from Play to Record and taking a shot takes about 1.4 seconds, while switching from Record to Play after a shot also takes about 1.4 seconds. It takes the XZ-2 about 0.3 second to display a recorded image.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is lighting fast at 0.115 second at wide angle and 0.114 second at telephoto. This is faster than most DSLRs! Enabling the flash raises shutter lag to 0.177 second, but that's still faster than most cameras without the flash enabled. Manual focus shutter lag is 0.069 second while prefocused shutter lag is 0.033 second, both very fast.
Single-shot Cycle Time: Cycle time is less impressive, capturing a frame every 1.21 seconds in single-shot mode for Large Fine JPEGs, a RAW frame every 1.27 seconds, and every 1.62 second for RAW + JPEG.
Continuous Mode: At full resolution, the XZ-2 captures Large/Fine JPEGs at up to 5.0 fps for four frames, but then slows to 3.1 fps when the buffer is full. RAW mode was just as fast at 5.0 fps, but buffer size dropped to three frames before slowing to 1.83 fps. In RAW+JPEG mode, three frames can be capture at 4.88 fps, then the rate drops to 1.35 fps. High Speed mode captures up to 60 Medium Fine JPEGs at about 20 fps. Buffer clearing is very fast with a fast SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC 95MB/s card, at only one second for all modes tested except High-Speed mode, which took four seconds to clear.

Flash Recycle: The Olympus Stylus XZ-2's flash recycles in about 3.2 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is very good.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. Very good performance here.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Olympus Stylus XZ-2's download speeds are extremely fast. We measured 17,527 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Olympus Stylus XZ-2's battery life has a CIPA rating of 310 shots per charge, which is about average.


 

Olympus XZ-2 Review -- In the Box

The Olympus XZ-2 retail box contains:

 

Olympus XZ-2 Review -- Recommended Accessories

 

Olympus XZ-2 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • New 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor delivers improved resolution and better low-light capabilities than its predecessor
  • Fast, bright i.ZUIKO f/1.8-2.5 lens surprisingly produces good corner to corner sharpness
  • Wide aperture across the whole 4x zoom range (28-112mm) provides a greater range of shooting options
  • Three-inch articulating LCD touchscreen that's a very accurate viewfinder
  • Dual-purpose front Control Ring can select aperture or be used to manually focus the camera
  • Images show only moderate chromatic aberration and good color performance
  • Good handling of incandescent lighting in both Incandescent & Manual WB modes
  • Responsive and clean interface doesn't get in the way of taking pictures; Super Control Panel makes changing settings a snap
  • Full PASM shooting modes
  • Excellent Macro mode, with ability to get really close to tiny subjects in Super Macro mode
  • Captures RAW and RAW+JPEG files
  • Lots of creative filters
  • Full HD (1080p) video at 30p
  • Incredibly fast autofocus and low shutter lag
  • Fast flash charging
  • Extremely fast download speeds
  • Image quality deteriorates at higher ISOs, with loss of detail at ISO 800 and up, and significant noise and smudging starting at ISO 3200
  • Noticeable barrel distortion in JPEGs
  • Darker skin tones show strong warm push
  • Slightly crowded rear control layout makes it too easy to hit the wrong button in the heat of shooting
  • Not quite pocketable
  • Lens cap pops off when powered up
  • LCD screen overpowered by bright sunlight
  • Low power flash
  • Lackluster cycle times
  • Pricier than many other enthusiast compact cameras, and about as expensive as some entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras

 

The Olympus XZ-2 improves upon the popular XZ-1 with several key upgrades, including a brand new 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. However, thankfully, the new model keeps the fast, bright f/1.8-2.5 i.ZUIKO zoom lens which made its predecessor stand out against other enthusiast compact cameras. The XZ-2's 4x zoom lens maintains a wide max aperture across its 28-112mm equivalent range, and when paired with the new sensor -- which replaces a 10-megapixel CCD -- helps deliver sharp, detailed images even in low-light shooting situations.

Other enhancements include a three-inch, articulating LCD touchscreen that -- although not a great performer in direct sunlight -- provides a great deal of shooting flexibility and makes on-the-fly settings changes easy using the camera's Super Control Panel. And while the XZ-2 doesn't come with an electronic viewfinder, you can add on an Olympus accessory EVF (as well as an accessory flash and stereo microphone, if you wish). Perhaps the niftiest new feature on the XZ-2 is the ridged Control Ring, which encircles the lens and serves two key purposes. It can be used to change the aperture or, by toggling a switch, to manually focus the camera. It's a brilliant stroke of functionality and ergonomics.

Overall, the Olympus XZ-2 is fun to use and lightning fast, with negligible shutter lag and almost-instant and accurate autofocus. It's packed with a ton of advanced photographic features and functionality, ranging from full PASM shooting control to RAW file capture to an excellent Macro mode. Its movie features are limited, but the compact does capture Full 1080p HD video at 30p.

Our only major disappointment with the XZ-2 is that image quality (and print quality) falls off as ISO rises, with noticeable detail loss at ISO 800 and above, and significant noise and smudging at ISO 3200 and up. It's also pricier than many other enthusiast-level compact cameras, and even just as expensive as some entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Still, the Olympus XZ-2 should please many serious photographers looking for a compact, everyday backup for their bulkier interchangeable-lens systems -- especially those who demand a bright lens, fast-and-easy operation and a full set of enthusiast features. We recommend the Olympus XZ-2 and give it a Dave's Pick.

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