Olympus XZ-2 £479.99

13th Nov 2012 | 12:24

Olympus XZ-2

The heavyweight compact Olympus Stylus XZ-2 is more than just a point-and-shoot

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Lens aperture range; Manual focus ring; Tilting touchscreen; Large back-illuminated CMOS sensor;

Dislike:

LCD only tilts horizontally; No on-body macro mode; Tricky touchscreen focusing; Menu system complicated; Relatively expensive;

Introduction

When Olympus launched the XZ-1 in early 2011, its high-end features made it instantly popular with consumers and critics alike.

Priced at £479.99/AU$649/US$599.99, the new Olympus XZ-2 looks to pick up where its predecessor left off and deliver a great deal more to the serious enthusiast market.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

It comes touting a 3-inch touch-sensitive tilting LCD screen with 920,000 dots, 1080p Full HD movie mode and full manual and semi-manual exposure controls.

The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 also boasts raw image capture (as well as fine and normal JPEG), capabilities for sharing photos straight from the camera to social networks. And, of course, it's compatible with a range of Olympus accessories.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

The Olympus XZ-2 also indulges creative composers with 11 natty art filters to spruce up shots, including all the stalwart must-have effects such as Pop Art, Diorama, Grainy film, Soft Focus and Key Line, yet the absence of the watercolour filter hasn't gone unnoticed.

Although the new feature-clad compact matches its predecessor's pixel count (12 MP), we see it has ditched the CCD sensor and upgraded to a large back-illuminated 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor for cleaner results.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Olympus has also seen fit to install the same TruPic VI processor as seen in the Olympus OM-D, Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 and Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2, helping to raise picture quality across all of its merchandise.

One area Olympus has wisely left alone is the XZ-1's i.Zuiko Digital 28-112mm (equivalent) 1: 1.8-25 lens. At the time of its launch, this greatly impressed audiences with its extra-wide aperture, and continues to do so today.

Build quality and handling

Matching its heavyweight feature set, the black plastic and metal fashioned Olympus XZ-2 exudes a bulkier and bigger presence than most contemporary compacts, yet is slimmer and more streamlined than the common CSC, sitting somewhere in the middle with a shooting ethos to match.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Using the device is relatively comfortable, thanks to a rear thumb pad and front finger grip, the latter of which can be removed. The extra weight and girth suggest durability is assured, and we found its hinges and compartments as sturdy as the rest of it.

One of Olympus' biggest selling points of the XZ-2's design is the touch-sensitive 3-inch 920,000 dot tilting LCD, offering photographers the ability to focus and shoot instantly, and zoom into captures and move around images in playback.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Although there may be occasions when setting the AF point on screen is useful, we found it relatively hit-and-miss, and especially found highlighting areas at the edge of the screen almost impossible.

The enhanced feature-set of the LCD goes some way to make up for the lack of a viewfinder, but the device does have an accessory port which can accommodate the optional external viewfinder (or flashgun for example).

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

We were delighted with the brightness of the screen, which depicts scenes clearly in most lighting scenarios, and thanks to its pull out and tilt design we were able to shoot at a pleasingly wide range of viewing angles, including accurately composing shots over head, up high and at floor level.

It's just a small shame the screen can't be tilted vertically as well as horizontally, and although Olympus pledges that the anti-fingerprint coating should ward of paw prints, during our week-long assessment of the camera we can honestly say it didn't.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Manual shooters will be pleased to note that the Olympus XZ-2 improves on its predecessors' offerings with the inclusion of the front control ring, which, in analogue mode, can be used for zooming in or for fine tuning focus manually.

Or in digital mode it can adjust aperture, shutter speed, flash exposure and exposure compensation.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

The manual functionality here is a big plus, and as soon as the camera is turned on the lens zooms in close on the subject, leaving the shooter to ensure focus is pin-sharp.

Elsewhere, the addition of two customisable function buttons (one on the back and one on the front) come in handy for programming commonly sought-after controls such as ISO or White Balance.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

The device's menu systems and commands can seem a little backward to operate at first but, after a little time spent familiarising with it, things become a little easier.

Although there are some processes which seem questionable, such as the lack of a dedicated on-body macro mode; instead users must trawl through the menu system to find it.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Performance

Images taken using the XZ-2 at the base ISO have clean details and accurate colour interpretation. This continues up to ISO 800 when noise becomes noticeable and finer details are lost.

Tonal graduation is threatened after ISO 1600, and at ISO 2500 there's lots of noise.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

At ISO 3200 coloured specs fill the lighter segments of the frame as well as darker areas, and at ISO 6400 most shooters are likely to agree that the results were unusable.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

We found that JPEG images captured at sensitivities in excess of ISO 8000 have badly muted colours, degraded textures and blurred details, and by ISO 12800 the images are so mutated that they look more akin to black and white oil paintings than digital images.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

However, the good news is that the XZ-2 shoots in raw format, easing improvements in post-production, and with such a fast lens it is unlikely that these higher sensitivities will be needed very often.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

The camera offers a range of metering options and on the whole these perform well in conjunction with manual and semi-manual modes.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

We only noticed a slight bias for exposing for the shadows in iAuto, resulting in some areas of the frame being overexposed.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

White balance can scarcely be faulted throughout its portfolio, and with so many picture control options also on hand, shooters have little excuse for error.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

The XZ-2 did fall victim to chromatic aberrations, as do most compacts, but it deals with them better than many, with only minor fringing in particularly high-contrast parts of the frame.

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

The pop-up flash offers users a pleasing array of options, each proving effective without over-bleaching subjects or dramatically altering colours, and, elsewhere, red-eye reduction flash kept its promise.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Olympus XZ-2, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Olympus XZ-2 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG images

Olympus XZ-2 review

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 3200, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 12800, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw images

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 3200, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus XZ-2 review

ISO 12800, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Olympus XZ-2 with the Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic LX7 and Canon G12.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Olympus XZ-2 review

These results show that the Olympus XZ-2's JPEG files have a greater signal to noise ratio than those from the Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic LX7 and Canon G12 at lower sensitivities, but at ISO 1600 and above, the Panasonic and the Canon beat it, while the XZ-1 comes in last.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Olympus XZ-2 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Olympus XZ-2 are significantly stronger, starting off slightly below the Panasonic LX7 at ISO 100, before beating the Panasonic, Olympus XZ-1 and the Canon G12 at every other sensitivity setting - and by a long way, too.

JPEG dynamic range

Olympus XZ-2 review

JPEG results for dynamic range again put the Olympus XZ-2 ahead of the pack at the lower-to-mid ISO settings, before it then tails off at ISO 1600 and above, being beaten again by the Panasonic LX7 and Canon G12, with the Olympus XZ-1 coming in with the lowest dynamic range of the group.

Raw dynamic range

Olympus XZ-2 review

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Olympus XZ-2 are much stronger again, showing a significantly greater dynamic range than the Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic LX7 and Canon G12 at every setting. The Panasonic comes in second, followed by the Canon and XZ-1, which produce very similar results here.

Sample images

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sensitivity and noise

JPEG images

Olympus XZ-2 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Raw images

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Olympus XZ-2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Verdict

The XZ-2's super-fast i.Zuiko Digital lens has to be this camera's standout feature, offering ultra-wide apertures and an impressive focal length range of 28-112mm, which sails past many of its hottest contenders, and produces sharpness straight out of the camera, which many of its peers fail to match.

Thanks to the lens, this camera is a must for low-light enthusiasts as it catalogues impressively crisp captures, even at lower ISOs, helped by the camera's image stabilisation technology that cements details even when shot at noticeably slow shutter speeds, and when executed hand-held.

We liked

The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 delivers much more than an average compact and essentially that's where its key strengths lie.

The manual focus ring, customisable function toggling, manual and semi-manual modes, touch-screen technology, tilt screen and creative filter palette are the most impressive aspects of its advanced functionality.

We disliked

Less intuitive to operate than many of its competitors, the XZ-2's menu systems aren't the most helpful or straightforward, and some of its operation processes are needlessly convoluted.

Also, priced at £479.99/AU$649/US$599.99, it is in keeping with its high-end compact peers, yet the relatively expensive price tag may put some shoppers off.

Final verdict

Although handling the device isn't as straightforward as Canon's Powershots or as intuitive as Nikon's Coolpix range, it does offer a plethora of shooting choice to cater for all levels of shooter; with manual and semi-manual controls for advanced enthusiasts, a dedicated auto mode (iAuto) and scene selector for novices, plus an art palette for keen creatives.

Overall the price tag is a little steep, considering that some low-end to mid-range DSLRs and CSCs can cost a lot less, but for those seeking an all-encompassing compact camera with a solid lens performance the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 has to be one of the best currently on the market.

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